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.

Moments of Nature

By Liz, who’s been writing so many blog posts her head may explode soon…

You guys. The launch of Cat About Town is a week away, and I’ve been doing so many guest blogs I have no original thoughts any longer. Usually when I’m at work and that happens, I try to go out for a walk and clear my head.

So I’m going to share a few moments of nature from some of my and Shaggy’s recent walks, and hopefully they will clear all our heads! Or at least, I hope you enjoy them.

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Swans enjoying the river.

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Some people call them weeds, but I love dandelions!

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A view from the top of our walk.

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The nearby beach.

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Ducks enjoying the water.

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Fearless chipmunk.

And, a little fountain meditation. Don’t worry – it will straighten itself once you hit play!

 

 

 

Readers, what’s your favorite nature break? Tell us in the comments.

Finding My Power

News Flash: Natalie Marie is the winner of Edith’s author apron and cover flat. Congratulations, Natalie – please check your email!

Liz here. About a month ago, I was stuck. In both life and writing. I had about four thousand words written for my Cat Cafe book two, which is due at the end of August. And I had no creative juices flowing whatsoever. No desire to even pick up the computer.

A problem, right? The clock was ticking and the to-do list was piling up. So I did what anyone else would do. I found a new podcast series to listen to.

I wasn’t in the mood to listen to my normal crime podcasts. Instead, I found one called Adventures in Happiness, hosted by Jessica Ortner of The Tapping Solution. It was just what I needed – fun topics and fun guests. One of the people on the show was a Feng Shui expert.

I’d always liked Feng Shui, but another area where I was stuck was with my living space. I hadn’t really made it mine yet, and didn’t quite know how to get there. Which I assumed was contributing to my creativity problems. So I checked out this person’s website and decided to do a consult.

After my first conversation and a few quick-hit adjustments, I was surprised at how much better I was not only feeling, but how things were starting to flow. I added 11K words that first week, and managed to make my place feel a lot more homey by simply moving some things around, changing some colors and adding a few touches like plants and flowers.

But the best part? I started committing to doing positive things for myself every day that not only helped keep me in my creative flow, but actually shifted me into a place of power that I can channel into all areas of my life. Simple things every morning like a workout, a meditation, reading something new, taking a few minutes to nurture relationships, both with myself and others – all these things helped get me out of my funk and into a better place.

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There’s a whole list of things that I tackle every morning – well, most mornings – but here are my top three that make the most difference:

  1. Journaling – I’ve written about morning pages before. I’m a huge fan. It’s all about getting the garbage out of my head and onto the page so it’s not festering and driving me crazy. With this new process, it’s about taking something that may seem negative, finding the lesson in it, then identifying how to apply it in all areas of life. Really cool.
  2. Meditation – I’ve been working at this for the last year, and I’ve improved a lot. Now I’m making a point of doing it every day, twice when I can. I feel the results.
  3. Workouts – I’d gotten out of the habit of doing a workout most days, and I felt it. I tend to fall into the trap of thinking that if I’m not doing an hour-long, high intensity workout, it doesn’t count. Wrong. Some days, I do a 30-minute on-demand class. Others I do yoga at my studio. Sometimes, I take an extra long walk with Shaggy and it’s my workout. And it all works. I feel energized, and I don’t feel guilty when I have some potato chips 🙂

And the best part? I’m writing every morning before the day job, so I can go into my day feeling accomplished. And if I get back to the computer at night for more, it’s just gravy. If I don’t, well, I already hit my word count for the day. And how cool is that?

I may even make this deadline without the drama this time…

Readers, do you have any habits that help you navigate life in a more positive way? Leave a comment!

Summertime! …and the Writing Is Easy?

Liz here, and so happy to welcome our wicked cool friend, Art Taylor back to the blog! He’s talking about our favorite subject – writing – and how all the work gets done. Take it away, Art!

My former teacher Alan Cheuse felt very strongly that writers needed to write every day and that they needed to focus on one project at a time.

The former bit of advice there got a boost in a recent Daily Beast essay by novelist and critic Stephen Hunter—and earned a flurry of controversy in the process, with other writers objecting to his arrogant tone and arguing against the all-or-nothing message right there in the headline: “Write Every Day or Quit Now.” Is that truly the only way to success?

Amidst some of that controversy, I have a confession: I’m a firm believer that writing every day makes you a better writer. Even checking in briefly on my own works-in-progress somehow keeps the machinery in my head moving throughout the day, whether I’m pen in hand or fingers to the keyboard or not.

But here’s another confession: Despite these best intentions, I don’t actually write every day.

And I can break Alan Cheuse’s second bit of advice too: Even when I do keep up a steady series of writing days, I’m not always working on the same project one day to the next.

How bad can my flitting from project to project get? Earlier this year (Friday, January 13, in fact, checking back over the Word doc), I woke up with the idea for a story, wrote a couple of pages, sketched out some key plot points, even figured out the final images, all before 9:03 a.m. (again checking the properties on that Word doc)…and then I immediately, entirely forgot about the whole thing. I cannot emphasize how complete my forgetfulness was here. It was only a couple of months later, looking through my computer, that I found a file I didn’t remember, opened it, and—surprise! Where the heck did that come from?

It’s easy to blame any number of factors for why my focus gets frazzled and why I don’t get more writing done, especially during the semester when my teaching schedule demands priority. Lesson prep for the class tomorrow can’t wait til the day after. Grading needs to be done quickly because the students are waiting for it (and often emailing about it). Meanwhile, since I’m not under contract anywhere, no one—sadly—is waiting so eagerly for my next bit of fiction.

I’m not alone. Many writers struggle to juggle day jobs, family responsibilities, and more. Best ambitions or intentions aside, we often end up writing when we can, even if that’s not every day. Does that mean we should quit?

As with many writers who teach, summer offers a different schedule for me—a chance to focus on my own work first.

I came out of this past semester’s classes with specific goals for summer break—among them finishing the drafts of several short stories in various stages of completion. So far, I’ve done well to stay focused, and late May/early June brought two acceptance emails—nice payoffs in the midst of this recent creative burst. Over the last week, an idea came to me for another anthology I’ve been invited to contribute to, and though I’ve been making slow progress, that beats no progress. I’m always a slow writer, but circling back to that earlier, contentious point: While there are many different approaches to creativity, even the smallest steps forward day by day will ultimately get you where you need to go.

But here’s the other issue: While I’m working on this story, it’s the other one—that one I’d briefly forgotten about—that I really intended to finish first (an earlier deadline!). Even more troubling, I really need to get both of them out of my head so I can turn attention to the novel idea that’s also banging around in there. After all, it’s coming up on two years now since my debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, came out—and there’s no next novel even dimly on the horizon—so shouldn’t that take priority?

That was Alan Cheuse’s other bit of advice: One project at a time. And with a glance at my “small steps” metaphor two paragraphs back, a contrary perspective: how will you get where you need to go if you’re moving in different directions one day to the next?

In her essay “A Writing Habit” (from the excellent anthology Rule of Thumb), Lydia Davis takes a more optimistic view of all this, championing the benefits of having multiple projects underway at one time. Hit a stumbling block with one draft? Move to another where you might have fresher energy or fresher perspectives—especially if you’ve previously set this other project aside and can now see it more objectively. Have a sudden burst of inspiration for a third draft you’d put on a back burner? Bring it to the front! Make the most of that inspiration while it’s there.

Davis admits that this approach is chaotic and messy—words which speak to my own approach. But the key to navigating that chaos and mess is “patience”—patience to let stories develop in their own time, yes, but also patience in sticking with each of these projects in the long run, not simply moving on from those various drafts and never looking back. That’s where failure comes.

Some of my stories have come more easily than others. A few very urgent bits ofinspiration and a clear vision for where the story was going helped me to stay on track with writing “Parallel Play,” which was published in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning; it recently won the Agatha Award and is currently up for both the Anthony Award and the Thriller Award for Best Short Story as well. But then there’s “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants,” an earlier story that also earned some award attention…. The first draft of that story was finished in late April 2007—and then put aside for several years before I came back to it with any idea of what it needed and how to fix the many (many) problems with that first draft. It didn’t see print until 2013.

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Patience, yes. Persistence, yes. But did I work every day of that six-year interval on “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants”? Not hardly. Truth be told, on some of those days over those years, I didn’t write a word at all.

Somehow, though, in the long run, I still seem to be getting things done.

Many writers out there, of course, and maybe an equally diverse number of writing processes—and I’m curious: Which piece of seemingly tried-and-true writing advice have you found least useful to your own work? Or to put a more positive spin on that question: Where have you gone your own way—against conventional wisdom—with successful results?

"Art Taylor"

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.

Wicked Wednesday – Favorite Brew Pubs

NEWS: Jadedcup is the randomly selected winner of Edith’s author apron from yesterday’s post. Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to edith at edithmaxwell dot com.

It’s Wicked Wednesday and we’re celebrating the release of Edith’s Mulch Ado About Murder! In honor of a scene in the book, we’re dishing about our favorite brew pubs today. Wickeds, name your fave!

Jessie: I’m not sure I have ever even been to a brew pub. I have to confess, I am really not a fan of beer. For me, wine, martinis and caipirinhas are all delicious and fun but beer? I just don’t get it.

Liz: I don’t drink beer either anymore, but there is a really cool place in the town I used to live, the Willimantic Brewing Company.  Aside from the beer factor – which makes it hugely popular, the overall atmosphere is cool. It’s the former post office, and they’ve named everything on their menu has a post office theme, whether it’s something named after a town in the area or an “air mail special.” The mixed drinks are pretty awesome too!

Julie: Jessie and Liz, I love beer enough for both of you! Last year we took a tour of the Harpoon brewery. SO much fun. They make pretzels with the leftover yeast that they serve with different sauces. Can’t recommend it enough! I also love the Cambridge Brewing Company. Boston has a lot of great bars and pubs, so I am just scratching the surface.

Barb: My favorite brew pub? The one that’s hardest to get to. Monhegan Brewing Company, “Fine Craft Ale, Ten Miles Out to Sea.” You already know that if you come to Maine in the summer, I urge you to spend a night on Monhegan Island. There are no paved roads and almost no vehicles, but there is a craft brewing company, and it’s well worth the short walk to get there. On a warm day, there’s nothing like it.

Sherry: I’m not sure I have a favorite brew pub. But I’ve been to a lot of pubs I’ve enjoyed over the years. One of them is the London Bridge Pub in Monterey, California. They have such a beautiful view that any beer would taste good.

Edith: The scene in the book is at Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, NH. We discovered it on a brewery tour (crawl?) after Christmas a couple of years ago, and have been back several times. Run by two women, it has a delightful air, fabulous beer, and tasty food. They grow their own hops and I tried to be true to the outdoors seating in the scene I wrote. And they gave me the recipe I included in the book!

Readers: Do you have a favorite beer or brew pub?

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Memorial Day Moments

It’s Memorial Day – summer is kicking off, it’s a long weekend (for us day-jobbers, anyway) and hopefully the weather is beautiful where you are! We’re talking today about our favorite things to do on this day – traditions, trips, and more. So Wickeds, what’s the plan for today?

Jessie: I will be in the U.K. over the holiday weekend. One of my kids is planning the trip and is keeping everything a surprise so I have no idea what my plans are yet. It should be fun!

Julie: Jessie, have a wonderful trip! I love Memorial Day weekend. It is a time of reflection (the reason for the holiday). It also marks the end of winter, and the kick off to summer. Summer in New England is a marvel, and I relish it. I always toast the ocean (or a body of water), and paint my toenails. Not at the same time.

Barb: Julie, I love the idea of painting your toenails. I always welcome barefoot weather, the best months of the year. I’ve wracked my brain, but I can’t think of any Memorial Day traditions. Patriot’s Day (mid-April), yes. Fourth of July, for sure. But in New England Memorial Day is as apt to be cold and gray as sunny and warm, so it’s hard to make plans and I got nothin’.

Sherry: We don’t have any big traditions for Memorial Day either. Growing up we didn’t live close to any family so there was no visiting graves. This Memorial Day will find me writing as I try to meet a self-imposed deadline. Wish me luck!

Edith: It’s time for me to start a new book, Sherry, so I’ll be writing, too, until we go to some friends for a cookout or maybe a cook-in, because, as Barb said, this year the day is forecast to be rainy and chilly.

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Artist Ellen Rogers with the banners. Photo by Bryan Eaton, Newburyport Daily News.

But I’ll also walk across town to visit an amazing memorial a local artist has created this year. She filled a field across from her house with 7000 white banners. Each has the name of an American service person who died in Irag and Afganhistan, and each includes the number of dead on that date. Sobering.

Readers: What’s your plan for today? Traditions?

Wicked Wednesday – Short Stories

Wicked Wednesday again, and we’re continuing our “What else do we read besides mystery fiction” series. Today we’re going to make a lot of our writer friends happy and talk short stories (and it’s ok if they’re mysterious!). Wickeds, name your favorite!

Jessie: I loved Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl and all of the short stories by Agatha Christie.

MysteryMostHistoricalEdith: I started with Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle as a child. In recent years I’ve been fortunate enough to have one or two stories a year published in anthologies (and even nominated for Agatha Awards!), and I love perusing those collections. This year’s Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical includes a whole slew of fabulous stories, including ones by friends of the Wickeds Liz Milliron, KB Inglee, Catriona McPherson, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Victoria Thompson, and Nancy Herriman, (and yours truly) among others.

Barb: I love short stories. I chased down as many of Ruth Rendell’s short stories as I could find looking for something that happened to the characters “in between” two books in the Wexford series. And, after I abandoned literary fiction in the 1980s, it was Alice Munro’s short stories that brought me back. But my favorite mystery short story is “The Woman in the Wardrobe,” by Robert Barnard from Death of a Salesperson and Other Untimely Events. My favorite literary short story is “The Horseman,” by Richard Russo, because it is perfect. It’s recently been re-released in Trajectory, a collection of four of Russo’s long shorts.

Liz: I love Roald Dahl too – I remember reading The Way Up to Heaven in college and it’s remained one of my favorites.

Sherry: When I was in elementary school I read a book of short stories called Night in Funland and Other Stories. In the title story a kid gets on a Ferris Wheel as the dad waits below. When the ride ends the kid is missing. It was such a creepy story and I’ve never forgotten it. As an adult I hadn’t read a lot of short stories until the last few years when so many of my writing friends have great stories in anthologies like those put out by the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and by Level Best Books.

Julie: Liz, you are testing us this month with the Wicked Wednesdays! Like Jessie, I like Agatha Christie’s short stories. I am also a Flannery O’Connor fan. The Lottery still gives me nightmares, so I suppose I should add Shirley Jackson to the list.

Edith: My son introduced me to “The Lottery.” Gah…

Readers, weigh in with your favorites!

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More from the Moving Files

Liz here, with more from the moving files. 

I used to have a giant desk. I loved it, too. It was from Pottery Barn and apparently 10 or 11 years ago when I first moved to Connecticut I believed I needed a desk this large in order to fulfill my dream of becoming a “real writer.”‘

One could say it helped, although secretly I know better – most of my books have been written in my bed with the covers over my head, crying through another deadline crunch, but you’ve all heard those stories before. The point is, if I’m going to write, I’m going write with or without a ginormous desk.

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So now I have an adorable, small desk. Which I love, and I do write at it a lot. But it also meant that when I moved, I had to clean out the many drawers associated with having such a large desk, and figuring out how to shoehorn in all the things. I threw a lot of things away, but I realized something I’d only had a sneaking suspicion about before this: I’m a junkie for notebooks and writing utensils and basically any kind of office supply. And notebooks are apparently just as hard for me to get rid of as actual books.

Some things I found: An entire stash of reporter’s notebooks – unused. At some point, I’d been in a phase of “needing” those old-style, 3- or 5-subject spiral bound notebooks, so there were a few of those. Then there was the stack of legal pads, in both letter size and the smaller size – not sure where those came from.

Then there were the items from my Levenger phase – the full-sized notebook with only one or two pages filled out that I’d planned to use for those character bibles. And the smaller sized ones that I planned to carry around with me for brainstorming purposes. Then I apparently turned to Moleskin to solve all my writing problems, so I have at least three empty journal sized notebooks to help me with all that plotting I’ve been meaning to do. (As a side note, I have been using one for plotting – it even came to the Wicked Cozy retreat with me last week. Aren’t you proud?)

And then there were the pens. Good grief, all the pens. From my multi-colored ballpoint phase. My gel pen phase. My black pen phase. Lately, I’m into the Flair pens, so have those in every room. And Post-its! Of every shape and size. Since Dead Fred is my go-to post it guy lately, I had to think long and hard about what I need.

So like with the books, I had to make some decisions. There was no room for all my notebooks in my new desk, which has four small shelves. Since my days of reporting are pretty much done, I gave up my Steno pads. All the legal pads, gone. The old-school spirals – I have to confess I kept a couple brand new ones, but mostly gone. I kept my Levengers and Moleskins. And the Post-its – I do use them for my day job, so they got a reprieve. Anything journal-ish went into a special place, since I do a lot of journaling. And it eliminated the need for them at my desk.

So, another task (almost) conquered. What do you think?

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Readers, anyone else have a must-have writing tool or other desk necessity? Or just a ginormous desk? Let us know in the comments!