R.I.P. XII Challenge

What time is it? R.I.P. time!

I must admit, though, R.I.P. XII caught me by surprise this year.  In many ways, this has been a dispiriting year for many, so perhaps that played a role in my tardiness when it comes to my favorite time of year and the spooky books I love to curl up with when the days lengthen and darken.

At any rate, better late than never to year twelve of the beloved autumn reading challenge in which you:

enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.
Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. This year, Carl has entrusted the event and its traditions to Heather at My Capricious Life and Andi at Estella’s Revenge.
As always, there are multiple levels at which you can participate. I am opting for Peril the First, which means I will read four books. I may also do Peril on the Screen–that sort of depends on whether I find a good ghost movie I have not yet seen. A challenge, for sure.
Here are the four perilous books I have selected for R.I.P. XII in the order I expect to read them:

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

13 Reasons Why by Jay Archer

Thirteen Reasons Why

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

The Secret Of Crickley Hall
I hope you’ll join me for R.I.P. XII this year. It’s easy and fun (and you only have to read one book or watch one movie). Click here to sign up, and let’s get reading!

Hunting Hour

Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima

Are you an incurable devotee of K-9 mysteries? Have you already devoured (and loved) Suspect and The Promise by Robert Crais and Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless? Then you can do no better than to add Hunting Hour to your reading list.

Hunting Hour features the lovable, and doggedly persistent Robo, a German Shepherd officer. You will love him as much as you love Maggie and Clyde–those larger-than-life dogs that leap off the page onto your lap and into your heart. When I interviewed the author, she told me Robo is named after a real canine hero. What a wonderful tribute that is! Mizushima has spent many hours working with and caring for dogs, and her knowledge shines through in the pages of this mystery. One great strength of this novel is the author’s meticulous layering of police procedure and canine training without slowing the pace of the story.

Hunting Hour can be read as a standalone. I had no trouble following the tangle of emotions Robo’s handler Mattie Cobb feels for single dad Cole Walker, but I think it might be best to begin with the first book of the series, Killing Trail, to see how the characters evolve. For instance, Hunting Hour opens with a tense conversation between Mattie and her therapist that touches on an earlier trauma–no doubt revealed in a preceding book.

It is during this therapy session that Mattie and Robo respond to a call about a missing junior high student. Sadly, the missing girl’s body is soon discovered on Smoker’s Hill. As Mattie and fellow police officers search for clues, another girl goes missing. And this time it is someone close to Mattie and Robo’s hearts.

Motives and opportunities abound in this K-9 mystery, and while I guessed the identity of the miscreant halfway through the novel, that did not lessen my enjoyment or racing heartbeat as Hunting Hour reached its exciting climax.

I received a copy of Hunting Hour from Netgalley.

Author Spotlight with Margaret Mizushima

Please join me in welcoming Margaret Mizushima!

I’m excited to spotlight Margaret Mizushima, the author of the Timber Creek mysteries featuring Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo. Together they keep the peace in Timber Creek, Colorado. Today we’re discussing the upcoming novel Hunting Hour to be released August 8th.

Welcome, Margaret!

Thank you, Deb. I’m happy to be here! I appreciate you hosting me and highlighting Hunting Hour.

DA: You’ve clearly spent a lot of time around dogs. Robo has an engaging personality (dogonality?) all his own. Is Robo based on any particular dog you’ve known and loved?

MM: Yes and no. A real dog inspired my Robo character, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to know him personally (dogonally?). I met his trainer and handler, Beth Gaede, after he died. She let me shadow her while she did search and rescue training and evidence detection training with other dogs near my hometown. Afterwards, we sat and she told me tales of her late partner’s prowess, a dog that excelled like none she’d ever had the pleasure of training before or since. I asked if I could borrow his name for the series, and she seemed pleased to agree for me to honor him this way. Beth still acts as a consultant for the books. Robo’s traits are a compilation of many dogs that I’ve known and loved as well as German shepherds I’ve observed during patrol/protection dog trainings and police dog trials.

DA: Wow, what a special dog. And so cool that your Robo is named after a real live hero!

As the book opens, Mattie is working through some serious trust issues. When her therapist urges her to picture someone she can depend on, Mattie names Stella, whom she describes as “a cross between a mother hen and Godzilla.” Do you have plans for the ongoing relationship between Stella and Mattie?

MM: Yes, I plan for Stella to be around for the series. I love her. She’s got a hard, brassy shell with marshmallow cream inside. She and Mattie have a lot they can teach each other.

DA: Readers who enjoy learning about canines will gain insight into behavior and genetics. (I recently regaled a friend with trivia concerning a bloodhound’s scent receptors that I read about in Hunting Hour. She was impressed.) As a writer, do you find it difficult to balance educating your readers without the dreaded info dump?

MM: I used to be queen of the info dumps—my editors help me a lot with that. I strive to keep the action going in the series, so my goal is to piece in the research a bit at a time.

DA: Well, I can personally attest to the continuing action in Hunting Hour.

Mystery writer Louise Penny was recently interviewed on Sunday Morning. When asked about constructing a male character she could follow over the course of a series, she said to Martha Teichner, “I decided I would create a man I would marry.” Single parent Cole Walker seems eminently marriageable. Did you design him with the same criteria in mind?

MM: I saw that wonderful interview! Louise Penny is such a prolific and excellent storyteller! For my series, I wanted a male character who demonstrated room for improvement but who still had oodles of potential and a great heart. Since my husband is a veterinarian, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe a vet at work and understand the vet’s life from the inside out, so I decided that Cole Walker would be a vet, too. In the first book of the series, Killing Trail, Cole’s wife has left him due to his workaholic nature. (There’s more to it than that, but that’s highlighted in Hunting Hour.) Cole has a steep learning curve as he tries to learn how to be a single parent to his two daughters while keeping up with his busy veterinary practice. In book two, Stalking Ground, a love interest sparks between Mattie and Cole. Mattie deserves a strong and good man in her life, and Cole has potential to fit the bill. But both have been burned by the opposite sex (in drastically different ways), so they’re taking it slow. I sure hope they can work things out, because they seem perfect for each other to me! J

DA: Yes, it was a great interview! I learned many things about Louise Penny’s process as a writer and how she approaches research.

During your research process, have you done ride-alongs with K-9 police teams? A canine behaviorist I know sometimes plays a villain during police training sessions. In spite of her background, she finds it pretty terrifying when 90 pounds of German Shepherd rushes at her. Have you observed something similar?

MM: I’m so lucky that my veterinarian husband has K-9 trainers and officers for clients. I’ve spent many hours shadowing and observing training sessions. I’ve watched bite-suit and bite-sleeve work in training and police dog competitions. I’ve also watched narcotics detection training and evidence detection training as well, and my husband and I trained two of our own dogs in search and rescue. I’ve been married to my veterinarian for 35 years, and during that time, we’ve shared our home and lives with many, many dogs of various breeds.

DA: Thirty-five years of marriage and a working partnership. Congratulations!

What are you reading now? Do you read other K-9 mysteries…those by Robert Crais or Barbara Nickless, for instance?

MM: Right now I’m reading My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni. Robert Crais is one of my favorite authors, and I read his books as soon as I can after their release. I have Barbara’s book, Blood on the Tracks, on my lengthy and ever-growing TBR list. I also love outdoor settings in mysteries and enjoy two other Colorado authors, Mark Stevens and his Allison Coil mystery series and Scott Graham and his national parks mysteries. I’ve read everything by Margaret Coel, and I also like to read Dana Stabenow and her mysteries set in Alaska. Then there are two other favorites, Tana French and Elly Griffiths, who do a great job with setting. I could go on and on! I love to read.

DA: I’m with you there. I’m an incurable reading addict myself. I think My Sister’s Grave is on my TBR somewhere. Maybe I’d better move it to a more prominent position.

I’m so glad you could pop over for a chat today, Margaret. Readers, be sure to check out Margaret Mizushima (bio and contact information below) and her newest addition to the Timber Creek series, Hunting Hour, available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015), an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee; Stalking Ground (2016), a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017), an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Author Spotlight with Tui Snider

Today I’m pleased to welcome cemetery historian Tui Snider.

Tui Snider is a writer, speaker, photographer, and musician specializing in offbeat sites, overlooked history, cemetery symbolism, and haunted lore. Her award-winning books include Paranormal Texas, The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber, Unexpected Texas, and Understanding Cemetery Symbols.

Thanks for stopping by, Tui! As readers of this blog know, I have a lifelong fascination with ghostlit. And, as an avid reader of ghostlit, I especially love scenes that take place in cemeteries. Chalk it up to my early addiction to Dark Shadows. I can still hear that theme music.

DA: At a rough guess, Tui, how many cemeteries do you think you’ve visited? Do you have a favorite?

TS: That’s a really tough question! I don’t have a precise number, but it is definitely in the hundreds! I will have a better idea in the future, however, because I’ve started keeping a journal specifically to keep track of the cemeteries I visit.

It’s easy to get details mixed up between different burial grounds. As time passes, you forget which graveyard had that gorgeous angel or lovely picnic area, etc. Some graveyards here in Texas have locked gates with a key hidden nearby. I sometimes forget where the keys are! It’s helpful to write that stuff down.

That’s why I created a notebook for myself, and then I thought, hey, other people might like this, too! So I wound up making a workbook for taphophiles called Graveyard Journal. It has space to keep notes for up to 50 historic graveyards. Some folks may never fill theirs up, but I’m sure I’ll use several of these journals! (This workbook hasn’t quite gone on sale, yet, but it will soon.)

As for a favorite graveyard, that’s a tough question! Here in Texas, I am quite fond of Thurber Cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery’s Saints & Sinners Tour, and the Lost Cemetery of Infants.

DA: The Lost Cemetery of Infants. That one intrigued me, so I read your post. Fascinating history.

Can you recall the first cemetery visit that left a strong impression on you?

TS: Oh, yeah! When I was a little kid, my Girl Scout troop held meetings across the street from historic Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg, Virginia. My friends and I played in that graveyard all the time. We’d make up outrageous stories for the inhabitants of Westview, pretending that they were vampires and witches. It was a lot of fun!

All that playtime in Westview Cemetery paid off in an unexpected way. One day, the Girl Scout meeting was cancelled. My friend and I didn’t realize it, though, so we walked over to the church, as usual.

Since no one else showed up, we decided to leave. Just then, a creepy janitor walked in. He told us the Girl Scout meeting was in a different room. Once we got there, however, he locked us inside! Long story short, we escaped through a window and started walking home.  

We had barely crossed the street when the creepy janitor pulled up beside us in a car and commanded for us to get in “or else.” We screamed and took off running into Westview Cemetery.

Creepy janitor had to get out of his car to chase after us, but since he didn’t know the area as well as we did, he kept tripping over headstones. I remember him yelling, “Girls! Girls! Come back here!” followed by “ouch” and a series of expletives.

We were eventually able to ditch him by taking a path through the woods. If we hadn’t run through that cemetery, however, I’m sure he would have caught up to us. *shudder*

Unfortunately, our parents did not believe us when we told them what happened! This was well before Amber Alerts had been created. Public awareness of child abduction was not what it is today. Back then, our parents simply thought we were lying and we both got in trouble.

It was such a scary experience! And from that moment on, I became much more vigilant. Even today, I always check for exits when I go to a new place, and I like to be seated with my back to the wall. And while I enjoy wearing cute shoes, I only wear ones I could take off running in, if need be!

DA: Yikes! This sounds like the opening scene of a slasher movie–with or without a ghost. Plus the irony of knowing your way around the resting place of the dead kept you alive. So glad you escaped!

As a child, did you have a particular interest in history? In hats? (I had to throw that one in.)

TS: While I now consider myself a history buff, I hated the subject in school. It seemed like all we did was learn about wars and memorize battle dates. Boring!

But even as a kid, when it came time to write a history report, I managed to dig up quirky facts, like how Paul Revere was a talented silversmith who made a special collar for his beloved pet squirrel, or how Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay on farting, invented a musical instrument that made people go insane, and believed in the healing power of taking “moon baths” in the nude.

As for hats? Oh, yeah! The first time I remember wearing a hat and thinking it was cool, I was around 4-years-old. In fact, one of my mottos is: You can’t always have a good hair day, but you can always have a good hat day!

DA: Have you come across a gravestone that made you laugh out loud or was so weirdly quirky you could never forget it?

TS:  Several, actually! Some of my favorites include a 5-foot-tall black granite calculator-shaped monument, Douglas the Confederate Camel, the grave marker for a famous jazz-era monkey that’s tucked in the patio of an Italian restaurant, and, of course, the gravesite of the alleged space alien that crashed in Texas in 1897.

I love quirky cemetery tales and have collected enough of them to fill a book. In fact, while I don’t have a title for it yet, I plan to release a book filled with my favorite historic graveyard monuments and the stories behind them sometime very soon! (If any of your readers would like to know more about my speaking engagements and book projects, I invite them to sign up for my twice-monthly newsletter by clicking here. As a thank you, new subscribers get a mini-guide to cemetery symbols.)

DA: Have you ever been especially stumped by a cemetery symbol? Were you able to resolve the mystery?

TS: Oh, yes! All the time. This is a huge subject. People have been dying for an awfully long time, after all. Seriously, though, that is one reason it took me so long to publish this book. I finally had to realize that it’s going to be a lifelong learning process and that I should just go ahead and publish what I know now.

It’s especially tough to know the acronyms and symbols for every single fraternal organization and club. At one time, America had over 2000 such groups, so I couldn’t include all the related symbols into one chapter!

I actually keep a running list of symbols and acronyms that are still a mystery to me. Not knowing everything is part of what keeps this so fresh and fun for me!

DA: What tips do you have for people who want to visit historic graveyards?

TS: I actually have a chapter full of tips and etiquette for exploring historic graveyards in Understanding Cemetery Symbols, but here are a few of the most important things to remember:

While benches and tables are meant to be sat upon, make sure they are sturdy and stable before you do so! Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a picnic in a graveyard. Remember to steer clear of mourners, however, and do not leave any garbage behind.

Take a camera and a notebook with you to record any interesting headstones, epitaphs, names, and other interesting tidbits you find while you are there. Part of the fun is researching these things once you return home!

Also, if you share historic graveyard photos online, feel free to tag them with #GraveHour and @TuiSnider so I can enjoy them, too! Or if you come across a symbol that you are curious about tag me, as well. If I know what it means, I’ll let you know!

One last tip: avoid walking directly across a grave, especially in older cemeteries. Old coffins can disintegrate over time and your weight may be enough to cause the grave to cave in. I recently gave a talk on Understanding Cemetery Symbols to a convention for grave monument builders and several of them told me tales of getting twisted ankles this way!

So glad you could share some of your cemetery stories, Tui. Readers, please check out the upcoming release of Tui’s 5th book. Titled Understanding Cemetery Symbols, this book is a guide to the forgotten meaning of symbols and acronyms our ancestors left on their headstones. Preorder sales are going so well that Understanding Cemetery Symbols has already become an Amazon best seller!

You can find Tui here on Twitter and here on Facebook. She would love to connect with you.

What about you, readers? Any interesting experiences in cemeteries? Please share!