I was born with a moderate fear of heights. Something I realized when I was on top of the faux Eiffel Tower at Kings Dominion Park in Richmond, Virginia over 30 years ago. Walking to the edge had me very shaky and worried somehow I would hurl myself off of the Tower and fall. Which of course was impossible given the amount of fencing all around the top. This same fear has only cropped up a few times in life, most recently on ski lifts. So last month I got to experience a double whammy – taking my 7 and 9-year-old boys to ski for the first time in Crested Butte, Colorado, and riding with and WITHOUT them on ski lifts. One of the lifts had (gasp) no bar. Damn you Teocali lift!
The kids did so well skiing that after 2 days we were all going on lifts together. We were there with another family so there were several of us skiing together, kids and adults at different times. I became so comfortable and was having so much fun that during one run I realized I was behind with my friends and looked up and saw that my boys were getting on the lift with their buddies too. Without an adult! Panic struck my heart as I got on the chair behind them and watched nervously as the chair went up and up and up. About halfway up I realized they were doing great just hanging with their buddies. Enjoying the beautiful fresh Colorado air and chatting (probably about Minecraft). So I took a deep breath and realized that: (1) I needed to capture this moment, but more importantly (2) I needed to learn to let go. Just a little…
Next lift, of course, I was right there with them but was forced to admit that it was probably a good thing for their self-esteem and confidence to do that lift all by themselves. And good for me to maybe give them some space when they’re ready.
Guess we all learned some new tricks over spring break this year 🙂
I am honored, and a bit terrified, to have been tagged in an author blog hop. Especially an international one 🙂 Here’s how The Next Big Thing Blog Hop works: An author answers ten questions and then tags five authors (if you are able to find them – I am still working on that!) to answer the same questions on their blog the following week.
The funny thing about being tagged is how many coincidences led me to this place in my life. I was tagged by Elizabeth Carden, a historical fiction author and freelance writer, who I initially met years ago as the wife of a coworker (we were both lobbying the Tennessee General Assembly). We had both of our children within days of each other, and I chose a family name – Flanagan – for my son’s middle name which Elizabeth had chosen for her daughter’s first name (although the spelling is different). We subsequently learned we share the same hairdresser, both had children with peanut allergies, both were working on our first novels, and strangest of all, we are very likely related. Yes, over coffee we talked about our Irish heritage and found out we both hail from Considines in Ireland. Oh and did I mention that Elizabeth was runner up in the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 Short Story Award in London? See why I’m terrified?!
So here are the 10 questions:
What is the working title of your next book? Since I just completed my first novel and am starting my sequel, I’ll talk about my first real manuscript. The title that has stuck the longest so far is Warning Signs. I actually had chosen Boys Will Be Boys, but that was thoroughly assailed on some writer blogs because it gave rise to a coming of age book, not a thriller involving an animal cruelty investigator. Always good to check with others! The meaning behind the title is that many perpetrators start with animal cruelty and move onto human violence, usually against domestic partners or family members.
Where did the idea come from for the book? I lost my beloved Cato, a 14-year old Siberian husky, in 2005 and had more than a hard time coping. The saving grace was that I was pregnant at the time, so I knew a new life would be coming into the world just as I was saying goodbye to my canine best friend. Over that first year I began writing to help express my emotions and loss. I actually wrote a poem which is VERY uncharacteristic of me, and started thinking more about becoming a full time writer. I was an attorney/lobbyist at the time, and always loved the writing aspect of my job. I would volunteer to write grants, memoranda, etc. and it finally hit me after losing Cato that I really just wanted to write. After the birth of my second child in 2006 and facing several serious health challenges with my ailing father, I decided to leave my full-time job and focus on writing. The idea for the book just sprang into my brain one day. It was part tribute to Cato, and part tribute to all the animals out there who have been abused.
What genre does your book fall under? The book is a mystery/thriller. There is a bit of whodunit woven throughout the first part of the novel, and the second part is more thriller, as Eden chases down the perpetrators, trying to stop the escalating violence.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I actually chose pictures of famous people, not all celebrities, when I was working with my writing coach on my first draft. Since that was so long ago, I have updated a few cast members. I chose Evangeline Lilly (but with red hair) for Eden Hayduke; Rooney Mara for Harris Hampton; Aaron Paul for Councilman Jeff Saunders; and a young Benicio Del Toro for George Fuentes. Still working on ideas for Declan and Jillian. Colin Montgomery (British golfer) was the visual I had in my head for Phil Hampton (I’m not his biggest fan), although Kelsey Grammer would be a great choice.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A female investigator for the ASPCA battles Southern politics while solving local animal cruelty crimes and saving an abducted girl.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I do have agency representation and we are actively looking for a publishing home for my novel. So I am hopeful, but also realistic. Not sure where we’ll end up, so for now I’ll just optimistically say it will be published. Somewhere, somehow.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? This is embarrassing. It took close to 5 years to really finish the first draft. I had a rough outline of the novel in my head back in 2006, but it took months for me to really get started. I finally reached out to a great friend, Anne Guzzardi, who is a talented poet and writing coach. I hired her as my writing coach and we worked hard on the first draft for almost two years.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? This is hard because the unusual thing about my book, and the fascinating thing to me, is that I haven’t found any other mystery novel that has an animal cruelty investigator as the protagonist. So unfortunately I don’t have a close comparison, although I do look to authors such as Harlan Coben, Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson for inspiration.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? I have always loved animals since I was a child. I was part of a team who worked on changing animal cruelty laws in Tennessee (from a misdemeanor to a felony) and learned so much about how crimes against women and children often start with crimes against animals. I wanted to highlight this link, but also entertain because I do love a cheesy novel I can pour through while sitting at the beach.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? In addition to the criminal aspect of the book, I weave in a lot of Southern politics and issues that are hot topics here in Nashville and throughout the country. And, of course, a bit of romance…
You’re next guys, I mean gals:
Vivian Slade recently published her beautiful audiobook and e-book the Dragon King, which truly was a family project. Her daughter Johannah illustrated the book, her younger daughter Sophia lent her voice to the townspeople, her husband Todd helped produce and sing on the project, and of course Vivian wrote the text and ALL OF THE ACCOMPANYING MUSIC! The score is so special, and Vivian (herself a talented singer/songwriter), pulled in so much of the Nashville musical talent to perform the songs it’s truly a work of art.
Ruthie Mason is working on her first novel, and is a loving talented teacher. We had the pleasure of getting to know Ruthie as she taught our oldest son, and have never met a more compassionate, thoughtful teacher. She now lives in Massachusetts but we are secretly hoping she will return to Nashville 🙂
It’s been a while since my last post! Quick writing update: I’ve been editing my novel with my agent, and he is working his contacts now, hoping to find some interest out there. Then the rejections can roll in…! Trying to get further in my sequel (yes it’s a mystery series), and will make that my New Year’s resolution to finish in 2013. Luckily my real job has kept me busy, along with my family, so it’s a good thing to still be employed and receiving a paycheck 🙂
It’s been a hard summer and fall, there’s no other way to say it. I lost a dear friend to ALS which still seems unreal. Another good friend lost her husband at the tender age of 33 recently too, and it’s so hard to accept such a shocking loss. I’ve spent the last few years going to funerals for my parents’ friends and friends’ parents, but can’t believe now I’m having to watch my friends say goodbye to their husbands and wives. I have been amazed at the strength they’ve shown, and the outpouring of love and support for them and their children.
I also helped my mom say goodbye to her beloved Pug Jessie, who is pictured here. He has been such a wonderful companion to my parents, especially my mom who now lives alone since my Dad has been in a special Alzheimer’s assisted living facility. My mom is a super active spry 83-year-old, and walking the dog each morning, afternoon and before bedtime has kept my mom young. It’s been another wonderful example to me of how much animals give back to us, and all they want in return is a little love. And in Jessie’s case, also a few scraps now and then 🙂 Jessie was also so loved by my dad, and it’s unclear whether he can understand or comprehend that he’s gone. Maybe that’s a small blessing of his dementia, but I know the other residents at his facility will all miss seeing little Jessie strut around on his visits.
So I am ever thankful for all the human and canine loved ones in my life. Even though I know someday we’ll all have to say goodbye, I will try to enjoy each and every moment until then. And we are making the next few days extra special. My mom has become motivated to travel again, and we are now taking a Murphy girls’ trip to Italy in a few days which will be a blast. Compliments of my more than generous sister Kathy who is treating the 4 of us to a fabulous trip.
So if you hear there’s a shortage of wine in Rome or Florence….now you’ll know why 🙂
I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks now mostly due to the entire family’s bout with the flu (on spring break believe it or not). Then the flu again once we were home. Then strep throat, then full body rash accompanied by a recurrence of strep throat – these last few were all suffered by my poor six year old 😦 Fingers crossed we will be returning both children to school tomorrow. But I have news….I am officailly signing my contract with a literary agent as we speak!
I am so thrilled to have come to a place where I will have someone advocating on my behalf. Kind of ironic since I have spent years as a lobbyist advocating for others. Even if nothing happens I feel a small personal triumph. And no, it’s not a huge NYC agency, but perhaps more importantly for this unpublished author, it comes highly recommended from a friend and fellow attorney who has been in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years. The honest, personal recommendation meant a lot to me, in addition to the fact that this agent totally gets my book and thinks combining animal issues with a modern mystery is a great idea. I think so too 🙂
The best part of my news is that it has truly freed me to focus on my sequel which is finally in the works. It took me a while to find motivation (I am a professional procrastinator) but now I have a new plotline (well almost), and have some research ahead of me, which is what I love to do. After working for years on my first book, it’s a welcome relief to move onto something else. I honestly don’t know if I could have reviewed that darn thing one more time!
I’ll post more news if and when I have it, and will keep updates going on my books. I’m getting more and more attached to Eden Hayduke, Animal Cruelty Investigator and of course her best friend/Siberian husky Buck (aka Cato) each day. This is a new world for me so who knows what changes lie ahead? Just hope that someday I’ll be able to post a link where you can purchase a copy of my first novel Warning Signs! And if not, I am sure I will be happy to email copies to those who have a few spare hours on their hands. Just like other things in life, hopefully the first time is a great learning experience, and the second time is…at least better written and more interesting???!!!
Although I can understand the deep longing to recreate a lost pet, I was so disturbed to read about South Korea’s dog cloning industry. For a mere $100,000 – yes one hundred thousand dollars – you too can have a genetic replica of your deceased dog. Just think how many homeless pets are euthanized every year around the globe. Just think of how many lives could be saved with $100,000.
To make matters worse, many of the surrogate mother dogs are sent off to be slaughtered for their meat after they give birth to the clone. Many cloned offspring also don’t make it, or are deformed, and “disposed of” until a suitable clone is created. Think the prospective pet buyers are informed of how many dogs are being sacrificed so that they can recreate their lost pet? Doubtful.
The bioethics of pet cloning seems fairly cut and dry. Maybe it should be allowed once we can honestly say our animal shelters are empty, there are no more unwanted pets, and every animal that needs a home has a loving forever home.
Until then, check out your local pet shelters. You’ll save a life and a whole lot of money!
At times I can’t imagine how anyone could abandon a dog. I’ve heard so many stories about dogs being left on the side of the interstate, dropped off at vets and never reclaimed, and of course brought into animal shelters. I know many times there are good reasons, just like putting a child up for adoption. But I’d always wonder how you could just leave an animal somewhere like a parking lot? well that is what happened to my lovely Luna…
After Cato, my first Siberian husky, it took me a long time to think about another dog. We still had Solo who was a stray that was bottle fed from birth after being rescued by some loyal animal lovers who were trying to capture his stray mother. I was always drawn to the Siberian husky breed and realized I had become kind of a crazy husky person – yes even a guy at my local wine store called me the “husky lady” because I always asked about his husky who lived in our neighborhood. You could say I was sort of obsessed…
So after about 2 years I decided I was ready for another dog, and began looking for huskies. To be honest, it was very difficult at first. Even after I found Luna I experienced a definite high then low. Because it wasn’t Cato. I could never replace Cato. But that wasn’t the point.
Someone left Luna, a beautiful husky female in a Wal-Mart parking lot outside of Jackson, TN, 2 hours from Nashville. The shelter named her Lollipop because they just had run out of names after taking in so many dogs over the years. Earlier tonight, as a friend marveled at Luna’s beauty and calm nature, I relayed her story. I told her how the animal shelter found her, 10 pounds light then she is now, malnourished, and very skittish. We weren’t even sure she would work out after we brought her home because she fought with Solo over food and attention – it was obvious she was used to scrounging for food and wasn’t sure where her next meal was coming from. But as strange as this sounds – I should thank the person who left her. Because the person who left her obviously would NEVER have provided her with the life she deserved. Maybe they couldn’t afford a dog, who knows, but thank God that shelters like the Carroll County Humane Society exist.
It was a beautiful full moon the night we adopted Luna – January 24, 2008 – which is why we named her Luna. So tonight as I gaze at another beautiful full moon, I thank whoever left Luna and all the other dogs who have found loving homes. Our dogs all deserve better and now they’ve found it! I just wish there was a home for each and every one of them…
On my recent visit with my father who has been residing in a dementia specialty nursing home for several years, I realized that often we are kinder to our animals than to people. Although he is not in much physical pain, his quality of life is pretty much gone. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Seeing men and women who can no longer hold a conversation, recognize loved ones or eat solid food is depressing, to say the least. So I should be glad that he and others don’t know what is going on around them. At times pet therapy does seem to help, and it is wonderful to see some sparks of recognition from other patients when dogs are brought in for visits.
I’m thankful that we never let our animals suffer in the same way. I have had to make the most difficult decision in my life twice – to put down my beloved Cato, and then 2 years later Solo Mio – and both times, as sad as it was, it was also a relief. I knew I was doing what was best for my dogs. It was my selfishness that told me to keep them alive, but my heart and mind (with the help of my husband) eventually won out and we knew the right thing to do.
It seems ironic that we would treat our human family members worse than we treat our pets. I don’t know the solution, but I know how difficult it is emotionally and financially to treat dementia and other Alzheimer’s-like diseases (most dementia care is NOT covered by Medicare until you need full-blown hospital type care). I remember hearing Nancy Reagan describe Alzheimer’s as “the long goodbye” and now I know why.
My Edward Abbey reference is of course over the top, but stands for something to me. And Eden was the name we had picked out if we had a girl and since I didn’t get to use it in real life, I’m using it in fictional life 🙂 So here’s the opening chapter – what do you all think?
This was the part of her job that Eden always found unnerving. She would never get used to it, even with all her years as an animal cruelty investigator. At least this time she was called to the police station, so there was no mangled body to examine. Just photos.
The station was a flurry of activity. Eden wound her way through metal desks and gray-blue cubicles, following Lieutenant Harold Forrester to the back of the station. He led her to a solitary conference room where Eden would begin the grim task of reviewing images. Eden’s mind, which tended to translate things into music, was like a radio, tuned to Fréderic Chopin’s “Military Polonaise.” The rigid, formal work for the piano fit the mood and aura surrounding the lieutenant. He was all business.
“Cup of coffee? Soda?” asked Lieutenant Forrester.
“Sure. Anything cold and diet would be great.” Eden briefly glanced around as she threw her coat and purse onto the large conference table. The door creaked as Lieutenant
Forrester shut it behind them. Eden walked the perimeter of the faded room checking out the framed pictures, the usual mug shots of mayors and police chiefs.
Lieutenant Forrester brought over a drink and motioned for her to sit down. “So, are we ready to get started?”
Eden accepted the Diet Coke and popped the top. After all of these years, she still felt a rush of emotion when she started a new case. Viewing a dead body would never become routine. Eden’s empathy was both a flaw and a weapon. She took a sip. Procrastination time was over.
“I’m ready,” she said, and took a breath.
Lieutenant Forrester slid an overstuffed brown accordion folder across the table to her. The contents spilled out onto the wood surface worn from years of police use, the ribbed metal edge of the table discolored and cold to the touch. Eden rolled her chair forward and got to work.
The first photograph was always the hardest. This time it was a pug. As she studied the image she couldn’t help but think of her mother’s beloved pug, Farley, bouncing with life around their sun-drenched living room. But this animal had the life beaten out of him. Literally. Lieutenant Forrester, seemingly unfazed by the grisly business at hand, turned to Eden.
“We brought the ASPCA in on this case, Miss Hayduke, because we’re seeing a pattern. This is the third animal that’s been assaulted in the Wakefield Park neighborhood in the last twelve months. If it’s the same perpetrator, two or more attacks would qualify as a felony under the new animal cruelty law. So we sent officers out to investigate. We don’t have photos of the two earlier dogs, but we do have affidavits from the treating vet describing those injuries. We thought you could help us determine if this is a serial perpetrator, or just some deranged kids.”
The lifeless pup hung limply from a tree, just twenty feet off the newly opened greenway trail. A noose. Dried blood covering the dirt below. No matter how many times Eden saw images like these, she was always dumbfounded. How could anyone inflict such harm on a defenseless animal? The canine had obviously been used for batting practice. What kind of monster does this?
“This is the third case? I’m surprised I haven’t seen the stories on the local news. You know animal torture cases are usually great for TV ratings–” Eden tried to lighten up the mood, but struck out.
She hadn’t worked on an investigation before with Forrester. Although she’d been stationed in Nashville for a few years, her expertise pulled her into cases throughout Tennessee and the Southeast. Forrester had recently taken over animal cases after his predecessor left Nashville for bigger and better opportunities in Atlanta. Under prior leadership, the Nashville PD had always worked collaboratively with the ASPCA on their cases. Eden knew she needed to establish some rapport here or else their working lives would be miserable. He wasn’t giving her much opportunity. Their future looked bleak.
“This is the only dog that didn’t survive, Miss Hayduke. The others, both strays, were treated at the animal shelter. I don’t know if they’ve been placed yet, but I assume they’re still alive. We can probably get you more details from the vet over there, but we called the ASPCA in on the pug attack because it resulted in a fatality and we have the body as evidence. We’ll want to prosecute this one.” He paused, then added, “And, Miss Hayduke, if I may, there’s a reason you haven’t heard about these cases. We’re working closely with Councilman Jeff Saunders on this, and he feels it’s in the best interest of his neighborhood to work quietly. A big news story would cause alarm. We’d like to solve this problem quickly, before it becomes newsworthy.”
All-righty then. Most people would think that two tortured animals and one murdered dog were newsworthy. Why didn’t Lieutenant Forrester? And Eden found it strange that he didn’t know what happened to the two surviving dogs. They were walking evidence. Why no photos of those crime scenes? Technically, the ASPCA had been called in to help on the pug case, but these were all potentially related attacks.
Forrester was still waiting for Eden’s response. “Miss Hayduke, I hope you understand this must be kept out of the news.”
Eden refocused her thoughts. “That’s an affluent area, how did you keep residents from running to the media?”
“We attended a neighborhood meeting, hosted by Councilman Saunders, and instructed the residents to keep their eyes and ears open, and their mouths shut. We need to do our job without interference. That’s best for everyone, including the ASPCA.”
And good for property values.Wakefield Park was a hot spot for mixed-use development and soaring home prices. Although not completely gentrified, many of the Victorian homes had been restored and now tear-downs were becoming common. There were still some elderly residents who hadn’t renovated their homes, but Wakefield Park was one of the better zip codes in Nashville. For new money at least. Old money still ruled the city and occupied several zip codes on the west side of town.
“I understand, Lieutenant. Can I see the affidavits and police reports from the neighborhood interviews?” Another folder appeared and Eden started reading. Forrester continued his monologue.
“There’s an after-school program at a community center nearby, and there’s also the Diamond School a few blocks away. You know teenage truants are sent to Diamond after they’ve dropped out or been kicked out of other high schools. Fits the profile.”
Eden ignored his last comment. She was taking notes on her legal pad, sketching out a rough timeline of the crimes. Forrester kept talking.
“Did you know the high school dropout rate is now at thirty-nine percent in our city? Pathetic. So that’s where we’ve focused our attention. Juvenile delinquents. There’s a list of the students enrolled at Diamond in the bottom of that file.”
How predictable. Police investigators always assume the perpetrators come from neighborhoods other than their own. No way, not from my backyard. Here’s one more lieutenant falling into the classic trap – let’s point a finger somewhere else. Especially if there’s a handy profile to fall back on.
“Thanks, Lieutenant. I’ll look for those names. Do you also have a list of the young males living in the area? I’d suggest a two-mile radius for starters. You know the profile for most animal abusers is a young teenage Caucasian male.”
She paused, for further emphasis, then continued before Forrester had a chance to respond. “Someone with ties to the neighborhood is good, but someone who lives there is even better, given the number of cases in such a short timeframe. The crime log for the neighborhood beginning six months before the first attack would also be helpful. Sometimes you can see an escalating pattern.”
The schools in Wakefield Park are magnet schools, drawing students from all over the county. Parents from surrounding neighborhoods enter a lottery hoping their child will be chosen to attend the prestigious H.L. Monroe Elementary, Stratton Middle or Andrew Jackson High School. Eden hadn’t braved those battles yet. Life as a single woman, or single mother to her Siberian husky Buck, had its perks after all.
Forrester answered without emotion. “We’ll gather the crime log and those names and addresses and get them to you as soon as we can. Anything else?” It was becoming more difficult for him to conceal his irritation.
Indeed, Eden was flipping through the file looking for something else. Something she couldn’t find.
“What about blood and tissue samples? Were there any fingerprints on the rope? On the dog’s collar? Any specs on the weapon used in the killing? I’m just not seeing any forensics in here.”
Forrester shifted in his chair. “Miss Hayduke, that’s not the protocol I follow with this type of case. We take pictures and have the animal examined by Metro Animal Control. Dr. Gunter is the veterinarian. His report is in there. Any crime scene evidence is impounded and stored here at headquarters. We maintain a tight chain of custody to make sure nothing gets tainted. You’re free to examine anything you like, but everything you need is probably in Dr. Gunter’s report.”
“So, the officers didn’t take any samples at the scene? Are there any other test results you’re still waiting on?” Eden tried unsuccessfully to mask her frustration.
“That is the complete file, Miss Hayduke. I’ll have an officer double-check the evidence room, but don’t count on anything else popping up.”
“Okay. So it looks like I’ll start with these files and follow-up with Dr. Gunter. I’ll schedule time tomorrow to review the physical evidence, just in case one of your officers missed something.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Eden knew they were a mistake.
Forrester stared at her. He was not pleased with the implication that his men were not doing their job. “We’ll go through the physical evidence again, Miss Hayduke. Anything else?”
“No. Once I’ve reviewed everything I’ll start my interviews. I guess that’s it for now – thank you.”
Eden grabbed the folders and pushed away from the table. I’d love to stay longer but the company is just too charming.
“One more thing, Miss Hayduke. Please talk to Councilman Saunders before making the rounds in the area. He wants the heads-up. It’s his neighborhood and we need to keep things quiet.” Eden nodded in agreement.
“Contact my assistant if you need anything else.” Lieutenant Forrester headed out the conference room door, eager to work on bigger and better cases. Cases involving two-legged victims.
As she walked to her car, Eden decided impulsively to do a drive-by. It always helped her get a feeling for a new case if she took a drive past the crime scene. And she liked to walk the streets and soak in the neighborhood ambience. Pulling out of the police headquarters parking lot, she headed for the interstate. Wakefield Park was just a few exits away.
OK. Quick review. Why all the secrecy? Eden decided to take Forrester’s advice and set up a meeting with Councilman Saunders. She didn’t know much about Saunders, but she could probably get the scoop from her friend Jillian Gold, a well-connected lobbyist who seemed to know all the politicians in Nashville. She tried to reach Jillian but got her voicemail. Guess I’ll have to do my own homework.First the neighborhood, then Saunders. If his address was listed, she also wanted to drive by his house – sometimes she could learn a lot that way.
She found her exit. Hmm, a drive-by of Lieutenant Forrester’s house might be interesting. For now, she’d focus on Wakefield Park and the pug. She could learn more about Forrester later.