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By Michael Haskins

Saving animals and solving murders seem to go paw-in-paw for shelter manager and amateur sleuth Lauren Vancouver. But this time, mixed up in a murder that may close a much-needed new shelter, Lauren will have to keep herself and her critters safe from an unleashed killer.

Much of Linda O. Johnston’s  fiction involves animals.  The third in the Pet Rescue Mystery series, which is a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter mystery series continues in April 2012 with the release of HOUNDS ABOUND from Berkley Prime Crime.

Can you give us an elevator pitch for your third Pet Rescue Mystery HOUNDS ABOUND?

I think the back cover blurb pretty much says it all:

Saving animals and solving murders seem to go paw-in-paw for shelter manager and amateur sleuth Lauren Vancouver. But this time, mixed up in a murder that may close a much-needed new shelter, Lauren will have to keep herself and her critters safe from an unleashed killer.

For Lauren, Save Them All, the newest no-kill shelter in Los Angeles, is just what the vet ordered: a place for handicapped kitties and senior spaniels to find a loving home and a second chance.  There’s just one problem.  Its charming owner, Bella Frankovick, is now suspected of murdering her ex-husband, a powerful and animal-hating cosmetic surgeon.  And it’s up to Lauren to use her bulldog grip on the case to rescue Save Them All and decide Bella’s fate, while keeping herself and her own critters safe from an unleashed killer.

Did you think writing a series when you began the first Pet Rescue Mystery?

Yes, it was sold as a spinoff series from my Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mystery series, also for Berkley Prime Crime.

Will the series continue or do you have a stand-alone book in the works?

There will be at least two more Pet Rescue Mysteries.  I also write for Harlequin.  My first Harlequin Romantic Suspense, UNDERCOVER SOLDIER, will be a July 2012 release, and UNDERCOVER WOLF, the next book in my Alpha Force mini-series for Harlequin Nocturne, about a covert military force of shapeshifters, will be published in early 2013.  Yes, I do a lot of undercover stories for Harlequin!

How much have you submersed yourself the in ‘pet rescue’ organizations?

I’m a dog adoption counselor at Pet Orphans of Southern California, and I’m there for a few hours each week introducing people to dogs who might become their next family members.  It’s an amazing experience!  You can read more about my ideas on pet rescue on my website.

Has your research given you ideas for your mysteries, or do you use research to support your storyline?

Both.  Sometimes I see or hear things at Pet Orphans that give me ideas, and I’m always reading current material and keeping my eyes and ears open about the status of pet rescue and attending adoption events.  There are ideas everywhere!

Is there a message in your pet mysteries?

I intend for my Pet Rescue Mysteries to entertain readers–but I hope they call attention to the plight of unwanted or abused animals without hitting readers over the head with a message.  One thing readers should be aware of.  In my Pet Rescue Mysteries, all animals are saved.  Not so with people, because the stories are murder mysteries.  My protagonist Lauren Vancouver runs a no-kill shelter in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles… and in the Pet Rescue Mysteries, “no-kill” means pets, not people!

You are a law school graduate and began seriously writing after graduation. Do they have a ‘how to become a writer’ course in law school? It seems more and more attorneys are turning to writing. Can you explain that?

Writing contracts and briefs is just another way of writing fiction!  Seriously, there is a lot of writing involved with being an attorney.  I’ve always prided myself in being able to switch from one form of writing to another and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  Plus, there is a lot of drama in day-to-day aspects of lawyering, even the transactional stuff like I do, so a lot of fictional ideas can be generated.  And, writing fiction helps to alleviate the stress of a legal career.  But if there was a law school class on how to become a writer I missed it.  It was rather fun to revisit the campus of the University of Southern California for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books recently, by the way.  I attended their law school for a year and a half as a visiting student before I received my degree from Duquesne University School of Law.

You must be a disciplined writer. You write mysteries, romance novels and are an award-winning short story writer. How do you do it all?

I used to be more disciplined when I had a full time law job, but I have a general plan for each day and just keep on writing.

What are some of the challenges in writing mysteries vs. romance?

Both require satisfying endings, but those endings are different in the two genres.  In my cozy mysteries, the crime needs to be solved by the amateur sleuth protagonist.  She always has a love interest, but the mysteries of those relationships are usually not resolved by the end of a story.  In romance, there needs to be a wrap-up that allows the reader to assume there’s a HEA–Happily Ever After–in the relationship.  If there is a suspense element, as there usually is in my stories, that needs to be wrapped up as well since even in a miniseries in romance each story needs to stand on its own.  I keep all that in mind as I write each one.

There are a few good anthologies of short stories available today, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. Do you expect to see your short stories in an anthology?

I’ve had a couple of my mystery short stories published in anthologies.  My first, “Different Drummers,” published in ELLLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE–the one that won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year–was also included in THE YEAR’S BEST MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE STORIES, edited by Ed Hoch that year.  My most recent published short story, “Love on Sunset Boulevard,” was included in an anthology called MURDER ON SUNSET BOULEVARD, published by the Sisters in Crime LA Chapter.

What book are you currently reading?

I am delighted to say that I was chosen by my publisher, Penguin Group (USA), of which Berkley Prime Crime is an imprint, to participate in their Read Humane program.  They’ve donated a substantial amount of money to the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team and, to encourage others to learn about the organization and to donate, they are printing copies of participating books with a special Read Humane seal and generating special store displays.  The other authors are Rebecca M. Hale, Alison Pace, Miranda James, and Sofie Kelly, as well as Nora Roberts, who is the program’s spokesperson.  I’m currently reading the other participants’ books that I previously missed.

What are you currently working on?

I just turned in the manuscript for the next Pet Rescue Mystery, OODLES OF POODLES, and am working on other ideas before I start on the next one.


Linda O. Johnston’s first published fiction appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for Best First Mystery Short Story of the year. Since then, Linda has published more short stories, plus 30 romance and mystery novels, including the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries for Harlequin Nocturne and an upcoming Harlequin Romantic Suspense.

Linda’s Pet Rescue Mysteries, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, feature Lauren Vancouver, a determined pet rescuer who runs a no-kill shelter. In this cozy series, “no-kill” refers to pets, not people!

To learn more about Linda, please visit her website.

Michael Haskins
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