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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Organizing Cheap and Easy — Part 1

Spring has officially hit the calendar, and that means we’re all ready to dig out from more than just snow under the windows.

While some people like to take their Spring Cleaning & Organizing in one big bite, I prefer little nibbles myself, so I don’t get off-track on all of the other to-do lists I have every day. If’ you’re like me, I offer my room-by-room spring cleaning and organizing ideas–but best of all, I don’t bring in anything new and costly to do the job. Look around the house and find amazing ways to re-purpose items for organization by thinking outside of the box.

I’m starting today with the Living Room with a Baker’s Dozen of tips, and I will be moving through other rooms in the house throughout the next week or so. So come back in the days ahead, and leave any springtime ideas you already use, or new ones you might think of from reading my tips 🙂

LIVING ROOM/FAMILY ROOM/GREAT ROOM — The place of community living

Yes, the whole family uses the living room or great room, and this room always holds way more than it should. Once spring temps arrive it’s time to put away all those comfy sofa blankets and afghans we’ve used all winter. Maybe you have a closet, or use the huge Ziploc bags like me to stow them under beds. They can also be packed away in large trash bags, with the extra air all mushed out and the openings taped up to be stacked neatly somewhere. More things to do as spring arrives–

1. Wipe off the fan blades of the ceiling fan, and reverse the rotation if you had them set for winter to push down the heat that gathered near the ceiling. We live in a summer hot zone, so we want the cool breeze the fans create, but prefer the warmer air stay up at the ceiling where the spiders can enjoy it. (No, I’m not a fan of spiders, either)

2. Keep a small waste basket right by the front door (or whichever door you use the most) to throw away junk mail and unnecessary flyers before they migrate into the living room.

3. Pull out all the furniture to find the favorite pet toy, missing library book, or lost DVD. Also check between the sofa cushions for errant action figures and the wandering universal remote. A basket that stays on a table or bookshelf is great to hold items like this. Another basket or box in a corner of the room can hold all the pet toys and small children’s toys like extra Legos. For the remotes, my favorite organizing tip for those is to stick one side of a Velcro piece to the remote, and the corresponding side to the item the remote controls. Then, the remote easily stays stuck to its video or audio device until you pull to remove it again.

4. Until the world goes truly wireless, all those tangled cables behind entertainment centers are here to stay. You can buy a cable caddy that sticks onto the entertainment stand or table top, but if you don’t want to go to that expense, you can cover an empty paper towel roll with wallpaper or contact paper that coordinates with your room, and run all the cables through the tube (or two) to keep things looking a bit nicer and better organized.

5. A bin or basket on the coffee table can hold small items, cards, game pieces, pens, or anything that might get lost or broken if just left on the surface. Keep a box of coasters handy in the room to help make using them regularly a bit easier, too.

6. Keep flat surfaces clutter free. We humans tend to toss all papers in the “kitchen or family area,” and often find them missing when we really need them. Designate a small table or desk for the area as the place for mail and any important papers that need to be signed and returned. A two drawer lateral file cabinet will work well for this, too, if you have a place in the room to store it. In our house, I have two upholstered cubes in the family room that can be used for extra seating, or if you lift the lid and turn it over, it becomes a handle occasional table to set a cup of tea and a book. But best of all, the lower inside is one big storage area. I use one cube near my favorite comfy chair to hold all the yarn for my current knitting project, and with the top on the cube everything stays neat and safe from the cat. The other cube I put near hubby’s reading chair, and that’s the one that holds mail as it comes in, and files we need for any kind of current household project. He also keeps magazines and catalogs filed there when he’s on the hunt for something new and wants to check out all of his options before purchase.

7. In the same vein, a lot of small photo frames tend to clutter a family room and makes the space sometimes go from “wonderful” to a little too much “wow” when there are more than a room can comfortably hold. Take back your table tops and walls by reducing the number of framed photos you display every day. You don’t have to take them all down, just think about displaying in a new way–like photo albums and collage frames, or digital photo frames that store hundreds of digital photos and rotate them constantly. For storing in photo boxes, organize by date or occasion and keep in a central location.

8. For “good work” pages that come home with your children and end up tossed someplace in the living room, assign a drawer just to save those items. Drawer space in the living room often works well. When the drawer starts getting full you can have a family night to decide which pages need to be saved and archived in a notebook or child’s memory box.

9. One of the saving graces in my household has always been Post-It Notes and Post-It Removable hooks. Both items can go on the wall anywhere you need to leave a list or note, or hang a small item, and are equally easy to remove when you need the wall space back in pristine condition.

10. I remember when I thought toys were going to take over every extra bit of floor space. Designate one less-used corner of a family as the toy area and transform into a mini kid zone. Yes, kids can play in their rooms, but they want to spend time with the family too. With a movable chalk board, a small bookcase and a kids’ table, toy clutter tends to stay contained and in its place. If you need a little more toy storage look at rolling bin options or cover storage boxes with pretty paper. In our house, this area morphed into our family game area as everyone got older, with an adult game table replacing the mini kids version.

11. Space behind the soft is great for storing extra blankets and pillows. We stick an extra flashlight there, too, so everyone knows where they can grab some emergency light in case of spring storms. If you use a sofa table behind yours, see if you can find an attractive box or trunk to store on the floor between the table legs for an added storage option.

12. Our family is moving away from DVDs and videos and streaming more entertainment. But if you have movies and shows you prefer to keep on hand, take a half-hour or so to sort through your collection. Make two piles: one for keeping, and another for either donating or selling online. At first we didn’t think we wanted to give any up either, but as we sorted through them each year, more and more were placed in the re-purpose/recycle pile, as new options for watching our favorites became available online.

13. Collectibles can take over a room and not only commandeer space, but create more dusting work as well. Large collections are revealed best when a smaller number of  pieces are displayed at one time. Use smaller groupings, or shadow boxes, and rotate the items to keep the look fresh. Think about doing what museums do, and how exciting it is for people to come next time and see new things, even in a permanent display. Put half of a collection in a sturdy box in a closet, and keep the other half out for viewing. Then rotate different favorite items throughout the year.

Finally, one last story. This isn’t really a tip, but it might give you some ideas on saving memories. When we built our house, my daughter was only five at the time, and while we were clearing up some of the building-mess in another room, she used her sidewalk chalk to draw a gorgeous scene on the yet un-carpeted cement floor of the family room. When we saw what she was doing the drawing was more than halfway complete, and neither my husband nor I wanted to stop her and erase the drawing. So hubby found some sealer to put over the drawing, and to this day it sits under the pad and carpet in that room. It’s just a kind of secret family thing we all know is there, and we all smile telling the story each time the carpeting is replaced 🙂

 

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]

I Love Spring Bargains

Since I write the Organized Mysteries, I guess I should be doing a Spring Cleaning post, but here’s a twist instead on how to bypass clutter by filling your ereader instead of bookshelves. I’ve been talking lately about the 99 cent sales on Organized for Murder and the International Cozy Mysteries anthology, but there are so many other wonderful ebooks going on sale at the moment that I had to give a sample. After all, a Kindle doesn’t weigh any more when it’s digitally filled than when it’s empty, right?

Here are some great buys you can check out–but these 99 cent sales only last a few more days, so hurry while you can grab a bargain! The links below will shoot out to the Amazon pages, but they’re on sale at all booksellers. I just didn’t want to clutter things up with ALL the links 🙂

Here’s a free one that may make you think of herb gardens & spring:

Murder & Moonflowers (the Herbalist Book #1) by Leslie Leigh

Two new books in a brand new Danger Cove Mysteries series–

Secret of the Painted Lady: A Danger Cove Renovation Mystery by Christina A. Burke

Murder and Mai Tais: A Danger Cove Cocktail Mystery by Sibel Hodge now specially priced for preorder

Then there are some recent favorites–

Murder at Castle Rock (Amelia Grace Rock & Roll Mystery by Anne Marie Stoddard

Southern Peach Pie and a Dead Guy by A. Gardner

Remote Consequences: Working Stiffs Mysteries #1 by Kerri Nelson

30 First Dates: a romantic comedy by Stacey Wiedower

Bird in the Hand (Proverbial Crimes Book #1) by Dane McCaslin

Murder Al Dente (Southern Pasta Mystery #1) by Jennifer L. Hart

A Cereal Killer (Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery Book #1) by Morgana Best

Spicing Up Trouble: a romantic comedy by Mary Jo Burke

Well, that’s a Baker’s Dozen of Bargains starting with the two books I’m in at the top, but you’ll likely find a lot of other bargains at the booksellers right now as authors and publishers offer “tastes” of their series. All of these ebooks are set to go back to regular price soon, so if you see one you like it’s time to scoop it up–your ereader will love you for it and your budget with smile and clap in delight 🙂

Have you seen any good book bargains lately? If you have, feel free to list them in the comments section of this post. Thank you!

I’m Blogging on the Run Today

I’m over at Laffeinated Ink talking about quick and easy organization tips to give you ideas for new year decluttering. Love to see you if you have a minute to come by. Here’s the link if you want to read the blog over a coffee break: New Year, New Organization at Laffeinated Ink

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 🙂

 

Save Those Things You Could Use for Years

We get so busy that sometimes we forget to hang on to things we should–things that could help us avoid stressful situation, buy additional items we shouldn’t, or even keep family members from serious medical issues.

Without getting into some of the first arguments hubby and I had, here’s a couple of tips that could save your life and definitely save budget and your relationship.

Anytime you buy anything with a manual or a written warranty, file it. Stapling the receipt that shows where and when it was purchased helps even more, but definitely file the item’s paperwork. Here’s why — it will break. Your spouse may be able to fix it, or you can order replacement parts, or one of you realize the kids shoved a plastic piece of toy where it doesn’t belong because the schematic in the manual doesn’t show that piece of plastic ever being a part of the design. If it can’t be repaired, that written warranty may prove you deserve a free replacement!

Save stress and expense by organizing ALL manuals together. If just starting out, get a three-ring notebook, and either punch holes in your manuals/warranties or buy those clear sleeves at Office Depot to slide the paperwork into, then clip the sleeves into the binder. You can sort these in sections, or not, but the big thing is to have them in one place.

We outgrew the notebook, so I have a portable Rubbermaid file box with a carry-handle that holds letter-sized hanging folders, one for each appliance. I drop each manual/warranty inside. I can easily shift hanging folders so all the paperwork from each room gets grouped together.

Best of all, whenever hubby asks for the millionth time where a manual is, I just point to the box. He never files the manual back, that’s too much to hope, but he does drop the manual back on top of the box when done. That’s a win in my book.

When I mentioned ‘save your life organizing,’ it wasn’t to keep from killing my spouse because he used to drive me nuts about product manuals. What I meant referred to those informational medicine pages received with prescription drugs.

Even if it’s a prescription you never expect to use again, keep the paperwork. When you’re ill, or starting a new prescription, you think you’ve paid attention what your doctor said, but if your symptoms change or become worse you may be having side effects from the very thing supposed to be making you better.

When we receive the written info from the pharmacist, I look it over, then file in a notebook holding all other paperwork like this our family has received.

If an unexpected side effect occurs, I make notes on the paper, and flag it in the notebook. If that family member is prescribed this medication again, we know what to tell the next doctor. Even if nothing bad happens, I keep the paperwork without adding notes to know the medication worked fine. We always think we’re going to remember, but even best intentions can fall short. A quick note now may save future health complications and stress.

Make It Easy and Organized in the Kitchen — and Save Money, too

Again, these are tips I first posted on my publisher’s FB page a couple of weeks ago when we were gearing up for the launch of ORGANIZED FOR MURDER. If you didn’t catch them then, here’s your second chance 🙂

We have a deep pantry with bi-fold doors, and things can get easily hidden in the shadows of all the other containers. Food can easily go bad if it’s there too long, or I don’t realize I have something and buy more when I don’t need it. For these reasons, keeping the pantry organized helps me save money and time.

To combat the design issues, I use box flats or the lids for file boxes – so there’s only an inch or so lip around the cardboard. Then I put all my cans on these flats. I can stand at the pantry opening and slide out a whole flat at one time, and quickly see all the cans that would normally cower in the back.

I also make sure one section is for tall boxes, like cereal, so all those big containers are together and don’t hide the pasta I need for dinner.

I have always separated bananas as soon as I bring them home from the store, and placed them in a bowl on the counter. I learned early on that keeping fruit in the plastic bags makes everything ripen faster than I like. This is due to the naturally occurring gases. Since bananas grow so close together, separating the fruit from each other helped even more.

I always did the same with apples and oranges and pears and grapes, too. I washed the fruit and set pieces out in a bowl on the table, or in the case of grapes and oranges, kept them in a refrigerated bowl on one of the middle shelves of the fridge.

In the case of bananas, I realized my family ate that fruit much more readily when a bunch was separated and placed in a bowl on the counter, right in the busiest line of traffic, and all they had to do was grab one out of the bowl and peel. That realization was driven home in a funny way recently when my mid-20s daughter moved home for a week while waiting for her new apartment to get final renovations completed.

She grabbed a banana each day and on the third day said, “I wonder why I quit eating bananas? I love bananas. I’ve been eating them every day I’ve been here. They always went bad at my place.”

“It’s because I separate them and you don’t have to do anything but grab them.”

Her eyes grew wide, and she replied, “Omigod, you’re right. I’m sooo lazy.”

So, laugh with your kids, and save yourself some money by thinking how to make cheap & healthy snacks easy to eat, and your fruit will never go bad again.