The Wages for Facing Death

by Kassandra Lamb

After five years of blogging, I was facing yet another Memorial Day post. I’ve given five reasons why we should honor our troops, made the case for honoring them even if one is a pacifist, contrasted Memorial Day as the launch of summer fun against the sadness of remembering fallen heroes, and one year we copped out and did a group post on favorite summer recipes.

flag at half mast; sailor ssaluting

This year, I wanted to take a different approach. I wracked my brain for ideas, and finally came up with this: we honor fallen members of the military on Memorial Day, but are we honoring them while they are still alive by paying them a decent wage?

I didn’t really know the answer to that, so I did some research. This is what I found:

An E-1 (lowest rank in each branch) entering the military in 2017 receives a base salary of $21,116/year. When housing allowance, healthcare, and other benefits are added in, his/her total compensation is $41,246. This is definitely a living wage for a single person, and some allowances are increased depending on the cost of living in the area deployed and the number of people in the soldier’s family.

To an able-bodied young man or woman with a high school diploma or GED, this may seem like a good alternative to becoming a factory worker, whose average annual income is $27,000.*

(*I’m rounding most figures off somewhat to make this easier to read. Most of these figures came from the US Department of Labor Statistics; some are from the official military pay scale or from other websites.)

It’s also competitive with entry-level firefighter and police officer incomes. The salary range nationwide for firefighters is $24,000–$65,000 (average is $50,500). Police officers’ range is $34,000–$78,000 (including detectives and supervisors) with an average of $53,500.

firfighters with flag

New York, NY, September 25, 2001

Also, all things considered, the risk to life and limb is probably similar. Firefighters and the police take calculated risks every day on the job while the military are usually only at risk when deployed into combat, but then they are at much higher risk of harm.

An average Joe or Jane who enlists in the military has the potential to eventually work their way up to Staff Sergeant (or comparable ranks in other branches). A Staff Sergeant with 6 years experience makes $37,166 base salary—with benefits and allowances, approximately $57,300.

This compares adequately to master plumbers and electricians who must go through an apprenticeship and eventually average $56,000-57,000 per year. And it is more money than the average computer technician with an AA degree will probably make—$52,000.

It even compares fairly well with the first-line supervisors in manufacturing (average $61,500) and the lower end of the range of middle management in the business world ($55,500).

IF you don’t consider the risk factor.

destroyed tank

Burned-out shell of U.S. tank in Iraq (Dept of Defense photo by LCPL Jennifer A. Krusen, public domain)

Noncommissioned officers in the military are actually paid as well as, if not better than, many teachers, who must obtain a bachelor’s degree plus teaching certification, and often need a master’s degree to get permanent credentials.

  • Elementary/Middle School Teachers: average $59,000 (range: $36,500–$71,000)
  • High School Teachers: average $61,400 (range: $38,000–$74,000)

Okay, let’s look at military officers. Candidates must have a college degree to apply for officer training.

An O-1 (Second Lieutenant in the Army or equivalent rank) with 2 years of experience gets $36,400 base pay plus allowances** and benefits, for a total of $59,450.

An O-4 (Army Major or equivalent) with six years of experience gets $73,100 plus allowances**, etc., for a total of $102,550

(**For a single officer; those with families get higher allowances.)

Compare that to these average annual incomes (minimum requirements in parentheses):

  • Nurse (RN; AA to Bachelors): $72,000
  • Middle Manager in Business (Bachelors to MBA): $55,500–$97,000
  • College Professor (PhD): $85,000
  • Member of Congress (Ability to produce unlimited hot air—Sorry, I couldn’t resist): $174,000

And last but hardly least, business CEOs receive an average of $1,654,000 in total compensation. Some, of course, receive far more. The highest ranking Generals/Admirals top out at $190,042 total compensation.

Here are the two conclusions I drew from this information:

One—Teachers, police, and firefighters are definitely underpaid.

Two—Military officers seem to be doing okay but enlisted men and women in our armed services should probably be making more, especially considering these three factors:

  • Risk to life and limb
  • Lack of control over their lives
  • Sacrifices made by their families

And here’s another factor we should keep in mind. Inappropriate compensation, especially for highly stressful occupations, can lead to shortages and a lowering of standards.

The medical field learned this the hard way. In the late 1970s, there was a severe shortage of hospital nurses. Salaries had not kept up with inflation. In 1976, a hospital nurse made $11,820/year, which was barely a living wage for a single person. (I know, because I was single then and making close to that amount myself.)

Many nurses were changing careers, and admissions to nursing programs were down. The remaining hospital nurses were assigned more patients and were working extra shifts. Training programs started lowering their standards for admission and/or graduation. The current practice of loved ones often spending the night in a hospitalized patient’s room came into being, because so many mistakes were being made.

We still have too few nurses today, but the severe crisis ebbed when hospitals finally raised nursing salaries to sufficiently compensate them for their hard work and long, often inconvenient and frequently stressful hours.

Air Force Airman saluting flag

But getting back to our men and women in the armed services… to some degree I was pleasantly surprised to see the comparisons above. The military is not doing as badly pay-wise as I had feared.

However, the nursing shortage of the 1970s-80s should be a cautionary tale for our country. We need to make proper compensation of our military a priority. If we let the incomes of our service people fall too far behind, we may no longer be able to attract enough qualified men and women who are willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in protecting our safety and freedom.

On this Memorial Day and all those to come, let’s make sure we honor the living military personnel as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice!

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY, EVERYONE!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

Finding the “Truth” in Our Mangled Media

by Kassandra Lamb

The “truth” is in critical condition these days, gasping for air under layers of partisan biases, sensationalism, and plain old lying. Even the best of news sources may pick and choose which details they tell us to make the stories more exciting or controversial.

Venn chart

Words describing “Degrees of Uncertainty” (by Lbeaumont, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

Because controversy sells!

But it isn’t good for our individual mental health to constantly be stirred up, nor is it good for our country. We are extremely divided right now, at a time in our history when we actually should have the least to argue about.

Most of us have the same goals for our country: good jobs, a strong economy, good education for our children and grandchildren, stop terrorism, etc. The fighting is over how we will achieve those goals, and in my opinion that fighting has become more personal and vicious, and less productive, than it has ever been before.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now and get back to how to find the truth buried in the piles of information rubble. There are five things we should do to accomplish this:

(Note: This is Part Two in a three-part series on critical thinking; See Part One on natural human biases in thinking. Coming next time, taking action based on critical thinking.)

First, it is important to separate facts from opinions. Our society and the media have gotten blurrier regarding that distinction in recent times.

girl with newspaper

This ain’t your mother’s news! (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen or heard a “news” story that really wasn’t news at all, it was all speculation about something—about what it meant and what might happen in the future.

Second, consider the source of the information. Does that source tend to get the facts straight? What are the particular biases of that source? What “spin” do they tend to put on things?

Try not to get all your info from sources that share your own biases. Tune into the other guys now and then and see what they have to say.

And if someone is giving an “expert” opinion, take a hard look at their level of expertise. A lot of the controversies in my field of psychology were started by general-practitioner type psychologists or experts in other specialties expressing their opinions about some area that they knew little or nothing about (but thought they understood).

Definition of an expert: “ex” is an unknown quantity; a “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure… so an “expert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

Third, ask yourself how logical the information is. This is where you need to be most aware of that confirmation bias I talked about in Part One. It’s easy to assume something is logical because it jives with your own opinion.

But logic is very methodical. It has little or nothing to do with opinion. Does Piece of Info A plus Piece of Info B really add up to Conclusion C? Does it truly make sense? Are there other plausible explanations?

Fourth, what is the evidence and how solid is it? Has this issue been truly studied by professionals in that field? What have they found? What’s the story behind that 30-second sound bite on the evening news?

I know, for a fact, that the news media sometimes presents evidence as more solid than it is. How can I say that is a fact? Because I’ve heard or seen such stories in the news concerning topics that fall within my own area of expertise, where I knew the evidence they were citing was far more speculative than they implied.

And this spreading of tentative evidence as more solid than it is can have disastrous consequences.

Let me give you an example. The news media reported a few years back that it was safe for pregnant women to drink one glass of wine per day. Sometimes they specified red wine; sometimes, not.

This was based on ONE study of rats who were given red wine daily while pregnant and ONE AREA of their babies’ brains was later examined. The usual damage to this area that alcohol was known to cause was not there. But the entire brain was NOT studied. The researchers tentatively concluded that one of the components of red wine (that is not in white wine or any other form of alcohol) MAY counteract the negative effects of the alcohol on that part of the brain.

woman pouring wine

photo by Fabio Ingrosso CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The media got their hands on this one study and went wild, telling women and their doctors that red wine was now okay. Yeah, if you’re a pregnant rat!

Since that initial study, additional research has been done, with conflicting results. There is still no consensus on the subject and all healthcare professional organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) are still saying: “No level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.”

And yet most women now believe that it is okay to have a glass of wine a day while pregnant, and the really scary part is that some doctors and midwives are now telling their patients this. When I was teaching human development, I even had a pregnant student get up and walk out of class because I dared to cite the research and contradict what her doctor had told her (he had told her that a glass of wine a day was good for her baby).

Which brings us to…

Fifth, Check the facts! Google is wonderful, but again consider the source.

When I sought to check the current facts regarding the wine and pregnancy issue, Google was my first stop. But then I looked at who was publishing which articles. I’m going to believe the articles published by the Mayo Clinic, NIH and Harvard Medical School over a blog post by a woman who was pregnant three times, drank wine the whole time, and has three children “who are fine.”

Another option is to visit one of the fact-checking websites out there. Two of the more popular ones are Snopes and FactCheck.Org.

Stay tuned! Next time, we’ll look at the tricky process of deciding on what actions to take, based on our critical thinking.

Your thoughts on all this? Can you think of other ways we can check ourselves to make sure we are thinking critically?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

Job Description of a Mother

by Kassandra Lamb

Motherhood is probably the most difficult job any woman ever attempts. And yet most of us take on the job with little foreknowledge of what we’re getting into. So I thought I’d come up with a job description, for those who are considering applying.

woman being interviewed circa 1940s

I don’t recall being interviewed for the job (public domain, Wikimedia)

General Description of Duties:
Applicant will be charged with the care, guidance and training of small creatures who have no means of communication, no control over their bodily fluids, and no initial understanding of danger, morality nor the needs of others.

Applicant will be on duty 24/7, year in and year out. (If applicant has a partner helping with the job, occasional short vacations may be possible.)

Additional Duties:
Worrier—Applicant will be required to ruminate frequently about whether or not her charges are safe and are receiving optimal care. This may involve lost sleep.

Nurse—On occasion, applicant will be required to stay up at night and/or stay home from other activities (no matter how important) to tend to sick charges. This may also include cleaning services when bodily fluids become involved. Treatment of minor injuries may also be required.

Dietician/chef—Applicant will be required to plan and prepare nutritious meals and snacks throughout each day, 365 days per year (except during those brief vacations if her partner is willing and able to take over this duty; otherwise, meals may need to be pre-planned).

Chauffeur—Applicant will be required to provide or arrange for all transportation of her charges to multiple locations, including but not limited to: school, athletic and social activities, medical appointments, and the emergency room.

mother with daughter's dolls, having a tea party

One of those other duties: playmate (which may require acting skills to pretend dolls are alive)

Counselor—Applicant will be required to provide guidance and emotional support to her charges, although they will often be oblivious to her emotional needs.

Any other duties that may arise (which may be substantial).

Skills/Talents Required:
At least a basic understanding of childhood diseases, first aid, nutrition, child development, psychology, and conflict mediation (if there is more than one charge).

Unlimited patience and the ability to function on minimal sleep.

Infinite quantities of unconditional love.

Compensation and Benefits:
Applicant will receive room and board (which she may have to help pay for).

No sick leave is allowed. Full retirement is not possible; semi-retirement occurs whenever the last of applicant’s charges leaves the domicile. Many daily duties will no longer be required, but worrying will continue until applicant’s death. Also, applicant may feel obligated to lend or give money to her grown charges at times.

homemade Mother's Day card

No monetary compensation is given; however, applicant will receive weird little homemade presents and cards and lots of love from her charges. She may possibly someday be rewarded with grandchildren.

And by having her grown charge admit to her: “This parenting thing is really hard, Mom! How’d you do it?”*

(*My son’s exact words when his first child was three months old. 🙂 )

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY from all of us at misterio press!!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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 Introverted Author, the Malice Domestic Convention, and a Giveaway!

Malice Domestic 29

 

by K.B. Owen

To (liberally) paraphrase Austen: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that we introvert authors need to come out of our writing caves from time to time and interact with our fellows.

The Malice Domestic Convention fits the bill nicely for those of us who are mystery author introverts. Malice celebrates mystery fiction written in the cozy style, aka the tradition of Agatha Christie, and has been held yearly in Bethesda, MD since 1989. With its three days of panel discussions, book signings, awards, and social receptions, the convention draws authors and readers alike.

One of many signings, after the crowd had thinned and I could move around.

When I step into the space, I feel as if I’ve rediscovered my tribe. No one bats an eyelash over you bringing your takeout lunch to Luci Zahray’s (otherwise known as the “Poison Lady”) panel on the use of organophosphates to bump off someone (characters, of course). The audience was practically rubbing its hands and cackling with glee as she detailed the symptoms, the lack of a test to detect the compound, the difficulty in reversing the effects, and the ease of access to the poison (any Home Depot or garage sale…also, apparently DDT can still be found at the random garage or yard sale because folks don’t throw out ANYTHING).

Luci Zahray, “Poison Lady.” You can’t see the rat poison and other samples she had on display from this angle, unfortunately.

For the introvert, the nice thing about a convention is you can pick and choose when you want to converse. You can get a lot out of the convention by simply attending the panels and listening (not an option if you are ON the panel, of course, but then you signed up for that, LOL).

The hospitality lounge is a nice place to get yourself some coffee or tea and browse the long tables for bookmarks and promotional goodies that authors set out. I came away with a pen, a set of sticky notes, a disposable flashlight, and a hand mirror…all kinds of cool stuff! I had brought some of my own material for the hospitality tables, too: bookmarks of my Concordia Wells series, along with a basket of peppermint patties and individually wrapped tea bags with my logo sticker/web address on the back of each piece.

It’s hard to see the stickers here, but they were really cute. *wink*

I kept refilling the basket, but there wasn’t a candy or tea bag left by Sunday morning!

In between browsing the dealers’ tables, chatting with folks, getting my books signed, and going to the Agatha Awards dinner, I attended several terrific panels that weekend (there were many more I couldn’t fit in). Here’s a partial list to give you an idea:

  • Malice Go-Round: It’s Like Speed Dating, But With Authors (Attendees sit and relax while pairs of authors come to them, distribute bookmarks–and sometimes chocolate, and describe their series and new releases. Then the moderator calls time, they rotate to another table, our table gets a new pair of authors, and so on. One of my fave events).
  • Making History: Agatha Best Historical Novel Nominees (Authors nominated for the Agatha in the category of best historical novel talk about their books, their research, etc. A fab and funny group!).
  • Murder on the Menu: Food & Mysteries (Several food-themed series authors talked about their inspiration, where they get their recipes, and the funny coincidence of growing up in households where their moms couldn’t cook all that well…maybe compensation for a deprived childhood? *wink*)
  • Poison Lady (Described above).
  • Book’em: Book-Loving Sleuths (Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many bookshop mysteries are out there!)
  • Murder Way Back When: U.S. Historicals (Loved hearing about research challenges and successes…I continued the conversation with a couple of the authors afterward, comparing databases we use).
  • Sherlock Lives! (I love reading about the Great Detective, and it was so much fun to listen to the discussion of the current pastiches out there, and all the SH societies).

Panel for best historical Agatha nominees. Catriona McPherson won!

The most meaningful event for me personally was the Mystery Most Historical Signing, held on Friday evening. Mystery Most Historical is this year’s Malice anthology of short stories, and guess what…a story of mine is in it!

“Summons for a Dead Girl” is set in September of 1911 in New York City, months after the devastating Triangle Factory fire, and features spirit medium/con woman Maddy Cartiere. The blurb and opening paragraphs below give you an idea of the story:

***

This book signing was an additional thrill because I was part of a large group of authors (many of them prolific and best sellers) who were also signing. The reader turnout for autographs was amazing, and it was such a privilege to chat with mystery fans while sitting in the company of award-winning authors such as Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Elaine Viets!

Your typical group picture: someone looking away, someone’s eyes closed, someone waving a hand or fussing with something, LOL.

 

Short story author Keenan Powell was signing on my left. Such a nice lady!

To celebrate the release of the anthology, I’m holding an:

Anthology Giveaway

May 9th-23rd

I’ll be giving away five (5) signed paperback copies of Mystery Most Historical!

To help with logistics, I’m using the Gleam giveaway service to keep things organized and randomly select the winners. All you have to do is visit the giveaway page HERE to see your options for entering the drawing. Multiple entries increase your chances:

https://gleam.io/NjmCZ/anthology-giveaway

I’ll notify the winners no later than May 31st, and ask for your street address to ship the book to you. Good luck!

Do you enjoy attending conventions, or do you find them a bit overwhelming? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

Posted by K.B. Owen, misterio press author.

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, she did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts.  Thankfully. Learn more about her historical mysteries at her website, Chasing the Cozy Thrill.

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. 🙂 )

Keeping An Open Mind (Is Harder Than You Might Think)*

by Kassandra Lamb

In the current climate in the U.S., it’s particularly hard to keep an open mind. For a lot of reasons, we are going through a period of divisiveness, when many would rather out-shout each other than listen to opposing points of view. I’m not going to get into the social and political reasons for all this drawing of lines in the sand, but I’d like to point out that our own human nature works against us as we try to keep an open mind.

sculpture of an open mind

An Open Mind (photo by Roger Cornfoot CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(*Note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on critical thinking.)

There are several natural biases of thinking that humans tend to suffer from. First, there is primacy effect. The information we receive first will be more readily remembered than later information.

This effect is kin to those first impressions that your mother pointed out are so hard to change. Our initial reactions to someone or something is primary information we have taken in, so it will come to mind more readily later, despite new information regarding that person or topic that has become available since that “first impression.”

Then confirmation bias steps in. This is our natural tendency to accept new information that confirms what we already believe and ignore or reject info that refutes those beliefs.

grumpy cat meme

meme generated by imgflip

We tend to believe that our “knowledge” of the “truth” is more robust than it really is. What we think we “know” is more often an opinion based on information we took in initially (that may or may not be accurate). But then we compare new information to what we already “know” and accept or dismiss accordingly.

Mind you, we psychologists didn’t just make up these ideas. Both confirmation bias and primacy effect (otherwise known as serial position effect) have been studied exhaustively by cognitive scientists. (Here’s an easy-to- read article that mentions some of this research and gives some real-life examples of confirmation bias.)

Next, we have the tendency to fill in the gaps (to the best of my knowledge, psychologists haven’t come up with a cute name for this one). If we only have a few pieces of information about something, our minds will automatically make educated guesses about the rest, to give us a complete picture or story.

It’s a good thing we have this ability; otherwise it would take forever for us to process a scene. We would have to focus our attention on every detail and process it separately. That would really sloooow life dooown.

"Mind The Gap" sign next to railroad tracks

Perry Barr Station, UK (photo by Elliott Brown from Birmingham UK, CC-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons).

The problem is that the assumptions with which we fill in those gaps aren’t always correct. And then we memorize those assumptions along with the real information and remember it all later as fact.

Last but not least, we have source amnesia—the tendency to forget where, when or how we obtained a piece of information even though we retain the information itself. So you see an article headline in a link on Facebook… maybe you don’t even read the article. Then later you remember the info in that headline as if it is fact (if you agreed with it), but don’t remember where you saw or heard it.

Frequent or more severe source amnesia may mean the person is suffering from head trauma or some kind of brain disorder, but all of us experience a certain amount of source amnesia, especially when information is taken in casually.

This may be due in part to how thoroughly we are processing information and with which parts of our brains. Concrete information (whether accurate or not) is usually processed in our left hemispheres via word thoughts. So we read that headline and think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” or “Wow, I never knew that,” or even “That can’t be true!”

The info in the headline, along with our thoughts about it, can be fairly readily brought back into our conscious awareness later.

But when, how and where we took in the information is a different kind of memory, called episodic memory—memories of the events in our lives. These memories are processed and stored in the right hemisphere, and in a more global way. We take in the scene in general, along with our emotional reaction to it. For example, when you’re singing “Happy Birthday” at a friend’s party, you’re not intellectually evaluating the expression on each individual’s face, but later you have a general sense of people smiling and a happy atmosphere.

And how important the setting/source is will also impact on how well it’s remembered. You’re more likely to remember the source of a conversation that occurred during that birthday party than the name of the publication behind that article headline that caught your eye for a moment on Facebook.

But getting back to primacy effect and confirmation bias, what causes them? I don’t know that anyone has come up with a definitive answer to that question. But the natural tendency toward these ways of thinking has probably become more common in the human gene pool because they helped our early ancestors to survive.

meme created with imgflip

meme created with imgflip

In more primitive times, in order to protect and provide for one’s family, one had to make a quick assessment of any situation as being either a threat or having positive potential. So the first information available about the situation was processed rapidly and with a fair amount of emotional charge attached to it.

Then a decision was quickly made and put into action, either to welcome those strangers coming toward them or capture or kill them. Indecision or waiting for more information (i.e., keeping an open mind) could be disastrous.

And of course, these biases are exacerbated today by the Internet and social media where we are inundated with information, true and false, practically every waking minute.

The need for open-minded critical thinking is greater than ever, and yet these mindsets/skills seem to be eroding.

In Part 2 of this series (in three weeks), I will talk about some concrete ways that we can improve our critical thinking skills. (In the meantime, we’ve got a couple of fun posts coming up.)

What do you think about all this? Have you ever noticed how hard it is to keep an open mind?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

12 Crime Lab Tidbits

by Vinnie Hansen

In March, I visited the Santa Clara Crime Lab because hey, that’s the kind of thing crime writers do on a lovely spring day.

My husband, Danny, went along. He enjoys police info, too. I guess you better if you’re married to a mystery author.

We were disappointed to learn that we would not be able to traipse about the lab. Even though the event was advertised as a “virtual” tour, when Danny and I visited the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, our guide led us right up to the line of weapons waiting for rifling tests. But that was many years ago and our group consisted of just Danny, Cara Black and me.

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

The Santa Clara Crime Lab presentation drew over 20 sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime as well as a whole class from a local college. I was glad that criminalist Cordelia Willis did not try to herd such an unwieldy flock.

But even if there were only a few of us, we could not have entered the lab. Our very breath could contaminate DNA evidence!

Instead, we congregated in the training room for slides and an informative talk.

Here are a dozen fun facts from our two-hour stint:

  • The bane of criminalists: lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and EMTs who trample evidence.
  • CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) has two parts, the usual one we think of which contains info only from criminals, and another part for unidentified persons, used to match bodies to missing people. The criminal and victim parts do not mix.
  • Red Bull is the drink of choice for burglars (and a nifty way to collect DNA).
  • Thirty is the magic number when a murderer stabs his victim.
  • A slice on the perpetrator’s hand is common in stabbings because the knife handle gets slippery. (Think O.J.)
  • Cordelia worked on a cold case where DNA evidence was taken from 22- year-old semen.
  • If a body is inside a structure, the police have to get a search warrant to call in the lab.
  • Digital/multimedia evidence is most backlogged. One case might yield 15 cellphones!IMG_1418
  • Bullet rifling is unique to each individual gun, but (sigh) many bullets get smooshed and can’t be tested.
  • BUT, cartridges can be compared via the firing pin impression.IMG_1420
  • Gun shot residue disappears quickly — no sense testing after 8 hours.
  • It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter.

Have you ever wondered how much of CSI is true? What’s a question you would like answered by a crime lab? 

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen.

1512492_1496572107233708_1637885544_n

Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover. If you saw the cover in the last post, you’ll notice the new iteration is slightly different. What do you think?

LostartStreet

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. 🙂 )

Love Thy Neighbor

by Kassandra Lamb

easter eggs in basket

photo by Toelstede – Wikipedia-Name Nyks CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Sunday was Easter. On a secular level, many of us are celebrating spring and rebirth on this day, with symbols like eggs and bunnies and chicks.

But Easter is one of the two most joyous holidays in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, after allowing himself to be tortured and killed for the sake of others.

Although the religious components of this holiday are matters of belief, most historians agree that a man named Jesus did live in ancient Israel, around the time of the Roman occupation, and he was crucified.

He could have saved himself. All he would’ve had to do was disavow everything he stood for. He could have lied to Pontius Pilate, told the man what he wanted to hear, and he would have skated.

But then we would have no conscious memory of his teachings, two thousand and seventeen years later. Martyrdom is often required in order to make a lasting impression.

Technically, I’m a Christian. I was baptized in the Methodist Church and I’m a confirmed Episcopalian. I say technically because lately I haven’t felt all that willing to publicly admit that I’m a Christian. Some folks have been giving Christianity a bad name.

One of the most important teachings of Christ is:

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Well, I don’t know about the “as myself” part. I’m pretty darn fond of myself. But I try to remain benevolent toward those around me. And I know Jesus meant everyone when he said neighbor. But we might as well start close to home.

I live in a college town, so those who are literally my neighbors are a fairly diverse lot.

Benevolence is easy with our neighbor to the left. She’s a white, middle-class, elderly widow who’s lived here longer than we have and loves to garden. Her yard is always neat.

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Directly across from us is a middle-class white man and his twenty-years-younger wife. They were also here before us and we always wave and smile when we see them. He has grown children close to his wife’s age. We don’t know the story behind that, but it isn’t our place to judge.

The family that has been the most friendly lives next door to him. They are a Lesbian couple with one child, a son. They were the first to greet us as new neighbors when we moved here, with a basket of cheese and wine and a lovely card.

Their son, who was 6 when we moved here, is now 20. He has a steady girlfriend now. I get a little teary-eyed when I see him cruising down the street in the pick-up truck that used to be one of his moms’ main means of transportation.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never officially introduced myself to the slightly swarthy-skinned woman and her daughter, who moved into the house on our right about a year ago. I haven’t even had many opportunities to give a friendly wave. They pretty much keep to themselves. Are they illegals? Or just shy?

None of my business, but I stand ready to wave and smile if I do spot them outside.

The single white guy next to the Lesbian couple doesn’t mow his lawn all that regularly. I find that annoying but try not to hold it against him.

The house on the corner is occupied by three (or more; it’s hard to keep track) students. Two of them drive motorcycles, but other than that they’re fairly quiet. So live and let live.

A middle-aged African-American couple moved in down the street a few months ago. They put on a new metal roof, added a freestanding garage, and repaved their driveway. The place looks really nice and I told them so, when they were climbing into their car one day as I walked past with my dog.

(I should point out here, lest I come across as holier than thou, that I am naturally a very outgoing person.)

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

I always feel better when I come home from my walks, and not just because of the satisfaction of good exercise.

All that waving and smiling brightens my own mood.

I wonder what would happen if everyone smiled and waved at everyone they cross paths with every day (yes, even in big cities up north). What kind of ripple effect would that have, internally and externally?

I know it’s been said before, but why can’t we all get along? And why can’t we start today by loving every “neighbor” we encounter?

Happy belated Easter, everyone!

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. 🙂 )

To Write or Not To Write Short

by Kassandra Lamb

Someday is Here! book cover

I’m guest posting today over on Janice Hardy’s wonderful site for authors: Fiction University. So thrilled to have this opportunity!

I’m talking about the pros and cons of writing short stories/novellas vs. full-length novels. Please hop on over and check it out!

To Write or Not To Write Short:

Short stories, novellas, novels—what’s the best route to go as a fiction writer? Are there advantages to writing short?

This is a more complicated question than it may seem to be on the surface. There are several factors to consider:

● The definition of a short story vs. a novella
● The appeal of writing short for the author
● How readers feel about short stories and novellas vs. full-length novels
● The benefits of shorts for authors
● The bottom line: how much can you make off of shorts?

In order to give you more than just my take on writing short, I surveyed several authors from various genres. I’ve included their experiences along with my own… Read More

These Kids Today!

by Kassandra Lamb

There are many things about human nature that never cease to amaze me. One is how short some people’s memories are. All too many of my friends and acquaintances seem to have forgotten what it is like to be young.

I wince ever time I hear one of my age-mates complain about “these kids today,” using much the same language that our parents used to complain about us when we were young adults.

When I taught college, I certainly encountered irresponsibility, but I met a lot of responsible young people as well. But they don’t stand out in the crowd. They’re just going about their business, doing what they are supposed to be doing. The irresponsible ones get noticed because they’re screwing up.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

All this is on my mind right now because I just got back from a trip up north for my niece’s wedding. And overall, I was pretty darned impressed with the young people involved.

My niece is an extrovert extraordinaire. She has a high-pitched voice and a bubbly personality, and people sometimes underestimate her. I can relate. I shared the same traits at her age (still do to some extent, although some mellowing has occurred), and I struggled with being taken seriously.

She did a great job of planning and executing this wedding (with no professional wedding planner involved). It was a particularly tough task since they were attempting to blend two cultures. (Thus the red dress which is traditional for Chinese brides.)

The groom had the good sense to provide a sympathetic ear when she needed to vent, but he otherwise stayed out of her way. Both mothers were sweetly but firmly told that she had it under control, thank you very much.

And she did. The whole thing went off with only a couple of minor glitches—both unforeseeable and neither all that earth-shaking.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around it.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around.

One was when the make-up lady accidentally dropped some makeup on the bodice of the maid-of-honor’s dress. There was a flurry of discussion about what to do, until both her sister and I reassured her that the spot was barely visible and probably wouldn’t be noticed if one didn’t know it was there.

This wonderfully mature young woman then shrugged and went back to the many duties my niece had assigned to her, from making sure the cupcakes were stacked appropriately on the cake table in the reception hall to keeping my niece’s rebellious train pointed in the right direction.

She didn’t seem to give the tiny grease spot another thought, which impressed me, since at her age, I would have been totally self-conscious all evening.

That train had a mind of its own!

That train had a mind of its own!

 

That was one of the things I noted as the reception progressed. These young people didn’t take themselves too seriously, but they did take their responsibilities seriously.

There were plenty of high jinks and clowning around (especially over at the “photo booth”) with the occasional ear-splitting squee. But none of them, that I could tell, got sloppy drunk.

I’ve watched many of these youngsters grow up, and I’ve got to say that I couldn’t be prouder of them.

Bride and groom in the "photo booth."

Bride and groom in the “photo booth.”

 

Adjusting to adulthood isn’t easy, and I wish more of my generation would cut youth some slack. And pay closer attention to the ones who are doing it right, instead of the ones who are messing up.

As one of my young Twitter peeps recently tweeted:

“Adulting is like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting run over by an airplane.” – unknown

I think my niece would agree. I’ve heard her make similar comments.

Although I sometimes wonder about the sanity of some of my age-mates, I’m not all that worried about the younger generation. They’ll do just fine.

Bride and groom serving tea to groom's grandparents

Bride and groom serving tea to groom’s grandparents

 

How about you? Do you have some young people in your life who make you proud?

Chinese good luck character projected onto dance floor.

Chinese characters for “good luck” were projected onto the dance floor. (The stiff lace of the red dress made it hard to move; thus the white dress for the reception.)

 

 

 

Two Quick Notes:  I presented at the Writers Alliance of Gainesville this past Sunday, on the topic of Integrating Social Issues into Fiction (pics posted under Author Events and on my Facebook page).

And I’ll be posting this coming Friday, 4/14, on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University on the pros and cons of “writing short” (i.e. short stories and novellas).

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. 🙂 )

Honolulu Havoc: The Pros and Cons of a Conference in Paradise

Left Coast Crime 2017 convened in Hawaii. The allure is almost too obvious to mention. There’s—well—the setting, the elaborate Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Warm weather, sunsets on the beach, Diamond Head in the distance.

Beach in front of hotel.

Beach in front of hotel.

For many attendees the conference was a great excuse to escape a March roaring in like a lion. Almost every participant I talked to had extended his/her stay. Sisters in Crime Guppy President, Jim Jackson, and his wife, Jan Rubens, planned a month in Hawaii! Even Danny and I, who hale from temperate Santa Cruz, stayed a week. A conference in a vacation destination clearly entices writers to take a break.

The Hawaiian flavor permeated the conference from the POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice served in the hospitality suite to the braided leis given to each award nominee at the reception—held outside on the Great Lawn. Toastmaster Laurie King literally let her hair down, releasing her famous bun into a cascade of silver. As we strolled around in our muumuus and shorts, Ghost of Honor, Earl Derr Biggers, and his creation Charlie Chan, haunted the setting. The first panel I attended, Real-Life Experience: Authors Tell All opened with free mimosas. Now there’s a ploy to get people to talk.

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As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to see writing buddies from other parts of the country and to meet and read authors new to me, like Maia Chance who participated on the Eye to Eye With the P.I. panel with me. I am thoroughly enjoying the first book in her series, Come Hell or Highball. Our panel was moderated by my crime writing idol, Allen Eskens! As moderator, he read a book from each panelist. He liked  Black Beans & Venom enough to give me this blurb, “It is the mark of true talent for a writer to be able to deliver her readers completely and believably to another world, and in Black Beans and Venom Vinnie Hansen has done just that. Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.” That alone was worth the price of admission.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s difficult to organize a conference in a place where one poached egg costs $4.25! Compare the room-rate of $209-$249 a night to that for next year’s LCC in Reno–$82. And the room-rate in Honolulu didn’t even include room Wi-Fi or parking, both part of the package in Reno.

The time and expense of getting to Hawaii and staying in Hawaii clearly lowered attendance. Quite a few authors appeared on three different panels, good for them perhaps, but not as stimulating for the audience. And maybe its just my guilty conscience speaking, but I feel tourist distractions pulled attendees away from conference events. Usually the Liar’s Panel, a perennial favorite, packs the room. Not so this year, in spite of a stellar line-up–Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, Catriona McPherson.

Finally, Honolulu isn’t my idea of paradise. It’s a bustling city, thick with tourists. Danny and I took a morning off to follow the ant trail of people up Diamond Head. I’m glad we did it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

The Sunset Pillbox Trail on the North Shore, where we spent our first few days on the island, was much more satisfying. On that hike, we encountered only a few locals, the vistas were just as spectacular, and the brightly graffitied pillboxes were more interesting than the structures atop Diamond Head.

Pillbox on North Shore.

Pillbox on North Shore.

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I have no regrets about attending Left Coast Crime 2017, but look forward to the more economical Left Coast Crime 2018. If I win enough at blackjack, it may not cost me a thing. 🙂

 

 

What’s the best or worst conference you’ve attended conferences? What made the conference that way? 

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

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover:

LostartStreet3

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. 🙂 )