Monthly Archives: September 2014

Using Animals To Promote Plot and Theme

DJ Adamson.

My guest is D.J. Adamson, an award-winning author who has recently released her noir mystery novel Admit to Mayhem.  Her family roots grow deep in the Midwest where she sets much of her work. She juggles her time between her own desk and teaching others writing at two Los Angeles Colleges. Today she’s going to talk about how to use animals in your stories to reveal character and theme.



I remember Stephen King once saying that if you were writing horror, you need to put a dog or child into the plot because the vulnerability of someone innocent creates horror without a need for a lot of words or description. In his novella Secret Window, the protagonist finds his dog on his doorstep, killed. Horrible! Immediately the reader feels the protagonist is threatened by someone evil. And the reader is waiting for the next horrible act. Blake Synder’s book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need picks up on another animal use. Synder states that if the character does something nice, like saving a cat, then the character is immediately endeared to the reader. By the way, I think the Cohen Brother’s offered a giggle to Synder’s book by having their character in Inside Llewyn Davis literally save a cat and carry it around most of the movie. A joke the audience may not have gotten, but those of us who write immediately understood.

I use a cat in my novel Admit to Mayhem, a Lillian Dove Mystery series to do both what King and Synder suggest. I want the use of Bacardi to say something about my protagonist:

Cat Bacardi’s my cat, named for his brown and yellow coloring and my first drinking preference of rum and Coke. At the age of twelve, if you add enough cola, you forget all about the sweet tang of rum. Plus, Bacardi’s hair frizzed out from his body as if he’d stuck his claw in a light socket. When my hair was shorter, I’d woken up many a morning with that same look.

My protagonist Lillian Dove is a recovered alcoholic with a 5 year sobriety; however, sobriety is not a dominate theme in the book. This is not another novel about a protagonist that cannot keep sober (be it alcohol or drugs). Instead, Lillian’s objective in the novel and series is to take on life anew, with all its emotional, behavioral, and mystery challenges. With the description and affinity to her pet, I wanted the reader to get a feel for Lillian’s troubling past without doing a lot of backstory.

The overall plot of the novel begins when Lillian discovers a house fire and she becomes the only eyewitness to criminal arson. She is in jeopardy from someone who wants to stop her from identifying them. The plot is paced with events to create Lillian’s angst, but again, I wanted to offer my reader the vicarious ability to feel her anxiety and fear. So, I put Bacardi in jeopardy:

        It came to me then what was missing.

       “Where’s Bacardi? Bacardi’s missing.”


        “My cat.” I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the couch. Dust bunnies but no Bacardi. “Bacardi, where are you?” …I got in my car and drove one block after another, up one street and then the next, calling his name out into the night… “Bacardi?” I followed behind them, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

        When I did get back to the condo, I couldn’t stay still. I searched each and every cranny I could think where he might possibly have crawled. Then I went back outside.

        I went without the Mustang this time. I walked and walked and walked the night away, calling.

        Several cats answered my calls. They patted quietly up to me purring as they rubbed against my legs. Others merely meowed back a hello. None were Bacardi. I know Bacardi’s yowl. It wasn’t until I came dragging back to the condo, exhausted, with a voice hoarse and feelings of failure that I allowed myself to truly take in the idea, “What if he never comes back? What if something bad happened to him?”


Pike is the major antagonist, and while Lillian may be threatened by Pike, and her mother may be threatened, having him possibly taken Bacardi is almost more than she can emotionally handle.

My novel is an amateur-sleuth novel which I classify as a soft-edged Midwest Noir. But no matter whether a writer is developing a conventional mystery, cozy, thriller or horror novel, the use of animals can help offer themes and provide movement of plot.




With a contrary attitude to life and an addiction for independence, Lillian Dove admits she has not been a success in life. In fact, she considers failing as one of her addictions. Yet, when she comes across a suspicious house fire with a history of arson and murder, she instinctively attempts to help someone trapped. Lillian becomes the only possible eyewitness to criminal arson, and her life begins to spiral out of control.



You can get Admit To Mayhem at:


To learn more DJ and her books, go to:




Categories: animals, Cats, Mystery, writing, writing characters | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments





The last time I posted I talked about the Olympic equestrian events: Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping. I’ve done articles on Eventing and Show Jumping previously, so today I thought I’d take on Dressage – my personal favorite.

If you’ve been interested in horses for a time, you may have seen the old Disney movie The Miracle of the White Stallions. It tells the tale of how the Spanish Riding School of Vienna survived the Second World War and how General George Patton helped save the Lipizzan breed of horses. During the film the School puts on a performance for Patton and demonstrates the beauty and precision of Classical Dressage. I fell in love with the idea of dressage then, but it was many years later before it became popular in the US and I was able to take instruction in it. As much as I have loved doing many other types of riding, dressage became my favorite.

Dressage is a French word for training. Its aim is to develop the horse’s athletic ability and a willing attitude using a standardized progression of exercises that challenge but don’t overtax. The ideal is a calm, supple, attentive horse that responds to its rider’s slightest commands (aids). Both horse and rider should appear relaxed and effortless. One of the fun things about dressage is that there is always more to learn and achieve.

Training starts at the basic walk, trot, canter level and slowly progresses to the Olympic level. It takes several years for the horse to develop the strength and athletic ability to do the high level movements. The first objective is to teach the horse to move in a regular, even, rhythmic way. This is important in everything they do. The second is to achieve relaxation, being comfortable and willing. Then comes willing Contact, Impulsion (pushing, carrying power), and Straightness. The last level of the training pyramid is Collection. This is where the horse has developed enough strength to transfer some of his weight to his hindquarters, which frees his front end to do the difficult movements we see at international competitions.




The Piaffe is a trot in place with high front knee action and very little forward motion. The horse “sits” slightly, bringing his hind legs under and lifts his front.








The Passage is an elevated, slow motion trot, usually with a slight pause in the movement.





Extended trot

In an Extended Trot or Canter, the horse reaches forward with his front legs, covering a large amount of ground, in contrast to a collected trot or canter, which has high knee action and doesn’t move as much.



The Tempis are flying changes at the canter and, depending on the competition level, are done every one to four strides. In Grand Prix competition (Olympics), the horses look like they are skipping as they change every stride.


Half pass

Half pass


The Half-Pass, done at the both the trot and canter, is a diagonal movement where the horse goes sideways and forward.




The last high level movement is the Pirouette where the horse canters around in a tight circle with one hind leg almost stepping in place.

High level (Grand Prix) dressage can be exciting to watch, especially the Freestyles, where the moves are choreographed to music. Look for Dressage in the next Olympic broadcasts and you will see some beautiful dancing horses.

Here are a couple of videos that show them dancing to music.



Spanish Riding School:allfamouswonders.comPiaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Piaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –
Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Half pass:


Categories: dressage, Horses, Olympics, riding, Show jumping, Spanish Riding School, training horses, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

See you tomorrow

I’m traveling today. Will post tomorrow. See you then!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Pinkertons and the Lady Spy


carolyn (2)My guest this week is Lynna Banning, author of the recent Harlequin Historical release The Lone Sheriff. Lynna was born in Oregon but has lived in Northern California most of her life. Including her coming October novel, she has published twenty-three books!

An amateur pianist and harpsichordist, Lynna performs on harp and psaltery in a medieval music ensemble, where she also plays cortholt, recorders, and tar (drum). Given that background, you’d expect her to write Medieval historicals. Instead she focuses on the old West for her stories.

The Lone Sheriff features a female Pinkerton agent, so today she’s giving us a little background on the famous detective agency.



Known as the first private eye, Allan Pinkerton set up his North-West Detective Agency in 1850. His motto We Never Sleep proved true during the Civil War, when he aborted an assassination attempt on President Lincoln in Baltimore. Lincoln, on his way to Washington for his inauguration, was so impressed with Pinkerton’s intelligence-gathering that he offered him a job.

In 1856 Pinkerton had created the Female Detective Bureau, and though his sons tried to disband the fledgling organization, the lady detectives proved their worth and thrived, particularly during the Civil War. The first female Pinkerton agents were Kate Warne, an attractive 23-year-old widow, and Hattie Lawton, also a widow. Both women were vital to Pinkerton’s intelligence gathering in the riotously amoral atmosphere of Washington where Confederate agents moved and mingled, and female supporters of Dixie flocked to the center of wartime activity and carried out astonishing feats of spying.

One unforgettable spy was the Washington socialite Rose Greenhow, known as The Wild Rose. She was the aunt of Stephen Douglas, and while his loyalty to Lincoln was never in doubt, Aunt Rose favored the South and ran Pinkerton a merry chase that ended finally in her death.

Rose moved in the very highest circles, acting as hostess for James Buchanan, but she sympathized with the South. When war broke out, she joined a Confederate ring of women spies, and her grandest coup came in July 1861 when she transmitted messages by courier giving details of General Irvin McDowell’s plans. This enabled the South to prepare for the first battle of Bull Run with an ace up its sleeve.

Rose had elegant manners and great beauty; she captivated statesmen, diplomats, legislators, and generals, and within weeks she had established a network of spies and informants extending as far as Texas. When word came to Allan Pinkerton that the society belle was leaking secrets, he put Rose under secret surveillance.

Rose behaved as if she were untouchable. She and her ladies knew they were being watched but treated it as a game. The Confederate spy tried everything she could to throw Pinkerton off her trail, but he managed to break into her mansion. While he missed a note from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, thanking her for the Bull Run information, his agents uncovered much other incriminating evidence, including her diary. He continued to watch the Greenhow mansion around the clock.

In August a civil warrant was issued for Rose’s arrest; Pinkerton and three men, accompanied by female agent Hattie Lawson, found Rose at home. She immediately tried to swallow a coded message, but Pinkerton tore it from her mouth. Rose then sat calmly while the men ransacked her house, unearthing a quantity of incriminating material: ordnance records detailing arms and ammunition, copies of troop orders, even her diary, which incriminated a broad collection of Washington citizenry.

Rose and her youngest daughter, Little Rose, were placed under house arrest. When her Confederate agents continued to pay her visits, they fell straight into Pinkerton’s hands. He then used these men (and women) as double agents, feeding false information to the Confederate capital. The spy ring was huge; scarcely a prominent Washington family remained un-implicated, and Pinkerton had a field day arresting agents.

Even in prison, Rose continued her espionage activities. She was questioned and remained in prison at Pinkerton’s insistence, but over his objections, was offered parole on condition that she sign an oath not to aid the enemy. She refused, but she was released anyway. Rose and two other women accused of spying were then handed over to the Confederacy.

In Richmond, Rose was revered. Her book, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, published in London, became a bestseller. She went abroad, captivated Napoleon III and dined with Queen Victoria; then became engaged to the Earl Granville, a powerful political figure in England.

On her return to the South, her ship ran aground in a storm off Wilmington, North Carolina. Rose had sewn hundreds of gold sovereigns into her corset and underclothing; and when the lifeboat capsized she sank and was drowned

And Allan Pinkerton went on capture railroad thieves, forgers, counterfeiters, wiretappers, and illegal inside traders, etc. and also to infiltrate and arrest members of the Molly Maguires.

Source: Allan Pinkerton, The First Private Eye, by James MacKay.




9780373297993.inddAs if tracking down train robbers isn’t hard enough, loner Sheriff Jericho Silver’s backup arrives and she’s a beautiful, gun-slinging, back-East proper Pinkerton lady detective who sure spells trouble.  And she won’t take No for an answer.


“You’re here to help?” Jericho echoed.

“Of course. I am Madison O’Donnell. The Smoke River Bank hired me to help you catch the gang robbing their gold shipments.

Jericho stared at her.

“I believe you were expecting me?”

He snapped his jaw shut. The last thing he’d expected was this frilly-looking female with her ridiculous feather-bedecked hat. In her green-striped dress and twirling her parasol like that she made him think of a dish of cool mint ice cream.

Whatever is the matter, Sheriff?  You have gone quite pale. Are you ill?”

He jerked at the question.  Not ill, just gut-shot.  “Uh, yeah.  I mean, no.  I’m not ill.  Just  . . . surprised.”

She lowered her voice. “Most clients are surprised when they meet me. It will pass.”

Hell no, it won’t.


Also on Barnes & Noble.

Lynna enjoys hearing from her readers; write her directly at P.O. Box 324, Felton, Ca 95018, USA, or at

Visit Lynna’s website at

Categories: Civil War, Historicals, lady detectives, Pinkertons, romance, Romantic suspense, Spies, suspense, Western romance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Horses at the Olympics

Olympic rings

If you were at like me you probably spent the second and third weeks of last February watching the winter Olympic Games. Ice skating, skiing, luge, bobsled, snowboarding, and a host of other events kept us glued to the TV, reveling in the skill and determination of the competitors. In 2016, we’ll again have the chance to stare in awe and root for favorites when the summer Games are held in Rio de Janeiro. My primary interest, of course, will be in the equestrian events. In years past only small snippets were shown by the networks, but now with wonders of the internet, we’ll be able to see much a larger number of competitors and get a major horse fix.

The earliest Olympics in ancient Greece were tests of skills that warriors needed and since horses were a vital part of battle, they included horse and chariot races. The modern Olympics began in1896 but it wasn’t until 1912 that the equestrian events we’re used to seeing were included. Horses are the stars of three events – dressage, eventing, and show jumping – and play a part in a fourth competition I wasn’t aware of before. The Pentathalon has a show jumping phase where competitors ride horses they’ve never handled before over a challenging jump course.

dressageEquestrian events are among the few where men and women compete against each other. This wasn’t true initially. Up until 1952, only military officers and “gentlemen” were allowed to take part. Starting with the Helsinki Games, all men could participate in all the events and women could ride in Dressage. In 1956 women were permitted to do Show Jumping and finally in 1964, they began to compete in Eventing. Now they contend on equal terms in all the riding disciplines.

Dressage starts with a Grand Prix test that all the teams take part in. The scores of the top three riders on each team are added together to get the team score and placing. Then the top 25 go on to do the Grand Prix Special test to compete for individual medals. The thirteen best then compete in the Freestyles. These are the crowd pleasing performances where the horses “dance” to music. The scores from these two tests determine the individual medalists.

Cross-countryEventing originated as a three day contest to prove the quality and endurance of cavalry horses. Today it still consists of three separate competitions: dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping. On day one, the dressage demonstrates the horses’ suppleness, training and obedience. Because these horses are not specialists, they do somewhat less demanding tests than the dressage stars and their tests are scored by listing the number of faults. So the lower the score, the better. On day two, they show their skill and courage on a demanding cross-country course with difficult and often scary solid fences. The Show Jumping phase on day three demonstrates their fitness and soundness. Again the riders vie for team and individual medals.

medium_515302767The last equestrian event is Show Jumping, the exciting attraction that usually sells out. Everyone likes watching the horses and riders tackle the very challenging and technical jump course. Again, because these horses are specialists, the jumps are bigger and harder. The team and individual medals are well earned.

Have you watched the Olympic equestrian events? Which one do you like best? Have you ever attended an Olympics? I know I’d love to go to Rio in 2016. How about you?


Olympic rings: photo credit: <a href=””>joncandy</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Dressage horse: photo credit: <a href=””>Jessicastjohn</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


Categories: animals, dressage, Horses, Olympics, riding, Show jumping, Three Day Eventing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fat Cats and Dead Bodies

Janet Cantrell


Ready for some dessert bars combined with mystery? My guest today is Kaye George, AKA Janet Cantrell, Agatha nominated mystery novelist and short story writer. Her cozy Fat Cat mystery series debuted yesterday! with FAT CAT AT LARGE, featuring Quincy, a pudgy, adorable feline. An accomplished escape artist, especially when he’s on a diet and hungry, Quincy leads his human, Chase, co-owner of a Minneapolis dessert bar shop, into serious trouble.


What prompted you to write Fat Cat?

The basis of this plot was the idea of my editor at Berkley Prime Crime, Danielle Stockley. I took to it right away, since I’ve had many beloved cats, some of them on the chubby side. Also, the series was to take place in Minneapolis, a place where I loved living.

Do you like to bake as much as your heroine does?

I won’t say I bake like Charity Oliver does. Chase bakes a lot! She co-owns a dessert bar shop, after all, so it’s her livelihood. But I do love baking. I’m not adventurous and usually follow recipes, but writing this series has encouraged me to try things I otherwise wouldn’t, since each book includes a dessert bar recipe. (Also a healthy cat treat recipe.) I will say that I prefer baking to cooking. Unfortunately, I like to eat what I bake, and definitely don’t need to eat a lot of dessert bars!

How do you develop your stories?

I’ve settled on my own method for my last several books, based on a combination of several classes I’ve taken from Kris Neri, Mary Buckham, and Margie Lawson. These aid in developing the main characters and the story of the crime. When I start writing, I use a spreadsheet I’ve developed that works for me. I keep track of my characters, hair and eye color, what car they drive, mannerisms, etc. on one sheet. I put the timeline with major plot events on another, then fill in details as I’m writing them. I like to color code themes and suspects. I can tell at a glance which subplots or characters I’m leaving out for too long—or dwelling on for too long.

If you were a color, which one would you be?

I hate to say blue, because that sounds sad. But I think blue is very nice, the color of the sky and water. Because my eyes are blue-ish, I like to wear blue to make them look more so. Otherwise they just look muddy gray. But blue is soothing and smooth and I’d like to be smooth and calm all the time!

What’s your next project?

I’ve finished up book two, Fat Cat Spreads Out, and am awaiting the edits on it while I start in on book three, as yet untitled. I’m also polishing Requiem for Red, which is the sequel to the Cressa Carraway book, Eine Kleine Murder. On the short story front, I’ll have stories in Murder on Wheels (being published by Wildside Press) and Memphis Noir (pubbed by Akashic Noir) in 2015. Choke, my first Imogene Duckworthy book, is now being offered as part of a boxed set of humorous mysteries, so that’s not a new project, but a new packaging. The audio recordings of the next two, Smoke and Broke, will be done by the end of the year.

Coffee or tea? Beer or wine? Sweet or tart?

Tea and wine (although Scotch would be better). And definitely sweet!



FAT CAT AT LARGE coverWhen she’s not dreaming up irresistible dessert bars for her Minneapolis treatery, Bar None, Charity “Chase” Oliver is running after her cat, Quincy—a tubby tabby with a gift for sniffing out edibles. But what happens when this cat burglar leads Chase to the scene of a real crime?

The jig is up for Chase’s adorable plus-size cat, Quincy. His new vet says “diet”—that means no more cherry cheesecake bars. From now on he gets low-calorie kibble only. But one taste of the stuff is all it takes to drive him in search of better things. Quincy’s escape is the last thing Chase needs after the nasty run-in she has with underhanded business rival Gabe Naughtly.

Chase tracks Quincy down in a neighbor’s kitchen, where he’s devouring a meatloaf, unaware of the much more serious crime he’s stumbled upon. Gabe’s corpse is lying on the kitchen floor, and when Chase is discovered at the murder scene, she becomes suspect number one. Now, with a little help from her friends—both human and feline—she’ll have to catch the real killer or wind up behind bars that aren’t so sweet.



The wooden floor planks creaked as she tiptoed across the living room. Chase flinched with each footfall, her nape hairs prickling. No one appeared at the top of the stairs to her right, yelling at her to get out, so she kept going. She hoped Quincy was in the kitchen, where the food was. If not, she would have to think about exploring further. Quincy could be crouched inside an empty room, scared. For all his fierce bravado, he was a small animal, and vulnerable in so many ways. What if this household owned a pit bull? Or a mastiff? She almost whimpered aloud thinking about it.

Chase braced herself with a deep breath, inhaling another whiff of the delicious aroma, and peeked around the corner into the kitchen. Sure enough, Quincy sat on the counter, devouring the meatloaf. But what caught Chase’s attention was the man, lying on his side on the floor beside some scraps of paper, his back to her. She knew him.

She breathed his name. “Gabe? Gabe?”

Quincy turned his head toward her and blinked his gorgeous amber eyes, then returned to his task. Gabe must be injured, she thought. She knelt and shook his stiff shoulder. No response. She rolled him onto his back. Gasped. A steak knife was stuck in his chest. That couldn’t be good! She reached toward the handle to pull out the knife, touched it, then hesitated, and started to draw her hand back.

A soft voice from the doorway said, “What have you done?”


You can find FAT CAT AT LARGE at:


Learn more about Kaye/Janet by joining her:



Categories: animals, anthologies, Books, Cats, cozy mysteries, Mystery, Short story, writing | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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