Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Lady and a Princess: a guest blog by Linda Rodriguez

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Linda Rodriguez is one of those honorary Reds who regularly brighten the back blog with their funny, thoughtful and informative comments.

We followed her from aspiring author working hard at her craft, to entrant in the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic writing contest, to winning the award and landing a contract with Minotaur! (I can assure you that winning the Malice Domestic award is the very pinnacle of writerly achievement.)
Yes, I did get the Malice Domestic Award myself. Shut up! I'm being totally objective!

Now, Linda's debut is almost here!

Half-Cherokee Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion thought she was leaving her troubles behind when she fled the stress of being the highest-ranking woman in the Kansas City Police Department, a jealous cop ex-husband, and a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father. Moving to a small town to be chief of a college’s campus police force, she builds a life outside of her work. She might even begin a new relationship with the amiable Brewster police chief.

All of this is threatened when the student editor of the school newspaper is found murdered on campus. Skeet must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. In the midst of her investigation, Skeet assumes responsibility for a vulnerable teenager when her ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Time is running out and college administrators demand she conceal all college involvement in the murder, but Skeet will not stop until she’s unraveled every last secret.

Today, Linda's going to tell us about a very personal inspiration for one of the characters in Every Last Secret.

In Every Last Secret, my mystery novel that will be released on April 24, the protagonist, Skeet Bannion, has a dog, a collie named Lady. Lady plays a quietly important role in the book. By taking Lady into her new home, Skeet is making a statement that her life will be different from what it’s been, more settled, more stable, and as tragedy hits her neighbors, Lady, along with Skeet’s cat, provides a lifeline to a grieving and troubled teenager. The truth, however, is that Lady is in this book and the next two in the series because she was in my life first.

When I was ten years old, we moved to a small town in Oklahoma close to where my father’s family lived on a small farm that went back generations. I didn’t realize it at that time, but my wildly dysfunctional parents were in even more trouble than usual, so those years with my five younger siblings in that tiny town would pile more adult responsibilities on my skinny shoulders than I was already carrying—and my parents had turned to me at age ten to make the decision of where we would settle for the next several years, near my mother’s parents in Oklahoma City or near my father’s family in rural Oklahoma.

Shortly after we moved in, my mother’s parents in Oklahoma City brought me a collie. I was collie-crazy. I’d been reading and re-reading Albert Payson Terhune’s books about Lassie for years. And what a gorgeous collie they brought me! Princess was a former show champion, who’d been bred too early and too often until she could no longer bear living pups. Her owners were going to put her to sleep until my grandparents asked for her. Princess and I took one look at each other and fell deeply in love. She slept at the foot of my bed in the uninsulated attic room where I slept. My own choice, it was the only way I could have a room of my own since no one wanted to share it with me. When it got too cold, Princess would climb in bed with me, and I’d sleep as warmly as anyone could want.

After leaving us in Oklahoma, my Navy father went overseas, and my mother fell apart and often was not in our home or even our town for days at a time. When she was at home, she was often sleeping or hung-over. Fortunately, we lived right across the street from the school (K-12), and I could get younger brothers and sister off to school and go myself, dashing across the street to check on the baby at every class change and recess and lunchtime.

As my baby brother grew more mobile, this balancing act became harder and harder to manage. He began to take off in the afternoons and wander the town in his diaper. The school would get calls for me to leave class and come get him—because Princess would accompany him and guard him. She refused to let him into the street if a car were coming, and no one could touch him with her around, not even the local police officers. So I would leave school, pick the baby up blocks from our house, and carry him home with Princess walking at my side.

Princess loved to eat the apricots that fell from the tree in our backyard and had a constant battle with the wasps who wanted them all for themselves. Several times she alerted me to rattlesnakes in hedges of the yard when one of the kids was heading in that direction. Old as she was, she could at times be as playful as a young pup, and whenever she felt there was danger near, her years fell off her immediately.

Those were scary years and scarier to look back on now, aware of dangers I wasn’t aware of then. We all made it through them safely, in large part because of Princess, my aging collie. I always felt that Princess was an angel in disguise sent down from heaven to help me take care of and protect my little brothers and sisters. Finally, my mother actually moved across the state, and after a couple of weeks alone, my father’s family came and took us to live with them on the farm. We were now safe, and I think it was no coincidence that Princess slipped away in her sleep soon after that.

Princess, the dog I could never forget, morphed into Lady for the Skeet Bannion series. Do you have a childhood pet you will always remember? What was your favorite childhood dog?

You can find out more about Linda and read an excerpt of Every Last Secret at her website. You can friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


  1. Awww..I do, LInda. But not as lovely a story as both are very lucky! YOUr book sounds terrific..and the whole thing is so exciting! Hurray hurray hurray.

    It's fun to immortalize Princess, huh? And you got to think of her every time you wrote a scene.. off to work, back soon!

  2. Linda, you are a treasure, and so was your wonderful Princess. What a great story.

    Cannot wait to read your book. Best of luck with it!

  3. Wow, Linda, what an amazing story! other than that, speechless...

    Is there a memoir coming too??

  4. Thanks for this wonderful, personal story, Linda. I am looking forward to Every Last Secret - your launch date is on my calendar. Congratulations!

    Sadly, there were no dogs in our family (or cats either) growing up. But as an adult I lived in a household with a wonderful Alaskan Husky named Mishka. Playful and silly, she was such a young soul. In contrast, my sister-in-law just rescued an Australian Sheepdog mix named Trusty, who we believe has lived many lives before this one.

  5. Hey Linda,
    I don't think I knew you had won the SMMalice Award - awesome! and I look forward to your debut novel.
    My first dog was also named Lady and I was just telling my husband about her yesterday. Maybe Lady is trying to get in touch with me. She was a border collie mix and my father was convinced that - cue tears - one of our neighbors poisoned her for peeing on his lawn. (I should off the neighbor in the next book. Surprised I haven't thought of that sooner.)

  6. Linda, what a tremendous story -- and I couldn't imagine a greater tribute than including her in your series.

  7. I agree with the memoir comment, Linda. That could be very powerful, both about the place animals can hold in our lives and in portraying a situation that happened not so long ago, but frankly, left me gobsmacked.

  8. First, let me say I'm glad you and your siblings made it through that kind of childhood! Princess sounds like an amazing dog & friend. I've always had dogs around me and also had a collie named Sheila that I will never forget, they are wise animals. Good luck with your book, putting it on my list!

  9. But Hank, when you come back, you have to tell us about your childhood dog-friend. And you're right. I've never owned a collie as an adult, so when I'm writing these books, I get to bring her back to life. xoxo

  10. Karen, thanks so much. Princess was truly a treasure. I think for most of us, those dogs of our childhood rank up there with the angels in our hearts, don't you?

  11. LOL, Lucy. I don't think so. Too much soap opera and sturm und drang. I'd rather make up my stories.

  12. Brenda, thanks so much. For everyone who's going to Malice, I'll be there with two panels and a signing immediately after EVERY SECRET THING comes out.

    Huskies are wonderful dogs. My last rescue dog was half-Huskie, half-Sharpei and a wonderful girl. I'm late getting to Jungle Reds this morning because I was up till almost 3 am holding the paw of my current rescue dog, a very large but sweet Plott hound named Dyson. He fears nothing but thunder and our tiny elderly cat. :-)

  13. Oh, no, Ro! Poor Lady! Yes, find some very diabolical way to kill off that neighbor. Anyone who would hurt a dog or a child is the worst! I myself find writing murders very therapeutic! Better than committing them.

  14. Thanks, Chris! It's nice to make her live again and help another kid.

  15. Ramona, thanks. Sadly, the situation is not that rare. Children have to become little adults to care for themselves and their younger siblings all the time, mostly thanks to alcohol or drugs but sometimes because of mental illness.

    I always feel I managed to avoid being one of those in the suicide/drugs/prostitution/cycle of abusive relationships statistics for two reasons. One, I could read at a very young age and began to write long before I started school. Secondly, all along the road, there were kind people who tried to help me. Often it must have seemed to them that their efforts were futile, but I know they weren't. I can never pay it back so I pay it forward to everyone in trouble I see. You never know when some little thing you do that doesn't seem to make a difference will be what keeps someone from destruction.

  16. Shannon, thank you. And Sheila sounds like such a terrific dog. I think you're right, not only about collies but about all dogs. They can be silly and goofy, but they have this deep wisdom of the heart. I would like to be like one of the dogs I've known when I grow up! :-)

  17. And not to brag (though, of course, that's just what I'm doing) I made it through 8 captchas in a row without a snag!

  18. Linda, what an amazing and poignant story. I had tears in my eyes for what you had to go through.

    I wish you every success with the book! See you at Malice, I hope.arecke

  19. Oh, Linda! Your story is both a heart-breaker and a heart-soother. The first dog I ever loved was a collie named Duke, who belonged to my cousin, mystery writer Laura Childs, and her family. As an adult, I had border collies who gave me that same unconditional love.

    I look forward to meeting you at Malice and reading your book!

  20. Leslie, it will be such a pleasure to meet you and all the others who'll be at Malice.

    Yeah, I don't know what it is about the collie--beauty, of course, intelligence, yes, loyalty and love, absolutely. But most dogs offer their own versions of those things. As an adult, I've always wanted a collie, but I've always owned dogs I've rescued, often from the pound the day before they're euthanized--dogs in real need--and they've never been collies. But they've always repaid their rescue with so much love and devotion that I'll go on rescuing dogs until I die probably.

  21. Thank you for sharing your family story--and Princess. I look forward to meeting her fictional doppelganger in EVERY LAST THING.

    I adored my childhood dog, Penny, an airdale mix. She looked like Sandy, the Little Orphan Annie dog. She soothed my insecure adolescent soul.

  22. What a survivor you are, Linda! And you write so beautifully about it. I will be sure to get your book when it comes out.

    I'm not really a "dog person" although I have met a few dogs I like, and I'll bet Princess would have been one of them.

  23. Oh, Lisa, an Airedale mix! Airedales are such great dogs! Fierce hunters and protectors but total softies around the house. I can just imagine you clinging to Penny and weeping those hot adolescent tears we all wept--because we weren't (fill-in-the-blank) enough.

  24. My mother had allergies and we could not have a pet with fur. Goldfish and turtles were not great at interaction. I always loved my Grandfather's dog, Pal. He was an integral part of the best days in summer when I visited my grandparents on their farm.

  25. Thanks, Edith! I'm sure you would have loved Princess--everyone did. Are you a cat person? I know some divide the world between cat and dog people. I, of course, being the greedy thing I am, am both a dog person and a cat person. You can never have too much love (dogs), and you can never give too much love (cats). :-)

  26. Oh, Warren, I'm so sorry you couldn't have a dog. Allergies can be a real problem. But it's lovely that you had your grandfather's dog, Pal, to bond with in the summer. Thanks for stopping by.

  27. Ah, Linda. You had a rough time. Even though it was years ago, it is a wonder no one official got involved to "help" you. I agree, that dog was an angel and there when you needed help.

    I never had a pet. I've always fantasized about having one, but even now I don't. Don't know why, maybe when I'm older.

    We're proud of your success. Can't wait to read the book.

  28. Linda, reading your story is like looking into a history mirror. I can't talk right now. It's so real for me I am afraid it will call the owl. You are like the sister I was supposed to have.

    I had a black dog, Ga'qaquj, the crow.
    He lights the sky with the wind.

  29. Linda,
    How great to have you as a guest author today! I knew your contribution would be well thought out and meaty. Thank you!
    We lived in apartments when I was growing up and had to give our part Collie/part Mystery dog to my grandparents when we moved into the apartment when I was two. They provided Flippy with a loving home,filled with visits from all of their grandchildren. He let us ride him like a horse,wrestle with him,cuddle him,sleep on the floor with him. He was definitely an angel!

    How may I support your book launch from over here in CT? Can you provide info for buying it for the launch?

  30. EB, everyone in that small town knew the situation, but in those days things were very hands off. Today, many kids go through similar or worse experiences, and often no one hears about it until some huge disaster, such as death, happens. Even now, many people don't want to get involved.

    Kathleen George, wonderful mystery writer, wrote a book about a similar situation called THE ODDS.

    Pets are like kids--wonderful, expensive to maintain properly, at times a huge mess, and not necessarily right for everyone. However, I wouldn't want to be without any of the ones I've had, pets or kids.

  31. Oh, Reine, no desire to cause flashbacks. I know how bad that can get! Breathe deeply into the present when you're a grown woman with control of your own life and safety.

    I love Ga'qaquj! Crow the messenger and teacher.


  32. Deb, I'm so glad that your grandparents could take Flippy so you didn't have to lose him entirely. Yes, Princess was like that. She would let the little ones ride her or sit on her or tug on her ears and tail without so much as a growl.

    I think a good dog gives a child a true experience of unconditional love, no matter what his home conditions.

    You're so sweet to want to know how to support my book launch. EVERY LAST SECRET is available for pre-order as hardcover and ebook through independent bookstores and online sources. Pre-orders help writers tremendously because that first week of sales is so important and publishers want to see lots of "buzz" leading up to that week. Reviews, pre-orders, etc.

    If you'd like an autographed copy, the indie bookstore that's handling the book launch, Rainy Day Books, will take a pre-order, have me sign the book for you at the launch, then ship it to you. We're lucky in KC. They're one of the US's great bookstores.
    (913) 384-3126

    Thank you for showing such great support. I love all the Jungle Red writers dearly, but I love the backbloggers just as much. This is such a great community!

  33. Linda, what a touching story. I see several more things we have in common. I am also the oldest of six although my baby brother wasn't born until after I was married. Fortunately, I had a stay at home mom and two parents, who took good care of us.

    The other thing is our love of collies. The picture of the collie sleeping on the bed with a child(you?) looks like my current collie, Maggie. I've had collies most of my life. They are truly the most lovable and caring type of dog and so good with children.

  34. Oh, Linda, I am okay. I am excited about your book. This might be a good time to do that writing exercise. Don't worry for me. I have the bear my friend on White Earth gave me to remind me who I am. xoxoxo

  35. Gloria, no, the photos (other than my book cover) are Julia's finds. I thought they did a wonderful job of illustration, though, didn't you?

    I envy you all those collies. When I lose a dog to old age, I look for doges who face imminent euthanasia if they're not given a home. I've never found a collie in those circumstances, but I've found a lot of great dogs. But I do adore the collie.

  36. Well, I bragged about beating captcha, so of course, captcha had to beat me. Will I never learn to keep my mouth shut? That last reply took my FIVE tries. *lowers head in shame*

  37. Reine, glad you're okay. Yes, that writing exercise I sent you would help you channel some of your emotion about your childhood onto paper. I use it a lot when I do workshops with kids who come from pretty desperate backgrounds, and they write some incredibly powerful poems. xoxo

  38. Most of my collies came as strays or were give aways. I bought a collie puppy darn cheap in 2005 from a rather poor environment. When I had to have her put to sleep before she was quite five years old because grand mal seizures couldn't be controlled and she became paralyzed, I grieved so much that my youngest daughter ended up finding another collie on line and paid for half of her. I'd tried to locate one through collie rescues, but all of them were senior dogs, and I didn't want to go through what I'd gone through with my Molly so soon.

  39. Oh, Gloria, yes. Those puppy-mill dogs often don't live very long, and it's so hard to tell that they're coming from that kind of environment sometimes. All you can do is love them and grieve when you lose them. So sorry you had to go through that with Molly and so happy you have healthy Maggie to love now!

  40. What a touching story, Linda! I'm so glad you had Princess in your life.

    My family moved to eleven different places by the time I was just 13 years old. My dog, Bingo, was a wonderful and faithful friend through all the turmoil.

  41. Oh yes, the dog is the best friend of the child who's constantly the new kid in class. When you're having to prove yourself to everyone else and worry about what they're thinking of you, your dog is there giving you all that love just because you exist. If I could, I'd give every kid a good dog.

  42. Congrats on your success Linda, the book sounds terrific!

  43. Linda, I loved your story, and if I hadn't already been sold on the book because of you, you'd have sold me today because I want to read about Lady. You know what a softie I am for a dog story.

    As much as I dearly love our shepherds, the first dog of my heart was a cocker spaniel, Taffy. My ex brought him home as a tiny puppy when our daughter was seven. He had all the bad over-bred cocker spaniel traits, both in health and temperament, but there was a bond between us I'm not sure I've every experienced with any other dog. I was suffering from very severe sudden-onset vertigo at the time. Taffy always knew when episodes were coming, and once I'd fallen, he'd stayed plastered against my side until I could get up again, which was sometimes hours. He died of cancer at nine and it broke my heart. But if anyone has ever wondered why Gemma has a cocker spaniel rather than a German shepherd, now you know.

    Linda, I've put your release date on my calendar, and will be there--at least virtually--with bells on!

  44. Oh Linda, yes, I highly recommend Kathleen George's book THE ODDS. Loved the book, loved the characters.

    I totally forgot that my first family dog was a collie, Bondo. But my childhood angel was really a devilish cat named Tigger:).

    Probably Tonka, my current Aussie, is my adult soul dog. But then it's always hard to imagine loving an animal more than the current one in residence. Except for Chuck the cat, who was crabby all his life....

    And yay! will see you at Malice!

  45. Deb, thanks so much for your kind words.

    Dogs are very sensitive and can often tell when their owner is sick. They can predict seizures, vertigo episodes (I notice you gave that to your PTSD search and rescue guy!), and other sudden onset conditions, often allowing their owners warning to take medicine or find a safe place. Then, they stay close to offer support, emotional and physical.

    Your cocker was a born service dog!

    Researchers now believe that some highly trained dogs can smell the changes cancer makes in our bodies before the cancer would show up on any other tests! If they can replicate and breed & train more of these dogs, they could become the ultimate early warning systems for humans.

  46. Lucy, so glad you also loved THE ODDS. It's such a great book!

    I love those names, Bondo and Tigger. A devilish cat--I've had my share of them! Cats are "a whole nother story," as my Gran used to say. They're such complicated little beings. I've always had cats, and such a variety of personalities they had! Sometimes what a variety of personalities just one of them would have!

    It is hard to imagine loving one of your pets more than the one you currently adore, I know. Though I must say, my last dog, the Husky-Sharpei, Mina, was so very special. And that doesn't take anything away from Dyson, who's young and loving and smart and eager to please, but doesn't have the senior wisdom Mina had.

    And Malice, yessss! We'll have a JungleReds meet-up!

  47. Also, a big shout-out to Red Rhys, whose HUSH NOW, DON'T YOU CRY made NYT bestseller list! Hurray, Rhys!

  48. Wow - what a childhood. Talk about making lemonade... The rule in our house was NO DOGS. when I got my own place I immediately got cats, and then found out I was severely allergic.

    So seriously: when's the memoir? Not many of us have had the kind of experiences you have.

  49. Hi, Hallie! I don't know about the memoir. You guys may make me change my mind there. Just not sure I want to relive those days every day for the time it would take to write it.

    What a bummer to learn that you were allergic after you were finally able to get your cat! I'd hate to have to give up my animals (though my doc would like me to since I have asthma). On the plus side, once your kids are grown, you can pick up and go traveling without a problem. No arranging kennel stays, etc.

  50. Linda, thanks for sharing your story; I'm glad you made it through the other side. I would take care of yourself in terms of writing that memoir. People seem to have an insatiable appetite for these stories, but may not realize what it literally takes to put all that down on paper.

    I'm a social worker and hear these stories nearly every day, so I love to delve into a good mystery! I am glad I'm on Jungle Reds' list so that I heard about you, and look forward to reading your debut.

    Wishing you peace and strength,


  51. Linda,
    What a fascinating fact about dogs detecting cancer! I had a cousin who died of cancer as a teenager. The family dog stuck to her like glue whenever she returned home from chemo -he seemed to sense that she did not feel well and needed comforting - and barked loudly for help when she would get sick to her stomach. My aunt felt that he was their own built in Home Care nurse.

    I am impressed with all the dog stories today! I love dogs and would love to have one but I just don't see that it would be feasible financially. Former neighbors used to joke that they should ask me to stay inside when they needed to walk their dog -whenever he saw me outside, he would drag his human over to me,and flip over on his back so I could rub his stomach, and then he would not want to leave!

  52. Thanks for your concern, Judy, and your support. Bless you and all the others who work in the field trying to help children!

    I'll bet you do love to read a good mystery where disorder and crime are fought and (usually) order and tranquility. And you've certainly come to the right place for good mysteries here at Jungle Reds.

  53. Deb, yes, I thought that was fascinating about dogs smelling the onset of illness, especially cancer. There's so much fascinating new information being learned all the time.

    We have had a good crop of dog stories, haven't we?

    As for your neighbor's dog, well, dogs do know who loves them. They respond to love with love--always. There are no bad dogs, just dogs who've had bad or ignorant owners.

  54. I have been eagerly awaiting your book, and this entry made me pre-order it for my kindle. We had a wonderful dog named Puff who might have been part collie. She looked like a huge wire hair fox terrier. I used to worry about making sure she felt loved, never thinking about the unconditional love she was showing us.