Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Things We Take For Granted…

by Kassandra Lamb, on behalf of the whole misterio press gang

All of us here at misterio have lived a few decades (we’re not sayin’ how many) and we’ve had our share of trials and tribulations, some of which have found their way into our stories.

But today we wanted to focus on the good stuff in life. And when we stopped to think about what we were most grateful for, we discovered that it was all too easy to take those things for granted.

So starting off on that theme is Kirsten Weiss.

getting a glass of water at the sink

(Photo by CSIRO, CC-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I’m grateful for my family and friends, of course. But everyone says that, so I’ll go deeper.

For my “day job” I travel to developing countries. Every time I do, I’m struck by two things. First, how easy and bountiful my life is – electricity, clean water (and good pressure), food, a nice home, phones that work, a health care system that keeps my family well…

Next, I’m struck by how quickly I forget how fortunate I am once I return home. This western luxury seems so normal, but for most of the world’s population, it’s remarkable.

And from Vinnie Hansen (also very much the world traveler):

Every night, before bed, my husband and I each say three things from the day for which we are thankful.  The difficult part of this blog was to limit my blessings to three:

1. My husband – Because Prague is more fun with a partner . . .

IMG_2736as is Caracas, Quito, Jacó, Barcelona, Havana, Vancouver, Paris, Zihuatanejo. . . .

2.  Good health – In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald creates a theme of the divide between rich and poor, and even the old rich vs. the nouveau riche. But his narrator Nick has the profound realization, “. . . there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” I don’t take this blessing for granted. I walk every day, bike, and practice yoga–all exercises that travel well. This pic is from Sayulita, Mexico with the yoga palapa overlooking the Pacific. 🙂

3. Creative pursuits – These feed my soul. In addition to writing, I enjoy playing keyboard with two ukulele groups.

And on the subject of health, from Shannon Esposito:

1.  Being alive. I don’t say this flippantly, as I’ve had a scary year health-wise.

2.  The internet, because it’s allowed me to find my writing tribe.
CDC_pomegranate pub domain
3.  Pomegranates

(I have no idea how that one made it onto her top three list; you’ll have to ask her about that in the comments)

And mine:

1.  I’ll start with health as well. I’ve had a healthy year, but not all my friends have. Shannon’s health scare, along with watching an older friend’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease, have reminded me just how precious and fragile one’s health is.

hand of a statue holding a pen

Hand holding pen on the statue of Isaiah at Piazza Spagna, Rome (by gnuckx, CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

2.  The gift of my talents, both in writing and psychology. We tend to take that which comes easily to us for granted, forgetting that not everyone shares those particular skills.

3.  All the wonderful people in my life. We hear about and read about the bad guys so much, both in real life and in fiction. But most of the world is populated by good folks–honest and caring. I’m blessed to know quite a few of them, including the ladies here at misterio press.

And finally our resident historian, Kathy Owen, couldn’t help herself. She just had to tell us about the origins of Thanksgiving Day as an official national holiday:

engraving of McKinleyPresident McKinley signed into law the national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1897. For me, this part of his accompanying speech aptly expresses the spirit of the holiday:

“On this day of rejoicing and domestic reunion, let our prayers ascend to the Giver of every good and perfect gift for the continuance of his love and favor to us, that our hearts may be filled with charity and goodwill, and that we may be ever worthy of his beneficent concern.”

The three specific things for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving aren’t particularly unusual. I’m sure we all value them: health, family, and humor.

For me, humor is especially important. Whenever the first two have their less-than-ideal times, it’s indispensable!

How about you? What do you tend to take for granted? What are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving?

cute Thanksgiving postcard, circa 1913

postcard circa 1913 (from painting by Frances Brundage, now in public domain)

Best wishes to everyone for a happy Thanksgiving!

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. 🙂 )

More Gallivanting… Come visit the FBI of the past with me

by Kassandra Lamb

Today I’m at K.B. Owen’s cyber-home talking about the history of the FBI. Please come over and check it out. And don’t forget to enter my contest HERE.

Criminal Minds and the History of the FBI

136px-US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgCriminal Minds is a favorite TV show in our household. My husband likes it because the interaction of the characters reminds him of the teamwork he experienced during his working years at another government agency. I like the psychology involved (for the most part; sometimes they get something wrong).

About a year ago I was telling hubs about a new book idea–a therapist is kidnapped from her office by a serial killer. He said, “You should get the BAU involved.”

Of course! Because in real life they would be involved in such a case. How cool would that be to write a book about my favorite FBI agents in the Behavioral Analysis Unit? So I set out to do some research, and discovered some very interesting stuff. (And I also wrote the book! See below.)

First, there are some things in the show that aren’t really true about the FBI… Read More.
book cover

Fatal Forty-Eight, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

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Cruisin’ the Blogosphere (and a Contest)

by Kassandra Lamb

book cover

I’m gallivanting around cyberspace over the next couple weeks on a blog tour for my new thriller, Fatal Forty-Eight. And I’ve got a contest going through the 8th of December! (see below)

Here’s the remainder of the schedule:

Tuesday, Dec. 2Marcy Kennedy’s placeSometimes Truth is Weirder than Fantasy

Thursday, Dec. 4Jennifer Jensen’s blogThe Story Behind the Story

Saturday, Dec. 6 –Sue Pilski’s Between the Pages & Beyond — an Author Q & A

(I’m postponing the post on Are Psychopaths Born or Made? until after the holidays)

The stops in the blog tour that have already happened (please stop by and check them out):

Joanne Guidoccio’s Second Act SeriesConflicting Passions

CC Andrew’s Writers Who Read seriesKassandra Lamb

Jami Gold’s blogThe Psychology of Emotions

K.B. Owen’s blogCriminal Minds and the History of the FBI

And now to the contest:

silver charmTo celebrate the release of Book 7 in the Kate Huntington Mystery series, I’m holding a contest. Sign up here to win prizes! You can enter multiple times.

Win a $20 Amazon gift card, a silver charm or key chain (winner’s choice) and a signed paperback copy of any of the Kate Huntington full-length novels (again, winner’s choice).

key chainThe contest runs through December 5th! The winner will be announced the following week. (If the winner is outside the U.S./Canada, a gift card of comparable value may be substituted.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What Is a Psychopath? (plus a New Release & Giveaway)

by Kassandra Lamb

Today is Veterans Day–a day set aside to honor those who have served in the military to protect our country. I don’t think there are enough words in the English language to express how grateful we should be to military personnel today.

female soldier saluting

They are facing a new breed of enemy that may very well be the most evil our world has produced to date. When I watch the news reports about ISIS and other groups like them, I shudder.

These are not religious fanatics. These are psychopaths using religion to justify their sick actions. They exhibit all the signs of psychopaths. Indeed, they are on the extreme end of the continuum and have many things in common with serial killers.

Here are some of the characteristics of psychopaths:

Psychopaths lack empathy for their fellow human beings. The smarter ones may become quite skilled at reading people’s emotions for the purpose of manipulating them, but they feel little or no concern or sympathy for others.

Psychopaths have no conscience. They intellectually understand what the rules are but have no qualms about breaking them. They don’t feel remorse or guilt.

Psychopaths are constantly seeking thrills. They have a very high arousal threshold, i.e., they inherit a nervous system that is not easily stimulated. It takes a huge amount of stimulation for them to feel excitement, or any feeling at all. Everyday life, that most of us find quite satisfying, bores them and leaves them feeling dead inside.

So while the rest of us are seeking ways to relax from the stress of daily life, they are constantly engaging in extremely stimulating activities just to feel alive. They drive recklessly, drink heavily and use drugs, seek power over others, commit crimes and are violent and sexually aggressive.

Gerard John Schaefer (note that he is smiling in a mug shot!) boasted privately of murdering over 30 women and girls. He was a deputy sheriff at the time of his arrest.

Gerard John Schaefer (note that he is smiling in a mug shot!) boasted privately of murdering over 30 women and girls. He was a deputy sheriff at the time of his arrest.

Psychopaths feel little or no fear. Since it takes a tremendous amount of stimulation for them to feel anything, they don’t feel afraid when the rest of us would. The situation’s got to be pretty damn terrifying before they feel even a flicker of fear.

So they don’t fear going to jail, or even dying. Indeed, some view dying as the ultimate thrill! And they can pass lie-detector tests with flying colors, while lying through their teeth. Those tests are based on the premise that people are anxious when they lie. Not psychopaths! They’re not afraid of getting caught in a lie, because they’re not afraid of much of anything.

You see why I’m equating them with ISIS. *shudder*

Later this month, I’ll explore the origins of this pathology in a post here, and on December 2nd I’ll be talking more about serial killers on Marcy Kennedy’s blog.

Today, I want to dispel several myths about psychopaths.

One is that they are often brilliant. Nope. They run the gamut from stupid to brilliant, just like the rest of us. The dumb ones engage in high risk behaviors and criminal activities early on. They either get killed or get caught and spend a lot of time in jail (although not all criminals are psychopaths, by any stretch).

The smarter ones become politicians, business executives, lawyers, cops, and con artists. They may be very successful in their chosen professions because they are quite ruthless; it doesn’t bother them a bit to climb over others to get to the top. Not all politicians and business executives are psychopaths, and definitely the vast majority of lawyers and police officers are not! But psychopaths can be attracted to law enforcement because of the power involved.

Another myth about psychopaths is that they are obvious monsters or highly dysfunctional loners. Some are the latter. Most are neither. They look like everybody else on the surface. They get married, hold down jobs, may even be civic or church leaders! They figure out how to fit in, but behind closed doors they are seeking those thrills, often in twisted ways.

 The BTK killer, Dennis Rader, killed ten victims in and around Wichita, Kansas. He sent sixteen written communications to the news media over a thirty-year period, taunting the police and the public. He was married with two children, was a Boy Scout leader, served honorably in the U.S. Air Force, was employed as a local government official, and was president of his church. –July, 2008, FBI symposium report on Serial Murder.

As mentioned before, the degree of psychopathic tendencies exists on a continuum. On the milder end, we have those who get their thrills through dangerous sports, drinking and using recreational drugs, and controlling their families. In the moderate range, we have more heavy-duty drug abuse, more violent behavior and more of a tendency to engage in criminal activity. Many rapists and a fair number of those more ruthless politicians and business executives are in this group.

On the severe end of the continuum, you have the very violent criminals (including more sadistic rapists), the totally ruthless business executives and politicians, and serial killers.

Psychopaths make up 3% of the male population and 1.8% of the females in this country. That’s three men out of every hundred, so you have probably known a few of them!

Why am I so obsessed with psychopaths these days, beyond the fact that they are gathering in the Middle East right now under the ISIS flag? My protagonist Kate Huntington is pitted against one in my new thriller, in which a serial killer kidnaps her friend and former boss, Sally Ford.

Please check out my new release, and then talk to me in the comments. Do you realize now that you’ve known some real psychopaths in your lifetime?  Oh, and be sure to enter the contest below as well!

book cover FATAL FORTY-EIGHT, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. While she locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, misunderstandings abound back at headquarters.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

Half price thru tomorrow ~ just $1.99 on  AMAZON   BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO   APPLE

And now for the contest:

silver charm

Are you feeling lucky? Sign up here to win a  prize! You can enter multiple times.

Win a $20 Amazon gift card, a silver charm or key chain (winner’s choice) and a signed paperback copy of any of the Kate Huntington full-length novels (again, winner’s choice).

key chain(If the winner is outside the U.S./Canada, a gift card of comparable value may be substituted.)

The contest runs through December 5th! The winner will be announced the following week.

Good Luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

This is Your Brain on Stress (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Eeck! I just realized I have no post written for today. The other misterio authors will tell you that isn’t like me. I’m organized to the point of being annoying obsessed awe-inspiring.

I’m pretty stressed out right now, getting ready to launch a new book, and I am NOT one of those people who thrives on stress and deadlines (which is why I try to be organized waaay in advance).

So I decided that an appropriate “encore” post for today would be one that I posted almost two years ago. It explains why some of us thrive under pressure and others, like me, collapse in a little puddle.  ~~~

Why is it that some of us perform better under pressure while others are more likely to buckle under the load? Was it how the person was raised? Were they taught to believe in themselves? Did their parents and teachers push them to keep trying when they encountered obstacles?

We tend to assume that one’s ability to work well under stress is a function of character. But that’s not what brain research is telling us. It may be much more about differences in how our brains work–differences that are dictated by genetics.

A PET scan of a brain showing a very high level of activity (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists have identified a specific gene, the COMT gene, that may dictate more than anything else whether we are the ‘push through the stress and shine’ type of person, or the one who collapses on the floor and feels like a failure when the load gets too heavy.

This may sound like bad news, but I’m not sure it is. Knowing that something is beyond our control can help us figure out a work-around. More on the real-life ramifications of this in a minute. First, let me try to boil the research down into a few paragraphs so I don’t bore you to tears.

This COMT gene controls how quickly a certain neurotransmitter, dopamine, is removed from a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain where our most complex reasoning occurs–problem-solving, moral decisions, conflict resolution, anticipating long-term consequences, etc.

Brainstorming with the prefrontal cortex

(Okay, it’s a lame cartoon. Give me a break. it’s hard to make the brain funny!)

Dopamine is the brain chemical that helps us think clearly by inhibiting unwanted thoughts and allowing us to concentrate. But to do this, it has to be at optimal levels. Too little and we are overwhelmed and distracted by random thoughts. Too much and the thoughts we want to focus on are also inhibited, i.e., our brains are too shut down.

There are two versions of this COMT gene, one that clears dopamine away slowly and one that removes it quickly (it’s originally released by the neurons, i.e., nerve cells, in the brain). Under normal circumstances, people with the rapid-removal version are at a disadvantage; their dopamine levels are often too low. The folks with the slow-removal version often have an advantage, and do better in school for example, because overall their prefrontal cortex thinks more clearly.

However, things change when you introduce high stress levels.

The study that tied all this together was done in Taiwan where researchers determined which gene was present in 779 junior high school students who were about to take a difficult entrance exam that would determine the quality of high school education they would receive.

The students with the slow-removal gene tended to have higher grades in school than those with the fast-removal gene. But when the stress of this high-stakes test flooded their prefrontal cortex with dopamine, their brains couldn’t remove it fast enough. Now their thinking was impaired by too much dopamine.

The fast-removal students (the ones with the lower grades in school) scored an average of 8 percentage points higher than the slow-removal students on this test. Their brains could handle the stress better, get rid of the excess dopamine, and allow them to excel.

(from en.wikipedia, public domain)

So what are the real-life implications of this? If something is genetically programmed, we can’t change it, but we can learn to cope with it and work around it.

If you were one of those kids who crashed and burned on big tests and class presentations, or if you have a child who falls into this category, you should find it comforting to know that this is not a character flaw. Knowing something is not our fault can help us be more matter-of-fact about dealing with it. It is what it is.

So how do we deal with it?

1. Stop beating up on yourself for not coping well with pressure. You’re not dumb, morally deficient or mentally ill. Your brain just works differently than those who thrive on stress.

2. Be selective about the types of situations you expose yourself to. Forcing yourself to deal with high-stakes situations is a set-up for disaster. For example, marketing, where you have to give make-or-break presentations to clients on a regular basis, may not be the best career choice.

I suspect that both my son and I have the slow-dopamine-removal gene. We both got good grades in school but tended to score rather mediocre on high-stakes standardized tests like the SAT.

My son had his heart set on a certain college. But his SAT scores were not high enough to get a merit scholarship despite his almost 4.0 GPA. At our insistence, he took the test again, without much improvement (despite tutoring beforehand).

If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have insisted that he take the SAT a second time. I would have gone immediately to our alternate plan. We found a couple other schools that did not place as much importance on SAT scores. He got accepted into the honors program at one of them, and received a scholarship!

3. Use stress management and relaxation techniques to help lower your stress level, and thus your dopamine production, in high-pressure situations.

More on how to do this are in these posts: Relaxation Made Easy and When Does a Stressor Become a Stressor?

So talk to me. How well do you perform under pressure? Do you think you are a fast-dopamine-removal or slow-dopamine-removal person?

How can we help our kids adjust and learn to cope if they tend to fold under pressure?

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 lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )