I’ll do it later…

By Liz, pondering life instead of working on book six.

I’m sure you’ve seen the meme on Facebook depicting the long timeline meant to capture a creative project. Basically, the beginning of the timeline is where the work begins. Then most of the rest of the timeline is colored in red with the words “F*** off” underneath. Then a small spot of yellow labeled “Panic.” Finally, a tiny patch of green labeled “All the work while crying,” until we reach the deadline.

Folks, this is often me. I kick myself for it every time, and swear I’ll never do it again. Sometimes I have what I think is a good reason to put off a big project, like my latest book (the day job, personal drama, moving, sick pets, fill-in-the-blank). Other times, my only good reason is that I’ve been watching too many Gilmore Girls reruns. Either way, good reason or bad, I’m stressing myself out for no reason.

dont-let-your-want-for-perfection-become-procrastination

I’ve always been this way. I remember the time in high school that I put off studying for my geometry final until 9 p.m. the night before – then asked my dad (a math teacher) to help me study.

“Sure,” he said. “What chapter?”

I looked at him with a puzzled frown. “Well, all of them,” I said, as if it were a perfectly reasonable request. He almost passed out.

Another time I waited until the day before a big paper was due to write it. And by write it, I mean sit at the computer and bang out the first and last draft. It was going well – until the computer had some malfunction (these were the VERY early Apple days) and the document disappeared. After a minor heart attack I figured out how to restore it, but it was stressful. Still, I finished the paper, turned it in and got an “A.” At least in this area, I’m fortunate that I’m good enough at it that I can operate this way. But it’s still not optimal for mental health.

As a reporter, I got used to writing under the gun. After all, most of the time stories came in at the eleventh hour and you had to run out, get the interviews, then run back, write, and file—usually within an hour or two. And usually with a scanner blaring next to your ear and an editor breathing down your neck. I know there’s a big difference between a 15- or 17-inch story and a 70,000 word story, but the goal is the same: To write something that informs/entertains/keeps the readers’ interest. And write it in the timeframe you’ve agreed to, whether that’s two hours or nine months.

So why do I continue this bad habit? I’m really not sure. I used to beat myself up about it, until I saw this quote by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way:

“Procrastination is not laziness. It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”

If I really stop and think about it, she’s right. It’s fear of not being good enough, not doing it right, not living up to reader’s expectations, not being able to figure out the plot, you name it. In this case, it could also be fear of the end of a contract, without knowing if it will be continued. If I finish the book, will I have to say goodbye to my friends in Frog Ledge?

But part of this job—this life—is uncertainty, and learning how to live with it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. So with that in mind, I’m going to stop putting off that next scene, and get back to writing.

Readers, what chore/hobby/job do you procrastinate?

Family Dynamics

By Liz, happily celebrating launch day for Custom Baked Murder and Barb’s Iced Under!

Another release day is here. Five books? How in the world did that happen, anyway? And rumor has it there’s a sixth book on its way – that is, if I could get my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keys…

But that’s a problem for tomorrow. Today, I’m reflecting on how amazing it feels to have five published books in a series.To have readers who anxiously await Stan’s next adventure, and people who write to me to tell me my books have brought them joy. People who love animals and want to share their experiences after reading about the animals in the books.

It’s a wonderful feeling to have created a world people love to visit.

I’m excited about this book, too. Each one is more fun to write (deadline and plot hole angst aside), and with every new visit to Frog Ledge I find more and more reasons to want to go on living there virtually for a good long time. A lot of that is because of the relationships. And I don’t simply mean the good ones – the Stan and Jake story, or Stan’s friendships with Izzy, Char and Ray, to name a few. Having Stan’s “real” family take such a large part of the storyline has been fascinating for me.

Stan’s mother’s involvement in Frog Ledge isn’t something I plotted out when I originally planned the series. Patricia Connor’s re-entry into her older daughter’s life sort of just happened, and it felt right so I’m following along. I might be hoping this complicated relationship will untangle itself in a way that is mutually beneficial for both parties – something I’ve always hoped for in my own relationship with my mother. It hasn’t happened for me yet, but maybe Stan will have better luck.

In Custom Baked Murder, Stan’s family life gets even more complicated when her sister Caitlyn turns up in town – and doesn’t want to leave. But she’s in for some surprises on that front, too.

This is truly a case where the characters are telling me what to do instead of the other way around. I’m simply along for the ride on this front. But families? When do they ever listen anyway?

At least when it comes to the murder portion of the book, I’m still in charge…

Readers, what about you? What do you love most when reading about family dynamics?

custombakedmurder

From the back cover:

Kristan “Stan” Connor gladly turned tail on her high-flying job and moved to a quaint New England town to sell organic pet treats. But with her nose for solving murders, there’s no such thing as a quiet life…

Summer is winding down in Frog Ledge, Connecticut, but Stan’s love life and career are both heating up nicely. In between planning her new pet patisserie and café, Stan is settling into living-in-bliss with sexy pub owner Jake McGee. Love’s on the menu for Stan’s mom, Patricia, too, who’s engaged to Frog Ledge’s mayor, Tony Falco.

Mayor Falco’s dogged ambition isn’t popular among locals, but it’s his executive coach, Eleanor Chang, who’s inspired a dangerous grudge. When Eleanor is found dead, there’s a whole pack of suspects to choose from. Stan has first-hand experience of Eleanor’s unsavory business tactics. But finding out who forced her to take a fatal plunge off the corporate ladder means unearthing some shady secrets…and a killer who’s too close for comfort.

 

Showing Gratitude

By Liz, grateful it’s not super cold yet!

It’s the most grateful month of the year.

You all know that, though. It’s November, after all. November and gratitude are kind of synonymous. And if you’ve been following the blog, you know we’re doing giveaways all month to show we’re grateful for our readers. Our Wicked Wednesday posts cover everything we’re grateful for, from agents to mentors to the little things. We are all blessed, and we know it.

And that means being grateful for everything, even the things that don’t seem so great. It’s been a challenging month for me personally, so I’ve been trying to put extra attention on all those blessings in my life — large and small. The people, pets and experiences that I’m incredibly lucky to have in my life. Being able to write books that make people happy. Being part of a community. I could go on.

But this year, it seems important to show that gratitude differently. We’ve all spoken a lot in the past couple of weeks about “doing something.” About making a difference, being kind, speaking up. We’ve all seen opportunities where we can make a positive impact on someone’s life. This comes in many forms, whether it be standing up for someone who’s being treated poorly, or listening to someone who needs a friend. Buying someone a cup of coffee. Actually doing something, not just thinking about gratitude.

keyThis year at Crime Bake, I had two experiences that brought this point home. The first was when I stepped out of a session to sit for a few minutes in one of the hotel’s common areas. A lovely woman approached and asked me to sign a book. I did, and then I invited her to stay and chat. She told me about the project she was working on during NaNoWriMo, and how she hoped to finish her book soon after. I told her I had no doubt she could do it, and that I expected to see her back at Crime Bake next year with a finished manuscript and ready to pitch. Her whole face lit up and she thanked me for the encouragement. She walked away happy.

And when I was packing up my car to leave the conference at the end of the weekend, another woman approached me outside the hotel. We’d met at Malice. She told me that when we’d spoken back in May, I’d been very encouraging about her work. So now she wanted to tell me that she’d finished her book and was shopping it around. She also thanked me for taking the time to encourage her back then, and wanted to share her next steps in this journey.

I walked away from both of these interactions full of gratitude for them, when they thought it was the other way around. But really, it goes both ways, right? “Doing something” doesn’t have to always seem big, like stepping into a fight to stand up for someone. It can be as easy as telling someone, Hey, I was where you are once. You can do it! It’s as easy as telling a person who had a positive impact on you, however large or small, that they did. Both of these things demonstrate actually showing gratitude by passing that feeling along to someone else.

And boy, if these little things start to add up, imagine what an impact we could have?

Happy Thanksgiving, readers and friends. The Wickeds are grateful for all of you.

Have you had a gratitude-filled experience lately? Tell us about it below. I’m giving away another copy of Murder Most Finicky to one commenter!

The Colors of Fall

By Liz, wondering how it got to be October already

Can you guys believe it’s already fall? I can’t. This year went by way too fast. But it is, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this season.

Most people know I’m a beach/summer/warm weather junkie. If I could have sunny and 80 degrees every day, I think I’d go for it. That said, it might be a little less known that I actually love fall. It’s more than a close second favorite season – it’s tied with summer.

There are a few reasons for this. I’ve always loved Halloween, so there’s that. And having gone to college in Salem, Mass., home of Halloween central, I’ve come to recognize the entire month of October as its own season. I love everything about it – the costumes, the haunted houses, the scary movies, the hot cider and pumpkin everything. It’s just its own atmosphere, and it’s addictive. tweetie-and-bats

But there’s more to fall than just Halloween. It starts with that tiny chill in the air, even on the still-warm days. The leaves are turning those rich, vibrant colors. You don’t need the air conditioner, but you don’t quite need the heat either. Hot soups are back in season. If you have a fireplace, you’l probably use it. The air feels…fresh.

I worked at Mann’s Apple Orchard in my hometown, Methuen, back when I was in college. The fall season was the absolute best time of year to be part of that scene. At the time, it was a small, family-owned place – it’s since expanded to a much bigger operation – but back then, we were a little family. Sunday was apple crisp baking day. We sold more apple pies in October and November than we could ever count. People came from all over to pick up maple candies, fudge and handmade apple butter. Hot apple cider was always on tap. And everyone had more good cheer than Christmas time. I loved going to work and just being part of that.

Spring is the season of rebirth, but fall is its own new beginning. Albert Camus says, “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” There’s just something about driving down a street lined with brilliant colors, leaves spiraling down. The nights are turning darker a little earlier. There’s energy and urgency in the air.

Now, if we could just skip winter and go right to spring…

Readers, what’s your favorite part of the fall season?

Refocusing

By Liz, grudgingly admitting summer is over here in Connecticut

So, another Bouchercon is over. The day job is (hopefully) about to quiet down some, although I have my doubts about that. Shaggy just celebrated her 8th birthday. I have a few author events coming up in the next few weeks, but otherwise the fall and winter months are stretching ahead with shorter days and longer nights, and writing time aplenty (theoretically).

The problem? I’m having some trouble getting back into the swing of the writing thing. Yes, I brought my computer to Bouchercon. No, I didn’t write a word. And in the days before I left, one crisis after another kept me from getting too much work done. When I returned, I was home for a day then gone for another two on a work trip. No, I didn’t get any writing done there either because I was too busy catching up on the work that didn’t get done while I was on vacation. By the time all of that was handled, well, I just got out of the habit.

And many of us writers know how hard it is to get back in the saddle when that happens.

So the past few days, as I really sink back into normal life again, I’ve been trying some tricks to get motivated. Here are a few things that have worked:

  • Re-immerse myself in the story as I left it. I’ve been doing that in a couple of ways – reading through scenes, reading my plotting notes, doing some research to get me excited about the story again. As my wise blog sister Barbara Ross says, the longer you’re out of the story, the longer it takes to get back in it. What also helps is img_1419walking the real town green that I’ve mirrored the fictional one after. It helps get me back into Stan’s head.
  • Moving myself. Working out has always helped me focus. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga which does wonders for my monkey mind.
  • Taking back some routine. When you’re traveling or dealing with stressful breakfastsituations, it’s hard to do the things that keep you sane and grounded. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to get back into my good sleeping-eating-juicing routines. It really does help.
  • Journaling. I’ve done morning pages as outlined in The Artist’s Way for years. Sometimes I fall off the wagon and sometimes I’m really dedicated. I’ve been dedicated lately, aside from my traveling time, so I’m making sure to carve out that space in the mornings. It helps get the detritus out of my head and better prepares me for the day.

And with any luck, I’ll still get that draft done by December 31.

Readers, what gets you motivated after time away from a project?

A Dog’s Life

By Liz, looking forward to a beach day or two this weekend!

I’m a huge Mary Oliver fan – have been since I read her poem “The Journey” years ago. I recently picked up her book Dog Songs, a collection celebrating her various pups and the bond she shares with them. The poems are sweet, simple, and moving, and wonderfully capture the essence of the beautiful canine soul. She and her dogs clearly love the beach – it’s mentioned in many of the pieces, like “School,” where her dog Percy wants to roll in a dead fish on the sand. She justifies this with, “It’s summer. How many summers does a little dog have?…This is our school.” Which led me to reflect on my own pups and their many adventures. Having celebrated Shaggy’s “Gotcha Day” in July and preparing for her 8th birthday in September, it seemed fitting to do a tribute to her and her brothers. So here’s a chronicle of their lives, their summers, and their own schooling. Enjoy.

 

Shaggy's death row photo, 2009

Shaggy’s death row photo, South Carolina 2009, age 10 months

Her car ride home after her rescue

Her car ride home after her rescue

Finny at the farm after his rescue from South Carolina, age 1.

Finny at the farm after his rescue from South Carolina, age 1o months.

Giving Petey a bath after he arrived from the same South Carolina shelter as Shaggy

Giving Petey a bath after he arrived from the same South Carolina shelter as Shaggy

Her first toy

Her first toy

A bench break during a walk on the town green

A bench break during a walk on the town green

Petey, not long after his S.C. rescue

Petey, not long after his S.C. rescue

Enjoying a car ride

Enjoying a car ride

Petey rolling

Petey rolling

Owning the green

Owning the green

My calendar contest winning pic for Red Rover

My calendar contest winning pic for Red Rover

 

Waiting patiently for someone to throw me the ball.

Waiting patiently for someone to throw me the ball.

Celebrating her graduation from Canine Good Citizen class, 2015

Celebrating her graduation from Canine Good Citizen class, 2015

Hugs

Hugs

Loving summer on the deck!

Loving summer on the deck!

Rolling

Rolling

Her favorite rock

Shaggy’s favorite rock

At the beach

Got the beach all to ourselves

The gang

The gang

Sleepy Shaggy

I’m so tired I could sleep right on the floor.

Not sure I like this winter thing, Mom...

Not sure I like this winter thing, Mom…

I like the summer way better!

I like the summer way better!

Just chillin

Just chillin

Height!

Height!

Pretending to be a cat

Pretending to be a cat

Heading out on a boat ride

Heading out on a boat ride

I love mud!

I love mud!

On my swing

On my swing

Love

Love

Favorite bedtime position

Favorite bedtime position

Readers, share stories of your favorite dogs in the comments!

A Day at the Beach

Hi friends, Liz here. Many of you probably know I am a total beach freak. I live for summer and harbor fantasies about living in a beachy place where summer is year round. Everything is better on the sand with the ocean in view.

But what does a day at the beach really entail? I know when I’m dreaming of my beach time, DunesI’m thinking of the moment when butt hits chair or feet hit water. But it’s not quite that simple. Here’s a look at the totality of a day at the beach, at least in my world.

The Day Before: Get excited. Find something healthy and yummy you can make and bring. Make said healthy yummy food. If really ambitious, gather chairs, umbrella and other paraphernalia for easy packing. Choose between Second Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island (2 hrs away) or Horseneck Beach, Westport, MA (1.5 hrs away). [Note: CT beaches aren’t our cuppa. The Sound is perfectly nice, but just not the same as the Atlantic.] Decide to leave at 9 a.m. to beat traffic, get parking, and claim a spot on the sand. Oh, and most important – choose books!

BeachThe Day Of – 7 a.m. Wake up excited. Even cleaning up cat vomit isn’t so bad with the promise of the sand in between your toes. Try to find favorite towels, but they seem to be missing. Grab replacements. Review reading choices to make sure they’re still perfect for the day. Horseneck Beach bound!

8 a.m. Realize that regardless of the food planning, you’re still missing the major component of your lunch. Get dressed and go to the store.

8:30 a.m. The grocery store on a Saturday. Need I say more?

9 a.m. Finally back home, but need to make the rest of lunch. Departure time delayed.

9:30 a.m. Lunch main course is made, berries are washed, cooler is packed and car is loaded. Not too far behind. Oh, wait. One more pile of cat vomit discovered on the way out the door. Stop and clean.

10 a.m. On the road. Realize you left the exciting healthy snack made the day prior behind in the fridge. Oh, and the road to the beach is NOT littered with Starbucks, just Dunkin. Yuck. Coffee-less at the beach.

10:30 a.m. Traffic. Depending on which beach, could be worse.IMG_1187

11:30 a.m. Arrive. Yay! Get into the (usually long) line to park. End up behind some woman who needs to have a 20-minute conversation with the attendant about something, probably that she doesn’t have the $15 fee. When she finally moves, you’re directed to the overflow lot.

11:35 a.m. Unload the car and try to figure out how to load all the things you “needed” onto the beach cart to get it to the beach.

11:45 a.m. Drag cart up the path, onto the sand and scan the area for the best spot, preferably not near small children or the dumpster. Unpack chairs, etc. Drop chair on toe. Realize the headrest to the chair fell off somewhere along the path. Retrace steps to retrieve. Find the bathroom.

Noon. Finally put butt in chair and sigh contentedly. Crack open book and dig in. After five minutes, realize you need water, which means unpacking the whole cooler to get to it.

12:30 p.m. The beach is filling up fast. A bunch of self-proclaimed still-drunk college kids camp out right in front of you. And keep multiplying. They’re still drinking. And the families with the little kids have come out too, and apparently the best spots are Right. Near. You. Eat what you remembered to bring for lunch and ignore it – you’re at the beach and life is good.

IMG_11861 p.m. Realize the sun has peeked around the umbrella without noticing and one shoulder/arm are totally burning. Adjust chair and keep reading. Because nothing matters when you’re on the beach.

1:15 p.m. Angry moms dragging kids through the sand because it’s super hot and their feet are burning. You could point out that they could just hand the kid their shoes, but whatever. You’re at the beach.

1:30 p.m. College students fighting. Stale Bud wafting through the beach air. Little kid next to us throwing shovels. A lady wearing a crazy fluorescent yellow wig and sequined bright pink bathing suit is trying to be a mermaid. Missed the photo op. Ah, the things you see on the beach.

2 p.m. Hit the water, finally. It’s beautiful! Reconnect with your inner mermaid. Hopefully there are sequins involved.

2:20 p.m. Back to the chair. Nap time, followed by more reading. The college students are alternating between fighting, sunburning and eating last night’s pizza. People are getting cranky. The lifeguards are trying to make the more adventurous swimmers come back to shore.Feet

3 p.m. Time to pack up and leave, unfortunately. It’s this morning, in rewind – pack up the cart, lug it back to the car, try to leave some sand behind. One last glance at the water and you’re already wishing it was time to return. Until next beach day, time to go home and clean up more cat vomit.

Readers, tell us about your beach adventures!