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The Sirens of Suspense




Margaret Mizushima has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting 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 she lives on a small ranch in Colorado where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Find Margaret on Facebook and Twitter.



I’ve been married to a veterinarian for thirty-four years, and I was given a hint of what this life might be like on our very first date. This was decades ago, so imagine a time before cell phones. Charlie took me to dinner at a nice restaurant, and as our server was bringing our meals to the table, his pager beeped. He excused himself to find a telephone so that he could check in with his answering service. When he returned, he said he had an emergency, and we needed to box up our food and run. I lived fifteen miles away and there was no time to take me home, so I went with him.

A pit bull terrier had attacked a pony, leaving the pony in bad shape. We drove across town to a stable where his patient stood under a dim yard light, trembling and in shock, strips of flesh hanging from its neck and shoulders. For the better part of the next two hours, Charlie painstakingly stitched that pony back together while I held a cartridge of suture within easy reach and the horse’s owner held a flashlight. I don’t know how the little horse survived, but it did. And although this was a precursor to countless missed dinners and times that I acted as an impromptu assistant, I wasn’t put off. It helped that I’d been raised on a cattle ranch and worked in a hospital, so I’d been conditioned to tolerate a bit of gore.

In the early years of our marriage, times were hectic while my husband established a rural mixed practice (large and small animal), I commuted into the city to pursue my career as a speech pathologist, and we raised our two young daughters. Although Charlie prioritized family over work, being on call 24/7 presented a challenge, and sometimes emergencies trumped family plans. The kids and I rode along with him when possible; however, things like concerts and recitals, parent-teacher conferences, and holiday meals and celebrations couldn’t be rescheduled. So we carried on, knowing that Dad tried his best to be present.

Years passed, the kids grew up, I sold my business in the city, and it was time to plan what to do next. I continued to support Charlie’s clinic by managing his books, but neither of us had ever wanted me to act as his daily assistant. I’d always wanted to write, so I began experimenting with fiction writing in my spare time. At first I wrote mainstream fiction and historical western romance. I attended writing conferences, critique groups, and creative writing classes. And then one day, a relative suggested I write a mystery, and I liked that idea. So I began a yearlong study of all the great mystery, suspense, and thriller writers out there. Now, that’s fun research!

I knew I wanted to create a mystery series, so I gave great thought to the development of my primary characters, knowing I’d be with them through several books. Writers are told to write what we know, so I decided that one of my protagonists had to be a vet, and an idea for this character fell easily into place. Despite the stress that one partner’s absence brings to a marriage, most of our vet friends and their spouses make it work. But we knew of one acquaintance whose marriage became threatened when his wife issued the ultimatum for him to choose between family and practice. When she packed up the children and moved away, he decided to sell his practice and go with her. This memory triggered the development of Cole Walker, DVM, whose wife has left him to move back to the city. To deepen Cole’s conflict, she wants nothing to do with either him or their kids—the reason for this will be revealed in the series—and he’s forced to step up and learn how to be a single parent while managing a busy practice.

Like many other mystery writers, I wanted two protagonists who would work together to solve mysteries, and I planned for my other character to be a member of law enforcement. Serendipitously, my mother introduced me to her friend’s daughter who’d recently retired from working K-9 in Bellingham, Washington, and moved back to Colorado. This retired K-9 handler invited me to shadow her while she trained dogs for AKC tracking certification. She captivated me with stories about her work with her K-9 partner, Robo, and gave permission to use his name for the dog in my series. Female patrol dog handlers are less common than male, so it made sense to create a female K-9 officer and her partner. Thus, Deputy Mattie Cobb and her dog Robo sprang to life.

During this same time, my husband’s client who trains protection dogs mentioned that rural law enforcement jurisdictions and forest rangers were buying narcotics detection dogs to combat drug trafficking through national forests in Colorado. That bit of information gave me the premise for the series: a sheriff’s department acquires a patrol dog trained in narcotics detection to combat drug traffic through their mountain community. Since I grew up in a small town near the Colorado Continental Divide, my experiences inspired the imaginary town of Timber Creek, Colorado. And finally, I discovered the overriding purpose for the series—a K-9 deputy and veterinarian work together to solve crimes against animals that spill over into crimes against humans. And hey, a love interest just might develop between the two of them.

Although the life of a vet’s wife is filled with disruption, so is the life of a writer. Plotting frequently interrupts meals, activities, and sleep; you never know when inspiration will strike. I feel fortunate to have a veterinarian consultant at my fingertips—and within hugging range—while I deal with the chaos and continue my writing journey.





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