Authors are often asked what inspired their characters. My debut novel, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, has three primary characters and one happens to be a dog. My husband is a veterinarian, and his work inspired the development of Cole Walker, DVM. But Deputy Mattie Cobb and her dog Robo were inspired by more serendipitous circumstances.
When our children were young, we decided to train our Rottweiler, Ilsa, in search and rescue. We live in Colorado, and occasionally children become lost when hiking or camping in the mountains, so my husband thought it a good idea to have a dog that could find our kids if this happened to us. We joined a group of volunteers who worked in search and rescue and trained dogs together.
We would set up tracks in incremental levels of difficulty, always providing treats and celebration when a dog discovered a person at the end. The dogs loved it. Ilsa showed great potential, and soon the whole family—kids included—enjoyed playing hide and seek with her. Fortunately, neither of my daughters wandered away from our campsites during our weekends in the wilderness, so we never had to test Ilsa’s skills under more serious conditions. But it planted a seed for developing a dog character later in my life.
A chance meeting with a retired K-9 officer named Beth led to the development of my character Deputy Mattie Cobb.
My mother worked as a public health nurse and while on the job, she met and became friends with Beth’s mother, also a nurse. When Beth came to visit, her mother brought her to Mom’s house to introduce them to each other. Beth and her German shepherd Robo had retired from the police force, having both been injured in a warehouse explosion which also deafened Robo. My mother invited them into the living room where Beth sat, and Robo assumed a body-guard-like position at her feet. For the entire visit, he stayed alert and on guard, staring at my mother. She said she was afraid to approach Beth even to offer her a cup of coffee.
By the time I met Beth, Robo had died of old age. Beth let me shadow her while she trained dogs for tracking and evidence detection. She shared stories of Robo’s prowess, and he must have been an exceptional K-9 partner. She gave her permission for me to use his name in my series, and many of the skills that the fictional Robo demonstrates—like searching for narcotics, evidence, and missing people—came out of these interviews with Beth. I’m fortunate and grateful to have been able to meet her.
These life experiences inspired me to write about a dog, and time spent with Beth led to writing about a K-9 partnership in particular. Since then, I observe police dog trials and training whenever possible. These dogs and their dedicated handlers never fail to amaze and impress me. They can often be found standing together on the front line of duty, facing danger as a team.
About the Author:
Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.
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