Category Archives: Just for Fun

‘Tis the Season: 19th century Shoplifters

by K.B. Owen

As “Black Friday” rapidly approaches, the official opening of the holiday shopping season in the U.S., we thought it would be fun/interesting to look at a related activity, past and present.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, retailers lose $13 billion (that’s a 13 with nine zeroes after it!) in merchandise each year.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime-time for such thefts, when professional and amateur alike hit the crowded stores.

Such was the case in the 19th century, too. According to a December 12, 1897 article in The Sun: 

As soon as the shops become crowded with throngs who go to investigate, admire, and buy their Christmas offerings, shoplifters also turn out en masse. Experience soon teaches them that they can do their most profitable work this season.

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don't you love the nicknames some of these gals have?

from 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Thomas Byrnes. Don’t you love the nicknames of some of these gals?

For now, let’s set aside discussion of the amateur shoplifters of the 19th century — wealthy and middle class women, mostly, who often had their charges dropped by the store because they came from a prominent family and/or they were diagnosed with kleptomania (by some accounts brought on by something “menstrual”). Our focus today is on the professionals, also known as “hoisters,” or “h’isters.” There were two kinds of hoisters: the clouters and the pennyweighters. To quote one of the policemen in the article: “These people have more ways of stealing than they have fingers and toes.”

Shoplifters such as Flossie Maitland and May Murray (couldn’t find their pics, sorry), worked together as clouters, with one to distract the clerk and the other to wear the apparatus under her skirt. The clouting apparatus consisted of a hidden band around the waist, to which strong elastic bands are attached. The item to be stolen would be dropped on the floor, and the clouter would stand over it (covering it with her skirt), then stoop down as if she was picking up a hairpin, reaching under her skirts to secure the item beneath the criss-crossed elastic.

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

Artist: James D. McCabe, Jr, 1872, via www.librarycompany.org

The Sun article describes May Murray as “‘Big May,’ the most notorious shoplifter in the country.” Policemen in every city had heard of her. When she was caught in New York (after being followed in and out of several stores by police in a nearby cab), they found a 42-inch sealskin coat hidden under her skirt, and two other fur coats beneath the cab seat from the stop at the previous store.

Pennyweighters (both male and female) were thieves who would steal an item and replace it with a cheap copy so its disappearance wasn’t quickly noticed. Jewelry was a typical target. The thieves would scope out the jewelry on display ahead of time and create something close in appearance that could be quickly swapped out.

So, without security cameras or metal detectors, what was a Victorian department store owner to do? The common solution was to hire a detective to keep watch, although some stores, such as Lord & Taylor, denied that they even had a problem with shoplifters.

Surprisingly, some of the private detectives were women. Why? According to a female detective interviewed for The Sun article, “they (store managers) found that men were clumsy at following and arresting women shoplifters.”

Here’s a bit more about this particular lady detective, from the reporter’s point of view (he’s referring to himself in the third person):

shoplifters2

“Things not being what they seem” certainly makes writing mysteries fun!

Have you ever seen someone shoplift an item? Should we bring back store detectives, as opposed to those metal detectors that go off for no good reason when you’re trying to leave the store? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  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. 🙂 )

Halloween Hauntings: True Ghost Stories

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole group)

For once, we’re not letting our imaginations write the stories. These are “true” ghost stories we have heard that have happened to real people whose judgement, for the most part, is usually sound.

I’ll let our newest author, Gilian Baker, go first, with a story from her daughter’s college…

UO dormitory buildings

The Ridges dormitories at Ohio University

When our daughter announced she wanted to go to Ohio University, we didn’t realize we were sending her off to one of the most haunted campuses in the world! OU is located in Athens, Ohio, and there are many stories of hauntings in the small college town. But the one I’m going to share occurred (or should I say occurs) right on campus—in one of the dorm buildings.

The story goes that, in the 1970s, a girl living in Wilson Hall, room 428, died violently after practicing various forms of the occult, including attempting to contact the dead. Those who knew her said she tapped into the energy of the room to practice astral projection and that she was enthralled by sorcery.

Wilson Hall Dormitory. Don’t let them assign your son or daughter to Room 428!

The college continued to assign students to room 428 in Wilson Hall after her death, but they were forced to declare it “uninhabitable” after a series of them complained of hearing strange noises and footsteps, not to mention seeing objects move by themselves and fly across the room to smash against the wall. To this day, the room is the only one on campus that is sealed off and goes unused, even for storage. Students and residents of the town continue to witness sightings of a girl standing at the window of room 428.

Asylum's admin building

The Asylum’s administration building, 1905

The building is located in an auspicious location. It’s in the dead center (pun intended) of a huge pentagram that is made up of five cemeteries situated throughout the town. You can see the pentagram for yourself on maps of the area. If that weren’t enough, it was built on top of an early cemetery of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, itself haunted.

“Let’s build a dorm on top of a cemetery,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Next up is Kirsten Weiss, our resident expert on all things occult, with a story from her sister…

My sister Alice, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, seems to constantly attract them. One took a nap with her last August, and she lived in a college apartment which was stuffed with spooks.

Human-shaped shadows were often spotted climbing the stairs. And once, while she was alone in the apartment and about to take a shower, a white, child-sized hand holding a purple mirror reached under the bathroom door. She spent the next thirty minutes perched like a Notre Dame gargoyle atop the toilet seat, waiting for one of her roommate to return. No hand – child-sized or otherwise – could have fit between the door and the floor.

One Halloween, she and a friend sat around a table, a pumpkin centerpiece between them. A shadow flitted across the pumpkin, and the pumpkin rolled over.

“That didn’t just happen,” her non-believer friend said.

“But did you see—”

“It didn’t happen!”

3 or us in parking lot

Vinnie, Kass and Kirsten in the Moss Beach Distillery parking lot. It was a tad windy that day.

In 2015, I visited California and was able to meet up with Kirsten and Vinnie Hansen for lunch at the Moss Beach Distillery. Turns out they have a resident ghost. Sadly, we didn’t catch sight of her but here’s her story…

In the 1940’s, a young married woman fell in love with a handsome ladies’ man (some versions of the story say that he was a piano player in the bar). Always dressed in blue, she came to the restaurant many times to meet her lover. One day, while walking with her lover on the beach below, they were assaulted. He was injured but survived; she was killed.

Moss Beach Distillery

Moss Beach Distillery (photo by Lupislune CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons) Wikimedia Commons

She has haunted the restaurant ever since, looking for her lover. Although most actual sightings have been by children (their filters are so much less critical), she is mostly known for her pranks, such as levitating checkbooks off the table, locking empty rooms from the inside, and stealing one earring each from female patrons and then they all show up in one place a week or so later. (I did lose an earring that day, but I’m not sure it was at the restaurant.)

The Blue Lady has been featured on Unsolved Mysteries and Ghost Hunters.

Which brings us to our greatest ghost story enthusiast, Shannon Esposito, who loves shows like Ghost Hunters. Her story comes from her mother…

room of castle where ghost was spotted

Note the mirror on the wall

This photo was taken at the Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville, Pa. by my mom, Carol. They only let eight people go through the tour at one time, so there were only a few people in the room with her when she snapped this shot.

ghost image

Close up of ghost’s image

When Carol looked at her photos later and spotted the man in the mirror in this one, she didn’t believe what she was seeing. She called the castle and asked if they had a mannequin in a period costume in that room. They said they didn’t and asked her to bring her camera in to see the photo for themselves.

After viewing the photo, they did a recreation and had Carol stand in the spot she was when she took that particular shot. She was standing in the doorway of the room at that time. The weirdest part was the team tried to take photos from that spot and their batteries drained twice before they could get a photo.

Finally, they were able to take several photos with people of different heights to determine how tall he was. Their conclusion was, by the angle and reflection of the  man, he had to have been standing in the doorway next to Carol… and looking right at her.

And last but not least, I have a ghost story of my own.

My grandmother died when I was sixteen. She was very loving to both of us, but my older brother was her favorite. I knew this and was not particularly jealous since I adored him as well (still great friends today).

Shortly after she died, my brother and his first wife broke up. He moved into my grandmother’s house, which was sitting vacant. A year later, he let his girlfriend move into the house with him.

I was not that fond of Sally (not her real name) partly because she was a bit of a flake. But I believed this story when she told it because she herself didn’t even realize the significance of it at the time.

slippers

(photo by TH.Korr CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

A little background info:  My grandmother grew up in an era when women did not admit they were sexually attracted to any man, not even their husbands. But she had a huge crush on Clark Gable. Whenever she would see him in a movie, she would sigh and say, “That man can put his slippers under my bed any day of the week.” This was quite a risque statement for her.

So Sally moves into Grandma’s house, and a few weeks afterward she says to my brother, “Why do you keep moving my slippers across the room at night?”

“What do you mean?” he said. “I haven’t touched them.”

“You must have. I put my slippers under the edge of the bed every night, and every morning they are over by the door.”

There were a few other odd things reported while Sally lived there, and she said she actually saw my grandmother in the attic one day.

portrait of grandmother

My grandmother as a young woman.

We weren’t sure we believed that, but there was no denying that Grandma was showing her disapproval by moving Sally’s slippers.

Sally moved out, and a year after that, my brother married someone else. They lived in my grandmother’s house for a few years, but we never “heard” from Grandma again. We assumed she was pleased with her new granddaughter-in-law and was able to move on.

How about you? Do you know any “true” ghost stories? Please share!

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. 🙂 )

Job Description of a Mother

by Kassandra Lamb

Motherhood is probably the most difficult job any woman ever attempts. And yet most of us take on the job with little foreknowledge of what we’re getting into. So I thought I’d come up with a job description, for those who are considering applying.

woman being interviewed circa 1940s

I don’t recall being interviewed for the job (public domain, Wikimedia)

General Description of Duties:
Applicant will be charged with the care, guidance and training of small creatures who have no means of communication, no control over their bodily fluids, and no initial understanding of danger, morality nor the needs of others.

Applicant will be on duty 24/7, year in and year out. (If applicant has a partner helping with the job, occasional short vacations may be possible.)

Additional Duties:
Worrier—Applicant will be required to ruminate frequently about whether or not her charges are safe and are receiving optimal care. This may involve lost sleep.

Nurse—On occasion, applicant will be required to stay up at night and/or stay home from other activities (no matter how important) to tend to sick charges. This may also include cleaning services when bodily fluids become involved. Treatment of minor injuries may also be required.

Dietician/chef—Applicant will be required to plan and prepare nutritious meals and snacks throughout each day, 365 days per year (except during those brief vacations if her partner is willing and able to take over this duty; otherwise, meals may need to be pre-planned).

Chauffeur—Applicant will be required to provide or arrange for all transportation of her charges to multiple locations, including but not limited to: school, athletic and social activities, medical appointments, and the emergency room.

mother with daughter's dolls, having a tea party

One of those other duties: playmate (which may require acting skills to pretend dolls are alive)

Counselor—Applicant will be required to provide guidance and emotional support to her charges, although they will often be oblivious to her emotional needs.

Any other duties that may arise (which may be substantial).

Skills/Talents Required:
At least a basic understanding of childhood diseases, first aid, nutrition, child development, psychology, and conflict mediation (if there is more than one charge).

Unlimited patience and the ability to function on minimal sleep.

Infinite quantities of unconditional love.

Compensation and Benefits:
Applicant will receive room and board (which she may have to help pay for).

No sick leave is allowed. Full retirement is not possible; semi-retirement occurs whenever the last of applicant’s charges leaves the domicile. Many daily duties will no longer be required, but worrying will continue until applicant’s death. Also, applicant may feel obligated to lend or give money to her grown charges at times.

homemade Mother's Day card

No monetary compensation is given; however, applicant will receive weird little homemade presents and cards and lots of love from her charges. She may possibly someday be rewarded with grandchildren.

And by having her grown charge admit to her: “This parenting thing is really hard, Mom! How’d you do it?”*

(*My son’s exact words when his first child was three months old. 🙂 )

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY from all of us at misterio press!!

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. 🙂 )

A Peek Behind the Curtain: How We Come Up with Book Covers

by Kirsten Weiss

While cover design is certainly not the most stressful part of the book publishing process, it has its quirks. A good cover doesn’t tell the story, but it does need to do three things:

  • Grab the reader’s attention and make them curious about the story

    Bound cover

    Thumbnail size on Amazon

  • Tell the reader what type of story they’re buying – funny mystery, spooky suspense, lighthearted romance.
  • This information needs to be easy to identify when the reader is looking at a thumbnail sized image.

That said, I’ve made my share of cover mistakes.

Exhibit A: What Type of Story is This?

The image on the left, below, is the original cover for the first book in my steampunk series, Steam and Sensibility. I was pleased with it. Corset. Gears. Fog. It’s San Francisco steampunk! I thought the font was a little too much, but that was what the cover designer came up with, so I went for it, thinking all was well.steampunk covers

Except when I attended a steampunk convention, a lot of people asked me if the novel was erotica. Ooops!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against erotica. But that definitely wasn’t what the book was about. So I switched to the cover on the right – also clearly steampunk, but with a magical flare.

Exhibit B: Contrast Issues and Originality

Another miss, but for a different reason, was the first cover (below left) for The Metaphysical Detective, the first book in my Riga Hayworth series of supernatural mystery.Riga covers

The contrast is low (which is not such a good thing when people are squinting at a tiny icon on Amazon), but it looks suitably gloomy and mysterious.

Except…

Since there are seven books in this series, I wanted original artwork that had more of a “series” feeling. Hence the new cover on the right. It’s got slightly higher contrast, and it’s original art. I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but I haven’t gotten around to changing it.

Exhibit C: Try, try, again…

hoodoo detective coversEven when you’ve got a great cover designer, there are typically several iterations before the cover is just right. In fairness, cover designers don’t know what’s in the author’s head. You have to provide them with samples of what you want, and even then, things can get tricky.

And for The Hoodoo Detective (book 6 in the Riga Hayworth series), above is proof that my cover designer has the patience of a saint.

(I ended up with the cover on the bottom right).

Exhibit D: Just right!

And then, sometimes, the cover designer nails it right away…

At Wit's End coverThe cover to the right is for a cozy mystery coming out in June, 2017.

What does this cover say to you? And what do you think makes a great book cover?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia.  Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work.

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. 🙂 )

Spring Flowers: More Than Just a Pretty Face

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the gang)

17103677_10155105252984766_3800168997908941336_n

This post is part of a Spring Fling Blog Hop sponsored by our sister author, Kirsten Weiss. Below is a list of more fun and interesting posts about Spring!

We at misterio decided to do a group post about our favorite spring flowers and what they mean to us. This ended up evoking some interesting insights, emotions, and memories.

We’ll start with the newest member of our misterio press family, Gilian Baker.

Daffodils_flowering pub domain

My favorite flower is the daffodil. When I was a young girl, my grandmother had a big yard full of flower beds, including lots of these delicate yellow buds. Now, when I see them, I always think of her—she was so delicate and lovely too.

They are always the first flowers to come up and point their faces towards the sun in the spring. When I see daffodils and my first robin, I know spring has finally sprung! They don’t last long, but while they do, they bring me great joy.

Vinnie Hansen

poppies

I have to go with the big red and pink opium (shhhhhhh) poppies in my yard. These poppies will spring up from casually sprinkled seeds (my type of gardening). I received the original seeds for these flowers from a local woman who was growing the red ones in her yard.

Once I had the red poppies springing up in my yard, a strolling neighbor saw them and offered me seeds for pink ones, in exchange for seeds from my red ones. And so the beauty proliferated.

And we have another lazy gardener, Shannon Esposito.

butterfly flowers

Red Butterfly flowers (Asclepias) are my favorite. Mostly because their orange-scarlet flowers attract butterflies all summer long, but also because they thrive in our scorching Florida summers. All I have to do is sprinkle some seeds and leave them alone.

If my homeowners’ association allowed it, I’d have a yard full of wild flowers instead of grass!

(Then again, I should NOT make fun of lazy gardeners…)

hibiscus

Kass Lamb

My favorite flower is the hibiscus, although I’m fond of azaleas too, and roses… Actually, I love all flowers, but my garden only has a few that thrive (azaleas and camellias). I have a brown thumb, meaning I don’t kill plants right away (like a black thumb person does). Instead, I slowly torture them to death.

I like hibiscus best because they represent the subtropical climate of Florida that I love. Unforntualtey, I’m not quite far enough south to successfully grow them in my yard (and then there’s that whole brown thumb thing).

And another wonderful memory from Kathy Owen.

daylilly

My fave is the common daylily. It’s beautiful, nearly indestructible, and it reminds me of my dad. When I was growing up, my dad would be driving and pull off along country roadsides, dig up some plants and stick them in his car (if a house was nearby, he’d ask permission first, to the bemusement of the people who saw the flowers as pretty weeds). Then he’d transplant them along our split rail fence until the entire back and sides were lined with them. And of course, they multiply like crazy, so he’d give them away to anyone who wanted them.

When Paul and I moved to our first house, he brought boxes of them to Virginia from Pennsylvania. He and I planted them behind our fence and in the flower beds. Years later, we had to reconfigure the backyard and extend the deck over a patch of those prolific daylilies. I tried to salvage as many as I could but ran out of room, so we decked right over the rest.

irises

For three seasons they still pushed up through the wood slats, trying to bloom!

And last but not least…

Kirsten Weiss

Why I love the Iris? It’s purple. Yay!

And it’s just such a spring flower, reminding me of warmer days ahead.

How about you? What’s your favorite flower, and what emotional connections does it have for you?

And look what Kathy Owen made! A beautiful bouquet of our spring flowers here at misterio press

book covers as flowers

graphic (c) by KB Owen

You can check them out in our bookstore!

And here’s the list of other blogs participating in the Spring Fling Blog Hop!

Allyson Charles: https://www.allysoncharles.com/blog

Conniue di Marco http://www.conniedimarco.com/blog/

Gillian Baker: http://gilianbaker.com/blog/

K.B. Owen:  http://kbowenmysteries.com/blog

Layla Reyne:  https://laylareyne.tumblr.com

Kirsten Weiss: https://kirstenweiss.com/blog

Mona Karel:  https://mona-karel.com/blog/

Misterio Press: https://misteriopress.com

Shannon Esposito: http://murderinparadise.com/blog-2/

Victoria De La O: http://www.victoriadelao.com/

 

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. 🙂 )

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. 🙂 )

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. 🙂 )

What Christmas Means To Us

by Kassandra Lamb

On behalf of the whole gang, let me wish all of our subscribers, readers, fellow authors, and everybody else for that matter, an absolutely wonderful holiday season. Christmas means joy and peace and love, and we wish all of those things for you.

To our readers especially, a big holiday thank you! You keep us going. We create our characters but you breathe life into them every time you open one of our books and dive in.

Our blog is on hiatus for the holidays. We’ll be back on January 3rd with a huge 2017 surprise. (Hint: it’s an awesome giveaway. 🙂 )

In the meantime, here’s a couple of my favorite holiday songs by Pentatonix, to remind us of what the season is all about!

And with a bit more of a religious bent, one of the most beautiful songs ever, in my humble opinion.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

See you in the New Year!

Stick-to-Your Ribs Weather

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

As the weather gets cooler (and yes, it’s even cooler down here in Florida now), one has the urge to eat something hot and filling, and then curl up with a good book by the fire. We’ve got the good books covered for you (see below 🙂 ), so for this month’s group post, we thought we’d share some of our fave cold-weather/Halloween recipes.

We even have drinks and dessert. First up, K.B. Owen with a cocktail (a nonalcoholic drink recipe is at the end).

candy corn traffic cones

(photo by Daniel Lobo CC-By 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

 

At Halloween, candy corn inspires a lot of things, from traffic cones to socks…

candy corn socks

(photo by Eli Christman, CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

 

But this is the first time I’ve heard of a candy corn drink.

Sounds yummy!

Kathy’s Candy Corn Shooters

Pour 1/3 oz Galliano liquer into a shot glass.
Carefully pour 1/3 oz orange curacao on top, so it floats.
Top off with 1/3 oz whipping cream.

Now for the main course (before we get too plastered)…

Kassandra’s Shrimp* Jambalaya

Like my protagonist, Kate Huntington, I’m not much of a cook, but even I can use a slow cooker. Here’s my favorite version of jambalaya, made with shrimp! (I looove shrimp.) Also I’m a lazy cook, so I have modified this a bit to make it easier.

*Can also be made with 2 lbs boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces (or with both, in which case use 1½ lbs of chicken and 1 lb of shrimp).

shrimp jambalaya

(photo by Cliff Hutson CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

Ingredients:
1 tbs canola or olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (fresh or frozen)
1 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
1 cup chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 tsp from a jar of pre-minced garlic)
1 14-oz pkg of turkey kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-in. slices
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cans (14½ oz) diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions, undrained
1 can (14 oz) fat-free chicken broth
1½ to 2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbs chopped parsley
1 tbs hot sauce

Instructions:
Sauté onions, green peppers, celery and garlic in oil-coated pan, until tender. (I’ve been known to just throw them in the cooker un-sauteed; like I said, I’m lazy)
(If using chicken, brown 4 minutes on each side in pan, then put in cooker)
Put onion mixture and everything but the shrimp in the slow cooker.
Cover and cook on LOW for 5 hours.
Taste, add additional hot sauce if you like it spicier.
Add shrimp, cover and cook on HIGH for additional 15 minutes or until shrimp are cooked (I use precooked shrimp, but still cook for 15 minutes to be sure heated through)
Serve over long-grain rice.

Serves 6-8 people. For hubs and I, we get 3-4 meals out of it. Freezes well!

Shannon’s Lentil Sweet Potato Chili

For the vegetarians in the crowd, here’s Shannon Esposito’s fave cold-weather dish.

sweet potato chili

Ingredients:
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, chopped
2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups dried green lentils
2 tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
diced avocado for garnish, optional
fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish, optional

Instructions:
Add all ingredients (except garnishes) to slow cooker. Mix well.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4.5 hours
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And for dessert, we have a great cookie recipe from Kirsten Weiss… Yum!

Kirsten’s Halloween Spice Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

pumpkin cookie

Possible decorating option! (photo by Pacian commonswiki, CC-BY-SA 3.0 unported, Wikimedia Commons)

 

Icing Ingredients:
2 egg whites
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
Food coloring: black, yellow, green, and pink or red

Instructions:
You’ll need cookie cutters for these, preferably Halloween-themed cats and moons and bats. But you can also just cut them into circles and go wild with the decorating.

Whisk the flour, allspice, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Set it aside.
In another, bigger bowl, beat the butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until the ingredients are light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and egg and beat them into the butter mixture.
Set the mixing speed to low and add the flour mixture. Beat until the ingredients come together as a dough.
On a lightly floured surface, turn out the dough and divide it in half. Press each half into a thick disk, wrap them separately in plastic wrap, and put them into the refrigerator for about an hour, until they’re firm.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
With parchment paper, line two cookie sheets.
Roll out one of your dough disks on a lightly floured surface until it is approximately 1/8” thick. Cut out cookies with your cutters and transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheets. Repeat with the other disk.
Bake 8-10 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned.
Remove the cookies and set them on cooling racks.
When they are room temperature, make the icing.
With an electric mixer on high, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Add the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Keep beating the mixture until it is shiny and thick.
Add more sugar or water to get the right consistency for the icing to spread easily.
Divide the icing between small bowls and add food coloring.

Decorate your cookies!

And now the nonalcoholic liquid libation, again from Kathy…

gummi worms

(photo by Tiia Monto CC-BY-SA 3.0 unported, Wikimedia Commons)

Magic Potion

Ingredients:
Creepy Crawler Ice Ring (instructions below)
1 cup boiling water
2 sm packages lime-flavored gelatin
3 cups cold water
1½ liters (48 ounces) lemon-lime soda, chilled
½ cup superfine sugar (this kind dissolves better, but you can use regular sugar)
Gummy worms, for garnishing cups

Instructions:
Prepare Creepy Crawler Ice Ring one day before serving:
1 cup gummy worms
1 quart lemon-lime drink, such as Gatorade®  (the brighter green, the better)
Lay gummy worms along the bottom of a 5-cup ring mold, then fill with lemon-lime drink.
Freeze for 8 hours/overnight, until solid.

Now prepare punch:
Pour boiling water over gelatin in heat-proof punch bowl; stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir in cold water.
Add lemon-lime soda and sugar; stir well.
Before serving, dip bottom of ice mold in hot water to unmold ice ring. Float in punch bowl.
Serve cups of punch garnished with gummy worms, if desired.

Makes 10 servings

Sounds awesome! I’m wondering if you could make ice cubes instead of the ice ring, if you weren’t going to serve it in a punch bowl. Maybe one gummy worm in the bottom of each section of the ice cube tray…. Hmm, that would be a cool way to serve to guests. *makes grocery list with gummy worms and Gatorade®*

What’s your favorite cold-weather recipe?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Shannon has a brand new cover for her spooky thriller, The Monarch.

the-monach-kobo

Fate seems to have mistaken Anne Serafini, a forensic photographer, for superwoman and she’s not amused. After being stabbed, witnessing a friend’s murder and shooting a man in self-defense, Anne realizes she’s been Fate’s puppet all along.

Now she’s chosen Anna Maria Island to try and take back control of her life. Unfortunately—when a murdered girl washes up on the beach—Anne understands, once again, Fate has chosen this place for her.

When Anne’s two eccentric aunts decide it’s time to let her in on the family secret, they tell Anne she is the latest fourth-generation woman in her brown-eyed family to be born with green eyes and a paranormal gift.

Anne’s gift is being in the wrong place at the right time. The gift of serendipity. But, the gift is also a curse. Each green-eyed woman has died before her twenty-eighth birthday.

Anne will turn twenty-eight in three weeks.

Can she embrace her gift and help stop this budding serial killer? Or is he the tool Fate will use to fulfill the family curse?

Click here for buy links.

And for Halloween, I have re-published my standalone ghost story/mystery novelette, Echoes

book cover of Echoes, A Story of Suspense

James Fitzgerald is looking forward to a weekend getaway with friends at the country house that once belonged to his parents. Instead he walks in on a bloodbath. And a cryptic message on a shower curtain points to him as the killer.

The small town sheriff is smarter than he looks. He knows he doesn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest… yet.

Virtually under house arrest, James tries to distract himself from his grief and worry by investigating his parents’ backgrounds. Maybe he can find an explanation for the strange fainting spells he’s been having. Soon he is wondering if it’s sometimes better to let sleeping ghosts lie.

Click here for buy links.

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. 🙂 )