Tag Archives: mystery series

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. 🙂 )

Job Description of a Mother

by Kassandra Lamb

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

woman being interviewed circa 1940s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mother with daughter's dolls, having a tea party

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

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

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

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

Unlimited patience and the ability to function on minimal sleep.

Infinite quantities of unconditional love.

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

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

homemade Mother's Day card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping An Open Mind (Is Harder Than You Might Think)*

by Kassandra Lamb

In the current climate in the U.S., it’s particularly hard to keep an open mind. For a lot of reasons, we are going through a period of divisiveness, when many would rather out-shout each other than listen to opposing points of view. I’m not going to get into the social and political reasons for all this drawing of lines in the sand, but I’d like to point out that our own human nature works against us as we try to keep an open mind.

sculpture of an open mind

An Open Mind (photo by Roger Cornfoot CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(*Note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on critical thinking.)

There are several natural biases of thinking that humans tend to suffer from. First, there is primacy effect. The information we receive first will be more readily remembered than later information.

This effect is kin to those first impressions that your mother pointed out are so hard to change. Our initial reactions to someone or something is primary information we have taken in, so it will come to mind more readily later, despite new information regarding that person or topic that has become available since that “first impression.”

Then confirmation bias steps in. This is our natural tendency to accept new information that confirms what we already believe and ignore or reject info that refutes those beliefs.

grumpy cat meme

meme generated by imgflip

We tend to believe that our “knowledge” of the “truth” is more robust than it really is. What we think we “know” is more often an opinion based on information we took in initially (that may or may not be accurate). But then we compare new information to what we already “know” and accept or dismiss accordingly.

Mind you, we psychologists didn’t just make up these ideas. Both confirmation bias and primacy effect (otherwise known as serial position effect) have been studied exhaustively by cognitive scientists. (Here’s an easy-to- read article that mentions some of this research and gives some real-life examples of confirmation bias.)

Next, we have the tendency to fill in the gaps (to the best of my knowledge, psychologists haven’t come up with a cute name for this one). If we only have a few pieces of information about something, our minds will automatically make educated guesses about the rest, to give us a complete picture or story.

It’s a good thing we have this ability; otherwise it would take forever for us to process a scene. We would have to focus our attention on every detail and process it separately. That would really sloooow life dooown.

"Mind The Gap" sign next to railroad tracks

Perry Barr Station, UK (photo by Elliott Brown from Birmingham UK, CC-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons).

The problem is that the assumptions with which we fill in those gaps aren’t always correct. And then we memorize those assumptions along with the real information and remember it all later as fact.

Last but not least, we have source amnesia—the tendency to forget where, when or how we obtained a piece of information even though we retain the information itself. So you see an article headline in a link on Facebook… maybe you don’t even read the article. Then later you remember the info in that headline as if it is fact (if you agreed with it), but don’t remember where you saw or heard it.

Frequent or more severe source amnesia may mean the person is suffering from head trauma or some kind of brain disorder, but all of us experience a certain amount of source amnesia, especially when information is taken in casually.

This may be due in part to how thoroughly we are processing information and with which parts of our brains. Concrete information (whether accurate or not) is usually processed in our left hemispheres via word thoughts. So we read that headline and think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” or “Wow, I never knew that,” or even “That can’t be true!”

The info in the headline, along with our thoughts about it, can be fairly readily brought back into our conscious awareness later.

But when, how and where we took in the information is a different kind of memory, called episodic memory—memories of the events in our lives. These memories are processed and stored in the right hemisphere, and in a more global way. We take in the scene in general, along with our emotional reaction to it. For example, when you’re singing “Happy Birthday” at a friend’s party, you’re not intellectually evaluating the expression on each individual’s face, but later you have a general sense of people smiling and a happy atmosphere.

And how important the setting/source is will also impact on how well it’s remembered. You’re more likely to remember the source of a conversation that occurred during that birthday party than the name of the publication behind that article headline that caught your eye for a moment on Facebook.

But getting back to primacy effect and confirmation bias, what causes them? I don’t know that anyone has come up with a definitive answer to that question. But the natural tendency toward these ways of thinking has probably become more common in the human gene pool because they helped our early ancestors to survive.

meme created with imgflip

meme created with imgflip

In more primitive times, in order to protect and provide for one’s family, one had to make a quick assessment of any situation as being either a threat or having positive potential. So the first information available about the situation was processed rapidly and with a fair amount of emotional charge attached to it.

Then a decision was quickly made and put into action, either to welcome those strangers coming toward them or capture or kill them. Indecision or waiting for more information (i.e., keeping an open mind) could be disastrous.

And of course, these biases are exacerbated today by the Internet and social media where we are inundated with information, true and false, practically every waking minute.

The need for open-minded critical thinking is greater than ever, and yet these mindsets/skills seem to be eroding.

In Part 2 of this series (in three weeks), I will talk about some concrete ways that we can improve our critical thinking skills. (In the meantime, we’ve got a couple of fun posts coming up.)

What do you think about all this? Have you ever noticed how hard it is to keep an open mind?

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

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

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

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

by Kirsten Weiss

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

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

    Bound cover

    Thumbnail size on Amazon

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

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

Exhibit A: What Type of Story is This?

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

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

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

Exhibit B: Contrast Issues and Originality

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

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

Except…

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

Exhibit C: Try, try, again…

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

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

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

Exhibit D: Just right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Flowers: More Than Just a Pretty Face

by Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the gang)

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

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

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

Daffodils_flowering pub domain

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

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

Vinnie Hansen

poppies

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

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

And we have another lazy gardener, Shannon Esposito.

butterfly flowers

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

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

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

hibiscus

Kass Lamb

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

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

And another wonderful memory from Kathy Owen.

daylilly

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

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

irises

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

And last but not least…

Kirsten Weiss

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

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

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

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

book covers as flowers

graphic (c) by KB Owen

You can check them out in our bookstore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misterio Press: https://misteriopress.com

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

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

 

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

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

Taking Risks and Reaching Out

by Kassandra Lamb

statue of children dancing

(photo by Andreas Praefcke, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia) Commons)

Shannon Esposito and I are doing our happy dance again, because we have a new member in our misterio press group.

But I must say that we approached the idea of inviting this new author with some trepidation. Not because we didn’t think she would be great (we did), but because it had been awhile since we’d brought in someone new.

Our little group had gotten quite cozy and comfy with each other. Did we really want to upset that?

We asked the other authors, and the general reaction was “Sure, invite her in!” So we did.

Please help us welcome Gilian Baker to our little band!

GILIAN

Gilian is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over.

When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries, or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

Our hesitation about issuing the invite to Gilian reminded me of past risks Shannon and I have taken. A few didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped, but most of them have. And wouldn’t life be dull if we never took risks nor reached out to others?

I remember how hesitant I was about spending the money on a writers’ conference back in 2011. The conference was near enough to my home that I could drive, but still it was a lot of money when you figured in hotel room and meals on top of the registration fee. But if I was going to get my new career as a fiction writer off the ground, I needed to network.

So off I went.

During a break between sessions, a few attendees were standing outside getting some fresh air. None of us knew each other, so of course the conversation was a little inane. One woman and I somehow ended up comparing hairdressers (I think it started when I admired the lovely blonde streaks in her hair).

Later I ran into the same gal at the last event of the day, one on e-publishing, a new- fangled thing at the time. Then we collided again in the line to get our free glass of wine at the cocktail party that evening.

As we chatted about this brave new world of e-publishing, we became more and more excited about the possibilities. While others were schmoozing with the agents and publishers, she and I were huddled in a corner, plotting (and getting a little tipsy).

That woman was Shannon and the plot we hatched was to start misterio press. That evening I went out to dinner with her and her family (It was a “Hey hon, look who followed me home; can I keep her?” kind of scene 😉 ). By the end of the evening, a new friendship was budding as well as a new business venture.

Taking risks is hard, and letting a stranger into your territory is definitely taking a risk. We certainly don’t want to be naive and trust just anyone. We do want to evaluate a situation and weigh how much of a risk we are really taking. And perhaps we may want to look at contingency plans, should things go awry.

dead tree

photo by Walter Baster, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

But sometimes our instincts tell us to give someone (or some idea) a chance. You all know I am big on trusting one’s instincts.

And what happens if we never take risks?

Stagnation happens. We stop growing and learning.

What happens to a tree when it stops growing—when it stops reaching for the sunshine? It starts dying. Its leaves shrivel and its branches dry up.

So even though it’s always a little scary to reach out to someone who’s essentially a stranger, it can have huge payoffs.

And here we are, Shannon and I—strangers at that conference five and a half years ago—but today, we have a successful indie press going, with six wonderful authors!

Champagne_flutes_glasses_bubbles by Jon Sulllivan pub domain wiki

Please grab a glass of virtual bubbly and toast our newest member with us.

Here’s to Gilian! And to taking the risk to reach out. Cheers!!

What risks have you taken in your life? When has reaching out to a stranger paid off for you?

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

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

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

Where The Research Takes Us: How To Kill Your Characters

Kass here to tell you about today’s guest blogger, cozy mystery writer Gilian Baker, who is about to release her debut novel, Blogging Is Murder (which I review below).

She will entertain us with a fun little post on how to kill one’s characters (I swear, the FBI is going to come knocking any day now).

First, let’s get to know Gilian a bit…

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Disclaimer:  Do NOT try this at home, folks! This post is for entertainment purposes only.

Researching How To Kill Your Characters

by Gilian Baker

I love to plot murder! Yeah, that’s not a sentence you read every day, but it’s true. In my first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, the murder victim is poisoned with hemlock.

Why hemlock when there are so many new, man-made chemicals available?

I’ve just always wanted to kill someone off with an old-fashioned plant. And when I started researching the properties of hemlock, I knew I had the perfect murder weapon for my first mystery with my protagonist, Jade Blackwell, amateur sleuth.

Here are a few of the questions I had to research to determine if hemlock was a viable murder weapon for the story:

  •  Does it grow wild in Wyoming? (The setting of the series)
  •  Where is it found there?
  •  What parts of the plant are poisonous?
  •  Why would Jade’s friend, Liz write about hemlock on her blog, The Wise Housewife? Is it still used in herbal remedies? What ailments was it historically used for and what is it used for now?
  •  How does it kill? What are the symptoms of the poisoning?
  •  Is it still poisonous when dried?
  •  When does it grow?
  •  Is it frost hearty? Or is it killed off easily by a heavy frost?

I researched some of these questions before I wrote much of the story. But other questions didn’t occur to me until the plot developed, and I needed to know. For example, I was considering adding a freak snowstorm to add tension to the last third of the book. It’s not uncommon to get snow in Wyoming eight months out of the year, so that could work.

I’d written a couple of chapters that included light frosts overnight, which worried Jade since her spring bulbs had already come up in her garden. But wait! Would even a light frost, let alone a big snowstorm kill hemlock that was growing in the wild? If so, how would the murderer get fresh hemlock to kill their victim? Did I want to change the plot so the killer used dried hemlock?

You see how plot twists and new ideas for where to take the story impact the research that needs to be done. In this case, I had to go back and change the entire setting to a later time in spring to avoid overnight frosts. That meant rewriting those scenes where Jade worried about her spring bulbs.

detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (public domain)

I bet you want to know the answers I found in my research, right? After all, who doesn’t want to know more about hemlock? Okay, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the answers.

  • Does it grow wild in Wyoming?
    Yes, in fact it grows wild in most states in the U.S. There are many types of hemlock and most regions have the right conditions for several types to grow.
  • Where is it found there?
    It’s found most anywhere, but it likes a damp climate. During a wet spring, ranchers have to keep an eye out for the plant in their pastures. It’s one of the most poisonous plants to humans, but also to cows, horses and other animals.
  • What parts of the plant are poisonous?
    All of it.
  • Why would Liz write about it on her blog, The Wise Housewife?
    It is still used in herbal remedies, but only in minute doses and only in the hands of a skilled alternative therapist or homeopath. It was historically used for a wide range of ailments, including bronchitis, mania, anxiety, epilepsy and asthma. The Greeks also used it to put criminals to death.
  • How does it kill? What are the symptoms of poisoning?
    Hemlock affects the central nervous system so that the brain continues to function, but the person can’t move. They are paralyzed, but aware of what’s happening to them. It eventually stops their heart.
  • Is it poisonous after it’s dried?
    Yes, for up to three years.
  • When does it grow?
    In the spring.
  • Is it frost hearty?
    No, it’s not. That’s why I had to change the setting of the book and forgo my inspired idea of a freak snowstorm.

But I’m sure I’ll be able to find another way to use that idea in later books. 🙂

If you want to find out who exactly gets knocked off with hemlock and whodunit, well I’m afraid you will have to read the story.

book coverBlogging Is Murder, A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Former English professor Jade Blackwell’s promising new career as a blogger falters when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. Then the hacker is found dead, and Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she has felt living in the quaint Rocky Mountain hamlet of Aspen Falls.

Available on AMAZON

Posted by Gilian Baker. You can connect with Gilian on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter or at her website. Blogging Is Murder is the first book in her Jade Blackwell series.

Kassandra Lamb’s review of Blogging is Murder:

This is a very good debut cozy mystery. The pace is lively and the characters likeable. (I particularly enjoyed the quirky elderly neighbor of the murder victim.) The twist at the end was unexpected but plausible.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a professional blogger. I had no idea how much work was involved in that business. I’m looking forward to reading more of Jade’s adventures and getting to know the residents of Aspen Falls, Wyoming. Four out of five fingerprints!

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

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