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Crazy Cat Lady, IWSG, Writing

Simon the Time Traveling Cat's Writing Advice

I have an imaginary gray cat named Simon who has the ability to travel through time. He’s a pretty grumpy cat who is always complaining about not getting enough saucers of full-fat milk in his life, having his naps interrupted, and the “stupid” books I write. Simon pops up quite frequently in vignettes that I often include in my monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) posts.

Until recently, I wrote my IWSG posts on The Cynical Sailor, a blog I started in 2013 when my husband and I bought our first sailboat in New Zealand. Now that I have this author blog, I’ve realized that my IWSG posts are a better fit over here. But I don’t want lose sight of all of the Simon-related posts that I’ve written over on The Cynical Sailor, so I’ve created an index of them here.

As I’ve pulled this index together, it’s been fascinating to see how my writing journey has evolved over time. Have a look at the list below and check out the posts. They’re good for a few giggles and you might find some useful writing advice along the way.

An Index of Simon the Time Traveling Posts on The Cynical Sailor Blog

The Time Traveling Cat (March 2017) – Simon makes his first appearance on the blog while I answer the question, “Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it?”

How’d You Get So Full of Yourself? (April 2017) – I make cookies and have a chat with Simon about how I worry that people are going to think I’m full of myself because of all the promotion I’m doing about my upcoming release.

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Plays Monopoly (June 2017) – Simon complains about not getting to be the top hat in Monopoly while I answer the question, “Did you ever say I quit? What made you come back to writing?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Goes for a Walk (July 2017) – Simon is less than impressed when I buy a leash and harness for him, and I answer the question, “What’s one valuable lesson you’ve learned since writing?”

Interstellar Voyages with Simon the Time Traveling Cat (Sept 2017) – Simon uses his time traveling powers to take us to another universe where I answer the question, “Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Gets a Visitor (Oct 2017) – Simon is rude to a visiting cat and I answer the question, “Have you ever slipped any of your own personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Coughs Up a Hairball (Nov 2017) – I explain to Simon what beta readers are when I answer the question, “Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNoWriMo project?” (Note: NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a month-long event where participants from around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during November.)

Waking Up with Simon the Time Traveling Cat (Dec 2017) – Simon and I travel back to January 1st to answer the question, “As you look back at 2017, with all of its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Takes a Nap (Jan 2018) – Simon gets grumpy when I try to move him from his favorite napping spot while I answer the question, “What steps have you taken, or do you plan to take, to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Gets Evicted (Feb 2018) – Simon knocks stuff off the table (very annoying) while I while I answer the question, “What do you love the most about the genre you write in?”

Celebrating with Star Trek & Dead Lizards (March 2018) – Simon tries to convince me that leaving dead lizards on my pillow is how he pays rent while I answer the question, “How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal / finish a story?”

Why Don’t Cats Sweat? (May 2018) – I complain about the heat in Florida to Simon and answer the question, “It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others?”

Simon the Time Traveling Cat’s Dubious Advice (June 2018) – When I try to answer the question, “What’s harder for you to come up with – book titles or character names?” Simon suggests that I name all characters after him. Silly cat.

Simon the Time Traveling Cat Freaks Out (July 2018) – The 4th of July fireworks scare Simon while I answer the question, “What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?”

Simon the Cat Travels through Time (Aug 2018) – Simon uses his powers to take us back to ancient Egypt. He likes it back then because cats were worshiped. While we’re there, I answer the question, “What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?”

Simon Goes Nuts for Catnip (Sept 2018) – Simon gets high on catnip while I answer the question, “What publishing path are you considering / did you take and why?” Wide, self-published

Simon the Time Traveling Cat’s Life Gets Disrupted (Oct 2018) – Simon freaks out when I serve him a new brand of cat food and I answer the question, “How do major life changes affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?”

Stop Being So Nosy! (Jan 2019) – Simon tries to find out how much money I make from writing when I answer the question, “What are your favorite and least favorite questions that people ask you about writing?”

What Cats Think about Heroes & Villains (March 2019) – Simon takes over the blog from me and answers the question, “What perspective do you like to write from the best – the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)?” It probably won’t surprise you, but Simon thinks all books should be written from a cat’s perspective.

Simon the Time Traveling Cat vs. Dewey Decimal the Talking Chameleon (June 2019) – I tell Simon all about the talking chameleon I have planned for my next cozy mystery series. He’s not impressed.

Release of Poisoned by the Pier & Character Traits (July 2019) – Simon hacks up a hairball on my keyboard while I answer the question, “What personal trait(s) have you written into your characters?”

How to Read without Opposable Thumbs (Oct 2019) – Simon and I chat about whether you can be a writer if you’re not also a reader while Simon shows me how he reads without opposable thumbs.

If you’ve had enough of Simon, here are some other writing-related posts from The Cynical Sailor you might be interested in.

Read an excerpt from Mrs. Moto’s diary – Mrs. Moto’s Murder Meows & Bodies in the Boatyard (Nov 2018). If you’re not familiar with Mrs. Moto, she’s the feline star of my Mollie McGhie cozy sailing mystery series.

Finding Time in My Busy Day (Sept 2016) – I share the results of an MIT study which compared how writers and cats spend their days. No surprise – cats take more naps.

About the Insecure Writer’s Support Group

If you’re not familiar with the IWSG, it’s an online support group founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers with different levels of experience from folks who are just daydreaming about writing to those who have published bestselling books.

I’ve made wonderful connections with fellow writers through the IWSG and the support and encouragement I’ve received from the community are a huge part of why I’m now a published author.

Want to get involved in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG)? Just hop on over HERE to sign-up. We’d love to have you on board!

IWSG, Writing

My Writerly Journey | IWSG

Hello! If you’ve been directed here from The Cynical Sailor, welcome to my author site. I’m still figuring out what I’m going to do with that site moving forward, but, in the meantime, I’ve decided to move my Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog posts to this site. Thanks for following me over here!

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) is a place to share and encourage, where writers can express their doubts and concerns without appearing foolish or weak. It’s a great place to mingle with like minded people each month during IWSG day.

Every month there’s an optional question which may prompt folks to share advice, insights, a personal experience or story. Some folks answer the question in their IWSG blog post or let it inspire them if they’re struggling with what to say.

This month’s question is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher, coach, spouse, friend, parent? Did you just “know” suddenly that you wanted to write?

Check out how people have answered this month’s question, as well as the other insecurities and writing topics they may have shared by visiting the IWSG sign-up list HERE. You can find out how I answered the question below.

It seems like a lot of folks were born with the writing bug. Me, not so much. All I was born with was a birthmark on my arm. Sure, it’s a pretty cool birthmark (if you squint just right in really poor light after a few vodka shots, it kind of looks like Elvis), but it’s not quite as cool as coming out of the womb ready to write the next Great American Novel.

I didn’t start any form of creative writing until 2013. That’s when I launced The Cynical Sailor, a blog originally dedicated to documenting the transition from moving out of a normal dwelling on land and onto our sailboat in New Zealand. Sure, there was a lot of boring boat stuff on there, but I also took the opportunity to inject some humor into writing about our adventures and misadventures. And, to my surprise, people responded positively to my wacky sense of humor.

I began to “fictionalize” some of my blog posts, even writing little Nancy Drew stories about how I was trying to investigate and track down the mysterious leak on our boat. That led me to taking my fan fiction to the next level by writing a full-blown Nancy Drew series of posts about “The Case of the Missing Anchor” as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in 2016.

People began to urge me to write a cozy mystery of my own. And by “people,” I mean my mom. And you can’t say no to your mom, can you?

So, with massive support from followers of The Cynical Sailor and members of the IWSG, I got cracking and started seriously writing. I cranked out a 50,000 word draft of what would later become Murder at the Marina during National Novel Writing Month in November 2016.

I also decided to try my hand at writing a fantasy short story which I submitted to the IWSG anthology contest. To my utter surprise, it was accepted. It was such a thrill to see my words in print! I think that’s the point when my writing journey kicked into high gear.

So, I guess I can’t point to one exact thing that started my writing journey, but rather people who supported me along at various points from the original followers of my Cynical Sailor blog, the people behind the IWSG anthology contest, my writing buddies, my family and friends, and everyone who reads my books and continues to encourage me to keep writing.

PS If you’re wondering where Simon the Cat is today, he’s too busy napping in a sunny spot by the window to be bothered with the blog today. He promises that he’ll be back soon.

What about you? What inspired you to start writing? If you’re not a writer and have another creative pursuit, what inspired you to start that?

Dead in the Dinghy is now available! Get your copy of the latest Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery at your favorite retailer and find out what happens when Mollie and Scooter participate in their first sailing regatta.

Spoiler alert: someone ends up dead in a dinghy & Mollie eats a lot of chocolate!

Ebook available at:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo | Google Play

Also available in PAPERBACK and LARGE PRINT.

Find out more HERE.

Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Connie B. Dowell

Today, I’m featuring an interview with cozy mystery author, Connie B. Dowell. She’s the author of the Emma and Dessie Mysteries and the Millie Monroe Mysteries. She’s also written a book on how to get the words down when you’re a parent without childcare, a topic she knows well as a mom of preschoolers. And if all that didn’t keep her busy enough, she also hosts Book Echos, a podcast for authors.

You’ll want to hear what Connie has to say about writing, penguins and cookies, so grab a beverage and a snack, find yourself a comfy chair, and have a read below.

Interview with Connie B. Dowell

1 – You’ve previously published YA mysteries. What inspired you to start writing cozies? What differences / similarities do you see between the two?

I started out publishing historical mysteries aimed at a YA audience, but they were very much inspired by the cozy and traditional mysteries I grew up reading. The lovely thing about YA is that you can publish in any genre, because YA is about the life stage of the characters, not the genre. However, about the time, an idea for a contemporary cozy mystery series started percolating, I did some surveys of my audience. It turns out they were big cozy fans and not as many were YA—and these are the folks who love my books! So I’m retooling a lot of my packaging and marketing of these books for a historical cozy audience, but like most cozies, all my books remain teen-friendly in content. It’s come with a nice bonus that I can age my characters a little more rapidly and explore what college life was like for some of the first women to attend the University of Georgia in the 1920s.

There’s some difference in expectations for the two markets. YA tends to expect more romance elements, and my historical book 1 was very light on that, perhaps why it appealed more to adult cozy readers. Also, there’s some plot challenges with writing YA versus adult mysteries. You have to come up with reasons to give your characters enough independence to find clues and talk to suspects and witnesses.

2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

I adore the combination of setting and puzzle. That’s what keeps me coming back to cozies and looking for cozies set in new and interesting places and around interesting activities.

3 – Do you have any writing rituals?

I do most of my writing with two preschoolers underfoot, so I can’t be too picky about rituals. Gotta grab the words while I can. What I do as a habit, though, is micro outline my scenes before I start writing. Then, I dictate the actual words. It took a long time to feel comfortable dictating, but it has made writing while watching the kids in the backyard much easier.

4 – What’s more important – character or plot?

Character. Plot will pull me into a story but character will keep me there, and keep me coming back for more in the series.

5 – What do you like best about being an author? What do you like the least?

I love seeing people engage with my stories and have fun in the whacky worlds I’ve come up with just out of my head.

My least favorite part of being an author is a lot of the little administrative tasks I end up doing, but It’s all part of doing the job I love.

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

Snickerdoodle, hands down. Best flavor: cinnamon. Best name. What could be cozier than a cookie called snickerdoodle?

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?

Actually, penguin with a sombrero is one of my husband’s habitual doodles! So I’d assume he’d speak with Steve’s voice and say “Steve found a magic pencil.” Just like the episode of Spongebob. There’d probably be an animated tic-tac-toe and some sketchy cats coming in next.

8 – What else would you like us to know about you?

I have a podcast for authors called Book Echoes where I feature author interviews and tips on all aspects of the writing life. New episodes on Wednesdays.

Years ago, I used to be a bookmobile driver in rural five-county area. It was a fun job for a grad student, and after hearing folks tell me multiple times that it sounded like the perfect inspiration for a cozy mystery series, I finally started work on the Millie Monroe Mysteries, launching in late February. It’s been great fun reliving my youth but with a murdery twist.

About Connie

Connie B. Dowell writes contemporary and historical cozy mysteries as well as nonfiction for writers. When not writing or wrangling preschoolers, she plays violin badly and bakes weird concoctions. She and her family live in Central Virginia where both adults drink far more coffee than is probably wise.

Find out more about Connie at her Website | Podcast | Facebook | Twitter

Editor’s Note: Thanks so much for the interview, Connie! How fascinating that you used to drive a bookmobile! I love snidkerdoodle cookies too, especially the ones my sister makes.

IWSG, Writing

Imagining My Future Writing Self | IWSG

Hello! If you’ve been directed here from The Cynical Sailor, welcome to my author site. I’m still figuring out what I’m going to do with that site moving forward, but, in the meantime, I’ve decided to move my Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog posts to this site. Thanks for following me over here!

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) is a place to share and encourage, where writers can express their doubts and concerns without appearing foolish or weak. It’s a great place to mingle with like minded people each month during IWSG day.

Every month there’s an optional question which may prompt folks to share advice, insights, a personal experience or story. Some folks answer the question in their IWSG blog post or let it inspire them if they’re struggling with what to say.

This month’s question is:

Let’s play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

Check out how people have answered this month’s question, as well as the other insecurities and writing topics they may have shared by visiting the IWSG sign-up list HERE. You can find out how I answered the question below.

Simon the cat getting ready to lay waste to the Christmas tree.

Simon the Cat Demands His Breakfast with Very Sharp Claws

Note: If you’re new to my IWSG posts, I often write stories about my imaginary cat, Simon, to answer the monthly questions. He’s rather a grumpy cat who loves full-fat milk, bashing my writing, and making a general nuisance of himself. The complete opposite of Mrs. Moto from my Mollie McGhie mysteries.

“Wake up, lady,” a low voice growled.

I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. “Leave me alone, Simon. I’m trying to sleep.” A paw snaked underneath my blanket, its sharp claws fully extended. “Ouch! That hurt.”

As I sat up in bed, my large gray cat glared at me. “Stop being so lazy and feed me breakfast.”

“You know, you’re much more pleasant in my dreams.” I stretched my arms over my head. “It was such a nice dream, too.”

“What did you dream about?” Simon asked as he rolled over on his back.

“My future writer self,” I said, as I rubbed his belly. “I’m doing really well in the future. I’ve written in some other genres like sci-fi and sweet romance. Plus, I have several cozy mystery series published including one with a talking chameleon who lives in a library in North Dakota.”

“Whoever heard of a talking chameleon? That’s a stupid idea, lady. Chameleons don’t talk. “

“And cats do?”

“Well, duh. You can hear me, can’t you?” Simon crawled onto my lap and kneaded my legs. “What are your other series about? Me?”

“You? No way,” I said. “Who would want to read about you?”

“You really aren’t very bright, are you? There’s people reading about me right now.”

I chewed on my lip. “Well, that’s different. This is a blog post, not a book.” Before he could interrupt with another smart aleck response, I added, “The other idea I have is a side series of novellas about a fortune teller who lives on Destiny Key.”

“Your new book is set there, isn’t it?” Simon asked.

“It is. Mollie and Scooter sail there during the Coconut Cove regatta.” I furrowed my brow. “How did you know that? Have you been reading my books?”

“Only when I have insomnia.” Simon yawned. “They’re so boring that they put me right to sleep.”

I lay back down and pulled the covers up to my chin. “If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to go back to sleep and dream about my future writer self and my future cat. He’s really sweet.”

“Future cat?” Simon jabbed my face with this paw, then sat back on his haunches. “Oh, I get it. You’re going to travel into the future, use their cloning machine and come back with a dozen more Simons.”

“That sounds like a nightmare.” I grabbed a pad from my bedside table. “Note to self,” I said as I scribbled on the paper. “Do not engage in time travel. One Simon is plenty.”

What about you? When you dream about your future, what do you envision?

Dead in the Dinghy will be released on December 13th! Pre-order your copy of the latest Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery at your favorite retailer and find out what happens when Mollie and Scooter participate in their first sailing regatta.

Spoiler alert: someone ends up dead in a dinghy & Mollie eats a lot of chocolate!

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo | Google Play

Find out more HERE.

Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Summer Prescott

Today, I’m featuring an interview with cozy mystery author, Summer Prescott. She’s the author of several cozy mystery series including Cupcakes in Paradise Series, the Incredibly Sweet Series, and the Frosted Love Cozy Mysteries. The cupcakes and other sweet treats on the covers of Summer’s books always make my mouth water.

In addition to writing her own cozies, Summer also runs an indie publishing company. Grab a beverage and a snack and find out what Summer has to say about writing, penguins and cookies!

1 – What inspired you to write your books?

I’ve always loved writing and mystery is one of my favorite genres to read. I also love food, animals and hobbies, so when I discovered that Cozy Mysteries involved all of the above, I was super excited!

2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

I love the relationships between characters, whether they’re family, good friends, coworkers, etc… There’s a sweetness and simplicity to Cozies which makes them a welcome escape from reality.

3 – Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes, I always have to have a cup of coffee at my side, and I usually wear fuzzy slippers, no matter what the time of year.

4 – What’s more important – character or plot?

Both. Strong characters are essential, but the storyline has to be equally strong.

5 – What do you like best about being an author? What do you like the least?

I love creating make believe worlds which transport readers into kinder spaces, even if it involves murder, lol. What I like least…hmm…that’s a tough one. I suppose what I like least about being an author is the business side of things that are involved in the production and publication of books. I’d much rather spend my time writing than doing marketing.

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?” 

Hahahahaha! No worries, I LOVE cookies! All of them! If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to say either shortbread, or sugar cookies.

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?  

Come away with me and tell me stories and I will feed you tacos and margaritas.

8 – What else would you like us to know about you? 

I own Summer Prescott Books, an Indie publishing company, and have been fortunate to work with some very talented authors. The company functions as a launching point for gifted new Cozy Mystery authors, many of whom stay onboard for years. Patti Benning, Gretchen Allen, Allyssa Mirry, and Carolyn Q. Hunter are the current core writers at SPBP right now, but we’ve also had the pleasure of working with many other talented folks in short-term and boxed set arrangements.

Our commitment to quality and fostering good author relationships has helped to make us a healthy and happy company.

About Summer & Her Books

Summer Prescott is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal Best-Selling Author, who has penned nearly one hundred Cozy Mysteries, and one rather successful Thriller, The Quiet Type, which debuted in the top 50 of its genre. As owner of Summer Prescott Books Publishing, Summer is responsible for a combined catalog of over two hundred Cozy Mysteries and Thrillers. Mentoring and helping new Cozy writers launch their careers has long been a passion of Summer’s, and she has played a key role in the incredible success of Cozy writers such as Patti Benning and Carolyn Q. Hunter.

Summer is a doting mother to four grown children, and lives in Champaign, Illinois with her Standard Poodle, Elvis.

Connect with Summer on her Website | Summer Prescott Books Facebook Page | Twitter

Editor’s Note: Thanks so much for your interview today! I loved your answer to the penguin question. Tacos and margaritas sound like a great exchange for stories 🙂

Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Sarah Jane Weldon

10 Reasons(1)

Today I’m featuring an interview with cozy mystery author, Sarah Jane Weldon. Sarah is known within the cozy mystery author community as the founder of #nationalcozymysteryday which celebrates all things cozy mystery and takes place on Agatha Christie’s birthday, September 15th. She also coordinates a number of shared author promotions on BookFunnel, organizing collections of free books based around various cozy mystery themes. If you’re looking for a way to build your newsletter and network with other cozy mystery authors, Sarah’s BookFunnel promos are a great way to go about it.

Grab a beverage and a snack and sit back, and see what Sarah has to say about cozy mysteries, cookies, and penguins.

1 – What inspired you to write your books?

I was on the set of an Agatha Christie production for the BBC at the time and had recently come across NaNoWriMo and written my very first story in secret, thinking that no one would ever find it, let alone read it. It’s not going to make me rich anytime time soon, but it continues to sell a few copies each day without me doing anything with it.

It was around that time that I realised that the books I loved were called ‘cozies’ and so I started to do some investigating of my own, and thought I would try my hand at writing a story. That was ‘Dead on Doughnuts’ and I put it out under my own name, not thinking it would ever be read. Much to be horror, people started to download it and it was suddenly in the top 100 Amazon bestseller charts, at which point I realised that I needed to save up for some proper cover design and editing, so I unpublished it fast, saved up some funds by working as a cleaner in McDonald’s in between my other jobs, moved into a guesthouse room so that I could reduce my overheads and decided to become a full-time cozy mystery author. I’ve not regretted it one bit and I love being able to share my love of cozies with other readers and writers. I think I finally found my people! And my perfect job.  


2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

I love that there is never a moment to get bored or stale. I’m always learning how to improve my craft, and I have stories set in more real-life worlds, as well as fantasy worlds. One minute my amateur sleuth is a teen working in a coffee shop, the next the sleuth is a sheep or unicorn. I draw inspiration from my travels and places I visit with my work. 


3 – Do you have any writing rituals?

One of the best things for me is that writing fits perfectly around my work as a professional school and cruise ship speaker and on film productions. My life is pretty chaotic, especially as I play different characters on set. I travel a lot and it’s difficult to get structure, especially living in a guesthouse or staying in different places each night. I have moments of being really busy, followed by moments of dead time when it’s quiet on set and I’m just sat around in between takes. That makes it really difficult to have rituals as I have to go with the flow. Some days we start filming at 4aam, other times it might be that we film all night. When I’m away I use that time to ‘refill the creative well’ as it were, to watch people, to see new places, and to be more social, and then once I’m home again, I tend to go back to being introverted and that’s when I like to get back to my writing. It’s a good balance in some ways. Eventually, I would love to have a forever home, with a dedicated space for doing my writing, and to start having rituals.  


4 – What’s more important – character or plot?


That’s a tough call to make. As a reader myself I think I’m more drawn to the characters as I’m prone to stop reading if I don’t gel with a character. I’ve got a really terrible short term memory though, and I often fall asleep when I read, and then have to re-read that page again the following night. So I probably don’t follow and get caught up in solving the murder or dissecting the plot as much as some readers do.  The same if I’m watching a film or series on the television as I’ll always forgive a poor plot if I feel a connection to the characters.  


5 – What do you like best about being an author? What do you like the least

It’s funny. I was on set a few days ago and we did multiple takes of the same scene to the point where my mind had switched off and I was plotting my next murder mystery based on the characters and context around me. It was then that I realised just how much I was itching to get back to my writing, and how much the world had changed even in my lifetime.  When I was a kid, saying that you wanted to become an author would have got you ridiculed. It was on a par with saying that you wanted to become an astronaut and visit the moon!

But the invention of the internet, Amazon, and self-publishing means that I now have the honour of giving talks in schools and hearing that ten and eleven-year-olds have now published books of their own and are earning a living from them. It’s completely mind-blowing!

That’s what I love the most about being an author. Being able to make a change to the lives of others -whether that’s writing a story that cheers up a reader whose had a rubbish day at work, or encouraging teens to get into self-publishing, or using the royalties from page reads and book sales to send teens on environmental and STEM expeditions around the world. Not to mention how amazing it is when you get to meet the writer of a book on set, and see how it has been adapted for TV or film. That single idea in the writer’s head has the potential to impact on so many lives, in very different ways. Just think of all the lighting guys, costume designers, and actors who have employment because that one person felt compelled to share their story.

The thing I like the least is that there are simply not enough writing hours in the day, and I want to be so much more skilled than I am! I’m a newbie so I’ve a huge amount to learn still.     


6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

Well, as a Brit I’m going to cheat a little and talk about biscuits rather than cookies, because I’m rather partial to a ginger nut.  I’m an ice swimmer, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London, and a member of the Explorer’s Club in New York. Through my previous career as a medic, I got to visit a lot of different places as a researcher and went on a number of expeditions to extreme locations like the Arctic, Amazon, and desert.

The gingernut is the perfect biscuit for expeditions because it’s really solid, doesn’t melt or go off, and is perfect for dunking into a cup of tea without falling apart and leaving a soggy mess at the bottom of the cup. The sugar is great for energy, and ginger is perfect for travel sickness and dodgy tummies. One of the best things about ice swimming is that I have to keep my body at a minimum of 25% fat, so I eat a lot of things that are usually considered bad for you. I eat a lot of calories each day. My next big swim is 1km in a swimming costume in Antarctica so I’ll be very thankful for all the biscuits and cakes I’ve invested in!! 

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you? 

I used to share a house with a lot of vets and we often had weird and wonderful creatures around the house, including penguins! Though never in a sombrero. I love animals and was quite involved with the local dog shelter and the zoo whilst living in Tbilisi in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia so all animals are welcome at my home. It’s the place where the stories of Noah’s Ark come from and there was a really bad flood and landslide one year, which meant that all the animals were just wondering around the city, including the lions, rhino, and bears. I was always taking in animals from the street especially when the weather was nasty. So, I reckon a penguin in a sombrero would probably ask me for a nice cold bath and a pina colada.  

8 – What else would you like us to know about you? 

Every Friday I share lots of free cozy mystery books on my website blog as part of Free Book Friday, so if you ever need a new book or want to try out some new authors, that’s a great place to start. I don’t think that we as readers appreciate the kindness of our cozy mystery authors enough, and I certainly have a lot more respect and gratitude towards authors now I know just what is involved in the production of a book and how many hours it takes.

Likewise, I don’t know if authors realise how much impact they have in making the world a better, more positive place through the stories they share.  The cozy mystery genre is filled with so many awesome people, it’s a real honour to be a part of it and to see it become more mainstream. My dream is to be able to walk into a book shop one day and to see a dedicated cozy mystery section, just like you would with romance and sci-fi books.

Sarah’s Cozy Mysteries

Sarah has a number of fun cozy mysteries that you’ll want to check out including Baa’d to the Bone, the Coffee Shop Mysteries, as well as the soon to be released Twelve Deadly Days of Christmas series. You can find out more about her books HERE.

About Sarah

Sarah Jane Weldon is a British cozy mystery author. On an average day, you’ll find her working on the set of a new film or television series, ice swimming in a remote location, or sat in her favourite fire-side chair plotting a character’s demise. 

Sarah isn’t a fan of her middle name ‘Jane’ (she prefers to be called Sarah) but readers were getting her mixed up with another person who wrote hot and steamy books, so she decided to add ‘Jane’ to help readers find her books.

Outside of her writing, Sarah is a lover of cats, and even her Italian Greyhound is more cat-like than your average dog.

Sarah is passionate about children’s literacy and regularly works with schools through Skype in the Classroom and School Speakers. She is a STEM Ambassador, and actively supports young people through the UK registered environmental and STEM education charity ‘Oceans Project’ which she founded with a small group of IDP children whilst working for the Ministry of Education and Science in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. In 2014, Microsoft Education named Sarah as a ‘woman changing the world through technology’ for International Women’s Day for her work with schools worldwide. 

A large percentage of Sarah’s book royalties directly supports Oceans Project’s work with disadvantaged young people, sending them on Earthwatch expeditions worldwide where they get to work one on one with sharks, coral reefs, and in the rainforest carrying out citizen science projects with leading experts in the field. (UK readers can support Oceans Project by shopping on Amazon Smile).

Sarah’s love for the water was recently filmed for a Channel 4 documentary series looking at her DNA and family history. Check it out on YouTube.

If you love cozy mystery books, you can join Sarah’s Free Book Friday newsletter which contains plenty of free cozies to keep you out of mischief for the weekend. Sign up on her website.

Sarah is the founder of #nationalcozymysteryday which takes place on Agatha Christie’s birthday on the 15th September, and is a celebration of all things cozy mystery. 

Connect with Sarah on her Website & Blog | Free Book Friday Newsletter | Amazon | BookBub | Facebook Cozy Mystery Explorer | Facebook Author Page | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | YouTube | Goodreads

Editor’s Note: Thanks so much for the interview, Sarah! I absolutely love gingernuts. They’re something I became addicted to while living in Scotland and New Zealand. Sadly, they aren’t as easy to find now that I’m back in the States.

Cozy Mystery Publishing

Thoughts on Writing Cozy Mystery Novellas

I recently wrote and published my first cozy mystery novella – Robbery at the Roller Derby. It’s a prequel to my Mollie McGhie Sailing Mystery series and is set about twelve years before the first book in the series – Murder at the Marina. After I had published three books in my series, I decided it was time to get more serious about marketing and promoting. One of the things I decided to focus on as part of this effort creating a reader magnet and that’s where my roller derby prequel novella came into play.

Now that Robbery at the Roller Derby has been out in the world for about a month, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about writing novellas. This isn’t meant to be advice or a prescriptive formula about how you should do things. Instead, it’s just some random stuff that popped into my head while sipping on my morning coffee.

1 – How long is a novella anyway?

I had always defined novellas quite simply – something shorter than a novel and longer than a short story. But exactly how long are novels, novellas, and short stories? This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but not everyone agrees on a single definition. Some people say that full-length novels need to be at least 60,000 words, others put the cut-off at 40,000 words, and I’ve also seen some folks say that the magic number is 80,000.

The same confusion flows down when determining word count criteria for novellas and short stories. And to add more fun to the equation, there’s even something called a novelette (the term always makes me thing of omelettes for some reason) which is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella.

I think it comes down to genre conventions and reader expectations. In terms of novels, fantasy readers expect a big fat tome that can double as a door stop. Cozy mystery readers are happy with much shorter novels.

In the end, I went with the following definitions:

  • Novel – 40,000 words or more
  • Novella – at least 17,500 and less than 40,000 words
  • Novelette – at least 7,500 and less than 17,500 words
  • Short Story – less than 7,500 words

When it came to writing my novella, I aimed for something between 20,000 – 30,000 words. It ended up being 22k. For comparison, my full-length novels have been between 62-72k to date.

2 – Books don’t have to be long to be good.

Some of our beloved classics are novella length. Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea was 26k. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was 29k. Conrad’s Into the Heart of Darkness was 38k. And Camus’ The Stranger was 36k.

Okay, there’s no way Robbery at the Roller Derby is ever going to be considered a classic, but the point is that you can tell a complete, compelling story in a shorter form. And many people like a quick read. Folks lead busy lives. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to gobble up an entire book in one evening with a cup of cocoa and a plate of cookies.

I read something somewhere (sorry to be so vague, but I have the world’s worst memory – anyone know where I left my glasses?) that you should think about novellas not just in terms of word count but in terms of target audience. Some readers deliberately seek out shorter books, just like some people prefer box sets, and others like to read big, chunky novels.

3 – Keep it simple.

Check your complex plots and your huge cast of characters at the door. When you have a limited number of words to work with, you have to keep things focused. In my full-length cozies, I have a main plot (the mystery), a few sub-plots, and a whole bunch of characters (recurring folks who show up throughout the series and ones specific to that particular mystery).

In my prequel novella, I kept it simple. One main plot (the robbery) and a minor romantic sub-plot and a limited number of characters. I’ll tell you what, it made things so simple. So much less to keep track of and weave together.

4 – How much is your novella worth?

Pricing your books is such a thorny subject. You pour your heart and soul into something, invest your hard-earned money into covers, editing, formatting, marketing, promotions etc. Isn’t it at least worth the price of a latte?

To be honest, I don’t know the right answer to this. I price my full-length cozies based on the other comparable indie published wide cozy authors. (The “wide” point is important. Pricing strategies probably differ if you’re exclusive to Kindle Select More on the HERE.) When it came to this particular novella, I wanted to use it initially as a reader magnet, i.e., folks can get it for free if they sign up for my newsletter. But because I know that not everyone wants to get newsletters and would prefer to purchase it, I also currently offer it for 99c/99p on all retailers. My thinking was that if someone bought it, then found out later they could have had it for free, they wouldn’t be too annoyed as it cost them less than a buck.

5 – Writing novellas is fun!

I have a blast writing this prequel novella, in part due to the fact that it has a roller derby setting (way cool!) and in part due to the fact that it had a shorter word count and simpler plot. It was quite refreshing to be able to bang it out in a relatively short period of time. My full-length cozies take me forever to write.

Okay, my coffee cup is empty, so I’ll have to put an end to my random novella writing thoughts. I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment and share your thoughts on reading and writing novellas.

Aspring Cozy Mystery Author Interview, Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Kelly Ethan

This is part of my series of interviews with aspiring cozy mystery authors. I thought it would be interesting to hear from folks who are in the throes of writing their first cozy mystery and planning its publication. It takes me right back to the start of my own writer’s journey before I hit the scary “publish” button with my first cozy.

I’m delighted to be featuring Kelly Ethan today. Her first cozy mystery, The Pernicious Pixie and the Choked Word, is available for FREE when you sign up for her newsletter HERE. If you want to know more about her journey as a cozy mystery writer, grab yourself a snack and a beverage, sit back and find out what she has to say about writing, cookies, and penguins.

1 – What inspired / motivated you to write cozy mysteries?

I’m married so turning to murder mystery was natural. In all seriousness, my family moved to Tasmania in Australia and the change of scenery sparked off some ideas and soul searching. Next thing I know I have a paranormal murder mystery idea and my Point Muse cozy mystery series was born.


2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

The twists and turns of the whodunit plot. The close relationships of the people in the story and the small town setting appeal to me. I live in a very small town and seeing that reflected in a cozy mystery feels warm and welcoming.


3 – What stage are you at in your writing and publishing journey?

I started writing paranormal romance years ago and was published with traditional style digital imprints in the United Kingdom and the Unites States. My Point muse cozy series will be my first foray into self-publishing.


4 – What are you most excited about in terms of publishing your first cozy? What are you nervous about?

I’m excited about reviews LOL. It’s a strange idea, but I want to know how much people love or hate my books 😉 I’m nervous about making a mistake in the process. With a traditional publishing model everything is done for you. But with self-publishing it stops with me.


5 – Tell us about the cozy mystery you’re currently working on. What’s your sleuth like? Where is it set? Do you have a hook?

My current story I’m working on is The Cruel Crow and the Deadly Hex. It’s set in Point muse, Maine and is book four in the Point Muse series. This story deals with secrets my heroine’s grandmother is hiding and her super secret spy past from World War Two is coming back to stalk her. Chaos and Mayhem ensue and hexes abound. My heroine is strong, stubborn and addicted to hot chocolate and sweet pastries… I’m not sure where that came from.

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

Isn’t not liking cookies a crime? I’m a shortbread lover although a gooey chocolate chip cookie (or biscuit for those of us down under) comes a close second. I bake and those biscuits never stay in the biscuit barrel for long. We have a biscuit fairy in the house that consumes them by the bucket load. Not me I swear…


7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?

Someone’s murdered the unicorn and I’m next. He’s from the Penguin Mafioso and he’s delivering me a warning to back off.


8 – What else would you like people to know about you?

I love chaos and mayhem and that shows in my writing. My stories are small town magic, mystery and mayhem with a large dose of humour through out. I’m a huge Whovian and Avengers fan and I hide my chocolate in the vegetable drawer in the fridge so my kids won’t eat it. They’d never think to look there .

About Kelly

Kelly Ethan’s world is small town magic, mystery and mayhem, with plenty of snarky laughs along the way.  

With an overactive imagination and a love of all things that go bump in the night, it was natural to write cozy paranormal mysteries, but she also writes paranormal romance. No matter the genre, she loves sarcastic heroines who save the day and solve the puzzle.

With a busy and chaotic household, writing is her outlet for madness. She lives in Australia and when not writing, can be found plotting her next fictional murder or chasing after the family’s ferocious hellhound.

You can connect with Kelly on her Website | Facebook | Twitter

Thanks for the interview, Kelly! We seem to have a biscuit/cookie fairy in our house too. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why they disappear so quickly.

Cozy Mystery Publishing

Paid Email Promotions for Cozy Mysteries

After I published the third book in my cozy mystery series, I decided it was time to start getting more serious about promoting and advertising my books. While I’ve been running Amazon ads for a while now (they work well for my paperback and large print editions, less so for my ebooks), participate in Kobo promotions (the results are okay, not stellar), and tried Facebook ads (dismal results), I hadn’t given much though to paid email promotions until recently.

Paid email promotions are pretty self-explanatory. You give someone money and they promote your book in their email. Of course, I’m not talking about slipping your little sister a five dollar bill and having her spam her friends’ inboxes with ‘Buy my sister’s book!’

What I’m referring to are those organizations who send out daily newsletters to avid readers highlighting free and/or bargain books. For a fee (and if you meet their selection criteria), they’ll include your book. And, in return, you (hopefully) get lots and lots of people downloading your book, loving it pieces, and rushing off to buy the rest in the series. At least, that’s the theory.

I decided to put this theory to the test. In July, I dropped the price of the first book in my series (Murder at the Marina) from $3.99 to 99c and scheduled five paid email promotions. I supplemented this with newsletter swaps with other cozy mystery authors and spread the work on social media. The experiment cost me $206. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money. Just think of all of the Oreo cookies you could buy with that wad of cash!

So, I bet you’re dying to know whether I made my investment back. Stick around to the end and I’ll let you know.

Let’s get into some nitty-gritty about the promos I did. But a few things to note before we dive in:

  • I’m wide, meaning that I distribute my books on all retailers (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Google Play). I am not exclusive to Amazon and part of Kindle Unlimited. I was particularly interested in seeing if I could gain more traction on non-Amazon platforms through these promos.
  • To assess the effectiveness of each promo, I tallied up sales on the day of the promo and the day after (not everyone opens emails the day they receive them) and did some magic with my calculator to figure out cost per unit sold (cost of promo / number of sales). I was interested not just in the number of sales, but how much each sale cost me. Keep in mind you’re making peanuts for each sale at a 99c price point – between 35-45c depending on retailer.
  • I did apply for a BookBub, the Holy Grail of paid email promos, and was unsuccessful. No surprise there. They’re pretty hard to get.
  • These are just my results. Don’t take anything I say as gospel. Your mileage may vary.

Robin Reads

Robin Reads cost me $65. They only target Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This was my least effective promo and I probably wouldn’t use them again. I know other people have great success with them though.

Ereader News Today (ENT)

ENT cost me $55. They target all retailers and I did see some sales on non-Amazon storefronts. Not a lot, but some. I’m on the fence about whether I’d used them again given the cost.

Bargain Booksy

Bargain Booksy cost me $55. They target all retailers. This one was the best at getting non-Amazon sales, including quite a few Barnes & Noble sales which worked to my advantage (more on that below). I’d probably use them again.

Book Adrenaline

Book Adrenaline cost me $15. They target everyone except Google Play. This one worked well for Barnes & Noble. This was one of my effective promo (in terms of cost of sale) and I’d definitely use them again.

Fussy Librarian

Fussy Librarian cost me $16 (I believe their prices have gone up since I booked). They target all retailers. This was my most effective promo and I’d definitely use them again.

So, did you make any money?

Yes, I hear you. You want to know about the money. Should I have bought Oreo cookies instead?

The cold hard truth is that none of the promos paid for themselves based on sales the day of and sales the day after. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to. It’s all about the read-through, or so they say. When I looked at my sales numbers for July and into the first week of August to see if people went on to buy the next two books in the series (or bought the box set), I came out ahead. Barely, but I did come out ahead. But, keep in mind that I did newsletter swaps during this period, so some of my sales and read-through could be attributed to those, rather than my paid promos.

Something unexpected did happen as a result of my July promo month. Barnes & Noble contacted me and asked if I would be interested in participating in a 99c cozy mystery promo the following month. I think this only happened because I came onto their radar due to the number of sales I had on their platform that month, sales that I wouldn’t have had without the promos. I did relatively well during that cozy mystery promo in August, getting the bestseller tag on and off throughout the week which raised my visibility and in turn generated more sales.

All in all, it was a good experiment. I didn’t lost my shirt financially and my pants still fit because I didn’t eat $206 worth of Oreo cookies.

What about you? Readers – Do you subscribe to any paid email promo newsletters? Do you buy books that they advertise? Authors – Have you tried paid email promos? How did they work for you?

Aspring Cozy Mystery Author Interview, Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Aspiring Cozy Mystery Author: Lisa Leoni

Poisoned by the Pier Graphics(4)

This is part of my series of interviews with aspiring cozy mystery authors. I thought it would be interesting to hear from folks who are in the throes of writing their first cozy mystery and planning its publication. It takes me right back to the start of my own writer’s journey before I hit the scary “publish” button with my first cozy.

So grab yourself a beverage and a snack, settle in, and find out more about what Lisa Leoni has to say about writing, penguins, and cookies.

1 – What inspired / motivated you to write cozy mysteries?

Writing cozies is a pretty recent development for me. I’ve been writing romance since I stumbled upon my first romance novel, just out of college. Outside of loving romance, I binge all sorts of true crime and crime drama media. I remember being a kid and sneaking reads of serial killer encyclopedias in bookstores (but trying not to crack the spine!). So if I love romance and murder, wouldn’t I want to write romantic suspense? Logic would think so, but the ideas never came, and I focused on contemporary romance.

I can’t recall how I stumbled upon what a cozy was (I wish I did), but I IMMEDIATELY knew it’s what I wanted to write. Humor, murder, getting to research all sorts of different topics, and some romance. It’s the perfect combination of my interests!

2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?

They’re happy little murder stories. When I say that to people who don’t read them, I get some weird looks, believe me. But I’m sure fans of cozies understand what I mean. I’m drawn to cozies for many of the same reasons I love reading/writing romance. They’re fun, have great characters, show women kicking butt and being brilliant, and have happy endings.

There’s a cozy movie series that gets the closest I’ve encountered to having all of my favorite things in a cozy: the Mystery 101 series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Aside from those two being two of my favorite Hallmark actors, that series involves academia (I work in higher education), criminal psychology, writing fiction, and some romance, with the crime solving.

3 – What stage are you at in your writing and publishing journey?

After trying to finish a complete first draft of a novel for more than 10 years (a lot of false starts and a lot of ideas), I visited Scotland for the first time in 2015 and found my muse. I started writing Scotland-set contemporary romance and got into Pitch Wars in 2017 as a mentee. I then signed with an agent and we’re working toward selling my debut. I’m thrilled to be represented by an agent and working toward selling my debut. I’m actively writing cozy mysteries and contemporary romance and plan to publish in both genres.

4 – What are you most excited about in terms of publishing your first cozy? What are you nervous about?

I want to know which characters the readers love and be able to share the worlds in my head with other people. These days, I’m really leaning into the common advice that an author should write the book they want to read. That’s exactly what I’m doing and I can’t wait to meet the kind of people who love these same ideas and characters as I do.

In terms of cozies, the thing I’m most nervous about is the murderer and motivation being easily figured out early in the story. As a reader, I get disappointed when I figure everything out early so I feel a lot of pressure around that as an author. Even when I figure out who the murderer is, I love to be surprised by their motivation as that’s revealed over the course of a book.

5 – Tell us about the cozy mystery you’re currently working on. What’s your sleuth like? Where is it set? Do you have a hook?

I’m working on the first in a series that’s set in a small town in western Oregon. My sleuth is fun, lovingly snarky and has a love-hate relationship with her home town. She’s found herself back in her home town for the summer and it’s the longest she’s been there for more than a weekend since she left for college many years ago. It’s fun to watch her experience the town (and it’s quirky citizens) as an adult with more life experience. I’ve also woven in some nods to Scotland, which have me super excited.

6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”

I loooove cookies! Not as much as cake, but I like cookies more than ice cream, if I had to rank them. Mmmm cookies. Now I need to go bake some, BRB! Okay, I’m back with a plate of hot butterscotch oatmeal cookies. I love to microwave them so the chips are gooey. I also love frosted sugar cookies at Christmas (specifically using the recipe from my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook).

7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?

“I lost my passport coming back from Mexico. Can I use your computer to order a replacement?”

No one can escape government bureaucracy, not even penguins. He visited me because he saw my cats on Instagram and wanted to meet them.

8 – What else would you like people to know about you?

When I’m not writing, watching Hallmark movies or listening to true crime podcasts, I coach authors on social media and have my own podcast called Social Media Deconstructed. I’m also in early stages of launching a true crime podcast.

About Lisa

Lisa Leoni is a cozy mystery and contemporary romance writer who spends much of her time daydreaming about her next trip to Scotland and ways to murder people in her books. By day, she works in higher education and spends her evenings being herded by two ginger cats. She’s currently serving as president of her local Romance Writers of America chapter and was selected as a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee.

You can connect with Lisa on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Podcast | Cat Instagram

Thank you so much for participating, Lisa! I love your cat’s Instagram account – so cute 🙂 And Betty Crocker is such a great cookbook. My go-to apple crisp recipe comes from there.