Monthly Archives: May 2016

Memorial Day ~ Honoring the Fallen and Launching the Fun

by Kassandra Lamb

As a kid, I loved Memorial Day. I had no clue what it’s real significance was. I just knew it meant the beginning of summer.

kids in poolOur local community pool opened, and we swam no matter how chilly the May breeze in Maryland still happened to be (even if the lifeguards were in their sweats, as they sometimes were).

Summer meant swimming and going “down the ocean, hun.” But it also meant freedom – mostly from school.

at the beach

Me and my brother in Ocean City, MD; I’m about 5 here.

Weeks and weeks of summer vacation spread out before us. It seemed like infinity at the time. The possibilities for fun were endless.

Today I still get excited about the beginning of summer. It still means freedom – from coats and jackets and closed-toe shoes and socks (from shoes completely around the house or at the beach). And from heating bills (although in Florida, the AC bills can be worse).

We can open our windows and air out the winter staleness.

My mood lifts considerably when the weather warms toward summer and the days grow longer. The flowers are blooming and the grass is growing, soft underfoot. Right now, my magnolia tree in the backyard is about to burst into big gorgeous white blossoms.

cemetery

Alton National Cemetery (public domain)

The beginning of summer is when I feel most alive, so it seems particularly poignant when I remember what Memorial Day is really supposed to be about – to honor those who have given their lives for their country, to protect freedoms far greater and more important than being able to go barefoot!

It is a day that, like no other, brings to the forefront both the dark and the bright sides of human existence — the losses and tragedies, some of them quite senseless, and the exciting possibilities.

Being an eternal optimist (some have called me a Pollyana 🙂 ), I tend to focus on the possibilities.

How about you? What does the beginning of summer mean to you?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Keys to Success in Any Field

by Kassandra Lamb

No, I’m not going to tell you how to dress or what to say to your boss to get promoted.

The way I define success in a career, and in life for that matter, is doing work that utilizes our talents and strengths and brings us satisfaction. So this post is about how to identify the job/career that will do that for you, and also the strengths you bring to that career and where you might need to bolster those strengths.

I was inspired by a recent post by author and editor, Jami Gold–What Helps You BE a Writer? She lists several internal traits and external factors that can help writers be successful (i.e., keep at it long enough to reap the rewards), and then asks her blog readers (mostly writers) to make their own lists of the things that help them stick with writing. (If you are a writer, definitely check out her post.)

What Helps You BE a Writer?

I’m going to give my list here, and in the process, extend some of her ideas to all careers.

Internal Characteristics
Under this category, Jami says: “We might have personality traits that help us want to be a writer, such as a love of storytelling or a desire to entertain, educate, or inspire others.”

I love that she starts off with this. Our jobs/careers need to satisfy some inner desire. That inner desire might be self-centered – just to satisfy our love of the task – and/or it may be more altruistic – to help others in some way or to make the world a better place.

painting of storyteller and children

Me in a previous lifetime.  (Brodtmann’s Geschichtenerzählerin, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve always been a storyteller, but the part of Jami’s sentence that rang most true for me was a desire to educate others. My life calling has been to help people, myself included, better understand our psyches and live mentally healthy lives. I fulfilled that calling as a therapist and then as a college professor, and now as a writer. I used storytelling in all of those professions – I told stories to my clients and students to illustrate my points and get past their defenses. And now my stories spread awareness of certain psychological disorders and issues in a pleasant and entertaining way.

So first and foremost, the work we chose must fulfill an inner desire about which we are passionate. If it does, we will (a) be satisfied by it and (b) apply that passion to learning to do it well.

Jami goes on to list a lot of inner traits – beyond talent obviously – that may help writers stick with it when the going gets rough. These range from being so clueless you don’t recognize the obstacles until you’ve stumbled past them (I can relate 🙂 ) to being stubborn, patient, and having a thick skin.

It is VERY helpful to objectively list the inner traits needed to succeed in any job/career we are considering. Then we can compare that list with our own strengths and weaknesses.

I am definitely stubborn, but patience has never been one of my virtues. However, writing was important enough to me that I had to do something to overcome my impatience.

Lacking a trait doesn’t mean we can’t do the job, but we do need to somehow compensate. For me and my lack of patience, two things helped. One, I am sooo stubborn that I refused to give up when my impatience made me want to quit (most often when I looked at my shrinking savings account; I was spending more money than I was making).

And two, I did an internal reframe. I told myself that I don’t need the money from writing. I’m retired with a decent income. I should think of writing, from a financial standpoint only, as a hobby. Retirees who can afford to do so put some money into hobbies; mine happened to be writing. That worked! I stopped ruminating over sales and focused on enjoying the writing and editing. (And eventually my bottom line did shift from red to black.)

As for a thick skin, I can’t say that I normally have this. But I have learned through the years to judge my own capabilities fairly honestly. I’m good at stepping back from what I have produced and comparing it to the objective criteria for good work, as defined in that field of endeavor.

And most important of all, I am good at focusing on those who like my work, rather than those who do not. And as long as the likers well outnumber the dislikers, I feel pretty confident that I’m doing a good job. So I can dismiss the one and two-star reviews as long as there are many more four and five-star ones. (And, thank God, there are.)

Which brings us to…

Support Structure
In Jami’s second category of things that help writers stick with it, she lists the support of family, friends, teachers, agents and publishers, readers, and, most of all, other writers.

That list pretty much applies to all careers. We are more likely to succeed if our families, friends, teachers, etc. (substitute bosses for agents and publishers, and customers/clients for readers) are behind us and are telling us we’re doing a good job.

But what if they aren’t? If our family members and friends aren’t behind us, then we probably need to rethink those relationships. Maybe we need to stop talking about our work with unsupportive family members, and maybe we need new friends if those we have are bringing us down rather than encouraging us.

As for bosses, customers and clients, if most of them like our work, then we’re probably good at it. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. If a boss dislikes your work without offering constructive feedback on how to improve it, but others have often praised it, then consider that it may be that boss, not you.

Dealing with unhappy customers/clients/readers is when we really need that thick skin. Keep reminding yourself that you do indeed do good work, but it may not be this person’s cup of tea, or they may be particularly picky. Try not to get defensive since that will only prolong your contact with them. 😉

The other support system Jami mentions, other writers, is also pretty darn important. I seriously doubt I would have stuck with writing or had the fortitude to get through the publishing process without the support of my friend (and cofounder of misterio), Shannon Esposito. And she introduced me to a wonderful online writers’ group that has been a Godsend more than once.

Likewise when I started teaching, I had a great mentor who kept me going through those early stages of self-doubt in a new vocation. She gave me guidance, but she also normalized the new things I was experiencing. One day I complained that the students just sat there staring at me during the lecture that I thought was the most fascinating of the entire semester.

Jean laughed and said, “Yeah, sometimes you do your dog and pony show and they just sit there.” I felt so much better. This also happened to her, an experienced teacher.

So find a support group and/or a mentor in the field, who will advise you but also cheer you on.

Other Tricks and Tools
Under this category, Jami lists miscellaneous helpful things – everything from gallons of coffee to extra skills we bring from other jobs and life experiences. This last item struck a chord with me.

When considering changing careers or jobs, we shouldn’t just consider the skills that obviously carry over but also subtler capabilities we may have honed in our previous work.

a SomedayIsHere FINAL (1)

When I was writing Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book, I was trying to figure out how to help novice writers improve their dialogue. This required some thought because writing dialogue has always come easily for me.

Then I realized that this wasn’t a natural talent I’d started out with. I had spent twenty years, as a psychotherapist, carefully listening to people. I knew how folks tended to phrase things. I’d also carefully observed body language and tone of voice – when a person paused or looked down, etc. – because all this gave me additional information about what was going on with them, beyond the spoken words.

So that’s the advice I gave to novice writers–observe, listen, pay attention to how people talk and not just what they say. But I’d already had a head start with this skill, because of my previous profession.

How about you? What inner traits, external supports and other skills do you bring to your job? Are there areas that need bolstering or compensation? Are you rethinking your current vocation?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Mysteries We Love #BookReviews

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a group post, and since I’m still traveling for the next couple of days, we decided to do a book review post. Here are some stories we’ve parti- cularly enjoyed over the last few months.

Vinnie’s review of Woman With a Blue Pencil:

As I read Woman with a Blue Pencil, I wondered how author Gordon McAlpine pitched it to his publisher. This complicated story involves a Japanese-American crime writer starting a new book. Then Pearl Harbor is bombed.

On the advice of his editor, whose letters are embodied in Woman with a Blue Pencil, the writer adopts the pen name William Thorne. He changes his Japanese-American protagonist to a Korean-American superhero, and the plot of the book he’s writing evolves into jingoistic detective fiction.

However, the author’s excised Japanese-American protagonist continues his life in an alternate story. So, you have the story of the author, the new book he’s writing, the manipulative letters from his editor, and the tragic fallout for his deleted main character. All the stories brilliantly intertwine, exploring the idea of erased identities.

This original book lives at my favorite intersection, where literary fiction meets crime fiction. Five big perfect fingerprints!

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Shannon’s Review of The Vanished Priestess: Book 2 of the Annie Szabo Mystery Series

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Though it dealt with some serious topics–spousal abuse and the necessity of women’s shelters—the story never got bogged down by the heaviness of these issues. In fact, Meredith Blevins writes her characters with such wit and humor, I found myself smiling much of the time.

The main character, Annie Szabo, is a flawed but likeable character who gets caught up in trying to solve her neighbor’s murder while protecting her daughter from an abusive son-in-law. Margo, the murder victim, ran a circus which also doubled as a shelter for abused women. There are a lot of eccentric characters here, including Annie’s Gypsy fortune teller mother-in-law, who has moved in on Annie and brought her own version of a three-ring circus.

Overall this was a satisfying mystery. I’m giving it four fingerprints. I had to take one away for distracting errors and typos. (Apparently the errors come from the book being scanned from a hardback; the author has said they will be fixed.)

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Kirsten’s review of Some Buried Caesar:

I remember reading Rex Stout when I was young. But all I remembered about his hero, Nero Wolfe, were his orchids and obesity. What a delightful surprise when I found a Kindle version of Some Buried Caesar.

The writing is pithy, funny, and told from the point of view of Wolfe’s put-upon detective, Archie Goodwin. Wolfe can’t be bothered to actually walk around and look for clues, so Archie’s his man.

The novel starts with the aftermath of a car crash in-media-res style. Out in the countryside for an orchid show, the stranded Archie and Nero soon find themselves face to horns with a prize bull. And not just any price bull. Hickory Caesar Grindon is probably the most expensive bull in history.

To the horror of the local Guernsey association, his new, nouveau riche owner plans to barbeque Hickory as a promotional stunt for his string of fast-food restaurants. Enemies abound in this classic whodunit. The only foregone conclusion is who will win the orchid contest (Nero Wolfe, natch).

Originally published in 1938, you can forget about political correctness. The dames are conniving and hard talking, and Archie isn’t having any of it. But there’s something about the narrator’s whimsical attitude toward his adventures in crime-solving that make the outdated attitudes tolerable. For me at least. Five fingerprints!

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Kass’s review of Abandon by Blake Crouch

This book was selected as the February read in a book club I belong to. I was skeptical at first, not real sure what genre it was. Horror? Paranormal mystery? Historical fiction?

Well it’s definitely a mystery, and it has its gruesome and sometimes horrifying moments, but it’s not paranormal nor horror. It is a “hold onto your hat, don’t forget your heart medicine” roller coaster ride from hell.

It flips back and forth between the late 1800’s — when the town of Abandon is slowly sliding toward ghost town status — and the present time — when a group of explorers goes to the site to try to figure out why the entire town’s remaining population disappeared suddenly one snowy night in 1893, with absolutely no trace nor hint of what happened to them.

As the events of the few days leading up to the town’s disappearance unfold in the 1893 story, the reader is also discovering that some of the modern-day exploration party have hidden agendas. And the twists and turns just keep on coming.

I vacillated between 4 and 5 fingerprints for this book. On the one hand it was one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. On the other, it was a bit more gory and gruesome than was really necessary, and that level of gruesome didn’t quite mesh, for me at least, with the historical fiction quality of the story. In other words, I found it distracting. And I do wish the book description made it clearer that the book is a mystery.

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So four and a half fingerprints!

 

 

 

Have you read any great mysteries lately?

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. 🙂 )

Six-Degrees to Success

by Vinnie Hansen

Authors, even well known ones, can find themselves at events where few people attend. I once did a book talk and signing with the famous Laurie R. King at a local bookstore. The audience was fewer than a dozen people.

Laurie King and Vinnie

Laurie R. King and me

It’s comforting at such moments to remember the six-degrees-of-separation theory–that everyone is connected, by six or fewer steps, with everyone else. A friend of a friend of a friend knows your friend… At some events, we might not sell a single book, but who knows where the connections might lead.

This year, I was invited to join in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, a boxed set of 10 full-length books featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 authors. The collection offers 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuths, capers, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars!

I am not nearly as well known as the other authors in this collection. I can only speculate how my name was thrown into the hat for this great, good fortune.

I could have been chosen for my scintillating personality. However, I suspect the invitation arose from my participation in some past event.

Sleuthing Women boxed set cover

There’s my Murder, Honey, all the way to the right

The initial contact about the boxed set came from Camille Minichino, a fellow member of the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. We first did an event together back in 2005, a book-signing fundraiser for a high school library! So maybe this current opportunity was set in motion on that long ago, and long April afternoon.

While Camille informed me of the project, if I were to lay a bet on how I came to be accepted in Sleuthing Women, it would be that I guest-blogged—twice—on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, the site of Lois Winston, organizer of the boxed set. I wrote decent pieces, met my deadlines, and persuaded others to visit the posts.

Guest blogging can seem like a dead-end with no obvious sales bump. On the other hand, in this case my participation may have pushed the first domino that led to my inclusion in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries.

To go back to that sparsely attended high-school fundraiser, I shared a table that afternoon with Cara Black. Cara later became a very well known mystery writer, who supplied me with a blurb that I use on everything.

I could list for pages, the lackluster events that manifested valuable friendships and worthwhile connections. So even on those rainy evening book talks with five people in the audience, I give my all. You just never know which of those people might know someone who knows someone….

What about you–have you ever had some seemingly mundane connection lead to something bigger? Do you believe in the six-degrees-of-separation theory?

Available now for just $2.99 on  AMAZON    APPLE    KOBO    BARNES & NOBLE

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of 10 full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in this set is the first book in an established multi-book series–a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars.

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

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. 🙂 )

7 Very Important Things My Not-Very-Healthy Mother Taught Me

by Kassandra Lamb

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

This post is part of the Beauty Of A Woman Blogfest V sponsored by one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out, August McLaughlin. And because she so bravely shares of herself to help and inspire others, I’m going to be a little more revealing in this post than I might otherwise be (no, not that kind of revealing; get your mind out of the gutter 😉 ).

And since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, I decided to talk about my mother.

I’m sure I’m not the only sixty-something woman who’s had to grow past the not-very-healthy role models presented by our mothers and the mixed messages our generation received about what it means to be a woman.

My mother was not a very strong person, emotionally, and she was a product of her time, coming of age in the 1940’s. She codependently let my father do whatever he wanted, in the interests of “keeping the peace” and “staying together for the sake of the kids.” My father wasn’t a bad man, but what he wanted was often misguided and almost always self-centered. He unintentionally caused his family a lot of pain, and she let him do so.

But putting aside that major flaw, my mother was a wonderful person in a lot of ways. And she taught me several valuable lessons. Some of these she taught me directly or by example, and some I learned by witnessing her bad example and doing the exact opposite.

1. She taught me to make the best of a bad situation.

Not that I would stay in a bad marriage like she did, but she showed me how to look for the way around obstacles without butting your head against them.

I didn’t appreciate this lesson for many years. In my youth, I tended to follow my father’s obstinate head-butting style.

His style of dealing with problems at work got him fired or “asked to resign” from so many jobs I lost count. Her style was to smile, make friends with, and eventually cajole her rivals into seeing things her way. As a result, she rose to director/dean level at the college where she worked, and she did so after having spent the first two decades of her adulthood as a stay-at-home mom.

2. She taught me to smile.

My mom laughing

Not in a false or fake way, but to genuinely be cheerful even if life isn’t completely going the way you would like it to.

I look back now and realize that much of what allowed her to be so cheerful was downright denial. But nonetheless, I grew up with a mother who often had a smile on her face.

She had a good sense of humor, which to some degree skipped a generation and showed up again in my son. What a delight it was to watch them interact!

3. She taught me to talk about my feelings with my friends.

I didn’t get just how miserable she was in her marriage until I was about fifteen years old. Gradually, during my teen years, she and I shifted from mother and daughter to friends and confidantes.

Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very healthy for a woman to share with her daughter how unhappy she was with the girl’s father. But in this case, I found those revelations validating. It wasn’t my imagination that my father was hard to live with.

When we went shopping, we’d sometimes pretend to be sisters. We frequently bought things (well, she paid for them), coats or pieces of jewelry, that we would share. I still have one of the pendant necklaces we bought on such an outing.

Was this a sick blurring of boundaries? Definitely. But this experience taught me to open up and share when I was hurting, something that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

I’m especially grateful for this lesson when I see female friends struggling to ask for what they need emotionally. The misguided message of our youth was that women should always put others first, which often translated into believing we were not worthy of support ourselves. But I learned, through my mother’s example, to ask for support.

4. She taught me to love shopping, and to cherish a bargain above all else.

shopping mall

A shopping mall at Christmas time was heaven for us! (photo by BazzaDaRambler CC-BY-2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Seriously, retail therapy is almost as good as the best counselor out there! (This coming from a retired psychotherapist.)

But my mother was very frugal. The only thing better than finding the perfect purse, dress, sofa, drapes, etc. was finding it on sale, with an additional X percent off.

One of the items we bought and shared was a pair of earrings that were little shopping bags, with “Shop Til Ya Drop” on the sides. I wonder what happened to them…

Today, shopping for clothes or pretty things for my house is preferable, of course, but I even find grocery shopping or running to Home Depot for bags of mulch a reasonably pleasant experience.

5. She taught me to be a good mother-in-law.

Unlike all too many mothers, she was not the least bit jealous of nor negative about the girlfriends and boyfriends my brother and I brought around to the house. She welcomed all of them–the sluts and the nerds, and the sweet girls and nice guys.

And she welcomed the people we married into the family with open arms and a generous heart.

Thanks to my mother’s legacy, it wasn’t hard for me to realize what a wonderful person my daughter-in-law is.

6. Ironically and indirectly, she taught me to put my child first.

wailing newborn with his grandmother

My newborn son (36.4 years ago) with his grandmother; he’s wearing a sleeper that says #1.

At some point in my adulthood, she told me that my brother and I were the best things that had ever happened to her. Not an unusual admission by a parent, but it actually surprised me.

Why? Because she had thrown us under the bus with my father more than once.

Her own father was a well-meaning but spineless man, addicted to get-rich-quick schemes. He couldn’t hold a job (sound familiar), and finally my grandmother tossed him out on his ear. (She was a strong woman.) My mother was twelve at the time.

For the next decade, she received eloquent letters full of empty promises (we found them in her papers after she died). But she saw her father rarely, and then not at all.

Her desperation for a man who would actually be there in her life was so great that she would do anything to keep her man, including ignore the damage he was doing to her children.

My son and I lock horns occasionally. (We both inherited a trait from my father that my mother called stubbornness. I prefer the term determination.) But when my son really needs something, I will drop everything to be there for him and his family. I surprise even myself sometimes by the ferocity of my reaction when he is in need.

7. She taught me to be strong and independent.

Again, not by being a role model for those traits–she was anything but those things–but she gave me permission and encouragement to be confident in myself. My stubbornness frustrated her when I was a kid and a teenager, but later she admitted that she was pleased to see how strong and independent I was. She was proud of the adult I had become.

And for all her flaws in raising me, once I was an adult, my mother and I were best friends. She’s been gone for thirteen years now, and I still wish I could pick up the phone and call her to talk about whatever’s on my mind.

I love you, Ma! Happy Mother’s Day!!

Please head over to August’s website to find the links to the other posts in this blogfest about the Beauty of a Woman. Some of the posts are serious, some are fun but all are interesting and well worth your time.

How about you? What did your mother teach you, for better or worse, about being a woman? (Note: I will be traveling this week, so there may be a delay in responses to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )