Where My Research Takes Me: Rare Book Reading Room, Library of Congress

Where the research takes me: to the Library of Congress (main reading room)

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

by K.B. Owen

All kinds of decisions (and a hundred indecisions, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot) go into the plotting of a mystery. For example, as I was deciding upon the plot points for UNSEEMLY FATE, book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, I knew I needed a rare literary artifact that would be compatible with the lady professor’s interests (primarily Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Romantic poets). It was to be a gift from one of Concordia’s new relatives – a RICH relative (I think you can see where I might be going with this), which would set off a chain of catastrophic events that sends Concordia scrambling for the rest of the story.

The Criteria

I had one other proviso: the item couldn’t be SO rare that people would be giving it the squinty-eye and asking how the heck the rich man came to have it, and didn’t it belong in a proper museum, rather than a private gallery at some women’s college? Hmm???

That let out Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Sigh. And as far as the Romantics, not that many decades would have elapsed before we were in Concordia’s time (1899)…so something lost or rare was less likely. Double sigh.

I was basically scouting around for something of literary significance that would appeal to my protagonist’s interests, and old enough to be somewhat rare but not holy-cow-you-must-have-stolen-that rare. AND…I wanted to be able to use cool quotes by that author as apropos headers to chapters…’cause that’s just how this former academic rolls. *wink*

Enter William Blake, the Very First Romantic Poet/Artist

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips. Oil on canvas, 1807.

William Blake had a lot to say about society, religion, art, and man’s place in the cosmos. I soon settled on his 66-page Descriptive Catalogue, of which he printed less than one hundred copies in 1809 (making it 90 years old by the time Concordia sees it). The Catalogue was written to promote an exhibition of his watercolors and frescoes in hopes of drumming up sales and potential commissions.

Here’s the full title, as William Blake was more voluble than concise: A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions, Painted by William Blake, in Water Colours, Being the Ancient Method of Fresco Painting Restored: and [water color] Drawings, For Public Inspection, and for Sale by Private Contract. 

Blake sold copies of the Catalogue for two-and-a-half shillings each, which also covered the cost of admittance to his one-man show (in a room over his brother’s shop).

What Made It Perfect for Concordia

Of particular interest to me was Blake’s commentary in the Catalogue about Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, which takes up nearly a third of the pamphlet. Blake had painted a work entitled The Canterbury Pilgrims, from which he later created a copper-etched plate and made prints (with watercolor touch-ups), but the text in his Catalogue went beyond mere description of his painting and analyzed Chaucer’s own characterization of the pilgrims.

Print from Blake's copperplate etching, Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

Print from Blake’s copperplate etching, Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, 1810.

And our dear lady professor has an interest in Chaucer – perfect.

I was able to find descriptions of the text and cover via online searches, but then I got stuck. I wanted to know what it would be like to hold it in one’s hands, to turn the pages, and so on, as Concordia would do.

Where the Research Takes Me: To See the Real Thing

Where the reasearch takes me: to the Rare Book Reading Room

An original of William Blake’s “Descriptive Catalogue,” 1809. Housed in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book Reading Room, LOC.

Sometimes you just have to see something in person. I’m fortunate enough to live within 25 miles of the Library of Congress, and a search turned up an original (16 are known to exist at this point) in LOC’s Rare Book Reading Room.

There were a lot of hoops to jump through – getting a reader/researcher card, securing advance notice to have it located and pulled, restrictions as to what you can bring in with you, how the books are to be handled, and so on. But it was worth it, and I’m grateful to each of the librarians who assisted me.

And the Rare Book Reading Room is a VERY quiet place.

Any cool discoveries you’ve made recently? I’d love to hear from you. ~KBO

AVAILABLE NOW:

Unseemly Fate

Book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

Beware of rich men bearing gifts…

It’s the fall of 1899 and the new Mrs. David Bradley—formerly Professor Concordia Wells of Hartford Women’s College—is chafing against the hum-drum routine of domestic life.

The routine is disrupted soon enough when the long-hated but wealthy patriarch of her husband’s family, Isaiah Symond, returns to Hartford. His belated wedding gift is a rare catalogue by artist/poet William Blake, to be exhibited in the college’s antiquities gallery.

When Symond’s body is discovered in the gallery with his head bashed in and the catalogue gone, suspicion quickly turns from a hypothetical thief to the inheritors of Symond’s millions—Concordia’s own in-laws. She’s convinced of their innocence, but the alternatives are equally distressing. The gallery curator whom she’s known for years? The school’s beloved handyman?

Once again, unseemly fate propels Concordia into sleuthing, but she should know by now that unearthing bitter grudges and long-protected secrets to expose a murderer may land her in a fight for her life.

UNSEEMLY FATE is the seventh adventure in the Concordia Wells Mysteries, featuring 1890s professor-turned-amateur-sleuth Concordia Wells Bradley.

Amazon:

Also available on:  B&N, Apple, Kobo

AND I’m running a pair of giveaways…

Want to win a free book, ebook, or audiobook?

Check out these giveaways!

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Audiobook Giveaway

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Book Giveaway

Anyone can enter! Contests end May 15th.

 

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

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

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

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series 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. 🙂 )



“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.

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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.

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.

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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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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.


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. 🙂 )