Beach Reads for the End of Summer — #BookReviews

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

We meant to do this earlier but somehow the summer got away from us. But here are some great reads to keep your appetite for mystery satisfied as the summer winds down.

First up is Shannon Esposito:

The Dry book cover

The Dry by Jane Harper

THE DRY was the perfect summer read. Set in a scorching, dusty small Australian town, this murder mystery starts with a shocking crime that brings Federal Agent Aaron Falk back home. Not only does he have to face the death of his childhood friend, but also the old accusations of another murder that ran him out of town long ago.

Jane Harper skillfully weaves both the past and present together to paint a vivid picture of what happens when small town secrets and lies are unburied.

It’s hard to believe this was a debut mystery. I give it five fingerprints.

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Next up is Vinnie Hansen:

Vinnie with Allen Eskens

Vinnie with Allen Eskens at Left Coast Crime convention, March, 2017. Vinnie is holding Allen’s book.

The Heavens May Fall, the third book from Allen Eskens, didn’t quite knock it out of the park the way the first two did. But I still liked it a lot. Eskens remains my favorite crime writer.

In the book, Detective Max Rupert and Attorney Boady Sanden, characters from Eskens’ first book, The Life We Bury, return. But this time they are pitted against one another in a murder case.

When the body of a wealthy St. Paul woman is found in a parking lot, Max Rupert becomes the lead investigator. Max’s friend, Attorney Boady Sanden, comes out of retirement to defend the prime suspect, the woman’s husband and his former law partner.

The Heavens May Fall becomes part police procedural as Max builds his case, part courtroom drama as Boady constructs a defense, and part literature as both men struggle with their own demons.  4.5 fingerprints

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Now it’s my turn, Kass Lamb:

Bone Box cover

Bone Box by Faye Kellerman

I stumbled on a sale for Bone Box by Faye Kellerman and jumped on it with glee. She is one of my favorite authors.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed. I’m a fairly visual person and I was dismayed by the lack of descriptions in this book. I had to dredge up images of the main characters from previous books in the series. And I pretty much had no idea where the whole book was set nor where people were in most of the scenes.

But Kellerman is a natural storyteller so I got caught up in the mystery fairly quickly, despite this flaw. Detective Peter Decker’s wife, Rina Lazarus is out hiking when she stumbles on a skeleton. Cops and CSI techs descend and uncover a dump site for a serial killer.

And then I hit the next snag. Way too many suspects and red herrings, and except for one or two of them, I didn’t feel that they were all that well developed. By the end I had no clue who was who but I was glad the mystery had been solved, and I did enjoy visiting with “old friends,” i.e. the characters from this long-standing series.

I was more than a little annoyed at her editor, however, for allowing this book to go out in this state. As a writer, I know better. But I also know that we writers are too close to our work to always see the flaws. That’s why we have editors.

I give Faye Kellerman 3 fingerprints. I give her editor 1½ (there were no typos or grammatical errors detected).

Note: We don’t normally include books that are less than 4 fingerprints in our review posts, but I felt the need to let other Kellerman fans know the series has gone downhill. But I noticed that she has a new thriller coming out soon. I plan to check it out.

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And now Kirsten Weiss brings us a delightful novella to wind things up…

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A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

When a vengeful witch turns Chuck into a dog, what’s the egotistical actor to do? Find another witch to turn him back, of course.

Unfortunately, the only witch he can find not only doesn’t know she’s a witch, but she also gets embroiled in a murder mystery. In order to get her focused, Chuck has to help her solve the crime. If he can only get her to listen…

This light and quirky novella is a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy a little paranormal with your mystery. And in its current incarnation, you get a bonus in the ebook — at the back is the full-length version of the first book in Orgain’s Maternal Instincts series. 5 fingerprints!

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And there you have it, folks. Enjoy! And please feel free to share your recent good reads with us!

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 Mystery Writer in Romance Land

by Kassandra Lamb

I went to the Romance Writers of America conference last week. Yes, I know I’m a mystery writer, but I went anyway, for four reasons.

Dolphin Disney Resort Hotel

RWA was at the Dolphin Disney Resort Hotel

One, I’d heard it was a great conference, regardless of your genre. Two, I have started adding more romance to my mysteries (some are true romantic suspense).

Three, it was in Orlando, just 2½ hours from my home so minimal travel expenses. And four, my delightful daughter-in-law, romance writer G.G. Andrew, was going.

I can’t say that I was a complete stranger in a strange land, but I did feel a tiny bit like the dolphins in the pic above, a fish out of water. No fault of RWA or the romance authors I interacted with. They were all great! Very friendly and upbeat.

Which brings me to the subtle differences between mystery and romance writers:

1.  Romance writers may be “bigger than life.”

There were lots of rather wild-looking and/or fun outfits, and more skirts and dresses than I’ve seen since I left corporate America about three careers ago.

Kass Lamb with DIL, romance writer G.G. Andrew

Me with my delightful daughter-in-law. Her dress is made to look like a watermelon wedge!

Not that most of said skirts/dresses would have been considered appropriate office wear. I saw unicorns and rainbows and you-name-it on many of them. My DIL wore a bright red, metallic-shiny skirt one day, quite short (trust me, not her normal attire) which she’d bought online from a Wonder Woman site. (Yay, Wonder Woman!)

Don’t get me wrong, there are just as many introverted romance writers as there are in the general writer population (i.e. far more than 50%), but many of them seem to be able to overcome that with a semi-flamboyant alter ego.

2.  Romance writers totally get that their stories are “fantasy” and their characters are “bigger than life.”

While we mystery writers are trying to come up with plausible explanations for why our main characters trip over a corpse every few months, romance writers have no problem with repeatedly creating alpha males with six-pack abs and a carefully hidden soft, emotional underbelly. They get it that their readers want to escape into a book and they aren’t afraid to admit it.

I found this refreshing, since a big part of the appeal of mysteries for me, during the years that I was a psychotherapist, was that they were as far away from my real life of listening to people’s heartache (all too often related to failed romances) as I could get.

3.  Romance writers embrace their tropes.

We mystery writers admit that there are certain “reader expectations” inherent in mysteries (e.g., the protagonist will be in heart-pounding danger at some point) but we tend to equate tropes with clichés.

Romance writers get it that their readers know all the tropes and expect them to be the basis of the stories they read. There was one workshop (one of the best, in my opinion) that was called “Twisting Tropes to Create High-Concept Stories.”

4.  Romance Writers of America embraces self-publishing.

There were several nominees for awards who were self-published, and some of them won the award.

No one batted an eye when a writer identified themselves as an indie author (as I did). This made me sad in a way, since Mystery Writers of America will not even let self-published authors join their organization. (Get with the times, MWA!)

5.  Romance writers respect all variations of their genre.

There didn’t seem to be any subgenres that were considered second-class citizens. Erotica was respected right along with Christian sweet romance, and everything in between. And they had awards for pretty much every one of those subgenres.

Not that mystery writers are snobs about subgenres, most of the time. But there is a little bit of looking down the nose sometimes at cozy writers. And thrillers seem to get a disproportionate share of the limelight, perhaps because they make better movies than a traditional whodunnit.

another cute dress

Another cute dress! (and her bright orange first-timer ribbon)

I found the romance writers to be very inclusive. No one reacted the least bit negatively when I identified myself as a mystery author who sometimes wrote romantic suspense.

I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg but this attitude seems to be prevalent throughout RWA. The climate of the organization is inclusive and celebratory. Every writer is phenomenal and everyone is welcome at an RWA conference!

They even put a “first timer” ribbon on your badge so that people will be extra nice and helpful to you! The reputation for being a great conference for any writer, despite the genre, is well deserved.

I think this has been said before but I will reiterate:

Every great romance involves some suspense and every great mystery involves some romance.

The bottom line is that romance and suspense are at the heart of the human condition. We fall in love, despite our best intentions sometimes, and why we do that, or any of the other things we do, is often the greatest mystery of all!

Do you all like some romance with your mystery? What’s your favorite romance (or mystery) trope?

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. 🙂 )

Life Lessons from the Pottery Studio (Plus a New Release)

by Gilian Baker

Though I haven’t thrown pottery for many years, it was once my creative passion. And while it’s not the typical hobby you’re likely to find highlighted in a cozy mystery, it was ideal for my protagonist, Jade and mA Time to Kilne.

Why?

Well, because I’d planned the murder in my new book, A Time to Kiln, many moons ago when I spent all my free time in a dusty pottery studio.

Taking a pottery class seemed like a natural pursuit. I loved playing in the mud as a kid growing up on a farm and as an adult, I loved getting my hands dirty while growing organic vegetables. What started out as a chance to have some “me time,” away from the responsibilities of having a small child, soon grew into an obsession. For the next 7 years, I pored over pottery magazines and tested different types of glaze recipes.

I still use many of the items I created back then, as do my family and friends. Even though I’m now too busy writing cozy mysteries to throw pots, I still enjoy the ones I literally created with my bare hands years ago.

Although I had many successes in the studio, there were many failures too. I would study pictures in pottery magazines thinking, “Heck, I can make that.” This was around the time I learned that nothing ever turns out like the picture. The times when a friend or family member requested a certain item was when I experienced the biggest failures. I’d want it to be so perfect. The harder I tried, the worse it got.

I better understand that concept now—the more “work” you make of something, the harder it’s going to be. When I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of creating, I ended up with sometA Time to Kilnhing lovely. When I didn’t, well, I didn’t. During my time as a potter, I learned the best way to do anything was to let go of how the final product turned out and just enjoy the process. Same goes for writing fiction.

Frustrations can easily overshadow the pleasure found in the pottery studio—there are many steps in the process to finish a single piece. The clay must be thrown, dried, trimmed, glazed and fired, and at any point in the process, it can be ruined. But oh, when you create something beautiful, you forget all about the frustrations and can’t wait to do it all over again. Throwing pottery is a great metaphor for life. If you are as malleable as the clay, you can learn patience and mindfulness. If you don’t…you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Sadly, Jade will not have the pleasure of drinking from a mug she threw on a pottery wheel herself, a fact that she bemoans. Before she can become proficient “behind the wheel,” her teacher is murdered.

A Time to KilnA Time to Kiln: A Jade Blackwell Cozy Mystery (Book 2)

Disenchanted with life after solving her first real case, Jade Blackwell, successful blogger and amateur sleuth, throws herself into a new hobby…until murder rears its ugly head.

But when Jade attempts to ferret out the killer of local pottery teacher, Paula Hexby, she comes up short and suspicion begins to descend on her daughter’s former boyfriend. Evidence and bodies are stacking up, as Jade finds herself caught between an untrustworthy client and her beloved community.

Now at a personal and professional crossroads, Jade must once again jump into the breech, along with partner Gabrielle Langdon, to uncover the truth behind this string of horrific murders. Is she really cut out for this life of sleuthing and danger? Has Jade been defending the real murderer all along? Or is there something much more sinister afoot?

Follow Jade in her next adventure in A Time to Kiln, now available on Amazon.

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln.

Be the first to learn about new releases and upcoming deals, plus gain access to exclusive content by signing up at gilianbaker.com

Breakfast: The Best Meal of the Day (plus a New Release)

by Kirsten Weiss

breakfast foodsWaffles. Eggs. Bacon. Coffee cake.

I love breakfast, quite frequently at lunchtime.

So when I was writing At Wits’ End—a cozy mystery set in a UFO-themed Bed and Breakfast—turning it into a culinary mystery featuring breakfasts, was a delicious no-brainer.

When the B&B’s new owner Susan Witsend isn’t indulging in one of the breakfasts she whips up for guests, the California girl does something simpler for herself—Guacamole Breakfast Toast.

First you need guacamole. If you don’t have any at hand, here’s how to make your own:

Ingredients:
1 avocado, peeled and seeded (careful with that knife! Never stab the avocado’s seed while you’re holding it in your hand – you’d be surprised how many accidents happen doing this)

photo from pixabay

2 tsp cilantro, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients with a fork and you’ve got a simple guac.

Next scramble some eggs, spread the guacamole on toast, and top with the eggs and some salsa. Yum!

What’s your favorite breakfast food? And do you like breakfast for lunch (or dinner)?

At Wits’ End is a humorous, non-paranormal spin-off of my Witches of Doyle cozy mystery series, so look for some of the witches to make cameo appearances. The book just released on July 20th.

At Wits’ End, A Doyle Cozy Mystery

When Susan Witsend inherits her grandmother’s UFO-themed B&B, she’s ready to put her organizational skills to the test. She knows she can make the B&B work, even if there is a faux-UFO in the roof. After all, what’s not to love about a Victorian nestled in the high Sierra foothills?

None of her carefully crafted policies and procedures, however, can prepare her for a corpse in room seven – the body of her small-town sheriff’s ex-husband. But Susan has her own plans to solve the crime.

In Susan’s mind, Men in Black, conspiracy-crazed old ladies, and an angry sheriff are just part and parcel of catering to UFO enthusiasts. But is there a government conspiracy afoot? Or is the murder a simple case of small town vengeance? Susan must keep all her wits about her. Because the killer isn’t finished, and if she isn’t careful, her fate may be written in the stars…

Recipes in the back of the book!

Now Available on:   AMAZON

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked for fourteen years in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone.  Her experiences abroad gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. She is the author of the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective urban fantasy/mystery series, the Sensibility Grey steampunk mysteries, the Rocky Bridges mysteries, and the Witches of Doyle cozy mystery series.

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. 🙂 )

Resistance to Commitment (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

As I said in my earlier post about fear of intimacy, we humans naturally crave connection to others. It’s in our DNA, because, as a species, we won’t survive without pooling our efforts.

Fear of intimacy’s kissing cousin is commitment phobia. And this is the obstacle that my protagonist in the Marcia Banks and Buddy series is struggling to overcome in Book #3, The Call of the Woof.

Like many folks with this phobia, she has a bad relationship in her history. Her first marriage was short-lived, never particularly happy, and ended with her ex-husband’s infidelity.

Another cause of commitment resistance can be having witnessed a bad marriage growing up. When all we’ve seen is two people making each other miserable, it’s hard to get behind the concept of a long-term relationship.

Some folks suffer from both of these extreme fears—being close to someone makes them very nervous and the thought of committing sends them into full-blown panic.

painting of jilted bride

Section of Eduard Swoboda’s The Jilted Bride, circa 1902, public domain

But others can do intimacy, just not commitment.

I had a boyfriend when I was twenty who suffered from a severe case of commitment phobia. He did intimacy quite well, but the thought of “being in a relationship” made him antsy. (His parents had a horrible, downright abusive relationship.)

He met me at a party and he pursued me, but the first thing he said once he was sure of my interest was, “Don’t get too attached to me. I’m planning to move to Colorado when my lease is up next year.”

I was in a place in my own life where an intimate but time-limited from the start relationship sounded okay.

But even that wasn’t enough to keep his demons at bay. After about six months, he broke up with me out of the blue, after telling me that he really cared about me but “this just isn’t working.” No other reason given.

After wracking my brain for days trying to figure out what went wrong, I called him. He was willing to get together and talk, and the short hiatus seemed to have calmed him. He readily, even eagerly, agreed to renew our relationship, but again reiterating that he would be gone in a few months.

And he was. When his lease was up, he packed his stuff in his car, kissed me goodbye and went off to Colorado to “find himself.”

I’m kind of proud of the fact that I let him go without a struggle. On some level, I knew that the only reason he could be close to me for that year was because there was no commitment. I got it that trying to build a life with him would have quickly backfired. (I wasn’t always that astute in my youth.)

About a decade later, I ran into his mother. She told me he’d been married just long enough to have a couple of kids and was now divorced. The marriage surprised me a little, the divorce not at all.

I still feel sad every time I think of this man, whom I suspect spent his life seeking intimacy and then rejecting it when it became coupled with commitment.

In Marcia Banks’s case, she is also okay in the intimacy area. It isn’t that hard for her to let Will Haines in initially (it isn’t easy, but she can do it). But from there on, she stumbles over every little step, even finding it difficult to say the L word for many months.

Commitment phobia usually results in one of two types of behavior:

1.  Sabotaging the relationship. As with intimacy fears, this is a common reaction, and it often operates on an unconscious level. This may come out as picking fights or ceasing to be reliable, i.e. not calling or showing up where one is supposed to be.

The best approach to this is gentle confrontation and trying to get one’s partner to talk it out.

But a word about psychological “blind spots”—issues an individual just isn’t yet willing to face consciously. It’s sad, but sometimes these blind spots have tremendous control over the person’s psyche and even love can’t budge them (as in my boyfriend’s case).

2.  Backpedaling, or dragging one’s feet. This is what Marcia does, and poor Will handles it well. He gives her time and figures out ways to take baby steps.

But he presses her some too, because he feels like they’re running out of time—he wants children, which is very much at the root of Marcia’s resistance. (You’ll have to read the story to find out about the creative way he nudges her forward.)

This can often be the best approach, a combination of patience with an occasional reminder that you would like the relationship to move forward.

Fortunately, my fictional character is trying to work on her commitment issues (more or less 😉 ). Check out her story below.

What commitment-phobia behaviors have you witnessed (or exhibited)? Have you ever known anyone like my ex-boyfriend who ONLY had commitment phobia but could do intimacy?

And here is the new book… Available for PREORDER Now! Releases 7/20/17!

Just 99¢ through 7/21/17

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

AMAZON     APPLE     KOBO     NOOK

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. 🙂 )

What Is An “Ex-pert?”

by Kassandra Lamb

I was asked this week to present at a local marketing workshop for authors. It was suggested I could present on either “kickoff” parties or how to get reviews.

Since I’ve never done an in-person “kickoff” party, I quickly ruled out that topic. I was about to dismiss the suggestion regarding reviews as well, since I’m hardly a PR expert, when my fertile mind started constructing a lecture on the subject.

You see, I used to be a teacher. I taught college-level psychology for 17 years.

And one of the things I learned during my tenure in academia is that how much you know about a topic, while important, is not THE most important thing that makes you an “expert” who can educate others on the subject.

Technically, the definition of expertise is “possessing a high level of knowledge and an intuitive understanding of a particular subject.” But here’s MY favorite definition of an expert:

“Ex” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure. Therefore, “ex-pert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

So what is the most important thing that makes one an expert worthy of presenting your knowledge to others? IMHO, it’s whether or not you can convey what you know on the topic in a clear way.

book cover

Part of Marcy’s incredibly good Busy Writer’s Guide series.

My editor, Marcy Kennedy is, in my opinion, the best editor in the world. Does she know everything there is to know about plot arcs and grammatical constructions?

I don’t know (probably not).

But what I do know is that she is superb at EXPLAINING why something doesn’t work and what I need to do to make it work. And she gives excellent examples. She knows how to convey what she knows to others, and that, for me, makes her an expert.

Academia is full of teachers who can’t teach. They are “experts” in their fields, and that’s wonderful from a research perspective, because often those “experts” are good, sometimes brilliant, researchers.

But why are they expected to teach our youth?

This is a serious flaw in our higher level education system. Those who are “teaching” in our colleges and graduate schools are all too often mediocre to horrible teachers.

When I interviewed for my first college-level teaching job, I asked the person who would become my department chair if getting a second masters degree in secondary education (I already had one in my field) would help me advance.

He laughed (an ironic laughter; he got the issue here). “This is academia. Nobody cares if you can teach.”

me presenting

The last time I presented to this group, I actually DID know what I was talking about…lol (How to Incorporate Social Issues in Your Fiction presentation, April, 2017)

I taught for that university for 9 years. It was the best job I ever had, because that institution did care about teaching. But sadly, they are the exception to the rule among universities.

So I made a first draft of a list of “do’s and don’t’s” for getting reviews for one’s books… And lo and behold, I think I do know enough about the subject to do this presentation for my local authors’ group.

Does that make me an “expert?”

I’m not sure, but I agreed to present at the workshop. Because what I do know is that I know how to teach.

What’s your area of expertise? Are you an “expert” at presenting the information to others?

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. 🙂 )

Oh Say, Can You See?

by Kassandra Lamb

As I searched my brain for a topic for this year’s Independence Day post, I realized that I’ve never talked about something of which every native of my home state is quite proud.

Maryland is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner.

My guess is most U.S. schoolchildren learn that our national anthem was penned by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. But in Maryland, we got the whole story.

Ft. McHenry Bombardment, 1814

The remnants of the Ft. McHenry flag

Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer, had gone aboard a British truce ship to negotiate the release of a prisoner of war, when the Battle of Baltimore commenced. He was forced to stay on the enemy’s ship and watch as the British bombarded Fort McHenry just outside the Baltimore harbor for a full day and night.

Key was also an amateur poet, and he was so moved by the sight of the U.S. flag still flying over the fort the next morning that he wrote a poem about it, titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” This was later set to music and became our national anthem.

Ft. McHenry

Maryland schoolchildren still take field trips there.

Like most people who take their local sights for granted, I hadn’t visited Fort McHenry but once as a young child, tagging along with my mother who was chaperoning my older brother’s class field trip.

Finally in my thirties, an out-of-town guest asked to see the sights in Baltimore City, and we ended up at the fort.

What struck me was how small it was. My early memories of that field trip were quite vague, and I’d always visualized Ft. McHenry as a huge complex, similar to modern Army forts.

The entire fort is only a little over 43 acres. It was defended in 1814 by just a thousand troops.

Today, the Baltimore fireworks are set off in the Inner Harbor, recreating the image that Francis Scott Key saw from that British ship — the “rockets’ red glare” lighting up the stars and stripes flying over Fort McHenry.

Below is the video from the 2014 two-hundred-year anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!

What national treasures do you have in your neck of the woods?

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. 🙂 )

Come Here, Go Away! (Thoughts on Intimacy & Fear)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m in the throes of final editing of the next Marcia Banks and Buddy book, and a subplot running through the whole series is Marcia’s struggle to trust her heart to love again after a disastrous marriage.

That struggle got me thinking about the two biggest obstacles to romantic partners initially getting together—intimacy phobia and commitment phobia (there are lots of other challenges re: staying together). People often assume these two fears are the same thing, but there are subtle and important differences. Today I’ll talk about the first one, which I think of as the come-here, go-away syndrome.

Human beings naturally crave connection with others. It’s part of our makeup. Survival of the species depends on pooling our efforts to benefit the group and to raise our young.

monkey and cat hugging

Everybody craves closeness, but too close can be scary. (photo by SalimVirji, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

So we crave connection, but those of us who have been hurt before by someone close to us (Show of hands? *everyone raises their hands*) also tend to carry some scar tissue around our hearts.

If we rate the thickness of that scar tissue on a scale from 1 to 10, a few people, with 9 to 10-level scar tissue, will manage to squash the urge to connect completely and they will avoid relationships.

For many of the rest of us, the scar tissue falls in the 1 to 4 range—mild to moderate thickness that we can work our way past when someone comes along who seems trustworthy and truly interested in us (friend or lover).

But those in the 5-8 range are most likely to engage in come-here, go-away behavior. They crave connection and allow a relationship to get started—maybe even actively pursue a potential partner or friend—but then the fears set in and the dance begins. They just can’t handle letting someone get too close.

There are several ways the fear of intimacy will be manifested.

  1.  The walls go up.
  2.  The person sabotages the relationship.
  3.  The person starts trying to control his/her partner.
  4.  The person starts denigrating his/her partner.

The walls – Somehow you get the gut sense that your partner is holding back. There is a part of them they keep hidden. You may be picking up on little hesitations in personal conversations, as if they are weighing how much to say. Or they may change the subject when things start getting too intimate.

(Note: by intimacy, I don’t mean sex; I mean emotional closeness, which results from disclosing your thoughts and feelings to your partner.)

Also they may pull away after a surge of intimacy. You bare your souls to each other on a date and you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about that, but then your partner cancels the next two dates.

The worst thing you can do is to try to beat down the walls by sheer force (trust me, I’ve tried). Insisting that your partner let you in will likely get the opposite response.

The best approach is patience and being as open and trustworthy as you can be. People with walls tend to assume that others also have them. If they sense that you don’t (or you at least have doors in your wall), then they may feel more comfortable reciprocating and letting you in farther.

Also, if they are telling you they need things to slow down, hear that. Acknowledge that it’s scary to let someone in and that you’re afraid too.

My husband and I had a whirlwind courtship that felt pretty much out of our control. Somewhere around the second month we started this little routine. We would look at each other and then one of us would start it.

  • “Who the heck is driving this runaway stagecoach anyway?”
  • “I thought you were.”
  • “No, I thought you were.”
  • “Aw crap, guess we’d better hold hands and hang on tight then.”

I don’t remember anymore who thought of that little exchange first, but it got us through those early, scary times.

But there are no guarantees when it comes to walls. The person’s wall may be so thick, even they don’t know how to dismantle it.

Sabotage – This can take many forms. It may be picking fights, becoming unreliable, or even being unfaithful.

The important thing here is to recognize the underlying fear. If the couple keeps fighting over the sabotaging behavior itself instead of addressing why one or both of you feel the need to sabotage, the relationship probably will come to an end.

The best way to address this is directly but gently. “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing ______ a lot lately. Is that because you’re uncomfortable with how close we’ve become?”

Keep in mind the old adage about leading a horse to water. The other person may or may not admit to you or themselves that the sabotage is coming from a fear of intimacy.

Again, trying to force the issue is likely to backfire. Let it go for now and see what seeds you may have planted. Then address it again the next time they sabotage. (This is assuming you can tolerate the sabotaging behavior.)

Controlling – Trying to control you may be another form of sabotage, but there’s another layer here too. If your partner can control you, then they feel more secure that you won’t leave them.

cartoon of couple arguing

“Why are you arguing?” the mother-in-law says. “You are newlyweds.”
“We don’t need to argue if she would just agree with me,” the husband says. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Also, some people are controlling by nature. This too comes from fear, but more from a fear of being out of control and helpless. Try to step back and ask yourself if your partner is trying to control YOU or the environment in general.

If it’s the latter, you’re not likely to get them to change readily, so then you need to ask yourself how willing you are to deal with their controlling behavior.

If it’s truly you they are trying to control, then again gentle confrontation is in order, but this time couple it with reassurances. “First, let me assure you that I’m not going anywhere. I care about you. But I feel lately like you keep trying to control me and I don’t like that. Is that just because you’re afraid I might leave?”

Denigration – This one is perhaps the hardest to deal with. Your partner starts putting you down, criticizing what you wear, how you talk, etc. This is often another form of control.

It can come from two possible motives. One is “if I tear you down, you won’t feel confident enough to leave me.” This is a sign of an abuser and you probably need to get away from this behavior and this person sooner instead of later.

The other can be a byproduct of their own poor self-esteem. I actually had a boyfriend tell me one time, “I know I’m a little pile of [crap] so I figure if you love me, then you must be a little pile of [crap] too.”

I kicked his pile of crap out the door.

But if you don’t want to do that, you can try confronting the behavior. Point out what they are doing and how it makes you feel, then go a step farther and ask them how they would feel if you said those things to them. If you can get some empathy going, you might just get them to change this behavior.

It can also help to point out that if they are doing this to tear you down so you won’t leave them, the behavior is about to backfire. It is driving you away.

Never, ever stay with someone who continues to put you down. You will not please them (because they don’t want to be pleased) and your self-esteem will be harmed, and it could be the first step to more serious abuse.

I’m sure there are other, more creative ways that people sometimes deal with their fear of intimacy, but these are the ones I saw most often during my 20 years as a therapist.

What about you? How thick is the scar tissue around your heart? Have you seen other ways that people exhibit intimacy phobia?

And here is the wonderful cover for my new book! I think my cover designer, Melinda VanLone outdid herself on this one.

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

I hope to have the book available for Preorder by July 10th. Release day is July 20th.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and 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. 🙂 )

Think About What You’re Doing! (Part 3: Critical Thinking and Action)

by Kassandra Lamb

We have an interim pastor at my church. The previous pastor left a few months ago and this gentleman is filling in while we search for a new permanent pastor. This interim pastor has made several small changes in the order of worship. I’m sure they seem important to him, but honestly I don’t get how having the ushers bring the alms basins all the way to the altar (instead of being met at the steps by an acolyte) really makes any significant difference in the state of the world.

inside of churchWhen someone steps into a new position of authority it is human nature to want to change things, whether those changes are truly needed or not. This may be due simply to discomfort because things are not being done the way the new leader is used to (I suspect this is the case with our new interim pastor). Or it can be about leaving his/her mark on new territory, to feel important or to assert one’s authority.

So they make changes, which may range from little tweaks to drastically reversing the previous leader’s procedures and policies. The consequences of these changes may not be thoroughly assessed, and sometimes, maybe even often, there wasn’t really anything all that wrong with the original way of doing things.

Which brings us to another reality of human nature. People don’t like change, especially if they didn’t initiate it.

As far as I can tell, the only thing these small changes in the church service have accomplished is confusion on the part of the ushers (of which I am one) and a mild sense of unease in the congregation every time something happens in a slightly different way than they are used to.

This chap is a nice guy, an intelligent and kind man of the cloth who means well. But he is temporary. And yet he couldn’t resist changing things to the way he is most comfortable with, even though it’s making everyone else vaguely uncomfortable.

This is what can happen when one fails to apply critical thinking to one’s actions.

(See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of the natural biases in thinking that make critical thinking difficult and Part 2 for how to evaluate information critically.)

Yoda meme: Broken Is Not, Not Fix It, You Must

meme created on imgflip.com

So how do we apply critical thinking to our actions…

Step 1: Evaluate the situation. Is there really a problem that needs action?

Or are we making changes for the sake of change, or to thwart those whom we see as opponents.

Step 2: Look for actions that might solve the problem (if there is indeed a problem) and then evaluate if those actions will truly make things better.

In 1920, many Americans deemed the excessive consumption of alcohol to be a serious problem in our country. The U.S. Congress voted for and the majority of state legislatures ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.

But this action did not solve the problem. Only casual drinkers gave up alcohol because of this law. Within a few years, alcohol consumption was back up to 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels as bootlegging and speakeasies became common.

membership card for a speakeasy

A membership card for the Stork Club speakeasy in New York (U.S. public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

When assessing the virtues of a potential action, we need to make sure it’s really a true solution to the problem. And that it doesn’t cause other problems.

Which brings us to…

Step 3: Apply critical thinking to evaluate what other consequences might result from the actions taken to solve a problem.

Prohibition not only didn’t solve the problem but it caused several others. Taxes went up as the costs for law enforcement and prisons rose dramatically. Illegal distribution of alcohol became a boon for organized crime. And thousands of people became ill or died from tainted “bathtub gin.”

In 1933, the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the Constitution ended the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.

Bottom line: it’s important to think (critically) before we act!

Your thoughts? Have you been in a situation where someone changed things for the sake of change and it backfired?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and 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. 🙂 )

Resolving Conflict Effectively (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m up to my eyeballs in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post from two years ago that seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor and conflict in our society these days, it would behoove us to learn how to dig beneath the surface to find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can do that effectively…

I first learned of this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a boyfriend like that once upon a time).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with conflict?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and 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. 🙂 )