Author Archives: Kassandra Lamb

Lessons Learned from Irma

by Kassandra Lamb

A week ago, the southeastern U.S. was hit by one of the worst storms ever, Hurricane Irma. It broke all kinds of records and affected multiple states as well as devastating islands in the Caribbean.

And my husband and I were in its path in Florida, as were many of our friends and colleagues. Each of us had to make a series of decisions—ones that would affect our property and/or our safety. Many lessons were learned, some of which can be applied to life in general.

Here are some of those lessons:

1) Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.
Nothing worse than a tropical storm has hit our city in north central Florida since the 1960s. So our residents tend to take it for granted that a true hurricane will never reach us. Everyone took in their lawn furniture and stocked up on bottled water, batteries and canned goods (standard tropical storm prep), but we were initially the only ones in our neighborhood who boarded up our windows. Better safe than sorry is our motto (and we have crappy single-pane windows), but we noticed a certain amount of denial among our neighbors.

Telling yourself that it won’t be that bad is an okay strategy from a mental health standpoint; it will help keep you calm. But from a safety standpoint, it can become dangerous.
pile of necessities

I told myself we would be fine, but I still packed a bag of clothes and toiletries and made a pile of other necessities in one corner of the family room, just in case we needed to evacuate. And I called around and made a reservation for a motel room near Atlanta, back when the storm was slated to go up the east coast.

2) Stay calm and stay informed.
The good thing about hurricanes is that they move relatively slowly. Modern weather prediction techniques can keep us informed of their progress days before they make landfall. The bad thing about hurricanes is that they are fickle. They change course, pick up speed, slow down, strengthen, weaken, and sometimes even go around in circles (as Jose recently did out in the Atlantic).

Like many other important decisions (like who to vote for), the decision about how to respond to a hurricane is not one to be made based solely on emotion, nor is it one that can be made and then forgotten. We need to stay alert for new information that might affect that decision.

This goes against human nature to some extent. Once we’ve made up our minds about something, we tend to defend that position against new input. I’ve talked about this confirmation bias before. It can lead to all kinds of problems, but in the case of an impending hurricane, it can get you killed.

3) We are not in control.
We humans hate feeling out of control. We’ll do just about anything to maintain the illusion of control. But the reality is that Mother Nature is bigger and stronger than mere mortals.

And when she decides to hit us with the mother of all storms, we need to get it that we are not in charge.

Some people opted to stay, even in the most vulnerable sections of the state, out of concern for their property. They wanted to be there in case something happened to their homes, so they could somehow protect their belongings.

I get that feeling.  If I stay, I can somehow control things is the underlying belief.

I almost succumbed to it. What if the roof came off of our 1970s-era house (built before current building codes)?  Water would get in and ruin everything.

Then it dawned on me that my being there would not stop the roof from coming off, and my being there would not stop the rain from coming in. My being there would just get me injured or killed if the roof came off!

4) Belongings aren’t as important as we think they are.
Thinking I might pack up the most valued objects to take with us, I walked around my house and looked at my grandmother’s antique furniture in the living room and my mother’s Japanese tea set in the china cabinet and the jewelry armoire in my bedroom that contains a lifetime of accumulated baubles, many of which hold sentimental as well as monetary value. I didn’t have room for more than a box or two of things, once our suitcases, ourselves and the dog were loaded in our small SUV. Should I forget about all those other things and just grab the photos?

I opted not to try to take anything. I realized none of those things were as important as our lives.

5) Stay flexible.
We’re back to that confirmation bias. We can’t let pride get in the way of changing our minds when facts change. Two days before the storm was to hit, the predicted path was changed from the east coast to the middle of the state (and moving on to Atlanta from there). Although this meant the storm would come right over us, it also meant it would have been on land long enough to have weakened significantly.

We breathed a tentative sigh and decided we could stay. Irma would be nothing worse than a tropical storm when she reached us, and we were more than prepared for that. We canceled the motel room (which was now in the direct path of the storm). But something told me we shouldn’t unpack our bags just yet.

Good thing because during the day on Saturday, the path shifted again to the possibility of the storm coming up the west coast and the prediction for our area was upgraded from tropical storm to Category 1 (still tolerable), and then later to Cat 1 with stronger gusts equivalent to a Cat 2 to 3.

predicted path of Irma

There was no guarantee our roof could withstand that. (See the “M” next to “2 AM Mon.” We are slightly northeast from that M, which stands for Major Hurricane. Ack!!)

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, we made the decision to leave. All the local shelters were full by then, but we had over thirty-six hours to get far enough north to be out of the worst of it. And if we drove at night, that was doable. (The worst thing one can do in a hurricane is leave at the last minute. If the storm catches you in your car on the road, you may very well be swept away and drowned.)

Because we had already packed, the car was loaded and we were pulling out of our driveway by 9:35. As we had hoped, traffic was light and we made good time. I was surprised that it wasn’t that hard to stay awake. Adrenaline is far superior to caffeine as a stimulant!!

6) Cherish your friends.
From the road, I called my friend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (that had originally been in the direct path of the storm, but now was not). “Hi. We’re coming to you. Be there for breakfast.”

“Well, okay then,” she said, sounding just a little startled. “I’ll make up the bed in the guest room.”

Afterwards, I realized what a blessing it is to have a friend like that, someone I knew would open her home to us and I didn’t even have to ask. It was okay to just assume we were welcome to come.

Later she told me that her first thought when she hung up the phone was, “Thank God they’re getting out of harm’s way.”

Nurture those kind of friendships. They are far more precious than any antique table or pearl necklace.

7) Don’t waste time on regrets.
When we announced on Facebook the next day that we’d opted to get out, one of my husband’s friends suggested we would feel like fools if it turned out to not be that bad. Hubs’s reaction was, “No, we will feel relieved.”

And we were, because it wasn’t that bad. The storm was a weak Cat 1 by the time it got to our town and the damage was less than was suffered in 2004 in Frances, which was a tropical storm (but a big, slow-moving one that dumped a ton of rain) by the time it got to us.

We had no regrets about leaving, however. We knew it was the best decision we could make with the info we had at the time. And we managed to miss the whole power failure thing. Our electricity was off from Sunday p.m. until Wednesday a.m. We came back Wednesday afternoon. 🙂

Others had perhaps more powerful reasons to feel regret, like the young man who couldn’t convince his mother to leave her trailer home in the Keys. She and the trailer are now gone.

When he was interviewed on TV, he was crying, saying, “Why didn’t I try harder to convince her?” But when the interviewer asked if there was anything he could have said that would have made her leave, he admitted there wasn’t. I hope and pray that he can take that to heart. If there was nothing he could’ve said, trying harder wouldn’t have worked.

Which brings me to the most powerful lesson of all…

8) Sometimes we should do what we might not think is necessary, just to ease the worries of those who love us.
So many of our friends expressed relief when we said we’d evacuated! And we had people we cared about in vulnerable parts of Florida who didn’t evacuate. Thank the good Lord they are okay, but we worried throughout the whole storm.

It isn’t always just about us. Unless we are totally positive that their worries are unfounded, maybe we should listen—and at least consider how they will feel, the regrets they will struggle with, if something bad happens to us.

Because, as I said above, better safe than sorry!

Do any of these lessons resonate for you? Were you or those you love affected by Irma?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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 Thoughts on Labor

by Kassandra Lamb

aerial of crowded beach

Traditionally, beaches are jammed full on the last big weekend of summer. (photo by John Murphy, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Another Labor Day has rolled around. For many of us this is just another three-day weekend, an excuse to have a cookout or make a trip to the department stores to grab some bargains.

Or we may look upon this holiday as the bittersweet end of summer.

But the day was originally set aside to honor people who worked for a living (which is almost all of us). Back when this holiday was a new thing, in the late 1800s, many more people did actual physical labor in their jobs than we see today.

Indeed, the word “labor” implies hard physical effort. We talk about a woman laboring to give birth.

But what about if our work is something we are passionate about. Then we may call it a “labor of love.”

Here are six things I’ve learned about labor during my lifetime:

1.  Find work that you enjoy, and preferably work that you can feel passionate about.

There are lots of different vocations available today. Don’t settle for one that you can barely tolerate, if you can help it.

2.  Accept the bad with the good.

Not all of the tasks involved in that work will be ones you like. I try to deal with the less pleasant tasks first thing, so I can enjoy the rest of my day without them hanging over my head.

3.  Take time to experience a sense of accomplishment.

The next time you finish a task, stop and notice what that sense of accomplishment feels like for you.

For me, it’s a light feeling in my chest and I find myself smiling even if no one else is around. I experience this feeling, to varying degrees, every time I accomplish something, no matter how small. Even something mundane like changing the sheets on the bed comes with a small sense of satisfaction.

image of joy

(image by Camdiluv ♥ from Concepción, CHILE CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When the accomplishment is a major one, there may be bubbles of joy in my chest and the urge to jump up and down. I get that more intense feeling when I finish a first draft, and when I hit Publish for a new release.

Once you’ve discovered what “accomplishment” feels like for you, stop to let yourself experience that feeling every time you finish a task. Take the time to savor it; it’s your reward!

4.  Realize that passion can burn out eventually.

We have much more permission to change careers today than previous generations did. Don’t hesitate to at least explore other options when what was once pleasant is now burdensome. I’m now working on my 4th career.

5.  Don’t make what has come before wrong because it is no longer right.

Things we once felt passionate about can become mundane. Tasks that we once tolerated can become excruciating. But that doesn’t mean that particular passion wasn’t right for us back in the day. Things change; cherish the memories and move on.

My first career was as an administrative assistant in Human Resources (we called it Personnel back then). The tasks I did in that job would bore me to tears today, but I was excited to be part of the business world and to use my interest in psychology to help my employer hire good people.

line drawing of Labor Day parade

The first Labor Day parade, in New York in 1882. (public domain)

When I hit the glass ceiling (which was a lot lower in those days), I went back to school and then became a therapist. I loved that work.

For two decades, I loved it, until I didn’t anymore. But that didn’t make what I had accomplished any less meaningful to me or my clients, nor did it change the fact that I had indeed loved that career for a very long time.

And then I loved to teach, until the other aspects of the job (like grading papers) got to be more trouble than it was worth. (I miss the students though.)

And now I’m writing fiction. I’m still passionate about it, but not as much so as I once was. It feels a bit more like “work” these days. Nonetheless, I suspect I’ll be at this until I’m old enough to finally be content with full retirement.

Each of my careers was fulfilling in its own season, and I cherish all the memories.

6. Balance work with play.

There is much truth in the old adage: All work and no play makes one a dull girl/boy. If work is nonstop—no matter how passionate we are about it—we can become dull shadows of our fully alive selves.

I learned this one the hard way. It’s easy for the business of writing, polishing, publishing and marketing books to become all consuming. I let this happen for several years until a vague sense of discontent had grown into a low-grade depression.

Now, twice a week, I make myself take time off from my business and writing tasks and go to the senior center to play cards or mah jongg. I call them my “old lady days” but really they are my mental health days

How about you? What are your thoughts about “labor” on this day set aside to honor it?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

What Happened First (New Prequel Releases)

by Kassandra Lamb

Prequels to series or trilogies are becoming increasingly popular. As a reader, I usually enjoy them. It’s fun to read more about the characters’ back stories, to see them meeting each other for the first time, etc.

Not long ago, I decided to tackle writing a prequel. Vinnie Hansen has also recently written one for her series, and we’ve both encountered the same three questions from folks about the experience.

So we thought we’d answer them in a blog post.

1. What did you find the most challenging and the most fun about writing a prequel?

Kass Lamb:
Two things were both challenging and fun. One was imagining my characters as younger, more naive people. Normally as authors, we see our characters grow and mature. But in this case I had to go backward and imagine my protagonist as the young woman who would have grown into the Kate Huntington of the series (who is 38 when the series starts and almost 50 by Book 9).

Sweet Sanctuary book cover

At the moment, Sweet Sanctuary is only available to newsletter subscribers. You can sign up at my website.

This younger Kate is fresh out of graduate school, just getting her feet wet as a psychotherapist, and she is discovering that the young man she found boring in college maybe isn’t so dull after all.

The second thing that was both challenging and fun was keeping the technology stuff straight. The prequel is set in 1993. The Internet was in its infancy, personal computers were still a novelty (people actually had to look things up in phone books) and cell phones were big, bulky and expensive.

Vinnie Hansen:
I didn’t start Smoked Meat from scratch. I worked from a short story I’d written awhile ago. However, in the course of doing this, I realized I couldn’t just inflate what I had. It would burst!

Short as my novella is (10,000 words), it’s still three times the length of a typical short story.

My novella would need new stuff—a subplot, a twist. This challenge also provided the fun. I liked delving into the plot and thinking, “Oh, but this could happen . . ..”

2. Why/how did you decide to write a prequel?

Vinnie:
Last year, I was invited to include Murder, Honey, Book 1 in my Carol Sabala series, in the e-collection Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries. The anthology was a huge success. The editor decided to put out a follow-up collection, Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas, due out this fall. Each author was to contribute a novella related to her series in the first anthology.

I didn’t have a novella written, and I considered the series complete. My seven books create a satisfying character arc for Carol. A prequel seemed like the only logical choice for the new work.

Smoked Meat book cover

Smoked Meat is now available for preorder (can be read as a stand-alone)

That’s how I came to write Smoked Meat, which is available now for pre-order as a misterio press e-book. Please remember this is a novella, and a short one at that, so expect a mystery that seems like a very long short story.

Kass:
I wanted something fresh to use as a reward for folks who subscribed to my newsletter. I had been giving away the first of my Kate on Vacation novellas, shorter, lighter reads that have the same characters as the main series. But I wrote that novella, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine, between Books 4 and 5 of the main series.

In Book 1 of the series, Multiple Motives, (spoiler alert) Kate’s first husband, Eddie Huntington is the murder victim. By Book 4, Kate has remarried and has two kids. I felt it was a bit strange for readers who read and liked Book 1, signed up for the newsletter, and then found themselves reading this story set much later with some very different character dynamics.

Multiple Motives book cover

Multiple Motives is permafree on all ebook retailers.

It made more sense to give them a prequel that showed Kate and Eddie falling in love. But of course, I had to give them a mystery to solve as well. Thus the idea for Sweet Sanctuary was conceived, in which Eddie is the prime suspect when his date for the evening is found murdered.

3. Since these prequels were written last, not first, after all or most of the series were completed, at what point should a person read them?

Kass:
I think it would be ideal to read Sweet Sanctuary after having read Book 1, Multiple Motives, but before reading the rest of the series. But it would be fine to read it later, after having read more or all of the other books.

I definitely would discourage reading it first. Some of the references and characters will make more sense after one has read Book 1. For example, Kate’s best friend in Multiple Motives is lawyer Rob Franklin and their friendship, which grew out of a work relationship, is central to that story. In Sweet Sanctuary, Kate meets Rob for the first time when she is trying to find a lawyer to help her friend Ed Huntington. That scene has some humor in it that will be a lot funnier for folks who have already read Multiple Motives.

Vinnie:
Smoked Meat can stand on its own and be read at any point. Many readers will encounter my works through the two Sleuthing Women releases and will read Smoked Meat second. That’s fine, but not ideal.

I’d recommend that a person read the prequel either first or last, with a bias for last, the order in which they were written. Both Smoked Meat and the first book in the series take place at Christmas, although Murder, Honey is set in a later year. I’d like my readers to have some distance between one Christmas setting and the next.

Do you have other questions about writing prequels? As a reader, do you find them fun or annoying?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb and Vinnie Hansen.

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

Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series 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. 🙂 )

Beach Reads for the End of Summer — #BookReviews

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

We meant to do this earlier but somehow the summer got away from us. But here are some great reads to keep your appetite for mystery satisfied as the summer winds down.

First up is Shannon Esposito:

The Dry book cover

The Dry by Jane Harper

THE DRY was the perfect summer read. Set in a scorching, dusty small Australian town, this murder mystery starts with a shocking crime that brings Federal Agent Aaron Falk back home. Not only does he have to face the death of his childhood friend, but also the old accusations of another murder that ran him out of town long ago.

Jane Harper skillfully weaves both the past and present together to paint a vivid picture of what happens when small town secrets and lies are unburied.

It’s hard to believe this was a debut mystery. I give it five fingerprints.

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Next up is Vinnie Hansen:

Vinnie with Allen Eskens

Vinnie with Allen Eskens at Left Coast Crime convention, March, 2017. Vinnie is holding Allen’s book.

The Heavens May Fall, the third book from Allen Eskens, didn’t quite knock it out of the park the way the first two did. But I still liked it a lot. Eskens remains my favorite crime writer.

In the book, Detective Max Rupert and Attorney Boady Sanden, characters from Eskens’ first book, The Life We Bury, return. But this time they are pitted against one another in a murder case.

When the body of a wealthy St. Paul woman is found in a parking lot, Max Rupert becomes the lead investigator. Max’s friend, Attorney Boady Sanden, comes out of retirement to defend the prime suspect, the woman’s husband and his former law partner.

The Heavens May Fall becomes part police procedural as Max builds his case, part courtroom drama as Boady constructs a defense, and part literature as both men struggle with their own demons.  4.5 fingerprints

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Now it’s my turn, Kass Lamb:

Bone Box cover

Bone Box by Faye Kellerman

I stumbled on a sale for Bone Box by Faye Kellerman and jumped on it with glee. She is one of my favorite authors.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed. I’m a fairly visual person and I was dismayed by the lack of descriptions in this book. I had to dredge up images of the main characters from previous books in the series. And I pretty much had no idea where the whole book was set nor where people were in most of the scenes.

But Kellerman is a natural storyteller so I got caught up in the mystery fairly quickly, despite this flaw. Detective Peter Decker’s wife, Rina Lazarus is out hiking when she stumbles on a skeleton. Cops and CSI techs descend and uncover a dump site for a serial killer.

And then I hit the next snag. Way too many suspects and red herrings, and except for one or two of them, I didn’t feel that they were all that well developed. By the end I had no clue who was who but I was glad the mystery had been solved, and I did enjoy visiting with “old friends,” i.e. the characters from this long-standing series.

I was more than a little annoyed at her editor, however, for allowing this book to go out in this state. As a writer, I know better. But I also know that we writers are too close to our work to always see the flaws. That’s why we have editors.

I give Faye Kellerman 3 fingerprints. I give her editor 1½ (there were no typos or grammatical errors detected).

Note: We don’t normally include books that are less than 4 fingerprints in our review posts, but I felt the need to let other Kellerman fans know the series has gone downhill. But I noticed that she has a new thriller coming out soon. I plan to check it out.

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And now Kirsten Weiss brings us a delightful novella to wind things up…

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A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

When a vengeful witch turns Chuck into a dog, what’s the egotistical actor to do? Find another witch to turn him back, of course.

Unfortunately, the only witch he can find not only doesn’t know she’s a witch, but she also gets embroiled in a murder mystery. In order to get her focused, Chuck has to help her solve the crime. If he can only get her to listen…

This light and quirky novella is a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy a little paranormal with your mystery. And in its current incarnation, you get a bonus in the ebook — at the back is the full-length version of the first book in Orgain’s Maternal Instincts series. 5 fingerprints!

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And there you have it, folks. Enjoy! And please feel free to share your recent good reads with us!

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. 🙂 )

A Mystery Writer in Romance Land

by Kassandra Lamb

I went to the Romance Writers of America conference last week. Yes, I know I’m a mystery writer, but I went anyway, for four reasons.

Dolphin Disney Resort Hotel

RWA was at the Dolphin Disney Resort Hotel

One, I’d heard it was a great conference, regardless of your genre. Two, I have started adding more romance to my mysteries (some are true romantic suspense).

Three, it was in Orlando, just 2½ hours from my home so minimal travel expenses. And four, my delightful daughter-in-law, romance writer G.G. Andrew, was going.

I can’t say that I was a complete stranger in a strange land, but I did feel a tiny bit like the dolphins in the pic above, a fish out of water. No fault of RWA or the romance authors I interacted with. They were all great! Very friendly and upbeat.

Which brings me to the subtle differences between mystery and romance writers:

1.  Romance writers may be “bigger than life.”

There were lots of rather wild-looking and/or fun outfits, and more skirts and dresses than I’ve seen since I left corporate America about three careers ago.

Kass Lamb with DIL, romance writer G.G. Andrew

Me with my delightful daughter-in-law. Her dress is made to look like a watermelon wedge!

Not that most of said skirts/dresses would have been considered appropriate office wear. I saw unicorns and rainbows and you-name-it on many of them. My DIL wore a bright red, metallic-shiny skirt one day, quite short (trust me, not her normal attire) which she’d bought online from a Wonder Woman site. (Yay, Wonder Woman!)

Don’t get me wrong, there are just as many introverted romance writers as there are in the general writer population (i.e. far more than 50%), but many of them seem to be able to overcome that with a semi-flamboyant alter ego.

2.  Romance writers totally get that their stories are “fantasy” and their characters are “bigger than life.”

While we mystery writers are trying to come up with plausible explanations for why our main characters trip over a corpse every few months, romance writers have no problem with repeatedly creating alpha males with six-pack abs and a carefully hidden soft, emotional underbelly. They get it that their readers want to escape into a book and they aren’t afraid to admit it.

I found this refreshing, since a big part of the appeal of mysteries for me, during the years that I was a psychotherapist, was that they were as far away from my real life of listening to people’s heartache (all too often related to failed romances) as I could get.

3.  Romance writers embrace their tropes.

We mystery writers admit that there are certain “reader expectations” inherent in mysteries (e.g., the protagonist will be in heart-pounding danger at some point) but we tend to equate tropes with clichés.

Romance writers get it that their readers know all the tropes and expect them to be the basis of the stories they read. There was one workshop (one of the best, in my opinion) that was called “Twisting Tropes to Create High-Concept Stories.”

4.  Romance Writers of America embraces self-publishing.

There were several nominees for awards who were self-published, and some of them won the award.

No one batted an eye when a writer identified themselves as an indie author (as I did). This made me sad in a way, since Mystery Writers of America will not even let self-published authors join their organization. (Get with the times, MWA!)

5.  Romance writers respect all variations of their genre.

There didn’t seem to be any subgenres that were considered second-class citizens. Erotica was respected right along with Christian sweet romance, and everything in between. And they had awards for pretty much every one of those subgenres.

Not that mystery writers are snobs about subgenres, most of the time. But there is a little bit of looking down the nose sometimes at cozy writers. And thrillers seem to get a disproportionate share of the limelight, perhaps because they make better movies than a traditional whodunnit.

another cute dress

Another cute dress! (and her bright orange first-timer ribbon)

I found the romance writers to be very inclusive. No one reacted the least bit negatively when I identified myself as a mystery author who sometimes wrote romantic suspense.

I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg but this attitude seems to be prevalent throughout RWA. The climate of the organization is inclusive and celebratory. Every writer is phenomenal and everyone is welcome at an RWA conference!

They even put a “first timer” ribbon on your badge so that people will be extra nice and helpful to you! The reputation for being a great conference for any writer, despite the genre, is well deserved.

I think this has been said before but I will reiterate:

Every great romance involves some suspense and every great mystery involves some romance.

The bottom line is that romance and suspense are at the heart of the human condition. We fall in love, despite our best intentions sometimes, and why we do that, or any of the other things we do, is often the greatest mystery of all!

Do you all like some romance with your mystery? What’s your favorite romance (or mystery) trope?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

Resistance to Commitment (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

As I said in my earlier post about fear of intimacy, we humans naturally crave connection to others. It’s in our DNA, because, as a species, we won’t survive without pooling our efforts.

Fear of intimacy’s kissing cousin is commitment phobia. And this is the obstacle that my protagonist in the Marcia Banks and Buddy series is struggling to overcome in Book #3, The Call of the Woof.

Like many folks with this phobia, she has a bad relationship in her history. Her first marriage was short-lived, never particularly happy, and ended with her ex-husband’s infidelity.

Another cause of commitment resistance can be having witnessed a bad marriage growing up. When all we’ve seen is two people making each other miserable, it’s hard to get behind the concept of a long-term relationship.

Some folks suffer from both of these extreme fears—being close to someone makes them very nervous and the thought of committing sends them into full-blown panic.

painting of jilted bride

Section of Eduard Swoboda’s The Jilted Bride, circa 1902, public domain

But others can do intimacy, just not commitment.

I had a boyfriend when I was twenty who suffered from a severe case of commitment phobia. He did intimacy quite well, but the thought of “being in a relationship” made him antsy. (His parents had a horrible, downright abusive relationship.)

He met me at a party and he pursued me, but the first thing he said once he was sure of my interest was, “Don’t get too attached to me. I’m planning to move to Colorado when my lease is up next year.”

I was in a place in my own life where an intimate but time-limited from the start relationship sounded okay.

But even that wasn’t enough to keep his demons at bay. After about six months, he broke up with me out of the blue, after telling me that he really cared about me but “this just isn’t working.” No other reason given.

After wracking my brain for days trying to figure out what went wrong, I called him. He was willing to get together and talk, and the short hiatus seemed to have calmed him. He readily, even eagerly, agreed to renew our relationship, but again reiterating that he would be gone in a few months.

And he was. When his lease was up, he packed his stuff in his car, kissed me goodbye and went off to Colorado to “find himself.”

I’m kind of proud of the fact that I let him go without a struggle. On some level, I knew that the only reason he could be close to me for that year was because there was no commitment. I got it that trying to build a life with him would have quickly backfired. (I wasn’t always that astute in my youth.)

About a decade later, I ran into his mother. She told me he’d been married just long enough to have a couple of kids and was now divorced. The marriage surprised me a little, the divorce not at all.

I still feel sad every time I think of this man, whom I suspect spent his life seeking intimacy and then rejecting it when it became coupled with commitment.

In Marcia Banks’s case, she is also okay in the intimacy area. It isn’t that hard for her to let Will Haines in initially (it isn’t easy, but she can do it). But from there on, she stumbles over every little step, even finding it difficult to say the L word for many months.

Commitment phobia usually results in one of two types of behavior:

1.  Sabotaging the relationship. As with intimacy fears, this is a common reaction, and it often operates on an unconscious level. This may come out as picking fights or ceasing to be reliable, i.e. not calling or showing up where one is supposed to be.

The best approach to this is gentle confrontation and trying to get one’s partner to talk it out.

But a word about psychological “blind spots”—issues an individual just isn’t yet willing to face consciously. It’s sad, but sometimes these blind spots have tremendous control over the person’s psyche and even love can’t budge them (as in my boyfriend’s case).

2.  Backpedaling, or dragging one’s feet. This is what Marcia does, and poor Will handles it well. He gives her time and figures out ways to take baby steps.

But he presses her some too, because he feels like they’re running out of time—he wants children, which is very much at the root of Marcia’s resistance. (You’ll have to read the story to find out about the creative way he nudges her forward.)

This can often be the best approach, a combination of patience with an occasional reminder that you would like the relationship to move forward.

Fortunately, my fictional character is trying to work on her commitment issues (more or less 😉 ). Check out her story below.

What commitment-phobia behaviors have you witnessed (or exhibited)? Have you ever known anyone like my ex-boyfriend who ONLY had commitment phobia but could do intimacy?

And here is the new book… Available for PREORDER Now! Releases 7/20/17!

Just 99¢ through 7/21/17

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

AMAZON     APPLE     KOBO     NOOK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

What Is An “Ex-pert?”

by Kassandra Lamb

I was asked this week to present at a local marketing workshop for authors. It was suggested I could present on either “kickoff” parties or how to get reviews.

Since I’ve never done an in-person “kickoff” party, I quickly ruled out that topic. I was about to dismiss the suggestion regarding reviews as well, since I’m hardly a PR expert, when my fertile mind started constructing a lecture on the subject.

You see, I used to be a teacher. I taught college-level psychology for 17 years.

And one of the things I learned during my tenure in academia is that how much you know about a topic, while important, is not THE most important thing that makes you an “expert” who can educate others on the subject.

Technically, the definition of expertise is “possessing a high level of knowledge and an intuitive understanding of a particular subject.” But here’s MY favorite definition of an expert:

“Ex” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure. Therefore, “ex-pert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

So what is the most important thing that makes one an expert worthy of presenting your knowledge to others? IMHO, it’s whether or not you can convey what you know on the topic in a clear way.

book cover

Part of Marcy’s incredibly good Busy Writer’s Guide series.

My editor, Marcy Kennedy is, in my opinion, the best editor in the world. Does she know everything there is to know about plot arcs and grammatical constructions?

I don’t know (probably not).

But what I do know is that she is superb at EXPLAINING why something doesn’t work and what I need to do to make it work. And she gives excellent examples. She knows how to convey what she knows to others, and that, for me, makes her an expert.

Academia is full of teachers who can’t teach. They are “experts” in their fields, and that’s wonderful from a research perspective, because often those “experts” are good, sometimes brilliant, researchers.

But why are they expected to teach our youth?

This is a serious flaw in our higher level education system. Those who are “teaching” in our colleges and graduate schools are all too often mediocre to horrible teachers.

When I interviewed for my first college-level teaching job, I asked the person who would become my department chair if getting a second masters degree in secondary education (I already had one in my field) would help me advance.

He laughed (an ironic laughter; he got the issue here). “This is academia. Nobody cares if you can teach.”

me presenting

The last time I presented to this group, I actually DID know what I was talking about…lol (How to Incorporate Social Issues in Your Fiction presentation, April, 2017)

I taught for that university for 9 years. It was the best job I ever had, because that institution did care about teaching. But sadly, they are the exception to the rule among universities.

So I made a first draft of a list of “do’s and don’t’s” for getting reviews for one’s books… And lo and behold, I think I do know enough about the subject to do this presentation for my local authors’ group.

Does that make me an “expert?”

I’m not sure, but I agreed to present at the workshop. Because what I do know is that I know how to teach.

What’s your area of expertise? Are you an “expert” at presenting the information to others?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

Oh Say, Can You See?

by Kassandra Lamb

As I searched my brain for a topic for this year’s Independence Day post, I realized that I’ve never talked about something of which every native of my home state is quite proud.

Maryland is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner.

My guess is most U.S. schoolchildren learn that our national anthem was penned by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. But in Maryland, we got the whole story.

Ft. McHenry Bombardment, 1814

The remnants of the Ft. McHenry flag

Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer, had gone aboard a British truce ship to negotiate the release of a prisoner of war, when the Battle of Baltimore commenced. He was forced to stay on the enemy’s ship and watch as the British bombarded Fort McHenry just outside the Baltimore harbor for a full day and night.

Key was also an amateur poet, and he was so moved by the sight of the U.S. flag still flying over the fort the next morning that he wrote a poem about it, titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” This was later set to music and became our national anthem.

Ft. McHenry

Maryland schoolchildren still take field trips there.

Like most people who take their local sights for granted, I hadn’t visited Fort McHenry but once as a young child, tagging along with my mother who was chaperoning my older brother’s class field trip.

Finally in my thirties, an out-of-town guest asked to see the sights in Baltimore City, and we ended up at the fort.

What struck me was how small it was. My early memories of that field trip were quite vague, and I’d always visualized Ft. McHenry as a huge complex, similar to modern Army forts.

The entire fort is only a little over 43 acres. It was defended in 1814 by just a thousand troops.

Today, the Baltimore fireworks are set off in the Inner Harbor, recreating the image that Francis Scott Key saw from that British ship — the “rockets’ red glare” lighting up the stars and stripes flying over Fort McHenry.

Below is the video from the 2014 two-hundred-year anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!

What national treasures do you have in your neck of the woods?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, 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. 🙂 )

Come Here, Go Away! (Thoughts on Intimacy & Fear)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m in the throes of final editing of the next Marcia Banks and Buddy book, and a subplot running through the whole series is Marcia’s struggle to trust her heart to love again after a disastrous marriage.

That struggle got me thinking about the two biggest obstacles to romantic partners initially getting together—intimacy phobia and commitment phobia (there are lots of other challenges re: staying together). People often assume these two fears are the same thing, but there are subtle and important differences. Today I’ll talk about the first one, which I think of as the come-here, go-away syndrome.

Human beings naturally crave connection with others. It’s part of our makeup. Survival of the species depends on pooling our efforts to benefit the group and to raise our young.

monkey and cat hugging

Everybody craves closeness, but too close can be scary. (photo by SalimVirji, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

So we crave connection, but those of us who have been hurt before by someone close to us (Show of hands? *everyone raises their hands*) also tend to carry some scar tissue around our hearts.

If we rate the thickness of that scar tissue on a scale from 1 to 10, a few people, with 9 to 10-level scar tissue, will manage to squash the urge to connect completely and they will avoid relationships.

For many of the rest of us, the scar tissue falls in the 1 to 4 range—mild to moderate thickness that we can work our way past when someone comes along who seems trustworthy and truly interested in us (friend or lover).

But those in the 5-8 range are most likely to engage in come-here, go-away behavior. They crave connection and allow a relationship to get started—maybe even actively pursue a potential partner or friend—but then the fears set in and the dance begins. They just can’t handle letting someone get too close.

There are several ways the fear of intimacy will be manifested.

  1.  The walls go up.
  2.  The person sabotages the relationship.
  3.  The person starts trying to control his/her partner.
  4.  The person starts denigrating his/her partner.

The walls – Somehow you get the gut sense that your partner is holding back. There is a part of them they keep hidden. You may be picking up on little hesitations in personal conversations, as if they are weighing how much to say. Or they may change the subject when things start getting too intimate.

(Note: by intimacy, I don’t mean sex; I mean emotional closeness, which results from disclosing your thoughts and feelings to your partner.)

Also they may pull away after a surge of intimacy. You bare your souls to each other on a date and you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about that, but then your partner cancels the next two dates.

The worst thing you can do is to try to beat down the walls by sheer force (trust me, I’ve tried). Insisting that your partner let you in will likely get the opposite response.

The best approach is patience and being as open and trustworthy as you can be. People with walls tend to assume that others also have them. If they sense that you don’t (or you at least have doors in your wall), then they may feel more comfortable reciprocating and letting you in farther.

Also, if they are telling you they need things to slow down, hear that. Acknowledge that it’s scary to let someone in and that you’re afraid too.

My husband and I had a whirlwind courtship that felt pretty much out of our control. Somewhere around the second month we started this little routine. We would look at each other and then one of us would start it.

  • “Who the heck is driving this runaway stagecoach anyway?”
  • “I thought you were.”
  • “No, I thought you were.”
  • “Aw crap, guess we’d better hold hands and hang on tight then.”

I don’t remember anymore who thought of that little exchange first, but it got us through those early, scary times.

But there are no guarantees when it comes to walls. The person’s wall may be so thick, even they don’t know how to dismantle it.

Sabotage – This can take many forms. It may be picking fights, becoming unreliable, or even being unfaithful.

The important thing here is to recognize the underlying fear. If the couple keeps fighting over the sabotaging behavior itself instead of addressing why one or both of you feel the need to sabotage, the relationship probably will come to an end.

The best way to address this is directly but gently. “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing ______ a lot lately. Is that because you’re uncomfortable with how close we’ve become?”

Keep in mind the old adage about leading a horse to water. The other person may or may not admit to you or themselves that the sabotage is coming from a fear of intimacy.

Again, trying to force the issue is likely to backfire. Let it go for now and see what seeds you may have planted. Then address it again the next time they sabotage. (This is assuming you can tolerate the sabotaging behavior.)

Controlling – Trying to control you may be another form of sabotage, but there’s another layer here too. If your partner can control you, then they feel more secure that you won’t leave them.

cartoon of couple arguing

“Why are you arguing?” the mother-in-law says. “You are newlyweds.”
“We don’t need to argue if she would just agree with me,” the husband says. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Also, some people are controlling by nature. This too comes from fear, but more from a fear of being out of control and helpless. Try to step back and ask yourself if your partner is trying to control YOU or the environment in general.

If it’s the latter, you’re not likely to get them to change readily, so then you need to ask yourself how willing you are to deal with their controlling behavior.

If it’s truly you they are trying to control, then again gentle confrontation is in order, but this time couple it with reassurances. “First, let me assure you that I’m not going anywhere. I care about you. But I feel lately like you keep trying to control me and I don’t like that. Is that just because you’re afraid I might leave?”

Denigration – This one is perhaps the hardest to deal with. Your partner starts putting you down, criticizing what you wear, how you talk, etc. This is often another form of control.

It can come from two possible motives. One is “if I tear you down, you won’t feel confident enough to leave me.” This is a sign of an abuser and you probably need to get away from this behavior and this person sooner instead of later.

The other can be a byproduct of their own poor self-esteem. I actually had a boyfriend tell me one time, “I know I’m a little pile of [crap] so I figure if you love me, then you must be a little pile of [crap] too.”

I kicked his pile of crap out the door.

But if you don’t want to do that, you can try confronting the behavior. Point out what they are doing and how it makes you feel, then go a step farther and ask them how they would feel if you said those things to them. If you can get some empathy going, you might just get them to change this behavior.

It can also help to point out that if they are doing this to tear you down so you won’t leave them, the behavior is about to backfire. It is driving you away.

Never, ever stay with someone who continues to put you down. You will not please them (because they don’t want to be pleased) and your self-esteem will be harmed, and it could be the first step to more serious abuse.

I’m sure there are other, more creative ways that people sometimes deal with their fear of intimacy, but these are the ones I saw most often during my 20 years as a therapist.

What about you? How thick is the scar tissue around your heart? Have you seen other ways that people exhibit intimacy phobia?

And here is the wonderful cover for my new book! I think my cover designer, Melinda VanLone outdid herself on this one.

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

I hope to have the book available for Preorder by July 10th. Release day is July 20th.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and 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. 🙂 )

Think About What You’re Doing! (Part 3: Critical Thinking and Action)

by Kassandra Lamb

We have an interim pastor at my church. The previous pastor left a few months ago and this gentleman is filling in while we search for a new permanent pastor. This interim pastor has made several small changes in the order of worship. I’m sure they seem important to him, but honestly I don’t get how having the ushers bring the alms basins all the way to the altar (instead of being met at the steps by an acolyte) really makes any significant difference in the state of the world.

inside of churchWhen someone steps into a new position of authority it is human nature to want to change things, whether those changes are truly needed or not. This may be due simply to discomfort because things are not being done the way the new leader is used to (I suspect this is the case with our new interim pastor). Or it can be about leaving his/her mark on new territory, to feel important or to assert one’s authority.

So they make changes, which may range from little tweaks to drastically reversing the previous leader’s procedures and policies. The consequences of these changes may not be thoroughly assessed, and sometimes, maybe even often, there wasn’t really anything all that wrong with the original way of doing things.

Which brings us to another reality of human nature. People don’t like change, especially if they didn’t initiate it.

As far as I can tell, the only thing these small changes in the church service have accomplished is confusion on the part of the ushers (of which I am one) and a mild sense of unease in the congregation every time something happens in a slightly different way than they are used to.

This chap is a nice guy, an intelligent and kind man of the cloth who means well. But he is temporary. And yet he couldn’t resist changing things to the way he is most comfortable with, even though it’s making everyone else vaguely uncomfortable.

This is what can happen when one fails to apply critical thinking to one’s actions.

(See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of the natural biases in thinking that make critical thinking difficult and Part 2 for how to evaluate information critically.)

Yoda meme: Broken Is Not, Not Fix It, You Must

meme created on imgflip.com

So how do we apply critical thinking to our actions…

Step 1: Evaluate the situation. Is there really a problem that needs action?

Or are we making changes for the sake of change, or to thwart those whom we see as opponents.

Step 2: Look for actions that might solve the problem (if there is indeed a problem) and then evaluate if those actions will truly make things better.

In 1920, many Americans deemed the excessive consumption of alcohol to be a serious problem in our country. The U.S. Congress voted for and the majority of state legislatures ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.

But this action did not solve the problem. Only casual drinkers gave up alcohol because of this law. Within a few years, alcohol consumption was back up to 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels as bootlegging and speakeasies became common.

membership card for a speakeasy

A membership card for the Stork Club speakeasy in New York (U.S. public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

When assessing the virtues of a potential action, we need to make sure it’s really a true solution to the problem. And that it doesn’t cause other problems.

Which brings us to…

Step 3: Apply critical thinking to evaluate what other consequences might result from the actions taken to solve a problem.

Prohibition not only didn’t solve the problem but it caused several others. Taxes went up as the costs for law enforcement and prisons rose dramatically. Illegal distribution of alcohol became a boon for organized crime. And thousands of people became ill or died from tainted “bathtub gin.”

In 1933, the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the Constitution ended the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.

Bottom line: it’s important to think (critically) before we act!

Your thoughts? Have you been in a situation where someone changed things for the sake of change and it backfired?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and 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. 🙂 )