Monthly Archives: September 2016

Life Is What Happens While We’re Making Other Plans

by Kassandra Lamb

Hubs and I went to his 50th high school reunion this last Friday.

Wow, just wow!

Back in high school, we didn’t really get that we would someday be 50 years old, much less 50 years out of high school.

Hubs' high school

Hubs’ high school

The reunion committee had a rather cool idea. They passed out black and white pics of people’s faces out of the yearbook as everyone registered. Your task was to find the person in the picture and give them their photo.

My husband has a good memory. He was pretty sure he knew who the woman was in his picture, but try as we might we couldn’t find her. She was a pretty dark-eyed blonde, with a thin face.

Tour of the school -- inner courtyard

Tour of the school — inner courtyard

The exercise brought home to us how generic old people look. Most had added a few pounds, some quite a few pounds. Most had gray or white hair. And if they didn’t, it was with the help of hair dye, so hair color was now irrelevant.

We walked around that big room full of old people and stared at name tags until our eyes crossed. We finally concluded that the woman whose picture he’d drawn had opted not to attend the reunion.

Then the mostly overweight, gray-haired cheerleaders and majorettes took over the dance floor and twirled their batons to the old school fight song.

And there was another thin-faced, blonde woman (not the one in hubs’ picture) who had won the genetics lottery for aging. She was still thin, still full of pep, and with no varicose veins spoiling her shapely legs.

dixie-hollins-reunion-cropped

Oh, her face had her fair share of wrinkles when she turned our way, mostly crow’s feet around her sparkling eyes and smile lines around her mouth. “Look at Kerry Ann!” rippled through the auditorium. But everyone seemed happy for her.

It was obvious her well-preserved self was not the product of plastic surgery or anorexic-type dieting. She’d just gotten lucky regarding her gene pool. And perhaps her positive attitude toward life had helped.

But even though she seemed to have more energy than those around her, she didn’t seem to have any more spirit.

And that was the other thing that struck me about this crowd of aging people. They were full of joie de vivre. They were happy.

Of course, some of that happiness had to do with the party atmosphere and the cash bar. But I was reminded of how inaccurate the myth of aging is – the one about how old people are grumpy and discontent.

Most aren’t.

Their lives hadn’t always gone in the direction they’d expected. Some had married young and divorced almost as young, only to remarry the loves of their lives. While others had stayed divorced, or had divorced multiple times.

Others had married their high school sweethearts and were still married 48 years later! Indeed, there were quite a few long-term marriages in the crowd.

Many had gone into predictable professions–like my husband, the French linguist, who was greeted more than once as Mr. Frenchie. And the guy from the automobile mechanics vocational program who now owned his own dealership that he was about to pass on to his son.

(meme made with imgflip --

meme made with imgflip

Still others had become something entirely different than anticipated.

I met one particularly interesting woman who had planned to marry and raise children. That hadn’t quite worked out so she’d devoted her life to her profession and her nieces and nephews. She seemed pretty content with the whole thing.

Indeed, I didn’t detect any of the angst that had been just beneath the surface for some of the people who’d been at my own 30th reunion (the last one I attended before we left Maryland). And there was a lot less of the posturing I remembered from that reunion.

No one seemed to care anymore about what others thought of their success or lack thereof. We were just a bunch of old people who’d gotten together to reminisce and have a good time.

I concluded that, by the time we’ve reached our sixties, we’ve come to grips with our dreams. Either life has turned out as we planned or we’ve adjusted the plan. Sometimes life has actually taken some interesting twists and turns for which we’re downright grateful.

Indeed, life is sometimes what happens while we’re making other plans. And that isn’t always a bad thing.

How about you? Have you had times when life took you in some unexpected direction that turned out better than anticipated?

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. 🙂 )

When Does a Stressor Become a Stressor? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I am in editing hell the process of polishing a manuscript, so I thought I’d re-run a post that was a hit a few years ago.

It seemed appropriate to go with a post on stress!  From May, 2013:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the main factors in how stressed we feel is our own interpretation of the events in our lives. With a few exceptions, a stressor isn’t a stressor until we view it that way.

This is why something can be soooo stressful to one person and someone else thinks they’re nuts for worrying about it. The interpretation of a stressor is unique to each individual, influenced by personality and past experiences.

This used to be one of my husband’s biggest stressors:

airplane flying overhead

(photo by Dylan Ashe, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When we were first married, he was a basketcase whenever we had to fly somewhere. We had to get to the airport extra early, so he could have a couple drinks in the airport bar to brace himself. But once we were on the plane, he wouldn’t drink. This was back in the days when alcohol on the plane was free (Yes, folks, once upon a time, airlines not only fed you for free, they would get you liquored up as well. No extra charge!)

So not only did I think the man was crazy, I was pissed that he was buying overpriced drinks in the airport and then not drinking the free stuff on the plane. One day, I confronted him about this and he explained that he couldn’t drink on the plane because he had to be able to concentrate.

“Concentrate on what?” I asked.

“On willing the plane to stay in the air,” he answered.

At that point, I truly thought I’d married a madman.

I later found out, as a psychology grad student, that this wasn’t an unusual fantasy on the part of folks afraid of flying. It’s their way of taking control of a situation where they feel out of control. (As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, control is often a big factor in stress.)

Fortunately, my husband finally figured out what was going on with his fear of flying. I won’t go into details since it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say that he’d had some bad experiences with people being in charge who were quite incompetent. So having someone else in control of his safety made him very nervous.

view from airplane window seat

(photo by Peretz Partensky, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I, on the other hand, am one of those people who will run you over to get to a window seat. Then I squeal, “Look at the cute little cars and houses down there. It looks like a Christmas garden” as the plane is taking off. (My husband wears earplugs on planes; I can’t imagine why.)

My attitude is that since I can’t control whether or not the plane stays in the air, I might as well not worry about it and just relax and enjoy the ride.

Now, let’s talk about job stress. My husband handles it very well. Why? Because he doesn’t mind having bosses. He’s an easy-going guy (has to be to put up with me!) and he’s okay with someone telling him what to do as long as they’re not an idiot. And if his boss is an idiot (he’s had a few of them through the years), he just figures out how to work around the idiocy and moves on.

I, however, have no patience whatsoever for idiot bosses, and it seems like I have had way more than my share of them. Of course, the fact that my definition of an idiot boss is any boss who doesn’t leave me completely alone to do my job without any interference could be part of the problem.

Yes, I am cussedly independent! So much so that by the time I was 30, I’d decided that the only way I could function in the world of work was to be self-employed. I went into private practice as a mental health counselor.

coffee mug with "The Boss"

(photo by ThisIsRobsLife, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

It was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I totally loved my job! There were plenty of other stressors involved in being self-employed, but they all paled by comparison to how I had felt when I was being micro-managed by others. So I was a happy camper!

Fast forward 13 years and I was starting to burn out on listening to other people’s descriptions of their stressful lives. I had done a little bit of teaching here and there and had really loved the interaction with students. So I decided to apply for part-time teaching positions at the colleges in my area. My goal was to teach half-time and cut my practice back to half-time so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

After papering the Baltimore-Washington area with my resume, I finally got a call from the psychology department at Towson University. I  liked the department chair and the whole atmosphere in the department, and I was reassured that there would be an ongoing need for my services as long as I did a good job.

Imagine my shock when halfway into the first semester I started having anxiety attacks any time I crossed paths with my department chair. Did I mention I liked him? I really did, so why was I so nervous around him? By the end of the semester, I was actually considering quitting teaching, even though I loved everything else about it.

To cut to the chase, I finally figured out that having a boss again, even one I liked, was pushing my control buttons. I wasn’t completely in charge of my own destiny anymore, as I had been for years. Indeed, when you teach college part-time your employment is completely at the whim of your department chair. He or she can choose not to hire you back the following semester and there is absolutely no recourse, because you are a contractual employee. This was the source of my anxiety, and no amount of lecturing myself about how everybody at Towson liked me and said I was doing a good job seemed to help.

After much thought, I hit on a solution, a way to reframe the situation to myself. I reminded myself that there were roughly fifty colleges within commuting distance of my home, and I should think of myself as a self-employed contractor, who was offering my expertise to these schools on a contractual basis. If I didn’t like the set-up at one school or they didn’t hire me back, I would just take my expertise elsewhere.

It worked! I felt so much better. I was able to relax and really enjoy teaching. I taught at Towson for 9 years, until my husband and I both retired and we moved to Florida. It turned out to be my favorite job ever!

Now if you’re thinking, “How silly. All you changed is how you thought about the situation,” you are exactly right. Except about the ‘silly’ part.

That’s the whole point. How we think and feel about a stressor very much affects how much it stresses us!

Back to my husband and his fear of flying for a moment. His fears dissipated dramatically when we started using a certain airline that had two things going for it. One, the crews are trained to be super friendly; the pilot stands at the door and greets the passengers as they board. Two, a friend of ours is a pilot for this particular airline and we know he’s a competent guy.

When my husband felt that those in charge of keeping the plane in the air were real people, friendly and competent like his friend, he was able to relax. Over time, his fear of flying completely disappeared. Today, he prefers flying over driving, whenever possible.

How about you? Any stressors come to mind that might not be so stressful if you were able to shift your interpretation of them?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery 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. 🙂 )

6 Answers Fiction Writers Have for the Grammar Police

by Kassandra Lamb

made at imgflip.com

One of the frustrations of being a fiction writer is the occasional need to defend ourselves when accosted by the Grammar Police.

Now, that’s not to say that we don’t sometimes become the Grammar Police ourselves. Most of us have had a lot of training in the use of language, including proper grammar. So we grind our teeth when we see flat-out errors (apostrophes in places they don’t belong is one of my pet peeves).

But often our own grammatical “mistakes” really aren’t mistakes at all.

Certainly we writers do sometimes make boo-boos in our writing. Anytime one is feverishly typing — trying to get the words down before the muse snatches them away again — there is bound to be an occasional “your” slipping in where we meant “you’re.” (That’s why it’s so important for writers to get fresh eyes to proofread their final work.)

But many of the things the Grammar Police see as horrific errors are more examples of literary license and/or the evolution of language.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

1.  Sentence fragments are okay in fiction. Honest! They are. For emphasis. They should be used sparingly, but it really is okay to leave out the subject, or even the subject and the verb, or some other component of a grammatically-correct sentence, when writing fiction.

2.  Dialogue is about how people really talk, not what is grammatically correct.

Nothing will bring out the grammar police reaction in me faster than someone using “that” to refer to a person.

made at imgflip.com

made at imgflip.com

~ She’s the one that came to the door.

No, no, no! 

~ She’s the one who came to the door.

However, if you put quotes around that first sentence, indicating that it’s dialogue, it is now okay. Because that’s how people talk today, in America at least.

Likewise, “a couple of days ago” is grammatically correct. But when speaking, someone is more likely to say, “A couple days ago.”

3.  Dropping some “correct” words for the sake of flow.  Flow is important in fiction. The smoother the flow of words, the more the reader forgets that s/he is reading and becomes immersed in the story.

One of the things writers are advised to do is read the story out loud. When you see how easily (or not) the words flow off the tongue, you have a better sense of how easily they will flow through the reader’s mind.

For example, when a dependent clause acts as a modifier of a noun, it technically should begin with “that.” But often times, the “that” can be dropped and the sentence still means the same thing, but it flows a bit smoother.

~  It was the blanket that the toddler always carried around with her.

~  It was the blanket the toddler always carried around with her.

4.  Mixing verb tenses. Fiction is most often written in past tense.

~  She walked to the bench and picked up the book.

We read that as something that is happening in the present in the story. So if a writer needs to talk about something that happened in the character’s past–even a few minutes before–the past perfect tense is required.

~  It was the book she had dropped in a puddle earlier.

This is fine if it’s just a sentence or two, but if we’re writing whole paragraphs in the past perfect tense, all the “hads” start to get awkward. And especially if the verb going with the had is “to have.”

~  She had had enough.

That looks really, really weird. So again, in the interest of flow and helping the reader forget s/he is reading, the “hads” are often dropped in the middle of the paragraph and we revert to simple past tense. Or the “had” may be replaced with a contraction.

What had he been thinking? The case was poison from the get go. His partner warned him. She’d pointed out that they didn’t need the money that badly. But he’d gone ahead and told the client yes. And now they were paying the price.

If you don’t think that’s smoother, here’s the technically correct version:

What had he been thinking? The case had been poison from the get go. His partner had warned him. She had pointed out that they hadn’t needed the money that badly. But he had gone ahead and had told the client yes. And now they were paying the price.

Which brings us to…

5.  Contractions are okay in narration. When I was in school, contractions were only okay in dialogue. In narration, they were a no-no.

But today, writers are trying to pull the reader into the point-of-view character’s perspective as much as possible. So contractions are not only helpful for flow, but they make the reader feel more like s/he is inside the POV character’s head, experiencing what they are thinking, observing, doing, etc. right along with them.

6.  Language evolves.  Like it or not, this is reality.

If you don’t believe me, try asking for directions using Chaucer’s English and see what happens.

Blake's Canterbury Pilgrims

William Blake’s The Canterbury Pilgrims, 1808 (public domain)

Did you notice in the 2nd paragraph in number 5 above, I refer to a single POV character, and then say: experiencing what they are thinking, observing, doing, etc. right along with them?

Maybe you did, but I’m betting you didn’t. Because it is becoming more and more acceptable to use “they” as the pronoun for a singular person whose gender is unknown.

Such changes in language usually start in speech. Then, as the new usage becomes more acceptable, it eventually becomes the norm in written language as well.

What about you? What grammar mistakes make you grind your teeth? How do you feel about language evolving?

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. 🙂 )

4 More Things To Do (or Learn) by the Time You’re 64

by Kassandra Lamb

Sunday I turned 64 — the age that the Beatles made famous… “Will you still need me, will you still…”

Two years ago, I posted about 15 Things We Should Do (Or Learn) by the Time We’re 62. I re-ran that post recently. Now I am adding four more things to that list.

1. Learn to make life easier by letting others help.

I’m a cussedly independent person, but at the same time, nothing makes me feel better than helping out a friend. That dichotomy in my personality always reminds me of one of my grandmother’s sayings (I’m pretty sure she coined it because of me):

Tis more blessed to give than to receive, but it’s dang hard to give when no one is willing to receive.

If people volunteer to help make your life easier, make them happy. Let them!

2. Make a bucket list of places you want to see and check off at least two of them a year (more if you’re able).

One of the saddest things about my mother’s death was that she never saw Alaska. Not because Alaska is the be all and end all of travel destinations (although it is very interesting and absolutely gorgeous).

What made it so sad was that she really wanted to see it, and never did.

Great Wall of China (public domain)

Great Wall of China (public domain)

After she died, my stepfather started traveling like crazy (he and my mom traveled; it’s just they didn’t realize there was an expiration date).

For a few years there, he went on at least four or five trips a year. Short trips and long ones. He’s seen the Great Wall of China and the penguins on Antarctica. (Seriously, he has.)

There will come a day when travel is too hard, and therefore not fun anymore. So don’t put off that bucket list!

3. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, or at least tolerate well, and then do it regularly.

For me this is Zumba and brisk dog walks. Nothing does more for our health than exercise. And it energizes us.

Come on, Mom, let's pick up that pace!

Come on, Mom. What are you waiting for?

Insomnia is a common problem as we age, and on days when I didn’t sleep well the night before, I’m very tempted to skip exercising. Instead, I tell myself I will “go easy on it.”

This helps convince me to put in the Zumba DVD or get out the dog’s leash. Sometimes I do “go easy,” but other times I get into the rhythm of dancing or walking and forget I’m supposed to be going slower.

Afterwards, I almost always feel better (not to mention self-righteous 😉 )

4. Embrace aging.

You might as well, because fighting it does no good. If you try to fight it, you will just spend your last few decades on this planet fluctuating between denial and frustration.

Aging sucks. The list of things we can still readily do is shrinking and the list of things that are a distant memory grows longer. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy life and squeeze every ounce of delight out of the days, weeks, months, years we have left.

One great thing about getting older — everyday is Saturday. You get to choose what you want to do on any given day…

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately. I wrote another Marcia Banks and Buddy book. 😀  And today is it’s official release day!!  Woot!

How about you?  What’s on your bucket list?

Last day at $1.99 ~ ARSENIC and YOUNG LACY, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book #2

book cover

Sweet, adorable Lacy has stolen Marcia Banks’ heart, but money is tight. Like it or not, the service dog trainer needs to complete the human phase of the training and deliver the dog to her new owner in order to get paid. But the ex-Army nurse client turns out to be a challenging trainee. On top of her existing neuroses–which go beyond the psychological damage from a sexual assault during her second tour in Afghanistan–the veteran is now being stalked.

When Marcia receives a bizarre warning to stay away from her client and Lacy is also caught in the stalker’s malicious orbit, Sheriff Will Haines steps in to investigate. Marcia finds this both endearing and annoying, especially when he expects her to stay on the sidelines. The training fee would make her solvent again, but how can she put her dogs at risk?

Maybe Marcia should be more worried about herself, since the stalker has decided to pay her off in a very different way.

Available on: AMAZON US   AMAZON UK   AMAZON CA   AMAZON AUS

APPLE    KOBO     NOOK

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. 🙂 )