Tag Archives: mystery series

Beach Reads for the End of Summer — #BookReviews

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the whole gang)

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

First up is Shannon Esposito:

The Dry book cover

The Dry by Jane Harper

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

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

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

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Next up is Vinnie Hansen:

Vinnie with Allen Eskens

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

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

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

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

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

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Now it’s my turn, Kass Lamb:

Bone Box cover

Bone Box by Faye Kellerman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

A Witch Called Wanda by Diana Orgain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 🙂 )

What Is An “Ex-pert?”

by Kassandra Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

book cover

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

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

I don’t know (probably not).

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

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

But why are they expected to teach our youth?

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

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

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

me presenting

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

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

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

Does that make me an “expert?”

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Say, Can You See?

by Kassandra Lamb

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

Maryland is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner.

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

Ft. McHenry Bombardment, 1814

The remnants of the Ft. McHenry flag

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

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

Ft. McHenry

Maryland schoolchildren still take field trips there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!

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

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

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

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

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

by Kassandra Lamb

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

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

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

monkey and cat hugging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cartoon of couple arguing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kicked his pile of crap out the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

book cover

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

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

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

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

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

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

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

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

by Kassandra Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

meme created on imgflip.com

So how do we apply critical thinking to our actions…

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

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

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

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

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

membership card for a speakeasy

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

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

Which brings us to…

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

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

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

Resolving Conflict Effectively (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m up to my eyeballs in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post from two years ago that seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor and conflict in our society these days, it would behoove us to learn how to dig beneath the surface to find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can do that effectively…

I first learned of this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a boyfriend like that once upon a time).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with conflict?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

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

The Wages for Facing Death

by Kassandra Lamb

After five years of blogging, I was facing yet another Memorial Day post. I’ve given five reasons why we should honor our troops, made the case for honoring them even if one is a pacifist, contrasted Memorial Day as the launch of summer fun against the sadness of remembering fallen heroes, and one year we copped out and did a group post on favorite summer recipes.

flag at half mast; sailor ssaluting

This year, I wanted to take a different approach. I wracked my brain for ideas, and finally came up with this: we honor fallen members of the military on Memorial Day, but are we honoring them while they are still alive by paying them a decent wage?

I didn’t really know the answer to that, so I did some research. This is what I found:

An E-1 (lowest rank in each branch) entering the military in 2017 receives a base salary of $21,116/year. When housing allowance, healthcare, and other benefits are added in, his/her total compensation is $41,246. This is definitely a living wage for a single person, and some allowances are increased depending on the cost of living in the area deployed and the number of people in the soldier’s family.

To an able-bodied young man or woman with a high school diploma or GED, this may seem like a good alternative to becoming a factory worker, whose average annual income is $27,000.*

(*I’m rounding most figures off somewhat to make this easier to read. Most of these figures came from the US Department of Labor Statistics; some are from the official military pay scale or from other websites.)

It’s also competitive with entry-level firefighter and police officer incomes. The salary range nationwide for firefighters is $24,000–$65,000 (average is $50,500). Police officers’ range is $34,000–$78,000 (including detectives and supervisors) with an average of $53,500.

firfighters with flag

New York, NY, September 25, 2001

Also, all things considered, the risk to life and limb is probably similar. Firefighters and the police take calculated risks every day on the job while the military are usually only at risk when deployed into combat, but then they are at much higher risk of harm.

An average Joe or Jane who enlists in the military has the potential to eventually work their way up to Staff Sergeant (or comparable ranks in other branches). A Staff Sergeant with 6 years experience makes $37,166 base salary—with benefits and allowances, approximately $57,300.

This compares adequately to master plumbers and electricians who must go through an apprenticeship and eventually average $56,000-57,000 per year. And it is more money than the average computer technician with an AA degree will probably make—$52,000.

It even compares fairly well with the first-line supervisors in manufacturing (average $61,500) and the lower end of the range of middle management in the business world ($55,500).

IF you don’t consider the risk factor.

destroyed tank

Burned-out shell of U.S. tank in Iraq (Dept of Defense photo by LCPL Jennifer A. Krusen, public domain)

Noncommissioned officers in the military are actually paid as well as, if not better than, many teachers, who must obtain a bachelor’s degree plus teaching certification, and often need a master’s degree to get permanent credentials.

  • Elementary/Middle School Teachers: average $59,000 (range: $36,500–$71,000)
  • High School Teachers: average $61,400 (range: $38,000–$74,000)

Okay, let’s look at military officers. Candidates must have a college degree to apply for officer training.

An O-1 (Second Lieutenant in the Army or equivalent rank) with 2 years of experience gets $36,400 base pay plus allowances** and benefits, for a total of $59,450.

An O-4 (Army Major or equivalent) with six years of experience gets $73,100 plus allowances**, etc., for a total of $102,550

(**For a single officer; those with families get higher allowances.)

Compare that to these average annual incomes (minimum requirements in parentheses):

  • Nurse (RN; AA to Bachelors): $72,000
  • Middle Manager in Business (Bachelors to MBA): $55,500–$97,000
  • College Professor (PhD): $85,000
  • Member of Congress (Ability to produce unlimited hot air—Sorry, I couldn’t resist): $174,000

And last but hardly least, business CEOs receive an average of $1,654,000 in total compensation. Some, of course, receive far more. The highest ranking Generals/Admirals top out at $190,042 total compensation.

Here are the two conclusions I drew from this information:

One—Teachers, police, and firefighters are definitely underpaid.

Two—Military officers seem to be doing okay but enlisted men and women in our armed services should probably be making more, especially considering these three factors:

  • Risk to life and limb
  • Lack of control over their lives
  • Sacrifices made by their families

And here’s another factor we should keep in mind. Inappropriate compensation, especially for highly stressful occupations, can lead to shortages and a lowering of standards.

The medical field learned this the hard way. In the late 1970s, there was a severe shortage of hospital nurses. Salaries had not kept up with inflation. In 1976, a hospital nurse made $11,820/year, which was barely a living wage for a single person. (I know, because I was single then and making close to that amount myself.)

Many nurses were changing careers, and admissions to nursing programs were down. The remaining hospital nurses were assigned more patients and were working extra shifts. Training programs started lowering their standards for admission and/or graduation. The current practice of loved ones often spending the night in a hospitalized patient’s room came into being, because so many mistakes were being made.

We still have too few nurses today, but the severe crisis ebbed when hospitals finally raised nursing salaries to sufficiently compensate them for their hard work and long, often inconvenient and frequently stressful hours.

Air Force Airman saluting flag

But getting back to our men and women in the armed services… to some degree I was pleasantly surprised to see the comparisons above. The military is not doing as badly pay-wise as I had feared.

However, the nursing shortage of the 1970s-80s should be a cautionary tale for our country. We need to make proper compensation of our military a priority. If we let the incomes of our service people fall too far behind, we may no longer be able to attract enough qualified men and women who are willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in protecting our safety and freedom.

On this Memorial Day and all those to come, let’s make sure we honor the living military personnel as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice!

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY, EVERYONE!

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. 🙂 )

Finding the “Truth” in Our Mangled Media

by Kassandra Lamb

The “truth” is in critical condition these days, gasping for air under layers of partisan biases, sensationalism, and plain old lying. Even the best of news sources may pick and choose which details they tell us to make the stories more exciting or controversial.

Venn chart

Words describing “Degrees of Uncertainty” (by Lbeaumont, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

Because controversy sells!

But it isn’t good for our individual mental health to constantly be stirred up, nor is it good for our country. We are extremely divided right now, at a time in our history when we actually should have the least to argue about.

Most of us have the same goals for our country: good jobs, a strong economy, good education for our children and grandchildren, stop terrorism, etc. The fighting is over how we will achieve those goals, and in my opinion that fighting has become more personal and vicious, and less productive, than it has ever been before.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now and get back to how to find the truth buried in the piles of information rubble. There are five things we should do to accomplish this:

(Note: This is Part Two in a three-part series on critical thinking; See Part One on natural human biases in thinking. Coming next time, taking action based on critical thinking.)

First, it is important to separate facts from opinions. Our society and the media have gotten blurrier regarding that distinction in recent times.

girl with newspaper

This ain’t your mother’s news! (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen or heard a “news” story that really wasn’t news at all, it was all speculation about something—about what it meant and what might happen in the future.

Second, consider the source of the information. Does that source tend to get the facts straight? What are the particular biases of that source? What “spin” do they tend to put on things?

Try not to get all your info from sources that share your own biases. Tune into the other guys now and then and see what they have to say.

And if someone is giving an “expert” opinion, take a hard look at their level of expertise. A lot of the controversies in my field of psychology were started by general-practitioner type psychologists or experts in other specialties expressing their opinions about some area that they knew little or nothing about (but thought they understood).

Definition of an expert: “ex” is an unknown quantity; a “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure… so an “expert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

Third, ask yourself how logical the information is. This is where you need to be most aware of that confirmation bias I talked about in Part One. It’s easy to assume something is logical because it jives with your own opinion.

But logic is very methodical. It has little or nothing to do with opinion. Does Piece of Info A plus Piece of Info B really add up to Conclusion C? Does it truly make sense? Are there other plausible explanations?

Fourth, what is the evidence and how solid is it? Has this issue been truly studied by professionals in that field? What have they found? What’s the story behind that 30-second sound bite on the evening news?

I know, for a fact, that the news media sometimes presents evidence as more solid than it is. How can I say that is a fact? Because I’ve heard or seen such stories in the news concerning topics that fall within my own area of expertise, where I knew the evidence they were citing was far more speculative than they implied.

And this spreading of tentative evidence as more solid than it is can have disastrous consequences.

Let me give you an example. The news media reported a few years back that it was safe for pregnant women to drink one glass of wine per day. Sometimes they specified red wine; sometimes, not.

This was based on ONE study of rats who were given red wine daily while pregnant and ONE AREA of their babies’ brains was later examined. The usual damage to this area that alcohol was known to cause was not there. But the entire brain was NOT studied. The researchers tentatively concluded that one of the components of red wine (that is not in white wine or any other form of alcohol) MAY counteract the negative effects of the alcohol on that part of the brain.

woman pouring wine

photo by Fabio Ingrosso CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The media got their hands on this one study and went wild, telling women and their doctors that red wine was now okay. Yeah, if you’re a pregnant rat!

Since that initial study, additional research has been done, with conflicting results. There is still no consensus on the subject and all healthcare professional organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) are still saying: “No level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.”

And yet most women now believe that it is okay to have a glass of wine a day while pregnant, and the really scary part is that some doctors and midwives are now telling their patients this. When I was teaching human development, I even had a pregnant student get up and walk out of class because I dared to cite the research and contradict what her doctor had told her (he had told her that a glass of wine a day was good for her baby).

Which brings us to…

Fifth, Check the facts! Google is wonderful, but again consider the source.

When I sought to check the current facts regarding the wine and pregnancy issue, Google was my first stop. But then I looked at who was publishing which articles. I’m going to believe the articles published by the Mayo Clinic, NIH and Harvard Medical School over a blog post by a woman who was pregnant three times, drank wine the whole time, and has three children “who are fine.”

Another option is to visit one of the fact-checking websites out there. Two of the more popular ones are Snopes and FactCheck.Org.

Stay tuned! Next time, we’ll look at the tricky process of deciding on what actions to take, based on our critical thinking.

Your thoughts on all this? Can you think of other ways we can check ourselves to make sure we are thinking critically?

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. 🙂 )