A Crime Writers’ Interview: Nancy Wood

We love introducing you all to up-and-coming crime writers! So we are very happy to welcome Nancy Wood to our blog today.

First, I’ll let her tell you a little about herself.

I grew up in various locations on the east coast and now call central California home. I’m recently retired, having spent 35 years as a technical writer, translating engineer-speak into words and sentences. Kind of like translating ancient Greek, when you’re not too familiar with the Greek part!

Since retirement, my husband and I are wandering across the globe, visiting various places in Europe, but also countries like Sri Lanka and India. You can check out our travel  blog at hansandnancy.wordpress.com.

The first book in my Shelby McDougall trilogy, Due Date, was originally published in 2012. It just got a face-lift and was recently re-released by Paper Angel Press. The Stork, the second book in the series, will be re-released later this year. I’m working on the third and final story (with the working title of The Found Child).

Kass (on behalf of the misterio gang): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Nancy: I LOVE to read; I’ve been a reader since I was teeny-tiny. So, it just seemed a logical progression to try to write fiction. It didn’t have to be life-changing, literary, heavy, or important! I just wanted to craft a book that would engage someone and would hold up as that person read it. I took creative writing classes, wrote stories, and wrote two terrible novels that, thankfully, never saw the light of day.

In 2006, I went to a commercial publishing workshop and was encouraged to try to write a mystery. At that point in my life, mysteries weren’t even on my radar. I started reading them, exclusively, and thought, ‘hmm…, maybe I’ll be able to do this!’

I retired two years ago, and since then, my husband and I have been traveling. A lot. We’ve traveled around the west (Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California), and have also been to Spain, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, and India. Wow, all amazing countries, and so different.

My other passion is photography; in fact, I seem to spend as much time with the camera as writing these days! Here’s one of my photos. If anyone’s interested, my photography website is nancywoodphotos.wordpress.com

(c) Nancy Wood

Kass: Wow, that’s gorgeous. So tell me, why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you?

Nancy: Before I decided to write a mystery, I had never read crime fiction. Now, it seems like crime fiction has expanded to include any subgenre of literature you can think of. Literary, social, cultural, historical, romantic, horror: it all can be incorporated in a mystery. There’s something very compelling about that. To be able to mold the genre to fit your story and your characters. I also love the idea of a series; getting to know a character over time and in multiple settings. 

Kass: What type of mysteries do you write? Why does that type of story appeal to you as a writer? Do you also prefer it as a reader?

Nancy: My books fall into the category of suspense, psychological thrillers. I initially thought I was writing a mystery, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t insert a dead body into the story! I love to read suspense. I love getting scared, but getting scared in a controlled fashion. Reading allows that delightful pleasure.

But sometimes, it’s too much, and I have to read the book in small bites, so as not to get too terrified and lose sleep! Some of my favorite authors in this subgenre are Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Lisa Scottoline, Tana French, and Lisa Jackson.

Kass: You mentioned loving to read since you were “teeny-tiny.” What was your favorite book/author as a child?

Nancy: The Nancy Drew mysteries were at the top of my list. I loved them because I could usually figure out ‘who done it’. The stories were predictable, yet kept me engaged. But the best part was that Nancy was a girl.

Kass: Nancy Drew has certainly inspired a lot of girls through the years, myself included! So where are you in your writing career? Tell us more about your stories.

Nancy: My Shelby McDougall series was picked up this past year by Paper Angel Press. They just re-released Due Date, and The Stork will be out sometime later in the year. I hope that the third book will be released not too long after that.

Shelby, the protagonist, stumbles her way into detecting. In Due Date, she’s signed on as a surrogate mother, and when it’s almost too late, discovers that things are not what they seem. In The Stork, Shelby has switched career paths and is working on her PI license. But her life is turned upside-down with a late night phone call. In the last book in the trilogy, the one I’m currently working on, Shelby will be a licensed PI specializing in locating missing children. Her mom does a DNA swab with a genealogy website and turns up results Shelby would rather not know about.

Treasure Hunt cover

I also have a story out featuring Shelby, called ‘Treasure Hunt.’ It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, Santa Cruz Weird, and is now available as a free download from Paper Angel Press. It’s about a ten-year-old boy whose granny encourages him to sign up for a Saturday afternoon treasure hunt sponsored by the city’s parks department. He’s not very happy about being out in the woods, looking for treasure, with a group of kids he doesn’t know.  The only person he does recognize is a man he’d never wanted to see again.

Kass:  When I first read Due Date in 2012, I really enjoyed it for two reasons. First, I loved the writing. It’s one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. But I was also intrigued by the topic. What made you decide to write about a surrogate mother?

Nancy: Thank you for your kind words; I am so excited to see Due Date get a second go-round with its wonderful new cover.

Originally, this story was women’s fiction, about the relationship between a birth mother and the adoptive parents. However, it was clunky and slow and needed a lot of work. Around the time I was trying to figure out what to do with this uninspiring manuscript, I was in a brainstorming session at a conference and someone suggested I turn it into a mystery. After a lively discussion in that small group, I realized that if the protagonist were a surrogate mother, I could explore some of the same themes I was interested in–mainly the relationship between the birth mom and the adoptive parents–but also introduce even more complexity to the dynamic.

At the time, I had a lot of friends who’d adopted children through both open and closed adoptions, but I had never known anyone who was involved in a surrogate relationship. I did a lot of reading on surrogacy and talked to a few surrogate moms. I read plenty of discussion boards, forums, and blogs as well. I also researched fertility clinics, trying to figure out how that end of the arrangement works. There are so many legal and financial considerations. I’m still interested in the topic and keep tuned for news stories, changes in the law, or blogs about surrogacy.

Kass: Well, all that research paid off. It’s a fascinating story. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nancy!

She’ll be sticking around for a bit, folks, to answer any questions you might want to pose in the comments.

Nancy: Thank you very much for hosting me! Misterio Press publishes high caliber books that are engaging, well-written, and really fun to read, so I am honored to be here.

Kass (blushing): Aww, thanks!! Check out Due Date below, folks. You will be glad you did! And I’m off to download Treasure Hunt.

And you can connect with Nancy Wood at her website or via email.

Due Date cover

DUE DATE, A Shelby McDougall Mystery

Surrogate mother Shelby McDougall just fell for the biggest con of all—a scam that risks her life and the lives of her unborn twins.

Twenty-three year-old Shelby McDougall is facing a mountain of student debt and a memory she’d just as soon forget. A Rolling Stone ad for a surrogate mother offers her a way to erase the loans and right her karmic place in the cosmos. Within a month, she’s signed a contract, relocated to Santa Cruz, California, and started fertility treatments.

But intended parents Jackson and Diane Entwistle have their own agenda—one that has nothing to do with diapers and lullabies. With her due date looming, and the clues piling up, Shelby must save herself and her twins. As she uses her wits to survive, Shelby learns the real meaning of the word “family.”

Available at all major online book retailers for $4.99. Click HERE for buy links or to download a sample.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, on behalf of the entire misterio press group of writers. 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 cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Florida where she now lives.

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.

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An “Off” Week Post: Honoring Military Working Dogs

by Kassandra Lamb

Boogy, a military working dog
Boogy, a MWD trained to detect IEDs.

This is an “off” week here on the misterio blog, but I found out that tomorrow is National K9 Veterans Day. That seemed like something you all might find interesting. This day is designated to honor Military Working Dogs (MWDs).

While my fictitious dog trainer trains service dogs for retired military, the veterans she works with might very well have fought alongside a K-9 unit at some point during their service. Therefore, she has a soft spot in her heart, as do I, for these military working dogs.

A military working dog and his handler during a training exercise.
A K-9 unit during an active shooter training exercise.

Here are some common myths about military working dogs.

Happy K-9 Veterans Day!!

And please check out my Marcia Banks and Buddy series about a service dog trainer and her mentor dog, Buddy.

New releases are due out in this series this spring and summer.

To Kill A Labrador cover

To Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mystery, #1

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the former Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer. Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

Currently free on all major ebook retailers. Click HERE for buy links.

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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When Anxiety Is a Good Thing

by Kassandra Lamb

Say what? Anxiety is a good thing?!? It can be, up to a point.

This past weekend, I did my first public reading from one of my books. (Yes, I’ve been at this writing/publishing gig for 7+ years, but until recently my marketing has mainly been online.)

In the days leading up to the reading, I was terrified.

I’ve done plenty of presenting in my time, at professional conferences when I was a psychotherapist and in front of a college classroom for 17 years. I enjoy presenting/teaching, and normally I’m only mildly to moderately anxious beforehand.

And that is when anxiety is a good thing. On a practical level, it motivates me to be well prepared, to put in the work to make sure I’m ready. Because I know from experience that confidence is key to keeping the anxiety under control.

And emotionally, at the time of the presentation mild to moderate anxiety makes my brain sharper, and it stimulates me, animates my personality. When that happens, I am an enthusiastic speaker and the audience responds well. I can even get up the nerve to try to be funny, and sometimes I’m actually successful. 😀

Quite a bit of research has been done on the “optimal level of arousal” that will enhance one’s ability to accomplish tasks. I have mastered that optimal level when it comes to presenting.

But somehow “performing” my own creative work… it falls into a different category.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; a state of apprehension and psychic tension. If that “apprehension” is too intense, it can keep us awake at night, make us stutter, blush, freeze up or otherwise embarrass ourselves in certain situations.

For me, “performing” is such a situation. And anticipating performing tends to move me from helpful arousal to unhelpful distress to disabling ruminating and worry pretty darn fast.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.*

(*This quote has been attributed to Erma Bombeck and at least a dozen other people. But whoever said it first, they nailed it!)

The first time I “performed,” it was in a second-grade play. I was George Washington’s wife. I don’t remember much past walking through the classroom door in my Martha Washington costume. But I do remember laughter.

It wasn’t supposed to be a funny skit.

In high school, I tried out for several plays with the drama department. I never got a part. The stumbling and blushing might have had something to do with that.

Ever since, I’ve frozen up whenever I was required to “perform.” And yet I can “present.” The latter is more about sharing my expertise. I have much more confidence in that expertise than I do in my performing ability.

So here I was last week, facing this reading.

While I was being introduced… I only look mildly terrified!

I’ve been to some where the author just “read.” And that’s okay. I’d originally intended to do that. But as I went through my first practice round, my words sounded so flat. I decided I didn’t want to just read. I wanted to show emotions through inflection, produce the required deeper timbre for male voices, use accents when called for, etc.

In other words, perform. Aaack!!

The day before the reading, I was way past my optimal level of arousal. I needed to do a little emergency therapy on myself.

I asked myself what helped me control the anxiety when I was presenting, and realized there were four things I now automatically do before a presentation:

1. Acknowledge the anxiety.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. That doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it gives it more energy. For “presenting” nerves, a short pep talk is usually sufficient, along the lines of—Of course you’re nervous. That’s a good thing. It will keep you on your toes.

For “performing” nerves, I needed to go a little farther. I told a few people close to me how scared I was. It wasn’t to get their reassurance (although they were, of course, reassuring); it was to acknowledge the anxiety and bleed off some of its charge.

2. Draw confidence from past successes.

To Kill A Labrador cover
The book I read from.

I remind myself that I have done many presentations before, and I have always done a decent to downright great job.

Also, I remind myself that the anxiety always goes down once I get started. That’s a biggie!

This time, I had to add to this pep talk that presenting was not as different from performing as I have made it out to be. And the book I was reading from has lots of good reviews. The words were proven to be good, and my ability to “present” them has been proven to be good. So I would be fine. (In psychology lingo, that’s called a reframe. 🙂 )

3. Practice but not over practice.

I’ve learned that two to three complete run-throughs, out loud, is about right for a presentation. Enough practice to smooth out the rough spots and give me confidence. Not so much that the presentation becomes stale.

The second time through my reading practice, the inflections were mostly in the wrong places, my male voice sounded like I had a bad cold, and my Southern accent…well, let’s just say I don’t do accents well.

By the third time, I had the inflections in the right places, my male voice was pretty good, and my accents didn’t totally suck. I did one more run-through, for good measure, and felt a good bit more confident when all of the above still happened.

4. Remind myself that I do not have to be perfect.

And in this case, remind the audience as well. I added these words to my introductory remarks: Now before I start, I’d like to put this caveat out there—I don’t do accents well.

Ahhh, the pressure was off. Now if my accents were sucky, well, I’d said up front that I wasn’t perfect.

And the reality is that most people in an audience aren’t expecting perfection. Indeed, they may find it endearing when we make the occasional mistake. It’s makes us more human and relatable. In this case, my audience knew that I’m a writer, not an actor. They weren’t expecting perfection and I shouldn’t either.

So the moment arrives…

Definitely when anxiety is a good thing...when it lets up! Me, after the reading.
I look happy here because I’m almost to the end of the reading. Yay!

I’ve been introduced, and I give my little opening spiel (no problem, this is presenting after all). I’m borderline, maybe just past my optimal level of anxiety. Okay, definitely past optimal, but still manageable.

I start to read. And thank you Lord, my anxiety level goes down. (Did I mention praying? That always helps too.)

It was still higher than usual, but definitely quite manageable.

So I make it to the question-and-answer period and I’m downright exhilarated. It’s over! I can do Q&A standing on my head (which would make it more interesting, for sure).

And now that I have a successful reading under my belt, I can look back on that the next time and use it to bolster my confidence, to get my nervousness down to the level where anxiety is a good thing!

How about you? Have you discovered your “optimal level of arousal” for most things? What situations tend to push your anxiety over the top?

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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Winston Churchill, Nazis, and the (almost) exploding chocolate bar

by K.B. Owen

With Valentine’s Day still on our minds, we thought you might enjoy this post about an exploding chocolate bar.

photo by John Loo (creative commons)

The year was 1943, and those crafty Nazis had come up with another plan to assassinate Winston Churchill.  They decided to prey upon the Prime Minister’s fondness for expensive chocolate, and began work on a bomb hidden in a pound-slab bar of Peter’s Chocolate.

photo via wikimedia.org (cc)

How it was supposed to work:

The exploding chocolate bar was made of steel, with a thin layer of real chocolate covering it.  Inside was the explosive, with a 7-second delay mechanism.  I’ll quote the rest of the description, as detailed by Lord Rothschild, head of counter-espionage at MI5:

When you break off a piece of chocolate at one end in the normal way, a piece of canvas is revealed stuck in the middle of the piece  which has been broken off and sticking in the remainder of the slab.  When the piece of chocolate is pulled sharply, the canvas is also pulled and this initiates the mechanism.

The bar was wrapped in shiny, expensive foil, and labeled “Peter’s Chocolate.”  The plan was to take the chocolate into the war cabinet dining room, and so take out as many cabinet members as possible, along with Churchill.

As you may have guessed, the plot was unsuccessful.  British agents, working undercover in Germany, alerted MI5 about the plot, and included a rough sketch of the bars they had seen.

Since there was concern that the exploding chocolate bars may actually reach the British public, Lord Rothschild wrote a secret letter to artist Laurence Fish, asking him to draw a better picture of what such a bar might look like. (Fish’s widow just recently discovered this letter, part of which is quoted above, and donated it to the country’s collection of other war-time documents).  Check out The Huffington Post’s article, which includes a photo of Rothschild’s letter.

There’s also an interesting looking sketch (via Photobucket) you may want to check out, which I can’t post here for copyright reasons. I haven’t been able to establish if this is Fish’s drawing, or someone else’s, but it looks really cool!

Want to read more? Check out these other sources:

Mystery Fanfare: Death by Chocolate: Winston Churchill.

Independent.ie

Tek-Bull

Sometimes real life is crazier than fiction, right?  What do you think of the plot – did they really have a chance to pull it off?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Kathy

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen 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 six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas 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 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. 🙂 )

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine's Day image
(photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at misterio press!


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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Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of posting on the blog of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I posted on the topic of goals, and how it’s okay to not aim for the top of one’s chosen field or endeavor. Not everyone can be “the best.” There’s really only one spot there at the very top.

I liked the post so much I decided to share it with you all. It fits well with the theme of last month’s post about New Year’s resolutions and goals. So here it is:

Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

woman at laptop, not aiming for the top
This isn’t me but it could be, especially with the cup of tea. (photo by Dai Ke on Unsplash)

I’m working on my fourth career in my lifespan—that of a fiction author. I love being a writer, but I also loved many aspects of my other careers. I have few regrets, and none regarding what I consider to be my “main” career, that of psychotherapist.

I spent twenty years listening to a lot of people talk about how their middle-of-the-road dreams had gone awry, often due to circumstances that were not completely within their control. Their stories gave me a real appreciation for how it is okay to aspire for moderate success, for a goal that meets one’s needs, whatever they may be, without necessarily bringing one fame and fortune.

The United States is such a competitive society. We are taught that we should aspire to being the best we can be, to win prizes for being the best at what we do.

Why?

Defining Success

I consider my career as a therapist a huge success, even though the profession doesn’t pay all that well and I was never a “big” name in the field. But I helped most of the people who walked through my office door. In a fair number of cases, I helped turn their lives around. And in a few, I saved their lives. I tried to be the best therapist I could be, but I didn’t particularly feel the need to be the best among all therapists.

I’d always dreamed of writing fiction. I loved to write. As a college professor (my third career), I even enjoyed writing tests! I had plucked away at a novel—about a psychotherapist, of course—during most of those years while I was pursuing other careers.

And then I retired and finally had the time to pursue my writing in earnest. When I finished the novel that I’d been writing for years, I suffered from a common ailment of new writers—the write-it-and-they-will-buy-it syndrome.

I imagined that readers would scarf up my new gem by the droves. But I wasn’t dreaming of huge profits or the New York Times bestseller list.

I was imagining hundreds of people READING my book.

Perhaps my retired status gives me the luxury of not caring so much about how big my profits are. But I just can’t get all that excited about things like rankings or bestseller lists or writing awards.

I Can See Clearly Now

In retrospect, I can see my goals more clearly than I did at the time when I published that first book. Here they are, in order of importance:

  • I wanted to experience the joy of having people read my work and tell me they were moved by it.
  • I wanted my characters to come to life for readers who cared about them.
  • I wanted the recognition that I was a good writer (not necessarily great, but good enough to entertain people with my stories).
  • It would be nice to have some extra money from my writing.

Does this make me a hobbyist writer? No.

I take my writing business seriously. It is truly my fourth career. I work almost every day on business-related tasks and/or writing.

What I’m getting at here is that it is okay to have modest goals. We don’t all have to aim for the top of the heap. There isn’t room for all of us up there anyway!

Back when I was a psychotherapist wishing I had more time for writing, I never truly believed I would be where I am today—a successful mid-list author whose writing provides a satisfying supplement to my retirement income.

But here I am, fat and happy in the middle of the pile of fellow writers.

So what do you think? Do we all have to strive to be the best?

NOTE: If you’re an indie author, I can highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors; it’s an international professional organization with lots of benefits for joining.

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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Those Annoying Apostrophes!

For our “off” week, I thought I’d share this post I saw on apostrophes. They are probably the most frequently misused form of punctuation among English speakers. My students, when I taught college, were always sprinkling them about indiscriminately.

This article is aimed at writers, but we all write during the course of the day—emails if nothing else, right? And nothing will make your grammar-nerd boss wince faster than a misplaced apostrophe! So check these three rules out … 3 Apostrophe Rules You Need!

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.

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A Crime Writers’ Interview: Jo Macgregor

Crime Writers logo

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a Crime Writers’ Interview. 🙂 Today, we’re delighted to introduce you to a great suspense author, Jo Macgregor.

When not writing, Jo Macgregor is a counseling psychologist in private practice in South Africa. She works mainly with victims of crime and trauma, and brings her twenty years of experience as a therapist to her writing, creating deeper characters and realistic psychological scenarios. She started her professional life as a high school English teacher and writes young adult fiction under the name Joanne Macgregor. Her psychological non-fiction (self help) is published under the name J. Macgregor. She writes intelligent novels with all the feels and a twist of humor – fiction that targets your head, heart and funny bone!

Although she lives in the frenetic adrenaline-rush of the big city, Jo has always been in love with nature, and escapes into the wilds whenever possible. She loves reading, is addicted to chilies and bulletproof coffee, and her Hogwarts House is either HuffleClaw or RavenPuff!

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended, “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Jo: One, in my day job, I’m a psychologist in private practice. While I keep my therapy work and my writing very separate (I even do it on different days and in different places) and would never “mine” my clients’ experiences for story ideas, I believe my knowledge of psychology — people, personality and pathology — really does inform my writing. I like to think my characterizations are deeper and more real, and certainly my portrayal of psychological problems and how psychologists work in practice are more accurate than I see in lots of fiction.

Two, I think life is more comedy than tragedy, so there is humor in all my books. I can’t read humorless, bleak stories and I certainly won’t write them!

I had to ask my daughter for a third one! According to her, a cornerstone of my character is that I believe it matters how we treat people and that the actions of ordinary people count, and shouldn’t be disregarded or underestimated. She says that informs all my writing. So now you know 😊

Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you?

Jo: I write romance and dystopian novels, too, but when it comes to reading, crime is hands-down my favorite genre. I think crime stories offer entertaining ways to wrestle with bigger issues facing individuals, cultures and countries. I think we can even grapple with existential issues in crime stories.

In my most recent novel, The First Time I Died, I look at some big questions (Is there an afterlife? What is real? Can romantic love last forever? Should you trust outer “reality” or subjective inner experience more?). But because it’s all wrapped up in a gripping whodunnit, it doesn’t feel like a philosophical lecture.

I also like that crime stories usually end with some kind of resolution — the killer is caught and punished, justice prevails, moral order is restored — and that scratches a deep itch. In real life, this sort of resolution is rare and usually imperfect, so reading crime fiction is a type of satisfying compensatory fantasy. Also, it’s just exciting — it pulls me into a story like no other genre can!

Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you?

Jo: I can’t write only one type of story — maybe because I’m a Gemini or maybe because I get bored easily. So, I’ve written a psychological thriller (Dark Whispers) and a mystery with a paranormal twist (The First Time I Died).

Even my Young Adult novels (contemporary romances and dystopians) tend to have a grand mystery or crime at the center of them. In practice, I don’t choose the genre first. What happens is that the idea for a book comes to me, and only then do I pick the genre that would be the best vehicle to explore that idea and the themes that go with it.

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

Jo: The first books I remember reading — and they remained my favorites for years — were the Famous Five and Secret Seven mysteries by English writer Enid Blyton. Perhaps this is where my love for crime and mystery novels first started! I was fascinated by the mental puzzle of the mysteries and tried to work them out before the child sleuths could, and loved imagining myself solving some grand mysteries!

Kass: Where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little about your stories.

Jo: I have fifteen published books under my belt. Under my full name, Joanne Macgregor, I started with a series for younger YA readers – Turtle Walk, Rock Steady and Faultlines – which have an ecological theme and are set in South Africa.

I have two other books out for younger readers (Jemima Jones and the Great Bear Adventure, Jemima Jones and the Revolving Door of Doom), and half-a-dozen other YA books – three YA contemporary romances (Scarred, Hushed and The Law of Tall Girls) and a YA dystopian trilogy (Recoil, Refuse, Rebel).

And under my pen name for adults, Jo Macgregor, I have two books out – Dark Whispers and my most recent novel, The First Time I Died. I’ve also compiled the therapeutic stories and metaphors I use in my clinical practice into a self- help book called Self Help Stories, which is published under J. Macgregor.

Kass: I do hope there’s a sequel to The First Time I Died. I loved that book! Tell us — what’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Jo: In my dystopian YA series, The Recoil Trilogy, my protagonist is a (reluctant) sniper. I don’t like guns; I see too many victims and relatives of victims of gun violence in my therapy practice. So, I didn’t know much about them.

I had to read a lot, watch a bunch of YouTube videos and watch documentaries on snipers. (One of those documentaries had sparked the original idea for the books!) But I felt that I needed to do more hands-on research — literally.

I found an amazing weapons expert, ran scenes by him to check accuracy, and then went out on the shooting range to shot revolvers, pistols, bolt-action and automatic rifles, and even a monster gun called the elephant rifle, which nearly took my shoulder off with its powerful recoil action.

The shooting was enormous fun and it turned out I was pretty good at it. Although I still don’t like guns and don’t own any, I think getting out and actually doing the shooting was excellent for injecting some real and gritty details into the shooting scenes in the novels.

Kass: In your latest story, what was your favorite (or hardest to write) scene?

Jo: My favorites were the kisses (I love writing kissy scenes, lol) and writing the scenes where the protagonist experiences either flashbacks, hallucinations or psychic visions (it’s up to the reader to decide what they believe!)

The hardest to write was a sex scene which one of my beta readers felt was needed. Although I’ve written smoochy and schmexy scenes before, they usually either stop short of the full Monty or fade to black, so this was the first full sex scene I’d ever written. It made me hysterical with nerves, and I was sweating by the time I finished it. And after all that, I wound up not including it. Other beta-readers and my trusted editor said it wasn’t necessary and felt shoe-horned in, which was how I felt too, so I cut that sucker out!

Kass: Ah, now I want to read that scene!

But seriously, having read The First Time I Died, I can see how a sex scene would have felt forced. It is an excellent book, one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for joining us today, Jo Macgregor, for a great Crime Writers’ Interview!

Jo: Thank you for having me!

Kass: Folks, if you have comments or questions, please jump in below. But keep in mind that Jo is in a very different time zone from the North American continent, so there may be a bit of a delay before she responds.

The First Time I Died
When Garnet McGee returns to her small Vermont hometown for the holidays, she vows to solve the mystery of the murder which shattered her life ten years ago. But after dying in an accident and being brought back to life, she starts hearing voices, seeing visions and experiencing strange sensations. Are these merely symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and an over-active imagination, or is she getting messages from a paranormal presence?

Garnet has always prided herself on being logical and rational, but trying to catch a killer without embracing her shadow self is getting increasingly difficult. And dangerous, because in a town full of secrets, it seems like everybody has a motive for murder.
Fast-paced and riveting,

The First Time I Died is a suspenseful and haunting crime story with a supernatural twist.

Available Now on: AMAZON US  AMAZON UK  AMAZON CA  AMAZON AUS

Readers can connect with Jo Macgregor on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, PINTEREST, AND INSTAGRAM.

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.

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6 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

by Kassandra Lamb

Happy New Year image
(image by Nevit Dilmen CC-SA-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? (Or perhaps you call them goals.) Do you find they have flown out the window by the end of February, and then you feel like a failure?

The problem may be with how you are wording the resolutions/goals. Or perhaps they aren’t quite the right ones for you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that get at the most common reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail.

1.  Is the goal/resolution too abstract?

I will be the best person possible sounds good, but it is doomed for failure as soon as you make your first mistake of the new year. Instead, ask yourself what traits or behaviors you would like to improve and make the goal more concrete and specific.

I will strive not to interrupt people during conversations is much more doable.

2.  Is it too big?

Chunk it down into more manageable sub-goals. These can be celebrated as they are achieved, versus only looking at the big goal that feels so far away and difficult.

I will write and publish my first novel this year feels overwhelmingly hard. But if you chunk it down into:

  • I will finish the first draft by June.
  • I will strive to do two self-edits by September.
  • I will send it to a professional editor by October 1st.
  • I will investigate what is involved in getting my book published.
  •  I will set the publication process in motion by the end of the year.

3.  Is it something within your control?

When I was a novice psychotherapist, I foolishly thought that I could readily help people lose weight. I had studied hypnosis and figured it would be a great tool to get people to eat less and exercise more.

And the hypnotic suggestions usually did work, but I soon discovered that weight management was much more complicated than that. Even when people did everything they should do, they didn’t always lose weight. Sometimes there were physical issues—slow metabolism, medications, genetics, etc.—and sometimes there were psychological barriers. And sometimes it was a plain old mystery why the pounds weren’t coming off.

Note that I’m calling it “weight management,” not “weight control” as it is more often labeled. The reality is that we cannot directly control certain things, and our weight is one of them.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.

― Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher, circa 55-135 AD)

So look at your resolutions and ask yourself if the end goal is totally within your control.

I will research and establish healthier eating patterns and increase my activity level is more realistic than I will lose thirty pounds.

4.  Are you “shoulding” on yourself?

Is this a goal you really want or are you setting it because you believe it is something you should be doing?

Does I will find a better-paying job get shifted from one year’s resolution list to the next? Maybe you really like your job, but it just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Are there other alternatives, such as asking for a raise or looking for a second-income source?

Maybe, after asking these questions, you realize you really should pursue the goal, even though you don’t particularly want to, but being clearer about why you are doing it may help you get there.

So the resolution may become I will look hard at my finances and try to find a way to ease them, which may require changing jobs.

5.  Is your measurement criteria accurate? Or to putting it another way, are you judging success based on the right aspect of the goal?

I won’t get angry at my kids may not be all that realistic, since everyone gets angry and kids can be irritating at times. Maybe I will control my temper better and not yell at my kids when I’m angry is more doable.

One of the frustrations I encountered when working with clients on weight management issues was their obsession with the scale. The reality is that the number of pounds we weigh is not always the best measure of our health or even our appearance.

After a while, I started asking clients to put their scales up in their attics and use a measuring tape instead to keep track of how many inches they were losing as they lost fat and toned muscles (which get denser and heavier when they are toned). Going down three clothing sizes was a better indicator of success than how many pounds they had lost!

6.  Is your resolution related to a goal or dream that you have lost interest in or one that you don’t care enough about to put in the effort required?

This can be a very subtle reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes things we used to be gung-ho about aren’t so important anymore, and sometimes a goal turns out to be too damn difficult to be worth the bother.

It’s also sometimes hard to admit this to ourselves.

So ask this question, when you find yourself feeling lackluster about a resolution/goal: Are you giving up due to lack of confidence but you really do want it? (In which case, figure out what you need to improve your skills and confidence and push yourself to get there.)

OR are you not willing to make it happen because it’s just not important enough anymore?

There’s no shame in this. And it doesn’t mean the goal was stupid to begin with—things change over time, including our enthusiasm and willingness to commit resources to something. And it may be a goal that becomes important again down the road, when the resources are more readily available. 

My first novel, 17 years in the making.

I started writing my first novel fifteen years before it was finished and seventeen years before it was published. For the first five of those years, I will finish my novel was on my New Year’s resolution list.

And every year, I would fool around with it some—change the opening, add a scene or two—but then I would get discouraged and put it away again.

I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get it published once it was written. This was back in the days when traditional publishing was the only viable alternative.

I knew getting a publisher would be difficult, involving many factors I couldn’t control, and I HATE not being in control of my own destiny.

At that point, I stopped putting it on my resolutions list and told myself I would pursue my writing dream once I was retired and had more time and energy. The story languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten, for years.

But after I retired, I decided to finish writing it, even if it never got published. In retirement, I could justify “wasting time” on something that might never pay off. I sat down and finished the first draft in six weeks. 🙂

Hopefully these tips will help you modify your resolutions/goals this year, so that they are less likely to end up on the trash heap. Can you think of other reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail?

Fireworks!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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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Merry Christmas from misterio press!!

Our blog is on hiatus until January 8, 2019, but here’s some holiday music to enjoy. Have an excellent holiday, everyone!!

And not exactly holiday music, but I love Pentatonix’s rendition of this…

See you all in 2019!!!

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.