So Much Going On

You know the old saying about how the best way to get something done is to give the job to a really busy person? I’m changing that saying to “This busy person’s office door is closed–effective immediately.”

Also need to give out the warning that this blog post is a little longer than I like, but it contains a lot of new information, and I hope it is more than a little interesting to boot 🙂

Earlier this week, ORGANIZED FOR SCHEDULED SABOTAGE hit all the online bookseller shelves. Hooray! More exciting is that I got it out despite the fact my workhorse computer died September 28th. The laptop had been acting persnickety for about a month but seemed to rally each time I sweet talked it and promised that rest time was coming soon. My family also had a big emergency during this same time and we had to do some unexpected traveling (and travel spending), so I just tried coaxing the computer into not being so ornery. It was only a couple of years old–much too soon to replace, I thought. The computer thought differently, and instead, I woke up the morning of the 28th and found the laptop was no longer in sleep mode, but rather in the Big Sleep. I had to resurrect from hibernation the older one it replaced–the really slow one that still ran Windows 7.0–update all the updates I’d let it ignore as it rested in the desk drawer, all to get the final version of the Organized for Scheduled Sabotage into all the formats I needed to get it available by release day (and you thought all authors did was write books and hang out on social media–LOL!).

Seriously, by about October 12th I felt more than a little like Jack Bauer in 24. I was looking for new traps everywhere.

Thanks to the help of a friend, this week a new Acer joined our household, and when I’m not cursing Windows 10 (I was really happy with Windows 8.1), I’ve been getting to know this little wonder, downloading all the subscription software I use on a daily basis, and adding new files from backups as needed.

In all of those misadventures, the book eventually got online at all the booksellers (yea!), but since all non-Amazon bookstores came on later, the special $1.99 pricing on the New Release has been extended until Sunday to make sure everyone has a chance to grab a bargain on this title. Here’s the Amazon buy link, and a second link–Books2Read–that will allow you to pick any of the other bookstores that carry this book–just click the bookseller’s icon on the page and the link will shoot you right out to the book page on your bookseller of choice. I love this idea, and it keeps your choice automatically so the next time you encounter a Books2Read link it will automatically direct you to the right store for your ereader. How cool it that?  Anyway, here are the quick buy links.

Amazon:  http://smarturl.it/O4SSnr

All other booksellers: https://www.books2read.com/u/mgrjWD

One casualty of the dead computer seems to be my newsletter. I found out in early September my newsletter mailing list was kind of scrambled and dropped by my mail service. They had no way to fix their problem, but I didn’t panic right away. I had it backed up…backed up on the computer that died, of course. Well, in pieces, anyway–but I hadn’t yet put the pieces together, and now that I need it to put out a newsletter, of course, I only have a couple of the pieces of the list. So if you don’t get a newsletter from me by tomorrow, please consider signing up again, as I did not mean for anyone to get dropped off the list.

Honestly, I would never go back to a time when I didn’t have my laptop as pretty much an extension of my right hand. But for the last 45 days or so, computers have created as much new work as they’ve saved me.

Now, I’m working on the initial edits of the next Bodies of Art Mystery. I would offer the title, but I’m still arguing with myself over that one, too. I’ve had a working title all along, but it’s one I think would better serve a book later in the series. So, for now, I’m still searching for the best option. I have one of the words, I just have to figure out the other to use. Who would think a two-word title could be so challenging? Right?

But the good news is that despite not having a firm title yet, book #5 of the Bodies of Art Mysteries is on the publishing schedule to debut the last week in June 2018. And at the end of Organized for Scheduled Sabotage is an excerpt of the next book in the Organized Mysteries series which will be released in February 2018. Plus, I have the first in a new cozy series drafted too, so there will be a third book with new characters coming out in 2018.

Finally, I want to give a little info on how Organized for Scheduled Sabotage came to be. A wonderful friend…I’ll call her Carolyn Haines (wink, wink)…thought it would be fun for Kate and Meg to be involved in a job where they had to organize an author who wrote yearly organization calendars, but who (just maybe) wasn’t as organized as her calendars implied. Well, since this good friend…Carolyn…has her own animal rescue, instead of the character being disorganized, I made the main character, Liz, just a very committed, very busy woman with a lot of irons in the fire–including an animal rescue farm where she took care of every kind of animal. I was even able to incorporate the four miniature goats my father used to raise (I miss those little cuties so much. I have so many goat stories I could share. Trust me). Being able to incorporate Kate’s minor phobias with the animals was a lot of fun, and I loved being able see Meg step up whenever Kate needed backup. This friendship is one of the things I love about writing the Organized Mysteries series. I also love writing the interactions between Kate and her husband Keith. The kids (both human and goats) are an added benefit. And I love watching Kate & Meg solve the murder each time. It doesn’t always feel like work. Can’t wait to get the next one polished up and out for everyone to read, but in the meantime be sure to read the first chapter that’s excerpted at the end of Organized for Scheduled Sabotage.

Happy reading, everyone!

 

 

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For a Little Christmas Fun

Because we’re all so rushed right now, I’m reprising an interview Kate McKenzie did a few years ago about the McKenzie Family Christmases and some of the things she does to stay sane during a very busy time of the year. Remember, until Christmas you can find a full Organized Mysteries Christmas story on the Short Stories page of this website–just look for Short Stories on the black bar under the banner above.

Interview on Christmas Tips & Organizing with Kate McKenzie

Interviewer: Hello, I’m here today with organization expert Kate McKenzie. Welcome, Kate.

Kate: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Interviewer: The holiday season is coming up. I always get excited about spending the time with family and curling up with a few good books. What is your favorite thing about the holidays?

Kate: Being able to share the time with family and friends. Before Keith and I married I was always the one who took the holiday shifts wherever I worked. My parents passed away when I was at college, and I’ve never really been close to anyone else, so working through the holidays was my gift to my coworkers. But as soon as I spent my first Christmas in Vermont, I knew this was where I wanted to be. And now that we live here, I get to decorate my own home with Mother Nature adding all the Currier & Ives touches outside.

Interviewer: The holidays are a great time to get cooking and eating lots of great food. Do you have a favorite holiday food you enjoy cooking or maybe one that someone else makes that you look forward to?

Kate: I love to have crockpot soup going all winter, and at Christmastime it’s especially helpful because I can just leave small bowls and cups nearby and people can serve themselves as they like. My pre-motherhood career was as an event planner, so I always recommend having some kind of “filling station” where everyone can serve themselves since appetites occur for different people at different times. But I’m not a chef, so I look to the masters for recipes–websites like Oprah and Martha Stewart Living. They’ve worked all the bugs out for me, and I just make minor modifications to suit the tastes and dietary needs of my family and friends. Right now, one of my particular favorites is at www.oprah.com/food/Soup-Recipes-Bisque-Recipes–Hearty-Soups/1 There’s more than a dozen soup ideas there, including a squash soup I hope to try with pumpkin, and one of my favorite standbys, chicken tortilla soup. But this site also has a number of recipes using seafood and salmon, and with our northeastern location I really want to try a few of those this year.

Interviewer: Where will you be spending the holidays this year? In the snow around a warm fire, or somewhere warm?

Kate: Keith’s mom and dad are coming to stay with us, so they can see the girls discover their Santa gifts Christmas morning. In years’ past, of course, we stayed with his parents when we just visited for the season. Now that they live nearby, though, they suggested this alternative and I quickly agreed. It just made things much easier for everyone. And on Christmas Eve, we’re joining all the neighbors in our little cul de sac who are home for the holidays in a kind of traveling block party, with everyone spending a little time at each others’ houses all day. We’re pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas, so this gives us a way to move and visit a bit and celebrate without feeling trapped in our own houses all day.

Interviewer: Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or a favorite Christmas song?

Kate: I absolutely love old movies, and my all-time favorite Christmas movie is Holiday Inn where Bing Crosby first introduced the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas.” The movie has that touch of romance, the “oh, no, what did you do?” moment when the girl leaves with the wrong guy, and then everything works out just right at the end. I love happy endings.

Interviewer: It’s a great time to curl up and read. Will you be taking any mysteries along for holiday reading this year?

Kate: Oh, always. I love short stories by Eleanor Cawood Jones, so I’mdeath-is-coming-to-town saving Death is Coming to Town–Four Murderous Holiday Tales to read over the Christmas holidays. I always like novellas and short stories during busy times when I don’t have big blocks of reading time. And this book is on sale for only 99¢. What a holiday treat! (Note: this last is newly updated info because of sale price)

Interviewer: Sounds like a lovely holiday season coming your way, Kate. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today and for sharing your holiday tips.

Kate: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

Let’s End July with an Organized Halloween Sneak Peek

Yes, believe it or not, July 2016 has less than half-a-day left. Where has so much of the year gone? Sunday Sneak PeekWhile I don’t normally like to hurry time–as I seem to be crunched by it most days–I am looking forward to the cool temps of fall. To that end, I’m currently editing/proofing stories for a Halloween anthology to be released a few weeks before the trick or treat holiday. More on that in the coming weeks. And I’m handing out treats today in the form of a sneak peek of my story included in the anthology “Organized for Trick or Trap.” Hope everyone likes it 🙂

Organized for Trick or Trap Excerpt

Kate McKenzie looked out the windows of her cheery cherry-patterned kitchen curtains and watched lace-like snowflakes drift down lazily on the other side of the pane.

Definitely going to be a white Halloween, she thought. Something she was learning to count on since moving to Hazelton, Vermont. As she placed bananas into her seven-year-old twin daughters’ lunches, her energetic tomboy daughter, Samantha, barreled into the room with her coat and backpack slung onto one arm. “Oh, good. You’re ready, Sam. Is Suzanne about set to go too?”

“Yeah.” Sam chewed her lip, then asked, “Mom, can witches turn real people into zombies, or just do that to animals?”

“What?” Kate laughed and pushed on the Velcro ends of one insulated bag, sealing up the opening. She turned and faced a solemn faced Samantha. Oops. “Sorry I laughed, honey. I thought you were joking. I think I need a little more information on this cat zombie thing.”

“Monica says the lady down the road in the turquoise colored house is a witch and can bring animals back from the dead. But all the cats are zombies.”

This wasn’t the first wild story her twins had brought home thanks to this particular facts-challenged classmate. Kate had meant to already visit the new neighbor, but life had a way of filling every spare minute. Now, she had an even better reason to go and introduce herself. “I think someone told me she fosters cats, honey. How about we drop by her house after school with some of the jack o’ lantern cookies I made last night and introduce ourselves.”

“But Monica says she makes zombies out of the cats. They walk around and don’t see or hear anyone,” Sam persisted, just as her blonde identical twin Suzanne walked into the kitchen.

“Are you talking about the cat witch lady?” Suze asked.

“Yeah.”

“Girls, stop.” Kate handed each a lunch bag and steered them toward the front door, reconsidering her idea about taking the girls to meet the new neighbor. Probably best to pop in alone first, and take the girls later after she could reassure them with tangible evidence the woman didn’t turn anything into zombies. At least she hoped the fact she’d come home without being zombiefied succeeded in putting this story to rest. “There are no cat witches. And from what I know about our family’s cat, the entire breed only hears and sees what it wants to. Probably Monica tried to call one or two, wanting to pet them, and the cats ignored her.”

“But—”

“No, girls,” Kate pointed to their coats. “Suit up with those jackets and stick your lunches in your backpacks. Meg and the boys are taking you to school today. I’ll check out the new neighbor this afternoon and give a full report when I pick you up from school. And in the meantime, stop believing everything Monica tells you.” She opened the front door and crossed her arms in defense to the October blast of frigid air.

So, there you have it. More coming soon. 🙂

 

The Organized Mysteries Series

I’ve just sent off an Organized Mysteries short story for a summer anthology project (more about that later), and I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up another full length Organized novel (again, more info coming soon). All that organized writing got me thinking about early interviews I did that talked about the series. I’m reposting one of those interviews today, conducted by Mason at Thoughts in Progress. If you’ve already read it, I apologize for the repeat, but when I reread it this morning it was a nice reminder that planning out a series well ahead of time truly has helped me keep all my writing on-track.

Interview – April 9, 2014 (Thoughts in Progress–Interview Organized for Murder)

Mason – How did you come to write a mystery featuring a protagonist who is an organization expert?

Ritter:
I was at an author signing once, before I started writing ORGANIZED FOR MURDER, and it suddenly hit me that if I didn’t want to just talk about writing I needed to figure out something else to talk about that would tie in with a book sale. I kind of mined the inner “what the heck do I know about” fathoms, and remembered all the times people loved the little methods I used to stay organized and keep down daily stress. And my cozy theme was born.

I’ve always been a person who thinks outside the box, and my biggest pet peeve is to have to look for things. Using colors as cues to keep like things together is something I do automatically now. I also hate to do repetitive things like laundry—which even when you’re done just means it will be time to start over again. So I started using tricks to make myself think things weren’t so bad, like always living by the white rule for sports socks and everyday towels and things, to cut down on sorting and matching.

But while Kate has slight OCD, I’m just a potentially lazy person who doesn’t want to have to do things over again. I have a couple of people in my life who suffer from slight OCD tendencies each day, so I’ve seen their struggle at different times in life. I didn’t want Kate to be “perfect,” so used a bit of this knowledge and made her an above average worrier who is working on this problem each day, and has a supportive family environment to help.

Mason – Do you work on your two ongoing mystery series – Organized Mysteries series and the Body of Art mystery series – at the same time? How do you schedule your time?

Ritter:
I brainstorm each series while I’m writing the other, but I don’t write both at the same time. My protagonists are very different in each series, as are the settings and objective, and I write one from first person point-of-view and the other from third person. Plus, the Bodies of Art series is actually light suspense, and follow a series arc, so the plot twists are more important. Whereas in the Organized Mysteries I get the fun of adding the organization tips within the story, and have to have the big reveal of the murderer. 

All of those differences help me get into the next book in each series as I finish one manuscript, and switch to organized-for-murder-finalbegin a manuscript in the other series. The Body of Art books take longer, about six months because of all the research. The Organized Mysteries are also quicker because of the closed community, and the fact that the neighboring families are all solid characters at this point and I don’t have to invent as many new characters each time.

I also work on nonfiction projects through the year, so my calendar really is like an extension of my right hand. And all of this has to be worked around marketing tasks to promote the book, which I think takes more time than the actual writing does.

Mason – What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing about a small town?

Ritter:
For a cozy, I don’t think there are any disadvantages. The small town setting is one of my personal must-haves when I pick a cozy mystery. The cozy genre has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, but I still prefer the tried and true criteria: a small, inclusive community, mystery solved by an amateur sleuth, no gory murders, characters who understand the quirks of the community, a bit of humor and minimal swearing. I read cozies to escape, and I think I probably write them for the same reason. The small town gives an added advantage that everyone knows everyone else, which sets up a shifting dynamic when a new character enters the mix.
 
Mason – Tell us something about your protagonist that we wouldn’t be able to learn reading ORGANIZED FOR MURDER.

Ritter:
Honestly, I can’t think of anything I haven’t already at least suggested a hint of in ORGANIZED FOR MURDER. You might say that Kate is an open book. Smile I haven’t told her entire story, or the whole stories of everyone else in the series, for that matter, but more will be revealed with each book.

If I had to say the one thing that Kate McKenzie doesn’t completely know about herself, and is learning, is how capable she truly is. I’ve tried to make all my characters extremely relatable, and have been rewarded in how this is something that is noted in most of the book’s early reviews. Because of that, Kate acts like a typical person, and more readily notes her deficiencies than recognizes her abilities. We all tend to toot other people’s horns better than we do our own, and Kate McKenzie is no different.

Quick Organizing Tips to Gain Minutes Each Day

It seems like everyone I know is looking for ways to save time right now. Between regular tasks, upcoming spring schedules, the chore of getting everything together to complete our taxes (I know, bad word, I’m sorry), opening the garden or freshening the landscape, and SAS memejust general spring cleaning because we’re finally able to leave the house without having to brave the cold every day — there’s a lot to do at the moment. I quipped this morning I might farm out some of my tasks to the dog. And while she’d likely try to do her best, I think I’ll leave that as a joke between us.

While we can’t actually create time, we can save it and use the extra minutes each day in efficient ways to seem to do more things without giving up sleep or fun.

  1. Find 3 to 5 minutes every time you’re in the kitchen. We likely spend more time in the kitchen than any room in the house–and the most time waiting. While waiting 3 minutes for the microwave:
    1.  clean out the refrigerator and update the shopping list.
    2. plan a dinner menu and check for ingredients to add to the shopping list.
    3. go through recyclables and take out anything that landed in the wrong bins.
  2. When on the go, don’t stare out the window and wonder when traffic is going to move or the doctor will finally call you for your appointment. Instead “discover” an extra 10 or 15 minutes by:
    1. keeping pens and a notepad handy to jot down reminders.
    2. making a grocery or to-do list.
    3. dashing off a couple of quick thank-you notes (yes, we all use email a lot for this, but some things still need a personal touch).
  3. Let natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda cut cleaning time in half:
    1. fill a water bottle with white vinegar and leave for everyone to spray on the shower door and walls after each shower to help reduce the buildup of soap scum and hard water deposits, and make bathroom cleaning a breeze.
    2. leave baking soda sprinkled in a damp bathtub to sit for a short time, and dirt and scum wipes right off later with a rag–no hard scrubbing and minutes gained.
    3. instead of dealing with lint still on clothes after drying (and having to look for the lint roller or masking tape), add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to reduce lint buildup on clothes.
  4. Spend 15 minutes once a year to make self-stick notes to label cards/envelopes with names and birth dates, then file them by-month in an accordion folder so no birthday is ever forgotten. Another trick that a friend uses is to create a “personal” event page for herself on Facebook for birthdays and anniversaries she never wants to forget. Then Facebook alerts her each time she “has an event this week.”
  5. I love using colors to organize, so every project, every family member, every year has it’s own color, because:
    1. using specific colors for each family member means I can see with a glance at the calendar who has some event or appointment each week–without having to get close enough even to see the name–just by seeing what ink colors are used to mark in the days’ boxes.
    2. using colored baskets in the mudroom for each family member means it’s easy to sort out all the personal things for each person that get distributed far and wide in the house, and then family members can take the basket full of items and put everything where they need to go.
    3. when I use specific colors to label projects and years, it is much easier to find things later, as I can immediately disregard files, boxes, notes or notebooks that aren’t the right color.

These are just a few tips for creating time by using it in new ways. Right now, I’m working on a two new Organized Mysteries projects–a new novel and a new short story. And, yes, each has its own project color.

Do you have a tip you want to share that keeps your life balanced and a little better on-track? Feel free to add it as a comment.

 

Monday Morning Motivator – January 17, 2016

MMM memeAs early as possible, write down the most important tasks of the day. Not everything can be a priority. Knowing what absolutely must be done–and when–helps you focus better on goals for the day and not get sidetracked.

 

 

Spring Means Mud…Rooms

I started talking the other day about ways to transition from wintertime living rooms/family rooms to springtime ones. Today I’m taking a sweep at the Mud Room. Yes, the room has mud in its name and its function is to try to trap the dirt and grime before the mess enters the house. However, if your mud room is anything like mine, trapping dirt is just the beginning of the room’s job.

In our mudroom, we also have the washer/dryer, and a utility bathroom people are supposed to use to strip and shower when the filth is too much for the guest or master bathrooms. Clothes go right into the washer this way–at least on principle. But that only happens if everyone does his or her part. Too often, there are piles of everything all around. And the lovely cabinets and counter top I had the builder install so I had room to store clothes that needed to be put away, and fold things neatly on the Formica… Well, I let Life happen for a while and then everyone gets pulled in for another reminder that Mudroom does not equate with Catchall.

But winter and spring are particularly bad times for mud rooms, and there are a number of ways to help stem the tide of whatever rolls into your doors. Spring Cleaning is just one time of annual cleaning for this room. If you’re like me, you won’t expect perfection out of family members, but you won’t accept sheer laziness on their parts, either.

MUD ROOM

1. Like the front door waste basket I mentioned in the living room post, a waste basket tucked into a corner of the mud room saves many a mess. From dryer lint, to junk stuffed in jean pockets because a trash can wasn’t nearby, it’s just easier to get family members to actually throw trash away (instead of stacking it on the counter top or dryer) if there’s ready access to a waste basket that stays permanently in the room. A big plastic hook on the wall by the light switch tend to keep my husband’s keys from wandering off. I also keep a basket on the nearby counter top for hubby to toss his wallet into; another thing he would lose too easily otherwise.

2. If you have room in your mud area, and this is the more favored way to always exit your house, a set of sorting baskets can hold items handy when heading out the door–such as mail to post, videos, and library books–so nothing is forgotten. Large and small bins by the doorway are also great for holding shoes or seasonal items like caps and gloves. While winter accessories like gloves and hats are heavier weight and take up more space than spring caps and gardening gloves, it’s easy to recycle the same bins for whatever season the calendar says. If you don’t have bins available, and don’t want to buy new, look for heavy duty cardboard boxes and cover with wallpaper or contact paper to match the room, or discarded wooden crates you can paint, then stack or line them up near the door. When a few are kept at a low level, even small children can reach their own items and increase their independence.

3. Hooks serve many functions in a mudroom. Besides my hubby’s hook for his keys, we use hooks by the doorway for dog leashes, umbrellas, and whatever seasonal jackets we wear the most.  Use lower hanging stick-on hooks, too, so little ones can hang their own things, and the hooks can be moved up as kids grow.

4. If you prefer eye hooks for keys, screw the eye hooks into a board or picture frame for easy access by a door. This also provides a space on the wood for labeling which key goes on what hook. You can hang small bins this way, too, if you don’t have cabinets in there.

5. If you don’t have a counter top in your mudroom, but you have some room, fit a table–even a small one–into the space. This not only helps in getting laundry folded and sorted, and stacked so others can help mom put it all away, but it also gives a designated space underneath for laundry baskets and hampers and storage bags. Too often, if we don’t “have a place” for something, that something ends up staying in the middle of the floor.

Create an organizing method that works for you, and stick with it for a few weeks. Soon it will be second nature for you, and everyone else will see the beauty of its efficiency. When the weather finally settles into spring temps, make it a family activity to switch out winter clothes for spring, spring for summer, etc., laundering the heavier gear and storing it away until next year. Just a change out like that can make a space look new, as the lighter fabrics and less bulky jackets send out that quiet message that better weather is here!

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