The Global Security Consultant Biz (and a New Release)

by Kirsten Weiss

When I worked in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, I got to know many security consultants. And there were a lot of… characters.

But the consultant who stood out the most in my mind was a woman. British, with freckles and curly hair, she looked more barmaid than badass, though she’d worked in personal protection (that’s what they call “bodyguarding” in the biz) and helped companies develop security strategies.

She gave us an unforgettable training on security in warzones. I learned just how much damage an automatic weapon can do and to look people in the eye when in a hostile crowd.

And FYI, landmines only explode when you step off them when they’re made in Hollywood. In real life (well sort of real life), this is what happens:

I got a lot of great and sometimes unbelievable stories from the security consultants I met while overseas. (Sorry I can’t share them with you now; I’m going to use them in future novels. :) )

Note: Do not believe anyone who tells you they’re the hostage negotiator the film Proof of Life was based on.  I’ve heard that from at least five guys. In the global security consultant biz, it’s a thing.

Bottom line? It’s a crazy business. People go into it from all sorts of backgrounds and for all sorts of reasons. And they get thrown into hostile situations on a regular basis.

The idea of a female global security consultant as a fictional heroine stuck with me. It took me a while to develop it, but eventually, Rocky (short for Raquelle) Bridges was born.

When we meet Rocky, in The Mannequin Offensive, she is seriously considering getting out of the biz after losing a client in a hotel bombing overseas… but life is what happens while we’re making other plans.

The ebook version of The Mannequin Offensive is going to be on sale for 99 cents for one day only – launch day, July 1st. You can pre-order it now at the discounted rate, or buy it July 1st. So give Rocky a chance!

Here’s a bit about the book:

book coverAfter an overseas assignment goes bad, all Rocky Bridges wants is out of the global security business. No more personal protection gigs. No more jaunts to third world countries. No more managing wayward contractors. But when her business partner is killed, Rocky must investigate her own company and clients.

Rocky’s no PI, but she’s always trusted her instincts. Knife-wielding mobsters, sexy insurance investigators, and a Russian-model turned business partner are all in a day’s work. But her inner voice has developed a mind of its own, and she finds herself questioning her sanity as well as reality as she knows it. Rocky can’t trust those around her. Can she trust herself?

The Mannequin Offensive is a fast-paced novel of mystery and suspense with a hint of magic.

Pre-order it here, only 99 cents until July 1st:    AMAZON     KOBO

S&J cover

 

(Also Vinnie Hansen has a giveaway going over at Goodreads. Three copies of her new release, Squeezed and Juiced. Check it out!)

 

Kirsten Weiss worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia.  Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.

Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work at: http://kirstenweiss.com

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

5 Ways Blogging and Writing Fiction Do and Don’t Mix

by Kassandra Lamb

Mia culpa! I’ve been so busy writing guest posts this week that I didn’t come up with one for our blog… So here are the two fun ones I’ve posted elsewhere the last few days.

And I finally have my Hawaii pictures up on my own website (only took six months). Take a look!

~~~~~~~

Around the time I was getting serious about my writing, the buzz in the writerly world was all about how blogging was a must if you wanted to build a “platform” on social media.

Having no clue what a platform was, and knowing nothing about social media or blogging, I took the plunge. Shannon Esposito and I had just conceived of the idea of misterio press, and I was taking care of legal matters while Shannon set up the website. Since I didn’t yet have a blog established, I volunteered to be the main blogger here.

That was four years ago – it seems much longer than that – and I’ve been posting on our blog almost every week, sometimes twice a week. I’m starting to run thin on topics to cover, but part of me just isn’t willing to cut back.

So I thought I’d explore the pros and cons, at this point, of maintaining a blog. With tongue tucked into cheek on some of these, here’s what I came up with:

My_day_at_wikipedia
Con #1:  Blogging takes time away from writing books.

Pro #1:  Blogging takes time away from writing books (i.e., it’s a great way to procrastinate when you should be writing).

Check out the rest at Barb Taub’s site

And I had a lot of fun interviewing the main character in my Kate Huntington and Kate on Vacation series, over at Marcia Meara’s The Write Stuff. Check out what Kate has to say about all the corpses I keep putting in her path.

~~~~~~~~

book cover

Missing on Maui, A Kate on Vacation Mystery, #4

It’s an awkward situation at best, and a deadly one at worst.

Days before Kate Huntington is scheduled to leave for her niece’s wedding on Maui, she receives a frantic call from said niece. Amy’s mother–Kate’s rather difficult sister-in-law–is at it again, alienating the groom’s family and even the wedding planner. Can Aunt Kate come early and run interference?

Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers that young women are going missing on the island, and Amy’s maid of honor is hanging out with a notorious local player. Is he involved in the disappearances?

Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Aunt Kate is kept busy locating a new wedding planner (the delightful Pali Moon), refereeing between Amy and her mother, and chasing down errant wedding party members… Oh, and facing off with a psychopath.

Just $0.99 for a limited time on…

AMAZON US    AMAZON UK    AMAZON CA    AMAZON AUS    APPLE    KOBO    NOOK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

A Peek Behind the Curtain: 6 Challenges Cozy Mysteries Present for Writers

by Kassandra Lamb

Not all of us started out as cozy writers, but now all of the misterio press authors have written at least some cozies.

I first stuck my toe in the cozy pond with my Kate on Vacation series that parallels my regular Kate Huntington series. (I have a new release! See below.) This started out as a fun way to give my readers a light Kate snack while they were waiting (sometimes not all that patiently) for me to finish the next full-length novel/meal.

What I discovered was that I really enjoy writing cozies. They’re fun!

But there are some challenges involved when one switches over from writing regular mysteries (which I’m still doing) to writing cozies.

Here are 6 differences between this subgenre and the main genre of mysteries, and the challenges cozies pose for authors.

1. The main character is an amateur sleuth.

This may also be the case in regular mysteries, but it’s a requirement in cozies. No police officers or private investigators allowed, except as significant others and/or secondary characters. But the amateur sleuth has to do the bulk of the sleuthing, or at least has to figure out whodunnit around the same time as law enforcement does.

magnifiying glass on antique desk

photo by Stéphane Magnenat CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimeida Commons

The challenge here is coming up with plausible reasons why an average citizen would keep stumbling over corpses. In police procedurals or private detective stories, this is not a problem.

And there has to be a good reason why the amateur sleuth gets and stays involved in crime investigations, even when the local law enforcement folks are often telling him/her to butt out.

The stakes have to be high for the main character personally.

2. Something – the setting, the main character’s vocation, etc. – is out of the ordinary.

Cozy readers want a peek into places and activities that they themselves might have never experienced. So the settings may be small towns or exotic locations, and the characters may knit, or give dance lessons, or train dogs for a living.

There are a lot of cozies that involve food, in which the main character owns a restaurant or is a caterer or writes a baking blog. But something has to be unusual, in a way that makes the story more fun and interesting.

Maui beach

A beach on Maui (photo from our Hawaii vacation last fall)

For my Kate on Vacation novellas, this means going to the interesting places I will have Kate visit, so that I can include a lot of local color in the story and get the details right (it’s a tough job and all that 😀 ).

For my new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, it was a little more challenging. I had to invent a small town and give it an odd-ball history.

Fortunately, in Florida, that’s not hard to do. It’s a bit of an oddball state. I created a now-defunct tourist trap, an alligator farm, and the town that sprang up around it, which is now struggling to avoid ghost-town status.

3. At least some of the secondary characters are quirky.

cafe with coffee cup on the roof

Wouldn’t this make a great setting for a cozy? (photo by beige photos CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

So I had to populate Mayfair, Florida, with some unusual neighbors, like the eccentric elderly owner of the Mayfair Motel. And with each book, I have to come up with new ways to develop their quirkiness and yet not make them totally unbelievable. I’m finding this challenging but also fun.

In my new Kate on Vacation book, I didn’t have to invent a quirky character. Instead I borrowed one from JoAnn Bassett, our author emeritus (with her permission, of course). Her protagonist, Pali Moon isn’t that much of an oddball–just a little bit of one–but she definitely has a penchant for ending up in oddball situations.

4. Crimes happen, usually murder, but minimal on-screen violence and no gory descriptions.

I’m fine with this. Despite the fact that I write crime fiction, I’m a pacifist at heart, so I’m just as happy to have most of the violence happen off-screen. The challenge comes with the final confrontation scene that is a requirement in the mystery genre, including cozies. The protagonist and/or someone near and dear has to be in jeopardy, and usually comes face to face with the bad guy(s) or gal(s).

One needs to make this scene scary and exciting without too much gore and with no one actually dropping dead in front of the protagonist’s (and reader’s) eyes.

5. Sex is off-screen.

You can elude to it, but nothing more than a few fully-clothed, preliminary kisses are allowed on screen.

This is my one major regret with writing cozies. Because I can do a wicked sex scene!

6. No cursing.

Nothing stronger than a “darn” or “heck.” I usually avoid cursing as much as I can in my books anyway, because I know it’s a turn off for some readers, but I am also trying to write realistic characters.

It can be hard to come up with ways for characters to express strong emotions without cursing (’cause after all, bad things are happening) and without sounding totally dorky.

The work-around in my new series was that my main character, Marcia Banks, comes from a religious family–her father was an Episcopal priest (and yes, they marry and have kids).

With the Kate on Vacation stories, this is tougher, because she does cuss some in the main series. So in these cozy stories, I sometimes have her not finishing a sentence:

“What the…” Kate trailed off, shocked speechless for once.

How about you? Which do you prefer to read, regular mysteries or cozies? Or some of both? Mystery writers, have you written cozies? What did you find most challenging about them?

book cover

Missing on Maui, A Kate on Vacation Mystery, #4

It’s an awkward situation at best, and a deadly one at worst.

Days before Kate Huntington is scheduled to leave for her niece’s wedding on Maui, she receives a frantic call from said niece. Amy’s mother–Kate’s rather difficult sister-in-law–is at it again, alienating the groom’s family and even the wedding planner. Can Aunt Kate come early and run interference?

Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers that young women are going missing on the island, and Amy’s maid of honor is hanging out with a notorious local player. Is he involved in the disappearances?

Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Aunt Kate is kept busy locating a new wedding planner (the delightful Pali Moon), refereeing between Amy and her mother, and chasing down errant wedding party members… Oh, and facing off with a psychopath.

Just $0.99 for a limited time on…

AMAZON US     AMAZON UK     AMAZON CA     AMAZON AUS     APPLE     KOBO     NOOK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

This Ain’t Your Grandmother’s Old Age Home!

by Kassandra Lamb

My husband and I are starting to look into retirement communities. Now wait, before those of you under 50 freak out and click away to some other post… we’re not talking your grandmother’s old age home here.

birthday cake

You get to a certain point where some of the candles represent a decade, not just a year. (cake for an 87-yr-old, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Seniors today have lots of options. And that’s a darn good thing, because people are living longer and living healthier for longer.

“Old age is not for sissies,” is one of my brother’s favorite lines. This is true, but aging isn’t all bad.

Retirement brings the freedom to do the things for which there just wasn’t time and energy when one had to make a living (for me, that was writing fiction!) And there are a variety of places we can live while doing those things.

The concept that old age means either living with one’s children (still an option) or deteriorating rapidly in a dehumanizing nursing home is – for lack of a better term – old-fashioned.

We’ve got 55+ communities and retirement communities and assisted living and multi-level care and…

A 55+ community is basically a housing development that is limited to those over age 55. Children under 18 aren’t allowed. These typically have community centers that offer activities ranging from cards to rumba lessons to monthly parties or shows. They have clubs and pools and fitness centers and shuffleboard and tennis courts, etc. – all right there.

My 68-year-old brother recently moved into a 55+ community. He had lived in the country, about 45 minutes from our home in a medium-sized city. He loved his house and his neighbors, but it got to be too quiet out there in the boonies. He was lonely and bored.

He is loving his new home, and all the activities available, including lots of clubs and an on-campus golf course and restaurant.

For us, the issue that will eventually prompt us to move is taking care of a house. Maintenance, cleaning, yard work gets harder as you age. For me, it’s not so much that I can’t do it, but rather that it takes so much out of me. I’m exhausted afterwards, which makes it hard to enjoy the glow of satisfaction of getting the task done.

me and bro in front of house

My brother and I love projects!  Just a little over a year ago, we painted our house. It took several months. We were glad we did it, but we knew it was our last hurrah!  Big projects now get hired out.

Hubs and I are back and forth between a 55+ community or a retirement community. The latter have apartments and cottages you rent (you own your house in a 55+), with more services such as housekeeping, and all maintenance, grounds upkeep, etc. is taken care of, plus there are many of the same amenities as 55+ communities. Retirement communities often, but not always, offer assisted living and hospice services as the residents’ needs change.

Assisted living is a step above the old-fashioned nursing home. Here the residents often can have some of their own belongings with them and retain a certain amount of autonomy. But professional nurses are available to administer medications and such.

I should pause and comment that these services are not free. Those who have a decent retirement plan–whether it be a pension, private IRAs or other savings, Social Security or some combination of these–have options. (For the working poor, retirement is not nearly so lovely.)

Another thing that has brought these options to mind recently has been my sister misterio author, Vinnie Hansen’s re-release of her book Squeezed and Juiced (previously titled Tang® Is Not Juice — see below). A subplot of this story is the protagonist’s mother’s search for the right retirement community. And the protagonist, Carol Sabala, is struggling with the fact that her mother is old.

It kind of tickles me when younger people freak out over aging. Often I got that reaction from students when I was teaching human development classes. I’d try to point out the positives that come with age – wisdom, more self-confidence, no longer caring all that much about what others think, more time and freedom to do what you really want. But I could tell by the expressions on their faces that all they wanted to do was stick their fingers in their ears and sing, “lalalalala.”

old woman

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

So what’s the take-away message here – old age is not necessarily a bad thing! As a good friend of mine likes to say, “It sure beats the alternative.”

Old age may mean wrinkles and moving slower, but most old people are actually pretty happy. It’s the young who fear aging.

And if you’ve got a decent retirement income (something to give serious thought to if you’re pre-retirement age. Those who stick their heads in the sand on the subject are called…wait for it…still working in their 70’s), there are lots of housing and lifestyle options.

Old age doesn’t have to mean boring, lonely or decrepit. It can be lots of fun actually!

How about you? Where are you in the “adjustment to the reality of aging” process? And where do you think you’ll want to live out your senior years?

Squeezed and Juiced, A Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen

book cover

Her first real P.I. case, an ailing mother, and a stalled relationship. As Carol Sabala attempts to juggle the components of her life, they all threaten to crash.

Training to be a private eye, Carol wrangles a job to investigate a woman’s will. The more Carol probes the retirement home where the woman died, the more she grasps how easily one could kill an elderly person in such a facility. It is, after all, an expected last address.

With Carol’s mother intent on moving to the same retirement home, the stakes are high. Will Carol prevent this facility from being her mother’s final address? Can she keep all the pieces of her life in the air as she enters a world of drug addicts and murder?

For those of you who enjoy the grittier female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone or Aimée Leduc, discover how Carol Sabala reacts when squeezed.

AMAZON US      AMAZON UK     AMAZON PAPERBACK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

Memorial Day ~ Honoring the Fallen and Launching the Fun

by Kassandra Lamb

As a kid, I loved Memorial Day. I had no clue what it’s real significance was. I just knew it meant the beginning of summer.

kids in poolOur local community pool opened, and we swam no matter how chilly the May breeze in Maryland still happened to be (even if the lifeguards were in their sweats, as they sometimes were).

Summer meant swimming and going “down the ocean, hun.” But it also meant freedom – mostly from school.

at the beach

Me and my brother in Ocean City, MD; I’m about 5 here.

Weeks and weeks of summer vacation spread out before us. It seemed like infinity at the time. The possibilities for fun were endless.

Today I still get excited about the beginning of summer. It still means freedom – from coats and jackets and closed-toe shoes and socks (from shoes completely around the house or at the beach). And from heating bills (although in Florida, the AC bills can be worse).

We can open our windows and air out the winter staleness.

My mood lifts considerably when the weather warms toward summer and the days grow longer. The flowers are blooming and the grass is growing, soft underfoot. Right now, my magnolia tree in the backyard is about to burst into big gorgeous white blossoms.

cemetery

Alton National Cemetery (public domain)

The beginning of summer is when I feel most alive, so it seems particularly poignant when I remember what Memorial Day is really supposed to be about – to honor those who have given their lives for their country, to protect freedoms far greater and more important than being able to go barefoot!

It is a day that, like no other, brings to the forefront both the dark and the bright sides of human existence — the losses and tragedies, some of them quite senseless, and the exciting possibilities.

Being an eternal optimist (some have called me a Pollyana :) ), I tend to focus on the possibilities.

How about you? What does the beginning of summer mean to you?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

The Keys to Success in Any Field

by Kassandra Lamb

No, I’m not going to tell you how to dress or what to say to your boss to get promoted.

The way I define success in a career, and in life for that matter, is doing work that utilizes our talents and strengths and brings us satisfaction. So this post is about how to identify the job/career that will do that for you, and also the strengths you bring to that career and where you might need to bolster those strengths.

I was inspired by a recent post by author and editor, Jami Gold–What Helps You BE a Writer? She lists several internal traits and external factors that can help writers be successful (i.e., keep at it long enough to reap the rewards), and then asks her blog readers (mostly writers) to make their own lists of the things that help them stick with writing. (If you are a writer, definitely check out her post.)

What Helps You BE a Writer?

I’m going to give my list here, and in the process, extend some of her ideas to all careers.

Internal Characteristics
Under this category, Jami says: “We might have personality traits that help us want to be a writer, such as a love of storytelling or a desire to entertain, educate, or inspire others.”

I love that she starts off with this. Our jobs/careers need to satisfy some inner desire. That inner desire might be self-centered – just to satisfy our love of the task – and/or it may be more altruistic – to help others in some way or to make the world a better place.

painting of storyteller and children

Me in a previous lifetime.  (Brodtmann’s Geschichtenerzählerin, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve always been a storyteller, but the part of Jami’s sentence that rang most true for me was a desire to educate others. My life calling has been to help people, myself included, better understand our psyches and live mentally healthy lives. I fulfilled that calling as a therapist and then as a college professor, and now as a writer. I used storytelling in all of those professions – I told stories to my clients and students to illustrate my points and get past their defenses. And now my stories spread awareness of certain psychological disorders and issues in a pleasant and entertaining way.

So first and foremost, the work we chose must fulfill an inner desire about which we are passionate. If it does, we will (a) be satisfied by it and (b) apply that passion to learning to do it well.

Jami goes on to list a lot of inner traits – beyond talent obviously – that may help writers stick with it when the going gets rough. These range from being so clueless you don’t recognize the obstacles until you’ve stumbled past them (I can relate :) ) to being stubborn, patient, and having a thick skin.

It is VERY helpful to objectively list the inner traits needed to succeed in any job/career we are considering. Then we can compare that list with our own strengths and weaknesses.

I am definitely stubborn, but patience has never been one of my virtues. However, writing was important enough to me that I had to do something to overcome my impatience.

Lacking a trait doesn’t mean we can’t do the job, but we do need to somehow compensate. For me and my lack of patience, two things helped. One, I am sooo stubborn that I refused to give up when my impatience made me want to quit (most often when I looked at my shrinking savings account; I was spending more money than I was making).

And two, I did an internal reframe. I told myself that I don’t need the money from writing. I’m retired with a decent income. I should think of writing, from a financial standpoint only, as a hobby. Retirees who can afford to do so put some money into hobbies; mine happened to be writing. That worked! I stopped ruminating over sales and focused on enjoying the writing and editing. (And eventually my bottom line did shift from red to black.)

As for a thick skin, I can’t say that I normally have this. But I have learned through the years to judge my own capabilities fairly honestly. I’m good at stepping back from what I have produced and comparing it to the objective criteria for good work, as defined in that field of endeavor.

And most important of all, I am good at focusing on those who like my work, rather than those who do not. And as long as the likers well outnumber the dislikers, I feel pretty confident that I’m doing a good job. So I can dismiss the one and two-star reviews as long as there are many more four and five-star ones. (And, thank God, there are.)

Which brings us to…

Support Structure
In Jami’s second category of things that help writers stick with it, she lists the support of family, friends, teachers, agents and publishers, readers, and, most of all, other writers.

That list pretty much applies to all careers. We are more likely to succeed if our families, friends, teachers, etc. (substitute bosses for agents and publishers, and customers/clients for readers) are behind us and are telling us we’re doing a good job.

But what if they aren’t? If our family members and friends aren’t behind us, then we probably need to rethink those relationships. Maybe we need to stop talking about our work with unsupportive family members, and maybe we need new friends if those we have are bringing us down rather than encouraging us.

As for bosses, customers and clients, if most of them like our work, then we’re probably good at it. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. If a boss dislikes your work without offering constructive feedback on how to improve it, but others have often praised it, then consider that it may be that boss, not you.

Dealing with unhappy customers/clients/readers is when we really need that thick skin. Keep reminding yourself that you do indeed do good work, but it may not be this person’s cup of tea, or they may be particularly picky. Try not to get defensive since that will only prolong your contact with them. 😉

The other support system Jami mentions, other writers, is also pretty darn important. I seriously doubt I would have stuck with writing or had the fortitude to get through the publishing process without the support of my friend (and cofounder of misterio), Shannon Esposito. And she introduced me to a wonderful online writers’ group that has been a Godsend more than once.

Likewise when I started teaching, I had a great mentor who kept me going through those early stages of self-doubt in a new vocation. She gave me guidance, but she also normalized the new things I was experiencing. One day I complained that the students just sat there staring at me during the lecture that I thought was the most fascinating of the entire semester.

Jean laughed and said, “Yeah, sometimes you do your dog and pony show and they just sit there.” I felt so much better. This also happened to her, an experienced teacher.

So find a support group and/or a mentor in the field, who will advise you but also cheer you on.

Other Tricks and Tools
Under this category, Jami lists miscellaneous helpful things – everything from gallons of coffee to extra skills we bring from other jobs and life experiences. This last item struck a chord with me.

When considering changing careers or jobs, we shouldn’t just consider the skills that obviously carry over but also subtler capabilities we may have honed in our previous work.

a SomedayIsHere FINAL (1)

When I was writing Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book, I was trying to figure out how to help novice writers improve their dialogue. This required some thought because writing dialogue has always come easily for me.

Then I realized that this wasn’t a natural talent I’d started out with. I had spent twenty years, as a psychotherapist, carefully listening to people. I knew how folks tended to phrase things. I’d also carefully observed body language and tone of voice – when a person paused or looked down, etc. – because all this gave me additional information about what was going on with them, beyond the spoken words.

So that’s the advice I gave to novice writers–observe, listen, pay attention to how people talk and not just what they say. But I’d already had a head start with this skill, because of my previous profession.

How about you? What inner traits, external supports and other skills do you bring to your job? Are there areas that need bolstering or compensation? Are you rethinking your current vocation?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

Mysteries We Love #BookReviews

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a group post, and since I’m still traveling for the next couple of days, we decided to do a book review post. Here are some stories we’ve parti- cularly enjoyed over the last few months.

Vinnie’s review of Woman With a Blue Pencil:

As I read Woman with a Blue Pencil, I wondered how author Gordon McAlpine pitched it to his publisher. This complicated story involves a Japanese-American crime writer starting a new book. Then Pearl Harbor is bombed.

On the advice of his editor, whose letters are embodied in Woman with a Blue Pencil, the writer adopts the pen name William Thorne. He changes his Japanese-American protagonist to a Korean-American superhero, and the plot of the book he’s writing evolves into jingoistic detective fiction.

However, the author’s excised Japanese-American protagonist continues his life in an alternate story. So, you have the story of the author, the new book he’s writing, the manipulative letters from his editor, and the tragic fallout for his deleted main character. All the stories brilliantly intertwine, exploring the idea of erased identities.

This original book lives at my favorite intersection, where literary fiction meets crime fiction. Five big perfect fingerprints!

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Shannon’s Review of The Vanished Priestess: Book 2 of the Annie Szabo Mystery Series

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Though it dealt with some serious topics–spousal abuse and the necessity of women’s shelters—the story never got bogged down by the heaviness of these issues. In fact, Meredith Blevins writes her characters with such wit and humor, I found myself smiling much of the time.

The main character, Annie Szabo, is a flawed but likeable character who gets caught up in trying to solve her neighbor’s murder while protecting her daughter from an abusive son-in-law. Margo, the murder victim, ran a circus which also doubled as a shelter for abused women. There are a lot of eccentric characters here, including Annie’s Gypsy fortune teller mother-in-law, who has moved in on Annie and brought her own version of a three-ring circus.

Overall this was a satisfying mystery. I’m giving it four fingerprints. I had to take one away for distracting errors and typos. (Apparently the errors come from the book being scanned from a hardback; the author has said they will be fixed.)

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Kirsten’s review of Some Buried Caesar:

I remember reading Rex Stout when I was young. But all I remembered about his hero, Nero Wolfe, were his orchids and obesity. What a delightful surprise when I found a Kindle version of Some Buried Caesar.

The writing is pithy, funny, and told from the point of view of Wolfe’s put-upon detective, Archie Goodwin. Wolfe can’t be bothered to actually walk around and look for clues, so Archie’s his man.

The novel starts with the aftermath of a car crash in-media-res style. Out in the countryside for an orchid show, the stranded Archie and Nero soon find themselves face to horns with a prize bull. And not just any price bull. Hickory Caesar Grindon is probably the most expensive bull in history.

To the horror of the local Guernsey association, his new, nouveau riche owner plans to barbeque Hickory as a promotional stunt for his string of fast-food restaurants. Enemies abound in this classic whodunit. The only foregone conclusion is who will win the orchid contest (Nero Wolfe, natch).

Originally published in 1938, you can forget about political correctness. The dames are conniving and hard talking, and Archie isn’t having any of it. But there’s something about the narrator’s whimsical attitude toward his adventures in crime-solving that make the outdated attitudes tolerable. For me at least. Five fingerprints!

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Kass’s review of Abandon by Blake Crouch

This book was selected as the February read in a book club I belong to. I was skeptical at first, not real sure what genre it was. Horror? Paranormal mystery? Historical fiction?

Well it’s definitely a mystery, and it has its gruesome and sometimes horrifying moments, but it’s not paranormal nor horror. It is a “hold onto your hat, don’t forget your heart medicine” roller coaster ride from hell.

It flips back and forth between the late 1800’s — when the town of Abandon is slowly sliding toward ghost town status — and the present time — when a group of explorers goes to the site to try to figure out why the entire town’s remaining population disappeared suddenly one snowy night in 1893, with absolutely no trace nor hint of what happened to them.

As the events of the few days leading up to the town’s disappearance unfold in the 1893 story, the reader is also discovering that some of the modern-day exploration party have hidden agendas. And the twists and turns just keep on coming.

I vacillated between 4 and 5 fingerprints for this book. On the one hand it was one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. On the other, it was a bit more gory and gruesome than was really necessary, and that level of gruesome didn’t quite mesh, for me at least, with the historical fiction quality of the story. In other words, I found it distracting. And I do wish the book description made it clearer that the book is a mystery.

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So four and a half fingerprints!

 

 

 

Have you read any great mysteries lately?

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Six-Degrees to Success

by Vinnie Hansen

Authors, even well known ones, can find themselves at events where few people attend. I once did a book talk and signing with the famous Laurie R. King at a local bookstore. The audience was fewer than a dozen people.

Laurie King and Vinnie

Laurie R. King and me

It’s comforting at such moments to remember the six-degrees-of-separation theory–that everyone is connected, by six or fewer steps, with everyone else. A friend of a friend of a friend knows your friend… At some events, we might not sell a single book, but who knows where the connections might lead.

This year, I was invited to join in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, a boxed set of 10 full-length books featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 authors. The collection offers 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuths, capers, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars!

I am not nearly as well known as the other authors in this collection. I can only speculate how my name was thrown into the hat for this great, good fortune.

I could have been chosen for my scintillating personality. However, I suspect the invitation arose from my participation in some past event.

Sleuthing Women boxed set cover

There’s my Murder, Honey, all the way to the right

The initial contact about the boxed set came from Camille Minichino, a fellow member of the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. We first did an event together back in 2005, a book-signing fundraiser for a high school library! So maybe this current opportunity was set in motion on that long ago, and long April afternoon.

While Camille informed me of the project, if I were to lay a bet on how I came to be accepted in Sleuthing Women, it would be that I guest-blogged—twice—on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, the site of Lois Winston, organizer of the boxed set. I wrote decent pieces, met my deadlines, and persuaded others to visit the posts.

Guest blogging can seem like a dead-end with no obvious sales bump. On the other hand, in this case my participation may have pushed the first domino that led to my inclusion in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries.

To go back to that sparsely attended high-school fundraiser, I shared a table that afternoon with Cara Black. Cara later became a very well known mystery writer, who supplied me with a blurb that I use on everything.

I could list for pages, the lackluster events that manifested valuable friendships and worthwhile connections. So even on those rainy evening book talks with five people in the audience, I give my all. You just never know which of those people might know someone who knows someone….

What about you–have you ever had some seemingly mundane connection lead to something bigger? Do you believe in the six-degrees-of-separation theory?

Available now for just $2.99 on  AMAZON    APPLE    KOBO    BARNES & NOBLE

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of 10 full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in this set is the first book in an established multi-book series–a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars.

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

7 Very Important Things My Not-Very-Healthy Mother Taught Me

by Kassandra Lamb

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

This post is part of the Beauty Of A Woman Blogfest V sponsored by one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out, August McLaughlin. And because she so bravely shares of herself to help and inspire others, I’m going to be a little more revealing in this post than I might otherwise be (no, not that kind of revealing; get your mind out of the gutter 😉 ).

And since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, I decided to talk about my mother.

I’m sure I’m not the only sixty-something woman who’s had to grow past the not-very-healthy role models presented by our mothers and the mixed messages our generation received about what it means to be a woman.

My mother was not a very strong person, emotionally, and she was a product of her time, coming of age in the 1940’s. She codependently let my father do whatever he wanted, in the interests of “keeping the peace” and “staying together for the sake of the kids.” My father wasn’t a bad man, but what he wanted was often misguided and almost always self-centered. He unintentionally caused his family a lot of pain, and she let him do so.

But putting aside that major flaw, my mother was a wonderful person in a lot of ways. And she taught me several valuable lessons. Some of these she taught me directly or by example, and some I learned by witnessing her bad example and doing the exact opposite.

1. She taught me to make the best of a bad situation.

Not that I would stay in a bad marriage like she did, but she showed me how to look for the way around obstacles without butting your head against them.

I didn’t appreciate this lesson for many years. In my youth, I tended to follow my father’s obstinate head-butting style.

His style of dealing with problems at work got him fired or “asked to resign” from so many jobs I lost count. Her style was to smile, make friends with, and eventually cajole her rivals into seeing things her way. As a result, she rose to director/dean level at the college where she worked, and she did so after having spent the first two decades of her adulthood as a stay-at-home mom.

2. She taught me to smile.

My mom laughing

Not in a false or fake way, but to genuinely be cheerful even if life isn’t completely going the way you would like it to.

I look back now and realize that much of what allowed her to be so cheerful was downright denial. But nonetheless, I grew up with a mother who often had a smile on her face.

She had a good sense of humor, which to some degree skipped a generation and showed up again in my son. What a delight it was to watch them interact!

3. She taught me to talk about my feelings with my friends.

I didn’t get just how miserable she was in her marriage until I was about fifteen years old. Gradually, during my teen years, she and I shifted from mother and daughter to friends and confidantes.

Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very healthy for a woman to share with her daughter how unhappy she was with the girl’s father. But in this case, I found those revelations validating. It wasn’t my imagination that my father was hard to live with.

When we went shopping, we’d sometimes pretend to be sisters. We frequently bought things (well, she paid for them), coats or pieces of jewelry, that we would share. I still have one of the pendant necklaces we bought on such an outing.

Was this a sick blurring of boundaries? Definitely. But this experience taught me to open up and share when I was hurting, something that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

I’m especially grateful for this lesson when I see female friends struggling to ask for what they need emotionally. The misguided message of our youth was that women should always put others first, which often translated into believing we were not worthy of support ourselves. But I learned, through my mother’s example, to ask for support.

4. She taught me to love shopping, and to cherish a bargain above all else.

shopping mall

A shopping mall at Christmas time was heaven for us! (photo by BazzaDaRambler CC-BY-2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Seriously, retail therapy is almost as good as the best counselor out there! (This coming from a retired psychotherapist.)

But my mother was very frugal. The only thing better than finding the perfect purse, dress, sofa, drapes, etc. was finding it on sale, with an additional X percent off.

One of the items we bought and shared was a pair of earrings that were little shopping bags, with “Shop Til Ya Drop” on the sides. I wonder what happened to them…

Today, shopping for clothes or pretty things for my house is preferable, of course, but I even find grocery shopping or running to Home Depot for bags of mulch a reasonably pleasant experience.

5. She taught me to be a good mother-in-law.

Unlike all too many mothers, she was not the least bit jealous of nor negative about the girlfriends and boyfriends my brother and I brought around to the house. She welcomed all of them–the sluts and the nerds, and the sweet girls and nice guys.

And she welcomed the people we married into the family with open arms and a generous heart.

Thanks to my mother’s legacy, it wasn’t hard for me to realize what a wonderful person my daughter-in-law is.

6. Ironically and indirectly, she taught me to put my child first.

wailing newborn with his grandmother

My newborn son (36.4 years ago) with his grandmother; he’s wearing a sleeper that says #1.

At some point in my adulthood, she told me that my brother and I were the best things that had ever happened to her. Not an unusual admission by a parent, but it actually surprised me.

Why? Because she had thrown us under the bus with my father more than once.

Her own father was a well-meaning but spineless man, addicted to get-rich-quick schemes. He couldn’t hold a job (sound familiar), and finally my grandmother tossed him out on his ear. (She was a strong woman.) My mother was twelve at the time.

For the next decade, she received eloquent letters full of empty promises (we found them in her papers after she died). But she saw her father rarely, and then not at all.

Her desperation for a man who would actually be there in her life was so great that she would do anything to keep her man, including ignore the damage he was doing to her children.

My son and I lock horns occasionally. (We both inherited a trait from my father that my mother called stubbornness. I prefer the term determination.) But when my son really needs something, I will drop everything to be there for him and his family. I surprise even myself sometimes by the ferocity of my reaction when he is in need.

7. She taught me to be strong and independent.

Again, not by being a role model for those traits–she was anything but those things–but she gave me permission and encouragement to be confident in myself. My stubbornness frustrated her when I was a kid and a teenager, but later she admitted that she was pleased to see how strong and independent I was. She was proud of the adult I had become.

And for all her flaws in raising me, once I was an adult, my mother and I were best friends. She’s been gone for thirteen years now, and I still wish I could pick up the phone and call her to talk about whatever’s on my mind.

I love you, Ma! Happy Mother’s Day!!

Please head over to August’s website to find the links to the other posts in this blogfest about the Beauty of a Woman. Some of the posts are serious, some are fun but all are interesting and well worth your time.

How about you? What did your mother teach you, for better or worse, about being a woman? (Note: I will be traveling this week, so there may be a delay in responses to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. :) )