Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Best-seller Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, was an NBC Petside Top Ten Dog book of 2012 and won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. The Moneybird was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Sheila has been involved with many sides of the animal world and has written seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats, six of which have won major awards. You can find Sheila at sheilaboneham.com, or at her Writers & Other Animals blog at writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com, or on Facebook.
Jay and Leo, the protagonist’s dog and cat in my Animals in Focus mysteries, make regular visits to their local library with their trainer, chauffeur, and “peoplemom,” Janet MacPhail. Like Janet, I’ve spent many hours with my own registered therapy dogs in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and yes, libraries. As volunteers with three different “read to the dog” programs, my dogs and I listened to many children read or, in the case of the pre-readers, make up stories to match the pictures. One day, a little boy stopped reading and asked, “Where do all these books come from?” After that, I often asked the same question, and tried to help the young readers understand that every single book they read was written by someone. I like to think the idea sparked some dreams in a few of them.
I was a big dreamer as a kid, and family legend has it that I started writing stories as soon as I could grip a crayon. I was also lucky enough to see a lot of the country as my mom and I tagged along on some of my daddy’s business trips. He was an engineer, and was instrumental in the development of sonobuoy technology for detecting submarines during the cold war. One of my favorite destinations was on the beautiful coast of Maine, where the navy monitored equipment tests from the Pemaquid Point lighthouse.
While my dad was off watching screens and twisting knobs (or so I imagined), my mom and I spent many happy hours on the Pemaquid rocks and exploring the tidal pools. At Pemaquid I learned that the sea will take back the treasures you gather if you don’t move them above the tide line (there may be a metaphor in that). I learned that seagulls will steal your lunch if you don’t keep it safe from aerial thievery. I met my first sea creatures—starfish, mussels, and more—and ate my first lobster. And it was in Maine that I met my first author and learned that real people write books.
We always stayed at the Pemaquid Hotel, a lovely old place with guest rooms and dining room in the main hotel and “cabins” outside. We liked the cabins because they had little porches where we could sit in the evenings and listen to the frogs that sang in the pond at the back of the grounds. Some of the elderly guests had been coming to the hotel since they were children, a thought that boggled my pre-teen mind.
At that time, the hotel was owned by the Allens, who lived there year round and opened for guests in the summer months. They were lovely people, but I must confess that my favorite family member was Bristol, their Beagle. He often accompanied me on my walks to the rocky coast, and helped ease the pain of missing my dogs at home. From the hotel it was an easy stroll to the lighthouse, the rocks, and the tiny snack and souvenir shop where my mom bought me a copy of Mystery at Pemaquid Point by Mary C. Jane.
Serendipity being ever part of life, I took my new book to dinner and Mrs. Allen saw it on the table. Her daughter, she said, had been in Mrs. Jane’s fifth-grade class a decade earlier. Perhaps my mother saw my future even then. I don’t know. What I do know is that she got Mrs. Jane’s phone number and called to ask if she could bring her young daughter to meet her and have her book signed. So off we drove to the lovely town of Damariscotta and Mary C. Jane’s home for lemonaide and cookies, and a lifelong memory of meeting my first author.
I’ve returned to Pemaquid Point several times over the years, and it will always be one of my favorite places in the world. And my memories of Maine will always include the three women who conspired to let me meet the author whose book I loved. Knowing what I know now about most authors, I cherish the idea, too, that Mrs. Jane was as delighted to meet a reader from far away as I was to meet her.
What memories do you have of meeting an author or other person who opened your eyes to something new?