Time to celebrate a new book!

Guilty as Cinnamon

What a crazy year this has been! By year’s end, I will have finished three books, and published three—and taken on the wonderful, daunting responsibility of serving as president of Sisters in Crime. Thanks for joining me on this crazy ride!

GUILTY AS CINNAMON, second in the Spice Shop Mysteries, arrives this week, on Tuesday. Here’s the scoop, from the cover:

Pepper Reece knows that fiery flavors are the spice of life. But when a customer dies of a chili overdose, she finds herself in hot pursuit of a murderer…

Murder heats up Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the next Spice Shop mystery from the national bestselling author of Assault and Pepper.

Springtime in Seattle’s Pike Place Market means tasty foods and wide-eyed tourists, and Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop is ready for the crowds. With flavorful combinations and a fresh approach, she’s sure to win over the public. Even better, she’s working with several local restaurants as their chief herb and spice supplier. Business is cooking, until one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead, her life extinguished by the dangerously hot ghost chili—a spice Pepper carries in her shop.

Now stuck in the middle of a heated police investigation, Pepper must use all her senses to find out who wanted to keep Tamara’s new café from opening—before someone else gets burned…

You can find the book at all the usual outlets, including your local independents and several locations in Western Montana. Links here, on my webpage, along with an excerpt.

Events: I’ll be signing all my mysteries and chatting about books this Friday, December 4, at Think Local in downtown Kalispell, from 5-8 pm, as part of the Kalispell Holiday Art Walk, and Saturday, December 5 at Fact & Fiction in downtown Missoula, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, as part of the annual Author Extravaganza!

tea infuserBlogs and giveaways: On Monday, November 30, I’m participating in a blog hop starting Club Hen House, the blog of Henery Press, which publishes WRITES OF PASSAGE, the award-winning SinC anthology that I’m part of. More than two dozen authors are participating, with fun posts and giveaways. My offering? This adorable gingerbread man tea infuser—something I’m sure you could find at Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop!

On Tuesday, release day, I’ll be celebrating in two places, at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, where I’ll be sharing a recipe from GUILTY AS CINNAMON and giving one lucky reader a signed copy. I’ll also be a guest of the delightful Jungle Red Writers, talking about the memories triggered by what I’ve found in old books, and offering a signed copy of the new book and a tea infuser!


On Thursday, Dec 3, I’ll be interviewed at Wicked Cozy Authors, a super-fun group of New England writers, about Sisters in Crime and its impact on my career.

On Friday, Dec 4, I’ll be sharing spice trivia at Lori’s Reading Corner, where my publisher will be offering a copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON.

And CINNAMON is one of the featured titles for December at BookBitch, where Stacy Alesi and the members of International Thriller Writers team up for a month-long giveaway of signed books!

I hope you’ll join me this week as this writing adventure continues, and remember, keep it spicy! 

My excellent weekend — the New England Crime Bake

SinCI’ve always wanted to go a clam bake—you know, where they roast clams and lobsters and other fun stuff in a fire on a beach, and you pick up sea shells and drink beer and slather butter on every food in sight. The crime fiction equivalent is the New England Crime Bake, co-sponsored by the New England chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. The SinC-NE chapter invited me to the fourteenth annual weekend workshop, as the national president, while MWA-NE welcomed my counterpart, Executive VP Donna Andrews. It was a weekend filled with energy, creativity, inspiration, practical advice, and just plain fun.

I’m only a month into this SinC president gig, so it may be early to call something a highlight, but this will definitely be on the short list!

elizabethandleslie-300x199The guest of honor was the great Elizabeth George—whom I first met 16 years ago when she taught an intensive mystery writing workshop at Book Passage Bookstore outside of San Francisco. (That’s where I met my friends Leann Sweeney, Deborah Lacey, and Tim Wohlforth, all now busy writing, publishing, and otherwise staying active in the mystery world!) In her honor, the weekend had a British theme.

Crime Bake debutsFriday afternoon began with master classes, including Elizabeth talking about beginnings, Barb Ross on Revision, Janet Reid on querying, Gayle Lynds on thrillers, and Steve Kelner on motivation. That evening, after a pizza party and more sessions, came a welcome reception with desserts, and the main event, the celebration of TWENTY-TWO attendees whose first books had been published in the year since the last Crime Bake. Donna and I did the honors, introducing the authors and giving them lovely blue ribbons they sported all weekend! Later, an episode of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries aired.

SinC NE board meeting

Saturday, I joined the SinC-NE board for their breakfast meeting. It’s an impressive chapter, and I was delighted to learn more about their activities and their plans.

Unlike the fan conventions, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, or Malice Domestic, which bring readers and writers together, Crime Bake is for writers. Programming was practical, and dealt with the daily realities of getting our stories on to the page. Attendees have opportunities to craft and deliver pitches to agents and editors, and to have a partial manuscript critiqued by a published author. I moderated a panel titled A Traitor to Memory: Writing about the Past — all the panels were named for one of Elizabeth’s books — featuring historical mystery authors Kathy Lynn Emerson, Dorothy Cannell, Mary Lawrence, and Jim Benn. This was Mary’s first conference as a published author, and her first panel ever—what a pleasure to share in the nervous excitement! I read a book by each author, and I can tell you, if you love historicals, these are all great fun—and beautiful illustrations of why the historical mystery is more popular than ever.

Over lunch, Julie Hennrikus, SInC-NE co-chair and national board member, who writes as Julianne Holmes, interviewed Elizabeth. I have always loved Elizabeth’s books, and been impressed by how methodical she is in her planning—as she says, getting the craft in place so when she begins writing, she’s made room for the art.

Another excellent and useful session: Ask the Experts, a drop-in session where writers can run their scenarios and questions by experts in law (me), death investigation, law enforcement, and audio books.

That evening at the banquet, many attendees dressed up as characters from British mysteries. Donna, Margery Flax of MWA, and I were the contest judges. Most Original? Clearly the couple dressed as the Edward Gorey characters from Masterpiece Theater — she even had the moan down. Best Couple or Group, though they may not have intended to a be group: the Hogwarts Contingent, including Hank Phillippi Ryan as Beatrix LeStrange and her husband Jonathan Shapiro as Dumbledore, and Nikki Bonanni as Harry Potter. Most British? A tie between Amelia Peabody, with a mummified cat, and QE2, with a stuffed Corgi.

For dour New Englanders, these people do like to have fun. The Flashwords contest was particularly clever: Write a 150 word flash story using at least ten words from Elizabeth’s titles—not counting a or the. You know, easy-to-use words like consequences, vengeance, and deception. The winners read their pieces out loud, some surprisingly funny. (You can read them all, including mine, which wasn’t eligible for a prize, on the Crime Bake website.)

Sunday sessions included two writer-cops updating us on the profession, in a fun and useful way—they’d also staged a mock crime scene for writers to investigate and solve over the weekend—and an expert in cyber crime, a hilariously funny man with absolutely horrifying information to share. In the wrap-up session, Hank interviewed four authors of how-to books for writers: Elizabeth, Hallie Ephron, Kathy Lynn Emerson, and Paula Munier.

Wicked Cozy lunchThe Wicked Cozy Authors have all become good friends of mine over the last couple of years, and each was at the Crime Bake. I joined 6 of them for lunch Sunday, as the token northwesterner. (Jule Hennrikus, Sherry Harris, me, Barb Ross, Sheila Connolly, Liz Mugavero, and Jessie Crockett. Photo by Jessie’s husband!)

I forget to take photos, but here’s a raft and another raft of them from the Wickeds, and more from official photographer Mo Walsh on the Crime Bake memories page.

I came home energized and eager to write, as I’m sure all the attendees did. This is a terrific writers conference, and I recommend it to anyone serious about writing crime fiction. Next year’s conference is November 11-13, 2016, with guest of honor William Kent Krueger, whose Ordinary Grace remains high on my list of great reads. Kent’s from northern Minnesota, so I’m picturing the costumes: lots of plaid shirts and camo, half a dozen Paul Bunyans, maybe even a fish or two. After all, it is a crime bake.

(Photos by Mo Walsh.)

Hey, butter, butter …

A few updates in Book World:



BJ (Barb) Daniels and I had a great time talking and signing at Barnes & Noble in Billings earlier this month. IMGP3159One of Barb’s readers created this amazing model of her characters’ homestead.




My short story, The End of the Line, first published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in December 2006, is now available in a free podcast. I read, followed by a short interview with AHMM editor Linda Landrigan.

My summer blog tour is now on my website, with links to all my essays. The most recent additions: Writers Read — A few favorite recent reads — or more precisely, recent listens. The Page 69 Test — Just what it sounds, featuring BUTTER OFF DEAD. And Mystery Playground — the Interview!

Coming up: I’ll be at the Montana Book Festival in Missoula on Friday, Sept. 11, talking about how grief, place, and our own experiences influence character and plot, with mystery writers Christine Carbo and Sarah Layden.

guilty as cinnamon


Meanwhile, back at the homestead, Ruff the Cat and I have just finished the final proof pages of GUILTY AS CINNAMON (Spice Shop #2, December 2015) and we’re working hard on Spice Shop #3, KILLING THYME. 

We hope you’re enjoying a summer of great reading, and plenty of BUTTER!

New words in the dictionary — a quiz (part 2)


At the Get Published Writers Conference in Bozeman this past June, where I was a speaker, my friend Lynn Kinnamon, the conference chair, shared these new words. All were published in the Merriam Website Online Dictionary in the last year or so. How many can you define?


8. sriracha (n)

9. vocal fry (n)

10. dark web

11. dox (v)

12. hyperlocal (n, adj)

13. lifehack (n)

14. microaggression

Part 1 last week


8. a hot sauce made of chile peppers, often used in Thai food; said SEE-rah-chah

9. the break in a voice when it drops to the lowest register; women tend to be criticized for it, and NPR reports that researchers have found some people view it as a sign of being untrustworthy

10. online, the hidden web, operating with masked ISPs and false, sometimes stolen, user names, usually for illicit ops, such as the child porn ring that stole a local man’s id, triggering a search warrant and much agony

11. to publish private info on line, without consent, to harass or cause trouble

12. not, as you might think, a very specific location or small community, but the practice of focusing on information directed at a specific community, such as a weekly newspaper that publishes info aimed at residents of a specific community and rarely comments on regional or national news

13. a tip for making life easier, like using plastic tags from bread bags to label power cords in the tangle behind your desk

14. In the words of Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue, “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Everything’s better with butter — a book launch update

IMGP3023Thanks to all of you who’ve helped me celebrate the release of BUTTER OFF DEAD, the third book in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. Some of you joined me at the release party at Frame of Reference on June 26, at Montana Book and Toy on July 11, or at Fact & Fiction on July 14, when debut mystery writer Christine Carbo and I interviewed each other. Others bought a copy and curled up in a favorite chair to beat the heat by getting lost in a book set in February in Montana! However you celebrated, my thanks — and cheers! (Yes, that ‘s one of Erin’s huckleberry margaritas shown with the book. In a plastic glass — we don’t want any repeats of the Event that set Fresca off!)

IMGP2435If you’ve read BUTTER, I hope you’ll take a minute to post a review online or to tell your friends about it. Word of mouth and those brief reviews mean a lot to an author, as well as boosting sales and helping a series continue. Plus those online reviews involve stars, and you know how much Erin loves her lucky stars!

Festival 2014If you’re in Western Montana, I hope you’ll come visit with me at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts on Sat and Sun, August 1-2. Look for me in front of Frame of Reference Gallery on Electric Avenue. And in Billings, please swing by Barnes & Noble at 2:00 on Sat, Aug 8, when romantic suspense author BJ Daniels and I interview each other!

Guest posts, reviews, and giveaways: I’ve visited a few book blogs in the last couple of weeks, sharing bits and pieces of the writing life and dishing about my characters. And if by chance you don’t have a copy of BUTTER OFF DEAD yet, a few include publisher giveaways that are still open:

Fresh Fiction — Collecting can be murder! A few of my own collections — happily, none leading to a deadly obsession!

Lori’s Reading Corner — A Vocabulary of My Ownest — making up words to put in my characters’ mouths!

Escape with Dollycas — Killing Christine, or how my victim chose me! Contest ends midnight July 24!

Fresh Fiction — The Family Business. The lovely women at Fresh Fiction liked me so much, they let me come back and talk about the challenges Erin faces in running a business with her mother!

Dru’s Book Musings — A Day in the Life of Tracy McCann, sales clerk and chocolatier Contest open till midnight July 22!

A Cozy Girl Reads — A lovely review!

Moonlight Rendezvous — Another lovely review! Contest open till July 27!

And I’ll be on the Gotta Write Network this week, talking about how Erin manages to solve crime and run a business with her mother — without killing her.

Also thrilled to share with you a guest of my own, on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen — real-life spice shop owner Amanda Bevill, of World Spice Merchants, shares “The Secret Ingredient” to making a family recipe for apple cake even tastier!

Of course, I continue to share recipes at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen on the 1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays, and my characters take the stage at Killer Characters on the 27th of the month. This month, meet Erin’s mysterious brother Nick, who runs with the wolves.

cat on desk


Happy Reading — and remember, everything’s better with butter! And a cat on your desk. 

New words in the dictionary — a quiz (part 1)


At the Get Published Writers Conference in Bozeman this past June, where I was a speaker, my friend Lynn Kinnamon, the conference chair, shared these new words. All were published in the Merriam Website Online Dictionary in the last year or so. How many can you define?


1. NSFW (abbreviation)

2. jeggings (n)

3. photobomb (v)

4. eggcorn (n)

5. emoji (n)

6. click fraud (n)

7. upcycle (v)

Part 2 in two weeks 


1. Not Suitable For Work

2. denim leggings

3. to appear, uninvited but on purpose, in a photograph

4. words or a phrase commonly misheard, e.g., misunderstood lyrics; comes from the word acorn.

5. symbol used in email or text messages to express an emotion not conveyed by the words themselves

6. deliberately clicking on an online advertisement repeatedly, to cost the advertiser money or drain their pre-set ad budget; a nasty thing to do

7. to make something new out of trash, such as sewing a skirt out of old t-shirts or cutting and polishing a wine bottle to make a tumbler



Remember your first? A #bookgiveaway

First crush.
First puppy.
First kiss.
First novel.

leslie budewitz agatha award winner 2013

Okay, so maybe they don’t all stand out in the same way, but the fun of discovery never gets old. To celebrate the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, which will be awarded next week at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention—and the anniversary of my win last year, for Death al Dente—I’m giving away copies of three of this year’s nominated books:

IMGP2797Tagged for Death, by Sherry Harris,
Well Read, Then Dead, by Terrie Farley Moran, and Murder Strikes a Pose, by Tracy Weber (signed copy).
(The other nominees are Circle of Influence, by Annette Dashofy and Finding Sky, by Susan O’Brien, but I’m still reading!)

And as a bonus, I’m adding Kilmoon by Lisa Alber, a nominee for the Rosebud Best First award at this year’s Left Coast Crime, held in Portland, the Rose City, and the fun convention bookbag.

To enter, leave a comment on my blog or my Facebook Author page mentioning some memorable first—your first love, your first house, the first mystery you read, a favorite first novel, any “first” that still gives you a smile—by midnight Wednesday, April 29. Ruff—the first Burmese cat I ever met—will punch the random number generator on Thursday morning, April 30.

(U.S. addresses only)

Classic or Cliché — Paul Newman and the art of the detail

I’m continuing to reprint a few articles from my website, to keep them available after a redesign.This was originally published in First Draft, the SinC Guppy chapter newsletter. 

CLASSIC OR CLICHE — a brief meditation on the death of Paul Newman–and what his roles say to writers

Remembering an actor who got the details right.

When Paul Newman died, I was reading Empire Falls, Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about life in small-town Maine. I’d very much enjoyed the HBO series – rented on DVD – featuring Ed Harris as the protagonist, Miles Roby, and Newman as his father, Max. Newman so embodied the role that as I read, I pictured him every time Max appeared. It’s a classic role – the charming reprobate, a sometime-house painter who abandoned his wife and young sons for months at a time but always seemed to expect them to be waiting – and they were. Now that his wife is long dead and his sons are grown, he treats them no better. Without a car and always short on money, he bums rides then rummages in Miles’ glove box for cash. He pitches in at the café his sons run, cheering up his teenage granddaughter and enjoying wreaking unnecessary havoc. He knows exactly what buttons to push on his hyper-responsible oldest son. You want to smack him. But when he and the town’s senile, retired priest run off to Florida in the parish car, the moment is so unexpectedly perfect that you almost cheer the old guys on.

Then I remembered Newman’s performance as Frank Galvin in “The Verdict,” the washed-up alcoholic lawyer who takes on a loser of a case and then discovers that buried in the boxes of medical records is evidence of appalling hospital malpractice and a cover-up by the Catholic church. Galvin cleans up, dries up, falls down, falls off the wagon, and eventually redeems himself – and wins the case. Along the way, he’s seduced by a beautiful woman, sent to set him up and trick him up – and it almost works. A classic story that goes all the way back to David and Goliath.

Classic – or cliche? What makes the difference? Newman’s performances – and Russo’s writing – demonstrate that it’s the details that make the characters come alive. Russo’s Max Roby is a retired house painter, and he never had much use for the Catholic church that gave his wife comfort. His son Miles is combining penance and community service by painting the church for free – but he hates ladders and that peeling siding of that spire terrifies him. Max pokes and prods Miles about his fear of heights, not very nicely. But he knows that Miles has constrained his own life in part out of fear, and needs to push through it. The author doesn’t spell that out – it’s in the characterization. Eventually Miles does stand up to Max, he does go high up on the ladder, and he gains the courage he needs to pull off a pair of rebellious acts that enable him to save his daughter and change his own life. Small actions, tiny steps that lead inexorably to redemption – not of Max, who isn’t looking for it, but of Miles, who needs it to fully live his own life. The devil may be in the details, but so is the glory.

Newman described himself as a character actor who looked like a leading man. I think he meant that he liked to lose himself in the details and become someone else – he wasn’t always playing himself. As writers, we need to give our characters those same opportunities. What I particularly like about Empire Falls – and Russo’s latest novel, The Bridge of Sighs – is that most of the characters are ordinary people dealing with ordinary problems, but the writer is willing to go beneath the surface and explore each individual character’s particular thoughts, feelings, motivations, and reactions. To go beyond cliche. And that’s what makes a classic.


December News

“Criminy,” as my Erin Murphy would say. “Holy marjaroly,” Pepper Reece would add.

Can you believe it’s already December?

Butter_Off_DeadMe, neither.  If you’re in the Mission Valley or the Flathead, I hope you’ll take a break this Wednesday and join me for a book talk and reading at 4 p.m. at the North Lake County Library in Polson. Quiz me about the writing life, ask about my characters, or pump me for mystery reading suggestions. I’ve also got a few books to give away, treasures scored at Bouchercon, the giant, amazing, awesome mystery fan convention I attended a month ago in Long Beach. (Remember that week it was 4 below in western Montana? Yep, that week!) Afterwards, I’ll be signing books. (They’re serving snacks, and while I don’t know what’s on the menu, I can tell you that at every book event I’ve gone to since DEATH AL DENTE was published in August 2013, there have been tasty treats from the recipe sections in the back of the books. Every. Single. Time.)

Assault and PepperAlso thrilled to share the cover of BUTTER OFF DEAD (July 2015), the third book in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries. It’s winter in the village and Erin and her friends are cooking up plans for a food lovers’ film festival. But their plans are sent reeling when a dangerous killer dims the lights on a local mover and shaker. Both BUTTER and ASSAULT AND PEPPER, first in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries (March 3, 2015) are available for pre-order now — and pre-orders make a huge difference to writers, especially as I wait for my publisher to decide whether to extend my contract for the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries to books Four and Five.

I don’t talk much about my fiction here, except during a book launch, but if you’d like to hear more, please join my electronic mailing list for seasonal updates and word on new releases. Sign up on my website.

And I hope to see you soon—in person, on line, or on the page!

Feng Shui for a Writer’s Office

A writer friend recently asked a group of writers for ideas on redoing her office, and the conversation reminded me of this piece I wrote years ago, originally published in Byline, in March 2006. (A previous version also appeared in First Draft, the newsletter of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime.) The principles apply to spaces of all kinds—readers of Death al Dente and Crime Rib will recognize the language and ideas from Liz’s re-do of the Merc’s courtyard.  

IMGP2181Feng Shui for a Writer’s Office

By Leslie Budewitz

A writer’s office should be a haven, a sanctuary. A safe place to explore unknown realms of the heart and mind. A nest, a birthing place. An efficient model of production where computers and printers spit out polished manuscripts. Instead, all too often, it’s a jumble of books, thoughts, dreams, and paper. Who among us hasn’t scribbled a terrific idea on a scrap of paper, only to bury it in a towering pile?

Feng shui (fung SHWAY), the Chinese Art of Placement, can help writers harmonize the natural energy of our work space to increase comfort and prosperity, and help us meet our goals. Literally, feng shui means “wind and water” – the intersection of the seen and unseen.

In Chinese philosophy, qi (chēē) – the natural vital force of a body or space – moves in predictable patterns. In the body, energy flows along pathways called meridians; acupuncture and herbs are used to remove obstacles and restore harmony, the optimal state. In a physical space, furniture and objects are moved or changed, elements added, and colors changed to correct imbalances. Specific energies may be enhanced to improve the function of, say, the liver or the living room, the kidneys or creativity. More than another design idea, feng shui is a practice that helps us live in better harmony with ourselves, with others, and with the physical world.

Feng shui is built on intention: making a change with a desired outcome in mind. With practice, you can feel the energy in your work and living spaces, and shift its flow. An excellent introduction is The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment, by Terah Kathryn Collins (Hay House, 1996). Some concepts seem intuitive – that is, our bodies know them – even to a westerner. One example is the placement of your desk. With your back to the door, you may have trouble concentrating; once you sink into a project, you may be easily startled. Move your desk – give any change at least two weeks – and notice how it feels.

Feng shuiUsing the Bagua map to identify the flow of energy
The flow of energy in a space can be visualized through the Bagua (BA-gwah) map, which originated with the trigrams of the I Ching. Oriented with the entrance, it can be applied to a house or apartment, business, room, or plot of land. The entry will be in knowledge and self-development (as mine is – see drawing), career, or travel and helpful people. First, walk into your home – do this physically or by visualization – and sense the energy. What areas feel strong and powerful? Do others feel weak or blank?

Then, apply the Bagua to your home to determine which area holds your office. All locations are equally beneficial – or auspicious, as the Chinese say – but each has its own benefits. For example, my husband’s office is in the wealth and prosperity area of our home (back left, from the front door); his business is booming. Mine occupies knowledge and self-development (front left, second floor); in this home, I have explored many personal issues deeply.

Next, apply the Bagua to your office. (If your office occupies part of a room with other uses, what energy is identified with your section of the room?) Draw the floor plan and sketch in the major furnishings. Make the feng shui grid – like tic tac toe — and label the areas. Decide what to emphasize. If you’re starting a new project, spruce up creativity or knowledge. If you’re writing a nonfiction proposal on a health topic, work on the health area. If you’re starting the agent hunt, focus on helpful people. If your manuscript is circulating, look at helpful people, career, and prosperity.

For example, in my office, I moved a vibrant print of a horse to the fame location (also the home’s career aspect). Animals and the color red accentuate fame and reputation, while the dark blue mat reflects the water element present in career. On a shelf beneath it, I placed a red candle, a healthy plant, a stack of books on writing and novels I admire, and a framed motto that expresses my intention. In health and family, I hung a treasured photograph of my great-grandmother with her mother and sisters, above a bookcase topped with fresh flowers and a wire sculpture of a yoga pose. I relocated an abundant plant to the wealth corner, adjusting a willow love seat so I could sit where health meets wealth.

Within days, an editor called to assign a story I’d pitched months earlier and suggest a second article. A low-paying assignment changed focus, with no additional work and considerably more money. A project I’d struggled with came together easily.

Space suggestions:
– Feng shui practitioners advise not working in a bedroom. Bedrooms should feel calm; offices require more active energy. If that’s unavoidable, consider using a screen or curtain, or a desk armoire. Cover your computer or close a laptop when not in use. Keep the space spotless.
– Does the furniture placement flow, or does it bother you? I dislike the feel of a tall bookcase behind me. Experiment with your own preferences.
– Make sure you can move freely throughout the space. If furniture or stacks of books and papers obstruct your physical movement, they may also obstruct your creative flow.
– Organize your desk top like a room, with your chair the entrance. If your desk is too small to hold many personal touches, place a symbolic item in the Bagua area corresponding to an issue in your work (e.g., reputation, creativity, prosperity). Tuck written affirmations under your computer monitor or phone. Choose your coffee mug and coaster as personal symbols and place them in an appropriate spot. Even your mouse pad could represent a career wish.
– Keep your desk top as clean as possible so you can actually work there. If you need a table, shelves, or a credenza to hold additional work, make the investment.
– If you find yourself toting your laptop or notepad to other rooms, consider what area of the house holds your office and what area you’re migrating to. Can you rearrange your office, or switch rooms, to maximize writing energy?

Dealing with clutter
Artists are by nature not minimalists. We collect ideas and images, sometimes in our heads, often on bulletin boards, on shelves, and in piles. In Chinese medicine, illness or injury occurs when qi becomes stagnant in a specific part of the body. In a space, energy stops flowing when the space is cluttered or incomplete (e.g., when a space is not a complete rectangle). We all feel better after cleaning a messy room or drawer. Even clutter hidden behind closet doors affects us.

But that doesn’t mean we should all live in streamlined fashion. Ask the key questions: Can you find things? Do your possessions serve you? Do you enjoy your space?

In Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui (Broadway Books, 1999), Karen Kingston describes typical sources of clutter and gives practical suggestions to improve specific aspects of your life with focused clutter-clearing. (If your clutter stems from too many books, get hers from the library!) Kingston says when we no longer listen to a particular CD or wear a certain color, it’s often because we have incorporated the “vital essence” of the music or shirt that once nourished us. We hang on to things because of past associations; they remind us of an important moment or experience. But we’ve had the moment; we no longer need the object. That insight’s given me a new ability to release objects and help them find someone who needs them.

IMGP2114Clutter suggestions:
– Get rid of something on each of nine consecutive days. Choose a project as involved as weeding a thick stack of clippings or as simple as tossing a candle that no longer lights. (I stopped thinking I would melt those candles down and reuse them – clutter often stems from procrastination or impractical expectations.)
– Toss as much paper as possible. Aim to deal with mail once – pay the bill, toss the credit card offer, recycle the catalog the day it arrives.
– Tracking stray notes requires time and dissipates your energy. Start a notebook for ideas. Plan when you’ll work on a project and write it in your calendar; move incomplete items forward – the point is to focus your energy, not to produce guilt over undone tasks.
– Recycle unused items. Repair what doesn’t work. Find a new home – outside yours – for extra computers or stereo components.
– Clean out old manuscripts. You probably only need the final hard copy, one backup at home, and one backup off site.
– Keep writing guides that still speak to you; donate the rest to a library or book sale.
– Writing magazines and newsletters multiply clutter monthly. If you want to keep an article, tear it out and file it. But don’t postpone filing until you have time to reread your magazines and decide what to keep! If an article doesn’t scream “clip me” on first reading, you don’t need it. Trust that necessary information will come to you – you’ll see another article on point or hear a bit of critical advice at just the right time.
– Clean out your computer files. I delete one unused “favorite” for every new one.

Like meditation, yoga, and t’ai chi, feng shui is both a spiritual and a physical practice. You can delve into at as deeply as you choose and benefit at every level. For writers, feng shui offers simple tools to organize our spaces and bring ourselves – and our work – into greater harmony with the natural flow of energy. And that’s when our most creative selves emerge.

(Map by Kat Cormie)