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.

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Weed Out and De-Clutter Wednesday — January 20, 2016

WOW memeQuick tip to start de-cluttering: Give away one item every day.

  • grab an extra pantry item to give to a food bank,
  • take an gently used sweater to Goodwill,
  • leave a finished paperback on the train for someone else to read,
  • scoop up the tub of crayons & markers your kids don’t use anymore and give to a daycare facility or children’s Bible class for art supplies.

Doing just this one simple thing every day means 365 less items in the house at the end of one year (366 in 2016, since this is leap year). Besides giving you more room because unused items won’t be cluttering your space, this simple practice will help other people at the same time.

Try it. Let me know about your success 🙂

 

 

Because a Writer Can’t Wear All the Hats, We Find Experts

Fiction writers may be great at creating characters and brainstorming plots, but sometimes real facts get in the way, and that’s when we turn to outside sources. For example, I’m playing around with a darker than usual suspense story right now that is only alive and thriving because I was able to interview an iron worker about his job. You see, I would never be able to walk confidently across the beams that make up the skeleton of a high rise building. Lucky for me, however, I found someone who not only could, but was willing to tell me about it so I could add color and authenticity to my story and main character. My source was male, and my fictional protagonist is female, and when I told him this he gave a great gaffawing laugh and said, “Let me know when the book is published. I can’t wait to show my kids.” He has five children, and I forget how many grandkids. I can’t wait to hear their reaction either.

For my already published works, I’ve picked friends’ brains for efficient ideas that work in their homes, listened when they told me ideas I did naturally were some of the best they’d ever heard, and even bought a professional organizer coffee so she’d tell me some of her stories about closet makeovers. I haven’t used the latter in any of my Organized Mysteries yet, but I’m sure to a few books down the line. I even got the help of an eye doctor to fine tune one of my plot points for Kate McKenzie in Organized for Murder.

But I don’t just focus on main characters. I’ve interviewed interior designers so I could get Valerie’s character correct, even though she’s a secondary character, and–I suppose–a main adversary to Kate and Meg. Since Valerie is a catalyst, I know it’s just as important to keep her and her actions completely real as it is for me to do the same for Kate and Meg. For the latest, Organized for Homicide, I interviewed a longtime interior designer who had segued into house staging after a friend of a friend of a friend connected us. She was halfway across the country from where my office sits, but the telephone is a wonderful thing, and we had a marvelous visit. I fired off my questions what a stager does and why, and she sent her answers a couple of weeks later, and gave me permission to use her exact words in my book. She even told me how she would stage the Collier’s kitchen when I described the room, which is where so much of the action takes place. I thought her generosity of information was very brave, since when I spoke to her my first book wasn’t even out yet, so she had no idea if my cozy mystery would be a good one or not. I’m sure that’s likely why she preferred I didn’t acknowledge her contribution in the book, for as she said, “My corporate clients aren’t so likely to want my name to appear in genre fiction. Please take no offense; it’s simply a business judgement call on my part.” And I didn’t take offense. Why should I when she’d been so generous with the information I really needed?

For my other series, The Bodies of Art Mysteries, I’ve gone back over the art history notes I took in college, and spoken to curators and docents at my two local fine art museums. You can get a ton of information from docents–trust me on this. Docents truly are a museum’s best cheerleaders. I’ve also visited the National Galleries in Washington DC (yes, we have two), the Canadian National Gallery in Vancouver, and the National Gallery in London. Believe me when I say the old chestnut “you’ve seen one museum, you’ve seen ’em all” is the farthest thing from a true statement. Every museum is different–and that goes for more than just those labeled a ‘National Gallery’. And after I get back home and need a refresher on a museum, I need only locate one of the many YouTube videos that other tourists have shot with their cameras and phones, then posted later for the public to see. You’d be surprised at how good some of these videos really are.

The Art Mysteries series gives me ideas on where I want to travel next, and helps me fall into our destinations that much quicker. A few years ago we went to London, and I not only used sights I’d gained from the trip in Counterfeit Conspiracies, and the upcoming Marked Masters, but I’ve been able to relive many of the high points of  the trip by posting on this blog. In previous posts I’ve talked about the Tower of London, Harrods, the Baker Street Underground station, and even one wild trip my husband and I experienced on a double decker bus one crazy afternoon.

So while it would be nice to just sit at my desk and type away all day on my keyboard, coming up with absolutely perfect stories all the time, it doesn’t always happen. Lucky for me, however, there’s always some wonderful expert out there who is happy to give a lowly author a heads up on facts we all truly need to make a story work.

I Guess I Have the Bargain of the Week

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]I have two books coming out soon. The first, Organized for Homicideis another featuring organizational expert Kate McKenzie as chief sleuth and bottle organizer. To coincide with this September 8th release, my publisher has discounted book#1 in the series, Organized for Murder, to 99 cents for a short time in all ebook formats. And the rest of this week I’ll be posting excerpts of the new book, Organized for Homicideso everyone can get a sampling of that story as well.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]In my Organized Mysteries series, Kate and her sidekick, Meg Berman, find that starting a small business sometimes leads to having to do more than your mission statement implies. Sometimes it means figuring out whodunit when someone involved in their business contract gets killed, and law enforcement focuses on the wrong person as the murder suspect. In the first book, Kate is in the hot seat herself, so she is absolutely sure the state police are pursuing the wrong person.

If you already own the first book, thank you, and please come back by in the next few days to read excerpts from the new release. But if you don’t have a copy of Organized for Murder, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to pick up a copy while it’s on sale. I just love a bargain, don’t you? You can click here for the Amazon link to get a Kindle copy or check my Where to Buy My Books page to purchase Organized for Murder in any of the other ebook formats, and where you can also find links to pre-order copies of  Organized for Homicide. All the buy links will be there once it’s available at all booksellers next weekend. I can’t wait to share the excerpts with you this week! Hope to see a lot of you return soon.

One of my favorite things about this series is that I get to share terrific organizing tips I’ve figured out on my own or learned from others. Do you have any favorite things you do every day to keep life organized and running a little smoother? Feel free to tell us in the comments 🙂