Monday, May 5, 2014

Author Claire Donally makes lemonade (+Giveaway)

Last Licks coverIt’s a pleasure to welcome author Claire Donally here today to talk about LAST LICK, the latest release in her Sunny and Shadow Mystery series.

Claire is here to talk about ‘making lemonade’ when pitching this fun cat mystery series. She is also giving away one print copy of LAST LICK to a lucky visitor to celebrate the release. Please see the end of the post for details.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book:

Sniffing out a murderer...
        When Sunny Coolidge’s curmudgeonly boss, Oliver Barnstable, lands in rehab after breaking his leg, Sunny is stuck shuttling between their offices in Kittery Harbor, Maine, and the facility where Ollie is recuperating. And if putting up with temper tantrums from her boss wasn’t enough, his rehab roommate, Gardner Scatterwell, is a shameless flirt.
        But when Scatterwell dies unexpectedly in the night, Ollie is convinced it wasn’t from natural causes. He gives Sunny a new assignment—find out who killed the old tomcat.
        And speaking of cats, Shadow, Sunny’s feline partner in crime, takes a peculiar interest in the rehab’s resident angel of death—a calico cat called Portia, with an uncanny talent for cozying up to patients right before they pass away. Together, Sunny and Shadow will have to nose out clues to discover if Portia’s jinx had anything to do with Gardner’s passing—or if all his catting around finally got him fixed. 

Please join me in welcoming Claire.

Making Lemonade

When I was asked to pitch some ideas for a cat mystery, there were certain elements I wanted in the mix. I knew parts of the book should be from the cat's point of view. Initially, I had the idea of Sherlock Holmes in a fur coat, but when it came to the writing, my cat's thoughts were less about logic and more about cat interests. Smells, comfort, what fools these two-leggity people be, getting one's own way . . . falling in love with someone for no apparent reason. Well, maybe because they smell good.

I wanted the human lead character to be an out-of-work reporter. Too many friends have found themselves in that situation or dangerously close to it, struggling to find a related field where they might use their skills and knowledge and still make a living. These notions made it into the Sunny & Shadow stories. Others, like my human working for a low-rent private eye and setting the stories in a fictionalized version of my own neighborhood, didn't make the cut. Apparently, where I live is neither picturesque nor small-town enough, so off the series went to Maine. And in a blue-collar town like Kittery – excuse me, fictional Kittery Harbor – well, a private eye just didn't seem to work.

Fine. But now another question arose. If Sunny Coolidge, my protagonist/reporter worked in a big city and lost her job, why would she come back to a small town? Real life provided that answer – taking care of a sick father. I wrote my second novel while also taking care of my dad during his final illness. Definitely one of life's lemons, but the conversations we had during those months told me more about him than living with him for the thirty years before.

As the only free-lancer in my family, I've found myself alternating between writing numerous books and working as a part-time home health attendant, first for my father, then my grandmother, and now my mom. In both fields, the work is demanding, makes those demands at odd times. . .and the pay doesn't leave you pricing yachts.

However, this difficult work has also provided grist for the writing mill. If, as Wordsworth said, poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, comedy is stress reconsidered with a bit of distance. When Mike Coolidge, Sunny's father, complains about the pill police and the food police that comes out of real (and sometimes loud) conversations. The three a.m. angina attacks were also reality based, but Mike no longer sufferers from them – nor, thank heaven, does my patient.

But there's always something: in this case a fall, a broken bone, and seven weeks in physical therapy rehab. For a writer with a twisted sensibility like mine, the thought hit me on my first visit. “What a wonderful place for a murder!”

Thus, the fourth Sunny & Shadow mystery, LAST LICKS, was born. Research was simple – basically keeping my eyes open, watching how therapy was administered, how patients responded. Mom was in a good facility, with a thoughtful, caring staff. But we're talking about human beings here, and I had a chance to stand in the background and watch them interact. The therapist who was interested in one of his colleagues and always getting shot down; the very kind music therapist; learning when the aides were overworked and when you could ask them for special help.

And, of course, there were the therapy animals. They usually didn't make their way to the PT floor, but Mom encountered them when I wheeled her down to the garden or the other common areas. There were plenty of dogs, always eagerly nosing around for someone to pet them. I also saw a single cat, whose residence was a cage on the route to the garden and who usually gave us a supercilious once-over from her hammock inside. On occasion, she'd vacate that location to startle people by sitting statue-like on pieces of furniture, favoring her victims with a “what's-the-matter-with you?” look when they jumped.

And if she made it to the facility's front parlor, she somehow had the ability to beat anyone to the most comfortable seat – pretty remarkable for such a languorous creature – and spend her time looking at the tank full of giant fish, doubtless thinking exciting thoughts.

Over the weeks I met additional cats who visited other floors, including one poor little guy who was undergoing cancer treatment, sick and apparently starved for attention but not lacking self-confidence. He gave me a little nip to tell me to stop wasting time signing out one evening and devote more time to petting.

Add in a news story tucked away years before about a nursing-home cat who could apparently predict which patients weren't long for the world, and I had a pretty good locale and setup for a murder mystery. Then came the motive, opportunity, and means mechanics, not just to determine whodunit, but who wanted to do it, when, and how.

Maybe I'm developing a soft spot for a crusty character, but after giving him a heart attack, I didn't want to put poor old Mike though the stress of rehab. So I got the notion of injuring Sunny's demanding, loud boss. Plus, what a lousy, impatient patient he'd be!

I've written novels set in different eras and locales that required plenty of research. Only occasionally have I been able to turn something I've lived through into a story. It's interesting to take an experience that caused a lot of strain and difficulty reconsider it through a creative lens (and some comedy).

Sort of taking lemons and making lemonade – finding the right balance between tart and sweet.

Claire, thanks for stopping today and giving us an inside look at how this series came to be. I think when there are elements based in real life used in stories, it helps us readers connect more personally.

Now for those who aren’t familiar with Claire, here’s a bit of background on her.

Under many different names, Claire Donally has written mystery, science fiction, and fantasy stories – some of them also including cats. She lives in a quiet, non-picturesque neighborhood in Queens, New York and is presently between feline companions. The only animals presently in the house are dust bunnies.


This giveaway is for one print copy of LAST LICK. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. only and will end on Tuesday, May 13. When notified, the winner will have 72 hours to respond to my email. After that time period if the winner doesn’t reply, another winner will be selected.

To enter the contest, just click on the Rafflecopter below and follow the instruction. It may take the widget a few seconds to load, please be patient.
Everyone thanks so much for dropping by today. Hope your week is getting off to a good start. Have you ever had any dealings with therapy animals? If so, was it a good or bad experience? 

*This post contains affiliate links. a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Amazing how much of your own life's experiences became elements in your story. And cats just seem to fit naturally in mysteries.
    Congratulations, Claire.

  2. I have not had any experience with therapy animals, but I do know we got a new puppy and since then my dad who became handicap after a bad surgery has been walking more and better with the dog.

  3. Claire, thanks again for visiting. Therapy animals can be an amazing thing. I know just being around animals makes me feel happier. Wishing you much success.

    Hi Alex and Angela.

  4. Mason - Thanks for hosting Claire.

    Claire - You're so right that a solid novel has a balance of positive and negative - tart and sweet. That's the way life is, and I think books that reflect that are more authentic. I wish you success.

  5. That's wonderful there were therapy animals. I've read they can make such a difference.

  6. you got me with the cat element on the cover :)
    I've seen people using horses as therapy animals here in my country

  7. Mason, I have not had any exposure to therapy animals. I think Millie would be a good one except she's a maniac right now.

    Claire, what a wonderful idea for a story. I love cats!

  8. I have not had an experience with therapy animals but have read about their work and the positive results. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Sounds like a cute book! I like the cover!

  10. I love how she gets her ideas from her own life. LIke how she used her own situation to make the plot work and how she comes up with murder sites.

  11. Sounds fun! Alas, Rafflecopter doesn't like me. Love the cover.

  12. I haven't had any personal experiences with therapy dogs, but met someone who trained them in the dentist waiting room. He told me about visiting a hospital ward and a mother came out of a nearby room and asked if he could stop in with his dog to see her daughter. I have no doubt they are very helpful.

  13. I haven't had any dealings with service dogs.

  14. I haven't had any experiences with therapy dogs but I know they do wonderful work!

  15. I have seen therapy pets in nursing homes and they were very good experiences.

    lag110 at mchsi dot com


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.