Monday, June 1, 2009

An Interview with Avalon Author Joani Ascher

Join me in spending a few minutes with Avalon Author Joani Ascher. I've never met her in person, but have connected with her through writing for Avalon and through our connection to The Seeing Eye. I hope you enjoy reading about her work with her Avalon mysteries and her work with really special puppies.

1: You write mysteries for Avalon. Tell us about writing in this genre, why you chose it, a little about your latest book.

I have always liked to read mysteries and I have a tendency to try to imagine mysteries whenever I see something odd. For example, in my latest mystery, Vengeance Runs Cold, the fifth in the Wally Morris mystery series, I was inspired by weirdly shaped water damage in my basement. From that I developed the story of a young woman, Paige Griffin, moving to the Adirondacks and finding the mummified body of a woman inside the wall of a closet. Naturally Paige called my sleuth, Wally Morris, who was her mother’s old friend. The story took on a life of its own after that. What really surprised me, though, was the effect Paige had on the available bachelors in town. That sort of thing almost never happens in a mystery.

2: How long have you been writing and why do you do it?

I was an inventive writer as a child, according to some old report cards, but I never tried to write fiction until the late eighties. I continued, regardless of the odds and adversity, because I enjoy it so much. I have many stories in my head, and different characters, not to mention another series, which will hopefully someday be published.

3: What is the first thing you would like a person to know about you?

See the next question.

4: You have a really special volunteer job. Please tell us about your work raising puppies for The Seeing Eye. How did you start? How does it impact your life? How can you bear to give these precious lives up after your year with them? Tell us anything about raising puppies for The Seeing Eye you would like to add beyond the scope of these questions.

I love raising Seeing Eye® puppies! I wanted to do it ever since I was in the sixth grade but couldn’t because I didn’t live in New Jersey. When my daughter was the same age I was when I read a book about it, I borrowed the book from our library and she read it. She immediately asked if we could raise a puppy and we called the appropriate people, went to a meeting, and got our first puppy. That was over 15 years ago.

The basic role of a puppy raiser (which is a 4-H project) is to housetrain the puppy and teach it to be a civilized “citizen.” We take the puppies on outings and get them used to having new experiences, walking in towns and cities, and going on trains, in cars, and, in some cases, practice getting on and off airplanes.

Having a new puppy every year or so means keeping close to home a lot more than non-puppy people do. I work (in the children’s room of a library) two miles away, so I can come home for lunch, and my other job, as a writer, fits in perfectly with the responsibilities of being a puppy raiser. In the bio for my first book I mentioned that I could get a lot of writing done with a warm puppy asleep on my foot. It’s true.

I maintain a data base of the puppies in our club and their “parents.” This helps my writing too, since I choose my character names from the list.

One of the most common things I hear from people when they learn that I raise puppies for The Seeing Eye is “How can you give up the puppies?” Sometimes it’s really hard. We miss them for a long time. Two came home to us though, because they didn’t have what it takes. One had my heart from the day she was delivered in the Seeing Eye van as a seven week old puppy, and I was delighted to have her back. We became a therapy dog team. But I am most proud of the ones who went on to become working dogs, since they are performing important jobs, helping visually impaired people to be independent.

My puppies can be seen on my web-site: Don’t be fooled by the last picture. It is of our cat. He only thinks he’s a dog.

5: Between the writing and the puppy raising, you seem to have a full life, yet I’m sure there’s more. What other things do you do in your life you’re willing to share?

I live in the Garden State. I’ve taken that to mean I should have a lot of flowers around my house. Since I like pinks, purples and blues, that’s what colors the flowers are. They might not be in a perfectly matched grouping or evenly spaced, but they are pretty.

I’m not much of a cook but I love to bake cakes, some that I decorate, and I make challahs (egg bread) on Fridays just like my character, Wally Morris. I also like to read, keep up with my friends, travel, and I like to walk. That works out well, since I usually have a furry, four-footed companion.

6: What else would you like to share with readers?

I really enjoy doing the Avalon blog and it helps me deal with the guilt of letting my own blog, “Random thoughts, mostly of a furry variety,” go unattended. I usually only post to that in response to a comment someone has made, which prompted me to post my recipe for challah, or when there is something interesting to report about one of my critters. When a puppy comes, or goes, or demonstrates great prowess on a “town walk,” I write about it. I changed blog carriers, though, so if people want to check on it on my website, they should click on both.

I imagine I will soon have to write about Wilda, my eleventh puppy, going back to The Seeing Eye for her training. With any luck, five or six months later I will be blogging again, about her success.


Sandy Cody said...

Thank you, Laurie Alice and Joani. I loved reading about Joani raising the Seeing-Eye puppies. That's true giving when you put so much love and time into raising a puppy, then giving it up. It must be enormously rewarding. And I love that you take your character names from your puppy files.

Christine Bush said...

Joani, I am so touched, by your writing, as well as by your commitment to such a wonderful cause as the Seeing Eye. Thanks for being such an inpsiration. I can't wait to hear about Wilda, and when the time comes, and your own blog is active, I WILL check out your blog. Really wonderful thoughts.