About Liz Mugavero

Liz Mugavero is the author of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. She also writes the Cat About Town Mysteries under the name Cate Conte.

Wicked Wednesday – Character Surprises, Part II

Welcome back, readers. This is part two of our question from last week. We talked about whether our characters can surprise us, or if we should know them well enough that they don’t. So if any of your characters have surprised you, Wickeds, tell us who and how! Did it help the overall story line? Give you a new subplot? Add a new twist? And do you wish you’d reigned him or her back in? Go!

Edith/Maddie: In the first book of my Country Store Mysteries, Robbie starts getting to know local electrical lineman Abe O’Neil. In book two they are dating, and my fingers typed a sentence with (divorced) Abe telling Robbie he had to pick up his son. What? I didn’t know he had a son before that! But I loved it. Having Abe parent 13-year-old Sean makes Abe a richer character and adds some possible conflict and tension to the future of Abe and Robbie’s relationship. Rose Carroll, plucky but usually pious and teetotaling 1889 Quaker, totally surprised me by getting drunk with her friend Bertie (not a Quaker) one night in book five. It didn’t change the overall plot but showed her displaying a human weakness that I think makes her a fuller person.

Liz: When my character Stan came to Frog Ledge, she met Resident State Trooper Jessie Pasquale in a pretty charged manner – Jessie was accusing her of murder. At the time, I knew the basics about her, namely that she was Stan’s future love interest’s sister, which I figured would be ripe for conflict. What I didn’t anticipate was the relationship between Stan and Jessie developing to the point where they actually became grudging friends – while still having enough opportunities for conflict to make it interesting!

Sherry: Seth Anderson surprised me in Tagged for Death. He was supposed to be a nameless, faceless character with a passing mention. But he kept coming back. I wrote a blog post about it on Jungle Red Writers which you can read here. This is what makes writing so much fun — finding things out like how Sarah met CJ and why someone killed someone. It keeps me going!!!

Julie: I have characters surprise me all the time. In my Theater Cop series, I am enjoying seeing how Sully is evolving, and how she and Emma are becoming friends. In my new series, I’ve set it up with one primary protagonist, but three of her friends share the Garden Squad badge. I am working on book two, and I’m uncovering a ton of secrets. It makes it so much more fun for me as the writer to not know.

Jessie: All the recurring characters in my Beryl and Edwina series keep surprising me again and again. With each book in the series I write surprises about the characters back stories or  preferences keep popping up with startling regularity.  Beryl is not a fan of subterranean spaces, Edwina has a  weakness for western novels, Simpkins has a rascal of a brother-in-law. I love discovering more and more about each of them!

Barb: Since the third book in the Maine Clambake Mysteries Julia’s been aware that her boyfriend Chris loves being a part of her family. He has said often, “My family is not like yours.” It’s come out that his parents are in Florida, his sister on the west coast–as far from one another as they can be in the continental U.S. But what happened? I knew some of it, but not much, until it all came out in this December’s Steamed Open.

Readers, do you like when a character does something unexpected? Or do you prefer feeling like you know your favorites so well that you can always anticipate their every move? Tell us below.

Wicked Wednesday – Character Surprises, Part I

Hey, readers! It’s August, and we’re talking characters this month. Getting into other people’s heads is our job, and it can be an unpredictable one. Some writers say their characters completely surprise them in the course of writing a book. Others say it’s their world, and their characters know to fall in line. So Wickeds, what do you think? Can characters surprise you? And if the answer is yes, next week we’ll talk about some of those surprises….

Barb: Stephen King says characters reveal themselves like photographs in developing solution–they get sharper, clearer, show depth and contrast, as you write. Certainly I know more about all my characters at the end of a first draft than I do at the beginning. Often I am learning during subsequent drafts as well. These aren’t surprises per se, because they’re organic to the character, but I often say to myself, “Oh, that’s why you behave that way,” or think that, or feel that. With series characters I think of it as finding out new things about old friends. The example I always use is a friend you’ve known for years who one day, out of blue says, “It was like that time I went on a date with Paul McCartney.” And you’re screaming, “Oh my gosh, HOW COULD I NOT KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU?” And your friend is all, “What? Nothing ever came of it. It’s never come up. You mean I never mentioned it?” That happens with series characters a lot.

Edith: I love being surprised by any aspect of my writing, and especially by my characters.  I’m working on a synopsis for a new piece and I thought I knew a new character – possibly the murderer – until she showed me a bruise on her arm and I realized her husband has been abusing her. Whoa! Puts a whole different slant on the story. Working twenty years ago on what ended up being A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, my protag was at a dinner party. All of a sudden a woman fell off her chair unconscious onto the floor. I stared at her and wondered why. Heart attack? Stroke? Poison dart to the neck? Poison in her martini? I had to keep writing to find out.

Jessie: I am frequently surprised by the characters in my books and am always tickled pink when I look at the screen in front of me in astonishment. I think it may be a byproduct of flow state where creation feels effortless and thus surprisingly outside oneself but I’m happy to experience it whatever the cause. I outline my books, scene by scene and you would think that would eliminate such surprises but it doesn’t in the least. I may have planned to put Beryl and Edwina in a motorcar chatting about a suspect but I hadn’t planned on Beryl suddenly mentioning that she spent considerable time before the war in Russia or that Edwina has a penchant for western novels.

Sherry: I can’t imagine not being surprised by my characters. I know them, but I continue to discover more about them even as I’m writing the eighth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I’ve read about people who do detailed bios or interviews with their characters before they start writing. The concept intrigues me, but I’ve yet to do it.

Julie: When I first started writing, I kept getting the advice to do deep research on your character before you start, so I tried that. And then I’d get upset when they surprised me. Part of the magic of writing are the surprises, and for me they are usually character driven. I’m also finding characters surprise me from book to book, but I’ll save that story for next week.

Readers: Have you been surprised by any characters in your favorite series? Who and why? Leave us a comment below.

A Summer of Surprises – Guest LynDee Walker

Liz here, and I’m so excited to have our friend LynDee Walker back on the blog! I’m even more excited for the new Nichelle book! Not to mention the relaunch of the rest of the series. But I’ll let LynDee tell you all about that. Take it away, LynDee!

Figuring out the theme of a novel can be nail-biting for those of us who don’t plot out our whole story in advance. I’ve written books where I had that part firm from the first glance at the blank page, and books where I wrestled it from a pile of words labeled a first draft—and I honestly couldn’t tell you which book was better.

This time around, the often-elusive theme came from the literal last place I would’ve ever thought to look: my bickering offspring.

I love being a mom, and I love these three little humans (well. Two little humans. The oldest one has about three and a half inches on me these days) with the fire of ten thousand suns. Summer is my favorite time of year, because they’re all home with me: I count remaining school days starting at Mother’s Day, looking forward to long days at the pool and the park and evenings out on the deck.

Five weeks into summer 2018, we’ve had loads of fun and laughs and late nights of family corn hole games on the back porch—but boy, they have tried my patience with petty arguments like never before.

Surprisingly, that’s been good for my writing in ways I expected, and ways I never would’ve. I try to write a lot during the school year so that I can take their summer breaks to be a full-time mom, catch up on my ever-growing reading pile, and relax with friends and family. This year, I signed a new contract in June (my entire Nichelle Clarke series was picked up by Severn River Publishing, with the first six books re-issued last month with beautiful new cover art and new branding, which is all very exciting). It also meant I started summer with a book that hasn’t been written yet due in October—cue slight panic amid the new-book-deal elation.

I am having an absolute blast, back in Nichelle’s world. I missed my old friends in the Richmond Telegraph newsroom, and I think they missed me, too, because this story is flat pouring out. I’m already deeper into the draft than I originally hoped I’d be by Labor Day, and all the usual hard parts haven’t been so hard this time. Which brings me back to the theme.

This summer, the everyday trips to the pool have been broken up by afternoons at the trampoline park. My three basketball players have discovered trampoline dodgeball—but they’re all athletes and all competitive, so that’s led to arguing over who was out and why and whether they hit each other on purpose, and more often than not, someone getting hurt feelings and fuming. As a mom, it’s a frustrating place to be: I love them all, I want them all to be happy, and I want to protect them all. But above all that, I know my job is to stay objective (thank you, journalism career) and take my teachable moments where I get them. But it’s a pretty cool bonus when I can manage all that and figure out that the thing my littles needed to learn is also the big thing Nichelle has to wrestle with and figure out this time around.

As this story opens, Nichelle is finally getting a taste of her dream job, invited to cover a speech the President is giving in Richmond, thanks to a scheduling conflict for the paper’s political desk chief. The White House has received death threats in advance of the appearance, but nobody is too worried—those are everyday wastebasket filler in twenty-first century politics. But when a dead body turns up in a high-profile (and politically volatile) setting days before the speech, the credibility of the threats rises, and a race to see which big story Nichelle can break first becomes a possible mission to save the leader of the free world. If Nichelle can save herself first. And figure out whose truth she can trust.

My working title is DEADLY POLITICS, and the book will be out this winter from Severn River Publishing. In the meantime, you can can catch up on the series for free with your kindle unlimited subscription, or find the first six books on amazon in ebook and print.

Readers, tell us about a fun surprise in your life in the comments to be entered to win a kindle book box set of the first three Nichelle Clarke books!

Wicked Wednesday: Happy Double Book Birthday!

We’re so excited about the dual release of Maddie Day’s Death Over Easy and Cate Conte’s Purrder She Wrote! Here’s a little about both books:

Death Over Easy (1)

Restaurateur Robbie Jordan is ready for the boost in business a local music festival brings to South Lick, Indiana, but the beloved event strikes a sour note when one of the musicians is murdered . . .
June’s annual Brown County Bluegrass Festival at the Bill Monroe Music Park in neighboring Beanblossom is always a hit for Robbie’s country store and café, Pans ‘N Pancakes. This year, Robbie is even more excited, because she’s launching a new bed and breakfast above her shop. A few festival musicians will be among Robbie’s first guests, along with her father, Roberto, and his wife, Maria. But the celebration is cut short when a performer is found choked to death by a banjo string. Now all the banjo players are featured in a different kind of lineup. To clear their names, Robbie must pair up with an unexpected partner to pick at the clues and find the plucky killer before he can conduct an encore performance . . .

cover REVISED - Purrder She Wrote

Purrder She Wrote is second in the pawsitively charming new feline mystery series set off the New England coast, where curiosity leads to some killer small-town secrets….

It’s the grand opening of Daybreak Island’s cat café, where customers can get cozy with an assortment of friendly felines―and maybe even take one or a few home. Co-owner Maddie James is purring with excitement over her new warm-and-fuzzy venture. . .until she becomes entangled in a petty drama between one of her volunteers, an ardent animal-rights activist, and a wealthy woman who insists on adopting a calico kitty―right this instant. The catfight that ensues is bad enough for business. But when the snubbed socialite is found dead with a tell-tale catnip toy on the scene, suspicion lands squarely on Maddie’s staffer. Now, with her reputation and her career prospects on the line (to say nothing of her budding romance with a handsome pet groomer) Maddie must do whatever it takes to solve the crime―before her nine lives are up.

Wickeds: Both these books are set in eating establishments. What’s your favorite café or breakfast and lunch restaurant? What do you like to order?

Jessie: Because I live in such a small community I don’t really have a local breakfast place or even a cafe. I do love to visit cafes whenever I travel, especially if there is a view of the street or outside tables to enjoy a spot of people-watching! I order a double espresso and enjoy taking my time sipping it and watching the world go by.

Sherry: Congratulations on the new books! We have a locally owned restaurant called Spartans. They have everything from great Greek food, to pizza, to all kinds of sandwiches, and beyond. I love their chicken souvlaki which comes on pita.They only serve breakfast on Saturday and Sunday but you can’t go wrong.

Barb: I am in book jail and have been pining to go out and explore more establishments in our new city of Portland, Maine. So far, I have lots of favorites. The Blue Spoon is a place where we’ve taken lots of visitors. My favorite dish there is chicken-under-a-brick.

Edith: Thanks dear Wickeds! Of course, I’d prefer to eat at Pans ‘N Pancakes, Robbie Jordan’s place. But since it’s fictional, I’ll opt for Market Square Bakehouse a block from my house in one of the former mill buildings. You can sit outside and people watch, enjoy a good coffee and pastry, and even do some work. I also love any breakfast joint that makes really good crispy shredded hash browns.

Congrats, Maddie and Cate!

Readers, join our celebration and tells what your favorite café or breakfast and lunch restaurant is.

A Launch Week Ode to Junkyard Johnny

By Liz, super excited that Purrder She Wrote releases tomorrow, with its twin Death Over Easy by Maddie Day!

Release weeks are always so exciting. This is my eighth published novel, and some days that’s still hard to wrap my head around.

I’m having a ton of fun writing the Cat Cafe series. My only regret for this launch is that the real JJ isn’t around to revel in the release of his second book. For those of you who missed it, Junkyard Johnny, who’s the real life inspiration for the cat of the same name in the books, passed away unexpectedly in January. My publisher, St. Martin’s Press, is doing an amazing job keeping his memory alive on the cover of this book – doesn’t it look like him??

cover REVISED - Purrder She WroteJJ copy

I know he’d want to be here right now to pose with his books, hold some contests, and announce Cate’s new website that just launched. He would’ve been especially intent on growing his fan base (he was always a little jealous that Tuffy had his own page) but on the other hand, JJ was confident enough to know that he was pretty special and loved by a lot of people.

For those of you who weren’t well acquainted with JJ, here’s a little about him.

He was rescued from a junkyard in New Hampshire by a friend of a friend in 2003, and the vet estimated him to be about three years old. He ended up at the shelter I volunteered at back then, and I fell in love with that face from the minute I saw him. And his squeak. For a big, strong alley cat who’d survived in a junkyard, he didn’t meow – he squeaked. And it was hilarious. (He knew when you were laughing at his squeak, though, and he hated it.) You’ll see the same characteristic in the book version of JJ.

A year later, he had a serious medical condition and needed emergency surgery and a week-long hospitalization. Luckily, he survived and lived to wreak different levels of havoc for a long time.

He could be a bully. He had something against fluffy cats and always beat up his longer-haired siblings. Honestly, at one point his behavior was so challenging he ended up on Prozac. (I know, right?)

He loved catnip, and catnip toys. His favorite was the stick of catnip “dynamite.” Even as he got older, he loved to chase that thing around and fling it in the air. And he also loved to get high off it. IMG_0761

He was also a really good snuggler. I always wondered how he lived in the junkyard when he so clearly preferred soft beds and humans to snuggle with. Brothers and sisters, not so much most days…but nobody’s perfect.

Happy launch day, JJ – your memory will live on in the series, and I’ll visit a cat cafe in your honor.

IMG_4591Meanwhile, copies of the book have already been sighted! Here’s one from Sarasota, Florida.

Readers, leave a quick ode below to a pet who still lives on in your memory…or tell us if you’re going to the bookstore for any new releases this week!


By Liz, missing the sun over the last few days!

I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer getting to know my neighborhood.

I know that sounds funny since I’ve lived here a year and a half. And admittedly, I’ve gotten very well acquainted with the sushi place across the street and the yoga studio around the corner. Shaggy and I walk down to the fountain area every day and she does her


It’s cute, even with the typo!

sniffing routine. When the weather isn’t too hot for her, we walk down to the water. But I haven’t been letting my surroundings live up to their full potential.

When I was a kid, my neighborhood was my street with three houses on it. I picked wild blackberries behind my house and played Battle of the Planets in the woods with my neighbors. It was the first neighborhood I had, so of course I felt connected to it. When I lived in various apartments as an adult, I never felt a sense of community, never mind actually cared about the neighborhood. And the last couple of places I lived were more of the same. (There was also that one disastrous condo community I chose that was a living nightmare, but that’s another story.)

My point is, I’ve never actually connected to a place I’ve lived in my adult life. I always felt more affinity for places in which I spent a lot of time, so there was always a gap there. Until I moved to my current neighborhood. I spent my first summer here wrapped in a lot of things and didn’t get out much. But now, I’m discovering it little by little.

And it’s totally up my alley. It’s a tiny little city that’s hopping most nights, with restaurants and galleries lining both sides of the street, trickling around the corners. The water is right down the street, and even though it’s the Sound (yes, I’m kind of an ocean snob) I can smell the salt air and hear the seagulls every morning. I’ve even come to love the trains that run right behind my building.

The people at the sushi place know my name – it’s kind of like Cheers – and now that I’m branching out, I’ve found so many awesome things. Like the little market up the street with good coffee, gluten free options and “treats” for Shaggy (i.e., ground beef and an occasional steak). The fish place near the marina. The farmers’ market. The little area with souvenir shops and beachy-type places near the water. The park near the beach where dogs can play.

Shaggy loves to “walk the street” when it’s busy at night, because she gets lots of attention. She’s pretty much famous. She also loves to visit the zen garden downstairs and watch the fountain. IMG_9597 2

We made a good choice with our new neighborhood. And we’re fully committed to getting to know it even better, now that we’ve made it our own.

Readers, tell us about the neighborhood closest to your heart in the comments below.

Wicked Wednesday: Celebrating Murder at the Mansion

Happy Wednesday readers! Liz here, and today we’re focused on celebrating Sheila Connolly’s newest, Murder at the Mansion, A Victorian Village Mystery. This is Sheila’s brand new series, and the book arrived yesterday. Here’s a sneak peek:

cover - birds fixed - Murder at the Mansion 12-11-17

From the cover:

Katherine Hamilton’s goal in high school was to escape from her dead-end hometown of Asheboro, Maryland. Fifteen years later she’s got a degree in hospitality management and a great job at a high-end boutique hotel in Baltimore. Until, that is, the hotel is acquired by a chain, and she’s laid off. When Kate’s high school best friend calls with a mysterious invitation to come talk with the town leaders of Asheboro, she agrees to make the trip, curious about where this new opportunity might lead.

Once Kate arrives, the town council members reveal that their town is on the verge of going bankrupt, and they’ve decided that Kate’s skills and knowledge make her the perfect person to cure all their ills. The town has used its last available funds to buy the huge Victorian mansion just outside of town, hoping to use it to attract some of the tourists who travel to visit the nearby Civil War battle sites. Kate has less-than-fond memories of the mansion, for personal reasons, but to make matters worse, the only person who has presented a possible alternate plan is Cordelia Walker―Kate’s high school nemesis.

But a few days later, while touring the mansion, Kate stumbles over a body―and it’s none other than Cordelia. Kate finds herself juggling the murder investigation and her growing fascination with the old house, which itself is full of long-hidden mysteries. Kate must clear her name and save her town―before she ends up in hot water.

Congratulations Sheila! Can’t wait to check out this new series! I know the rest of the Wickeds are psyched to read this too! Wickeds, would you move back to your hometown? What job would you want there if the town asked you to do something for them?

Edith: Yay, Sheila! I love seeing you start a new series, even with all your past and current successes under your virtual belt. Me, I would never move back to my hometown south of Pasadena, California. Sure, it’s lovely when the air is clean and you don’t have to venture forth onto the superslabs. But most of the time the air is not clean (Rose Parade day notwithstanding – although those are MY mountains that you see in the background) and there are way, way too many people who live in the sprawling LA megalopolis for my adopted New England tastes. Now, if someone offered me the job of paid busybody in my grad student town of Bloomington, Indiana? I might accept!

Jessie: Sheila, I wish you every good thing with the new series! My family moved around when I was a child and I don’t feel as though I have a hometown in the way most people mean. I can say that none of the places I lived as a child are places I would return to on purpose. I love my adult life and the places I spend time in now far too much to go back!

Barb: I’m in the same boat as Jessie. I don’t have a place I think of as my hometown. We moved from the northern New Jersey suburbs to the Philadelphia suburbs when I was in elementary school, then in the middle of seventh grade to northeastern Pennsylvania. I resented the move terribly and complained the whole time (which must have been delightful for my parents). I finally escaped early as an exchange student my senior year. So no, not going back there, even though my parents lived out their lives there and my brother and his wife live there still.

Downtown Davenport

Sherry: I love my hometown of Davenport, Iowa. There is so much to do there — an amazing art museum, library system, science museum, symphony, tons of parks, plays, a minor league baseball team that plays in a stadium right on the Mississippi, and so much more. BUT, the weather. I think that is the only thing that holds me back. It’s so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter. Way colder than it was when we lived in Massachusetts. So it’s unlikely, but not impossible that I would move back.

Readers, what about you? Would you move back to your hometown? What job would you want there if the town asked you to do something for them?