Book Review: “Murder on the Golden Arrow” by Magda Alexander

(A big thank you to NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!)

Earlier this year, my husband, Alex, and I planned out our honeymoon. We decided to include a 16-hour scenic train ride on the famous Zephyr Amtrak train. This train’s route is known to be one of the most picturesque in the United States, and we’d both been looking forward to it for months.

The appeal of train travel lies in the romance of the landscape, the intimacy of the train cars, and the simple excitement of seeing new sights without worrying about driving. To get me in the mood for our trip, I chose to read “Murder on the Golden Arrow: A Kitty Worthington Mystery” by Magda Alexander.

Marketed as a “1920s historical cozy mystery,” this fun, quick read was worth every page. We’re first introduced to the capricious Kitty, a young English woman whose mother is preparing for her to make her “debut” into society (think lots of dancing, date requests, and frilly dresses). Kitty humors her mother but isn’t interested in marriage at the moment. After she spends some time perfecting her manners at a Swiss finishing school, her brother, Ned, arrives to escort her back home.

They take the Golden Arrow train, sharing a car with an assortment of characters. Some of the passengers Kitty has encountered at different times in her life, like the proper Lady Ainsley and the sickly Colonel Earnshaw. Others, she meets for the first time; most notably, she encounters the mysterious and seductive Rose Trevvyan, who Kitty suspects has previously made her brother’s acquaintance.

Rose falls ill during the train ride and is dead within a matter of minutes. It’s not long before Scotland Yard rules her death a murder, and Ned becomes a prime suspect. Kitty is driven to clear her brother’s name, despite the handsome Inspector Crawford’s best efforts to keep her away from the story — not to mention the press and her family’s attempts to keep her adventurous, independent spirit in check.

I enjoyed this book and flew through most of the pages before departing for our honeymoon, ultimately finishing the story while I was actually on the Zephyr train.

The strongest parts of the story include its quick plot progression. I didn’t feel I was reading unnecessary information or trudging through pointless pages at any point. I also enjoyed the author’s inclusion of obstacles Kitty faces as a young woman in the 1920s, especially when it comes to solving a mystery. How exactly is a lady supposed to piece together a string of clues when everyone’s watching her every move?

I also appreciated some fun historical inclusions in the story. I won’t give away any spoilers but you’ll find some real-life figures make an appearance at one point. The author also took care to add many details from the time period into the story, more so than other cozies sometimes do. These extra historic details helped me get a better sense of the setting without bogging the story down.

Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t like were a few character inconsistencies (at least, in my opinion). Kitty’s mother seems to flipflop a bit in the amount of “helicoptering” she partakes in when it comes to Kitty’s independence. Also, I wasn’t a fan of her brother. Again, I won’t reveal spoilers but I wasn’t exactly invested in his name being cleared.

Kitty herself was a great character, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more Kitty Worthington stories in the future!

Book Review: “The Girl with the Whispering Shadow” by D.E. Night

(A big thank you to StoriesUntold and NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!)

The Girl with the Whispering Shadow” is the second in the “The Crowns of Croswald” series, and I have to say, I enjoyed it even more than the first. The author seemed to develop their writing style and the story itself was more complex, yet included helpful explanatory information.

This story follows the adventures of Ivy Lovely as she begins her second year at a magical school. She attends classes with her quirky friends, all while trying to escape the wrath of the Dark Queen.

I particularly noticed and loved:

– Ivy’s character development: Her personality and actions were more fitting for her age in this novel. I connected more with her this time around.
Explanation of magic: The author gives a more detailed explanation of magic and a scrivenist’s role in the world.
– More relationship building: Ivy’s friendships and interactions with others felt natural, and I felt I saw more the characters’ personalities shine through in this book compared to the first.
– Creative ideas: I loved the concept of fishing for stars, “soggy jogs,” and melted milkshakes (a treat that builds off actual melted milkshakes). These highly original concepts are what kept me reading.

Like the first book in the series, “The Girl with the Whispering Shadow” is extremely reminiscent of the Harry Potter books in some ways. I enjoyed the Harry Potter books way back when, but I would have preferred less similarities, simply due to being “Harry Potter-ed out.” Young readers (the intended audience) may not notice (or care) as much, but I have no doubt most adult readers will immediately be struck with this comparison.

These similarities include the name of the students’ favorite game (“Quogo” here, compared to Quidditch, although Quogo is an entirely different game), some crossover in plot points (overarching themes, characters’ place in the story, etc.), and the glanageries’ role (used to access memories just as the Pensieve was in the Harry Potter stories). I wouldn’t let the Harry Potter influence turn you off the story, as there are large sections of the story that truly feel like the author has created an entirely new world.

The book was fun to read and created that perfect “cozy autumn ambience” that I love in fantasy stories. I will definitely keep an eye out for further books by this author!


Read this book? Heard the hype? Leave a comment and spill your thoughts!

Book Review: “The Crowns of Croswald” by D.E. Night

(The following post is a review I wrote in June.)

(A big thank you to StoriesUntold and NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!)
—–

Do you love the Harry Potter stories? Are you intrigued by stories involving magic, fantasy, mystical creatures, and royal kingdoms? If so, you’ll likely love “The Crowns of Croswald”, an imaginative story about a 15-year-old girl named Ivy. Early in the novel, Ivy is invited to a magical boarding school, where she studies to become a “scrivenist” for a royal family.

Overall, “The Crowns of Croswald” tells an enchanting story based in a magical world. As other reviewers have mentioned, this book (especially the first few chapters) are quite reminiscent of the Harry Potter series. For example, Ivy, an orphan enduring a difficult home life, receives a formal invitation (with a quirky school supplies list) and spends an afternoon in magical shops searching for her school items. The school itself is in a castle filled with eccentric teachers.

However, the strongest parts of the book are the unique elements the author (D.E. Night) created, and these parts are what kept me reading. The story really begins to take root after the first couple chapters, with Ivy developing friendships with the characters of Fyn and Rebecca.

Some of my favorite bits included:

– The assortment of creatures (Scaldron dragons, animals which are used as sort of “castle oven.” How creative! Also hairies, magical “lantern” creatures I wanted to learn more about.)
– The glanagerie (a sort of alternate world students can practice magic in)
– The Compass Individualis (a magical record of a student’s actions)

The book is intended for younger readers, but the story’s flow might be a bit difficult for middle-schoolers to follow. At times, I had trouble determining the character’s goal. Another reviewer suggested an extra round of editing would have been helpful, and I agree. Perhaps additional developmental editing would have eliminated confusion about certain elements.

I do think this author clearly has a great imagination, evident through many details (like magical tea blends for student ailments). I’m sure Night’s future books will really highlight those unique creative abilities, strengthening their writing voice and story structure techniques!

I rate this book three crows.


Have you read this book? What did you think? Add it to your TBR list?

My 100th Post: What Blogging for 3 Years Has Taught Me

The other day, I realized how long I’ve been keeping this blog. My first post was back in November 2018, meaning I’ve maintained this blog for nearly three years. When I did the math, I simply couldn’t believe it.

And, adding to my disbelief, I realized this post would be my one hundredth. There are few things in life I’ve ever been so consistent with, and I’m a bit proud to say this blog has been one of them!

Since starting Paper Crow Blog, I’ve discovered certain things about blogging along the way. These revelations include learning that this writing project helped both my career and my personal well-being.

1. A blog is a great way to share writing samples with potential clients.

If you plan to freelance or do any writing-related work, a blog offers an extensive portfolio of your writing to share with others. When I wrote my first post, I did so hoping to share my writing adventures with other writers. I thought of it as an informal way to discuss writing and basically “nerd-out” on my hobby.

However, as I’ve transitioned into professional freelance writing and editing, I’ve noticed an extra benefit from my blog. Potential clients often peruse this site to get a feel for my writing style. Several of them have offered me assignments after taking a look through my blog. Who knew such a fun pastime would help me earn money?

2. Writing blog posts keeps the words flowing.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how scary it can be putting your writing out there for the world to see. When I first started my blog, I worried, What happens if people hate my writing? What if they think my ideas are wrong? What if I reference “irony” wrong in the eyes of the general public and am thrown under the bus like poor Alanis Morissette?

The more I’ve written publicly, the less I care about these things. Even I, adept as I am at being anxious, find it hard to stress about 100 posts at once.

Yes, I’m human and make typos. No, I’m not the Savior of the Subjunctive Mood. Nor am I the Countess of Consistency. Sometimes I write posts once a month, once a week, or even twice a week. But with each post I write, it’s another set of words I’ve let flow out of me, organized, and then wrapped neatly in a metaphorical bow by clicking the “Publish” button.

3. Blogging helps you meet like-minded people.

I love seeing readers’ comments, especially on posts I don’t expect anyone to be interested in. I can write a post about a random book I read, a weird habit I learned helps my writing, or even just a short wrap-up of a vacation, and seeing people’s comments just makes my day.

How cool is it to connect with people you’ve never met simply through writing? In our fast-paced, image-driven world, it’s easy to forget that text still holds such a beautiful place in the realm of communication.

4. Blogging is like a ramped-up version of journaling.

I’ve professed my love for journaling many a time. Writing in a notebook with a well-designed pen still holds a special place in my heart, but blogging does offer some bonus features a traditional notebook doesn’t. While I’m not likely to blog about many of the things I journal about (my monthly existential life crises, that time I misspoke exactly 14.5 years ago, and so on) topics do often overlap.

Whether I’m discussing my hopes and dreams for my writing or my occasional feelings of inadequacy in the writing world, blogging can be just as therapeutic as journaling. The platform also encourages me to dig deeper into my thoughts and structure them a bit more than I would in a diary. A frantically scrawled, verbless sentence on a journal page may make perfect sense to me at the time, but it’s unlikely to have much meaning in blog form.

Blogs also make it possible to link to sources, helping connect your writing to others’. It’s also much easier to add photos, insert videos, change fonts, etc. Kind of like a lightning-fast scrapbook page. Do you remember Marissa Moss’ little Amelia books from the ’90s? Blogging’s like that, only you don’t need to be able to draw.

5. Blogging is still relevant.

When I started Paper Crow Blog in 2018, I remember feeling hesitant, not sure if blogging was even a “thing” anymore. I had read several articles about blogging being a platform of the past, one that was slowly being replaced by trendier social media forms.

According to this HubSpot post, the popularity of blogs has indeed declined, a fact demonstrated by fewer Google searches related to blogging. Yet, we are still stumbling upon blogs when searching for answers.

SEO (search engine optimization) is a huge component of many companies’ blogs. This strategy drives traffic to their site, which is why you often land on a blog post when you ask an eloquent question like “why car toyota yaris bumper come off again” (Seriously, though. Worst bumper design!). While heavily optimized content is, quite frankly, terrible to read, there are plenty of individuals and businesses that still favor natural-sounding blog content over pieces designed to win the favor of the Google gods.

And clearly, blogging is relevant to me! So there’s that. And many, many other bloggers remain scattered around the world, creating valuable content that grabs our attention. So I intend to keep on blogging and hope others do, too!


What do you think of blogging? Am I clutching remnants of the past by keeping one? Have you learned anything from your own blog or someone else’s? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Writing with Background Noise

Background noise is a controversial topic for writers. Ask a group of random writers what kind of sounds (if any) they listen to while working, and you’ll get a wide range of answers.

Some people, like my fiancé, love listening to loud music while they get down to work (I personally have to put in the earbuds when he turns on his beloved King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard if I’m working).

Other writers listen to the soft tones of classical music. There are also writers who put on podcasts while they type. Some prefer to pull up a Netflix show to play in the background. A lot of people prefer no noise at all, finding their focus in a quiet corner of the library or even just a room with the door closed.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m unable to listen to anything with words in it while I’m writing. Whether it’s a song, audiobook, podcast, or movie, I lose my concentration as my brain interprets the words.

However, complete silence puts me on edge, so I’ve found my happy medium with nature noises, gentle instrumental music, and white noise.

Sometimes I like to open a window or work outside if the birds are especially cheerful and vocal. I also have a cheap little white noise machine I turn on for some soothing staticky noise.

When actual nature is too quiet and I don’t want to listen to white noise, I frequently turn to YouTube for a suitable video. Alternating playlists helps me retain my focus on my work. If I listen to the same one all the time, I realize that I start tuning it out too much.

Here are some of the YouTube videos I have saved in my playlist:

Since I switched to writing full-time and working from home during the pandemic, I’ve been out of the house less than I previously envisioned. I think listening to a combination of the above sounds helps me feel more relaxed and less isolated.


Do you listen to music or certain sounds while writing? I’d love for you to share your links to calming music and sounds!

My Daily Freelance Writing Schedule

First things first.

Despite the title of this blog post, I’m not even entirely sure I have a writing schedule. But seeing as I’ve been writing freelance pieces for the last year and getting paid for them, it occurs to me that, well, I must be doing something right somewhat consistently, even if it’s not at the same time every day.

My Paper Crow posts are not meant to instruct writers on what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. While perhaps there are patterns of habits that seem to help large numbers of writers (Ex. Writing every day, writing at the same time each day, listening to soft music, etc.) no one tip or trick is going to work for every single person.

And even if a trick helps someone today, it’s not guaranteed to help them tomorrow.

Instead, I’m more interested in writing a post about my daily “schedule” (or lack thereof) because I’ve always been curious about the day-to-day life of other writers. Before making the switch to full-time freelancing, I’d always wondered, how do they get so many unrelated assignments done? Where do they write? Don’t they get tired of sitting in a chair all day?

Paper Crow Blog’s purpose is to share my experiences of writing with others, so I figured, why not give a glimpse into my own life? (Enter if you dare!)

Normally, I wake up around 9:00 AM-9:30 AM. (And yes, I do feel a slight sense of ingrained shame at this statement, but it’s out there now for everyone to see. After years of working jobs that called for me to wake up at 6:00 or 7:00 every morning – sometimes earlier – I’m adjusting quite well to waking up in the late morning.)

I feed the cats, let Queso out, and make some coffee. My energy already expended, I then proceed to stare off into space for 30 minutes on the couch while letting the caffeine take effect.

I could pretend to call this time “meditation,” “process planning,” “reflection,” or something equally catchy, but honestly, I just stare into space. Sometimes, I scroll through my phone to see if the world finally imploded overnight, and upon realizing Earth’s other inhabitants are still trudging along, I decide I might as well, too.

At this point, I may put a load of clothes in the washer or run the dishwasher before heading to my desk because I can’t work if I don’t have a semi-clean house.

Once at my desk, I review my tasks for the day and write them down in my planner. Usually, these notes look something like:

  • Reply to Amy’s email
  • Ask Max about blog topic for this week
  • Work on Ellen’s assignment (3 pages)
  • Work on cozy mystery for 30 minutes
  • Outline posts for Luke
  • Read 2 chapters of book to review

(I like to highlight in several colors and add fun planner stickers because, why not?)

The task I start on first depends on my mood and priority. One trick that does help me from time to time is to simply choose one small task to complete. If I’m hating the world and want to be anywhere else except the desk, I choose the task that sounds the most interesting or the least amount of work.

Once I complete that small chunk, I’m usually in a good headspace to continue on with the rest of the assignments. I remember, “Oh yeah, I’m not a complete failure. I can do this.”

Interestingly, I find that I usually work in almost exactly hour-long increments. I’ll look up at the clock and see that 57 minutes have passed since I took a break, or maybe it’s been 53 minutes or 55 minutes. I suppose one hour is the maximum amount of time my brain can focus uninterrupted.

I take a break between these periods to eat, stretch, water the plants, vacuum, make a phone call, etc. It’s not unusual for me to run errands during the day (like grocery shopping or taking one of our animals to the vet) since my schedule is so much more flexible than Alex’s.

My work almost always stretches into the evening hours since I don’t work straight through the day. To give my brain time to rest before sleeping, I usually stop working around 7:00 or 8:00 PM and relax for the rest of the evening.

I know this schedule wouldn’t work for everyone. Alex doesn’t know how I function. Even some of my writer friends are horrified that I would work in the evening, but I find that it suits my personality well. It helps my energy levels remain more even-keel throughout the day, as I can prevent myself from burning out.


What is your writing schedule like? Would you say you have one? Share your writing experiences in the comment section!

Trails: Thoreau Lake Trail at San-Lee Park (Sanford, NC)

Our area has been experiencing cooler weather this week. Although the temperature will surely climb back up again in the coming weeks, these 80-degree days have been a welcome reprieve from the scorching temperatures North Carolina experienced in July.

Queso and I decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and went for a walk at San-Lee Park this afternoon. This park is the go-to nature park in the Sanford-Lee County area (get the name now?).

Schools take students to its Nature Center for field trips, families have birthday parties at the picnic tables, and plenty of people come to fish or canoe on the large pond.

Queso and I only wanted to spend an hour or so there today, so we chose to walk the Thoreau Lake Trail, which is just under a mile in length. We went around 5:15 PM.

The late afternoon proved to be a great time to visit, as there were just enough people there to make me feel comfortable (I’m not a huge fan of being alone in parks) but not so many people to make it feel crowded. The bugs were, surprisingly, not an issue at all, despite all the standing water. (I should mention that the body of water here is called a “pond,” but it’s large enough for many people to fish from and travel by canoe or kayak.)

The Thoreau Lake Trail is marked by a red blaze and is quite easy to follow. I didn’t have to second-guess where I was walking at all. Most of the trail hugs the Upper Pond’s shore, making it an ideal hiking choice to take in some views of the pond.

The path is fairly flat in the first half, but there are definitely some short climbs. You’ll also want to watch out for the many, many roots that cross over the path, as well many rocks (large and small) accompanied by slick pine straw. In short, if you’re a runner, you may want to think twice before sprinting this one.

As I mentioned in a previous nature post, I’ve been using the Picture This app to identify plants. I snapped several pictures along the way on the Thoreau Lake Trail and was surprised to learn that a vine called “hog-peanut” (really, is there any better plant name than that?) and poison ivy look incredibly similar.

(Side note: I Googled the hog-peanut plant to see if I was the only one who thought they looked alike. Apparently, this preciously named plant is known as a poison-ivy lookalike species, according to PoisonIvy.org (and with that site name, I trust them). According to these poison ivy experts, hog-peanut has fewer veins on its leaves, but perhaps none of us should be getting close enough to find out?)

It’s important to point out that I found many more instances of poison ivy growing on the trail compared to hog-peanut. So if you’re allergic to poison ivy, I’d suggest wearing long pants and taking a shower immediately when you get home from your hike.

Poison ivy:

Hog-peanut:

I also encountered this little beauty on a sign, giving an uncharacteristically ominous association to the name “Thoreau.” Despite the poison ivy and spiders, the trail really is a lovely walk in the park.

Highlights:

  • Loop: (The trail forms a rough horseshoe shape, ending a few hundred feet from its beginning, but across the pond)
  • Dog-Friendly: (Pet-waste bags are available in the parking lot)
  • Restroom: (Portable toilets are located in the parking lot; flushing toilets are available in the Nature Center)
  • Water Available: (While water fountains are available in the Nature Center, don’t rely solely on the Center being open)
  • Total Distance: 0.8 miles + a few hundred feet
  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes (At a leisurely pace)
  • Address: 760 Pumping Station Rd, Sanford, NC 27330

Do you have recommendations for hikes in North Carolina or anywhere else in the world? Drop a line in the comments section and spread the word!

Fine-tuning My Writing Focus

Are you like me, wondering where all the days are going? Sometimes, I find it helpful to state the facts and center myself.

Today is Tuesday, August 3rd. The year is 2021. I’ve just turned 32 and am one month and some change away from getting married.

These statements have been a long time coming, yet remain difficult to comprehend. Me, experiencing 2021? In my 30s? Getting married? Ms. Rothstein, my high school Latin teacher, told us that “Tempus fugit.” Turns out, she and that pesky Virgil were right.

This week, once again, I’m reminded that while time has flown completely out the window, it’s left some wonderful things in its wake. Moving into the year 2021 means I’ve made it through previous years (what a feat, right?).

Turning 32 means I’m getting acquainted with my 30s, learning to appreciate my health and my body, and knowing what I want in life. Marriage (for me) means I’ve been in a healthy, long-term relationship with a person I trust, and I still have decades of that relationship to look forward to.

With the passing of time and transitions apparent in my nonwriting life, it’s natural that I’ve then begun to reflect on my writing’s own evolution.

When I first began writing, I had no intentions. I was a young kid and felt like writing silly poems and stories, as simple as that. I really can’t explain what first led me to do so. I just knew I felt like myself when I was scribbling on paper.

In my teenage years, writing became unintentionally therapeutic, a fact I’m eternally grateful for. This process of writing out my feelings helped me make sense of the wild world I was living in. When I entered my early 20s, I almost completely focused on the academic writing required in college.

While it’s tempting for me to criticize myself for “wasting” so much energy on research papers I barely remember a decade later, I’m thankful I did so. I learned how to write well under pressure (and sleep deprivation), a skill that helps me in my current freelance work.

Now that I’ve shifted into writing as a full-time career, I’m fine-tuning my craft even more. These past few weeks, I’ve made shifts in my freelance schedule, actively seeking projects that align more closely with my interests.

For example, I took on a ghostwriting assignment that led to me contributing to a travel guidebook. I’ve also just started an ongoing assignment related to spirituality and wellness, a project I’m really looking forward to.

My own cozy mystery is even progressing! Since I’m making an effort to incorporate time in my schedule for my personal projects, I’ve written a few chapters of my story over the past week. Several pages of my notebook are filled to the brim with chocolate shop-related, mysterious small-town coziness. 🧁🍫

Life’s certainly been a big adventure so far, and I’m 100% positive that more adventure awaits. So for now, I plan to enjoy the ride and keep on writing the things that make me happy!


Have you fine-tuned your own writing in recent months? How does time ticking away influence your own writing path? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Trails: Campbell Creek Loop Trail at Raven Rock State Park (Lillington, NC)

We are lucky that Raven Rock State Park is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our house. If we feel like getting some fresh air on a whim, it’s nothing to drive down to this nearly 5,000-acre park and hike a few of its trails.

Last weekend, I took Queso to Raven Rock State Park for a longer walk than normal. The last few weeks, I’ve been making an effort to walk at least a mile a day, and starting off our day with a quick stroll has been helpful for both of our energy levels (raising mine, lowering his).

On Saturday, we decided to pick up the pace a bit and opted for the Campbell Creek Loop Trail, a trail the park service lists as a “moderate” 4.5-mile long hike.

We visited the park around 11:00 AM. The weather forecast predicted rain for a bit later that day, so we tried to beat the storms, hoping to finish before the rain came down. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with that plan. The park was surprisingly crowded with families, members of the military working out, and couples walking their dogs. Usually Raven Rock isn’t quite as crowded, but maybe everyone wanted to get out of the house after the pandemic.

The trail is distinguished by a blue, circular blaze and is well-marked in most places. There were a few instances where the trail veered off into a false path due to people walking off-trail, but it wasn’t difficult to find the blaze again.

Queso kept us on track!

For a future visit, I would strongly recommend either not visiting the park during humid weather or visiting earlier in the day before it gets warm. The temperature was in the low 90s which isn’t bad, but the humidity was higher than normal, even for North Carolina (probably since it was due to rain). The Campbell Creek Loop Trail follows the creek for a good portion of it, so the humidity was even more intense in those low sections near the water.

While we didn’t encounter mosquitoes, poor Queso and I were harassed by horseflies and hornets the entire time. I couldn’t tell if they were the same, persistent ones following us all 4.5 miles or if we just kept attracting more along the way. Luckily, the hornets didn’t sting us but the horseflies did keep biting us.

Besides the bugs, the trail itself wasn’t too difficult. There were a lot of exposed roots, however, and I almost tripped a few times (though that’s not unusual for my clumsy self). Queso was able to hop in the water to cool off and drink at several spots which was nice. Some of the banks are quite high, though, so if you do visit, be careful of standing too close to the edge, especially with a dog (Queso almost dove five feet into the water before I convinced him that wasn’t the greatest idea while on a leash).

We passed what my PictureThis app told me was sourwood, or more commonly called the Lily of the Valley tree. A quick Google search has informed me that its leaves are a laxative and that honey can be produced from it (hopefully without the same effect as the leaves).

We also saw lots of ferns, which I love.

All in all, we had a great time (minus the insect bites).

Highlights:

  • Loop:(We started on the eastern side, which climbs up a bit)
  • Dog-Friendly: (Lots of dogs use this trail)
  • Restroom:(Around the halfway point – around 2.5 miles in – there’s a latrine near the campsites)
  • Water Available:(Creek. I would bring my own water, though, rather than filtering)
  • Total Distance: 4.5 miles + 0.5 miles hiking in
  • Time Commitment: 2.5 hours (At a slow pace with a few breaks to relax. A sign at the trailhead suggests planning for 3-4 hours)
  • Address: 3009 Raven Rock Rd., Lillington, NC 27546

Have you visited Raven Rock State Park? Is it on your list of future hiking spots? Leave a comment and let everyone know!

So I Decided to Write a Cozy Mystery (Here’s Why!)

I’ve mentioned my recent obsession with cozy mysteries in previous posts. If you’re not sure what a cozy mystery is, think Murder, She Wrote and those infamous Hallmark mystery movies but in book form. According to MasterClass, cozy mysteries consist of three main elements:

  • An amateur detective – An average person that gets mixed up in a whole lot of murders and other crimes. They often have a hobby like knitting, cooking, or gardening, among a million other possibilities.
  • The setting is a small (cozy!) town – Sometimes the town is the narrator’s hometown. The setting may also be a New England bed and breakfast, a beach town resort, etc.
  • The horror is kept to a minimum – Yes, someone will likely get stabbed, poisoned, or murdered by other means. But the violent shenanigans happen “off-page” and the more graphic details are left to the reader’s imagination.

I think sometimes the cozy mystery genre (unfairly) gets a bad rap simply due to the fact that its readers tend to be 1) female and, according to this Sisters in Crime report, 2) almost 70% of mystery buyers are over 45 years old. (Sisters in Crime is an international organization of mystery/crime/thriller writers). While I do identify as female, I’m currently (only?) 31 and have loved a good mystery since I was a teenager. So I encourage everyone to ignore the elitism that so often pervades the book world and just enjoy relaxing with a cozy mystery every now and then!

There are so many perks to the genre. Personally, I love:

  • The camp. It is so fun to read a book when its author doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Why should an author not have tongue-in-cheek mystery trope references, playing into genre expectations and finding a way to make them their own?
  • The lightness. Real life crime happens all the time to people we know: friends, family, and even our ourselves. I appreciate a break from real life once in a while as a form of self-care. Cozy mysteries are a perfect blend of intrigue and light emotions that keeps the reader’s spirits up.
  • The small town atmosphere. Who doesn’t love Stars Hollow, the quaint town where the Gilmore Girls live? Cozy mysteries are always set in a place where people know each other, the townspeople are charismatic, and the shop owners seem to be living their dreams selling coffee, flowers, and chocolates. Every once in a while, it’s nice to read about a town that pays its workers a livable wage and doesn’t crush employees’ souls.

A few weeks ago, I was driving with Alex around our own small town and had the idea that I wanted to write a cozy mystery of my own. How fun would it be to use our own local shops as inspiration? With friends and family as the basis for characters? Why not?!

Since my revelation, poor Alex has had to listen to me come up with a laundry list of alliterative titles and over-the-top character names as I’ve brainstormed. Cozy mysteries always have remarkably spirited names like:

Why disappoint? Give the readers what they want (And that’s camp. Lots of camp!).

I am the type of writer that enjoys some form of structure while planning out texts. For that reason, I bought How to Write a Cozy Mystery by Nina Harrington. It has plenty of detailed scene advice and helpful plotting guidance. I definitely recommend it as a supplement for anyone starting their own cozy mystery novel.

I’m still in the preliminary stages of writing and have a lot of work to do, but I’m off to a great start. I’ve been having a lot of fun planning out the story and figuring out how to spoof my friends within it.

My Rocketbook has been a wonderful resource during this process, since I can handwrite notes but still upload them digitally and convert to typed text when necessary.

Quite honestly, it’s been enjoyable to work on something utterly creative for myself in addition to just freelancing for others. I’m working to create more of this creativity-work balance in my life.

I plan to keep the updates coming as my cozy mystery progresses, so be on the lookout!


What are your thoughts on the cozy mystery genre? Too ridiculous for your liking? Is reading about murder and mayhem in a small town right up your alley? Feel free to leave a comment!

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