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.

Taking a Break

By Liz, looking forward to seeing the sun again…someday?

I turned in Murder She Meowed, book seven in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, on May 1. On time, and (almost) without a lot of last-minute angst, as is my norm. I was really proud of myself for this, because as the Wickeds know all too well, I have a penchant for stressing myself out by somehow getting to the eleventh hour without a fully finished book. Which I’ve written about numerous times, so I won’t go into it here.

My point is, this was a huge accomplishment. And then I thought about all the other accomplishments I’ve racked up in the past 10 months–and compared them to the challenges– and decided to actually celebrate for a change. Here’s an excerpt from my Facebook post from the day I turned in the book. Since last July, I:

  • Wrote three(!) books (and did copy edits/page proofs for one).
  • Had a really crappy few months at my old job.
  • Found/started a new (and pretty demanding) day job.
  • Traveled a bunch with said new day job.
  • Managed to take a real vacation for the first time in a long time last fall.
  • Dealt with A LOT of personal issues, including Shaggy’s illness, which was wicked stressful for me.
  • Lost 2 cats within 2 weeks back in January – Pumpkin and Johnny. 😦
  • Did one round of B-School.
  • Managed to give off the illusion that I was a semi-moderately high-functioning adult most days.

Actually acknowledging that I got a lot done despite most of this stuff is new for me. Typically, I’d cross stuff off the list, tell myself to suck up the rest, and move on.

But I didn’t do that this time. I decided to give myself a break before the next deadline (which is looming, but it’s all good). I took a couple weeks off from serious writing, and tried to be good to myself. Granted, I spent some extra time on the day job, but aside from that, I managed pretty well.

So if you’d all care to indulge me, I thought I’d share five things I’ve been reading/doing/watching/pondering during the little vacation I granted myself (kind of like Tim Ferriss’s 5-Bullet Friday emails):

Watching: both of Harlan Coben’s Netflix series, The Five and Safe. Calling it research. Loved them both – he is a master.

Reading: My reading time was severely compromised during the past months. I finally got to finish Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. And I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, a book I’d only read in pieces up until now.

Who I’m following: I’m currently obsessed with the poet Nayyirah Waheed. Her short poems speak volumes.

Quote I’ve been pondering: By Alan Cohen: “Fear and resistance are the dragons that stand at the door of the temple that contains the jewel you seek. Just keep going.”

Where I’ve been: This isn’t super exciting, but I’ve wanted to go to a Container Store for years – and there’s finally one close to me. I made my first trip a couple weeks ago. It lives up to the hype!

That’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to. Thanks for indulging me!

Readers, what are your favorite down time activities?

 

Cover Reveal!

Liz here! Since the gang is at Malice and I’m not (boo hoo) I figured I’d have a little fun on my own. I wanted to give you all a sneak peek at the new cover for Murder, She Meowed!

Murder She Meowed

What do you all think? Would love to hear your feedback in the comments.

Missing Malice

By Liz, sad she won’t be heading to Bethesda this week. 

The annual Malice conference in Bethesda is a recurring entry on my calendar. Granted, I’ve only been going for four years, unlike some of the die-hard Malice-ites, but it’s still something I look forward to. Getting to hang out with all my writer and reader pals, being immersed in books all weekend – what could be better?

But this year, I’m not going. My little dog has been having some health stuff, and it will be easier on her if I stay home. So she and I will be hanging out, keeping an eye on Facebook for all the news and updates and photos – so you all better post a lot! We’ll also be wrapping up Murder, She Meowed, Pawsitively Organic book seven, which is due May 1.

So, I thought I’d share some memories of my favorite past-Malice moments – including the other year I couldn’t physically go, but went on a stick.

Malice 1

And the year Kneading to Die was nominated for Best First Novel!

Malice 2

Malice 3

I’ve made so many special friends at Malice….

Malice 4

Malice 5

Malice 6

Then there was time Shari and I took a picture not knowing there was a toilet behind our heads…

Malice 8

Most of all, I’ll miss being with the whole gang…

Malice 7

But I’ll be there in spirit! Have a great Malice, friends.

 

The Secret to Journaling

News Flash: Galen Hillers is yesterday’s winner of Edith’s ARC. Please check your email, Galen!

By Liz, enjoying the longer days already even though it’s still kinda cold…

Last month I wrote about some foolproof ways to find the muse when she seems to be hiding. One of those critical steps I mentioned is journaling. And I’ve since found that the thought of it scares some people.

I mean, it does sound kind of intimidating, if you haven’t been in the habit of doing it. Especially if you go into it thinking you have to write a certain amount of pages every day, or spend a set amount of time. I remember the first time I contemplated doing The Artist’s Way and committing to writing three morning pages every day.

I gotta tell you, it wasn’t an easy commitment. But once I jumped in and started, it was worth it.

But three morning pages a day aren’t the only way to journal. In fact, there are no rules about how to do it, as long as you do it.

So here are some alternatives to think about, if you’re still on the fence.

  • Use a guided journal. There are a ton of them out there, and they help you get your thoughts down and ease you into the process. From a simple gratitude journal (so many to choose from), to the popular Five Minute Journal, which asks you to write affirmations, gratitude lists, and document amazing things that happened to you that day, to a Bullet Journal, there’s no shortage of ways to get some thoughts down.
  • Go digital. If the thought of going to the bookstore, picking out a journal, maybe even getting really crazy and decorating it – not to mention the pens! – then go digital. Our phones are never far from us, so we may as well put them to good use. And there are really cool journaling apps out there now. The Five Minute Journal has a digital version. Journey is another good one. And if you want a written invitation to journal – seriously – try Dabble.me, the app that emails you at a time of your choosing and asks how your day was, and you can respond however you like. (Don’t worry, it’s private – just perfect for those who don’t like the whole pen and ink thing!)
  • Focus on appreciation. A foolproof way to get your journaling going and also boost your mood for the day is take that notebook with the blank pages and write about all the things you appreciate. I’m not talking about gratitude lists – I mean, actually writing out all the things that you love and appreciate, what makes you feel good, what makes you laugh and gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Write one thing and watch it build into the next, and the next. I learned to do this from Gabby Bernstein, and at first I thought it would be too hard. You know how it is when you’re cranky in the mornings and want to write down everything that makes you mad or upset? Yeah, that. But seriously, try it. It can lift your mood and change your whole outlook on the day.

And of course, you can alway just go old-school. Buy a pretty journal, or buy a blank one and put awesome stickers on it. Buy some fun pens – gel, felt-tip, pretty colors, whatever makes you happy – and write whatever comes to mind. You can set a timer, or not. Write until you feel like you’ve got it all out, or write two sentences and call it a day. However you do it, just start.

Once you’re in the habit, you won’t want to miss a day. Seriously. And you’ll start seeing results in other areas of your life – writing productivity or otherwise. Guaranteed.

Readers, do you keep a journal? What’s your process? Leave a comment below!

Writing With Spirit

By Liz, doing everything under the sun to call in the muse!

You may have noticed that I can be a little bit “woo woo.” Luckily I have Jessie to commiserate with when everyone else thinks I’m a little too crazy! But my woo woo-ness has served me well over the years, and even more so lately as I take on more writing projects and at the same time, think through what I want my future as a writer to be.

So many of us creative people have, at one time or another, experienced blocks to our creativity. These blocks could range from not knowing where to go next with a current project to being unable to start writing or creating at all, possibly because of something you learned as a child about creativity being shameful or unrealistic to pursue as your life’s work. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls these blocks “creative injuries.”

I experienced those creative injuries myself along the way, including an ingrained belief that writing was not something I could do for a living. I spent years writing only peripherally, and when I did finally take jobs that centered on writing, I wasn’t paid well (you hear me, fellow journalists??). Eventually, through a lot of work – and applying Cameron’s practices – I found my way to the page and, well, here I am.

But I was still missing something. Even though I was successfully writing two series, I was still struggling – with process, with procrastination, with plots. With taking myself seriously enough to expect more for myself and my writing life.

Until I remembered that writing is my soul work. Which meant that everything I need to be successful – and peaceful – is within me, and I simply had to tune into it. Once I started applying my “soul practice” to my writing life, everything started to change. I stopped procrastinating, started turning out more words daily, “found” more time where there used to feel like none was available, got more inspiration. As a result, my two looming deadlines aren’t causing me stress. I’m approaching my writing time with joy, and I’m confident everything will get done. When I think back to where I was a year ago – stressed to the max, racing to meet a seemingly impossible deadline amidst a spate of personal crises, getting barely any sleep – it’s almost like I can’t even remember who that person was anymore.

So here’s my five-step process for how I did that:

  1. Ask. Ask that place inside you – whether you call it the universe, your muse, God, your soul, it doesn’t matter – for help. Set your intention for creativity and inspiration. It can be as simple as, I need guidance today. Help me find the right words and put them on the page. And be confident you’ll be heard!
  2. Meditate. I know, going completely still and breathing used to seem impossible for me too. Especially with crazy writer brain, where other people are always talking. But I’m telling you – it works. Five minutes a day can totally change your writing life. You can use a guided meditation, music, or nothing at all. You can walk in nature and try to still your thoughts. I started using guided meditations by Kris Carr and Gabby Bernstein, and one of the key things I learned from them is that thoughts are always going to interrupt you – you just need to bring your attention back to your breath and your intention. There’s also a fabulous app called Insight Timer that offers both guided meditations and music to meditate by, whatever your preference. But really, you need to remember to just breathe.
  3. Journal. This is my other non-negotiable practice. Journaling daily can help you get out of your own way. By releasing some of those thoughts that won’t leave you alone, you clear the space for your inspiration to show up. I still use Cameron’s practice – three pages a day, and it can be complete crap. Doesn’t matter. Just get the clutter out of your head.
  4. Use affirmations. Yes, the way you talk to yourself really does matter. If you’re always saying, I can’t do this, I can’t meet this deadline, I have no imagination, my characters have nothing to say, I have nothing to say, I’m going to have to go work at the grocery store because my contracts will be cancelled any minute…Well, you get the idea. It’s much better to plant positive seeds, even if they feel like complete and utter BS at the time. The more you say them, the more they’ll stick. I created this affirmation for myself:

    Say your affirmation daily. Feel it.
  5. Have fun and be thankful. How lucky are we to be creative people? And we’re all creative. It doesn’t matter if you write or not. However you express your creativity, be grateful for it. And most of all, enjoy it. Often we as writers put too much pressure on our work. We need to get back to the joy. And really, what else is there?

Cutest Pumpkin in the Patch

By Liz, hoping the worst of winter might be over….?

Since all you readers are like our family, I thought you might not mind if I used today’s post as a tribute to a friend. Some of you may know that I lost my little Pumpkin cat last week. It wasn’t a shock, as he’d been sick for some time and on a steady decline over the past few months. Still, it’s never easy.

I didn’t want to do a sad post. Instead, I thought I’d share his life through pictures, starting with his baby pics. Wasn’t he just the cutest? 

Pumpkin and his three littermates were left in someone’s driveway on my mother’s street. She found them and called me, but not before these two ran and hid in a bush. Guess who had to fish them out??

I totally knew he was my kitty soulmate from the moment I laid eyes on him. He and his sister Gypsy spent a lot of time in my bathroom when they first came home, so they could be away from the other cats.

That might have been where he picked up his love for water and showers. I always knew where to find him – waiting in the tub for someone to turn the water on.  He wasn’t happy unless he was soaking wet. IMG_1440

Or eating. Eating was his second favorite activity. At one point, he weighed 21 pounds…and he was always on a diet. Which he didn’t love.

But he loved most everything else. Pumpkin was known for his crazy loud purr. He purred all the time, night and day, asleep and awake. Sometimes it was so loud it woke you up. I always took comfort in the sound of his little motorboat.

He also bonded with one of my other cats, Rico. He thought she was his surrogate mother. She cleaned him a few times a day and he could always be found by her side. 

Pumpkin was almost 17 when he passed away, and I know he lived a long and happy life. I also know I’ll miss him forever.

 

 

Readers, share a favorite picture of a fury pal from your past that makes you smile. Even if you have to take a picture of an old picture and post that! (Like what I did with the baby pics.) I’d love to see them!

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Guest – Aimee Hix

We’re welcoming Aimee Hix to the blog today! We’re so excited about her debut novel, What Doesn’t Kill You, which is out TODAY! Go get yours now if you haven’t already.

Take it away, Aimee!

AimeeThe blog title may be Wicked Cozies but there is nothing wicked about this group. I’m a Southerner and I know a few Southern grandmas could take lessons on hospitality from these ladies. I have been generously welcomed as a friend and invited in to take the podium once again and I could not be more grateful.

In the years that I’ve been attending Malice Domestic I have been warmly welcomed by everyone I’ve met. The mystery community surely is the kindest, most welcoming group of people. I wouldn’t be in the position to be guest blogging if it weren’t for all the help and support I’d gotten while writing my book, and editing it, and querying it. I’m like 99% a group-made success story. The remaining 1%? Twizzlers.

But while I love Twizzlers what I love even more is gratitude.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

I didn’t understand, truly understand, gratitude for the longest time. I was under the mistaken impression that it just meant being grateful for the good things in your life. That makes sense, right? And for most of my life, I held that belief. Except what happens when things aren’t good? When things don’t go the way you want them to? When the answer back from the Universe is hold on a little longer or even no. Then what?

What then is that you become less grateful with each disappointment and, eventually, you’ve forgotten to be grateful at all. Even if you’ve had a hard life and no one taught you what real gratitude is about then maybe you’ve never had the chance to be truly grateful. Or maybe you’ve had a wonderful life and with nothing to compare it to being grateful isn’t something you’ve had to think about. Isn’t it funny that two people who’ve had vastly different circumstances can both be lacking in this most fundamentally life-changing act.

Gratitude is different than just being grateful. It’s an extra step beyond grateful. It’s recognizing that all the things in your life, good and bad, add up to the entirety of your existence – what you know, what you’ve learned, what you’ve unlearned, who you love, who loves you, how you treat people and how you expect to be treated. Yes, bad things still happen – loved ones die, catastrophic illness happens, jobs are lost – but in the midst of that if you’ve found gratitude and have invited it in there is a small voice that reminds you, ‘it’s all going to be okay.’ Gratitude can banish fear because with it you remember that good things do happen and will happen again. With gratitude you remember that having a moment to breathe in and out and just sit in stillness can return your equilibrium.

I’m not always great at letting gratitude banish fear. I didn’t learn about gratitude until these last few years. I grew up in a family that was always waiting for the other shoe to drop … and so it always did. Why? Because when you’re a hammer, you’re looking for nails, and eventually everything looks like a nail. I grew up in a family that never asked for help and never accepted help. Why? Because if you need help then you’re vulnerable. You’re not the hammer, you’re the nail. And I knew deep inside that the mentality of staying closed off and pushing people away wasn’t strength; I just didn’t know how to change the pattern I’d learned. I knew I had to because it wasn’t making me happy peering around every corner watching for something bad to come after me.

The trick? You may have figured it out. Most people do long before I did. It’s the easiest thing in the world … you just ask for help. Or, even easier, you accept help when it’s offered. I did both because I wanted to fast track some changes.

And it was easy. Okay, it was easier than I thought it would be. I chose people who were kind, who seemed to genuinely want to help. I chose wisely because every person I accepted help from treated me kindly, as if they knew it was not something I was well-experienced doing. The people I asked for help were just as kind and gentle.

It gets easier every time I do it.

And the cool thing is that the circle of people who I ask for or accept help from keeps expanding.

Which brings me to the other point about gratitude and one that I thought was a hippy-dippy fake sell-more-books-if-you-do-it-right-money-will-roll-in-and-you’ll-have-a-mansion-and-sports car-and-vacation-home-in-Fiji. Oprah said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.” *snort* Yeah, right. Except that’s not what it means. It means ‘what you focus on, what you make important, what you are filled with gratitude for, you’ll recognize when it comes to you’. Like when you’re looking to buy a car and then that kind of car is all you see on the road? They were always there, your focus was just on something else. And it goes a step further … you’re a part of the club so the other people who own that car notice you too. They’ll smile at you, wave, let you in when traffic is backed up.

Gratitude breeds abundance – not money or sports cars or houses in Fiji but an abundance of what you’re focusing on like vulnerability and friendship and love and care and being a part of something.

And it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s still scary and I shrink back down into the shell with just enough room for me (and maybe my sweet Little Big Dog) but gratitude reminds me that that’s not the only space for me. And abundance reminds me that soon that shell will be too small and I won’t fit anymore because of all the abundance I have now.

And I’m so grateful for that. And I have such gratitude for that. Because of all the people I’ve allowed in I’m growing too big for the solitary shell. Gratitude breeds abundance in the very best way.

Aimee What Doesn't Kill YouAbout What Doesn’t Kill You:

Favors are for suckers, especially when they lead you straight to a dead body. ​ Willa Pennington thought that becoming a PI would be better than being a cop. She thought she’d never have to make another death notification or don a bulletproof vest again. She thought she’d be safe. But she couldn’t have been more wrong, because Willa’s real problem is that she’s always sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. And people really don’t like that. ​ Now, agreeing to do a simple favor has netted her a dead body, a missing person, and an old friend who just may be a very bad guy. If whoever is trying to kill her would lay off she could solve the murder, find the missing girl, and figure out if the person she’s trusted with her life is the one trying to end it.
About Aimee: 
An inability to pass the sight requirements and a deep aversion to federal prison prevented Aimee from lying on her FBI application so she set her deficient eyes on what most Northern Virginians do for work – the non-law enforcement side of the federal government. After twenty years as a federal contractor, she retired and turned to murder. Fictionally, of course. Aimee lives in Virginia enjoying LASIK-corrected eyesight with her family, two dogs, and all her killer thoughts.