Medicare and Me, Oh My!

by Kassandra Lamb

OMG, I’m on Medicare! How did that happen?

Medicare and You booklet

They sent me this thick booklet. Have I read it?  Well, um, no.

As a friend of mine once said on the occasion of her 50th birthday, “How did my 25-year-old mind get trapped in this 50-year-old body?”

For me, it’s more like my 45-year-old mind is caught in a 65-year-old body. I definitely feel like a “mature” woman mentally, but not OLD!!

But my body has a different perspective. When I first get out of bed or stand up from a chair, I waddle. I don’t want to waddle but I do, until my legs and hips get unstuck from their resting position and actually start working again.

I look in the mirror and my mother is staring back at me. Instead of the long, lean face of “Kass” I see the round, slightly jowly face of “Marty.”

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother. But I don’t want to BE her. And yet more and more, I am.

And then there is the crepey skin and varicose veins. I’m keeping the cosmetic companies’ sales figures up, at least for firming creams.

What amazes me is that I can still rise to the challenge physically when I have to, although the recovery is longer and rougher than it used to be.

In August, I helped my son drive his and his wife’s cars from Philadelphia to their new home in Texas. The trip did not go well timing-wise. We got away late and ran into multiple traffic delays. Somehow I made it through three and a half days of driving. Then I slept for ten hours, helped unload the storage Pod, and then flew home to Florida.

And did nothing pretty much for three days. 🙂

Then Hurricane Irma happened. And I discovered a whole new reservoir of something…not sure what to call it: grit, fortitude, survival instinct.

I posted about this last week. We decided at 8:15 at night that we needed to evacuate. We drove all night. Except for about an hour and half, I was the driver (my husband hates to drive and I, normally, like it.) He did a great job of “riding shotgun,” staying awake himself and engaging me in conversation.

I was shocked that I was able to stay alert for so long. It wasn’t even all that hard when it felt like our survival depended on it.

Yes, I was dragging for a couple of days, just barely perking up in time for the trip home, but I did it.

I could tell you more stories, of friends even older than myself who are taking care of ailing spouses. And others who are still working for a living because pensions are insufficient or nonexistent, some doing physical jobs such as cleaning houses and mowing lawns and fixing roofs.

More and more I’m reminded of how fortunate I am. I watch on the TV the devastation wreaked by Mother Nature—in Texas and South Florida and now Puerto Rico. It brings home to me how easily one can lose so much.

I’m not sure I have a moral to this post, unless it is to count your blessings—and to remember that they are blessings and not take them for granted.

How has the passage of time changed your perspective on life?

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. 🙂 )

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. 🙂 )

Six-Degrees to Success

by Vinnie Hansen

Misterio Press authors Kassandra Lamb and Shannon Esposito both live in Florida and are dealing with Hurricane Irma. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Since I’m safely located in California, I’m filling in today for Kassandra with an updated repost. 

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

Laurie King and Vinnie

Laurie R. King and me

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

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

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

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

Sleuthing Women boxed set cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now my participation in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries has led to Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas. One thing leads to another.

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

Available now for just $.99 on  AMAZON    APPLE    KOBO    BARNES & NOBLE

Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas is a collection of ten mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novella is a tie-in to an established multi-book series—a total of over 800 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, cozy, and female P.I. mysteries.

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

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

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

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. 🙂 )

An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach by Stuart Thornton

We have a special guest today–travel writer Stuart Thornton–as well as a an amazing giveaway with mysteries, cookies, travel books, and bookstore credit!

Now here’s Stuart to tell you the tale of one of his many adventures:

An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach

While researching my Moon Coastal California guidebook, I had an evening that played out more like a scene in a mystery novel than a night of notetaking. It all occurred at Usal Beach, which is located on a remote stretch of California coastline within Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
The expanse of dark sand and the rustic campground behind it was everything a Northern California beach should be: wild, powerful, and mysterious.

My friend Shane and I pitched a tent away from a herd of Roosevelt elk with antlers as large as chandeliers. We watched the sunset fall into the ocean like a giant ember and then cooked up a fine campfire meal while listening to a North Coast pirate radio station on my small camp radio. After a couple of beers, we each retired to our own tent for the evening.
Fzzzow. Fzzzooooow. Ffffzzooooooowwwww. I woke up to the sound of gunshots near our campsite. Outside the full moon seemed to shine down on my tent like a spotlight.

I reached for my cell phone. “3:03 A.M.,” it glared at me ominously.

In the distance, I could hear Shane snoring in his tent. Then ffffzzzzzzoooooooowwww. I grew up around hunting and guns, but this shot sounded cold, metallic, evil. It also sounded like the shooter was coming closer. I sat up in my tent, and I felt as alone as I’d ever felt in my life.

Fffffffffzzzzzzooooooowwwww. Shane suddenly stopped snoring. “Did you hear that?” I whispered to him.

“Yeah, I heard that,” he said. “It’s not good.”

We both lay still in our tents. I began thinking about why someone would be firing a gun this late. It could be drunken locals, but there was no boisterous shouts or loud music. Maybe the shooter was trying to scare off a bear or an elk?  But only a shot or two would probably be needed to do that. My next thought: What if it’s a murderer?

Ffffzzzoooooowww. Another shot. I started thinking of survival. In the tent, I felt as helpless as a fish caught in a net. Someone could just walk up and blast the tent with bullets and that would be it.

“Want to meet outside?” Shane called out.

“Yes,” I said softly.

I scrambled outside my tent and soon Shane and I were standing out in the moonlight. Though we were in the open, it felt good to have someone around.

“What if it is someone walking around popping campers?” Shane said, echoing what I was thinking.

I shivered uncontrollably. It was not because of the cold outside.

“I did bring this for bears,” Shane said and slid the handle of a pistol out of the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. It was somewhat reassuring, but it didn’t vanquish all of my fear.

We got into his car. Shane sat in the driver’s seat with his hand fingering the butt of the gun like it was a lucky coin. I sat in the passenger seat and tried to look outside the rapidly fogging windows.

Around 50 feet away in the woods, a light appeared. Ffffzzzoooooowww. The light was gone right as the shot rang out. It was like it had been blasted out of existence. Farther away, a car alarm went off.

“We need to get out of here,” he said.

Shane and I made it out, up and over the steep, mountainous road to the highway. We scanned the local newspapers the next morning expecting to read about a multiple homicide at Usal Beach, but there was nothing. I later talked to a park ranger about the incident, but he just called the park “The Wild West.”

While travelers may, understandably, not be comfortable with the sound of gunshots while sleeping, Usal Beach did make it into Moon Coastal California as one of the best beaches for wildlife in the state. I warn about the firearms for other prospective campers, but whatever happened in the hours after midnight at that remote California beach is still a mystery to me.

Stuart Thornton Bio

Stuart Thornton fell in love with the California coast while working at the Big Sur Ranger Station after college. At work, he provided visitors with all sorts of information about the region, from the best places to camp to the best meal in the area. On his days off, he took his own advice and regularly sought out the best spots for hiking, backpacking, surfing, and snorkeling along that striking coastal region.

Stuart later moved to nearby Monterey to become a staff writer for the Monterey County Weekly, which he still contributes to. He is the proud author of Moon Coastal California, Moon Santa Barbara & The Central Coast, Moon Monterey & Carmel, and Moon California Road Trip. In addition, Stuart has contributed to National Geographic Education, Relix Magazine, and Ed Grant’s Piers of the California Coast, a coffee table book highlighting the Golden State’s piers and wharves.

He spends his time off searching for the next secluded beach, uncrowded wave, or mountain top vista. Learn more about his adventures and projects by visiting www.stuartthornton.com.

And now for that amazing giveaway I promised! Check it out–travel books, a full-set of my mysteries,  Santa Cruz Cookie Company cookies, and a $200 gift certificate at Bookshop Santa Cruz (or a bookstore of your choice). 

Enter here.

Now, what is your spookiest travel adventure?

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.

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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…

book cover

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. 🙂 )

Life Lessons from the Pottery Studio (Plus a New Release)

by Gilian Baker

Though I haven’t thrown pottery for many years, it was once my creative passion. And while it’s not the typical hobby you’re likely to find highlighted in a cozy mystery, it was ideal for my protagonist, Jade and mA Time to Kilne.

Why?

Well, because I’d planned the murder in my new book, A Time to Kiln, many moons ago when I spent all my free time in a dusty pottery studio.

Taking a pottery class seemed like a natural pursuit. I loved playing in the mud as a kid growing up on a farm and as an adult, I loved getting my hands dirty while growing organic vegetables. What started out as a chance to have some “me time,” away from the responsibilities of having a small child, soon grew into an obsession. For the next 7 years, I pored over pottery magazines and tested different types of glaze recipes.

I still use many of the items I created back then, as do my family and friends. Even though I’m now too busy writing cozy mysteries to throw pots, I still enjoy the ones I literally created with my bare hands years ago.

Although I had many successes in the studio, there were many failures too. I would study pictures in pottery magazines thinking, “Heck, I can make that.” This was around the time I learned that nothing ever turns out like the picture. The times when a friend or family member requested a certain item was when I experienced the biggest failures. I’d want it to be so perfect. The harder I tried, the worse it got.

I better understand that concept now—the more “work” you make of something, the harder it’s going to be. When I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of creating, I ended up with sometA Time to Kilnhing lovely. When I didn’t, well, I didn’t. During my time as a potter, I learned the best way to do anything was to let go of how the final product turned out and just enjoy the process. Same goes for writing fiction.

Frustrations can easily overshadow the pleasure found in the pottery studio—there are many steps in the process to finish a single piece. The clay must be thrown, dried, trimmed, glazed and fired, and at any point in the process, it can be ruined. But oh, when you create something beautiful, you forget all about the frustrations and can’t wait to do it all over again. Throwing pottery is a great metaphor for life. If you are as malleable as the clay, you can learn patience and mindfulness. If you don’t…you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Sadly, Jade will not have the pleasure of drinking from a mug she threw on a pottery wheel herself, a fact that she bemoans. Before she can become proficient “behind the wheel,” her teacher is murdered.

A Time to KilnA Time to Kiln: A Jade Blackwell Cozy Mystery (Book 2)

Disenchanted with life after solving her first real case, Jade Blackwell, successful blogger and amateur sleuth, throws herself into a new hobby…until murder rears its ugly head.

But when Jade attempts to ferret out the killer of local pottery teacher, Paula Hexby, she comes up short and suspicion begins to descend on her daughter’s former boyfriend. Evidence and bodies are stacking up, as Jade finds herself caught between an untrustworthy client and her beloved community.

Now at a personal and professional crossroads, Jade must once again jump into the breech, along with partner Gabrielle Langdon, to uncover the truth behind this string of horrific murders. Is she really cut out for this life of sleuthing and danger? Has Jade been defending the real murderer all along? Or is there something much more sinister afoot?

Follow Jade in her next adventure in A Time to Kiln, now available on Amazon.

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. 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’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln.

Be the first to learn about new releases and upcoming deals, plus gain access to exclusive content by signing up at gilianbaker.com

Breakfast: The Best Meal of the Day (plus a New Release)

by Kirsten Weiss

breakfast foodsWaffles. Eggs. Bacon. Coffee cake.

I love breakfast, quite frequently at lunchtime.

So when I was writing At Wits’ End—a cozy mystery set in a UFO-themed Bed and Breakfast—turning it into a culinary mystery featuring breakfasts, was a delicious no-brainer.

When the B&B’s new owner Susan Witsend isn’t indulging in one of the breakfasts she whips up for guests, the California girl does something simpler for herself—Guacamole Breakfast Toast.

First you need guacamole. If you don’t have any at hand, here’s how to make your own:

Ingredients:
1 avocado, peeled and seeded (careful with that knife! Never stab the avocado’s seed while you’re holding it in your hand – you’d be surprised how many accidents happen doing this)

photo from pixabay

2 tsp cilantro, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients with a fork and you’ve got a simple guac.

Next scramble some eggs, spread the guacamole on toast, and top with the eggs and some salsa. Yum!

What’s your favorite breakfast food? And do you like breakfast for lunch (or dinner)?

At Wits’ End is a humorous, non-paranormal spin-off of my Witches of Doyle cozy mystery series, so look for some of the witches to make cameo appearances. The book just released on July 20th.

At Wits’ End, A Doyle Cozy Mystery

When Susan Witsend inherits her grandmother’s UFO-themed B&B, she’s ready to put her organizational skills to the test. She knows she can make the B&B work, even if there is a faux-UFO in the roof. After all, what’s not to love about a Victorian nestled in the high Sierra foothills?

None of her carefully crafted policies and procedures, however, can prepare her for a corpse in room seven – the body of her small-town sheriff’s ex-husband. But Susan has her own plans to solve the crime.

In Susan’s mind, Men in Black, conspiracy-crazed old ladies, and an angry sheriff are just part and parcel of catering to UFO enthusiasts. But is there a government conspiracy afoot? Or is the murder a simple case of small town vengeance? Susan must keep all her wits about her. Because the killer isn’t finished, and if she isn’t careful, her fate may be written in the stars…

Recipes in the back of the book!

Now Available on:   AMAZON

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked for fourteen years in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone.  Her experiences abroad gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. She is the author of the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective urban fantasy/mystery series, the Sensibility Grey steampunk mysteries, the Rocky Bridges mysteries, and the Witches of Doyle cozy mystery series.

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. 🙂 )