How to Write a Novel In Nine Months or Less

By Liz, east of Hartford, still wishing for sun and warmth

I am (still) working on the third book in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. My deadline is May 1. At the time of this writing, that’s exactly eight days away. So since I have all the time in the world, I thought I would take a little break and share with you all my most effective practices for writing a book in nine months. With a day job. And a million other responsibilities. Oh, and don’t forget Murphy of the famed Murphy’s Law – he’ll be moving in. It’s all good!

Month One:
Rest. After all, you’re most likely coming off another excruciating deadline. You bled for the past nine months trying to write the last book, which came out pretty well, if you do say so yourself. Of course you should rest and recharge. Catch up on all the seasons of all the shows you missed while you were on that horrible deadline. Read a book or two from six years ago that you haven’t gotten to yet. Try to remember what it feels like to exercise. Maybe pay the mortgage, reintroduce yourself to your family. Throw a ball to the dog, who looks a bit older. Apparently it’s been a while. Jackie

Month Two:
Think about the synopsis that’s due in 30 days. You have a vague idea of what the story will be, so best to let it noodle in your brain while you’re resting. It won’t take much to put it on paper. Best to wait until the day before it’s due, then you can have a marathon session at the computer and just dump everything out. You don’t have to stick to it totally, anyway.

Month Three:
Getting that synopsis down five minutes before deadline was exhausting! You should rest again.

Month Four:
Okay, time to think about writing a chapter or two. Gotta get the word count rolling. If you do a couple thousand words this month, then you only have about 73,000 to go. Plenty of time. But wait. After looking at the synopsis, you realize you hate it. And you might have a new victim. You email your editor to tell him, and he says, no problem, just give me a new synopsis in a couple of months. Phew. Now you can think again. Plenty of time.

Month Five:
PumpkinTime to get serious. This is the month you jump right in and start banging out words. The new plot is working better, things are moving along, and soon you’re halfway to word count. Congratulations! As a master procrastinator, you know you have plenty of time. Now you can think about the holidays/birthdays/anniversaries/whatever life events are right around the corner without time constraints. You’ve got this!

Month Six:
Holy crap. This book is horrible. You have no idea where this plot is going, who is actually a suspect, what the right clues are, etc. Your word count is holding steady at 50K because you keep deleting entire chapters and changing your mind. Where is that damn synopsis, and why isn’t it better?!

Month Seven:
You don’t want to talk about it. The next person who asks how the bleeping book is coming will find themselves facing a fate worse than the victim’s in this godawful book. And no, you don’t have time to go to [insert name here]’s funeral/birthday party/retirement party. Or happy hour. Or, apparently, to sleep. Finnegan

Month Eight:
Murphy’s ramping it up, enjoying your already apparent discomfort. This is a critical turning point month. This is where you realize it’s no longer about reaching 75K words. It’s about actually having a story within those 75K words. Which prompts another delete fest. Cue panic attacks. Oh, and while you’re at it, your day job boss decides she wants you to lead the new high profile project coming up. And the president of the board you’re on was so intrigued by your last conversation on communication planning that she asks if you can do a presentation to the full board. This month, please. It’s so timely! And, how exciting! Your other book releases this month! Which means lots of guest blogs, appearances, maybe a launch party. You are living your dream.

Note: This is also the month where you use up most of the vacation time in your day job just to keep up with life (and the book, since the book is life by now). You make progress, but you’re not out of the woods yet. 

ShaggyMonth Nine:
This is it. It’s 30 (or 31) days to D-Day. Bring it on. You’re gonna hibernate until this baby is done. Things are looking up. But beware – Murphy has saved the best for last. This is the grand finale of his visit, because soon he’ll move on to the next writer with a looming deadline. But first, he’s got a few more things to check off his list, including one or more of the following:

  • The car dies.
  • The roof caves in.
  • The cat/dog/kid (or all three) get really sick. Like, emergency room sick. It could be ebola.
  • Your spouse/significant other gets really sick. Like, emergency room sick. With ebola.
  • The cat/dog/kid gets really sick while your spouse/significant other, who is traveling for work, gets really sick halfway across the country. With ebola. And the car breaks down on the way to the ER. While the neighbor is calling to tell you that the roof caved in.

You get the idea. Be prepared.

Somehow, someway, thanks to your great friends/editors/readers/significant other, the book is finally ready to hit send. The roof and the car have been repaired, the ebola has been contained and things are looking up. You’re going to take one more read-through, then hit send, breathe a sigh of relief and make a martini. Just as you turn on the computer, which you forgot to charge last night because you were so busy editing, the power goes out.

Readers, anyone else have this much trouble with deadlines, writing or otherwise?

Procrastinating and other tales from the crypt….er, basement office.

By Liz, from the bowels of the basement office in Connecticut. Is it spring yet?

I’m a procrastinator by nature. I used to get in trouble with my parents for it all the time when I was kid. I would leave homework, papers, in one case a whole semester of geometry until the last possible minute. But I always prevailed with a good grade. Except maybe in the case of geometry, but I’ve never actually needed that in my adult life anyway.

So, back to procrastination. It never seemed to be a huge problem before. There was sometimes that moment of panic when I realized the task ahead of me was bigger than I originally thought, but once I focused, I got though it.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I hit that moment of panic recently relating to book #3. (Which, on a side note, I’m thrilled to announce has an official name finally – The Icing on the Corpse!) That panic came when I counted down the days until my deadline – May 1 – and the amount of work I had left to do. Including, yeah, the entire climax scene. Which I hadn’t even written the rough draft of yet.

Why, you ask? It’s simple – I procrastinated. I’ve been working on the book since last fall, and while my word count was nearly there, a good portion of the book was not. And I needed to get my butt in the chair, stat.

So I scheduled three nearly uninterrupted vacation days from work tacked up against a weekend and locked myself away. I had tea, I had essential oils, I had Shaggy and Finny (my muses), I had a lot of notepads and I had the Freedom app.

And then I had no choice.

I wrote out a whole new timeline (twice), I deleted a whole bunch of words, I added scenes and edited early chapters and started to see connections and possibilities and the places where I was just rambling to make myself feel like I was in a good place word count wise.

Using my beloved Scrivener, I moved scenes around and dragged all the ones I had no idea if I would use in the final draft into one place where I didn’t have to look at them.

By the end of day three, I felt like I had finally gotten some control back over my world.

Barb Ross recently wrote a great post about the amount of work it takes to get a book written: the plot aspect, the character aspect, the secondary plots, all those relationships, the secrets. After reading about Barb’s process, I made some new lists this time. One was a list of what was revealed when, which was really helpful to see on paper.

I also realized something about my process. It’s definitely not like anyone else’s – and that’s okay. My first drafts rarely have the endings written when I go back to the beginning and start editing. I just need that big picture to make the final scenes work. So I never truly have a complete “first draft” until the third or fourth revision.

Which means I’m just about ready to write the end. I better get back to work. Maybe next time I won’t procrastinate so long – but probably not. Hey, at least it isn’t warm outside yet!

Readers and writers, does anyone else have a procrastination problem to share?

Puppy (and kitty) Love

Yes, I’m talking about animals again. I can’t help myself, as you may have figured out by now. But this week I really can’t help it. Tuesday was Spay Day USA (also known as World Spay Day) which is a holiday of sorts in the animal rescue community. Established in 1994 by the advocacy group Doris Day Animal League, Spay Day USA’s purpose was to bring attention to the pet overpopulation problem.*

This year, a community cat in my neighborhood was neutered on World Spay Day. It The Countwas a nice way to acknowledge the day. The Count has been living in the backyard shed, off and on, since last fall. It became apparent recently, when he was out carousing during all of these major snowstorms, that he had no home (or if he did, his people weren’t caring for him). So now he’s fixed, thanks to Animal Rescue Fund’s generosity, and he’ll go to a good home soon. And another one will be off the streets.

Well, great, you’re probably thinking. Good for The Count. Or maybe you’re thinking, this is worth a whole blog post?

It is. Because despite World Spay Day and other spay/neuter efforts, despite the best work of so many dedicated rescuers in shelters across the country, despite the homes filled to the brim with fosters and rescue pets, 2.7 million healthy animals are euthanized at shelters in the U.S. every year. That’s one cat or dog every 10 seconds, according to the Humane Society.

Sad. Sobering. Especially when I think about Shaggy, Shaggy Cutierescued from death row with 24 hours to live – an extra 24 hours a shelter worker miraculously gave her. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be here today. I can’t imagine life without that face.

Or when I think about the other animals from kill shelters who’ve been part of my life. Like Valley, Valley Catwho at 16 at the Brooklyn Animal Care and Control Center wouldn’t have had a chance.

It’s sad, and it’s horrible, but worst of all, it’s preventable. This problem is all of ours, and we can all be part of a solution.

How? Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Adopt, don’t shop. Adopt a shelter pet next time you’re thinking of adding to your family. Look for shelters or organizations that have an “open admission” policy. Since those shelters have to take any animal that’s surrendered to them, they’re more likely to euthanize for space.
  • Fix a feral – or call someone who can.  If your neighborhood has a feral cat colony, there are a lot of resources available to help. Alley Cat Allies has great information on Trap-Neuter-Return on their site. And even if you don’t have the faintest idea how to set a trap or find a program to get a feral cat fixed, they can help you find a local resource.
  • Make a donation. Find a rescue group, local or national, that resonates with you and support them. You don’t have to donate big bucks. Any amount makes a difference.
  • Volunteer. Shelters and rescue groups are always in need of animal people to help their organizations. There are so many ways to help, like being part of a transport, or fostering an animal in need, or cleaning cages or walking dogs once a week.
  • And of course, if you have a pet, make sure he/she is spayed or neutered!

The sheer number of animals in need can be daunting. Believe me, I know. And no one can do everything. But everyone can do something. Baby steps.

Readers, do you have an animal rescue story to share?

*Doris Day Animal League in 2006 merged with the Humane Society of the United States, and World Spay Day was established.

Welcome Chrystle Fiedler, author of the Natural Remedies Mysteries

Happy Monday! Liz here, and I have to tell you how excited I was to connect with Chrystle Fiedler, author of the Natural Remedies Mysteries. As you can imagine, these books are right up my alley. So it’s my pleasure to welcome Chrystle to Wicked Cozy today. She’s continuing the conversation we’ve had here about the perks and appeal of cozy writing, and she’s also offering a giveaway of her book, A Scent to Kill. Welcome, Chrystle!

Chrystle FiedlerWhy I Write Cozy Mysteries

Reality is over rated. At least I think so. Instead, I find comfort escaping into the world of a cozy mystery. Before I wrote cozy mysteries, I read them, Agatha Christie’s tales of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and Dashiell Hammett and watched them; Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse, and Murder, She Wrote which I’ve recently rediscovered on Hallmark TV.

Whether it’s in these pages or by watching these shows, I escape, like you do, to the coziness of quaint country villages, dappled country lanes, inviting stores on the high street, and of course, lovely rose covered cottages; inside, a cup of tea waiting. iStock_000004128612XSmall

Of course, the world of the cozy is in stark contrast to the murderous crimes committed there that shatter the peace and serenity. But we also know the detective will figure out the puzzle, catch the killer and put things back in their proper place. That’s incredibly satisfying to me as a writer as well, to have the power to put things back into balance.

My natural remedies mysteries are also set in a classic cozy setting, in this case, a real, idyllic fishing village on the East End of Long Island in NY called Greenport. When I was growing up the area was somewhat depressed but within the past two decades, Greenport has come into its own as a tourist destination with upscale eateries and boutiques, sandwiched between Mom and Pop hardware stores, diners and retro stores.  Forbes magazine has even named Greenport one of the prettiest villages in the U.S.

I’ve always had an interest in natural medicine so I made my cozy protagonist, Willow McQuade, a naturopathic doctor who takes over a health food store – Nature’s Way Market & Café  – after her Aunt Claire meets an untimely end. The store is located in a lovely 3 story yellow Victorian house across with a water view. Inside, it’s cozy too, with a homey feel, yummy cooking smells and the scent of essential oils, herbs and flower essences.

To complete my cozy universe, I gave Willow, a hunky ex-cop love interest named Jackson Spade, an adorable rescued dog and two rescued cats, loyal friends and workers and the spirit of her Aunt Claire to guide her.

Writing the natural remedies mysteries also gives me a wonderful chance to share what I’ve learned about natural cures with readers. It’s amazing what you can find in your kitchen and garden that can soothe and heal you. That’s a cozy feeling too.

In Scent to Kill, my latest natural remedies mystery cozy, I focus on the practice of aromatherapy, the use of essential oils to improve health and well-being. As I’m writing I can smell the lavender, jasmine and roses.

Whether I am writing my cozies, reading or watching them, I experience the same comfortable, homey, and safe feeling, knowing that no matter what happens, that all will be well in the end. Where else can you get that guarantee? Cozy mysteries are one of the best antidotes to reality I’ve found. How about you?

Scent to kill (2)Here’s the scoop on Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery   

Willow McQuade, naturopathic doctor, along with her hunky ex-cop boyfriend Jackson Spade, attend a party for a psychic TV show that is filming on Long Island’s idyllic East End. However, Willow is much more interested in visiting the estate’s lavender farm, seeking inspiration for the new aromatherapy workshops she’ll be holding at her store, Nature’s Way Market & Café.

Before the party is over, Roger Bixby one of the producers is dead and the police suspect murder. Roger was working on the show, MJ’s Mind, with Carly Bixby, his ex-wife and the new girlfriend of Willow’s ex from L.A., TV writer/producer Simon Lewis.

After Willow leaves the party, she gets a frantic text from Simon asking for her help. Since Simon had a fight with Roger earlier in the evening, and because of his death is now the primary shareholder in Galaxy films, Willow’s ex becomes the prime suspect. Simon begs her to crack the case and clear him of the murder. MJ McClellan, the psychic and star of the show also asks Willow for help. She hires Willow to provide natural remedies, including aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and yoga to soothe the agitated crew of her show.

To find the killer, Willow has to deal with ghosts in a haunted mansion, a truly dysfunctional family, death threats and “accidents,” while trying to untangle a homicide identical to one committed during prohibition. Thankfully, Jackson has been hired to provide security and is there to watch her back and help Willow solve this spooky mystery.

As a bonus, you’ll find dozens of natural aromatherapy cures throughout the book that can improve your health. I think you’ll be surprised as how much they can help you feel better in mind, body and spirit!

“Scent to Kill is a well-crafted mystery…Devotees of natural medicine and aromatherapy will enjoy the tips that appear at the beginning of each chapter and scattered throughout the text.” Publisher’s Weekly

For a chance to win a copy of Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery just leave a comment here!  

Chrystle Fiedler is the author of SCENT TO KILL, (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster) the second in the NATURAL REMEDIES MYSTERY series, DEATH DROPS: A Natural Remedies Mystery, the non-fiction title THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO NATURAL REMEDIES (Alpha, 2009), co-author of BEAT SUGAR ADDICTION NOW! (Fairwinds Press, 2010), currently in its fourth printing, the BEAT SUGAR ADDICTION NOW!COOKBOOK (Fairwinds Press, 2012) and THE COUNTRY ALMANAC OF HOME REMEDIES (Fairwinds, 2011). Chrystle’s magazine articles featuring natural remedies have appeared in many national publications including Natural Health, Vegetarian Times, Better Homes & Gardens and Remedy.

Blooming Where You’re Planted

I was asked recently by a fellow blogger to participate in an opportunity from DogVacay – a photo sharing campaign about how your dog best represents your city and interests. I checked out her blog post about Milwaukee and her dog Sheba and thought it was terrific. However, my immediate response to the project was to say, “Thanks, but I’m not sure I would do it justice. You see, I don’t really embrace where I live right now, so maybe another time.”

Luckily, she persisted. “I think you can always find something you love somewhere,” she said.

And you know what? She’s right. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about leaving Connecticut, how fast I can make that happen, how desperate I am to be near our precious Boston again. What I haven’t been doing is appreciating what I have and where I am, or accepting the lessons I am here to learn. About seven years ago, at a going-away party before I came here, a friend said to me, “Bloom where you are planted.” I didn’t think too much about her words then. I’d never really thought much about where I lived – I just lived there and accepted it for what it was. Once I got here, it was different. I did begin to understand what I wanted out of a location – and as much as I love cows, that location did not involve the smell of cow manure in the morning, or tractors driving down the road while I was trying to get to work. But it was too bad, because I was already here. And the lessons were knocking at my door.

We live in South Windham, right on the border of Lebanon. It’s quiet on this side of town, save for one rowdy neighbor, and the proximity to Lebanon is lovely. Lebanon has a beautiful town green where we go to walk, and though it’s a small town, it’s become special to us. It was even the catalyst for my Pawsitively Organic books – it was the perfect setting.

But it took one of the smartest members of the household to point that out. When Shaggy, my beloved schnoodle, came to live here, she immediately embraced where we live. Her favorite thing to do as a puppy was walk our street and go visit the neighborhood rescue cow. She loved the cow so much, she even dressed like her one Halloween. Shaggy Cow

When it became too dangerous to walk there, we moved to the green – and she loves it. It’s her absolute favorite place. Lots to sniff, people and dogs to meet, rocks to climb on and she even gets to run with me sometimes. As soon as we turn onto the street, her ears perk up and she whines in anticipation – she can’t wait to get out of the car and hit the trail. And Finny is just happy about everything. Here they are ready to go walking.

Shaggy and Finny

Their attitudes are contagious. I look forward to the green, too. Lately, I’ve even found myself admiring different things about where I live as I’m driving to work, or running errands. It’s beautiful this time of year. Seven years later, I’m finally noticing. So thanks, Shaggy and Finn.

If you live around here and need a dog sitter, or are looking for doggie resources, check out the DogVacay page here. Enjoy.

And always remember to bloom where you are planted. There’s good in everything.

Lessons learned about pet care, and life.

By Liz Mugavero
Near Hartford, Conn.

One of my favorite parts of my Pawsitively Organic Mysteries being out in the world is the engagement with readers, and especially readers with opinions on pet care. I love that conversations are happening on this subject, and all the sub-themes that fall out of it: nutrition, veterinary care, alternative treatments.

I’ve had pets for the past sixteen years of my adult life, and I’ve spent the last decade heavily involved in rescue. I’ve seen a lot of differing opinions on a lot of subjects, and because of that I’ve been better able to form my own opinions. And I’ve discovered that the main things I’ve learned about pet care apply to life in general, so I thought I would share the top three:

1. Educate yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Don’t take anyone – or any piece of information – at face value just because it’s a person with a bunch of letters after their name or a piece of research with a fancy source, tempting as it might be. Example: one of my cats became very ill when she was seven years old. It was sudden and it was serious. The vet I had at the time told me she had FIP, a horrible disease that was usually fatal. But based on everything I knew about FIP, it didn’t make sense. She wasn’t the right age, and I’d had her since she was a kitten with no signs of this, ever. Yet the vet insisted he was right and told me since I fostered cats, I’d probably “brought it” into the house. Then he said I should euthanize her and all my other cats too, because they would all likely die within the next few days.  Ric0

Now, if I knew nothing and let fear drive me, I wouldn’t have her anymore – or some of my other cats. But I wasn’t buying it. I called an alternative vet I’d been using for another feline friend. This doc had done her time – 25 years – as a traditional vet. She swooped in, treated my girl homeopathically right at the vet clinic where they had her in quarantine.

And guess what? She came home a week later. (After all that, the vet swore it was his medicine that saved her). But I knew the deal. She’s 16 now and going strong. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Trust your gut.
This is one of those reminders you hear all the time, but honestly – it’s true. If that guy in the parking lot gives you a bad vibe, take a different route to your car. If something doesn’t feel right to me involving my cats or dogs care, I listen to that feeling. I’ve learned so much about medicine over the past few years and the terrible things they can do to a body. When I’m faced with a decision about medicine, food or even vet care, I rely on my gut as much as, or more than, my research.

And once you make a decision, own it:

3. Stand by your convictions – even when people think you’re crazy.
People often think I’m crazy. I’m okay with it. I believe wholeheartedly in homeopathy and natural medicine. The story above is a good reason why. But I’ve also lived in the world of traditional vets – especially in the rescue field – who have no use for “that stuff.” Some are downright nasty about it, and they expect you to fall in line and toss out your beliefs like yesterday’s trash.

But if it’s important to you and you’ve had success with it, or even if it just feels like the right thing to do, then do it. One of my other cats has a chronic condition and he gets very sick from vaccines. The last time he had one he didn’t eat for days and I had to force feed him so he didn’t end up with fatty liver disease. After that, I made the command decision to not give him shots anymore, since he’s an indoor cat. I can’t tell you how many vets argued with me about it. I finally found an awesome vet who does both traditional and homeopathic treatment. Hallelujah.

Readers, any like experiences with your pets (or in your own life) to share?

Liz Mugavero is the author of Kneading to Die, a Pawsitively Organic Mystery. As you can imagine, her canine and feline rescues demand the best organic food and treats around. 

Can a Dog-Loving Author Write a Cozy Cat?

by Barbara Ross
in a dense city just outside Boston, longing to get to Maine

We continue our pet week celebration honoring of the release of Liz Mugavero’s book Kneading to Die, a Pawsitively Organic Mystery.

We had some fun earlier in the week when cat lover Edith Maxwell asked the question, “…do you think cozy mysteries are obliged to feature a cat?”

Clammed UpI was particularly interested in the discussion because I’m a dog-loving writer, but my cozy features a cat. Does this rank up there with challenges like writing from the point of view of someone of a different gender or race? Can it be done convincingly?

I didn’t set out to have a cat in Clammed Up, the first book in my upcoming series of Maine Clambake Mystery Series. I mean, you want your characters to be well-rounded, and real people have pets, just like they play instruments or speak French or whatever. But I hadn’t considered a cat.

Until, after I’d created my fictional private island with my fictional family and their fictional clambake business. Then I went to a real clambake on a private island in Maine.

The Cabbage Island Clambake is run by the Moore family on their island which is a short, scenic boat ride from Boothbay Harbor, Maine where I live in the summer. I totally recommend the experience.

Clambake Cate

A Real Clambake Cat

On the day my husband and I went, I spotted the island cat and thought, “Could there be anything better in this world than to be the sole cat on an island where over a thousand pounds of seafood is served per day?” In addition to the endless opportunities to con diners out of bites of lobster and clams, there would be no coyotes or other predators on the island. The cat truly would be at the top of his own particular food chain. What would an embarrassment of riches like this do to the attitude of a cat?

So I created Le Roi who has a small but pivotal role in the book. I made him a Maine coon cat because I was writing about Maine and how many places have their own particular breed of cat? Here’s how he’s described.

“He was named Le Roi, the King, after Elvis Presley. When Gabrielle adopted him eight years ago, he had the sleek muscularity and swivelly hips of a young Elvis. Now he looked a lot more like Vegas-era Elvis, but he was still the undisputed King of the Island.”

A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

A real clambake on Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

If you read my answer to the Wicked Wednesday blog this week, you’ll see both the family I grew up in and the one I created are mostly dog people.

But I’m not completely unfamiliar with cats. When I was a teenager, Roo, the cat next door, moved in with my family after one of the daughters of the house moved back home, bringing with her two toddlers and two German shepherds. As usual, the cat knew what was best and once she made her move, all the humans involved fell in line.

In college after a particularly bad second break-up with a cat-allergic boyfriend, I adopted a kitten to be sure the boyfriend wouldn’t be back. Apparently I announced to my parents that this was my first adult decision. A few trips spent smuggling the cat back and forth to college on the bus, one time disguising her as a Christmas present, proved how hilariously inaccurate that statement was. Flash was around for fourteen more years, including eleven after I was married. She never did warm up to my husband, and viewed him as an interloper to the day she died, thus proving she took her role as a boyfriend deterrer seriously.

So I do know a little about cats. But as a dog person, did I create a convincing cat character in my cozy? I’ll leave it to you all to decide.

Meanwhile, I look to you all to answer the question: Can a dog-loving author create a convincing cat character?