Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Tipping Point and the Serenity Prayer

by Kassandra Lamb

This is the time of year when we set new goals, and/or recommit to old ones. Well-known blogger Jami Gold recently pointed out that some goals we have control over, and others we don’t. It’s important to realize the difference. Otherwise failing to achieve the we-can’t-control-this goals can be very discouraging.

This post is aimed mainly at my fellow authors, but I think it has relevance for everyone. For each of us in our work life, there are goals we can achieve via our hard work, and there are goals that we don’t have direct control over.

woman sitting on the side of a hill

Sometimes it just seems so hard to keep climbing (photo by Vaikoovery CC BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

And in most people’s careers, there is some goal that marks the beginning of true success–the point where you may still be climbing the ladder but the climb gets easier, and you become more confident you will eventually reach your ultimate career goals.

We’ll be much more able to climb to that “tipping point” with our sanity intact if we can differentiate between the controllable and not so controllable goals and outcomes along the way.

The Part I Couldn’t Control
For authors, the goal that is most out of our control is whether or not people buy our books. We can do things to control the quality of our stories–take craft classes, hire good editors, etc.–but a good story doesn’t guarantee sales.

When I first got serious about my writing, I suffered from a common ailment amongst writers–Write It and They Will Buy syndrome.

Hmm, not that easy. It isn’t enough to be talented at what you do (although that is an essential first step). Often, others have to notice what we are doing in order for us to receive the rewards we are hoping for.

So how to put yourself out there to be noticed without coming across as obnoxious?

The Part I Could Control
For authors, we are told to engage with people on social media and “build a platform.” So I did that. Another piece of advice was to get lots of stories out there in front of the public. Not a problem. I was already writing a series, and publishing two or more books a year.

Yet another idea was to do giveaways to get readers hooked and get some reviews for your books. So I did that. Doing blog tours and guest posts on other people’s blogs was also a good idea, I was told. Did that too.

Once you have enough books out in a series, yet another strategy is to make the first book permanently free. So I did that.

There's a reason why it's called The Serenity Prayer--because that's the tough part, accepting what we can't control (photo by Jerry "Woody" CC-BY-SA 2.0)

There’s a reason why it’s called The Serenity Prayer–because that’s the tough part, accepting what we can’t control (image by Jerry “Woody” CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Other Part I Couldn’t Control
Each time I did these things, I saw a bump in sales. But nothing to knock your socks off.

It was getting harder and harder to keep my spirits up. I told myself to think of it as a hobby (even though I’m quite serious about it). I would be writing anyway, because I love it. So if sales never took off, so be it. (Fortunately I have a pension; most writers don’t.)

That helped provide the serenity to cope better, but it didn’t solve the problem of sluggish sales.

Then I started hearing authors talking about their tipping point. That at some point something happened that tipped them over the edge, visibility-wise, and their sales were off and running. In each of these cases, there were components the author could control and some they couldn’t.

For some, it was getting reviewed by a book blogger with a large following (could submit to the blogger; no guarantee they would read the book and like it). For others, it was having their books associated with those of a big-name author in the “People Who Bought This Also Bought” box on Amazon (sometimes via a giveaway; often dumb luck). For one of our misterio press authors, it was investing in an expensive ad on BookBub, one of the best e-mail subscription websites for promoting books.

Several authors said that their sales turned a corner when they had published three books in their series. Others said it took five books before they experienced their tipping point.

Book 7 in my series was published last fall. Sales were okay but still less than stellar. I was starting to get discouraged again.

Then I bit the bullet and submitted that perma-free first book to BookBub–again something I could control, but not whether or not the book was accepted (they are picky and in high demand) nor whether the ad was successful. The book was accepted, which reassured me that the problem wasn’t my writing. I gulped a little when I paid the invoice for the ad, and then I started praying.

screen shot of perma-free first book

90 reviews and counting; still #5 in free psychological suspense category

The results were a bit slow to show up–a huge number of downloads of the free book, but only a medium-sized bump in sales of the others. That first book started getting a whole lot of reviews though, the vast majority of them good to great.

I was about to resign myself to this booby prize of more good reviews when things started happening. Sales of Book 2 in the series took off, and then Book 3, etc. I could track readers’ progress through the series. With the first book now high on the free lists at Amazon, thousands of downloads continued each week, and the other books are still selling well.

The climb gets easier after the tipping point  (photo by Derek Harper CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The climb gets easier after the tipping point (photo by Derek Harper CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Hallelujah, I have reached my tipping point!!

So to everyone, but especially to my fellow authors who may still be struggling along, I say don’t give up!

Keep trying different things that you can control, until something happens to propel you past that tipping point.

How about you? Are you clear about which of your goals you have control over and which you don’t? Have you reached the tipping point in your career?

 

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. 🙂 )

Brownie Points and Brass Monkeys: 8 Sayings that may be Naughty or Nice

by Kassandra Lamb

The other day, I was on the phone with a friend. “That’ll get you some brownie points with your boss,” I said, in response to the story she’d just told me. After we said our goodbyes, I got to thinking about that phrase and where it came from.

Being a writer, I am fascinated by language. So my thoughts wandered on to other phrases that seem fairly innocent, but may have less than innocent origins. Curiosity took over and I did some research.

Here are four sayings that sound innocent, but maybe aren’t so much (followed by four that sound bad but are rather innocent)*:

Brownie points:
The first thing you might think of when you hear this phrase are these luscious treats.

photo by Gdr, CC-BY 3.0 license, Wikimedia Commons

photo by Gdr, CC-BY 3.0, Wikimedia

But before you start licking your lips, read on.

I’ve always heard that this phrase was related to another one: brown-noser. As in someone who kisses a certain part of someone else’s anatomy in order to get ahead (and comes away with a brown nose in the process). According to Wikipedia, my explanation is indeed one possible source of the saying.

From the HOWDY DOODY SHOW–Girl Scouts 38th anniversary (yes, I am old enough to remember Howdy Doody, vaguely.)

 

Other theories regarding the saying’s origins involve several companies that gave brown stamps or brown points to customers or employees, which could then be redeemed for prizes, bonuses and such.

And yet another explanation involves those Girl Scout wannabes in brown uniforms, or rather the pointed merit badges they strive to earn by doing good deeds.

That sucks!
This phrase has gone through several mutations through the decades.

The phrase, “Go suck eggs!” was used when you didn’t like something someone said to you. It meant go do something stupid.

(Apparently, before awareness of salmonella, people did sometimes eat eggs this way, by sucking them raw out of a hole in the end of the shell. Ick!)

When I was a kid, back in those Howdy Doody dark ages, the concept of “suck” became associated with a sexual act performed by one’s mouth. For my generation, it was equivalent to that other bad word that rhymes with it and starts with f.

But today it’s come back around to being a mild curse word, equivalent to damn or hell. You even here kids saying, “That sucks!” when commiserating with someone. And often the adults don’t even flinch (although I still do inside).

Rule of thumb
Here’s another perfectly innocent saying. We use it all the time to mean a commonly accepted way of doing or measuring something. “The rule of thumb is that blog posts should be about 800 to 1200 words.” (Yeah, I break that one a lot.)

judge_thumb

cartoon published in 1792 of ‘Judge Thumb’ (public domain)

But when I looked this one up I discovered it has a violent history (that turns out to be undeserved). It’s origin is often ascribed to a ruling by an English judge in 1782 that a man could beat his wife as long as the stick he used was no bigger around than his thumb. At the time, this judge was ridiculed for this supposed ruling and dubbed “Judge Thumb.”

However, later investigations found no such ruling had been made by that judge, or any other for that matter, and the saying had been in use long before that. So this commonly accepted belief about where this saying came from is wrong. It’s actual origin seems to be unknown.

Saved by the bell
A perfectly innocent-sounding saying, right? We use it (internally perhaps) when a ringing telephone, a doorbell, or some other bell interrupts an awkward situation.

Heck, they even made a teen sitcom series by that name in the early 1990’s.

Cloche_dessous pub domain wikiBut this saying has a spooky origin. Back before modern science established definitive ways to tell that someone was dead, people were sometimes buried alive (as evidenced by scratch marks on the inside of coffins that were sometimes unearthed for a variety of reasons).

To prevent this, a bell was placed next to a new grave, with a string attached. The other end of the string was tied to the corpse’s wrist inside the coffin. A watchman was left in the graveyard the first night after a burial, so that if the person started moving inside their coffin the bell would ring and they would be saved.

Now here are four sayings that sound shady, but actually came from something quite innocent*:

By hook or crook:
We say this today to describe someone who is willing to achieve a goal by any means, honest or not. But this phrase comes from a very honest practice in England in the Middle Ages. Forests belonged to the royalty and commoners were not allowed to cut down trees in them. But the poor could legally gather already dead wood for firewood. They were even allowed to knock or pull limbs from the trees ‘by hook or crook’ as long as the limb was already dead.

(This is actually a self-portrait by Antoine de Favray, so he probably didn't charge himself an arm and leg. But I couldn't resist the wandering hand.)

(This is actually a self-portrait by Antoine de Favray, so he probably didn’t charge himself an arm and leg for it. But I couldn’t resist the wandering hand.)

It will cost you an arm and a leg:
When you hear this saying, don’t you imagine a merchant dismembering his/her customers?

But this comes from a long-ago practice by portrait painters of charging for their work by the number of limbs to be portrayed in the painting (arm, hand, or leg), because these are the body parts that are particularly difficult to draw and paint.

Thus the tendency for old portraits to show people hiding some of their limbs (Like this fellow. Where is that hand headed anyway? And notice how he’s pointing the other way with his other hand. “Don’t notice my right hand; it’s not doing anything interesting, honest! Just look this way!”)

 

Gossip:
Okay, this is a word, not a saying, but when I stumbled on its origins, I had to share it with you.

Long before the invention of modern media, politicians had no way of knowing how their constituents really felt about the events of the day. So they would send their assistants out to the local pubs to drink with the common folk and listen in on their conversations. These young men would be instructed to “go sip ale” and bring back the latest word from the man on the street.

And last but not least, my favorite:

Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey:
Back in the day, cannons were the main weapon of defense for forts and ships.

rows of stacked cannonballs circa Civil War (public domain)Have you ever wondered how they kept cannonballs in those neat little pyramids? It wasn’t easy.

On a rolling ship, it was particularly difficult, until some bright soul came up with an idea. Brass plates were secured around the bottom of the pile, with rounded indentations for the iron cannonballs of the lowest layer to rest in. These plates were called “monkeys” for some reason.

There was only one problem. Brass contracts faster than iron at freezing temperatures. So when ships sailed in colder climes, the iron cannonballs would pop right out of their brass monkeys.

*Disclaimer: I make no promises about the accuracy of the origins of these sayings. There’s a limit to how much research I’m willing to put into a just for fun post. 😉

If you’d like to find more odd sayings, and their origins, check these out:
http://listverse.com/2010/08/15/10-sayings-and-their-strange-origins/

http://www.cracked.com/article_16108_the-bizarre-history-10-common-sayings.html

http://crosscreations.hubpages.com/hub/origins-of-words-and-phrases

http://www.phrases.org.uk/index.html

What’s your favorite saying? Do you know where it comes from?

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. 🙂 )

Are Psychopaths Born or Made?

by Kassandra Lamb

We’re getting 2015 off to a great start with a joyful post on… psychopaths! Hey, we’re mystery writers; what can we say?

This is the final installment in a three-part series on Psychopaths and Serial Killers that I began back in November. We’ve got psychopaths on the brain right now because I recently released a thriller with a serial killer antagonist. And another of our authors, Vinnie Hansen, also has a psychopath in her new release, Black Beans and Venom (see her book below).

Psychopaths are totally self-centered, thrill seekers who lack empathy, remorse and rarely feel fear. They are heavily represented amongst criminals (although not all criminals are psychopaths) and con artists, but also amongst politicians and business tycoons.

mugshot of Ponzi

A color-enhanced image of the mugshot of con artist Charles Ponzi–after whom Ponzi schemes were named.

For more about their nature see the first post, What Is A Psychopath?

They make up roughly 3% of the U.S. male population and 1% of the females. A much smaller (thank God!) subgroup of psychopaths are serial killers. To read more about what makes them tick, go to my guest post on the subject HERE.

The question I’m most frequently asked regarding psychopaths is whether they are born or made. The answer is “Yes.” They are both born and made.

Lots of research tells us there’s a genetic predisposition to antisocial behavior, i.e., behavior that goes against society, that defies the rules, breaks the law. This predisposition doesn’t usually come to fruition, however, unless the person grows up in a very unhealthy environment. Full-blown psychopaths almost always come from abusive backgrounds, with harsh and often inconsistent parenting.

But before I get into the details of how this works, let me point out that these are explanations for why certain children develop into psychopaths. They are not excuses for their psychopathic behavior once they are adults!

Here are the major characteristics of psychopaths, and what we know so far (or strongly suspect) about how genetics and environment interact in these areas:

1.   Lack of remorse: There seems to be something inherently wrong with the wiring of psychopaths’ brains with regard to the development of a conscience. Most children, by age five, are starting to feel guilty when they break the rules they’ve internalized from their environment. But not budding psychopaths. They don’t feel remorse or guilt as readily as most children do.

Combine this faulty wiring with inconsistent, too harsh or even downright abusive parenting that confuses the child as to what the rules are and why one should obey them, and you quickly have an out-of-control child.

2.   Lack of empathy: Another area where the wiring may be lacking to begin with is empathy, our natural ability to feel what others are feeling. On the mild to moderate end of the genetic predisposition continuum, the child is capable of feeling some empathy.

child covering eyes

photo by appropos CC 2.0 Flickr nonderivative

With the guidance of a patient, loving parent, this empathy can be nurtured. I’ve seen a couple real-life examples of this! But in a highly dysfunctional abusive environment, that glimmer of empathy gets snuffed out early on.

3.   Learning deficits: The vast majority of people with antisocial personality disorder (the official diagnosis for psychopaths) have learning disabilities, especially attention deficit problems. Seventy-five percent have full-blown ADHD (which is genetically transmitted). The ADHD child does not make the connection between behavior and consequences nearly as readily as children normally do (Please take my word for this so I can spare you the long, boring brain-malfunction explanation).

Children with ADHD often don’t get it that what they just did is the cause of the punishment the parent or teacher is inflicting on them. From their perspective, the adult is just being mean, for some inexplicable reason. Put a child with these learning deficits in an environment where discipline is very inconsistent and often way too harsh, and you end up with a very confused and pissed-off kid.

4.   Hard to arouse nervous system: Another genetic piece, and this is the biggie for those of us who write and read mysteries and thrillers, is that people with antisocial personality disorder (i.e., psychopaths) inherit a nervous system that is not easily stimulated. It takes a huge amount of stimulation for them to feel excitement, or much feeling at all for that matter.

a bungee jumper

Bungee jumper–not that I’m saying all bungee jumpers are psychopaths (photo by Ellywa from nl CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia)

So psychopaths are constantly looking for a thrill that will make them feel something. They may find it in a variety of activities–dangerous sports, reckless driving, drinking and drugging, gaining power over others in their family or in the workplace, stealing, pulling off a con or getting away with other criminal behavior, physical violence, sexual aggression… You get the picture.

5.  Impulsivity: Another factor that is strongly influenced by genetics is a high tendency to be impulsive. This personality trait is roughly 60% inherited and 40% influenced by environment. A child who inherits a high tendency for impulsivity is going to be a challenge for the best of parents. If that child grows up in a very dysfunctional, abusive environment where little effort is made to teach self-control, he or she is going to be extremely impulsive.

Impulsive reactions is a definite characteristic of the psychopathic antagonist in Vinnie’s new release, Black Beans and Venom. I have read this story and it is a real page-turner. The book came out in ebook just before Christmas, and is now available in paperback as well.

Please check it out below, and then talk to me in the comments. Does this make sense to you how nature and nurture (or the lack thereof in this case) come together to create these monsters? Have you known any people who qualified as psychopaths? Did they have this kind of history?

book cover Black Beans and Venom, A Carol Sabala Mystery

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

Available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

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. 🙂 )

Word!!

by Kassandra Lamb on behalf of the whole gang!

Happy New Year sign

(image by Nevit Dilmen, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When my son was in his early teens (circa 1993), he and his friends would greet each other with this 4-letter utterance: “Word!” It stood for “What’s the word?” or What’s happening?”

There seems to be a growing trend this year to substitute a single word for New Year’s resolutions. This struck our fancy here at misterio press. So here are our Words (sometimes we’ve cheated a tiny bit with two words) for 2015!

K.B. OwenFirst up, K.B. Owen:

My word for 2015: EMBRACE.

EMBRACE the satisfaction of the little accomplishments, such as resolving that plot twist that’s been plaguing my story.
EMBRACE hard work, because that either serves others or gets me to my own goals.
EMBRACE experimentation and risk, for that is how I grow.
EMBRACE setbacks and failures, so that I can learn from them.
EMBRACE quietness, always a challenge for me and my busy mind.
EMBRACE joy, for there are problems enough in this troubled world.
EMBRACE gratitude, for I am very blessed, even when I’m not mindful of it.
EMBRACE friendship, for we are all in this crazy life together!

Following up on the Embrace theme is Vinnie Hansen:

Vinnie HansenFor my word, I’m going with “Ridiculous” or “Embrace ridiculousness.”

The thought that I will appear ridiculous impedes my risk taking. I should ask, “So what?”

Most people delight in the ridiculous, especially if the person being ridiculous embraces it unabashedly.

 

On first blush, Shannon Esposito’s word(s) may seem the exact opposite of Embrace, but not really:

shannonportraitMy phrase is LET GO… of goals and plans, and instead enjoy every day as it unfolds.

This may seem counterproductive but I’ve spent my whole life believing I’ll be happy as soon as I reach (insert any personal or professional goal). But I move on to the next goal, without stopping to appreciate where I am or the journey it took to get there.

LET GO of wishing things were different and just deal with things as they are.
LET GO of physical things and unclutter my life.
LET GO of being a perfectionist and allow myself to be messy, wrong and a risk-taker.
And finally LET GO of worry. It has not served me and is getting a 2015 eviction notice!

And now my word: CHOICE.

Before I retired and got into this writing stuff, I was really good at asking myself what I WANTED to do on my days off. I savored the ability to choose amongst the many tasks/activities I could be doing. “What do I want to do now?” was something I asked myself off and on throughout my non-working days.

When I first retired, I reveled in the ability to make those choices every day. But once I got serious about my writing somehow I lost that habit of stopping to choose what I want to do next. And along with that lost habit, I have lost some of my joy in living. So I’m going to focus in 2015 on remembering to make choices again.

Each day I will ask myself “What do I want to do today?” I’m pretty sure most days the answer will be “Write!” But I’m going to get back in the habit of making the Choice.

Kirsten Weiss

 

And now on behalf of our 5th author, Kirsten Weiss, who is traveling in developing nations at the moment, doing her “day job” (with sketchy internet service), we will pick a temporary word: SAFE.

Safe travels, Kirsten! We miss you!

How about you? What’s your Word(s) for 2015?

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. 🙂 )