As an avid reader and pet parent, I gravitate toward books that feature dogs and cats—more specifically rescue dogs and cats. I love it when the pet plays an integral part, not simply acting as a prop to the story.
In author/agent/pet rescue advocate Paula Munier’s first published work of fiction, A Borrowing Of Bones, she deftly weaves a Belgian Malinois sniffer dog (who suffers PTSD) and a search and Newfie/Lab mix (rescue dog) into the story. The dogs play a major role alongside their human counterparts.
Q: As an aspiring novelist myself, I’d love to hear how you made the leap from nonfiction to fiction.
A: As a former reporter, I had always been a writer, but my dream was to write fiction. Even when I’d written nonfiction, I knew I wanted to write fiction. Fiction, in my mind, is the pinnacle of “having written” and being a real writer.
On writing A Borrowing Of Bones, I was invited to write a chapter for the book, The Writer’s Guide To Beginnings, and when I submitted it, my agent said, “You should keep writing that.” The chapter was supposed to have been an example of how to take a so-so beginning and re-write it until it was a killer hook that would keep the reader engaged.
I took my agent’s advice—took that beginning chapter and turned it into a book! I fleshed out Mercy Carr, my protagonist; her Belgian Malinois, Elvis; U.S. Game Warden, Troy Warner; and his search and rescue Newfoundland, Susie Bear. I added in a cold case, a lost baby and rescue cats.
Q: What was the research like to add in an Army Veteran (Mercy), a Game Warden (Troy), a sniffer dog with PTSD (Elvis) and the happy-go-lucky but highly trained Newfoundland (Susie Bear)?
A: I’m an Army brat and if I’d been born a few years later, I would have likely enlisted and applied for West Point. The opening chapter of my book had to start out with action, and I knew I needed to have a protagonist I could fall in love with. Mercy Carr was someone I knew I could love—Mercy lost her fiancé in Afghanistan, suffered an injury herself and promised her fiancé she would look after his dog, Elvis. Both Mercy and Elvis have scars—some not as visible as others – and they’re helping one another heal. Their pain and hopefulness for the future spoke to me.
Q: What did you know about sniffer dogs before you wrote the book?
A: I’d just attended a fundraiser for Mission K9 Rescue, a group that rescues bomb sniffer dogs. When these dogs are sent home and retired, they are essentially abandoned. If they are Army dogs, they are sometimes reunited with their handlers, but if they are defense department dogs, they are typically abandoned in shelters.
That is just heartbreaking to me. These dogs gave their all and risked their lives and then they not only lose their purpose, but the handler with whom they’ve bonded. In addition to helping the rescue group, I wanted to show a dog who has his own scars—mostly emotional—from missing his handler to his fear of loud noises. I wanted two wounded souls who could heal one another (Mercy and Elvis).
Q: They say authors should “write what they know.” How fully did you follow that adage or does that no longer apply in the information age?
A: Because I am an agent, a teacher and a former reporter I know great writing. Sure, you can hop on Google and find out answers to questions, but there is nothing like going to the source—like I did with the rescue. I talked with handlers and met the dogs. I heard what the training these dogs go through is like; and I got to see, first hand, the connection these dogs have with their handlers.
I love Vermont ,so it was a joy to travel there to talk with people who lived there—to walk in the woods and talk with game wardens. I talked with explosive experts, active and retired military, and former law enforcement officers. I also read anything I could find about dog handlers and working dogs. Nothing beats first-hand research and immersion when it comes to your writing.
Q: Tell me about your pets.
A: I wrote a book about one of my dogs, a bad beagle named Freddie. The book, a memoir called Fixing Freddie: A TRUE Story About A Boy, A Single Mom, And The Very Bad Beagle Who Saved Them. Now we have Bear, a ninety-pound Newfoundland who has the energy of a Retriever. He had a bad start to life, but dogs are so forgiving. He learned to love and trust again, and he is a joy in my life. He even likes to paddleboard!
In Massachusetts, where we live, most of the dogs who get adopted are brought in from down south. When my son and I decided we wanted to adopt a dog, we went online and filled out an application to adopt. The first one we tried for didn’t work out. Then we received a call about Bear and adopted him sight unseen from a shelter in Alabama.
When we got him, he was missing most of the teeth on one side of his mouth, had a skull and cheekbone fracture. The shelter assumes he was hit in the head with a shovel or a baseball bat. Bear has never held a grudge, though. He bonded with us, and we with him, immediately. Our vet says Bear is the happiest dog he’s ever seen. He’s definitely an optimist.
Our cat, Ursula, is about eight-years-old. We rescued her from a shelter in West Virginia. She is so affectionate and gets along with Bear; make no mistake though, Ursula rules the roost. When we adopted Ursula, my son Mike, and I went to a house that had been left as a cat sanctuary and there were about 100 cats there. I didn’t know how we would ever choose one. My son and I walked through the rooms in the house and in one of the rooms there were about ten cats. When my son sat down a torbie tabby came over and jumped right into his lap. We petted her for a while then went to explore the rest of the rooms. When we were getting ready to leave this torbie was waiting for us at the door. My son and I looked at one another and said, “Okay, it’s decided. She wants to come home with us.”
Q: What’s next for your writing?
A: I am working on the next book in the series with Mercy, Elvis, Troy, and Susie Bear and am doing a lot of book signings right now for the book. I just love meeting people who come to the signings and tell me their stories about their pets or their interactions with service dogs.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Paula, her books, or to sign up for her newsletter, check out paulamunier.com.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.