Monthly Archives: October 2013

Damn Yankee Gone South (and a new release)

I’m really looking forward to reading Stacy Green’s new installment in her Delta Crossroads mysteries, Skeleton’s Key. Not only is Stacy a great author who can write a thrilling mystery, but this book has another, more personal appeal for me.

You see I’m a Northerner who’s moved to the South, and I discovered when I did so that I needed to let go of quite a few stereotypes of Southerners. And I’m sure my exuberant personality and grinning face challenged some of their ‘cold, unfriendly Northerners’ stereotypes as well.

The two main characters in Skeleton’s Key, one a Southerner and one a Yankee, are apparently also challenged by said stereotypes as they butt heads on a regular basis. This theme in the story, along with Stacy’s brilliant ability to keep one on the edge of one’s seat, should make for a great read.

And this has got me thinking that I should do some research and write a more extensive blog post about today’s Northerners and Southerners, how they’re different and how they’re the same. Hmm. *scratches chin* …stay tuned for that, folks!

In the meantime, here’s Stacy to tell you a bit more about this book and share a snippet of a very exciting scene!

photo of Stacy Green, auithor

Welcome to the release of SKELETON’S KEY, the second book in the Delta Crossroads Series. Set in fictional Roselea, Mississippi, the book follows Cage Foster, a popular character from TIN GOD (Delta Crossroads #1) and Yankee newcomer Dani Evans as they investigate a grisly double homicide.

But this isn’t your standard double murder. Cage is the caretaker of Ironwood Plantation, a historic antebellum in desperate need of tender love and care. Dani is the restoration expert from Indiana who purchased the house and plans to restore it along with her own life. Cage and Dani are the north and south, immediately at odds and yet intensely drawn to one another, and their relationship is the backbone of the book.

Back to the murder. See, the bodies are found buried in Ironwood’s cellar. The crime scene is somewhere inside the house–you’ll have to read to find out the location–and Cage is the prime suspect.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is Dani’s first night, when she discovers the bodies. I love writing suspense, because it’s so challenging. I want the reader to be on the edge of their seat, hooked into the story so that even though they may be afraid to find out what’s on the next page, they are compelled to read on.

I’m excited to share that scene with you today. SKELETON’S KEY is available in print and all digital formats.

Somewhere on the edge of deep sleep, a spatter of noise pulled Dani back to consciousness. She groaned and closed her eyes again. Likely the house settling.

She rolled over and started to drift off again when the noise came again, louder. She sat up and looked around, listening.

The house is locked. You have lights on.

You’re a woman staying alone in a house with no landline. Someone could be creeping.

You have your cell phone. Cage is two hundred feet away.

A hollow thumping drifted from somewhere near the kitchen. Gooseflesh erupted over Dani’s arms, and then she laughed. She’d encountered her fair share of squatting animals in her career, including a particularly vicious raccoon that had left her with a scar and a rabies scare.

“Critters hanging out in the basement of an old house,” she spoke into the quiet. “Biggest cause of haunted houses.”

As if in answer, a low grumbling filled her ears. Then, a sharp hiss and what sounded like an angry growl.

Damn. Whatever was living in the basement made a lot of noise when it scavenged for food.

“The bones.” Her bare feet smacked the wood floor as she jumped up. She slipped into her sandals and then rummaged through the black bag containing her work essentials. Naturally, her big flashlight was on the bottom.

The light cast a bright glow through the parlor just as another angry yowl came from the basement. Fear nipped at Dani. What would she have to fight off down there?

She glanced out the window, half-hoping to see the lights in the carriage house still on, but it was dark. She hated to wake Cage. And she didn’t want him thinking she was just another spoiled city woman who couldn’t handle a simple animal issue.

That settled it.

She padded into the kitchen, flicking on lights as she went. Cage kept cleaning supplies in the bare nook where a table should be, and Dani grabbed the dusty broom. A little heavy and harder to manage with the light, but she’d figure it out.

She tucked the flashlight under her left arm and then reached for the door, the shop broom gripped tightly in her right hand. Sweat beaded across her scalp making it itch. Another menacing growl from the basement, long and drawn out as though the animal knew she was ready to attack. Ignoring the urge to drop everything and run for Cage, she listened hard.

It sounded like the creature was probably along the side of the basement, deeper below the house, and not on the steps waiting to ambush.

Good.

Deep breath, broom ready, bladder weak, she yanked open the door.

Skeleton's Key cover

Kass here again: Isn’t that a great scene?

Skeleton’s Key is now available on AMAZONNOOK,  and in paperback.

About the author
Born in Indiana and raised in Iowa, Stacy Green earned degrees in journalism and sociology from Drake University. After a successful advertising career, Stacy became a proud stay-at-home mom to her miracle child. Now a full-time author, Stacy juggles her time between her demanding characters and supportive family. She loves reading, cooking, and the occasional gardening excursion. Stacy lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband Rob, their daughter Grace, and the family’s three obnoxious but lovable canine children.

To check out more about Stacy and her books, visit her at her website, on her
Amazon Author Page, on Facebook or on Twitter @StacyGreen26.

Go check out the book, then come back and share your thoughts on the North and South and stereotypes. I love hearing from you!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. 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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Why Is Being Scared Out of Our Wits Fun??

Halloween will be here very soon–that time of the year when we celebrate all things creepy and scary. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why we humans enjoy being scared out of our wits?

spooky jack-o-lanternAs a psychologist, I had my theories about this, but since it’s not my specific area of expertise, I did some research as well.

As I suspected, it all revolves around the part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. This system has two branches: one that controls arousal and one that controls relaxation. I’ve discussed this aspect of our nervous system before, as it relates to stress.

But there are a couple other things we need to know about it before we can answer the question: why is being scared out of our wits fun?

1.  The arousal side is triggered not just by things that are threatening, that scare and/or anger us, but also by things that are exciting in a positive sense. Our hearts race and we get a little shot of adrenaline when we think about that big party we’re going to this weekend, and on the day of the party, even more so.

two chincillas in party hats

Let the party begin! (photo by Melissa Wolff, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia)

2.  We humans need varying degrees of arousal throughout the day. We need calm times when we can rest and recuperate, but without some degree of arousal at other times, life would be totally boring and we would eventually slip into depression.

Research says that we naturally seek our own optimal level of arousal (which varies from individual to individual). When our arousal level is too low, we feel bored and seek more stimulation. When it is too high, we feel a bit overwhelmed and seek less stimulation.

Now with that basic info, let us look at why being scared is fun:

No harm, no foul:  When we are scared by something we know is not real (like a horror movie) we experience the adrenaline rush from the fear as enjoyable. But the key is that we have to know there is no risk of harm.

For example, hubs and I watched an episode of Criminal Minds the other night in which a killer is stalking college women. He breaks into a house while one of his victims is babysitting and kills her. This was ‘fun’ stimulation for us sixty-somethings who know that the risk of some crazed killer breaking into our house is minimal. But a young woman who is babysitting, alone in a house at night (cue spooky music), she might not want to be watching this show!

Clinical psychologist, David Rudd, told the online science magazine, livescience, that people “…may well scream but quickly follow it with a laugh since they readily recognize there’s no chance for real harm.”

Novelty:  We humans are wired to attend to novel things. Paying attention to something that is different in one’s environment was a survival necessity in more primitive times because that change in the surroundings (like the jungle suddenly going quiet) might mean there is a threat nearby.

Environmental psychologist, Frank McAndrew, explained it this way in the livescience article: “We’re motivated to seek out this kind of [novel] stimulation to explore new possibilities, to find new sources of food, better places to live and good allies. People enjoy deviations from the norm—a change of pace, within limits.”

Another well known psychology website, PsychCentral, agrees with these two reasons but adds a couple more:

Lingering arousal:  The high level of arousal from the fear leaves a lingering state of arousal that heightens other emotions. So if you are having a fun evening out with friends or home with your mate, the arousal from the horror movie, haunted house, etc. will increase your feelings of enjoyment of other aspects of the evening as well (Okay, I know where some of your minds went re: the home with your mate scenario. LOL).

Sensitivity to arousal:  Each individual’s nervous system is wired in its own unique way. Some people are more easily aroused than the average person, and others are not all that easily aroused. Those who are less easily aroused are likely to seek more intense stimulation, in order to achieve their optimal level of arousal.

Night of the Living Dead movie posterOur mp author, Catie Rhodes, loves horror!! On the other hand, if I were offered the choice between watching a horror movie or having a root canal, I would probably opt for the root canal. At least then I would be given Novocain to dull the pain!

In a WebMD article on the subject, Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, combines this variation-in-arousal aspect with the novelty-seeking component. “Through movies, we’re able to see horror in front of our eyes, and some people are extremely fascinated by it. They’re interested in the unusual and the bizarre because they don’t understand it and it’s so different from our everyday lives.”

(I’m curious to hear how Catie feels about this theory, especially since she is particularly fascinated by ghosts! 😉 )

The challenge:  Dr. Farley has studied people who have what he has dubbed a “type T” (thrill-seeking) personality. They thrive on the kinds of experiences–bungee jumping, for instance–that most of us would consider terrifying. They’re not just in it for the adrenaline rush, however; they also crave the feelings of accomplishment that they have overcome these scary challenges.

Now to all these theories, I’ll add my own:

The rebound effect: The autonomic nervous system operates like a teeter-totter. What goes up must come down. To whatever degree we are aroused, we will experience an equal level of relief and sense of relaxation after that arousal fades.

We scream, and then we laugh… and then feel relaxed afterwards, oddly enough. Playwrights understood this as far back as Ancient Greece. Get the audience to experience intense emotions and they will be pleasantly drained at the end of the play. They dubbed it catharsis.

I hope you’ve found these explanations interesting and not so demystifying that they’ve taken the fun out of being scared – especially since I have a new release out, my own little mystery/ghost story.

Catie critiqued it and said it was “quite creepy.” Please check it out.

And then talk to us about why you enjoy having the @#*& scared out of you. What’s your favorite kind of Halloween spookiness?

book cover of Echoes, A Story of SuspenseECHOES, A Story of Suspense

James Fitzgerald is looking forward to a weekend getaway with friends at the country house that once belonged to his parents. Instead he walks in on a bloodbath. And a cryptic message on a shower curtain points to him as the killer.

The small town sheriff is smarter than he looks. He knows he doesn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest… yet.

Virtually under house arrest, James tries to distract himself from his grief and worry by investigating his parents’ backgrounds. Maybe he can find an explanation for the strange fainting spells he’s been having. He finds out more than he bargained for, however, and starts to wonder if sometimes it’s better to let sleeping ghosts lie.

Available at:   AMAZON     BARNES & NOBLE     KOBO     iTUNES

P.S. We’re having a BIG HALLOWEEN PARTY over on Facebook this Friday (4-7 eastern time… or longer if the virtual cocktails hold out 🙂 ) You all are invited so come on over and join up so you get notification on Friday when the fun begins!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington 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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Belle Grove Lives Again…Sort Of

a portion of Bell Gorve plantation house

Belle Grove Plantation (circa 1936; public domain)

There’s Something About Old Houses

I live in a newly developed area. The subdivisions are filled with thousands of homes based on maybe five exterior styles and maybe ten floor plans.  When I first moved down here, I drove up to the wrong house fairly regularly. They all looked exactly the same (and still do).

I’ve always loved old houses, but living here has given me a new appreciation for them. Old houses have character and presence newer homes just don’t have. One old house might have original stained glass windows. The next might have hand carved molding or unique tile work in the kitchen or bathroom.

Yes, the newer homes are more energy efficient and have fewer (expensive) age-related issues. But I still like old homes better. The uniqueness and the attention to detail simply can’t be matched. This might sound weird, but I sometimes think I can feel the history of a place speaking to me.

My Fascination with Belle Grove

The grandest of old homes are, of course, the plantation homes sprinkled throughout the South. I’ve toured quite a few in Louisiana. The juxtaposition of the plantation homes’ beauty and the horror of their role in history is both fascinating and repellant.

(Those who know me know I have a lurid interest in repellant things.)

One of the grandest plantation homes ever to exist was Belle Grove. Built in Iberville Parish, Louisiana between 1852-1857 for the cost of $80,000, it is said to be the largest mansion ever built in the South. Its seventy-five rooms were spread out over four floors.

front of Belle Grove

Even neglected and falling down, she’s impressive!

Belle Grove was abandoned in 1925 and burned in a mysterious fire in 1952. In its place now sits a neighborhood of modest homes, much like the one I currently live in (and sometimes mistake for other houses on other streets).

Belle Grove

( all pictures circa 1936, public domain)

Belle_Grove_Plantation_06 pub domain

 To learn more about the Belle Grove, check out its website or Facebook page. Click here to watch a really neat You Tube video featuring pictures of Belle Grove Plantation set to music.

The Connection to Black Opal

I first encountered Belle Grove in a book called Ghosts Along The MississippiLooking at the pictures awakened my imagination. That this beautiful place no longer existed made me sort of sad.

So, when I hired Kimberlee Ketterman Edgar to paint the cover of Black Opal, I asked her to include a plantation house based on Belle Grove. Here’s the cover art Kimberlee created:

 

BlackOpal_Ebook for BN
My series heroine, Peri Jean Mace, ends up stuck at the huge house on the cover after charging off to confront her boyfriend because she thinks he’s cheating on her. She ends up getting into more trouble than she ever imagined possible and discovering secrets she never wanted to know. But that’s the norm for Peri Jean.

Download it today at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

Interested in trying out my Peri Jean Mace stories but aren’t quite ready to purchase anything? Well, today is your lucky day.

Subscribers to my newsletter can read a brand new, exclusive 14-page Peri Jean Mace short story titled “Peckerwood Bocephus.” This story takes place twelve years before the events in Forever Road and is the story of how Peri Jean got the tattoo on her arm.

Click here to sign up.

After you sign up, look for instructions on downloading “Peckerwood Bocephus” in the Final Welcome Email.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Are there any fellow admirers of old houses out there? Which ones have you visited and which one was your favorite?

Posted by Catie Rhodes. Catie is the gal your mama warned you about, the one who cusses a lot and never washes her hands after petting the dog. She’s the author of Forever Road and Black Opal, of the Peri Jean Mace paranormal mystery series. Peri Jean sees ghosts, a talent she often wishes she did NOT possess.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 2

Hi!  K.B. Owen here again, with the rest of the story behind The Maltese Falcon.  If you missed Part 1, click here.  Thanks for joining me today!

Samuel Dashiell Hammett:  1894-1961

Hammett’s life was more important to his work than is usual with an author.  Hammett was the first detective (a Pinkerton) to write detective novels, and is considered one of the best practitioners of the hard-boiled detective genre.  His life was varied and controversial.  He was friends with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and West, and was Lillian Hellman’s lover.

image of Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett

His middle name came from the French side of his mother’s family the “DeChiells,” who had been famous in France for their bravery in battle, but his upbringing was humble.  Hammett was born on a run-down farm in Maryland to a struggling Irish middle-class family.

He loved to read anything and everything, and would do so late into the night.  However, he had to quit school at 15 to help support the family when his father became ill.  He hated his jobs, which were mostly in the railroad and industrial fields, and never held one for any length of time.

He became a Pinkerton operative when he was 21, and liked it.  The Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was the largest private law enforcement agency in the U.S., founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, a former Chicago policeman.  He invented the trademark of his business – the unblinking eye – and its motto, “We never sleep,” which led to the shortened tag of “private eye.”

The Pinkertons filled a gap between the federal government’s small Secret Service and the local police forces.  As the nation grew more complex, the gaps grew:  the Pinkertons were called upon to prevent assassinations and to solve difficult cases, especially those crossing several local jurisdictions.   These are the kind of tasks the FBI performs today, but the FBI (founded1908) of the ‘20s didn’t really get going in terms of its mission, organization, and jurisdictional authority, until it was re-organized under J. Edgar Hoover in 1934.

Pinkerton logoThe Pinkertons were also hired by big businesses to break up the formation of unions – with varying degrees of success, as those of you familiar with the Homestead Strike of 1892 know. The Pinkertons were highly disciplined.  They were on 24-hr call, were required to keep meticulous reports, and had to be able to successfully watch a house for days at a time without being detected.  Their work took them all over the country:  Hammett went to Idaho, Utah, Montana, and San Francisco for assignments.

Hammett joined the Army during WWI, but became disabled with tuberculosis and was discharged.  For the rest of his life, he would be plagued with respiratory problems.  He also smoked and drank a lot, which of course didn’t help.  He worked off and on as a Pinkerton for a number of years.

During one of his rehabilitations at a hospital, he started dating one of the nurses and got her pregnant. He married her, moved to San Francisco, and eventually they had two children, but then later divorced.

After another stint as a Pinkerton in San Francisco, Hammett got sick again, and they couldn’t get by on his disability pension.

At this point he was too ill to do the physically demanding detective work, so he began writing detective stories, and then novels.  The Maltese Falcon was his most successful, and the one for which he’s best known.  His Pinkerton experiences gave him a unique inside view of his detective creation.  Hammett, in one edition of the novel, describes Spade as his ideal of the hard-boiled detective:

He is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and what quite a few of them in their cockier moments thought they approached.  For your private detective does not want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent bystander or client.

Hammett also wrote the Nick and Nora Charles detective series for the screen: The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936).

Even with all the money he was making at the time, he couldn’t hang onto it. His drinking problem became serious and he was hospitalized at age 42.

Hammett also became involved in Communist party activities, and was named chairman of the Committee on Election Rights, a group allied with the Communist Party.

Somehow, he managed to join the Army again in 1942 (at age 48, with TB!).  The Army was aware of his communist affiliations and kept a close eye on him.

He was sent to jail in 1951 for refusing to testify about the Civil Rights Congress bail fund (which had helped put up bail for people arrested for Communist activities, who then turned right around and jumped bail). Hammett was also interrogated by the McCarthy Committee in 1953.

He died of lung cancer in 1961.  As a veteran of two wars, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Publication and response to The Maltese Falcon:

The story was first serialized in Black Mask Magazine the year before it was published as a novel in 1930.

The third film version of The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (directed by John Huston, with the fabulous cast of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) became the definitive version of the novel.

Bogart and Astor--confrontation scene

Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenstreet and Lorre

Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway praised Hammett’s story.  When Gertrude Stein came back to the U.S., Hammett was the writer she wanted to meet.  Eleanor Roosevelt loved the book, and wouldn’t let it be pulled from the shelves when the anti-communist movement blackballed Hammett.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about The Maltese Falcon, and it was written by fellow hard-boiled mystery writer Raymond Chandler:

[Hammett] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get as far as possible from Emily Post’s idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken-wing.

Have you read The Maltese Falcon?  Do you enjoy the hard-boiled detective genre?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells 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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)