May Is National Pet Month: Do Your Pets Keep You Sane?

(Note: Our Bag of Books contest winners are listed below!)

We’ve been planning this group post for a while, to celebrate that May is National Pet Month. But with the pandemic and lockdown, the fun and companionship our pets bring us have taken on a new level of importance. They are helping to keep us sane.

Being a writer is a lonely occupation. We spend most days at our computers by ourselves (if you don’t count the people in our heads), so our pets are pretty crucial to our well-being. And they also sometimes make their way into our stories. Here’s how our pets, real and imaginary, affect us and our characters…

Gilian Baker:

May is National Pet Month: Gilian's Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre in the towel drawer.

Isn’t it remarkable how animals appear to know exactly what we need? During the current stay-at-home order, my grand-kitten, Jane Eyre, has been a God-send! Usually, she’s full of orneriness, but she seems to sense that we need more snuggles and fewer shenanigans than usual. There have been fewer episodes of showing off during Zoom meetings and laying on my keyboard, and more dragging of toys to us for playtime.

Never before a lap cat, Jane has now taken to jumping up on the bed at night and sharing my pillow. Gratitude is a powerful way to stay grounded during these uncertain times, and this little ball of fur is always at the top of my list.

Murder Over Medium cover

I’m also grateful for the character cats who have shown up in my imagination. Tommy and Tuppence are more than just the names of Agatha Christie’s dynamic duo. They also happen to be the names of my protagonist Jade Blackwell’s cats. Although they haven’t helped her solve a crime yet, they are splendid sounding-boards and cuddle-bugs when Jade needs them. They have a rough time when Jade’s former colleague, Gwendolyn Hexby, visits with her demonic Siamese in Murder Over Medium. Talk about fur flying—and that doesn’t even count the murder that ensues!

In Book 1 of my new upcoming series, Shadows of Doubt, the protagonist, Willow Hibbens, is adopted by a kitten who becomes her familiar and constant companion. The cats in my books are modeled after my own. Willow’s cat, Mystic, was inspired by Jane Eyre—both are Mackerel Tabbies, prone to extreme curiosity and kittenish ways even in adulthood.

May is National Pet Month: Gilian's Tabitha and Serenity
Tabatha and Serenity

Tommy and Tuppence were created in the image of Tabatha and Serenity as a way to pay homage to all the joy they brought me.

Cats have always been my preferred pet. I have a dog phobia, and I’ve never understood the appeal of having a pet bird (Jade agrees with me on this after having an obnoxious parrot dumped on her in Libel to Kill). But cats…they are the superior pet, just ask them.

Shannon Esposito

I’ve always loved dogs and can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a dog. Wait, yes I can. There was the time when I was seven and I had an invisible dog that I walked and fed to show my parents how responsible I’d be.

Karma's a Bitch book cover

(After that we always had a dog, so I guess it worked!)

When I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery, I knew it should be about dogs somehow. I’d always wanted a mastiff, so Karma the mastiff and the Pet Psychic Mysteries were born.

In real life, I now have two mastiffs. One is our old gal, Abbey, who’s ten and probably has some boxer or pittie in her. The other one is Enzo, our five-month-old, 90-pound ball of smooshie love.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without them during these strange shelter-at-home times.

May is National Pet Month: Shannon's Abbey and Enzo
Abbey and Enzo

I probably talk to them more than my busy family. They lay on my feet as I write, bring laughter in the house with their wrestling antics and force me to take walks even when I’m feeling down.

Nothing like dog kisses to keep you grounded and remind you what’s important in life.

Vinnie Hansen

May is National Pet Month: Vinnie's Lola

Meet Lola—the smartest, most expressive cat that ever lived—fished from a flea-market free box by my former husband.

Lola kept me company through two marriages, three houses, and nineteen years of my teaching career. She was a great mouser, a lover of chips and cantaloupe, and so smart she learned how to open the cupboard door where her food was stored. If she’d only been able to figure out how to pour it!

Murder, Honey book cover

She was my favorite pet of all time, and it broke my heart to put her down after her long struggle with kidney failure. She was blind and weighed six pounds by then, but still purred on my lap.

This wonderful, entertaining creature lives on in my Carol Sabala mystery series. Every thing in the series is invented, except Lola.

She’s the real deal.

Kirsten Weiss

Steeped in Murder book cover

Pets are an important element within the cozy mystery genre, though I confess I was surprised when my agent told me I had to give a cat in one of my books a character arc. Animals definitely have characters, but character arcs?

Anyway, I went all out in my Tea and Tarot mysteries, with a haughty cat AND a duck as pets. (After some initial suspicion, they get along famously.)

Lenore in my Witches of Doyle cozy mysteries has a ghost cat. Her sister Jayce’s real cat, Picatrix, is not happy about this.

May is National Pet Month: Planet of the Grapes book cover with Bailey

Their neighbor, Susan, from my Wits’ End cozy mysteries has a beagle.

Bailey occasionally gets involved in solving crimes, but mostly he just begs for breakfast food from his owner, a B&B proprietress.

Riga Hayworth, my metaphysical detective, thinks she’s too busy managing her gargoyle, Brigitte, for a pet. But dogs keep finding their way to her.

It was inevitable that she ended up adopting one…

K.B. Owen

May is National Pet Month: Kathy's Tora
A collage of Kathy’s Tora

Consider, if you will, the female mystery author at work, plotting murder and mayhem. Perhaps she’d be typing away in her home office (for me, the dining room), a cup of tea at her elbow, a sleeping cat (or cats) on a nearby window sill.

Here at Casa Owen, it’s not always quite so peaceful. My kitty muse, Tora, likes to get close as I write–lap, shoulder, tabletop, keyboard, doesn’t matter.

I find myself blowing fur off my laptop a couple of times a day. And that cup of tea?–well, she likes to stick her face in the mug.

Beloved and Unseemly book cover

I talk to her, bounce off ideas, muse aloud. She doesn’t give much feedback (unless it’s meal time). But she’s great company, especially in what can be a very solitary profession.

My protagonist, a late 19th century female college professor, is not allowed to have pets in her role as chaperone of a house full of unruly young lady students. She doesn’t acquire any animals until her marriage in Book 5 of the Concordia Wells series, when she inherits several (plus a corpse) along with the old farmhouse she and her new husband purchase.

Likewise, I didn’t start my author journey with a cat—we adopted Tora in late 2014—but I’m sure glad she’s sharing it with me now!

Kassandra Lamb

I’ve always been a dog person. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats well enough, but they aren’t essential to my life.

May is National Pet Month: Kass's Watson and Amelia

I have to have a dog! (My husband has tried to challenge this reality a few times. I advised him not to make me choose. 😉 )

My current tan and white pooch is Dr. Watson (to my Sherlock, get it?). He sits behind my desk chair most of the day, oh so helpfully positioning himself so that I can’t help but trip over him when I get up. He also makes me laugh at his antics on a regular basis.

Watson hasn’t made it into my stories yet, but a couple of my previous dogs have.

To Kill A Labrador cover

Buddy, the Black Labrador-Rotweiler mix who is the co-star of my Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy series, is modeled after our dog, Pepper, of the same genetic heritage. She was an incredibly smart dog. I trained her to follow voice commands so she could go trail-riding with me in the local park. (You can’t exactly use a leash from the back of a horse. That would get messy fast.)

Lacy in Book 2 of the series is modeled after our next dog, Amelia, the sweetest one I have ever owned. She was an Alaskan Husky-German Shepherd mix (with maybe a little Chow thrown in) and she was also gorgeous. She’s in the collage above.

Like I said, I can’t imagine not having a dog in my life, and Watson has definitely grounded me and helped keep me sane during these recent trying weeks.

How about you? What pets do you have and how do they improve your mental health?

Happy National Pet Month!!

And our contest winners are (We’ve been in touch with all of them re: how to claim their prizes):

Grand Prize: Betty R.

ebook winners: Stephanie, Jennifer R., Crystal S. and Vicki J.

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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A Crime Writers Interview: Donnell Ann Bell

(Announcement to those who entered our Bag of Books Contest: Winners have been randomly selected and contacted; we will announce the winners on the blog as soon as we’ve heard back from them. — Check your spam folders, just in case.)

For authors who had book releases scheduled during this period of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, it has been challenging, since their in-person book launch events and signings have all been cancelled. So we’ve reached out to a few of them to offer online interviews. For you all, our readers, we wanted to help you find some new authors…just in case your to-be-read list is getting low. 🙂

We are pleased to introduce you to Donnell Ann Bell.

Donnell has written several bestselling romantic suspense novels and is now introducing the first installment of her new police procedural series, Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense (Kass’s review below).

Here is Donnell’s bio:

Crime Writers Interview: Donnell Bell

Award-winning author Donnell Ann Bell knows statistically that crime and accidents happen within a two-mile radius of home. With that in mind, she leaves the international capers to others, and concentrates on stories that might happen in her neck of the woods.

Writing around the theme of “suspense too close to home,” Donnell’s single-title novels—The Past Came Hunting, Deadly Recall, Betrayed and Buried Agendas—have all been Amazon bestsellers. Before turning to fiction, she was an editor for the Colorado Springs Business Journal and Pikes Peak Parent Newsmagazine.

Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense, is a 2020 Colorado Book Award finalist for best Thriller. To learn more about Donnell, check out her website.

Kass Lamb (on behalf of the whole misterio gang): We always like to 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?

Donnell Ann Bell: I am literally and figuratively a small-town girl. What is interesting about putting myself in that mindset, is that I thought Farmington, New Mexico was huge while growing up there, and I still consider it home. My parents abandoned me (well, not really; I was in college) and moved to Denver. There, I got a glimpse of what “big” is. Still, it’s all relative, isn’t it? I’ve heard people in New York and Boston refer to Denver as a Cowtown. Funny, I’ve always thought that title went to Fort Worth.

Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you, rather than say romance or science fiction?

Donnell: What a great question, and one I ask myself regularly when I become embroiled in what-if scenarios and research. I love intricate puzzles. I love pitting a worthy antagonist up against a worthy protagonist, and I love writing about justice in a world that doesn’t always play fair.

My first four books are romantic suspense, and I love romantic suspense, but I’ve never been able to write a straight romance. In defense of romance, it’s a hard genre. Keeping a conflict going without making it seem cliché or a huge misunderstanding is a testament to the many bestselling authors who make up that genre.

Kass: I absolutely agree. I have written some romantic suspense as well and the romance part is much tougher for me to write than the mystery. What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write?

Donnell: I write a cross between romantic suspense, suspense, police procedural mystery and thriller. My readers have never quite put me in a box, thank goodness.

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

Donnell: Oooh, hard question. Three books come to mind. The Velveteen Rabbit, Charlotte’s Web,  Lord of the Flies, any Nancy Drew or Hardy book mystery. Okay, that’s more than three. 🙂 I loved emotional reads and books that made me look outward.

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

Donnell: I have numerous books in a “drawer.” But five published books and I’m working on number six. I’ve been writing for years, but in between writing, I’ve volunteered and coordinated contests, which was a win/win for me because I saw firsthand the amount of talent that never reaches the bookstore or the Internet.

I write around the theme Too Close to Home. Tying in with my small-town mentality, I guess, I like to write about places I’ve been to and leave the international exploits to people such as Daniel Silva, who is my favorite author.

Kass: What do you find to be the most fun and/or the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching?

Donnell: Thought-provoking questions. Research is the most challenging, I think. I can create a plot, and have an idea about the characters, but I have to know that the plot can work first. So, I spend weeks and months researching. I received a huge compliment from retired profiler and FBI agent Peter M. Klismet, who has read my books and said when it comes to research, I’m tenacious. He knows; I have him on speed dial. 😉

Kass: What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Crime Writers Interview:  Donnell Bell
The road to Montrose, Colorado, where much of Black Pearl is set.

Donnell: Well, I’ve researched some fairly odd topics. I’ll tell you about one book that never quite made it out of my drawer. I was researching cyanide and arsenic and wanted to do something different when framing my protagonist. She had a peach orchard behind her property and was a woodworking expert. I decided to have cyanide found on her wood press.

I interviewed mining engineers in Cripple Creek, my longtime pharmacist, and finally went to the El Paso County (Colorado Springs) Sheriff’s office. I sat down with a lieutenant and sergeant who kind of gave me this squinty-eyed look. Finally, the lieutenant said, “Where does your story take place?”

“El Paso, Texas,” I replied.

At that he frowned and said, “Why don’t you just go across the border and get some?”  He pointed out that criminals are not very smart and are not very complicated.  

That lieutenant, by the way, became my impetus for another character for my debut novel, The Past Came Hunting, so I consider that one of the most fortuitous meetings of my career.

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

Donnell: The ending. As I said I wrote romantic suspense for my first four books. In romance, you always have a happily-ever-after ending. But now I’m writing a series. I did tie up all the loose threads and made my ending downright cheery, but I also needed something to encourage the reader to read Book 2.

Debra Dixon is my publisher and editor, and she had me read a novel that I considered Noir—every character was SO damaged, and I didn’t care for it very much (although the plot was spellbinding). But it was the best teaching moment ever, because I saw how the author set up her book for book two. You cannot go wrong with reading outside your comfort zone.

Kass: In your latest story, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?

Donnell: Again, the ending. Also, I layered a bit more. My story revolves around Tahitian pearls, and I added more depth to the story surrounding them.

Kass: And last of all, what question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they usually don’t? What is your answer to that question?

Donnell: What would you do if you had all the money in the world?

First, I’d make sure children never went to school hungry, and I’d give all the teachers, who make sure they don’t, unlimited access to funds and a huge pay raise besides for all their selflessness. I’d also give money to cancer research, Alzheimers, ALS and all the devastating diseases that take loved ones away from us before their time.

After that, I’d keep on writing.

Kass: Oh please, please do keep writing. I love your books. I’ve read The Past Came Hunting and Black Pearl, and am very much looking forward to Book 2 of your Cold Case series.

Crime Writers Interview: Donnell Bell -- Black Pearl book cover

A cold case heats up when a 9-1-1 call puts police at a Denver murder scene, pointing investigators to the abduction of a Colorado teenager fourteen years earlier. A calling card—a single black pearl—is found on the newest victim. Is the murder a copycat? Or has a twisted serial killer, thought dead or in prison, returned to strike again?

Soon, the hunt for a multi-state killer is on and brings together an unexpected team: a Denver Major Crimes police lieutenant; an FBI special agent who investigated the previous murders; a rookie FBI agent with a specialty in psychology; and the only living victim of the Black Pearl Killer, who is now a cop.

Go to https://donnellannbell.com/books for more info and buy links.

Here is Kass’s review:

In this well-paced police procedural, the author brings together a somewhat unlikely task force to look into the fourteen-year-old cold case of an abducted and murdered teenager.

A hardened Denver police detective investigates a fresh case that might be related, while the FBI agent who worked the original case goes to Montrose, Colorado, where the earlier abduction occurred. With him is the girl’s best friend who got away from the abductor, only now she is grown and a seasoned police officer.

Not only is the case fascinating, but the characters are three-dimensional and carefully crafted. I can’t wait to read their next adventure. I give Black Pearl five fingerprints!

You can reach Donnell at:

Website:  www.donnellannbell.com ~~ Facebook:  https://bit.ly/3552VOV ~~ Instagram:  www.instagram.com/donnellannbellauthor/ ~~ Twitter:  @donnellannbell

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Crime Writers Interview with Donnell Bell. Any questions for her? And how about you, readers … have you tried any new authors lately that you really liked?

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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MacGyver® Recipes for a Pandemic

We usually post every other week, but during these challenging times, we’re trying to come up with something helpful, supportive or entertaining each week. This week, we thought we’d lighten things up with a few MacGyver® recipes for surviving a pandemic.

What are MacGyver® recipes, you ask. One of our authors coined the phrase for a recipe that you cobble together from whatever ingredients you happen to have lying around.

So here are three main dishes (or one could be a side dish) that allow lots of flexibility, depending on what you have on hand.

First up, Kathy Owen (the author who coined the phrase)…

Here’s my mother’s Tuna/Spaghetti Casserole, which I’ve renamed the “Meat/Pasta/Cream-of-Whatever” Casserole:

Kathy’s mother’s original handwritten recipe.

Serves 4+

Ingredients:
14 oz tuna (2 cans, or you can substitute canned/cooked chicken/turkey)
8 oz pasta (any kind), cooked and drained
1 can cream of mushroom CONDENSED soup (you can substitute cream of asparagus/ celery/chicken/what-have-you)
8 oz milk
Topping (optional): breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350, grease casserole dish or spray with non-stick spray.

In a separate bowl, mix all of the above ingredients and transfer to baking dish, spreading evenly.

Sprinkle bread crumbs on top, if available and desired (I like to mix in some grated parmesan with the bread crumbs).

Bake uncovered for 25 minutes, or until edges are bubbly.

Enjoy!

Kirsten Weiss brings us a cheesy vegetarian dish that could be an entree or a side dish:
MacGyver recipes for a pandemic
photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash.com — cropped

It’s super simple and you can sub other kinds of cheeses.

1 cup blue cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo

Melt in pot on stovetop. Dump on any cooked pasta.

You can also add cooked vegetables.

And Gilian Baker has another, rather different tuna recipe for us:

Most of us are needing to get a little creative in the kitchen right now. But no matter. We can take on that challenge. If you are like my family, you always have these three things in your fridge and pantry.

Stir them together, bake for 10 minutes, and you have a delicious, nutritious snack or main dish! It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1 can tuna (or as many as you have or want)
Ranch dressing
Shredded cheddar cheese

MacGyver Recipes for a pandemic
Not Gilian’s grand-kitty but this photo was too cute to resist. (photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash.com)

First, squeeze all the liquid from the tuna and feed the liquid to your cats. (Jane Eyre, my grand-kitten requested I include that important part.)

Mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding as much dressing and cheese as you want. Roll into small balls about the size of a nickel and place them on a lightly greased pan or on parchment paper (if you still have any left) and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cheese is melty and helps hold the balls together.

If you don’t happen to have these three ingredients, you can experiment with other cheeses, flavorings or cooked meats.

If you want to take it further, you can dip the balls in egg and roll them in panko, crushed corn flakes, or bread crumbs. Enjoy!

And from Kass Lamb, here’s an easy to make-and-bake bread to go with any of the above:

My husband and I love bread. Keeping enough on hand, with the shortages in stores, has been a challenge. So I was delighted when I stumbled on a recipe for flatbread online. No extensive kneading involved, no waiting for it to rise. Just mix the ingredients and fry it up.

But being the creative sort that I am, I couldn’t leave the recipe alone. I had to play with it—try it with whole wheat (yummy), with Italian seasonings (even yummier), etc.

MacGyver recipes for a pandemic
I took a photo of mine, but it was a lot less round and a lot more scorched than this one, so using this photo (by Anshu A Kus on Unsplash.com)

Makes 6

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour (or whole wheat flour* or probably any other kind of flour would work)
3/4 cup of lukewarm water*
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil (or canola oil or vegetable oil, etc.)
Additional oil for frying

Directions:
Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Slowly add about ½ cup of water, stirring to dampen the dry ingredients. Add 2 tsp. oil and mix that in, then add more water until all dry ingredients are mixed into a doughy ball.

Beware of using too much water which leaves the dough sticky. (*Whole wheat flour will require more water.)

Dump out on a floured surface and dip your clean hands into flour. Knead dough for few minutes, working a bit more flour into it until it is easy to pick up and handle. Place in greased bowl covered by a cloth or paper towel. Let rest for 30-60 minutes.

On a floured surface, divide into 6 pieces and flatten each out with fingers (or roll out with rolling pin to tortilla thickness).

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet or griddle, stopping short of smoky hot.

Cook until golden brown spots appear on one side (this happens pretty fast so keep a close eye on it). While first side is cooking, dribble a small amount of oil on the top side. Optionally, you can sprinkle on seasoning (garlic powder, herbs, parmesan cheese, etc.) as well, before flipping it over to cook briefly on the other side.

These can be made ahead and kept under a flour sack towel or paper towel for a few hours. Can also be stored in the refrigerator in a zipper plastic bag (up to 2 days, although they never last more than a day around my house) or frozen for later use.

Makes a great breakfast, lunch or snack, warmed up with a slice of cheese gently melted on top.

How about you all? Have you had to MacGyver together some recipes during the last few weeks?

Five days left to enter our fight-the-boredom CONTEST. Grand Prize is a Bag of Free Paperback Books! Plus 4 other winners get free ebooks.

Click HERE to check it out. Winner will be announced next Tuesday.

MacGyver recipes and contest

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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Random Moments That Change Our Lives (And a Contest!)

by Kassandra Lamb

Another author’s recent post, about how a random conversation changed her career dramatically, got me thinking of a few such random moments that have affected my life.

In a minute, I’ll tell you about my biggest random, life-changing moment, but first…

There is nothing more random than a pandemic.

What we are going through right now as a country and throughout the world is almost beyond comprehension. And it is likely to change our lives in certain ways, for better or worse, forever.

It would probably be worthwhile to give some thought to how each of us wants our lives to change, so that we can take control of that process as much as possible. More on this in a bit. Now back to my story.

The random moment that changed my life.

random moments that change our lives -- the glass ceilng
Even a lovely glass ceiling will still give you a headache 🙂

In my late twenties, I was trying to get ahead in the business world (we’re talking early 1980s) and banging my head rather regularly on the glass ceiling. I had a toddler, and I was very tired of working 40 hours a week, plus 10 hours of commute time, to make peanuts.

If I was going to be away from my son for that many hours, I wanted to be doing something more meaningful and more lucrative. But I had no idea what.

Around that time, my husband went to a hypnotherapist to quit smoking. He was worried about the secondhand smoke in the house. He was so successful that I went too. We both stopped smoking, which was the planned outcome.

But there was another unexpected outcome as well. I was fascinated by the hypnosis. I had a bachelors degree in psychology, and as I sat in the comfy chair in the hypnotherapist’s office and listened to his droning voice, a little part of my brain was thinking, “I could do this.”

So I enrolled in graduate school to get the required credentials, studied hypnosis on the side (there were no college classes on it; still aren’t at most schools), and investigated what I needed to do to set up a private practice as a hypnotherapist.

Two years later, I had a thriving practice. I wasn’t making great money but it was better than I had been making in the business world. And I had control over my schedule. I worked four 8 to 10-hour days, one of them Saturday, and was home two weekdays, which meant my son was only in daycare part-time.

And I was helping people. I’ve never looked back, other than to wonder occasionally how different things would be, if I hadn’t had that random experience that changed my life.

So back to current events…

random moments that change our lives -- learning not to take things for granted, like toilet paper

I haven’t totally sorted out what may change permanently in my life after this craziness is over. I’ve certainly come to appreciate certain things that I once took for granted…like my husband, and unlimited supplies of toilet paper.

(Not that those two are of equal importance. 😀 )

I’ve also been touched by the generosity of strangers to each other. And the bravery of those who are doing the “essential” tasks that keep our country running, from the medical personnel to the truck drivers to the guys who collect the garbage.

I think it behooves us to give some conscious thought to how we want to change ourselves and/or our lives in the future. What positive meaning can we find in this very negative event?

How do you hope this pandemic will change the country, the world and/or your life for the better? (Please, no politics!)

~~~

And we have a CONTEST going, to help with the boredom. Grand Prize is a Bag of Free Books! Click HERE to check it out.

~~~

 

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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We’re Here For You (Plus a Contest for Free Books)

We at misterio press hope and pray that all of our readers and their loved ones come out of this crisis healthy and unscathed.

In the meantime, we are trying to offer as much support as we can. Please see this post and this post for tips to help you stay calm and de-stress during these difficult times. Plus, if you’re looking for a new way to make money while working at home, check out this offer to learn how to become a freelance writer.

And to help out with the boredom of staying at home, we have a CONTEST for Free Books!

Grand prize is a Bag of Free Books — this fun tote plus SEVEN first-in-series, signed paperbacks from 6 of our authors.

one of the books in contest for free books

Four more winners will receive a free ecopy of one of our books!! (Winner’s choice but exceptions may apply.)

Two ways to enter!

Go to the contest and click on the appropriate ways to enter. Then…

#1 — Comment on this blog post.

And tell us how you’re doing.

one of the books for this contest for free books

#2 — Get another entry (worth 5 points!) by signing up for our blog!

If you have trouble figuring out how to subscribe (“subscribe” area above on the right), you can….

one of the books for this contest for free books

Comment and include your email address and permission for us to subscribe you.

This contest for free books runs through April 25th.

one of the books for this contest for free books

Winners will be announced soon after that.

Best of luck!!

To enter the Contest to Win a Bag of Free Books please click HERE!

~~~~

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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Need a New Career or Side-Gig? Announcing the Freelance Writer Bootcamp!

Hi, all! Gilian Baker here.

When I asked myself how I could best serve the global community during this national emergency, teaching others a skill they could use to provide security for their families was at the top of the list. While talking with a friend and fellow entrepreneur, I came up with the idea to create a 30 Day Freelance Writer Bootcamp to help those who love to write and have lost jobs or need a side gig to help support their families.

Freelance Bootcamp

While other industries are slowing down or have stopped completely, there’s never been a bigger need for digital content! Companies, both large and small, are struggling to move their marketing budget from offline to online. This means a HUGE opportunity for those who have the skills they need to produce quality content.

As Part of the 30 Day Freelance Bootcamp, You Will:

Understand the freelance writing market  

Know where to find legit writing jobs     

Acquire a toolbox of free resources

Improve your writing skills

Build a portfolio to show potential clients

Gain experience as a freelance writer

Create at least one profile on a top freelance website

 *And have the chance to become part of my writing team!*

I have no doubt that those who take the chance to start a freelance writing business now will never again have to worry about earning a living! 

I’m honored to offer you this opportunity to transform your life during these unprecedented times!  Click the link to learn more and apply: https://mailchi.mp/6f0a91fd329c/30-day-freelance-writer-bootcamp

Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author, freelance writer, and writing coach. She’s the author of the Digital Detective Mystery Series. 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’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

7 Tips for Handling Stress During Uncertain Times

by Gilian Baker

Our fast-paced modern life can keep our nervous system running on full-tilt. So, what happens when a global crisis like the Coronavirus comes at us from nowhere, changing our daily lives into something we can’t recognize?

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Our nervous system ramps up even more, threatening to burn out or implode. Fear, uncertainty, and panic can leave us constantly living in a fight-or-flight state.

Not only is this dangerous for our overall health, but it interferes with our ability to think rationally and make powerful decisions that we won’t regret later. When we are in the fight-or-flight response, we can’t access our creativity, intuition, or clarity.

This happens when the endocrine system and limbic nervous system, beginning in the hypothalamus, is activated. You may have heard this called “the lizard brain response” in popular media. This part of the brain isn’t bad. It keeps us safe and is essential during an emergency. However, it was much more important when we were part of a tribe that was trying to survive saber-tooth tiger attacks.

In the modern world, it activates when we attempt to do things that are outside our comfort zone, for example. When we are stressed and rushing. When we feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. We can become so accustomed to living in fight-or-flight mode we get addicted to it.

During this time of widespread panic, our lizard brain response is having a heyday. We can easily get trapped in the psycho-cybernetic loop that it’s hard to think clearly.

There is good news, though! It’s called the relaxation response.

Each of us has the capability to stop this negative or worry loop going on in our heads. Yes, it may be more challenging during scary times like this, but it is doable. Better yet, we don’t have to do it without tools. Science has shown us that there are ways to tap into the relaxation response, even when we so easily default to “catastrophizing.”

To give you some help with this, here’s a list of tools I use with my coaching clients to move them back into “rest-and-digest” mode when everything in their life seems to be going haywire.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Music

Listening to uplifting music, whatever that means to you, can help you move out of fear and into a hopeful place. There’s no wrong music to choose. The important thing is that it makes you feel good when you hear it. You might want to create a playlist on a free app like Spotify that you can listen to throughout the day. You don’t have to listen only when you are already feeling worried. Use it as a way to maintain a positive outlook! Here’s one of my favorite Spotify lists you can try.

Meditation

You don’t need to have your own personal yogi, sit cross-legged, or burn smelly incense to get the many benefits from meditation. One of the easiest meditations is the best. Simply get comfortable, either sitting or lying down (if you don’t think you’ll fall asleep), close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Notice it going in and going out. Pay attention to that short gap in the middle when you are neither inhaling nor exhaling. When your mind starts thinking (it will, because that’s what brains do), gently bring your mind back to your breath without judgment.

You can also play relaxing music or use guided meditations too. These are especially helpful if your mind just won’t seem to settle. My favorite meditation app is Insight Timer. It offers thousands of free guided meditations and music tracks.

Breathe 

Some of the breathing techniques that are the most effective in stimulating the relaxation response are also very simple. Even when you find yourself in full panic mode, you can remember these simple instructions:

Technique #1

Inhale deeply in through the nose for four counts.

Hold the breath for eight counts.

Slowly exhale through pursed lips for eight counts.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

It’s recommended you do a round of ten breaths and then gauge how you feel. If you are still upset, you can do another series of ten.

Technique #2

This technique comes from the Heart-Math Institute and is ideal for moving into a space of deep gratitude.

Sit or lay comfortably and close your eyes. Put your attention on your heart and imagine breathing in and out of that area. Let your breath come naturally—there’s no need to force it to slow down. After practicing this for a few minutes, you’ll notice a deep sense of calm and gratitude come over you. While continuing to breathe from your heart, allow the blessings in your life to come up in your mind. Take a few moments to appreciate all you have to be grateful for.

Movement

You don’t need to be a long-distance jogger to experience a “runner’s high.” You also don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment. Take a brisk walk in the park, bounce on a personal-sized trampoline or exercise ball, give yoga, or tai chi a go. If you’ve always wanted to try yoga, for example, there are tons of free YouTube videos you can use as your guide. My personal favorite is Yoga with Adriene. If you are so inclined, pick out an app and track your progress. That’s just one more way to focus on the positive right now instead of dwelling on “what if’s.”

Nutrition

It might be tempting to sit and eat chips while binge-watching Netflix right now, but it’s the worst time to be doing that. Besides lowering our immune system, a diet high in processed foods and sugar doesn’t give our brains the fuel it needs to function at its peak.

It’s vital right now that each citizen is thinking clearly for the long-term. We all need to be making wise decisions and to do that, we need to be able to calm our fight-or-flight responses so our frontal cortex can run the show. We need to take positive action, not just for ourselves, but for the global community. Only offering our brains toxin-filled fuel won’t get us there. Focus on stocking up on more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and other tasty, highly nutritious foods and leave the Ding Dongs and Cheetos on the shelves. They have so many preservatives in them that they’ll be fine there for years.

This week’s veg from Imperfect Foods

We have our organic produce, and other items delivered to our door by Imperfect Foods. They are a company on a mission to stop food waste, which as a farmer’s daughter, I wholeheartedly applaud! It’s a fabulous feel-good way to get fresh, organic foods at a much better price while not having to put on real pants. 😊 You can get $10 off your first order by going here.

Nature
Now is the perfect time in many parts of the country to be outside. Get your garden ready for summer, mulch your flowerbeds, take a walk. Much of the last week has been gray and gloomy here in Ohio, but today, the sun is out. I enjoyed lunch on the porch while listening to the birds and enjoying the daffodils that are already in full bloom in my yard. I felt like a new woman when I came back inside. I personally believe we can absorb a great deal of life wisdom by looking at nature. The birds and squirrels don’t panic when a big storm is looming. Trees don’t worry that they will lose their leaves too soon in the fall. Animals live most of their lives in a state of rest and relaxation. They only take action when it’s absolutely necessary for survival. Oh, to be a robin!

Help Others

Right now, you may think there is little you can do to help others. But there are more opportunities than you might think. And helping someone who is in a worse situation than you is an excellent way to step out of thinking about your own ills and problems.

Some simple ideas include checking on your neighbors to make sure they are okay or picking up groceries for an elderly family member while you are out. Think about all the volunteers who are now stuck at home. Depending on where you live and your health, you may be able to help out places, like animal shelters, that rely on volunteers to meet the needs of your community. We recently heard that the National Guard might be activated in our area to fill boxes at local food banks. During a time of crisis, food banks will need all the help they can get. Think about ways you could help others to distract yourself while getting a hit of dopamine.

If you’d like to help but can’t think of a way, feel free to send me some of your hoarded toilet paper. 😊I still can’t find any anywhere!

What are some of the ways you keep worry and fear from overwhelming you?

Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help writers overcome their creative blocks so they can write un-put-down-able books. If you are a writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy Session.

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’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

What You’re Feeling May Very Well Be Grief

by Kassandra Lamb

A sign of the times — grocery store in 2020 (photo by Breawycker CC-BY-SA 4.0 International Wikimedia Commons)

My daughter-in-law posted the link to this article today. It really nails what a lot of us are feeling right now. We are grieving…for what has already changed, and for what may yet change in an uncertain future.

Please do read the whole article—it offers some helpful suggestions for coping—but I have to quote this part. It is so right on:

There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through.

David Kessler , co-author of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss.

That’s what I’ve been preaching for years. Emotions need to be acknowledged and expressed so they can move OUT of your system.

Check out the rest of the article HERE.

An “off week” post 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.

Stay Calm and Wash Your Hands

by Kassandra Lamb

We interrupt our regular blogging schedule… This is not what I had planned to write about this week, but it’s an important reminder to stay calm. Not only for our mental health, but for our physical health as well.

Why is it important to stay calm? Because stress reduces the effectiveness of our immune systems. So stressing about getting sick can increase the chances of getting sick.

We humans have a variety of mental defense mechanisms that our psyches employ to cope with stressful and scary stuff. Some of these defenses are helpful and some, not so much.

The Unhelpful Ones: Denial, Minimizing

Pretending the coronavirus is not a big deal, not in your area yet, etc. (it probably is; just no reported cases yet) is denial and minimizing. Buying into the idea that it’s no worse than seasonal flu is denial and minimizing. The facts say otherwise.

The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. The goal of that declaration was not to have everyone either panic or go into denial. It was to get us to take measures to stop the spread of the disease before it gets out of hand in this country and others.

The Potentially Helpful Defenses: Rationalization, Repression, Sublimation

First, do the things you’re hearing that you should do in order to prevent and/or prepare for the worst-case scenario. Wash your hands. Be aware of what you touch and try NOT to touch your face. Wash your hands.

Stay calm and wash your hands.
Meme created on imgflip.com

Stockpile, within reason, food and medicines, etc. in case you end up quarantined. (Just got home from the grocery store myself.) Then wash your hands.

Practice social distancing by leaving space around you and subbing a wave or a slight bow for a handshake or hug. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds or going out in public if you can. Wash your hands.

Then, once you have done all that, tell yourself that you and those in your household will most likely be okay. You’re doing everything you can do. It will be fine. (Rationalization.)

Is this lying to yourself? Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t know if the disease will hit close to home, but you might as well assume that it isn’t going to—AFTER you have taken the needed precautions to lower your risk.

There’s no psychological benefit to assuming that you or your loved ones will get sick. That’s pessimism and it’s also unhealthy. More on this in a minute.

Then Push the Thoughts Aside

Don’t let your mind dwell on the disease any more than is necessary to maintain the precautions you have taken. To stay calm, actively push those thoughts away when they come up (Repression) and distract yourself with other things. Read an engaging book, finally do some of those projects around the house that you’ve been putting off (look out bathroom, I’ve got my paintbrush and I’m coming in), do something creative, etc.

This latter idea is called Sublimation—actually channeling the emotional energy into something else. A whole lot of my author friends are currently writing stories about pandemics. Most of those stories will never get published, but the writing process keeps those authors sane (or as sane as authors ever are 😉 ).

(Read more on defense mechanisms here.)

The Proven Benefits of Optimism

Why should we bother to try to fool ourselves into believing all will be okay? First of all, for many of us, it will be okay. We’ll go through a scary time of worrying about our own health and that of our loved ones, but either no one in that group will get the disease or they will have a mild case of it.

And if and when the disease does strike a harder blow, well that’s soon enough to worry about it. As my grandmother used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

Remaining optimistic has been proven again and again in scientific studies to have all kinds of health benefits. Optimism reduces stress, improves immune system functioning, makes people feel happier and helps them live longer. Being pessimistic, has the exact opposite effect. (For more on the benefits of optimism, here’s a good article.)

The first American study evaluated 839 people in the early 1960s, performing a psychological test for optimism–pessimism as well as a complete medical evaluation. When the people were rechecked 30 years later, optimism was linked to longevity; for every 10-point increase in pessimism on the optimism–pessimism test, the mortality rate rose 19%.

~ Harvard Health Publishing, Optimism and your Health, 2008.

But Isn’t This Just Another Form of Denial?

Yes, it is. I call it healthy denial. And all of us exercise this defense mechanism every day. Otherwise, we would never get out of bed, much less leave our houses.

Stay calm and run like hell! A tornado's coming.

Every day, we assume that we will not be mugged that day, we will not be run over by a truck, we will not be swept up by a tornado, etc. Even though those things will happen to some people somewhere.

Without healthy denial, we couldn’t function. We’d be paralyzed.

And that’s what I’m trying to fight here—the paralyzing effects of fear. Because we all need to do what we can, including remaining optimistic, in order to slow and eventually stop this pandemic.

And slowing it is extremely important. Because by slowing it, we keep it from overwhelming our healthcare system. This article has an excellent chart that shows this better than I could explain it (Note the dotted line that is labelled “healthcare system capacity.”)

Easier Said Than Done for Some

Some of us have been blessed with a naturally optimistic personality. Others have not. Those folks are going to have to work harder at this whole stay-calm thing.

Just as we try to become more aware of the surfaces we touch (or don’t touch, in the case of our faces), we need to become more aware of our thoughts. We need to catch ourselves if we are obsessing on the situation too much. We need to redirect our thoughts.

Stay calm and stop those negative thoughts,
Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

One very simple but very helpful technique that therapists teach clients with OCD is called thought-stopping. When you notice your thoughts going down an obsessive track, you literally say, “Stop!” either out loud or inside your head.

A variation for visually oriented people is to imagine a big red stop sign in your mind’s eye.

Then you intentionally redirect your thoughts to something else that is engaging.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Keep your entertainment lighthearted during this crisis. Someone said to me just last night that they started to watch a show about the Nazis in Germany and had to turn it off. It was too much on top of worrying about the coronavirus. Good for her!

Even if you feel yourself drawn to heavier, more negative topics (understandable), don’t go there right now. Positive, uplifting, and even silly books and TV shows are preferable, to help maintain our optimism and healthy denial.

And keep those hysterical memes coming on social media. Promote laughter as much as you can.

Let’s all do our part not just to stop the spread of germs but to increase the spread of positive energy during this difficult time.

What helps you the most to stay calm at times like these?

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.

The Importance of Backstory (Or How the Brain Connects the Present to the Past)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University today, talking about characters’ backstories, the human brain and implications for writers.

Here’s a teaser…

First, a brief excerpt from my own backstory—I recently let go of someone whom I have loved dearly my entire life. I did so because he was acting in a way that was far too reminiscent of my dysfunctional family.

I spent many hours and beaucoup dollars in my youth on therapy, and it was successful. For a very long time now, I’ve hardly given a thought to all that craziness I grew up with. So when this person, after experiencing a highly emotional event, suddenly began acting like his crazy father (the brother of my crazy father), I had to make a tough choice.

I contemplated letting it slide for the sake of family peace, but I repeatedly found my stomach, chest and throat tightening up in a very uncomfortable way. It took me awhile to sort out that this was the same uncomfortable feeling I’d had all too often as a child—a combination of confusion, fear and hurt.

Why am I telling you this sad story? Because it provides some excellent examples of the connections that I’m about to explain—between our minds, our bodies, and our emotions—and between the past and present.

How Our Brains Connect Us to the Past

Some people still scoff, to this day, at the idea that our past affects our present and future reactions. But there is actually a scientific explanation for how this works.

There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It is a component of the limbic system, located between the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and the brain stem (the part that controls automatic functions, like breathing).

The Importance of Backstory: How the Brain Connects Past to Present

The limbic system, comprised of several structures and organs, is the emotional center of the human brain. One of the hippocampus’s most important functions, as part of this system, is processing memories.

And right next door is the amygdala, the part of the brain that feels anger and fear, and produces our instinctive knee-jerk reactions to those feelings.

The hippocampus not only processes memories—without it, we would have no long-term memory—but it also remembers the emotions (and the physical sensations associated with those emotions) of past events. Read More

Implications for Writers—The Importance of Backstory

First of all, we need to give our characters backstories that match their current neuroses. Any time a character overreacts (or under-reacts) to a situation in the present, there has to be something in their past that explains it.

Then, how do we show the reader that very important backstory…

Read More…

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.