Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Feature: Jerilyn McIntyre author of Paws In The Piazza


“Back home, I was content to be just an ordinary house cat.  I didn’t get out much.  But it’s different here in Venice.”

How different?  Harley quickly finds out after his family arrives in Italy.  

He takes up with a group of local cats who roam wild in the alleys and neighborhoods of Venice, and meets the mysterious Angela, a beautiful white Angora who steals his heart.   Then he becomes embroiled in a fierce and ongoing war between his friends and a rival band of cats, and discovers the magical order that underlies life in the enchanting and historic city that is his new home.  


EARLY THE NEXT morning, I am dozing on the sill of the window that overlooks the canal outside the building where we live. I love to sleep there. From that perch, I can smell the air that blows in from the much larger waterway a few buildings away from our home. The air is pungent, fishy, full of smells that fill my dreams with images of tasty morsels and unending feasts.
But today the images aren’t so comfortable. I’m not sure why. I’ve heard Scott and Cassie talk about worrying. That’s probably what I’m doing. I’m worrying. And worrying makes my fur stand on end.
Something’s not right.
Usually I know what other cats are thinking. It’s just automatic with my pals back home. And I share my feelings with Scrawny, Scruffy and Mooch here in Venice the same way. Oh, sure, we have some local language problems every once in a while, but we can still tell each other pretty much everything we want to say without actually speaking.
Sometimes I also know what other animals are thinking, although that doesn’t happen as often. With my human family, however, it’s different. I have to wait for them to talk to me before I get any idea of how they feel or how they see the world. I’m used to that with them.
But here’s what doesn’t seem right to me: last night, I could not understand what my beloved Angela was thinking. I could not share my thoughts with her the way I do with other cats. I don’t understand why. That’s what is making my fur stand on end.Lying with my head on the window sill, I rub my nose and my face with one of my forepaws. I’ve seen Scott do this when he says he is worried. And, for a moment, I put both my forepaws next to my nose. That makes me feel a little better. Then I doze a bit until water from the canal suddenly splashes over the walkway below my window. Opening one eye, I glance in the direction of the sound.
A narrow black boat drifts slowly by. It’s the kind that is usually propelled by a man standing at the back, pushing it along with a pole, but this one seems to be floating on its own. There’s no human on board. Just a small figure sitting at the front, gazing straight ahead, as if in a trance. Wearing a cape.
I rise to a four-pawed stance on the window sill and howl as loud as I can. “ROWRRR!” She glances in my direction, a fleeting moment of interest on her face, followed almost immediately by the same look of fear I saw in her eyes last night. As the boat floats farther away from me, she somehow slips out of her cape, leaps to the walkway and scampers down a narrow alley separating the buildings on the other side of the canal.
She’s not going to get away from me this time! I hop to the roof over the doorway and from there to the walkway below. Once I have landed, I look across the canal, trying to see the shortest way to reach Angela. It’s clear I can’t get directly to the alley. I’ll have to scamper to the little bridge a couple of buildings away and cross it.
That doesn’t take long, but when I arrive at the spot where I saw Angela disappear, I know there is no use in going farther. She has had too much time to find her way to another part of the neighborhood.
Still, my nose to the ground, I sniff for a scent that I might be able to follow again. 


What inspired you to write this book? 

I had previously written two humorous short stories in which Harley was the
hero.  (Harley is an actual cat who belonged to our neighbors when we lived in
Ellensburg,Washington.  He had so much personality and charisma, I decided to
create a fictionalized version of him.)   In "Paws in the Piazza," I wanted to
develop Harley as a more serious character..  A book-length adventure with young
readers in mind slowly emerged as the story line became more complicated.

Can you give us an interesting fact about your book that isn't in the blurb?

Most of the scenes I describe in the book are places I have actually visited,
first as an undergraduate university student, and later in my life when my
husband and I spent a few days in Venice on vacation.     

How did you choose your title?

That took a long time.  I wanted a title that conveyed a sense of the story and,
at the same time, was visually evocative and "catchy" enough to stand out in a
book store display. The manuscript had several working titles, but none seemed
to capture what I had in mind.  "Paws" just came to me one day, and I liked it

Tell us about the cover and how it came to be.

I spent quite a bit of time getting recommendations from friends and colleagues
about possible illustrators for the book.  None of them worked out, either
because their style didn't seem right, or because they were busy on other
projects.  I was very fortunate that Ken Shuey, a gifted artist who has
illustrated a couple of other children's books, was available and interested. 
My husband knows him because they were both members of the same fraternity at
the University of Utah years ago.  We contacted Ken, sent him a copy of the
manuscript, and asked him if he would be interested in doing the cover and the
inside artwork.  He was!    I think the cover captures both the story and the
setting very well, and I'm quite pleased with it.

Did you self-publish or publish traditionally and why?

"Paws" was published through an independent publishing company my husband and I
established a couple of years ago.  (Bristlecone Peak Press.)  The technology
now available for independent publishing makes that a much more attractive and
viable option than it was even a few years ago.  In fact, a lot has been written
recently about the extent to which independent publishing is a growing and very
desirable part of the market.  Because my husband has a background in
publication design, we decided we had the expertise "in house" (literally) that
made the establishment of our own company right for us.  We intend, by the way,
to publish works by other authors as well and we are currently in discussion
with other writers about their projects.  Bristlecone Peak is not simply for our
own works. 

What do you consider the most important part of a good story?

Compelling and appealing characters, and an interesting plot.

What is your writing process?

I try to write at least a couple of hours a day, usually in the middle of the
day.  (My schedule of other activities makes this difficult to do every day, but
I  try to do it as often as possible.) I often get into the writing mood by
going back and editing the pages that immediately precede the point where I am
about to continue the story.  That gives me a running start into further plot

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for most of my life.  I wrote fiction as a youngster, was a
journalist early in my adult professional life, and combined academic writing
and journalistic writing later in my career.  I'm now retired, and I'm focusing
my writing on fiction and personal essays.

How did you get started writing?

I did it for pleasure as a youngster and it has simply been a part of my life
ever since then.  I've also been an avid reader all my life,  That has been a
helpful incentive to my own writing interests as well. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Probably both.  I usually have in mind a general idea of the story I want to
tell when I start out, but I don't do an outline of the plot.  I allow the story
to grow in directions I haven't anticipated when that seems to be an

What part of the writing process is the hardest for you?

Getting started.  Sometimes it's too easy for other activities to seem more
important.  Once I get into the writing mode I enjoy it, but I have to
discipline myself to set aside the time.

What tips can you give on how to get through writers block?

The editing of earlier sections in a manuscript helps me.  That gets me back
into the plot and, at the same time, gives me a perspective that helps me see
new possibilities.

What kind of music do you like to listen to while you write?

I don't listen to music while I write.  I find it distracting.

Who is your favorite author/character/book? 

I read a lot in various genres so I don't really have favorites. At the moment,
I particularly seek out and enjoy mysteries by Donna Leon and humorous detective
stories by Spencer Quinn (the Chet and Bernie series).

Read anything good lately?

I'm currently reading three very different books and I am enjoying them all: 
Elaine Pagels' "The Gnostic Gospels;" James Rollins' "The Eye of God;"  and "The
Thief Lord" by Cornelia Funke.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? 

Play the piano, listen to music and go for long walks in our neighborhood.

What advice would you give an author just starting out?

Take some writing classes and get involved in a writing group where you can test
your ideas and your projects on others.  Also--read a lot!  Reading the works of
others is a good way to learn how to write (and sometimes how not to write). 

Have you had anything else published?

I published a lot earlier in my career, both in academic journals and--as a
journalist--in newspapers and magazines.  In my current life as a writer, I have
published humorous short stories and a humorous personal essay, all of them in
small literary journals.

What's you next project?

I'm currently working on a memoir about my life as a youngster (and my family's
life) in a small midwestern town during World War II,


Jerilyn McIntyre is an independent writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is
a graduate of Stanford University, earning bachelor's and master's degrees
before working as a correspondent for McGraw-Hill Publications in Los Angeles.
She returned to school to earn her Ph.D. from the University of Washington.  She
taught journalism at Chico State College, the University of Iowa and the
University of Utah before serving as Vice President for Academic Affairs and
Interim President at the University of Utah, and as President at Central
Washington University.  She was the first woman to have been appointed to any of
those administrative positions.  She retired from her academic career in 2010. 
Her recent publications include a book for middle grade readers and humorous
short stories and personal essays for literary journals. 

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