Author Sandra Baublitz and I have in common a profound love for dogs.
Sandra’s love is really specific in her Dog Detective series, with Paw the Saint Bernard as the detective protagonist, along with his human, Clarissa. In the interview, you’ll hear Sandra and I talk about her writing routine, some new ideas for another cozy mystery series, and Dean the Basset, whom I’m very grateful Sandra introduced me to. ;-)
If you’re a fan of Lilian Jackson Braun’s ‘The Cat Who…’ series or Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Sandra’s cozy mystery series.
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
- Click on any of the book covers to go to Sandra’s books on Amazon
- We mention Dean the Basset on Facebook. Here’s the link to his page.
- Sandra’s website, SandraBaublitz.com
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Sandra Baublitz
Alexandra: Hi, everyone. I’m Alexandra Amor. This is “It’s a Mystery Podcast.” And I’m here today with Sandra Baublitz. Hi, Sandra.
Sandra: Hi, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Am I pronouncing your last name right, by the way?
Sandra: Yes, that’s correct.
Alexandra: Okay, good. Let me give our listeners a little introduction to you.
Sandra Baublitz has been a bookkeeper. She’s worked at a greenhouse and raised and sold produce, among other jobs. However, writing is her first love. Her “Clarissa and Paw Mini Mystery” series has a lovable St. Bernard as a detective. The first story started out as a contest entry. Sadly, it didn’t win and sat for many years, until Sandra dusted it off, edited it, and published it. There are now five short stories in one novel in the dog detective series of mystery books. Sandra doesn’t own a St. Bernard herself. So for now, she is content to write about Paw while her two cats rule the household.
Tell us about Clarissa and Paw. Let’s start there.
Sandra: Clarissa is the young woman. She’s in her early 20s. And her Uncle Harry is a police chief. So she grew up to know about police investigations and such. And so she herself has gotten into investigating mysteries.
The first one pretty much was when she went to visit her cousin and realized that her uncle had been murdered. And, of course, Paw, he is her loyal St. Bernard, and he loves to get into mischief and dig into things. So, of course, she is going to find some clues that drag her into this mystery too.
Alexandra: Right, yeah. And in the introduction, I mentioned that you’ve always wanted to own a St. Bernard.
What is it about those dogs that appeals to you?
Sandra: I think they’re so big and warm and lovable. I really fell in love with them when I first saw the Beethoven movie. And so I mean you saw this huge fuzzy dog…and then what also compounded it was I worked at a place where we did computer printer cartridges, and I worked in-house, but they would have people that worked at home and brought their work in.
One day, a woman brought in a St. Bernard puppy she had just gotten. Well, I just fell in love instantly. I had dogs when I was younger, but never a great big dog, because my mom was like “We’re not feeding a great big dog.” And probably after my little dog was gone after so many months, I might’ve tried to get a big dog, but the cats just showed up. So after that, we became a cat household.
Alexandra: Right, yes, yeah, exactly.
Clarissa, you mentioned that her uncle was a police detective. And then in the first short story, there’s a different uncle.
Sandra: Yes, that’s a different uncle. The uncle that passed away was…I believe that was on her mother’s side. You know, I don’t think I really specified which side. But, yeah, the uncle…that was uncle on the other side. And her other uncle is the police chief in the town where she lives.
Alexandra: Okay, got it.
Sandra: That will come into play in later books more.
Alexandra: I see, okay, good to know.
Paw must be quite inquisitive because he kind of helps to solve the mysteries, correct?
Sandra: He does. He does help to solve the mysteries. And he is. He is very inquisitive. He’s also very mischievous. He loves to stick his nose into things he shouldn’t, of course. And he’s also extremely protective of Clarissa. If he thinks something’s wrong, he smells somebody doesn’t smell right or something, he’s gonna look into it to make sure she’s safe.
Alexandra: Oh, good. Oh, that’s great.
How much do you think this story changed after you took it out of the drawer after several years and then went to publish it? Did it change a lot?
Sandra: Yeah, it did. I think, being older, I had a different perspective because I wrote it, it was like 20 years ago. So I was younger. And so it did change a good bit. The basics of the story stayed. But I think I made the characters richer. And I think Paw became…had more depth to him, I think. But I think it…as I wrote more, the characters got more depth too, though.
And in fact, I had wrote the first three shorts about 20 years ago. I wrote the first one for a contest. And then I said, “Well, you know, I’m gonna…” I didn’t win the contest, but I said, “Well, I’m gonna write some more.” And then you get busy with your life, and I put it to the side and…because I had tried traditional publishing for a while. But that just was…it was always hard to break into. So the indie publishing has been phenomenal, I think, for lots of writers.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. You changed them a little bit, made the characters a little bit richer.
Sandra: And I think I made the plot a little more in depth. And I’m not the best at descriptions. I tend to like to let people use their imagination. So I may have enriched that I little more. But that…yeah, I’d say that’s about the biggest things that changed with the stories.
Alexandra: Right. There were two things that really struck me about your books, and one is that the first few are short.
I wondered how challenging that was to write a mystery in such short form. Maybe you could tell us a bit about that.
Sandra: It actually surprisingly wasn’t that difficult for me because…and this is the thing I’m getting better at as I get older is putting more depth into the books, because I always at first was more to rush the plot and rush the movement. So it was easy for me to write them. And like I said, the first one I had a framework because the contest said you had to have so many words, so many clues within that, so that gave me a framework, made it much easier.
And so the first five…the longer I wrote, the more I got more details to put in. And the biggest challenge I think was going from the fifth short story to the novel, which is like close to 300 pages, so that’s like 60,000 words. I wasn’t sure I could do it, you know, slow it down and get all that detail in. But it went better than I thought.
Alexandra: Oh, good. The other thing that I wondered about that must be really challenging is thinking out plots that a dog can help Clarissa out with.
Is that tricky for you as well?
Sandra: That is tricky to some degree. So far I haven’t had too much trouble, and I do find myself sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll get into what Clarissa is saying, and I’ll think, “Oh my goodness, I forgot all about Paw. He’s got to be in here. What can he do?”
And sometimes then it’s amazing how much variety you can add to it by thinking up, “Well, what can I add in that Paw can do?” And then it takes the book in a whole different direction because, oh, this will work with the dog.
The first one went a lot easier because of the dog show. So it was putting in an element where the dogs would all be in, and it was more dog-centered. So it’ll be interesting to see how those future books do with it. But I’m already into the next one, and he’s doing some things already and finding some mysteries.
Alexandra: Oh, good. That’s great. And so you’re writing the next full-length novel.
Is your plan to then to go back, back and forth, between the short form and long form?
Sandra: I was thinking at staying mostly with the novels. But the problem is I think I’m going to want to produce a little more quickly. And so I think I’m going to have to maybe throw some shorts in there because I’m a little bit of a slower writer for getting the novel. It’s a lot more to figure out the plot and all the clues. And I think it would be fun to do a short now and then.
Alexandra: Well, exactly. And I mean we talk about our readers and how they want to be satisfied and want new material. Sprinkling in a short story every once in a while is a great idea to kinda keep them satisfied.
Sandra: Yes, yes, I think so, yes. I’d thought of another series too to start, but I want to stay with Clarissa and Paw for a while. As long as the readers love Clarissa and Paw and want more, I am happy to keep writing more Clarissa and Paw.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s good, yeah. And they do.
I was reading the reviews on Amazon today, and people who love cozy mysteries and dogs just go crazy about them.
Sandra: Well, that’s good. I’m glad, because I know, as a reader, I love the cozy mysteries with the dogs or the cats, and I just will devour them.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. And when you wrote the novel, which is called…let me remind myself…”Mastiffs, Murders…”
Sandra: Mystery… “Mastiffs, Mystery, and Murder.”
Alexandra: Okay, great, great.
It’s set at a dog show, and did you do any research at dog shows, or have you been to them yourself?
Sandra: I have not personally been to them. And I know some of my readers have pointed out I had a few things wrong. But for the most part, what I did was I watched lots of the Westminster dog shows. I always did love to watch them. And I also did some reading. And I spoke to a few people that I knew that did dog shows.
It was a little hard because the technical details sometimes didn’t quite fit in with the way the book was moving, and I had to kind of make it a little less technical and a little more just so the book would flow. And I’ve heard other writers, especially writers who write historical novels, say you know, it’s…you have to move the timeline or something to make it fit for the flow of the story.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. There’s always that compromise, isn’t there, between reality and what helps your plot along. It can be a razor-sharp line sometimes.
Do you have a regular writing routine?
Sandra: I try to. I try to sit down every morning and write. I would like to get up to doing like 2,000 or 3,000 a day. But right now, it’s more around 1,000, 500 to 1,000 a day. It varies. But mornings seem to work best for me.
Sometimes if I don’t get my morning writing done, I’ll write in the evening. But I can really feel, you know, the stories…it’s like the characters are knocking on my head saying, “Listen to us. You know, we want you to write down our story,” if I don’t get it done in the morning.
Alexandra: Right, yes, yeah, exactly. And I find too in the morning, I’m just so much fresher. That’s when I do my writing as well.
Sandra: Yes, definitely.
Alexandra: Yeah, in the evening, I’m just done.
Alexandra: Do you tend to plot the stories out quite in a detailed way before you start, or do you kinda wing it?
Sandra: I wing it more. I’m trying to get more to outlining. I think it would help to go a little more easier. But I pretty much wing it. And I really like it when I can get into it that the characters are talking to me. Not schizophrenic or anything, but they actually talk and they say, “Well, this is the way the story should go.” Otherwise, I feel like I’m moving little pieces around on the board. But it’s hard to keep writing it that… An outline I think makes it a little easier. So I’m working towards that.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah. I guess we all have to find that there seems to be some sort of happy medium between having a framework to work within, and yet letting our imaginations flow and letting the characters tell us where they want to go and that kind of thing.
Sandra: Yes, I agree.
Alexandra: I was reminded we were talking about length before. I had a writer named John Gaspard on the show a few weeks ago. And he mentioned that Lawrence Block…I don’t know if you know that writer. He writes mystery novels, the Matt Scudder novels and other ones. He has always said, “Write a novel first because it’s easier,” than writing in short forms.
You started the hard way, and then have moved into the easy stuff.
Sandra: I think it also depends on…some people are just…I know I had spoken to other writers, and they were like “I just can’t write short.” And for a long while, I was like “I just can’t slow down and write long.” But now that I write long, I can see where it’s so harder to do the short because you’re like “Oh, but I wanna include this, and I wanna include that.” Whereas, before, I was just like “Boom, boom, boom, let’s move through it.” Now I can see how I wanna add more to it. So I can see where it will be a challenge to go back to the short.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. I imagine too that as you’ve written more stories, Clarissa and Paw’s world has expanded a little bit.
Is that true? Like more people have populated it.
Sandra: Yes, yes. I mean I have added Shelby and Jack, Clarissa’s friends, and Bruce, her boyfriend. And in future books, there’s going to be more dogs and cats. It’s hard to remember everybody and to put them in where they belong because I’m going to be focusing more now on in the town and enriching that and the characters there. So it will become quite…hopefully, not too complex world for the reader, but it will be more a richer world.
Alexandra: I think one thing readers like is to return to people that they’re familiar with and that they’ve gotten to know a little bit.
Sandra: Yes, I know for myself…like “The Cat Who…” series, I love to read those. And there’s a bunch of other authors I love to read, Sofie Kelly, Sofie Ryan, and it’s the world and the characters you like to come back to and see what they’re doing, and plus the added mystery element to it.
Alexandra: Yes, yes, exactly. I find exactly the same thing. I get attached to the characters and then, yeah, want to know as much about what they’re doing as what the mystery actually is.
Sandra: Yes, yes.
Alexandra: You said you had another idea for another series, but you’re going to stick with Clarissa and Paw right now.
Is it in the sort of animal-related cozy mystery series?
Sandra: Yes, it is. I even wrote some of the first chapter. But like I said, I haven’t pursued it. But my idea with this one was to have talking animals. Since I’m used to having grown produce and farm-related things, I was going to have the young woman coming out to her aunt’s place, maybe her aunt had disappeared or passed away, and she was going to take over her farm or her little farmette and discover that her animals, the horses and the cattle and the pigs and the goats could all talk, and that maybe they would be involved in the mystery.
I’m not sure how well readers will reach for that. But I thought it would be interesting just to pursue to see the different characters and how the different animals reacted with each other and her initial reaction to discover that animals can talk, wait a minute.
Alexandra: Yes. It makes me think of “Charlotte’s Web,” actually, one of my very favorite books, where Fern, Wilbur’s owner, she appears to be the only person who can hear the animals. And I think it’s so interesting in that book the way the author never actually refers to that. It’s just taken as fact.
Sandra: Right, yes. I like that, yes.
Alexandra: And I noticed that Clarissa is a freelance writer. That’s her occupation.
Have you ever done any freelance writing yourself?
Sandra: I have. I have wrote for a women’s magazine named “BellaOnline.” My work is still up there. I admit I have not written recently for them, but I wrote on investing and home finance. And so I wrote for that. And I mean I’ve written some…a few pieces here or there in the past.
I think my very first piece was for a magazine called “Grit,” which was a farm magazine, and it was about my dog at the time. I was a teenager at the time, so… But I’ve written for some things like that, “BellaOnline” being the main one.
Alexandra: Did you describe Clarissa as a frustrated freelance writer at one point?
Sandra: Yes, I did describe her as that, yes. And she’s also frustrated. She’s writing a novel, but, of course, it’s slow-going. In one of the books, I think one of the short stories, a gentleman she meets says, “Well, maybe you’ll put me in your book one day.” And she thinks to herself, “I hate to tell him that, well, that might be a very long time, because the book is taking a long time.”
Alexandra: Right, yeah. So it sounds like you share a few characteristics maybe with Clarissa.
Sandra: Yes, I do. I think she’s sort of my alter ego. I guess I hesitate to write bad things about her, you know? And I think I need to enrich her character a little with some traits that maybe aren’t as pleasant as I have her, but, yeah, she is pretty much my alter ego.
Alexandra: Where do the books take place?
Sandra: Different places. There’s the small town she lives in. But it started out first in…she went to visit her cousin in Upstate New York. That was the first short story. And then she went to visit another cousin at the beach. No, correction, she went with her friend to the beach to visit…for vacation, and her friend’s aunt disappeared. And then the others are pretty much set in town until the novel, which is set in a nearby town. I believe I called that Dockers. Isn’t that terrible? You forget what…
Alexandra: You do.
Sandra: One was Chambersville, and one was Dockers. And so that’s where the dog show was. But the town, I just named the town in this next book that’s gonna come out, I think I’m going with Tranquil Valley, unless the name changes. And it will be set with a murder at a bed and breakfast there, called Peaceful Dreams. So it didn’t turn out to be so peaceful after all.
Alexandra: All right, yeah. Is that in New York state? Sorry to interrupt.
Sandra: I hadn’t really picked the state. I personally live in Maryland, so I’d say like in the Mid-Atlantic. I have to…maybe I’ll make it Pennsylvania, something like that, in between, something like that, because I’m right on that line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, so…yeah. I didn’t have a region that was as identifiable like the Chesapeake Bay because I’m not on the Eastern Shore, and I’m not in New York. So I have…I just kind of made it fairly generic, right, so far.
Alexandra: That’s the nice thing about writing more than once about a set of characters is that you can do those explorations and send them off in different directions and learn more about them really.
Sandra: Yes, yes. And it’ll be interesting with the town setting to see all these unusual or quirky characters you can add, plus, you know… We’ve already had some of the characters in the other books, but it will be a whole lot more in this book and the future books.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, the next novel. Oh, that’s great.
Do you have an idea for when that will be available?
Sandra: I’m hoping the end of this year, the end of 2017, if I can keep at it and keep it, you know, working. It gets a little busy in the summer with all the extra things to do and vacations and things. But I really would like to get it out the end of this year.
Alexandra: Great, okay. Well, that’s fantastic.
We should mention that your five short stories are now combined in a box set as well.
Alexandra: So people can find those on Amazon. So why don’t you tell us a little bit more about where people can find your books?
I’m on Twitter, which is under @SandraInvesting, which is when I started it when I did the “BellaOnline” articles. I have my own website, sandrabaublitz.com. And I’m also on Facebook, Sandra Baublitz Author, so lots of places.
Alexandra: That’s right. You’re everywhere. And I was looking at your Facebook page, and you post the most amazing photographs and stories, mostly animal-related, very sweet and cute. And I might be reposting some of that from your feed, because they’re just…
Sandra: Oh, that’s wonderful. Thank you.
Alexandra: They’re just adorable, yes. I noticed…just a slight digression…there’s a basset hound that you follow whose name is…
Sandra: Yes. I believe that…
Alexandra: Is he like a little…
Alexandra: …a little detective or something?
Sandra: I think Dean the basset hound is a detective, or I think he might even be a Canadian Mountie detective. I’m not sure. But I saw him one day on Facebook, and I said, “Oh, he’s just too cute. I have to follow him.” And in fact, there will be a basset hound in the second book.
I had a gentleman on Twitter say, “Are there any basset hounds in the Mastiff’s book?” And I said, “No, I’m sorry, there isn’t. But there will be one in the future books.” So he’s in the future book. His name will be Henry.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s great.
Sandra: He will be owned by the bed and breakfast owners. So we’ll see what trouble he gets into.
Alexandra: I will post links to all your social media sites and your website and everything in the show notes, so people can see those. And maybe I will post a link to Dean the basset hound as well.
Sandra: Yes, that would be wonderful. I think people would enjoy him.
Alexandra: I think they would too. I’m gonna be looking a bit more at him as well. I saw a little video of him. He did have a little Mountie hat on and a little red jacket.
Alexandra: Crazy. Well, this has been awesome, Sandra. Thank you so much for joining me today, and I wish you all the best.
Sandra: Thank you very much. I wish you the best too.
Alexandra: Thank you. Bye-bye.