Handling Stress, Part I: Stress Isn’t Always Bad (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Misterio press has started a new Readers’ Group and we’re finding it a bit time-consuming getting it off the ground (Check it and our August Beach Read Contest out HERE), so I figured this was a good time to re-run some posts on handling stress.

Here’s the first one, on why stress isn’t always a bad thing?

I was more than a little shocked, years ago, when my graduate school professor informed my class that stress is a good thing, up to a point. You might—as I did at the time—find this hard to believe.

But hang on! Here’s the definition of stress: The activation of our physical and emotional resources to cope with the challenges of life. Now when that challenge is a traffic jam or a deadline at work, that’s no fun.

handling stress -- it isn't always bad

But if we didn’t like getting activated now and again, why would we do things like ride roller coasters?

Or play sports, or read a mystery novel for that matter. If feels good to get the heart thumping a bit and the juices flowing.

But even when we’re not doing something quite as drastic as hanging upside down from a roller coaster, stress is a good thing, up to a point, in everyday life.

Let me go back and explain a few things first, so this makes more sense.

Why Stress has a Bad Reputation

Our bodies were designed to handle far more primitive challenges than we face today. Most of the challenges our cave-person ancestors encountered were physical, such as hunting for food or fending off wild animals and hostile tribes.

So our bodies have this thing called the stress response that prepares us for physical action to deal with those physical challenges. Heart rate and blood pressure go up, adrenaline’s released, muscles tense, you start sweating, and your digestive system temporarily shuts down (because it’s more important to deal with the sabertooth tiger trying to eat you than it is to digest what you just ate).

handling stress -- pacing tiger

Today, however, 90% of our challenges are psychological and emotional–coping with changes in our lives, relationships, deadlines, etc.

So you’re sitting at your computer all stressed out about the report/paper you’re trying to finish for your boss/teacher, while your body is preparing you to fight off tigers.

All those physical changes take a toll on your body, especially when you don’t actually do anything physical in response to the stressor.

There’s a part of our nervous systems, called the autonomic nervous system (ANS), that deals with all this. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic branch (SNS) that causes all those changes listed above, plus several more (the flight-or-fight response), and the parasympathetic branch (PNS), that brings our bodies back to a calm state once the challenge or threat is over.

So after our ancestors fought the sabertooth tiger, their bodies would go “ah, time to relax.” (Assuming they won, that is.) Their PNS would kick in. Heart rate and BP came back down, muscles relaxed, digestion came back online, and life was good again. 🙂

In modern society, we tend to be stressed for longer periods of time, with no physical outlet. This is what does such a number on our bodies! You’ve probably heard the old expression, “All dressed up and no place to go.” Well, this is all revved up and no place to go!

Why Do We Feel Stressed?

We tend to assume that our stress level is dictated by how much we have on our to-do lists. But stressors are not the only factors involved when handling stress.

That grad school prof I mentioned above taught us a three-factor model to understand stress. His explanations regarding how stress works and what to do about it made so much sense, they have stuck with me for 30 years! And I’ve passed them on to hundreds of my students.

I’ll go into more detail regarding these factors in future posts. For now, a brief summary.

The first factor is the stressors. Some events–getting married, losing a job, etc.–are biggies in the stressor category, but a lot of little stuff can add up as well. And even good events contribute to our stress load, because they still require resources to deal with them.

photo credit: Lynn Kelley Author (from WANA Commons)

Take vacations, for example. We go on them to relieve stress, right? But they also cause stress! We’ve gotta plan them, pack for them, make sure stuff at work is organized to get along without us, deal with traveling hassles, worry about lost luggage… you get the picture.

The second factor in how stressed we feel is our body’s response to stress. There are several issues here. Do our bodies have any predisposed vulnerabilities to stress-induced illnesses? What is our innate tolerance for stress (called our stress threshold)? More on this in a moment. And last but not least, how often do we relax our bodies? This makes a huge difference in our stress level.

Third is our cognitive and emotional interpretation of the stressors. There are exceptions, but most stressors are not stressors until we interpret them as such. Quick example: I love to drive. I find it relaxing. For my husband, it is one of the most stressful aspects of life. How we perceive stressors is going to be affected by our personalities and our past experiences.

In later posts I’ll dissect these factors a bit more, plus talk about what we need to do to handle stress better. Today, I want to focus on the stress threshold aspect of the body’s response.

So Get to the Point; Why Is Stress Good, Up to a Point?

Okay, okay. Here it is.

We all have a stress threshold, the point at which our coping ability is exhausted. Below that threshold, stress is a good thing. It motivates and energizes us. Have you ever had a day (hopefully you’ve had many like this) when you’re feeling good, chugging along at a nice pace, getting a whole bunch of stuff accomplished?

I love days like that! The challenges are manageable and I’m being activated to meet them. That activation makes me feel alive and gives me a sense of achievement.

The problem arises when the stress level hits our threshold, and sometimes–no, make that often–we don’t see this coming. We may feel our best, the most energized and alive, when we’re hovering dangerously close to this threshold. And then one more little stressor comes along, and whammo, we’re over the edge.

This threshold is an on-off switch. When our coping ability is gone, it’s gone. One minute we’re handling everything, the next, we’re not handling anything.

So it behooves us to stop and think before we pile yet another stressor on an already full plate.

handling stress

Here’s another sneaky problem with this dang threshold thing. There are actually two of them. The one I just described is our psychological one.

The other is our health threshold. We’ve reached that one when our tissues and organs are suffering more wear and tear per day from stress than can be repaired that night while we sleep. When we’re past that threshold, we’re putting ourselves at risk for a whole slew of stress-related ailments, including heart disease and cancer.

And here’s the total kicker. The health threshold is lower than the psychological one. So we may still be handling stress well emotionally, may even feel great about all we’re getting done, when we are already doing our bodies damage from that level of stress!

Optimizing the Good Stress, Minimizing the Bad

So the moral of the story, folks: If we want to live long and prosper, we need to stay in the good stress level zone, comfortably below our threshold. That way, we’re not putting excessive wear and tear on our bodies, and we’re leaving some leeway for unforeseen stressors.

To accomplish this, one has to do two things. First, pay attention to your stress level for a while and get a sense of just how much stuff you can handle (i.e., where your threshold is). And while you’re doing that, pay attention to your early warning signs that you are not handling stress well, that you are getting too close to your threshold.

For me, it’s getting grumpy and short-tempered (my husband would say, getting grumpier and more short-tempered). The big flag is if I start losing it on the road when other drivers cut me off or are dragging their feet. Normally, I just mumble something sarcastic like, “Uh, ya see that pedal, the long skinny one on the right?” And then I let it go.

Beware of Cliff Edge sign -- handling stress
Sign at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

But if I find myself yelling at them (inside my car; I’m not crazy enough to actually get in their face) and I’m still fuming about it when I get to my destination…

As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “Here’s your sign.”

I am way too close to the edge of that cliff. It is time to pare down the stressors in order to get comfortably back in the good-stress-level range again. (More on how to do this next week and other tips for handling stress.)

I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to stand too close to that edge; the ground might just crumble away beneath me.

What about you, what are your early warning signs that you’re getting too close to the stress-overload cliff?

More on handling stress next week. Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: A Facebook Readers’ Group and Contests!

Super exciting news!! We’re starting a Facebook Readers’ Group with monthly contests and other fun stuff. It’s called misterio‘s Magical Mystery Ride.

our Facebook Readers' Group
The group’s banner!

Our misterio press authors will be hosting the group, one each week, and they will be posting about monthly contests and daily and weekly giveaways, as well as interesting background tidbits related to their stories. There will also be book reviews, reading challenges, guest author posts, fave recipes, and maybe a magic spell or two from our paranormal authors. 🙂

If you’re on Facebook, pop over and take a look — https://www.facebook.com/groups/misteriopressmysteries/ We hope you’ll join our Facebook Readers’ Group (and don’t forget to click on notifications and mark All Posts or Highlights.)

This month’s contest has a summer beach read theme.

Facebook Readers' Group

Prizes are this cute beach towel and 7 FREE ebooks (winner’s choice, some restrictions apply).

Click HERE to enter the contest — runs July 27 to August 29, 2020.

Good luck!

Facebook Readers' Group

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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The Mystery of Magic (Plus a New Release)

by Kirsten Weiss

The mystery of magic
photo by Maxim Lugina on Unsplash.com (cropped)

Part of the fun of writing witch mystery novels is the research. And since my trio of witchy sisters in imaginary Doyle, CA are busy trying to get rid of a cursed spell book, it’s led me to thinking about the mystery of magic. What is it? How does it really work, if at all?

The infamous occultist Aleister Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” But what does that look like? How does it work?

A magic spell is a form of ritual that may be simple or complex and is believed to have magical force. The spoken part of the spell is the incantation. But the words and the ritual don’t in themselves create the magical force – it’s the magician’s intention behind them. That intention is built and amplified by the ritual. And yes, that is a bit circular.

A spell-caster will usually start by psychically “clearing” the space and creating a protective barrier for the spell work. Then the incantation will be chanted, focusing the spell worker on the intent of the spell. Other magical objects, such as candles or items representing the elements, may be used to further charge the intention.

While no one really understands the mystery of magic, there are several working theories.

The mystery of magic
photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash.com (cropped)

Quantum physics has a different answer to the question, what is the mystery of magic? It tells us the act of observing or paying attention to an object may affect its behavior – at least on a sub-atomic level. Can a spell-caster, by paying attention, amplified by ritual and intention, affect an outcome at a molecular level?

The psychologically-minded argue that a spell changes the caster’s own behavior, and once her behavior changes, the people and things she interacts with react differently to her. She changes, therefore, so does her world. I like this answer, because it gives us all some personal agency… if we can change. As many of my characters have discovered, change doesn’t come easy, but it is possible.

Maybe.

Author Dr. Masaru Emoto tested the impact of intention on water. He printed out words and taped them onto bottles of distilled water, leaving them out overnight to see if the structure of the water molecules changed. Photographs taken of the water the next day showed that they did – loving words created gorgeous snow-flake molecule patterns. However, Dr. Emoto concluded that it was his thoughts and intentions that affected the molecules; the words were just the medium.

My Witches’ Magic

Doyle witch Lenore Bonheim is a shamanic witch. She sees ghosts and can seek the help of her animal spirit guides in Middle World. In Oak, the first of my novella trilogy about the cursed spell book, she must not only try to keep the book’s evil in check but she’s recruited by Doyle’s sheriff to help solve a murder.

Her sister Jayce unconsciously practices a simpler kind of magic. She’s attentive to the present moment, otherwise known as mindfulness. She pays loving attention to her world—not an easy thing to do in this era of constant tech distractions. But it’s a way of life that can unfold in surprisingly magical ways.

In Stone, she and her sisters continue to search for a way to destroy the book, and Jayce discover its ties to a local haunted house where a recent murder occurred.

And yet sister Karin, who sees the magical bonds that tie things together, may be the one who finally finds a way to break the cursed book’s grip on the witch triplets. Check out her story in my new release, Stream.

What’s your answer regarding the mystery of magic? What do you think it really is?

Stream, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery ~ releases 7/23/20

Will murder cancel this Doyle Witch’s Christmas?

Certain holiday spirits are keeping Karin’s hands full. And the challenges of motherhood and a cursed spell book have already put a dent in her usual good cheer.

But when she discovers the body of a man in a mountain stream, she’s swept into a mystery that will take all her magic and mental powers to solve. Because the dead man’s mysterious colleagues have taken an interest in Karin’s children…

This Christmas holiday novella is a complete cozy mystery and wraps up the story of the cursed spell book once and for all. If you’re a fan of Charlaine Harris, Heather Blake, or Amanda M. Lee, don’t miss Stream, book 9 in The Witches of Doyle cozy mysteries.

Stream is a witch cozy mystery featuring true-to-life spells in the back of the book, a trio of witchy sisters, and a dash of romance. Stream can be read as a standalone.

PREORDER AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten’s never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. The latter gives her heartburn, but she drinks it anyway. She writes genre-blending cozy mystery, supernatural and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create vivid worlds of fun and enchantment.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE. 

An Off-Week Goodie: Are You an Intuitive Writer? (next week~Magic!!)

During this off week for our blog, we thought we’d share a recent article written by our own Gilian Baker on overcoming writer’s block if you are an intuitive writer.

From Fiction University a couple of weeks ago, The Best-Kept Secret “Real” Writers Use to Crush Writer’s Block

If you’re having trouble following the rules like “you must have an outline” or “you should write every day,” you might be an Intuitive writer.

Using personality theory and brain science to explain how Intuitives need to take a completely different approach to writing, this article gives specific tips for breaking through writer’s block and becoming a “real” writer. READ MORE

And be sure to watch out for next week’s post by Kirsten Weiss, on MAGIC!! What it is, how it works…

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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5 Tips to Help with Focus in These Stressful Times (Plus New Releases!)

by Kassandra Lamb

help with focus in these stressful times

Celebrating Independence Day this year was bittersweet for me.

I’ve lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, multiple assassinations of leaders, the Gulf War, 9/11, the War Against Terror and never have I seen our society so disrupted for so long. And the end is not yet in sight.

I believe that good will ultimately come out of much of this upheaval, that our society will have a better appreciation of what is most important in life, and a better appreciation for others’ lives and experiences.

But in the meantime, how do we do the tasks we need to get done?

Especially the tasks that require a lot of focus. And especially when a lot of us are working from home, where structure, peace, and quiet may be harder to come by.

(Note: I’m using authors’ problems with focus as an example, but these tips apply to any focus-intense tasks.)

Like many other authors I’ve talked to recently, I’m having trouble focusing. Not surprising. The job of writing requires a lot of focus. So this thing we writers love, this thing that is often the refuge from other stressors in our lives, is now harder to do.

(For a quick explanation of why it’s harder to focus, check out this article on Fiction University; it’s a bit oversimplified, but basically accurate.)

Here are some things I’ve found that help with focus in these stressful times. I hope they work for you as well.

#1 – Don’t blame yourself

Don’t beat up on yourself for not being able to be as productive as you usually are. It’s not your fault. These are extraordinary times.

And self-blame is not motivating. It is depressing. It makes us want to curl up and forget about everything, not buckle down and get things done.

I love this quote I saw recently in an article from BookBub (emphasis is mine):

“Your writing is not garbage. Even your draftiest of drafts … And those few words you managed today? Not trash. Moving away from that thinking is one of the kindest things I ever did for myself. I am in the business of words, so I know words can be weapons. Why would I weaponize them against myself? My words are a part of me and I am worthy of grace, first and foremost, from myself. You are, too.”
—Samira Ahmed, NYT bestselling author of Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

from Inspiring Words from Authors to Authors During Difficult Times, by Diana Urban, June 26, 2020, BookBub Partners Blog.

So be gentle with yourself. The obstacles to productivity and focus during these stressful times are real. And the most productive use of our brain power, instead of mentally berating ourselves, is to look for ways around those obstacles.

#2 – Break the tough tasks into chunks

One of the things I’m struggling with most is editing, either my own work or that of other authors I’m supposed to be critiquing/proofreading. Editing takes a different level and kind of focus than writing a first draft, or even a blog post like this one.

One of the tasks I’ve had on my desk this month was copy-editing the last two installments of Kirsten Weiss’s trilogy of Doyle Witch novellas. They were only about 150 pages each, and I love this series of hers. Should’ve been a piece of cake.

help with focus in these stressful times
Where I normally do the first read-through, on my chaise outside. Not this time, I couldn’t let myself get too comfy or I’d lose focus.

Normally, I would breeze through the first read-through in a couple of days, during my reading-for-pleasure time. Then it would take me maybe another few hours to do a second skim-through to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Less than a week to get the entire task done, usually.

This time, it took me a week to get through the first read-through. And I had to schedule it during my work time, because if I was in read-for-pleasure mode, I couldn’t concentrate enough to catch the mistakes.

So I “chunked down” the second skim-through into 25-page chunks and set myself the task of doing two of them a day, if possible, but at the very least one a day. (Fortunately she didn’t need it back in a hurry.)

And it worked. I did a 25-page chunk the first morning and actually went on to do another 15 pages in the same sitting.

The psychology of this is that if we give ourselves goals that feel doable, we are more likely to attack them with gusto. And may even be able to exceed the goal, once we get rolling.

And if we’re dreading a task, we can tell ourselves that it’s just a little chunk—not that hard to just get it done and out of the way.

If it still feels overwhelming and de-motivating, chunk it down again into even smaller bite-sized pieces.

#3 – Rethink the timing of when you do the most focus-intense tasks

Usually when I sit down at my desk to start my workday, I go right for the toughest tasks that need to get done that day. To get them out of the way while I’m fresh.

help with focus in these stressful times

I’ve been rethinking that lately, when it is harder to focus in these stressful times. Now I will often do two or three little tasks first, to give myself a sense of accomplishment. Then I take a deep breath and knock out that tougher task.

Having had to change your work environment, say from an office to your home, may present other reasons for rethinking the timing of certain tasks. When’s the best time to create the privacy and quiet that a tougher task might require?

I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately after my husband goes to bed. 🙂

#4 – Stop and savor the little achievements

Have you ever stopped and noticed what a “sense of accomplishment” feels like in your body? For me it’s a full, proud feeling in my chest, sometimes accompanied by little bubbles of excitement. And I often feel warm and good all over.

Right now, close your eyes and recall a time when you accomplished something big. Let yourself sink into that experience again, recalling the details, and especially pay attention to how it feels in your body.

Then take a few moments, or at least a few seconds, to stop and notice that feeling after each task you complete. Even little things like doing a load of laundry or scrubbing the kitchen sink. Give yourself permission to stop and savor. It’s a huge motivator, and mood elevator too.

#5 – Give yourself little rewards for getting the tougher tasks done

Pick some self-care things that give you pleasure—a bubble bath, reading a magazine with your feet up, taking a walk—then take a break and indulge in one of those things after finishing a tough task.

help with focus in these stressful times

I know I shouldn’t be promoting the idea of food as a self reward, but the truth is, I’m a chocaholic. I allow myself one dose of chocolate per day. It may be a bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies or candies (love me some Dove dark chocolate!) And I usually have it whenever the mood strikes.

But lately, I’ve been using that chocolate break as a reward for getting the toughest task of the day done.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to tackle another chunk of Kirsten’s last novella right now, and when I’m done I’m going to tackle some Famous Amos cookies!

Do any of these tips strike a chord for you? Have you found new ways to help with focus in these stressful times? Share with us, please.

And speaking of Kirsten’s stories, here are the first two of them. I really loved them!

OAK, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#7)

Doyle Witch Lenore has one job…

Destroy a magical book that threatens to devastate the world.

But try to tell that to her small-town sheriff.

When a decade’s old corpse turns up in the hollow of a haunted oak, Sheriff McCourt drafts Lenore into service. Since the coroner can’t identify the body, why not ask a shamanic witch who can see the dead?

Little does the sheriff know how dangerous the spirits of Middle World can be. And once they have Lenore in their sights, she can only keep moving forward – into a cold case at a local winery that threatens her sanity, and her life…

This novella is a witch cozy mystery featuring true-to-life spells in the back of the book, a trio of witchy sisters, and a dash of romance. Oak can be read as a standalone.

AVAILABLE NOW AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND STONE RELEASES TODAY!!

STONE, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#8)

A murder. A haunted house. A possessed spell book…

What could go wrong?

Since childhood, Doyle Witch Jayce figured the old stone house was haunted. Turns out, she may have been right.

A string of odd deaths in the house has culminated in murder, and newlywed Jayce is on the case. She is a witch after all. So what if it’s Samhain season, when the veil between the worlds is thin?

Right?

But when Jayce finds creepy connections between the old house and the spell book she’s sworn to destroy, she’s plunged into a conspiracy darker than anything mysterious Doyle has thrown at her before. Are supernatural forces at work? Or is Jayce facing a mortal foe?

If you’re a fan of Charlaine Harris, Heather Blake, or Amanda M. Lee, don’t miss this Halloween novella.

RELEASES TODAY ON: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND you can PREORDER STREAM (#9) ~ Releases 7/23/20

Will murder cancel this Doyle Witch’s Christmas?

Certain holiday spirits are keeping Karin’s hands full. And the challenges of motherhood and a cursed spell book have already put a dent in her usual good cheer.

But when she discovers the body of a man in a mountain stream, she’s swept into a mystery that will take all her magic and mental powers to solve. Because the dead man’s mysterious colleagues have taken an interest in Karin’s children…

This Christmas holiday novella is a complete cozy mystery and wraps up the story of the cursed spell book once and for all.

PREORDER AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE. 

Crime Writer’s Interview…A New Misterio Author, Sasscer Hill!

We are delighted to announce that we have a new misterio author, Sasscer Hill. Please help us welcome her to our happy band of mystery writers! (She was already scheduled for a crime writer’s interview when we invited her to join us.)

Crime Writers Interview logo
a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

Sasscer Hill was involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for most of her life. She sets many of her novels against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing. Her mystery and suspense thrillers have won multiple awards and many award nominations.

Her newest title and first non-horse racing mystery, is Travels of Quinn, a mystery-thriller based on a real American group of gypsy con artists.

Kass (on behalf of the whole gang: I am so pleased to welcome you to misterio press, Sasscer! What can you tell our readers to help them get to know you better?

Sasscer Hill: I was born with horses in my veins and started galloping about the family farm on a stick horse when I was four years old. By the time I was seven or eight, I was sneaking rides on the Belgian plow horses. I did this because my father didn’t like horses and considered ponies dangerous. So instead, I drummed my heels on the sides of a 2,000-pound draft mare, while grasping whatever string or rope I managed to tie to her halter.

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

When I was sixteen, my father passed away. Shortly after that, a wealthy banker and racehorse breeder, Alfred H. Smith, Sr. took me under his wing and gave me a right-off-the-track steeplechase horse to ride.

At sixteen, I was fearless, and by the time I was thirty-six, I was breeding racehorses on my family farm and even rode in and won a timber race in Potomac, Maryland.

Because I had so much experience breeding, raising, training, and racing my horses, writing a horse racing mystery seemed logical. My first book, Full Mortality was nominated for both Agatha and Macavity Best First Book Awards.

Kass: What subgenre of mysteries do you write—cozies, traditional whodunnits, historical?

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill
Sasscer’s first book

.

Sasscer: I call my subgenre, “Edgy Cozies.” Some of my characters swear every so often, and sex fires a bit of heat in some of my books.

Not the kind of graphic, gratuitous sex you find in some romance novels, but if there’s a particularly handsome and sexy male in the story my heroine will always look twice, and sometimes more if it moves the plot forward.

Kass: What was your favorite book/author as a child? Why was it your favorite?

Sasscer: My favorite childhood book was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I loved all his wonderful action-adventure horse stories and devoured them, starting with a picture book of The Black Stallion given to me when I was three or four.

I’ve always loved books filled with mystery, action, and adventure. After reading everything by Walter Farley, I graduated to the Dick Francis horse racing mysteries. As I got older, I read everything by Robert Parker, then went through all the Dorothy Sayer, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and other excellent writers of British mysteries.

The spare writing style of Francis and Parker is what I loved best, and my style tends to go in that direction. I’ve never liked books where the author wanders off into tangents and long descriptions. Anything that slows the pace down too much is a turn off for me.

Kass: So, you already have several books out, most traditionally published. With the latest book, what led to your decision to become an indie author?

I never fit in all that well in the work world. I much prefer self-employment. Novel writing is wonderful; if you write a good story, the readers don’t care if you’re the independent type.

I’ve been with two traditional publishers, one a very small press and the other a larger, better known one. I loved my editor there, but neither publisher did much in the way of marketing—despite the fact that Flamingo Road (my first book with the second publisher) received excellent reviews, including an editor’s pick in the Toronto Star, a starred Booklist review, and it won the $10,000 Ryan Award for Best Book in Horseracing Literature.

When I started working on Travels of Quinn, I suspected it was different enough that traditional publishers wouldn’t be interested. My agent did make an effort to sell it to several of them, but I became tired of the waiting game and self-published it in February of 2020.

Kass: And I read it and loved it, and that started the whole process that culminated with you joining us here at misterio. By the way, huge congrats for winning the Ryan Award!

Tell us, has there been anything particularly interesting you’ve ever had to research for your books?

Sasscer: The oddest thing I’ve ever researched was for the first Fia McKee book, Flamingo Road. There is a drug called Demorphin that was first used at Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma. It is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and a few of the shoddiest and most horrible trainers were using it. Their sore or injured horses would run through the pain and win—if they didn’t break down before the finish line. The drug was made from enzymes and peptides collected off the skin of a certain South American tree frog. Race trackers referred to the drug as “frog juice.” 

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

I got a tip from a former trainer that I should call Dr. Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. I did and he was delightful. We talked about everything from frog juice to how much we loved the series, “Breaking Bad.” Stevens was the doctor who produced the first test for Demorphin. Thanks to him, trainers were stopped from using this drug. 

But I needed frog juice for my book and asked him what if there was a different South American tree frog which also produced a Demorphin-like substance? And what if the chemical makeup was different enough that Stevens’s test wouldn’t catch it in a horse’s bloodstream? He said it was possible, and I almost did a happy dance knowing I had my drug for Flamingo Road.

In the recent Travels of Quinn, I had to write about Quinn’s time in prison. The novel takes place here in Aiken, SC, and I was lucky enough to meet with Capt. Nick Gallam, who runs the Aiken County detention center. He took me on a tour of the entire facility and answered every question I had.

Armed with accurate information and mental images of the women I’d seen in this prison, I was confident and enthusiastic as I wrote about Quinn’s experience in jail.

Kass: What are you working on now?

Sasscer: I was able to get the rights back for my Nikki Latrelle series. I’ve re-released them with new covers. My novel in progress, Shooting Star, will be my fifth Nikki Latrelle book, and I am delighted to be bringing it out with misterio press!

Kass: And we are delighted to have you as a misterio author!! Folks, see Sasscer’s new book, Travels of Quinn, below…and you can see my review of it on BookBub HERE.

You can connect with Sasscer on her website, or on Facebook, Goodreads and Instagram, and you can follow her on BookBub and/or Amazon for updates on new releases.

Travels of Quinn

Born into a subculture of American gypsies, Quinn’s father and stepfamily raise her to be a con artist. Can she escape a binding marriage contract and a life of crime?

Jailed for theft, Quinn pays restitution working on a horse farm. Unfamiliar with horses, her love for them surprises her. They make her hope for a better world.

Until the farm’s owner is brutally murdered and Quinn is the prime suspect.

On the run, Quinn uses every scam and con she knows to save herself. Can she find the real killer before she’s imprisoned for life or murdered because she knows too much?

A mystery-thriller of deceit, murder, greed and hope, by multiple award-winning author, Sasscer Hill.

Available at:

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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Announcement: A Zoom Book Reading Event!!

Folks are doing all kinds of things via Zoom these days. Our own Vinnie Hansen is participating in an online book reading event via Zoom, next Friday, July 3rd.

She’ll be introducing the event and then later reading from a short story that came out last year in Fishy Business, a Sisters in Crime Guppies Anthology. See below for how to sign up.

Zoom book reading

Please join us for a reading featuring selected writers from the Santa Cruz Women of Mystery: Mary Feliz, Mary Flodin, Vinnie Hansen, Katherine Bolger Hyde, Nancy Lynn Jarvis, Leslie Karst, Christina Waters, and Nancy Wood, on Friday, July 3 at 5:00 pm PST.

The Zoom room will be open by 4:30, so come early in case you have technical difficulties.

If you need assistance, send an email to jory@cruzio.com or hannah@santacruzwrites.org.

To subscribe directly to the Santa Cruz Writes email list, which will provide you with weekly announcements for upcoming readings, use https://mailchi.mp/cruzio/zoomforward. You will be sent a link to JOIN MEETING on Friday for the Zoom book reading.

~~

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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Where Our Research Takes Us: 1880s Newport

by K.B. Owen

…or, more specifically, sea-bathing in 1880s Newport, where my latest book, THE SECRET OF THE FORTY STEPS, is set, during the summer of 1887.

sea-bathing in 1880s Newport

Forty Steps, along the Cliff Walk. Date of photo unknown, approx 1900-1910. Newport Discovery Guide (dot) com.

You may have heard of Newport, Rhode Island … the place with all the opulent summer mansions (whimsically termed “cottages”), where wealthy industrial tycoons such as Vanderbilt retreated from the workaday cares of their railroad/steel/coal/shipping empires.

Aside from the parties, promenades, and musical entertainments, one of the chief attractions of summering in Newport was the seaside. What’s not to love about sun, fresh air, and bracing salt water?

But what to wear when sea-bathing in 1880s Newport? Evening gowns and tiaras obviously wouldn’t cut it. I wondered if visiting the beach served as the great equalizer between the classes, at least in terms of attire.

I changed my mind after a bit of research.

I’m sure you’ve seen the typical bathing costume for women during that time. For us 21st century folks, it’s hard to see past the fact that there’s so much material involved–wool and flannel, no less(!). From our perspective, it practically falls into the “why bother?” category. Here’s a fashion plate from Harper’s (originally published 1880-89), for example:

sea-bathing in 18802 Newport

Look – you can see limbs! Courtesy of Dover Publications, Inc, 1974 (used with permission because under 10 images)

Wow, that’s a lot of fabric. But there’s more to the above illustration than how hot it looks. As it turns out, a wet bathing suit was not the great equalizer between classes. Notice how elaborate these bathing costumes actually are–trimmed with ribbons and lace, cut in a way that’s flattering to the figure, lots of accent buttons…even the shoes are fancy.

By contrast, middle-class bathing attire looked more like this:

sea-bathing in 1880s Newport

Capital City Courier (Lincoln, Nebraska), June 8, 1889.

The newspaper article that accompanies the sketch of this plainer bathing costume makes a number of distinctions between “fashionable Newport” and the seaside places frequented by the “more modest” middle-class. It’s pretty clear who the paper’s target audience is (apologies if it’s hard to read):

sea-bathing in 18802 Newport

(Umm…did anyone point out to the reporter the irony of writing in such detail about a wealthy woman’s bathing dress, even as she claims to “have no patience” for writing about it?) From the Capital City Courier.

So, what did the men wear while sea-bathing in 1880s Newport? In many cases…nothing.

That wasn’t a typo. Zip. Nada. It’s amazing what sticks in your mind when you pull up these research bits, you know?

Don’t worry–the gals weren’t around to see the gentlemen in their altogether.

But how did they pull that off? (Get it? hahaha).

I can at least tell you how they did it at Newport’s First Beach (also known as Easton’s Beach…only half a mile from the major hotels, mind you). They used a flag system–a red flag flying meant it was time for the men-only swim, and no suit was required. Scram, ladies.

A white flag meant the fellas had to get their clothes back on, and the ladies could return to the beach.

I know your next question: were there binoculars back then?

Yes, indeed.

New Release! The latest lady Pinkerton mystery

THE SECRET OF THE FORTY STEPS, The Fourth Chronicle of a Lady Detective

Money, love, and murder in 1880s Newport high society…

Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton is summoned to fashionable Newport to investigate the two-year-old death of a wealthy matron. Did she fall from the Cliff Walk’s Forty Steps in the middle of the night, as was presumed, or was she pushed by her much-younger husband?

The case is personal this time, since Pen’s client is her own mother—breaking her near-decade of silence—and the man under scrutiny is to marry Pen’s cousin in a week’s time.

The lady detective discreetly enlists the help of a local, but the inquiry quickly unravels when he turns up dead. To make things worse, Pen’s identity as a Pinkerton is uncovered by Newport’s most prominent summer resident, whose complaint to her boss brings Pen’s estranged husband and fellow Pinkerton, Frank Wynch, to Newport.

With her cousin’s wedding day nearly here and no answers yet, Pen has no choice but to accept Frank’s help while dodging his romantic overtures. Nothing like a little danger to heighten an already-fraught relationship, as they work to expose a desperate adversary…who could prove deadly to them both.

Available at these online retailers:

Amazon  ~  Apple  ~  B&N  ~  Kobo

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

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells…and from that series came lady Pinkerton Penelope Hamilton.

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series, and four stories in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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2 Off-Week Goodies: Comfort Words plus History and Fiction

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash.com

You’ve heard of comfort food, well this article talks about comfort words. What are the words that you use to help you cope, to get yourself through hard times?

It’s a great article (although you might want to skim the first part).

Check it out. Then come back and tell us…

What are your comfort words?

Also, Kathy Owen is guest posting this week on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s blog, talking about the challenges (and rewards) of using a real historical figure in your writing.

Pop over and have a look.

And she has a new release!!! Yay!

THE SECRET OF THE FORTY STEPS, The Fourth Chronicle of a Lady Detective

Money, love, and murder in 1880s Newport high society…

Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton is summoned to fashionable Newport to investigate the two-year-old death of a wealthy matron. Did she fall from the Cliff Walk’s Forty Steps in the middle of the night, as was presumed, or was she pushed by her much-younger husband?

The case is personal this time, since Pen’s client is her own mother—breaking her near-decade of silence—and the man under scrutiny is to marry Pen’s cousin in a week’s time.

The lady detective discreetly enlists the help of a local, but the inquiry quickly unravels when he turns up dead. To make things worse, Pen’s identity as a Pinkerton is uncovered by Newport’s most prominent summer resident, whose complaint to her boss brings Pen’s estranged husband and fellow Pinkerton, Frank Wynch, to Newport.

With her cousin’s wedding day nearly here and no answers yet, Pen has no choice but to accept Frank’s help while dodging his romantic overtures. Nothing like a little danger to heighten an already-fraught relationship, as they work to expose a desperate adversary…who could prove deadly to them both.

Available at these online retailers:

Amazon ~ Apple ~ B&N ~ Kobo

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE. 

6 Tips to Shine as an Introvert or Extrovert When Working from Home

When employees were sent home to work remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, most assumed they’d be back in the office within a few weeks. As the predicament drags its heels, predictions are being made that for many employees, working from home will become the new normal. Companies, large and small, are taking a hard look at their bottom line, as well as their work culture, and may stick with a remote workforce.

working from home

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

I must admit, my life hasn’t changed all that much during the quarantine. Since I’ve been working from home for 8 years, I’ve grown accustomed to not going out much. True, I now see a trip to the grocery store as an exciting outing where before I saw it as a chore, but that’s about it.

And I’m okay with that. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert (94% introverted, 6% extroverted), I’d be perfectly happy to visit with family and friends via Zoom most of the time rather than meeting in person. The Voxer app has become my new favorite, as I chat with clients, colleagues, and friends on-demand for free.

But not all introverts are the same. Personality types aren’t cut and dried—they exist on a continuum. Some of my introverted friends are experiencing just as many unique challenges working from home as my extroverted friends.

Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, if you’ve been forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, you are likely struggling to get your bearings. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay that way for the duration.

Introverts and Extroverts Defined

At the beginning of the last century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung coined the terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ to talk about two distinct groups of people. Introverts tend to be quiet, thoughtful, and inwardly focused. They recharge by being alone with their thoughts and prefer a night in over a night on the town.

Introverts:

  • Enjoy solitude
  • Experience boredom rarely
  • Want outings to be meaningful
  • Appreciate deep conversations about topics of interest

The extrovert is quite the opposite. Their focus is outward, and they draw energy from being around people. Being in a busy, boisterous office is where they work best.

Extroverts:

  • Prefer to work with others
  • Experience boredom frequently
  • Think best out loud
  • Enjoy networking and small talk

Tips for Introverts

While the world tells us that we’re lucky, we might not be feeling it. Working from home can be stressful for the introvert. Back-to-back video conferencing can prove exhausting and having family members who aren’t in tune with the introvert’s parameters constantly around can feel invasive.

Get Some You Time

It’s too easy for an introvert to get so caught up in work they forget to stop at the end of the day. I learned early on that working from home could quickly turn into working all the time. Now I keep a standard 9-5ish schedule, using an egg timer to remind me to take breaks. Once I leave the office for the evening, I don’t check emails or respond to questions from my staff via our project management system. If this feels impossible, try deleting those pesky notification-type apps from your phone. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

Set Firm Boundaries

working from home

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Constant distractions from housemates, children, and spouses can make us crabby. Even though it’s challenging, setting firm boundaries for what you need to be productive is better than the alternative—losing your cool and regretting it later. Even if you don’t have an office door you can shut, put boundaries in place for when you can be interrupted, and when you can’t. Be loving yet firm when explaining why it’s mission critical.

Design a False Sense of Aloneness

Since introverts need quiet, uninterrupted time to work and think, it’s essential to carve out a dedicated workspace. If you don’t have a spare room, you can still create a make-shift space by putting a barrier between you and the rest of the household. In a pinch, you can use a walk-in closet or hang a blanket to give yourself some privacy.

If you need to drown out the sounds from others in the house, try listening to soothing music (without lyrics) using earbuds or headphones. It’s incredible how in the zone I get when I do this. I feel like I’m totally alone with my thoughts even though my home office is in the loft of our home.

Tips for Extroverts

Being forced into social distancing is difficult enough for the extrovert, but when they can’t even interact with coworkers, it can feel like a prison. While they look forward to Zoom calls, what they really need is a good old-fashioned team meeting full of brainstorming and lively energy.

Create a Work Schedule

Working alone and without their usual structure, extroverts can feel they’ve been cast adrift.

working from home

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

You will need to create a schedule and structure and keep to it so that you stay productive. If your job allows, design an unconventional work schedule that fits your preferences and needs. Or replicate as closely as possible the structure of your day when you went to the office.

Keep Moving

Extroverts can become anxious if they have too much time to think and too little to do. One essential way to keep your mind engaged in your work is movement. Try using a standing desk so you can move about while you work. Bounce on a mini-trampoline or yoga ball during breaks. Take a walk around the block when you start feeling confined and unfocused.

One fantastic strategy for extroverts working solo is to pace while speaking their ideas into a recording app on their phone. True, no one is there to bounce ideas around, but talking your thoughts out loud will at least partially reconstruct the way you work best.

Manufacturer Work Sounds

Extroverts prefer to work in a hustle and bustle environment. They are the ones who work best in a busy coffee shop with movement and chatter all around them. You don’t have to work in a busy office to experience an energetic vibe—you can create your own. Try listening to background soundtracks like this one on Spotify.

Take Breaks with a Friend

If you feel isolated while working from home, set up virtual coffee and lunch breaks with friends and coworkers. Most likely, your friends are stuck in their make-shift home office as well, so it will be good for them too. Heck, you can do this every day of the week with different people if you want.

So Where Do You Go from Here?

No matter what you find yourself struggling with as a remote worker, this unpredicted situation is an opportunity to learn about yourself. Learning to accommodate other personality types we are stuck at home with also gives you a chance to learn how to live more harmoniously with those in your household.

Since you can’t change the situation, you’ll be happier if you decide to learn from the experience. In this way, you’ll open the door to new growth and opportunity, no matter what comes next. This holds true for introvert and extrovert alike.

What challenges have you experienced since being forced to work from home? Share in the comments.

 

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help intuitive writers embrace their unique writing process so they can overcome their creative blocks and write books readers crave. If you are an introverted writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy SessionTogether, we’ll dig into how you can crush your creative blocks!

Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.

 

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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’ email addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.