Monthly Archives: April 2019

“Off” Week Goodies for You

A couple little goodies for you today—two posts aimed at writers, but they have a lot of good stuff in them for everyone. One is by me and the other is by a writing coach and teacher, Lisa Hall-Wilson.

Her excellent discussion on shame, what it is and how to write about it, is on the blog, Writers in the Storm. Check it out: The 3-Act Emotional Arc for Showing Shame in Fiction.

The other post, by me, is about using writing to heal emotional wounds. One doesn’t have to be a fiction writer to do this. Blogging, journaling, writing bad poetry, etc. can be useful in facilitating the healing process.

Here’s the beginning of that post, and the link to read more if you like:

Writing To Heal

Writing to heal was what got me truly started as a fiction author.

Oh, I’ve always loved to write. I’d written quite a few stories through the years, plus some bad poetry, and I’d started more than one novel. But the inspiration for the first one that I actually finished, the one that would eventually become Book 1 in my first mystery series, occurred when a friendship ended abruptly.

The friend was a male lawyer with whom I’d shared a few cases—situations where one of my psychotherapy clients was dealing with some legal mess, such as a divorce. And over time, he and I had become friends.

And then we weren’t, and I realized I had seriously misjudged his level of mental health. After the friendship imploded, I thought, “Darn it! If I can’t have a healthy platonic friendship in real life, I’m going to create one.”

So I started writing the story, Multiple Motives, in which a female psychotherapist and a male lawyer are good friends, and someone has a murderous grudge against both of them. (That last part didn’t happen in real life. 🙂 ) Another thing that didn’t happen in real life, but does in the book, is that the bad things that occur in the characters’ lives make their friendship stronger, rather than destroying it.

Writing that novel helped me heal from the painful ending of that friendship. It fulfilled several of the purposes of writing to heal:

● Clarifying and venting feelings.
● Telling one’s story – being heard.
● Creating a different outcome.
● Finding meaning in the pain.
● Paying it forward – helping others struggling with similar issues and inspiring hope.

Clarifying and Venting Emotions—Why Is That Important?

In Multiple Motives, my character Kate realizes just how important her friend is to her, and then when he is in danger, she realizes what a black hole his loss would create in her life. As I was writing this story, as she was feeling those intense ups and downs, I was right there with her. It was quite cathartic.

But why is it that we feel better when we vent a negative feeling? READ MORE over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University.

And a slight adjustment in the blogging schedule. K.B. Owen will be posting next week as she releases her newest Concordia Wells historical cozy. I’ve read it and it is great!

And then I’ll be back on the 14th with Part II of my When Anxiety Is a Bad Thing series, talking about what can be done about anxiety disorders. (And I may have a new release to announce by then as well.)

So stay tuned, folks!

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 Bad Thing, Part I

by Kassandra Lamb

Last month, I posted about how a controllable amount of anxiety can be a good thing when performing. It can keep us on our toes and animate our performance. But what happens when it’s not controllable? Then, anxiety is a bad thing.

when anixety is a bad thing
Street art on the island of Uto, Finland (Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash)

Basically, this happens when our survival mechanisms go awry. One of these survival mechanism is our fight or flight response.

When we perceive a threat in our environment, our brains and bodies take over. We automatically experience a long list of reactions intended to prepare us to run away from that threat or stand and fight it off—our hearts race to pump blood to our muscles faster, our breathing becomes more rapid to suck in more oxygen, our muscles tense, our pupils dilate to see better, etc.

But what if something biological, a malfunction in our bodies or brains, triggers our fight or flight response, rather than a true threat from the environment?

Biologically Triggered Panic

You’re going about your business, perfectly calm and safe, and suddenly your heart starts thundering in your chest and you’re breathing fast and furious.

You look around, your eyes wide with fright, desperately trying to find the threat. But there is none. Yet, your mind knows that if the fight or flight response has been triggered there must be some threat out there. Right?

This is what people with certain anxiety disorders suffer through on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day.

And they cannot control it!

During a panic attack, their bodies are freaking out on them, without their mental permission. And the sense of impending doom, that is associated with that physiological freaking out, can be quite overwhelming.

Which brings us to the other survival mechanism that can go awry.

Learned Associations

One of the other ways that our brains keep us alive is by making a myriad of associations between certain situations and our emotions. This thing made us feel good in the past (like eating tasty food), so do more of it. That thing was scary and/or hurt us in the past, so avoid it.

We smell food cooking and our stomachs automatically growl, because we’ve learned to associate that smell with something good to eat. We see a snake on the path in front of us in the woods, and we jump back and our hearts start racing. We were not born with the knowledge that cooking smells mean food or that a snake is potentially harmful, and yet these reactions are automatic.

That’s because these are conditioned associations, a different kind of learning than when we intellectually process something and commit it to memory. At some point in the past, we felt the emotion (fear) while in the presence of something (a snake, or an image of a snake on TV, doing something scary) and our minds linked the two together. So now the snake is a “conditioned stimulus” for the “conditioned response” of fear.

For most of us, the fear response can be controlled, once we have assessed the situation. From a safe distance, we take a harder look at the snake and realize it’s just a harmless black snake. So we get a stick, shoo it out of our path and go on about our business.

Cerebellum Images are generated by Life Science Databases (LSDB) ~ CC BY-SA 2.1 jp Wikimedia Commons

But sometimes, these conditioned associations reach phobic levels. As a child, you’re chased and bitten by a dog, and now you are terrified of all dogs.

So why can’t we control that phobic fear?

Because conditioned associations are stored in a different part of our brain (the cerebellum) from where our thinking occurs (the cerebral cortex).

(In the swirling image to the left, the cerebellum is highlighted in red, while the cerebral cortex is the tan part.)

So you see a dog, even a small harmless-looking one, and you are running away, even as your logical brain is saying, “This is stupid, That dog isn’t going to hurt me.”

When These Two Mechanisms Interact

People with biologically-based anxiety disorders (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.) often get a double whammy from these mechanisms. Their fear response is being triggered when nothing scary is happening, but the mind still associates the fear with whatever is going on at the moment.

So the person can develop a phobic-type response to a variety of stimuli. They have a panic attack while at the grocery store, so they can’t grocery shop anymore without freaking out. Then they have one while at the post office and they can’t go there anymore. Then while driving, so they can’t drive anymore. Then while getting their mail at the end of their driveway…

In its worst form, this can become agoraphobia, in which the person is afraid to leave their home.

And none of this is under their conscious control!

What Can Be Done?

For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, the answer to this question is a long one. I’m going to do a separate post on that on May 14th. So please stay tuned.

For those of us who care about someone with an anxiety disorder, we need to be patient and understanding. Chastising the person for letting anxiety control their lives is not helpful.

They are most likely already beating themselves up, on a daily basis.

My mother-in-law had generalized anxiety disorder. The best definition of this disorder is being a worry-wart on steroids. People with GAD worry about everything all the time, and they cannot control this! GAD is partly biologically based, and partly a learned pattern of coping that becomes ingrained early in life.

When anixety is a bad thing, it can be overwhelming.
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

When my MIL was in her seventies, her eye doctor told her she had cataracts and she needed surgery or she would go blind.

She would not do it. After a while, she wouldn’t even talk about it anymore.

I got it, and tried to explain it to my husband and family members. Any surgery, but especially eye surgery, is scary for all of us. But most of us can manage the fear. Not, however, if you have severe GAD as she did.

When she considered such surgery, the anxiety was overwhelming. And the more the family tried to get her to “see reason,” the more anxious she became, until even thinking or talking about it became overwhelming.

Finally everyone gave up, and she lived out the rest of her years slowly going blind, but with her daily anxiety much more manageable.

I’m not saying that I thought her choice was correct, but I understood where she was coming from, in light of the disorder she had.

When we keep pushing someone with an anxiety disorder to do something they feel they can’t do because of the anxiety, we are only driving a wedge between ourselves and them, and pushing them farther into the unnecessary and unhelpful shame they are probably already feeling about their disorder.

Then, anxiety is a bad thing indeed!

It is more helpful to say something like, “I understand. The anxiety is too much. Let’s see if you and I can figure out a way around it.”

Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll talk some more about those work-arounds and other ways to reduce the anxiety and/or cope with it.

In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions. Have you or a loved one had to struggle with an anxiety disorder?

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 You Adopt A Puppy Mill Survivor: An “Off” Week Tidbit

When you adopt a puppy mill survivor, there are greater challenges than when taking on other rescue dogs (which can be challenging enough).

I hope to do an expanded post on the topic of adopting rescue dogs on my own website soon. But in the meantime, here’s an “off” week tidbit for you, a great post by Your Dog Advisor with some tips for dealing with a puppy-mill survivor adoptee.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries.

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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Highlight Reel from Left Coast Crime 2019

by Vinnie Hansen

When my husband contemplated coming with me to Left Coast Crime 2019 in Vancouver, I said, “It’ll be rainy and cold. It won’t be much fun taking in the sights in March.”

Burrard Station, near the Hyatt

 

I was wrong. So wrong.

Vancouver was the first highlight of the conference—sunny, abloom, and full of wonder.      

Seaplanes in Coal Harbor, a few blocks from the conference hotel.

A steam-powered clock in the Gastown part of Vancouver–perfect detail for steampunk fans.

The icebreaker at Left Coast Crime 2019

A generous and clever ice-breaker.

WEDNESDAY HIGHLIGHT:

On Wednesday evening, I participated in Hijinx and Hot Chocolate, pitched by Becky Clark and  Libby Klein as a way to start the convention with 10 new friends.

Becky and Libby guided participants to a nearby chocolate shop and treated us to hot chocolate, before we settled back at the hotel for word games.

Chocolate and word games—my idea of heaven.

THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

I enjoy contributing to LCC by volunteering at the registration desk. That’s where I spent Thursday morning, meeting even more new people. Because, hey, this convention is all about networking.

Fault Lines cover

This gorgeous new anthology contains my story “The Last Word.”

Thursday evening at Left Coast Crime 2019, I could have ended up drunk as a skunk! The NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime launched its new anthology, Fault Lines, with a party—and a free drink for authors and participants.

Then Mystery Writers of America had a gathering, also offering a free drink to members, and finally, I wanted to check out Noir at the Bar (to see how it was organized, mind you).

FRIDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

The Lefty Best Novel Nominees panel. I’d read, and loved, all the authors on the panel except Matt Coyle. As it turned out, I was seated at his table for the Saturday banquet. Now I’m reading and enjoying his book Night Tremors.

The other nominees included Terry Shames, Lori Rader-Day, James W. Ziskin, and my absolute favorite, Lou Berney (who went on to win the award).

The Sex Panel at Left Coast Crime 2019

Holly West and Rhys Bowen watch Lou Berney squirm and blush as he reads aloud an R-rated sex scene.

The Sex Panel. This is always a favorite, featuring some truly horrendous and hilarious sex scenes (not for the modest).

SATURDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

While the Liars Panel was fun, the tribute to Sue Grafton was more meaningful and moving.

Sue Grafton had been asked a couple of years ago to receive her Lifetime Achievement Award at this conference. As you may know, she sadly didn’t make it. Her daughter was in attendance to accept the award.

Sue Grafton was my role model as I embarked upon writing mysteries. I’d been reading in the genre from a young age, but when, as an adult, I came across an American female writer writing about a tough (and tender) female P.I., I thought I’d stumbled upon nirvana.

I particularly loved this frame from the slide show. It reminds us all to persevere and not to place too much stock in reviews.

Tribute to Sue Grafton at Left Coast Crime 2019

Click on the photo to enlarge.

I’d be remiss not to mention the Left Coast Crime 2019 Banquet in my Saturday highlights. The food was good and my table hosts, authors Matt Coyle and Baron R. Birtcher, couldn’t have been more gracious! Matt Coyle will be the Toastmaster for LCC in San Diego, 2020.

SUNDAY HIGHLIGHT:

That would be my own panel, of course, Setting as Character.

Setting As Character Panel at Left Coast Crime 2019

As a stream of people roll their luggage toward the exit, it’s always a little worrying who is going to show up for a nine a.m. panel on a Sunday morning. To top off the anxiety, at the last minute, one of our panelists could not make it to the conference, because her passport was lost!

But Elena Hartwell, John Billheimer, and I drew in a full room of friendly faces and we had a lively discussion, led by moderator Bryan Robinson.

All of this, plus five cohorts from Santa Cruz Women of Mystery attended this year and last, definitely adding to the fun.

Santa Cruz participants at LLC 2019

Santa Cruz Women of Mystery (left to right): Leslie Karst (nominated for Best Humorous Mystery), Mary Feliz, Katherine Bolger Hyde, Peggy Townsend, and me, Vinnie Hansen.

At the end of Left Coast Crime 2019, I was completely drained. I had not been planning to attend LCC 2020 in San Diego, but now—knowing that Matt Coyle will be toastmaster and wanting to see all these great people again….

How about you? Have you ever had occasion to attend a conference? Do you enjoy them or just find them draining? Who’s your favorite mystery writer?

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation. Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching English, Vinnie is retired. In addition to writing, she plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

She’s the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams, plus her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies.

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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Whale of a Crime in Vancouver, BC—An “Off” Week Teaser

by Vinnie Hansen

(Note: We’re doing two “off” weeks in a row, so Vinnie can catch her breath from her travels. She’ll have a longer post for us next week, but here’s  a teaser.)

Who knew that I needed to come to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, BC to escape the California rain! Vancouver is sunny and abloom.

Only a few blocks from the conference hotel. Pedestrian and bike paths start here and continue for miles.

I’ve spent the last several days here at the LCC Convention, hobnobbing with famous mystery authors, including my current favorite–Lou Berney.

With Lou Berney–sorry we didn’t get November Road more into the frame.

Lou Berney took home the Lefty this year for Best Mystery Novel. If you haven’t read his book, November Road, I highly recommend it.

And, *drumroll please,* the editor of FAULT LINES brought a few copies of the anthology to the convention.

FAULT LINES, the first-ever anthology from the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime, is so hot off the press, it won’t launch officially until April 6th at Books Inc. in Alameda, California.

We had a party and lured in readers with free drinks. The authors and others in attendance were able to get their first ganders at the product. It’s gorgeous and I’m thrilled to have my story “Last Word” in the collection.

This is just a teaser. Please tune in, same time, same station next week for a full report on Left Coast Crime 2019.

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

She’s now the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Her short fiction has appeared in Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Santa Cruz Noir, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, and Mysterical-E. 

Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

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.