Tag Archives: Kate Huntington

Are You S.A.D. in the Winter? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in three different editing projects, I figured now would be a good time for an encore presentation of a previous post, and this topic is always worth mentioning this time of year.

I hate talking about depression because, well, it’s depressing. But if you’re one of those folks who gets S.A.D. in the winter, or you know someone who does, you may appreciate this post.

I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, i.e., folks who start getting more and more fatigued and listless for no apparent reason as the days get shorter and grayer.

If you’ve been told that you must have some deep-seated negative association with winter, forget that BS. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a biologically-based depression. It’s caused by a malfunction in a natural phenomenon that occurs in all of us. This natural phenomenon developed through evolution.

In cave-person times (tough to be politically correct when talking about that era), those folks whose metabolisms slowed down in the winter—so they burned fewer calories—were much more likely to survive until spring. They dragged their butts through the winters. But when spring came, they’d come bouncing out of their caves, full of renewed energy now that the sun was bright.

Much to the annoyance of their skeletal cave-mates who just barely made it through the first hunt.

Photo by Lynn Kelley Author, doing her spring happy dance (from WANA Commons, share-alike license).

I have a mild case of S.A.D. When I lived in Maryland, I would get increasingly grumpy in the fall. I often wouldn’t realize just how depressed I’d became during the winter months, until spring came along and I started feeling sooo much better.

It was kind of like a low-grade, chronic case of the flu—one where you don’t realize just how sick you’ve been until you start to get better.

In the winter time, all of us (thanks to that evolutionary tendency inherited from our more wintertime-lethargic, springtime-energetic cave ancestors) have an increase in the release of the hormone, melatonin, from the pineal gland. This hormone regulates our sleep cycles and promotes deep sleep. The increased melatonin release makes us all a little bit less energetic in the winter.

For those with S.A.D., the melatonin levels increase too much, causing more severe fatigue and lethargy. S.A.D. can range from mild cases, like mine, to people who become severely depressed in the winter.

What can you do about it:

1.  The first thing to do (and this may be enough if you have a mild case) is go outside as much as possible in the winter, especially on sunny days. Because it is not the cold that triggers S.A.D.; it’s the lack of daylight. In my thirties, I started horseback-riding regularly year-round. My S.A.D. got a lot better. It went from a moderate to a mild case.

2.  Light therapy. There are light boxes, and other devices, that simulate sunlight. These are specifically designed to treat S.A.D., although they serve other purposes as well. More on light therapy below.

3.  Move to a southern clime, (or at least winter there, if you’re retired or filthy rich). My S.A.D. is one of the reasons–a major one, in fact–for our move to Florida when my husband and I retired.

More about light therapy boxes:

If you think you have S.A.D. these are a worthwhile purchase. They can change your life. But do your research first to find the best device for your needs. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic about how to choose a light box. They range from $100 to $400, and unfortunately many insurance policies will not pay for them. (But they will pay for antidepressants that cost that much or more per month or for hospitalization when you’re suicidal. Go figure!)

Light therapy lamp (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A light therapy box.

Even if you have to pay out of pocket, it’s worth it to get your winters back! Someone asked me, shortly before our move south, why I was moving to Florida. I said, “Because I’m tired of wishing away almost half of my life.” I would start dreading winter by mid-October and wouldn’t really come out of it until some time in April. At that time, light boxes were much more expensive, but looking back, I should have bought one anyway.

Life is too short to spend anymore of it than necessary depressed!

Here are more tips on how to use light therapy effectively from PsychEducation.org.

Does this resonate with you? Do you think you, or someone you know, may have S.A.D.?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week,  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. 🙂 )

5 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

by Kassandra Lamb

ornaments on a tree

photo by Kris de Curtis CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

This is a joyous time of year, but it is also the most stressful time of year for many of us. Especially for those who are trying to make Christmas happen for their families.

Here are a few helpful hints on how to keep the stress manageable and the joy optimal.

1.  Write It Down.

Santa isn’t the only one who should be making a list and checking twice.

This is actually 3 tips in one. First, making a list of everything that needs to be done will keep you from forgetting something that might then become a last-minute crisis/super stressor.

Second, you get the list out of your head and onto paper so you don’t have to stress yourself with trying to remember everything.

And third, it is very satisfying to physically scratch things off a list. Sometimes I put things on there that I’ve already done, so I can immediately scratch them off again. 😀

2. Keep It Simple.

Are there things you do for Christmas that nobody really cares about, maybe not even you?

A few years ago, during a stressful time for my family, we opted for a cold buffet instead of a big Christmas dinner. I was amazed at how little I missed the fancy meal (and all the prep, not at all).

We made the cold buffet a new tradition. We still have special things to eat (my DIL makes awesome cranberry chicken salad), but it can all be prepared a day or two in advance. Christmas Day, we open presents and enjoy each others’ company and spend very little time in the kitchen.

3. Pace Yourself.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to do too much in one day you will wear yourself out, and be tired and grouchy the next day.

If you want to be super-organized, you could mark the day you plan to do certain things on your list. Then on any given day, you are only stressing about that day’s chores.

hand and book

Take a break. Read a book! 🙂 (photo by David, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia)

Also this time of year, getting too fatigued can lead to illness, with all the nasty flu and cold viruses floating around.

Getting sick is definitely not going to help! Which brings us to…

4. Take Care of Yourself.

Schedule proper rest, eating and some exercise into your days.

My mother used to wear herself down to the nub by Christmas Eve. My brother and I would hide in our rooms as much as possible. She was so exhausted and cranky, if we landed on her radar, who knew what would happen?

By the next day, she was much better and we always had a great Christmas, but much of what she had done to prepare for it wasn’t really what made it special for us.

The specialness of Christmas came from having a whole day of relaxation and freedom to play and undivided attention from the adults in the family. Everybody was in a great mood and we had a blast.

child with toys

You can’t see my face but I’m grinning.

Oh, and there were new toys, of course.

5. There Is No Report Card!

Christmas should not be a contest or a performance for which we receive a grade. If you have someone in your life who tends to be that judgmental, you have my permission to uninvite them for Christmas.

If that’s not an option, then practice some lines you can fire back if they comment or even just glare at you judgmentally.

Something like “My house may not be perfect but my kids are happy.”

Or maybe “What would Jesus do?” to remind them that judging is definitely not in the spirit of the season.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Our blog will be on hiatus until January 3rd, at which point we have a BIG surprise for you. Stay tuned for an awesome 2017 giveaway!!

Merry Christmas

image by Ac1983fan CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

When (And How) To End a Series

by Kassandra Lamb

Today I’m guest posting over at Jami Gold’s blog, with some thoughts on when it is time to end a book series. (Note to My Readers: don’t panic; it’s not time yet after all.)

When (And How) To End a Series

meme

meme created on imgflip.com

I’m currently working on Book 9—what I thought would be the last book—in my Kate Huntington Mystery series (Readers: I think I’ve changed my mind—more on this in a bit).

When a writer sets out to write a series, often there’s no set number of books in mind. The vague thought is that we’ll keep writing as long as readers are reading and we’re still coming up with story ideas.

But everything has to come to an end some time. When should a writer stop a series? Here are my thoughts on possible reasons to say “the end,” based on my own ruminations about winding down the Kate series. Read More…

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

When Does a Stressor Become a Stressor? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I am in editing hell the process of polishing a manuscript, so I thought I’d re-run a post that was a hit a few years ago.

It seemed appropriate to go with a post on stress!  From May, 2013:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the main factors in how stressed we feel is our own interpretation of the events in our lives. With a few exceptions, a stressor isn’t a stressor until we view it that way.

This is why something can be soooo stressful to one person and someone else thinks they’re nuts for worrying about it. The interpretation of a stressor is unique to each individual, influenced by personality and past experiences.

This used to be one of my husband’s biggest stressors:

airplane flying overhead

(photo by Dylan Ashe, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When we were first married, he was a basketcase whenever we had to fly somewhere. We had to get to the airport extra early, so he could have a couple drinks in the airport bar to brace himself. But once we were on the plane, he wouldn’t drink. This was back in the days when alcohol on the plane was free (Yes, folks, once upon a time, airlines not only fed you for free, they would get you liquored up as well. No extra charge!)

So not only did I think the man was crazy, I was pissed that he was buying overpriced drinks in the airport and then not drinking the free stuff on the plane. One day, I confronted him about this and he explained that he couldn’t drink on the plane because he had to be able to concentrate.

“Concentrate on what?” I asked.

“On willing the plane to stay in the air,” he answered.

At that point, I truly thought I’d married a madman.

I later found out, as a psychology grad student, that this wasn’t an unusual fantasy on the part of folks afraid of flying. It’s their way of taking control of a situation where they feel out of control. (As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, control is often a big factor in stress.)

Fortunately, my husband finally figured out what was going on with his fear of flying. I won’t go into details since it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say that he’d had some bad experiences with people being in charge who were quite incompetent. So having someone else in control of his safety made him very nervous.

view from airplane window seat

(photo by Peretz Partensky, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I, on the other hand, am one of those people who will run you over to get to a window seat. Then I squeal, “Look at the cute little cars and houses down there. It looks like a Christmas garden” as the plane is taking off. (My husband wears earplugs on planes; I can’t imagine why.)

My attitude is that since I can’t control whether or not the plane stays in the air, I might as well not worry about it and just relax and enjoy the ride.

Now, let’s talk about job stress. My husband handles it very well. Why? Because he doesn’t mind having bosses. He’s an easy-going guy (has to be to put up with me!) and he’s okay with someone telling him what to do as long as they’re not an idiot. And if his boss is an idiot (he’s had a few of them through the years), he just figures out how to work around the idiocy and moves on.

I, however, have no patience whatsoever for idiot bosses, and it seems like I have had way more than my share of them. Of course, the fact that my definition of an idiot boss is any boss who doesn’t leave me completely alone to do my job without any interference could be part of the problem.

Yes, I am cussedly independent! So much so that by the time I was 30, I’d decided that the only way I could function in the world of work was to be self-employed. I went into private practice as a mental health counselor.

coffee mug with "The Boss"

(photo by ThisIsRobsLife, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

It was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my life, I totally loved my job! There were plenty of other stressors involved in being self-employed, but they all paled by comparison to how I had felt when I was being micro-managed by others. So I was a happy camper!

Fast forward 13 years and I was starting to burn out on listening to other people’s descriptions of their stressful lives. I had done a little bit of teaching here and there and had really loved the interaction with students. So I decided to apply for part-time teaching positions at the colleges in my area. My goal was to teach half-time and cut my practice back to half-time so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

After papering the Baltimore-Washington area with my resume, I finally got a call from the psychology department at Towson University. I  liked the department chair and the whole atmosphere in the department, and I was reassured that there would be an ongoing need for my services as long as I did a good job.

Imagine my shock when halfway into the first semester I started having anxiety attacks any time I crossed paths with my department chair. Did I mention I liked him? I really did, so why was I so nervous around him? By the end of the semester, I was actually considering quitting teaching, even though I loved everything else about it.

To cut to the chase, I finally figured out that having a boss again, even one I liked, was pushing my control buttons. I wasn’t completely in charge of my own destiny anymore, as I had been for years. Indeed, when you teach college part-time your employment is completely at the whim of your department chair. He or she can choose not to hire you back the following semester and there is absolutely no recourse, because you are a contractual employee. This was the source of my anxiety, and no amount of lecturing myself about how everybody at Towson liked me and said I was doing a good job seemed to help.

After much thought, I hit on a solution, a way to reframe the situation to myself. I reminded myself that there were roughly fifty colleges within commuting distance of my home, and I should think of myself as a self-employed contractor, who was offering my expertise to these schools on a contractual basis. If I didn’t like the set-up at one school or they didn’t hire me back, I would just take my expertise elsewhere.

It worked! I felt so much better. I was able to relax and really enjoy teaching. I taught at Towson for 9 years, until my husband and I both retired and we moved to Florida. It turned out to be my favorite job ever!

Now if you’re thinking, “How silly. All you changed is how you thought about the situation,” you are exactly right. Except about the ‘silly’ part.

That’s the whole point. How we think and feel about a stressor very much affects how much it stresses us!

Back to my husband and his fear of flying for a moment. His fears dissipated dramatically when we started using a certain airline that had two things going for it. One, the crews are trained to be super friendly; the pilot stands at the door and greets the passengers as they board. Two, a friend of ours is a pilot for this particular airline and we know he’s a competent guy.

When my husband felt that those in charge of keeping the plane in the air were real people, friendly and competent like his friend, he was able to relax. Over time, his fear of flying completely disappeared. Today, he prefers flying over driving, whenever possible.

How about you? Any stressors come to mind that might not be so stressful if you were able to shift your interpretation of them?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

Creativity and the Baby Boom Woman

by Kassandra Lamb

I recently became more active in an online writers group for women of a “certain age.” I’m noticing some interesting psychological trends there.

If you read the bios of the members, your mouth will hang open in awe. These are very accomplished women! I’m honored to be a part of their group.

And yet as our lives have often changed due to divorce, death of a spouse, and just plain aging, there’s a tendency to slide back into the insecurities we thought we had left behind.

Creativity, by definition, requires thinking outside the box – being innovative, taking risks and trying new things. But our generation of women was taught to conform, to listen to authority, to make nice-nice. Conformity and creativity make strange bedfellows. Indeed, they don’t get along very well at all.

(Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers, "Leave It to Beaver" -- public domain) On Air: Thursdays, 9-9:30 PM, EDT. "Beaver" Trio Barbara Billingsley, who stars as Mrs. Cleaver, poses with television sons Tony Dow (Wally) left, and Jerry Mathers (Beaver) on the set of ABC-TV's "Leave It to Beaver" Thursdays, 9-9:30 PM, EDT.

(Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers, “Leave It to Beaver” — public domain)

Our role models were Donna Reed and June Cleaver — who woke in the morning without a hair out of place, vacuumed her house in pearls and pumps and always knew just the right thing to say or do to make her boys feel better (unless of course discipline was involved, and then her husband Ward took over).

These lessons of childhood, many of us are finding, haven’t die; they just went underground.

So when we are faced with tragedy, a crossroads, or just feel ourselves burning out, while our innate feminine resilience usually kicks in, so do those old messages. We get up and brush ourselves off, but we’re much more vulnerable in those moments to the old recordings in our heads.

Be self-effacing.
“Nobody likes a stuck-up woman,” echoes in our brains. Except the definition of “stuck-up” as it relates to females – taught to us in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s – is not true arrogance. It’s being confident that what we produce is good, and that we are good people, with sound judgement.

In other words, good self-esteem equals being uppity.

Please others.
Other people’s approval of what we do is more important than our own. We will stay in jobs that “eat our souls” because others think we should. We will not follow our dreams because others think they are silly or unreachable.

We will allow editors or agents or publishers to dictate how our stories will be changed, even though we know in our hearts that the story was fine to begin with, maybe even great!

Another role model -- Lucille Ball, who was constantly doing dumb things either to please or impress her husband, so he would let her pursue her dream of performing in his club. (public domain)

Another role model — Lucille Ball, who was constantly doing dumb things either to please or impress her husband, so he would let her pursue her dream of performing in his club. (public domain)

Others’ needs are more important than our own.
I was about eleven when the first bra was burned, and I’ve considered myself a liberated female ever since. So when a student interviewed me for an assignment in her Gender Studies class and asked me if I had ever sacrificed my career for my husband or family, I immediately said no. Then I stopped and thought about that.

I found my first true vocational passion (and my second career) a bit late, after I was married with a small child and a large mortgage. When I was looking at educational options to get the credentials I needed to become a psychotherapist, I discovered that to get a PhD in psychology I would have to go to school full-time and might have to move elsewhere in the country to get into a program. “Well, that won’t work,” I thought. I couldn’t uproot my family, ask my husband to give up his good-paying job, etc. So I settled for a masters degree I could get locally and part-time, while still working full-time to help pay the mortgage.

I can’t say that I’ve regretted that choice. I had a good career, even though I didn’t make as much money as I would have with the classier credentials. But one thing blew my mind as I recalled all this when that student was interviewing me.

I had never seriously discussed the “move to another state so I can get my PhD” option with my husband. I never gave him the opportunity to sacrifice for me (and for the ultimate greater well-being of the whole family if I ended up making more money). I just assumed it was my job to make the sacrifice.

Not only was June rarely without her pearls but Ward was rarely without his tie. Not even all that realistic for the times, much less today. (public domain)

Not only was June rarely without her pearls, but Ward was rarely without his tie. Not even all that realistic for the times, much less today. (public domain)

The day of that student’s interview was the first time I realized how subtle the lessons of our youth still are for women of my generation. We can think we’re being all liberated and modern, while our knees are jerking away, following the old patterns without our conscious awareness or approval.

When I first joined this writers group for middle-aged and beyond women, I wasn’t all that active. I was already a member of an online writers group that is awesome in its level of support and encouragement.

But now I’m realizing that these women of a “certain age” can offer a different and more specific support – the recognition of these old patterns and the kick-in-the-butt/cheering section needed to break out of them.

Something women writers of my generation may very well need, again and again, in order to remain creative, and sane.

Your thoughts? Are you a woman (or man) of a certain age, still fighting those old messages?

And now I’m totally not going to act my age as I give you all a sneak peak of the cover for my next Marcia Banks and Buddy mystery. Squueeee!! (In case you hadn’t figured it out, I love this cover!)

ArsenicAndYoungLacy FINAL

COMING SOON!!

And this is the last week to get 75% off of Vinnie Hansen’s book, Black Beans & Venom, during the Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale.

This is a fabulous story. Hop on over and get yourself a copy.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

5 Ways Blogging and Writing Fiction Do and Don’t Mix

by Kassandra Lamb

Mia culpa! I’ve been so busy writing guest posts this week that I didn’t come up with one for our blog… So here are the two fun ones I’ve posted elsewhere the last few days.

And I finally have my Hawaii pictures up on my own website (only took six months). Take a look!

~~~~~~~

Around the time I was getting serious about my writing, the buzz in the writerly world was all about how blogging was a must if you wanted to build a “platform” on social media.

Having no clue what a platform was, and knowing nothing about social media or blogging, I took the plunge. Shannon Esposito and I had just conceived of the idea of misterio press, and I was taking care of legal matters while Shannon set up the website. Since I didn’t yet have a blog established, I volunteered to be the main blogger here.

That was four years ago – it seems much longer than that – and I’ve been posting on our blog almost every week, sometimes twice a week. I’m starting to run thin on topics to cover, but part of me just isn’t willing to cut back.

So I thought I’d explore the pros and cons, at this point, of maintaining a blog. With tongue tucked into cheek on some of these, here’s what I came up with:

My_day_at_wikipedia
Con #1:  Blogging takes time away from writing books.

Pro #1:  Blogging takes time away from writing books (i.e., it’s a great way to procrastinate when you should be writing).

Check out the rest at Barb Taub’s site

And I had a lot of fun interviewing the main character in my Kate Huntington and Kate on Vacation series, over at Marcia Meara’s The Write Stuff. Check out what Kate has to say about all the corpses I keep putting in her path.

~~~~~~~~

book cover

Missing on Maui, A Kate on Vacation Mystery, #4

It’s an awkward situation at best, and a deadly one at worst.

Days before Kate Huntington is scheduled to leave for her niece’s wedding on Maui, she receives a frantic call from said niece. Amy’s mother–Kate’s rather difficult sister-in-law–is at it again, alienating the groom’s family and even the wedding planner. Can Aunt Kate come early and run interference?

Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers that young women are going missing on the island, and Amy’s maid of honor is hanging out with a notorious local player. Is he involved in the disappearances?

Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Aunt Kate is kept busy locating a new wedding planner (the delightful Pali Moon), refereeing between Amy and her mother, and chasing down errant wedding party members… Oh, and facing off with a psychopath.

Just $0.99 for a limited time on…

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

A Peek Behind the Curtain: 6 Challenges Cozy Mysteries Present for Writers

by Kassandra Lamb

Not all of us started out as cozy writers, but now all of the misterio press authors have written at least some cozies.

I first stuck my toe in the cozy pond with my Kate on Vacation series that parallels my regular Kate Huntington series. (I have a new release! See below.) This started out as a fun way to give my readers a light Kate snack while they were waiting (sometimes not all that patiently) for me to finish the next full-length novel/meal.

What I discovered was that I really enjoy writing cozies. They’re fun!

But there are some challenges involved when one switches over from writing regular mysteries (which I’m still doing) to writing cozies.

Here are 6 differences between this subgenre and the main genre of mysteries, and the challenges cozies pose for authors.

1. The main character is an amateur sleuth.

This may also be the case in regular mysteries, but it’s a requirement in cozies. No police officers or private investigators allowed, except as significant others and/or secondary characters. But the amateur sleuth has to do the bulk of the sleuthing, or at least has to figure out whodunnit around the same time as law enforcement does.

magnifiying glass on antique desk

photo by Stéphane Magnenat CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimeida Commons

The challenge here is coming up with plausible reasons why an average citizen would keep stumbling over corpses. In police procedurals or private detective stories, this is not a problem.

And there has to be a good reason why the amateur sleuth gets and stays involved in crime investigations, even when the local law enforcement folks are often telling him/her to butt out.

The stakes have to be high for the main character personally.

2. Something – the setting, the main character’s vocation, etc. – is out of the ordinary.

Cozy readers want a peek into places and activities that they themselves might have never experienced. So the settings may be small towns or exotic locations, and the characters may knit, or give dance lessons, or train dogs for a living.

There are a lot of cozies that involve food, in which the main character owns a restaurant or is a caterer or writes a baking blog. But something has to be unusual, in a way that makes the story more fun and interesting.

Maui beach

A beach on Maui (photo from our Hawaii vacation last fall)

For my Kate on Vacation novellas, this means going to the interesting places I will have Kate visit, so that I can include a lot of local color in the story and get the details right (it’s a tough job and all that 😀 ).

For my new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, it was a little more challenging. I had to invent a small town and give it an odd-ball history.

Fortunately, in Florida, that’s not hard to do. It’s a bit of an oddball state. I created a now-defunct tourist trap, an alligator farm, and the town that sprang up around it, which is now struggling to avoid ghost-town status.

3. At least some of the secondary characters are quirky.

cafe with coffee cup on the roof

Wouldn’t this make a great setting for a cozy? (photo by beige photos CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

So I had to populate Mayfair, Florida, with some unusual neighbors, like the eccentric elderly owner of the Mayfair Motel. And with each book, I have to come up with new ways to develop their quirkiness and yet not make them totally unbelievable. I’m finding this challenging but also fun.

In my new Kate on Vacation book, I didn’t have to invent a quirky character. Instead I borrowed one from JoAnn Bassett, our author emeritus (with her permission, of course). Her protagonist, Pali Moon isn’t that much of an oddball–just a little bit of one–but she definitely has a penchant for ending up in oddball situations.

4. Crimes happen, usually murder, but minimal on-screen violence and no gory descriptions.

I’m fine with this. Despite the fact that I write crime fiction, I’m a pacifist at heart, so I’m just as happy to have most of the violence happen off-screen. The challenge comes with the final confrontation scene that is a requirement in the mystery genre, including cozies. The protagonist and/or someone near and dear has to be in jeopardy, and usually comes face to face with the bad guy(s) or gal(s).

One needs to make this scene scary and exciting without too much gore and with no one actually dropping dead in front of the protagonist’s (and reader’s) eyes.

5. Sex is off-screen.

You can elude to it, but nothing more than a few fully-clothed, preliminary kisses are allowed on screen.

This is my one major regret with writing cozies. Because I can do a wicked sex scene!

6. No cursing.

Nothing stronger than a “darn” or “heck.” I usually avoid cursing as much as I can in my books anyway, because I know it’s a turn off for some readers, but I am also trying to write realistic characters.

It can be hard to come up with ways for characters to express strong emotions without cursing (’cause after all, bad things are happening) and without sounding totally dorky.

The work-around in my new series was that my main character, Marcia Banks, comes from a religious family–her father was an Episcopal priest (and yes, they marry and have kids).

With the Kate on Vacation stories, this is tougher, because she does cuss some in the main series. So in these cozy stories, I sometimes have her not finishing a sentence:

“What the…” Kate trailed off, shocked speechless for once.

How about you? Which do you prefer to read, regular mysteries or cozies? Or some of both? Mystery writers, have you written cozies? What did you find most challenging about them?

book cover

Missing on Maui, A Kate on Vacation Mystery, #4

It’s an awkward situation at best, and a deadly one at worst.

Days before Kate Huntington is scheduled to leave for her niece’s wedding on Maui, she receives a frantic call from said niece. Amy’s mother–Kate’s rather difficult sister-in-law–is at it again, alienating the groom’s family and even the wedding planner. Can Aunt Kate come early and run interference?

Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers that young women are going missing on the island, and Amy’s maid of honor is hanging out with a notorious local player. Is he involved in the disappearances?

Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Aunt Kate is kept busy locating a new wedding planner (the delightful Pali Moon), refereeing between Amy and her mother, and chasing down errant wedding party members… Oh, and facing off with a psychopath.

Just $0.99 for a limited time on…

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

Ask A Shrink: “ADHD is a Fictitious Disorder” and other Myths Perpetuated by the Web

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of months ago, I ran my first Ask A Shrink post, and invited our readers to ask questions about psychology. Some questions I answered privately and one that I thought would be of common interest, I answered here on the blog.

But there was one question I have been putting off answering. One of my fellow authors asked how to best research mental disorders and other psychological phenomena.

computer

Computer research on Wikipedia may be fine for most things; not so good for psychology.  (photo by Jeff777BC CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve put this one off because there is no easy answer to it. The first thing I would say is to be very skeptical about sources of information, especially if you are, like me, using the writer’s favorite research tool, the Internet.

We find out all kinds of cool stuff much easier than in the past. Before the World Wide Web, we writers had to find an expert in the field and either talk to them on the phone or perhaps go visit them. Now, we just Google it.

But the risk here is that there is a lot of garbage on the Web. And sometimes that garbage is so oft repeated that it begins to take on the ring of gospel.

Also, even “experts” in a certain field can hold biases. Then you factor in what sells books and magazines and builds reputations, and you’ve potentially got even more bias.

In recent years, there have been multiple posts on the Internet claiming that Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the child psychiatrist who first identified ADHD as a developmental disorder in children, “made a deathbed confession” saying that “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.”

Here’s what really happened. Seven months before the man died (hardly a deathbed confession), he was interviewed by a German journal. In that interview he made a statement that could be mistranslated and misconstrued, if taken out of context, to mean what he is being quoted as saying.

Here’s what Snopes.com says about it:

However, when one allows for the vagaries of translation from German to English and reads the statement in context, it’s clear that Dr. Eisenberg wasn’t asserting that ADHD isn’t a real disorder, but rather that he thought the influence of genetic predispositions for ADHD (rather than social/environmental risk factors) were vastly overestimated.

Having now pointed out that what multiple posters on the Web said that Dr. Eisenberg said wasn’t really what he said, I’m sure I will get some comments and maybe even some nasty emails telling me I’m wrong. That he really did say that.

Why will I get such comments and messages? Because people tend to believe what they hear first if it seems the least bit plausible (and especially if it concurs with what they already believe). Then they filter later information through that belief, discounting what doesn’t confirm it and believing what does confirm it.

There are even psychobabble terms for these tendencies: belief perseverance and confirmation bias.

So bottom line, while the Internet might be a viable place to research how to get out of a straitjacket or how to build a secret room in your house (both topics I have researched for books), it is often not a reliable source for accurate information about psychological topics.

What are reliable sources? Usually information on the websites of professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers can be trusted.

However, even there, an individual article may be biased.

Probably the most reliable source of information on psychological disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V).

DSM-V

DSM-V (photo by Yoshikia2001 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

This is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and years of scrutiny of the scientific research goes into each new edition. Committees of experts on each category of disorders meet for several years to review the most current research to determine what disorders should remain, what new ones should be included, what the diagnostic criteria should be for each disorder, etc.

The problem is that this book is written for mental health professionals, so sometimes you may need an interpreter to make sense of what it is saying. It also does not usually address causes of disorders nor treatment approaches.

Another problem is that not all psychological issues have been formulated (yet) as diagnosable disorders per se. For example, before 2013 when this fifth edition of the DSM was published, there was no diagnosis for childhood abuse or spousal battering (neither for the abuser nor the victim). In DSM-V these are still not diagnoses, but they are in there as “Other Conditions that may be a focus of Clinical Attention” (otherwise known as V codes).

So how can you be sure you have the psychology right when you’re writing a story that touches on psychological phenomena (which many stories do)?

Well, you can ask a shrink, like me. But unfortunately, we all have our human foibles as well, so we can also be biased. 😀

And now you can see why I put off answering this question!

I’d love to hear your take on this. Why do you think people are so gullible? What have you believed on the Web only to find out later it was a hoax?

If you have an Ask A Shrink question for me, include it in the comments.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )

A Reader’s Look Behind the Curtain Re: eBook Pricing and KU

by Kassandra Lamb

There’s been a lot of buzz lately amongst my fellow writers about free books and the broader issue of creatives (people who create things for other’s pleasure and entertainment) being expected to work for free for the sake of “exposure.”

I wanted to chime in, but didn’t want to just repeat what has already been said (to see what has already been said, check out editor/writer Marcy Kennedy’s post on the subject and romance writer, Ruth Ann Nordin’s post as well).

image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

So I decided to strive to explain to readers why ebooks end up priced as they are.

Free books are meant to be SAMPLES for the reader to get a taste of the author’s writing. One should not expect to make a steady diet off of them. When a grocery store is giving away samples of a new type of cracker, you wouldn’t stand there and expect the store employee to keep handing you crackers until you’re full. So isn’t it equally rude to expect an author to continue to fork over freebies of the books they worked long and hard to produce?

99 cents is a sale price for books. Authors, just like any other business people, sometimes run sales to attract new customers and reward their loyal ones. Getting a book–that an author spent hours a day for several months producing–for just $0.99 should be cause for celebration. It’s comparable to finding a $50 silk blouse on sale for $5.

Kindle Unlimited is a bargain for the avid reader; but it can cause authors to lose money. What readers often don’t know is that being in KU requires exclusivity with Amazon. We are not allowed to sell, nor even give away our books anywhere else if we sign them up for Kindle Unlimited. I sell almost as many books on Apple’s iBooks as I do on Amazon. Why would I give up that income so KU subscribers can get my books for free?

So by all means, join Kindle Unlimited if you’re an avid reader, but also expect to pay for books by some of your favorite authors, who for a variety of reasons are not willing to be exclusively on Amazon. One of those reasons may be that they’re good enough and well-established enough that they no longer need to be in Kindle Unlimited to get exposure to new readers. (I’m not saying that authors in KU aren’t good writers, mind you! I know several excellent authors who prefer to have all their eggs in the Amazon basket for the benefits received from KDP Select.)

IllTimedEntanglements rev 2015

It took four tries with this book to come up with a cover I really liked.

The overhead of ebooks is low compared to printed books, but it’s still significant. Readers are quick to criticize (as they should!) an ebook that is poorly edited or that has formatting glitches. And they won’t buy one that doesn’t have an eye-catching, well-designed cover. All those things cost money: editing runs around $1,000-2,000 for a full-length novel, formatting around $100-250, and a good cover from $250-500. So it takes, on average, $2,000 to produce a good-quality ebook. Depending on the market and the retailer, the indie author will average $2.00 per book in royalties off of a book priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (the most common price points for indie authors). Which means they will have to sell 1,000 books before they have recouped their out-of-pocket expenses.

Authors have to spend money on promotions in order to give away those freebies and sell those $0.99 books, that will hopefully lead to sales of their regularly-priced books. This is true of traditionally-published authors as well as indies, unless the author is already well-established as a bestseller. So more out-of-pocket expenses for the author.

Indie presses and indie authors are a good bargain for readers. Because we don’t have the overhead of a big organization like major publishers do, we can keep our prices down, especially on ebooks. The average price of an indie-produced novel is $3.99.

“But I’ve read a lot of indie books that were drivel,” you might say. So have I. I’ve also read some traditionally published books in recent years that made me cringe. Traditional publishers are no longer providing the gate-keeping function they once did. They are all about what will sell, not what is good writing.

And traditionally-published ebooks are notoriously overpriced. Often they’re as much or more than the paperbacks. Readers may think this means those ebooks are a better quality read.

No, that’s not the reason at all. Publishers do this in the misguided belief that this will keep the ebooks from cutting into their paperback and hard cover sales. My guess is that it just loses them a lot of ebook sales. It certainly does in my case. I’m not paying $12.99 plus for an ebook; not when I know as an indie press owner and author that those ebooks cost very little in overhead to produce.

You can buy three misterio press ebooks for that amount, with change left over.

People devalue something they got cheap or for free. Sadly the abundance of free and cheap books has led people to unwittingly (it’s human nature, after all) devalue authors’ efforts. The number of hours that go into producing a high-quality read are so high that nobody I know has ever successfully counted them. We’re talking a minimum of three months for a full-time author to produce a polished novella or novel. Most take six months to a year.

And yet authors periodically get emails and comments in reviews saying our books are overpriced. Often these comments are coming from readers who have otherwise given a positive review. They LIKED the book, but don’t understand why they should pay more than $0.99 for it. (And some even complain about $0.99 books.)

Ironically, this devaluing of cheap books has led other readers to believe that anything priced under $4 or $5 is not well-written. When I first heard about this trend, I did an experiment. I raised the price of my full-length novels from $2.99 to $3.99. Sure enough, my sales improved, and not just the money, which was obviously higher, but the actual number of books sold.

Writers need to eat, too! (photo of Polish Christmas Eve dinner by Przykuta CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

Writers need to eat, too!  (photo of Polish Christmas Eve dinner by Przykuta CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

Writers need to make money on writing or they won’t be able to keep writing. Everybody needs to pay their bills and buy groceries, so if writers aren’t able to do this with money from their books, they have to get another job. And that job will drastically cut into their writing time. It might even mean they stop writing completely. So if you want your favorite writers to keep writing, buy their books.

Dear readers, please understand that books are our products, ones that we have neglected our families and lost sleep and sweated blood to produce. We’re happy to give you a free taste now and then, but if you like it, please do buy the meal! So we can pay our mortgages and put food on our own tables.

Thank you for listening, and I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on all this?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, 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 once (sometimes twice) a week, 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. 🙂 )