Monthly Archives: February 2017

3 Reasons Why a Sleuth Can Never Take a Vacation

by Kathy (K.B.) Owen

Ah, the chance to get away from it all. Our sleuth (amateur or otherwise) is more than ready to leave the bustle behind and relax, dig her toes in the sand, perhaps sip a cool beverage beside the water. Not a care in the world.

Nope. Not gonna happen. The mystery writer is there to ruthlessly yank that illusion away. Bwahaha. 

Why so heartless? Because vacationing is the perfect occasion for mayhem and murder. Here are three reasons why:

State of mind.

No one wants to deal with unpleasantness or disruption while on vacation. And a dead body can be plenty disruptive, as Hercule Poirot found out during his aborted vacation in Christie’s Death on the Nile. Conflict, a key ingredient to any story, increases when our expectations are flouted and we are caught unprepared. A detective’s fellow vacationers would rather be sipping margaritas than answering uncomfortable questions.

The journey.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Trains, planes, cruise ships…great opportunities for chaos and conflict, as strangers are forced to travel together in tight quarters. Tempers flare. Small annoyances turn into big grievances. Moreover, who are these people? What troubles have they brought along with them?

Mystery writers have long turned to such a setting. I couldn’t resist it myself in the fourth book of my Concordia Wells Mysteries, Unseemly Haste, which is set aboard a cross-country sleeper car in the summer of 1898. There may have been a dead body or two, but you’d have to read it to find out. *wink*

The locale.

There are a couple of elements to consider in this category. One is the incongruity between, say, a paradise location and a grisly murder. Everywhere one looks–the swaying palms, the gentle breeze, the gorgeous sunsets–indicates peace, contentment, serenity. Except for the grisly body one has just stumbled upon.

Just a sunset, no body. Photo by K.B. Owen.

Another consideration is the “fish out of water” aspect of being in a strange place. We are completely dependent upon the local hosts who are the only ones familiar with the people, backstories, customs, and overall workings of the community. Misinformation–or outright lying–can make for some wonderful twists and turns to the mystery. Who knows what secrets lurk in paradise?

So, there you have it: our poor, overworked sleuth cannot catch a break.

Any other reasons you can think of as to why a vacation spot works so well for a mystery? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of detectives and vacations, I’d like to announce a new release!

 Missing jewels…a haunted inn…a long-held secret…

Penelope Hamilton Wynch, one of the few female operatives employed at the Pinkerton Agency in 1886, is sent to the Adirondacks to investigate the mysterious happenings at Schroon Lake Inn, newly renovated to cater to New York City’s upper crust on summer holiday. Rumors of ghosts are bad enough, but when expensive jewelry disappears, the owner’s livelihood is at stake. A woman’s touch is needed.

Pen’s boss, William Pinkerton, thinks he has given her the perfect cover. She is to play the part of an eccentric spirit medium, eager to experience the purported ghostly manifestations.

Unfortunately, her cover will not remain intact for long, and there are those watching who do not want the secrets disturbed.

Available for pre-order now, goes live March 1st! Just $0.99

 Order from Kindle or iBooks

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 6 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

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. 🙂 )

Where The Research Takes Us: How To Kill Your Characters

Kass here to tell you about today’s guest blogger, cozy mystery writer Gilian Baker, who is about to release her debut novel, Blogging Is Murder (which I review below).

She will entertain us with a fun little post on how to kill one’s characters (I swear, the FBI is going to come knocking any day now).

First, let’s get to know Gilian a bit…

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Disclaimer:  Do NOT try this at home, folks! This post is for entertainment purposes only.

Researching How To Kill Your Characters

by Gilian Baker

I love to plot murder! Yeah, that’s not a sentence you read every day, but it’s true. In my first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, the murder victim is poisoned with hemlock.

Why hemlock when there are so many new, man-made chemicals available?

I’ve just always wanted to kill someone off with an old-fashioned plant. And when I started researching the properties of hemlock, I knew I had the perfect murder weapon for my first mystery with my protagonist, Jade Blackwell, amateur sleuth.

Here are a few of the questions I had to research to determine if hemlock was a viable murder weapon for the story:

  •  Does it grow wild in Wyoming? (The setting of the series)
  •  Where is it found there?
  •  What parts of the plant are poisonous?
  •  Why would Jade’s friend, Liz write about hemlock on her blog, The Wise Housewife? Is it still used in herbal remedies? What ailments was it historically used for and what is it used for now?
  •  How does it kill? What are the symptoms of the poisoning?
  •  Is it still poisonous when dried?
  •  When does it grow?
  •  Is it frost hearty? Or is it killed off easily by a heavy frost?

I researched some of these questions before I wrote much of the story. But other questions didn’t occur to me until the plot developed, and I needed to know. For example, I was considering adding a freak snowstorm to add tension to the last third of the book. It’s not uncommon to get snow in Wyoming eight months out of the year, so that could work.

I’d written a couple of chapters that included light frosts overnight, which worried Jade since her spring bulbs had already come up in her garden. But wait! Would even a light frost, let alone a big snowstorm kill hemlock that was growing in the wild? If so, how would the murderer get fresh hemlock to kill their victim? Did I want to change the plot so the killer used dried hemlock?

You see how plot twists and new ideas for where to take the story impact the research that needs to be done. In this case, I had to go back and change the entire setting to a later time in spring to avoid overnight frosts. That meant rewriting those scenes where Jade worried about her spring bulbs.

detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (public domain)

I bet you want to know the answers I found in my research, right? After all, who doesn’t want to know more about hemlock? Okay, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the answers.

  • Does it grow wild in Wyoming?
    Yes, in fact it grows wild in most states in the U.S. There are many types of hemlock and most regions have the right conditions for several types to grow.
  • Where is it found there?
    It’s found most anywhere, but it likes a damp climate. During a wet spring, ranchers have to keep an eye out for the plant in their pastures. It’s one of the most poisonous plants to humans, but also to cows, horses and other animals.
  • What parts of the plant are poisonous?
    All of it.
  • Why would Liz write about it on her blog, The Wise Housewife?
    It is still used in herbal remedies, but only in minute doses and only in the hands of a skilled alternative therapist or homeopath. It was historically used for a wide range of ailments, including bronchitis, mania, anxiety, epilepsy and asthma. The Greeks also used it to put criminals to death.
  • How does it kill? What are the symptoms of poisoning?
    Hemlock affects the central nervous system so that the brain continues to function, but the person can’t move. They are paralyzed, but aware of what’s happening to them. It eventually stops their heart.
  • Is it poisonous after it’s dried?
    Yes, for up to three years.
  • When does it grow?
    In the spring.
  • Is it frost hearty?
    No, it’s not. That’s why I had to change the setting of the book and forgo my inspired idea of a freak snowstorm.

But I’m sure I’ll be able to find another way to use that idea in later books. 🙂

If you want to find out who exactly gets knocked off with hemlock and whodunit, well I’m afraid you will have to read the story.

book coverBlogging Is Murder, A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Former English professor Jade Blackwell’s promising new career as a blogger falters when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. Then the hacker is found dead, and Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she has felt living in the quaint Rocky Mountain hamlet of Aspen Falls.

Available on AMAZON

Posted by Gilian Baker. You can connect with Gilian on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter or at her website. Blogging Is Murder is the first book in her Jade Blackwell series.

Kassandra Lamb’s review of Blogging is Murder:

This is a very good debut cozy mystery. The pace is lively and the characters likeable. (I particularly enjoyed the quirky elderly neighbor of the murder victim.) The twist at the end was unexpected but plausible.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a professional blogger. I had no idea how much work was involved in that business. I’m looking forward to reading more of Jade’s adventures and getting to know the residents of Aspen Falls, Wyoming. Four out of five fingerprints!

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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. 🙂 )

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

by Kassandra Lamb

For the writers among our subscribers, I’m over at The Write Stuff today, talking about some of the best ways to make descriptions of settings and characters as efficient as possible. I’ve included some interesting info I learned as a psychologist and college professor, about how people process input through their senses.

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

hand painting

A few deft strokes often will suffice.

While editing the book I’m releasing tomorrow, and especially while trying to pare down the scenes that beta readers and my editor said were dragging, I truly came to appreciate the importance of a finely honed description.

Descriptions in fiction are important to ground the reader in the setting and allow him/her to visualize characters. But they can also bog down the pace and bore the reader if they are too long, and can be jarring if they’re in the wrong spot.

Read More…

 

Love Mellowed

by Kassandra Lamb

Love, like cheese and wine, tends to get better with age, in a mellow kind of way. Oh yes, it can go in the direction of moldy or potentially turn into vinegar, but more often than not, it mellows into a very deep friendship.

My favorite model for understanding love (if one can ever understand love) comes from a psychologist named Robert Sternberg. He put a whole new twist on the concept of a love triangle.

Sternberg's Love Triangle

First he distilled love down into three components: passion, intimacy and commitment. You might assume that these terms are self-explanatory, but when I was teaching psychology I was amazed at how many college students had never really thought about their definitions.

  • Passion: physical attraction (this one is obvious)
  • Intimacy: closeness through self-disclosure (sharing who you are, your feelings, your past, etc.)
  • Commitment: making the effort to maintain the relationship

The ideal love, that’s strong enough to base a marriage on, is consummate love, according to Sternberg—a fairly equal balance between these three components. A triangle with equal sides.

So what happens when the relationship “ages?”

old couple

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Often the passion slows down. (Why do you think we have all those ED medications out there?)

Even if there are no physical problems, our energy levels go down with age. The number of nights when one or both partners are too tired to even think about sex increases.

The passion rarely goes away completely, although it can, especially if there is some medical reason why the couple can’t have sex.

But even then, a relationship that had a strong base to begin with will usually still be deemed a happy one by the partners. Why?

(photo by Mike DelGaudio-Flickr, CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by Mike DelGaudio-Flickr, CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Because the commitment and the intimacy have grown over the years. The couple knows each other, and trusts each other, like no one else does. And they have many years of shared experiences.

So the triangle has become skewed, with two long sides and one short one, but it’s still strong. Sometimes stronger than ever.

Aging and love mellowing are subplot themes in my new release, Book #9 in the Kate Huntington mysteries. The main character, who was in her 30’s when the series began, is now dealing with menopause and an angst-ridden pre-teen daughter.

But that doesn’t stop her from chasing down leads to unravel the latest mystery!

Official release day is this Saturday, 2/18, but it’s now available for preorder.

Just $1.99 during preorder and for 5 days after the release! (Goes up to $3.99 on 2/22)

AnxietyAttack-Thumb

ANXIETY ATTACK, A Kate Huntington Mystery, #9

When an operative working undercover for Kate Huntington’s husband is shot, the alleged shooter turns out to be one of Kate’s psychotherapy clients, a man suffering from severe social anxiety. P.I. Skip Canfield had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives, and a friend, is in the hospital fighting for his life.

Tensions build when Skip learns that Kate—who’s convinced her client is innocent and too emotionally fragile to survive in prison—has been checking out leads on her own. Then a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the shooter tying up loose ends? Almost too late, Skip realizes he may be one of those loose ends, and someone seems to have no qualms about destroying his agency or getting to him through his family.

AMAZON     APPLE     KOBO     NOOK

Your thoughts on the mellowing of love with age?

 HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!

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. 🙂 )

February, the Runt of Months

by Kassandra Lamb

Contemplating this month of February that we’ve just entered got me thinking about being the shortest or smallest in a group—a team, a classroom, a family, etc.

We humans are fairly obsessed with size, as if that’s some indicator of power and, in turn, worth. Small equals powerless equals unworthy.

football player receiving the ball

Photo by Torsten Bolten CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Big equals better. Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger you-know-whats…

Look at football players. Definitely bigger is better, right? Hey, it’s Super Bowl time so we’ve gotta have some football references.

(But wait, who’s that wiry little guy ducking and dodging around the big bruisers? You know, that receiver who makes a bunch of touchdowns because he’s a bit smaller and leaner, and a lot faster, than the others.)

Being the shortest/smallest one can bring on teasing, and whether it’s good-natured or mean, that teasing can leave one feeling less than and can undermine self-esteem for years to come.

Poor February is the shortest month—the runt of the year. Do you ever wonder if February feels self-conscious about it’s lack of length—inferior even. Do the other months pick on February? Do they point and make fun?

Here’s some advice I found on the Internet* for short kids who are teased by their classmates. Just for fun, let’s see if we can apply these ideas to February.

1. Ignore those bigger ones who put you down for being smaller.

Ha, I turn my back on you, January. You are so yesterday!

2. Confront those who tease you.

Hey, March, cool it with the short jokes. You’re no better than me. I may be cold and snowy, but you’re rainy and dreary, and about that wind…

3. If it gets to be too much, tell an authority figure, someone with the power to stop the teasing.

Hey, April. You may be 30 days long and the true beginning of spring. But if you don’t stop picking on me, I’m gonna tell July and August. They’re each 31 days long and they will burn you!

4. Embrace your size. (It may be that you just haven’t had your growth spurt yet.)

There’s nothing wrong with being short. (Oh, and just you wait until the next leap year!)

hearts on a bare tree

photo by Johntex CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

5. Play to your strengths.

Yes, I’m short, but I’m sweet, and a lot of fun. I’ve got the Super Bowl, Presidents’ Day (Yay, long weekend!), Valentine’s Day, and Mardi Gras going for me.

6. Stand tall and be confident!

That’s it February, head high, back straight!

You may be short, but for those of us who hate winter, you sure seem like the longest month of the year.

(*Loosely paraphrased from WikiHow: How to Handle Being the Smallest Person in Class.)

What are your thoughts on being the shortest, or the youngest, or in some other way, the runt of the litter? Do you have other suggestions for overcoming the message that you are less than if you’re the “runt?”

And speaking of teasing, my protagonist’s daughter is now in middle school and coping with being the youngest kid in her class, among other things. Check out this subplot in my upcoming Kate Huntington Mystery (#9), ANXIETY ATTACK.

Cover reveal today. Ta-da!

book cover

ANXIETY ATTACK, A Kate Huntington Mystery, #9

When an operative working undercover for Kate Huntington’s husband is shot, the alleged shooter turns out to be one of Kate’s psychotherapy clients, a man suffering from severe social anxiety. P.I. Skip Canfield had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives, and a friend, is in the hospital fighting for his life.

Tensions build when Skip learns that Kate—who’s convinced her client is innocent and too emotionally fragile to survive in prison—has been checking out leads on her own. Then a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the shooter tying up loose ends? Almost too late, Skip realizes he may be one of those loose ends, and someone seems to have no qualms about destroying his agency or getting to him through his family.

Release Date:  2/18/17  ~  Will be available for Preorder on 2/14/17! 

Just $1.99 during preorder.

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. 🙂 )