Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sheila Webster Boneham in the Hotseat!

Meow!  my guest today is noted fiction and non-fiction author Sheila Webster Boneham!

Award-winning author Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Although best know for her writing about dogs and cats for the past fifteen years, Sheila also writes fiction, narrative nonfiction, and  poetry. She is currently working on a series of essays about traveling the U.S. by train, and on a combination memoir and wide-ranging meditation on the human-canine connection. Sheila teaches writing workshops and classes, and is interested in speaking to groups about writing, creativity, and related topics.
So now, let's get to it! SWB in my hotseat, meow!

R: Hello, Sheila and welcome.
S: Thanks for having me, ROCCO!

R: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing

S: I think I was born interested in writing! I wrote my first “novel” when I was about eight. It was about a Cocker Spaniel names Sandy, which seems a bit prophetic. I kept creative journals all through school, long before I knew what they were called, and had a poem published in a city-wide journal when I was in eighth grade, which definitely ignited my lust for publication. My undergraduate degree was in English, but literature, not writing, and my masters was in linguistics, which landed me several jobs teaching English as a second language in universities overseas.When I came back I completed my doctorate in folklore at Indiana University, heavy on cultural anthropology. Great fun, fascinating research, a few academic publications, but no jobs when I got out. Then I stumbled upon a position teaching advanced writing courses at the University of Maryland, and a part-time position as a magazine copy editor. My urge to write creatively rather than academically was rekindled. A very full circle, one could say! I started selling short work to magazines, then went on to nonfiction books, and now I’m back where I started, with a bit more experience – I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and recently started working on a play. I still teach writing classes and workshops, and at conferences, but mostly I write.

R: You’ve authored over 17 non-fiction books. What made you make the jump from non-fiction to fiction, and which do you prefer to write?
S: Right, I spent a few years writing about animal rescue, and about cats and (you’ll pardon the expression) dogs. Then I was in a writers’ group with three other women, and they were all writing mysteries. They would show up with juicy murders and quirky characters and I would show up with hairballs. Well, writing about hairballs at least. I really never thought I could come up with a story, although I should have known better after some of the great ones I told my parents. Then one day I was driving home from a dog show and an opening line popped into my head, and a title, and by the time I got home I could see the whole story. So I started to write.

R:     Tell us a bit about your latest release, DROP DEAD ON RECALL
S: That’s the title! Drop Dead on Recall is a play on the name of an obedience exercise, the “drop on recall.” Basically, the handler calls her dog, has the dog lie down on the way, then come the rest of the way. When the story opens, a leading obedience competitor keels over during the drop on recall, and the story unfolds from there. My protagonist, Janet MacPhail, is an animal photographer who is there competing with her Australian Shepherd, Jay. She tries to help and ends up as a person of interest to the police, to a very attractive man with a Labrador Retriever, and ultimately to a killer. And you’ll be happy to know that Janet’s orange tabby, Leo, is an essential character and plays a heroic role in the book. It hasn’t completely gone to the dogs. (Leo, the orange tabby who plays a heroic role in Drop Dead on Recall, is based on two of Sheila's cats, Malcolm, shown here, and Leo)


R:       Why a mystery?
S: Who doesn’t love a mystery? I’ve read mysteries since I was a child. When I first became interested in canine obedience competition, Susan Conant’s wonderful Dog Lover’s Mystery series was just getting rolling, and I loved them not only for the great stories, but for all the information about my new sport. When my title dropped into my mind, I was clearly headed for murder and mayhem.

R:     You breed and show Australian Shepherds and Labs. Tell us how you became interested in this.
S: I’ve never bred Labrador Retrievers, but I have owned at least one Lab since 1988 and my husband and I have fostered many rescued Labs. And of course I wrote a book! (The Simple Guide to Labrador Retrievers won a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Associations of America for Best Single Breed Book). Great dogs. I’ve competed with all my Labs, and they’ve earned titles or trained in obedience, tracking, fieldwork, agility, and therapy work. 

      Then in 1993 I fell head over heels for an Aussie puppy, the first of many Aussies in my life. I pursued several sports with him and studied the breed, and finally wanted to breed. Breeding to me is not just a way to get puppies; it’s a creative pursuit not unlike writing a book. Nature provides the raw material, and a responsible breeder uses the tools of science and aesthetics to facilitate matches that, if all goes well, result in physically and mentally healthy, beautiful, intelligent companions. My dogs, and the puppies we bred, have been very successful competitors in conformation, obedience, agility, tracking, flyball, and herding, nationally and internationally, but they were all household companions first and last. We’re no longer breeding, by the way, but I judge Australian Shepherd conformation shows. Jay, the lead Aussie in Drop Dead on Recall,  is heavily based on my lovely Jay, who recently went to the Rainbow Bridge.

R:      Tell us a bit about the rescue groups you’re involved with
S: Right now I’m not actively involved in any groups, but continue to work on behalf of rescue and animals generally through my books, my website http://www.rescuematters.com, and my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/rescuematters, as well as occasional talks to rescue and other groups. I used to be very active, though. I founded Labrador Retriever Rescue of Indiana, Inc., in 1993, and co-founded and Australian Shepherd rescue group the following year. We fostered both breeds for years, and I also volunteered for several shelters, doing everything from cleaning litter boxes to teaching dogs some basic manners to make them more adoptable. In Drop Dead on Recall, I feature a fictitious Border Collie rescue group because the victims’ dogs are Border Collies.

R:      What is a “must have” for you that aids the creative process?
S: Animal fur. I don’t go anywhere without it! And besides, having it on my clothes is a constant reminder that to remain creative I have to remain in the world. It’s so easy to become isolated in the work, but without the stimulation of other people and the inspiration of being out in nature, I wouldn’t be able to write.

R:      What one thing would your readers be surprised to know about you?
S: By nature I’m quite shy. That should have a few people rolling in the aisles! But I am. I think a lot of creative people are shy. I’ve learned to be bold, to walk up to people and say hello. I’m still not very good at small talk, but it turns out that the people I really click with aren’t either.

R:      Do you have any advice for other writers?
S: Three things. First, write a lot. None of it is wasted. We don’t tend to think of writing as something we need to practice, but we do. So write every day, even if you throw it all away. Second, read. Read a lot. Read in your genre(s) and read things you don’t think interest you. Read classics, best sellers, and books no one ever heard of that you find on the bargain shelf. Read read read. And third, try one new thing at least once every month or two. Learning new things reminds us that what seems obvious to us may not be obvious to our readers. Besides, you’ll have fun and fun feeds creativity.

R.      Where can we find out more about you and your work?
S: I’m on the web at http://www.sheilaboneham.com, and there are links from there to my other online hangouts as well as a calendar. Facebookers can find me at http://www.facebook.com/sheilawrites, and I tweet at http://www.twitter.com/sheilaboneham. Like many authors, I have an amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/author/sheilaboneham. I’m always happy to hear from readers – my email is sheilaboneham at gmail.com.

R: And now time for....Your favorite:
S: Movie:  American Beauty. Or Weekend at Bernie’s J
Author: Just one?  Bahahaha!
Book: See above! But The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabelle Allende is a serious contender.
Tv show:  I don’t watch much TV, but I guess at the moment I would say Foyle’s War on PBS.
Beach or Mountain?  Beach
Milkshake or Margarita?  Margarita (about once a year!)
Sunrise or Sunset: Sunset
Cat or Dog (Careful, now!)  Yes! Definitely!  (Very diplomatic, meow!)

Now...it's giveaway time! Sheila will be giving away a copy of DROP DEAD ON RECALL to one lucky reader! (to be mailed out after Boucheron :))

Entering is easy!  Just leave a comment along with your email address. Contest is open to US residents only and ends midnight, October 7.   Winners will be chosen using random.org  Entries without an email address will be disqualified.  Winner announced on our Monday post Oct. 8!
If for some reason the unfriendly at times Blogger will not let you post, go to the HUMAN's facebook page (Toni LoTempio) and send a message.  We will enter you.

Next week: Nina Bangs in my hotseat! and we also have in October: Vicki Lewis Thompson and Roxanne St. Clair!

Meow! Don't miss it.



  1. First of all, congratulations on all of your success! And I include your animal rescue work.I have many friends who are involved in rescue work;one is the CEO of a major rescue league;I just heard of another puppy-mill rescue of hers today(!)and cousin-in-law is on a series pending on Animal Planet...I salute you all! I think most writers are shy or have been shy,w which is why the 'talk' easily comes into their heads; they have quiet time to think. Rocco, you have another winner here!

  2. Thanks, Tonette. I'm not opposed to responsible breeding, but the key is responsiblility - and that applies to rescue and to pet owners, too. As fo the shyness, well, I've managed to shove that down inside for the most part :-) Thanks for joining us!

  3. And here are a few more folks who want to enter, but have been daunted by the unfriendly blogger gnomes:

    carmybabe t hotmail dot com
    melvinfelther at gmail dot com
    auditgirl2010 at gmail dot com

  4. I loved the interview...I am now looking forward to reading this book! Congratulations on the release. Thank you for caring for our animals. Thanks for the giveaway. Fingers crossed lol