Think a small town boy from Wisconsin, whose first job was pumping poo out of RVs while reading everything he could get his smelly hands on, puts himself through school bartending and after thirty years in tech management at Sony and Microsoft leaves to travel a lot, and pen his experiences with rescued littermate pups and Scottish in-laws. The result is the Spot and Smudge trilogy; Horror/Thriller/Genetic Engineering Sci-fi that one reviewer called "a deliciously twisted, darkly humorous tail".
Yeah, Bob's got some stories...and maybe a few issues.
Brief Synopsis of the Spot and Smudge Series
These speculative fiction novels follow a pair of accidentally genetically modified dogs, their family, and the evil entities trying to discover and control their secrets. They are thrillers with elements of horror, espionage, and genetic engineering/medical sci-fi mixed in. Although the plotlines are certainly dark and gritty at times, the stories also serve up heart-warming moments and ultimately delivers a 'family love triumphs' message...even if that family is far from traditional. The fast-paced and immersive style of these novels is most often compared to works by Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Dean Koontz. The books contain some adult themes and language, and are intended for a mature audience.
Spot and Smudge - Book One
Set on a farm in a small town between Boston and Cape Cod, we meet a recently widowed Scottish grandmother and her troubled eleven year old grandson who rescue an odd pair of orphaned puppies; the titular Spot and Smudge. We also meet the neighbors, a wonderfully despicable couple with horrible plans and even worse associates. As the pups grow, and change, the dark connection between them and the deranged neighbors threaten everything they've come to love.
The Glasgow Gray - Book Two
Ben heads to the wilds of Canada with Spot and Smudge to visit great uncle Hamish, a larger-than-life Scot who's an expert on wolves, dogs, and raising hell. Those skills come in handy as the trouble Ben and the pups left behind was nothing compared to the evil corporation now chasing them north and exploiting Hamish's little mining town. A town that harbors it own secrets, and those who aren't what they appear. Not everything hunting them walks upright, and to survive Ben and the dogs will need a few new tricks. They'll also need to decide who they can trust as they aren't getting out the cold dark woods without allies...the two and four legged kind.
Let Slip the Pups of War - Book Three
The hunt is on, and Ben and his unique family are the prey. The shadowy corporation behind the pups' gifts seeks their secrets, and its deranged leaders are willing to stop at nothing to get it. But the protective instincts of a pair of really sharp dogs and the loyalty of some amazing friends shouldn't be underestimated. Spot and Smudge are done running, and no one threatens their family...not an evil cabal, not a Hong Kong Triad hit team, not African poachers, not even the FBI.
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Q: How did a pair of dogs become your main characters?
A: I figure every dog owner has experienced that moment when Rover looked up at them, tipped his head, and appeared ready to blurt out ‘I really don’t like your Uncle Gus much. He smells funny and blames his gas on me’.
Well I’ve raised lots of rescued mutts, from bounding puppies to gray-faced old coots, and I swear every one of those expressive furry faces were just itching to let fly with a good joke, or a zinger of an insult. I thought it would be interesting to give a pair of scrappy rescued littermates that opportunity.
And then I wondered if human-level smarts and understanding of their surroundings would alter what it means to be a dog. How would it affect things like their loyalty, or playfulness, or nobility, or protectiveness...or aggression...and most importantly, what would happen if they and the family they love were shoved into some very, very tough situations.
And...my crazy dogs have provided me with a constant supply of real-life stories that beat any fiction I could come up with, so I cheated and used them for some of the best, and funniest, parts of the books. Many of those anecdotes came from the real Spot and Smudge.
Q: What inspired Spot and Smudge's unique 'enhancements'?
A: The stories are pretty gritty, both mentally and physically. It was important for the dogs to do more than just wag, bark, bite, and stare. They needed to interact with their environment and communicate in a way that allowed them to get their hands dirty (ha!). The idea for their special paws came from watching our dogs attack one of those huge braided rawhide bones. They each held an end as they chewed and tugged away bits, and although they were pretty deftly manipulating it I imagined what they could do if they had a thumb, of sorts. Hands themselves are a recurring theme in the books, and several astute readers have picked up that hands often play a role in the pivotal scenes.
Spot and Smudge's other abilities started out as two questions; 'If I were a dog, what genetic modifications would I want?', and 'If I were a nefarious corporation trying to build a modified soldier how would I do it?' The accelerator compound came from the answers of course, but so did the most important part which was 'we don't know'. The two dogs' capabilities, and their control of them, evolves differently over time as they grow physically and intellectually. And the unknowns of those abilities and the compound itself mirrors the increasing dangers around them as the stories unfold.
Q: Aside from the dogs, some of your most memorable characters are Scots. What inspired them, and how did you approach writing their accents and colloquialisms?
A: My in-laws are all Scottish…and by ALL Scottish I mean there’s no half measure with that group. They’re Scottish right down to their tartan slippers. We recently travelled from Boston to Inverclyde to meet the extended family and they’re no less crazy, and I mean that in the best, most loving way. My biggest challenge was to write them so the kindness, smarts, cheekiness, loyalty, and irrepressible love for life came through without being a caricature. I failed, mostly because they have such BIG presences in real life you have to write them big…even while trying to use ‘wee’, and ‘aye’ sparingly so the reader can bloody well understand ye’.
Q: Many of your characters are strong, smart women. What influenced them?
A: I'm surrounded by them. Our own Mimi had survived The Blitz, and raised three children by herself, and moved to the US from Scotland. Her daughter (my wife) and our two girls are equally sharp and cunning. And they're as beautiful as they are tough. They're the kind of people you'd want with you when the zombie apocalypse comes, and they just seemed to fit perfectly into these twisted stories, either directly or by inspiring a character.
Q: What made you decide to self-publish?
A: Fear, mostly. I wrote all three books before releasing them as I wasn’t sure they were any good. It felt like a self-indulgent hobby but my first reviewers really liked them, and told me to get them out there (and some of them weren’t family, or people who owed me money). I started looking into the options and self-publishing seems to be the right way for me. I have the advantages of time and an amazingly supportive family so I can focus on getting better at the craft, and building an audience, hopefully.
Q: Do you do it all yourself?
A: No way, no how. I couldn’t. I have a tight team of amazing friends and family who read, and reread, and correct, and admonish, and bolster, and encourage, and beat up, and tear down, and generally save me from myself. Without them I would still be subjecting readers to five hundred words to describe a dog's black coat, when its just a black coat, and ‘Lead’ when it should be ‘Led’.
And then I have a wider circle of great pals who help to get the word out while patiently telling me all’s well and to keep going.
But there is still quite a bit I do myself. I created the cover art and the website, and art for the ads, and I do the book formatting. I've always loved arty and techy stuff, especially when they merge, so learning all of the disciplines needed on top of the actual writing has been its own adventure.
Q: The very end of Book 3 dropped an intriguing hint about the dogs' future. Will we see Spot and Smudge again soon?
A: Yes! I'm working on Book 4 now, and have plans for a 5th and 6th. Things are about to get even crazier for the pups!
Reader's Favorite Lines from the Books
Spot and Smudge - Book 1:
“Your mother owes me a successful hunt, and a meal. It’s a debt that I intend to collect from the two of you.”
“Sister, I promise we’re not going to be helpless ever again."
“Push because you need to get out, Push because your babies need you.”
“They’ve been so good I wanted to get them something…like a pair of brass knuckles maybe.”
“You probably didn’t get to be an old alpha by being a dumb alpha.”
“Gifted my black furry ass.”
“We should tell them about the size of these freaking dogs…if we messed up her recipe they’ll cut off our…”
“This is the part where she’s supposed to flop to the ground and let me mount her, unless the internet wasn’t exactly right…”
“Oh no no no dear, we need her. I have something much more tender for you to chew on.”
“Let me show you the proper bloody way to strangle someone.”
The Glasgow Gray - Spot and Smudge - Book 2:
“This useless lot are the biggest group of chancers, scunners, and numptys as ever wagged or woofed.”
“Definitely not a place a lady should ever get powder burns.”
“Hey useless dog number two, would you please go put another log on the fire…and don’t give me any of that I’m afraid of fire crap.”
“They simply won’t quit you, ever…they’ll make sure you make it back, or none of them will.”
“Can you ask her to stop looking at me like I’m a steak?”
“Ugly damn flags, aren’t they? Sicily has the best flag, a face between three women’s legs.”
“This bear is ornery, hungry, wounded, and protecting her young…of course she may not be hungry for long…"
“I’d ride that into battle.”
“She’s colder than a well digger’s scrotum in Anchorage. Come to think of it, she’s also about as blue-blooded, and about as much fun to play with.”
“When I find you stoned out of your mind with your hand in that lass’s honey I’m gonna let these good boys and girls eat your damn liver.”
“Well you won’t have to wait long to find out…they’re coming for you…they’re coming for all of you...”
Let Slip the Pups of War – Spot and Smudge - Book 3
“He’s a virtuoso, savant killer. A true wolf in pacifist’s clothing that one. I’ve seen him kill four men without dropping the wonton from his chopsticks.”
“This crazy Tzeng b***h is going to gut me like a fish…”
“I don’t want to wait for the test results, dear doctor. I have questions that need answers. Questions your shoddy science and your unreliable guesswork haven’t been able to answer.”
“Hamish Walker don’t you hit my granddaughter, or my damn goat.”
“So, how can we resolve this little dispute without me and my dogs having to come up there and kill you?”
“They decided to switch sides when they realized what a Skippy McArsemuncher you are.”
“That safety turned out to be an arrogant illusion, sister. Home is wherever this family is, and wherever you and I are.”
“Alright Shaka Zulu, sit down … so you’ve sat on that side of the desk before, we got it … out of respect for your having poached with dad, ten percent.”
“My gifts often allow me to stop violence before it even begins. However, sadly, sometimes I cannot.”
“These painted dogs are the most effective killers in Africa…and Thomson’s gazelles are a little bit faster than the soon-to-be-extinct Pembury black mutt.”
“Maybe I should just unleash them, and then stand the f**k back.”