Tag Archives: Carol Sabala

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. 🙂 )

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. 🙂 )

First Impressions & Second Chances

by Vinnie Hansen

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

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This advertising slogan for dandruff shampoo wormed its way into our consciousness. Because it’s a catchy way to state a truth. In life there are no do-overs.

My good friend Christine recalls when she first met me. She was a teacher visiting my classroom to see if she wanted to make the shift to a high-school setting. She thought I was unfriendly.

This sounds awful, but I completely understand her first impression. I’m an introvert, so I don’t project the bubbly exterior many might dub friendly. I also grew up in the Midwest, so I tend to be private, which many might interpret as aloof, or unfriendly. Finally, she was visiting my class before lunch and I had to be brusque in order to meet other colleagues for our lunchtime walk.

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers (many moons ago)

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers for Halloween (many moons ago)

Over time, Christine learned that I may not be overtly friendly, but I’m an excellent friend—loyal, thoughtful, and encouraging. She once said I was the kindest person she knew. And when she became my lunchtime walking partner, she learned firsthand that one could not dally and still fit a walk into the lunch period.

The problem with the well-known aphorism above is that it supports the tyranny of the first impression. And first impressions are sometimes wrong. Or maybe not wrong so much as superficial. The aphorism reinforces the notion that nothing will ever be different. If we blow it, the damage is done! You show up with dandruff–game over.

Fortunately, like other tyrants, first impressions can be toppled. Second chances are possible.

My friend came to appreciate not my friendliness, but my friendship. And knowing that she found me unfriendly, improved my self-awareness. I practiced the painful art of extending myself to strangers, creating a new first impression for future acquaintances. The truth is, every moment, really, we offer a new self for impressions. And anyone stuck on a first impression is making a mistake.

Which brings me to my books. When I started writing the Carol Sabala mystery series, I was working full-time as an English teacher. I did not have a lot of free time to pursue my long-abiding love of creative writing. Nonetheless, my first mystery, Murder, Honey, caught the interest of an agent. Only in retrospect do I appreciate what a milestone that was, even though the agent did not successfully market the book.

At the time, I did not know that the next step should have been to write the second book for the series. I later learned that many series writers don’t sell their first, or even their second book, but may sell their third, creating the opportunity then to publish the first and second.

deathwdessert-old-cover

One of my original covers

But back then in my naiveté, I decided to self-publish. Digital print, companies such as iUniverse, were in their infancy. With little guidance, (I wasn’t even a member of Sisters in Crime yet!), I still did many things right. The book had passed through a writing group and other readers. As an English teacher, I proofread the book until my eyeballs were hanging out.

I employed a professional photographer to create cover art. Still I had no idea how much more really needed to be done to create a polished product.

Over time, I improved. By my third book, I was working with a small, local publisher who expertly formatted the mysteries and steered me to reputable printers. The problem was, to make this viable, I had to order hundreds of copies of my books—and I didn’t know much about marketing.

The new version!

The new version!

It wasn’t until I both retired from teaching and found a home at misterio press that I really learned what it takes to produce a first-rate product. The last book in my series was published directly from misterio, but I’ve also had the good fortune to go back and re-release the first six books under the misterio imprint.

I can’t change the fact that some readers encountered Murder, Honey in its first edition. Fortunately, some people liked it warts and all.

No matter what others’ first impressions of my writing are or have been, it does not change the fact that I am evolving, becoming a better writer. Having the expertise of the ladies at misterio press, using a professional cover designer, and gaining a better sense of the market, I now have the chance to make new first impressions with new readers.

Have you ever been given an important second chance? Have you ever made a bad first impression that haunted you?

And here is the last one to be re-released under the misterio press imprint, Book #3 in the series — Rotten Dates.

RottenDatesNewly divorced and vulnerable, baker/sleuth Carol Sabala resists her friend’s pressure to use a personal ad to enter the dating scene.

Two weeks later a woman’s body is found strangled on a riverbank in Santa Cruz. Did the killer use the ads to lure his victim?

Hired to investigate by the deceased’s cousin, Carol sees the amateur photographer who discovered the body as a likely suspect. He’s handsome, charming, and definitely on the prowl. Is it for a date with Carol or for his next victim?

As she digs deeper into the case, she uncovers one dangerous-but-appealing man after another. Longing for companionship and adventure in her own life, Carol learns the hard way that combining the two can be a risky business.

Now available on:    AMAZON    SMASHWORDS

The paperback version should be ready by the end of the week!

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. 🙂 )

Where the Research Takes Me–the Desert and a Mexican Jail!

by Vinnie Hansen

Whether I consult my reference book Deadly Doses or tour San Quentin, all of my mysteries involve research. Death with Dessert, the newly re-released fifth book in the Carol Sabala series, required the most difficult research of the seven books.

Death with Dessert contains an immigration sub-theme. Illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is a complex topic. In my long career as a teacher I worked with immigrant families and heard many of their stories. But I still spent many hours reading about the Operation Wetback program of the 1950s, watching documentaries, and talking to workers from Humane Borders and the Mexican Consulate in Tuscon.

3 Points restaurant

3 Points restaurant

However, there’s no substitute for personal experience. I needed to see my immigrants’ path in a more earthy way.

So I flew to Tuscon, rented a car, and drove Highway 286 from Three Points down to the tiny border town of Sasabe. I stopped along the way to smell the desert, to note the plants and landscape, and to listen to the sounds (mostly border patrol vehicles driving up and down this corridor, ATVs jouncing in the backs of their trucks).

I noted the arroyos under clumps of mesquite, great for hiding from aerial surveillance, but deadly in a flash flood. I imagined walking this beautiful, desolate countryside, the scorpions and rattlesnakes and lack of water.

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20060324_0235

Downtown Sasabe, just over the border.

I returned from my trip more confident that I could create the illegal immigrants’ experience in a convincing way. As the adage says, “Write what you know, or know what you write.”

At the start of Death with Dessert, my private investigator Carol Sabala launches on a mission to track down her missing father in Mexico. I set Carol’s destination as Zihuatenejo, because my husband and I had spent many winter vacations there. But once I decided the town would be featured in my book, instead of photographing the sunsets, I turned my camera toward policemen and street scenes.

20060104_0087My side trips in Zihuatenejo also took a turn. Because Carol Sabala spends time in a Mexican jail, I had to visit one. My husband, ever the game one, accompanied me to the El Centro de Readaptación Social.

20060105_0107The barren lot outside the facility teemed with police officers, many armed with sub machine guns.

I’d heard about the police in the state of Guerrero—that they worked 24-hour shifts and were paid horribly, that they were corrupt and hated, that they had disappeared people during the Guerra Sucia, the Dirty War.

Nonetheless, I approached the “office,” a cubicle open to the air in the stucco building. It contained a battered desk, a manual typewriter, and not much else. In my limited Spanish, I explained to the officer that I was a mystery writer and asked if I could tour the jail. I have done several jail tours in the United States, so this did not seem like an outrageous request to me.

The officers thought differently and regarded me with immediate suspicion, asking if I was a Human Rights Watch activist, and wanting to see my passport.

Fortunately I had left my passport in our hotel, otherwise they might have confiscated it. As it was, officers frog-marched us to the curb where a taxi mysteriously appeared to transport us back to where we belonged.

I didn’t get inside the jail. If I had, my view probably would have been from behind bars! The police department’s worry about Human Rights Watch hinted at the conditions inside. My imagination rounded out the picture.

Please check out Death with Dessert, and I have a giveaway going on over at Goodreads. Today’s the last day so hop on over there and sign up. Hope you win a copy!

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Death with Dessert, A Carol Sabala Mystery (#5)

A dead mother. A missing father. A mysterious man.

They all spell trouble for private investigator Carol Sabala. When Carol’s mother dies unexpectedly, Carol is left with no family—only money, grief, and an envelope. Her mother has charged her with a mission: deliver the envelope to her long-lost father.

Enroute to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, to track down her father, Carol encounters the alluring Mark Escalante, who snares her in a deadly pursuit of his own.

AVAILABLE NOW on AMAZON and through SMASHWORDS

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. 🙂 )

Doggy Drama

by Kassandra Lamb

I haven’t been on social media much lately. I haven’t gotten much writing done either. We’ve had quite a bit of drama at our house the last few weeks, related to dogs.

First, our totally lovable, ten-year-old Alaskan Husky/Shepherd mix died. Rather suddenly–she was only sick for three days. I’ve never had a dog go that quickly. It was a shock, as well as very sad.

Amelia, last spring

Amelia, last spring — Note the high, solid fence and big yard; they will be significant later.

And the timing couldn’t have been worse. My husband was leaving the next day for Paris–just five days after the terrorist attacks there–to present at a conference.

I’m thinking, “Oh goody, I get to stay home, all alone, and grieve and worry.”

So even though I knew it was too soon, I went to the animal shelter to check out the adoptable dogs. It was definitely too soon. I was too heart-sore to feel anything for even the cutest of them.

The adoption coordinator suggested I foster a young dog who was waiting for heartworm treatment. Perfect solution! I’d have a dog companion while hubs was away, but I hadn’t committed to loving the little guy until death do us part.

Where hubs was hanging out while I was chasing a rambunctious puppy.

Where hubs was hanging out while I was chasing a rambunctious puppy.

Well, he turned out to be a handful and a half. He definitely kept me too busy to worry for the two weeks hubs was overseas.

Wednesday I took him back to the shelter for his treatment to begin, and while I was there I made the mistake of popping over to the kennels to see the new arrivals. Guess what, not too heart-sore anymore! (Although I’m still grieving my sweet Amelia).

This guy seemed perfect. He was two years old–so not such a rambunctious puppy–and absolutely gorgeous, with a shiny, copper-colored coat. The right size (medium), with short hair (not so many hair balls gathering in the corners–Yay!), and a calm, friendly disposition.

DSC02322

Our new Redbone Coon Hound/Retriever mix–too bright for his own good!

He’s got just one teensy, weensy flaw.

He’s an escape artist!

We now have two pet gates, one above the other, blocking him from going into the rooms with the antiques (until we’re sure he won’t chew or pee on them). The first gate we put up, just one layer deep, he jumped repeatedly.

The newest in dog lover decor!

The latest in dog lover decor!

 

 

But he didn’t quite clear it, so things would go flying on the other side as he landed all skiddleywampus.

The first morning after we brought him home, hubs put him out to do his business in our big backyard, with its six-foot high, solid wood privacy fence. When hubs went out ten minutes later to bring him back in, the dog was gone!

The mutt was two doors down, checking out a neighbor’s garage. Turns out he’d dug a hole under the fence, in less than ten minutes!!

So now he’s on a tether to do his business, while I strive to make the fence dig-proof. I have now spent three days of my life and several hundred dollars on this effort, and I’m not done yet. I had to cut all our bushes back away from the fence first, so I could work in there to lay down wire mesh two feet out from the bottom of the fence, then cover it with heavy, paving stones. As an added deterrent, I’m sprinkling everything with cayenne pepper.

My vet suggested I just try the cayenne pepper around the fence line first. Ha! She does not know this dog.

While I was outside working today, I had him on his tether so he could watch me. He has separation anxiety from being abandoned, so he’s not happy unless I’m in sight. (What he doesn’t get is that his owners didn’t abandon him. I suspect they just stopped tracking him down when he got out of their fence for the umpteenth time and ran off!)

So while we’re out there, he figured out how to get out of his harness. He goes to the end of the tether, faces the post it’s tied to, ducks his head and pulls back as hard as he can. The strap around his middle (that hooks snugly BEHIND his legs) pulls forward over his head, and he steps out of it.

I watched him do it–TWICE, with two different harnesses.

I came in tonight, when it was finally too dark to work any longer, and hubs said, “Why are you doing this? Is it worth it?”

My immediate answer was “Good question!” (BTW, hubs would be helping, but he’s in the end of semester crunch with his classes.)

But then my inquisitive little psychologist’s brain got to chewing on that question. Why was I going to such great lengths for this dog?

The answer, for me at least, is that dogs are the world’s best companions. They will hang out with you, offering total unconditional love, asking only that you feed them, pet them and play with them occasionally. They are the definition of “loyal friend.” (They’re actually pretty loyal even if you don’t pet or play that often, say when you are in the throes of a writing jag because your muse has gone into overdrive. 😀 )

The bottom line is if I send this loving, otherwise great dog back to the shelter, he will end up dead. If we can’t contain him with a six-foot fence (did I mention he’s also a jumper?) then who can? He’ll either end up euthanized as unadoptable or he’ll be road kill.

Doesn't he look innocent?

Doesn’t he look innocent? You notice he’s always lying down when inside; that’s his fiendish plot to fool you into thinking he’s a sedate dog.

Not acceptable for such a wonderful fur baby.

So say a little prayer that wire plus stones plus cayenne pepper keeps him contained. I’ll keep you posted.

BTW, I had named him Cody, but he really doesn’t answer to it yet. I’m considering changing his name to Houdini.

How about you?

Are you an animal person? Do you have fur babies you’d go out of the way to keep safe?

Oh, one of our authors, Vinnie Hansen, has a giveaway going on for her book, Death with Dessert, that is about to be re-released under the misterio press imprint. I’ve read this book and it is GREAT!! So hop on over to Goodreads and check it out. Hope you win a copy!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy 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. 🙂 )

The Golden Donut Award

by Vinnie Hansen

In August I received the “coveted” Golden Donut.

Vinnie golden donut award DSCN0524Sounds like something invented by a cop, right? It is. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) awards the Golden Donut.

I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews of the WPA, held this year in Appleton, Wisconsin at the new Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center.

The WPA is a small conference (300 attendees this year) at which law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs work hands on with writers who are eager to get their facts straight. Writers learn to handcuff, lift prints, and shoot. They examine blood splatter, practice takedowns, and visit a jail and a morgue. All kinds of fun stuff.

Although attending WPA ranks high on my bucket list, this year I was not able to attend.

However, I did enter the WPA’s writing contest, which is open to non-attendees. The contest starts with a photo prompt. Here is this year’s image:

Vinnie story prompt2012-06-09_14-02-08_578The scene in the image must play a vital part in the storyline. Stories must also be exactly 200 words—not 199 or 201. If a submission doesn’t follow the rules, well . . . this is a contest run by law enforcement!

However, the final judge this year was Sara Gruen *swoon*. I’m doubly honored that she is the one who chose my story “Bad Connection” as the winner of the coveted Golden Donut. For those who don’t know, Sara Gruen is the author of Water for Elephants.

So, without further ado, here is my 200-word story inspired by the two gravestones in the photo.

Bad Connection

Adam and Bette talked via identical tin cans. The connective wire snaked out Adam’s bedroom, across the bare side yards, and in through Bette’s window. In the cookie-cutter houses, their bedrooms matched like shoes.

When they were seven, Adam announced: “We’re going to get married.”

The words vibrated over to Bette’s heart.

“And be together forever!”

Their childhood conversations grew into teenaged angst on house phones, and years into their marriage, continued on mobile phones. Then their voices became texts:

On way home Bette thumbed.
R U txtng & drvng?
Tht’s life.
Me 2 Adam wrote.
Txtng & drvng?
Idiot. 🙂 On way home.
Turnng off Rdrx. She wrote.
Ha! Turnng Frtge Rd
Race? Bette stomped the pedal, knowing Adam’s response as though linked still by a tremolo of wire.

Rotten egg? He barreled down the street.
U R on.

Adam and Bette startled at the other’s mass of metal rocketing toward them, as though God had yanked the string on a pair of nunchuks. They collided head-on, the cars smashed like recycled soup cans.

Now they lie side by side in matched containers, calling to each other across a narrow passage of dirt.

You can check out some of the runner-up stories over at the WPA site.

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. 🙂 )

“Survivor”–Sisters in Crime version

Vinnie Hansen is starting off our August blog schedule with a bang today, with her own version of a reality show. And she’s got some really BIG news to share!

Shh, not until the end of the post though. But it’s definitely something she can BRAG about.

“Survivor”

by Vinnie Hansen DSCN0415What would happen if a villain dropped one of our protagonists into the wilderness? How would our heroine survive?

That question and a love for camaraderie propelled 13 brave members of my Sisters in Crime chapter to attend a Wilderness Survival Camp.

Dan, our fearless leader

Dan, our fearless leader

We met our fearless leader Dan, a consultant to various reality television shows, in the redwood forest of a private vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The first rule for survival is: Don’t Panic.

Air is our most essential element. We can live for only a few minutes without it. Adrenaline sucks up oxygen.

Lack of oxygen can make our limbs go numb and our brain lose perspective. Perfectly outfitted hikers have been found dead in the wilderness because they became disoriented, forgetting where they set their pack or the direction back to their shelter.

After some deep breathing, the sacred order for survival is:

1. shelter
2. water
3. fire
4. food

Before our training, I thought water was the most important concern, but a person can go for days without water. Exposure, not dehydration, is the leading cause of death in the wilderness. Shelter allows one to thermo regulate, which conserves water, and protects against heat or cold.

Dan divided us into three teams, and after a brief lesson set us off to build shelters given the materials at hand. Some simple rules: create plenty of insulation under and around the body, and create a small area of dead air space for one’s body heat to warm. In other words, the shelter should be a snug fit.

DSCN0420 shelterHere’s what my team built. Dan tested the shelter by standing on top of it. All three teams built “tents” that withstood his test

Next we tackled finding water, easy in our spot with a river flowing below us. But even in the desert water exists. Look for the lowest point, signs of vegetation, and animal tracks. Animals have to drink! Even butterflies and bees need water. You can collect water by running your shirt through dew points.

If you have a choice, choose running water over still water, and water that supports algae and tadpoles over water that appears devoid of life.

Boil if possible. We learned how to rock boil water even without a pot.

That brings us to fire.

Dan showing our Sister in Crime Jenny Carless how to make a friction fire.

Dan showing our Sister in Crime Jenny Carless how to make a friction fire.

Making friction fire is an arduous task, involving many steps. Nonetheless, a couple of my sisters did create fire before our camp ended, lifting them to goddess status.

Most of us left vowing to carry matches–everywhere.

Jenny, aka the SiN Fire Goddess

Jenny, aka the SinC Fire Goddess

 

 

 

One participant already reported back that the TSA allows one book of matches.

This was a rewarding experience even if not a single detail finds its way into one of my mysteries. I came home exhausted, but in the way one does after a day outdoors in the sun with a lot of good friends.

Have you ever taken any survival training? How well do you think you’d do out in the wilderness on your own?

BLACK-BEANS-&-VENOM w BRAG medallion

And now the news… Drumroll please. Black Beans and Venom, the most recent book in my Carol Sabala mystery series has won a B.R.A.G. medallion.

This honor is bestowed on top quality indie books by the Book Readers Appreciation Group, and I’m thrilled to have received it. Check out the gold medallion that now adorns the book cover. 😀

 

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. 🙂 )

Setting Dilemma (plus a New Release)

by Vinnie Hansen

Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller were my gateway drugs into mystery addiction. I had a slight preference for Grafton’s series except for one aspect. Sue Grafton set her stories in Santa Teresa, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara, while Marcia Muller, at least initially, set her tales of murder and mayhem in a real San Francisco.

When I started the two series, I lived in San Francisco, and Muller’s PI, Sharon McCone, resided on the street parallel to the house I rented with friends. I loved to imagine her backyard abutted mine. When I looked out my upstairs bedroom window, I viewed Bernal Heights and adored the idea that McCone worked in a law office right over there.

Bernal Heights (photo by Timothy Vollmer, CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Coomons)

Bernal Heights in San Francisco (photo by Timothy Vollmer, CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I couldn’t understand why Grafton had relinquished this charm. Everyone figured out Santa Teresa was Santa Barbara anyway.

So when I began my own mystery series, I decided to place it in a real Santa Cruz, which had definite appeal to my local fans. People have purchased my books simply because particular haunts were mentioned.

However, I created a fictional restaurant for my protagonist Carol Sabala’s work place, and site of the first murder in the series. I also made Carol different from myself, taller, younger, half Mexican-American, and a California native with a small family. Carol was a baker with PI ambitions, while I was a teacher.

In One Tough Cookie, my second mystery, I didn’t want another person to die at the restaurant, so I transported Carol to Watsonville High School, my actual place of employment. Since this was a public institution rather than a private business, I decided not to give it a fictitious name. With twenty-twenty hindsight, I would never recommend this choice to anyone!

Vinnie posing on the Watsonville High School sign

A younger me at Watsonville High

Even though the characters were fictional, at minimum amalgams of many people, my colleagues identified them as this person or that. This tendency of theirs filled me with anxiety since many of the characters behaved badly.

Of course, local readers probably would have formed these opinions even if I’d given the high school a different name. Since I worked at Watsonville High, they would have ID’d any school as Watsonville High just as everyone knows Santa Teresa is Santa Barbara. And they would have speculated on which characters represented which colleagues, just as readers who know me imagine Carol Sabala as me, even with her long hair and questionable actions.

That’s why, with the rewrite and re-release of One Tough Cookie, I decided not to give Watsonville High School a fictitious name. Also, I’ve been retired for five years now, and a fresh team of educators occupies the school. I don’t think readers will make the same associations they did before. (At least I hope they don’t.)

And the real location may work some magic, the way Muller’s San Francisco captivated me.

Readers, do you enjoy stories set in real places you’re familiar with, in which you can recognize streets and favorite haunts? Writers, how do you feel about using real vs. fictitious settings in your stories?

Drum roll, please!! Here is the new release (under the misterio press imprint) of…

One Tough Cookie, A Carol Sabala Mystery

OneToughCookie
Carol Sabala’s boss sends the baker and amateur sleuth on a mission: find out who tampered with a teacher’s cookie dough and sickened the faculty. While Carol hones her investigative skills by gathering clues on the campus, a student is found dead on the high school’s stage. Did she fall? Commit suicide? Or did a killer hurl her from the catwalk?

When Carol seeks answers, a ruthless stalker comes after her!

Now Available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the South Dakota prairie for the California coast the day after graduating high school. She is the author of the Carol Sabala mysteries and was a Claymore Award finalist for Black Beans & Venom, the seventh and latest installment in that series. She’s also written many published short stories. Retired after 27 years of teaching English at Watsonville High School, Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz with her husband, abstract artist Daniel S. Friedman.

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

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

8 Ways For an Introvert to Enjoy a Convention

by Vinnie Hansen

As authors, we often attend conventions. Probably you have done so as well in the course of your career.

After several Left Coast Crime Conventions and one Killer Nashville Convention, as a painful introvert, I finally have the hang of how to enjoy these events. This is the wisdom I’ve gleaned:

The Willamette River in Portland

The Willamette River in Portland, Oregon

1.  See the venue. On my trip to Nashville, exhausted as I was, I caught a hotel shuttle to the downtown strip at night and walked place to place until I heard music that appealed to me—The Don Kelley band at Robert’s.

At the recent Left Coast Crime, the sun was shining when I arrived in Portland. Knowing the weather wouldn’t hold, I seized the moment and walked to Powell’s Books. These were unforgettable experiences. In both cases I went with another person I didn’t know well. I feel bonded to them through the shared activity, which brings me to tip #2.

My new friend, Cindy Brown, author of MacDeath

My new friend, Cindy Brown, author of MacDeath

2.  Attend the convention alone. If you go with a good friend or spouse, you’ll spend too much time together. It’s natural, especially for a shy person like me. A huge benefit of a conference is meeting other writers and making new friends. Which brings me to tip #3.

3.  Park the idea that the conference is mainly about selling books. All writers want book sales, but that’s my point. Attendees can develop marketing fatigue. They tire of people thrusting books in their faces. Calm down. Let people get to know you. Share yourself. Then maybe they’ll buy your book. But . . .

Vinnie's bookmark
4.  Be prepared. Take bookmarks and/or cards and have them handy. Tuck some in the conference lanyard pocket. I kick myself for every time I had interest in my book and was not able to hand the person my info.

5.  Promote others. If you like someone else’s book, give it a plug. It builds friendships and good karma.

6.  Get involved. I’ve asked for and been lucky to receive panel assignments at all the conventions I’ve attended. I’ve made lasting connections with my panel mates. But volunteering is another way to form bonds. I don’t regret a minute of the hour I spent “manning” the Sisters in Crime table in Portland, or the time I spent helping Robin Burcell heft around boxes of books in Monterey.

Lovely, Dark & Deep: What Makes a Literary Mystery panel with authors John Addiego, Jennifer Bosworth, Deborah Reed, Susanna Calkins and Vinnie Hansen

Lovely, Dark & Deep: What Makes a Literary Mystery panel with authors John Addiego, Jennifer Bosworth, Deborah Reed, Susanna Calkins and me (far right)

7.  Observe your surroundings. As writers, isn’t that imperative? I met people who holed up in their rooms to make their word counts and I admire their discipline. But what do we write about if we don’t observe what’s around us?

judge with a fluffy white catThe Portland DoubleTree had a Cat Fanciers Show right next door. For the nominal fee of four dollars, I discovered a fascinating foreign world and gained a wealth of information.

8.  Take photos. They are so important for follow-up Facebook posts or blogs like this one. And, at my age, they really help me to remember all those people I met!

These simple practices have transformed my convention experience from intimidating to stimulating.

Have you had to attend conventions for your job? How do you feel about them?

OneToughCookieComing soon! The re-release of One Tough Cookie, A Carol Sabala Mystery, under the misterio press imprint. So stay tuned.

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. 🙂 )

Are Psychopaths Born or Made?

by Kassandra Lamb

We’re getting 2015 off to a great start with a joyful post on… psychopaths! Hey, we’re mystery writers; what can we say?

This is the final installment in a three-part series on Psychopaths and Serial Killers that I began back in November. We’ve got psychopaths on the brain right now because I recently released a thriller with a serial killer antagonist. And another of our authors, Vinnie Hansen, also has a psychopath in her new release, Black Beans and Venom (see her book below).

Psychopaths are totally self-centered, thrill seekers who lack empathy, remorse and rarely feel fear. They are heavily represented amongst criminals (although not all criminals are psychopaths) and con artists, but also amongst politicians and business tycoons.

mugshot of Ponzi

A color-enhanced image of the mugshot of con artist Charles Ponzi–after whom Ponzi schemes were named.

For more about their nature see the first post, What Is A Psychopath?

They make up roughly 3% of the U.S. male population and 1% of the females. A much smaller (thank God!) subgroup of psychopaths are serial killers. To read more about what makes them tick, go to my guest post on the subject HERE.

The question I’m most frequently asked regarding psychopaths is whether they are born or made. The answer is “Yes.” They are both born and made.

Lots of research tells us there’s a genetic predisposition to antisocial behavior, i.e., behavior that goes against society, that defies the rules, breaks the law. This predisposition doesn’t usually come to fruition, however, unless the person grows up in a very unhealthy environment. Full-blown psychopaths almost always come from abusive backgrounds, with harsh and often inconsistent parenting.

But before I get into the details of how this works, let me point out that these are explanations for why certain children develop into psychopaths. They are not excuses for their psychopathic behavior once they are adults!

Here are the major characteristics of psychopaths, and what we know so far (or strongly suspect) about how genetics and environment interact in these areas:

1.   Lack of remorse: There seems to be something inherently wrong with the wiring of psychopaths’ brains with regard to the development of a conscience. Most children, by age five, are starting to feel guilty when they break the rules they’ve internalized from their environment. But not budding psychopaths. They don’t feel remorse or guilt as readily as most children do.

Combine this faulty wiring with inconsistent, too harsh or even downright abusive parenting that confuses the child as to what the rules are and why one should obey them, and you quickly have an out-of-control child.

2.   Lack of empathy: Another area where the wiring may be lacking to begin with is empathy, our natural ability to feel what others are feeling. On the mild to moderate end of the genetic predisposition continuum, the child is capable of feeling some empathy.

child covering eyes

photo by appropos CC 2.0 Flickr nonderivative

With the guidance of a patient, loving parent, this empathy can be nurtured. I’ve seen a couple real-life examples of this! But in a highly dysfunctional abusive environment, that glimmer of empathy gets snuffed out early on.

3.   Learning deficits: The vast majority of people with antisocial personality disorder (the official diagnosis for psychopaths) have learning disabilities, especially attention deficit problems. Seventy-five percent have full-blown ADHD (which is genetically transmitted). The ADHD child does not make the connection between behavior and consequences nearly as readily as children normally do (Please take my word for this so I can spare you the long, boring brain-malfunction explanation).

Children with ADHD often don’t get it that what they just did is the cause of the punishment the parent or teacher is inflicting on them. From their perspective, the adult is just being mean, for some inexplicable reason. Put a child with these learning deficits in an environment where discipline is very inconsistent and often way too harsh, and you end up with a very confused and pissed-off kid.

4.   Hard to arouse nervous system: Another genetic piece, and this is the biggie for those of us who write and read mysteries and thrillers, is that people with antisocial personality disorder (i.e., psychopaths) inherit a nervous system that is not easily stimulated. It takes a huge amount of stimulation for them to feel excitement, or much feeling at all for that matter.

a bungee jumper

Bungee jumper–not that I’m saying all bungee jumpers are psychopaths (photo by Ellywa from nl CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia)

So psychopaths are constantly looking for a thrill that will make them feel something. They may find it in a variety of activities–dangerous sports, reckless driving, drinking and drugging, gaining power over others in their family or in the workplace, stealing, pulling off a con or getting away with other criminal behavior, physical violence, sexual aggression… You get the picture.

5.  Impulsivity: Another factor that is strongly influenced by genetics is a high tendency to be impulsive. This personality trait is roughly 60% inherited and 40% influenced by environment. A child who inherits a high tendency for impulsivity is going to be a challenge for the best of parents. If that child grows up in a very dysfunctional, abusive environment where little effort is made to teach self-control, he or she is going to be extremely impulsive.

Impulsive reactions is a definite characteristic of the psychopathic antagonist in Vinnie’s new release, Black Beans and Venom. I have read this story and it is a real page-turner. The book came out in ebook just before Christmas, and is now available in paperback as well.

Please check it out below, and then talk to me in the comments. Does this make sense to you how nature and nurture (or the lack thereof in this case) come together to create these monsters? Have you known any people who qualified as psychopaths? Did they have this kind of history?

book cover Black Beans and Venom, A Carol Sabala Mystery

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

Available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

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