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5 Tips to Help with Focus in These Stressful Times (Plus New Releases!)

by Kassandra Lamb

help with focus in these stressful times

Celebrating Independence Day this year was bittersweet for me.

I’ve lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, multiple assassinations of leaders, the Gulf War, 9/11, the War Against Terror and never have I seen our society so disrupted for so long. And the end is not yet in sight.

I believe that good will ultimately come out of much of this upheaval, that our society will have a better appreciation of what is most important in life, and a better appreciation for others’ lives and experiences.

But in the meantime, how do we do the tasks we need to get done?

Especially the tasks that require a lot of focus. And especially when a lot of us are working from home, where structure, peace, and quiet may be harder to come by.

(Note: I’m using authors’ problems with focus as an example, but these tips apply to any focus-intense tasks.)

Like many other authors I’ve talked to recently, I’m having trouble focusing. Not surprising. The job of writing requires a lot of focus. So this thing we writers love, this thing that is often the refuge from other stressors in our lives, is now harder to do.

(For a quick explanation of why it’s harder to focus, check out this article on Fiction University; it’s a bit oversimplified, but basically accurate.)

Here are some things I’ve found that help with focus in these stressful times. I hope they work for you as well.

#1 – Don’t blame yourself

Don’t beat up on yourself for not being able to be as productive as you usually are. It’s not your fault. These are extraordinary times.

And self-blame is not motivating. It is depressing. It makes us want to curl up and forget about everything, not buckle down and get things done.

I love this quote I saw recently in an article from BookBub (emphasis is mine):

“Your writing is not garbage. Even your draftiest of drafts … And those few words you managed today? Not trash. Moving away from that thinking is one of the kindest things I ever did for myself. I am in the business of words, so I know words can be weapons. Why would I weaponize them against myself? My words are a part of me and I am worthy of grace, first and foremost, from myself. You are, too.”
—Samira Ahmed, NYT bestselling author of Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

from Inspiring Words from Authors to Authors During Difficult Times, by Diana Urban, June 26, 2020, BookBub Partners Blog.

So be gentle with yourself. The obstacles to productivity and focus during these stressful times are real. And the most productive use of our brain power, instead of mentally berating ourselves, is to look for ways around those obstacles.

#2 – Break the tough tasks into chunks

One of the things I’m struggling with most is editing, either my own work or that of other authors I’m supposed to be critiquing/proofreading. Editing takes a different level and kind of focus than writing a first draft, or even a blog post like this one.

One of the tasks I’ve had on my desk this month was copy-editing the last two installments of Kirsten Weiss’s trilogy of Doyle Witch novellas. They were only about 150 pages each, and I love this series of hers. Should’ve been a piece of cake.

help with focus in these stressful times
Where I normally do the first read-through, on my chaise outside. Not this time, I couldn’t let myself get too comfy or I’d lose focus.

Normally, I would breeze through the first read-through in a couple of days, during my reading-for-pleasure time. Then it would take me maybe another few hours to do a second skim-through to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Less than a week to get the entire task done, usually.

This time, it took me a week to get through the first read-through. And I had to schedule it during my work time, because if I was in read-for-pleasure mode, I couldn’t concentrate enough to catch the mistakes.

So I “chunked down” the second skim-through into 25-page chunks and set myself the task of doing two of them a day, if possible, but at the very least one a day. (Fortunately she didn’t need it back in a hurry.)

And it worked. I did a 25-page chunk the first morning and actually went on to do another 15 pages in the same sitting.

The psychology of this is that if we give ourselves goals that feel doable, we are more likely to attack them with gusto. And may even be able to exceed the goal, once we get rolling.

And if we’re dreading a task, we can tell ourselves that it’s just a little chunk—not that hard to just get it done and out of the way.

If it still feels overwhelming and de-motivating, chunk it down again into even smaller bite-sized pieces.

#3 – Rethink the timing of when you do the most focus-intense tasks

Usually when I sit down at my desk to start my workday, I go right for the toughest tasks that need to get done that day. To get them out of the way while I’m fresh.

help with focus in these stressful times

I’ve been rethinking that lately, when it is harder to focus in these stressful times. Now I will often do two or three little tasks first, to give myself a sense of accomplishment. Then I take a deep breath and knock out that tougher task.

Having had to change your work environment, say from an office to your home, may present other reasons for rethinking the timing of certain tasks. When’s the best time to create the privacy and quiet that a tougher task might require?

I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately after my husband goes to bed. 🙂

#4 – Stop and savor the little achievements

Have you ever stopped and noticed what a “sense of accomplishment” feels like in your body? For me it’s a full, proud feeling in my chest, sometimes accompanied by little bubbles of excitement. And I often feel warm and good all over.

Right now, close your eyes and recall a time when you accomplished something big. Let yourself sink into that experience again, recalling the details, and especially pay attention to how it feels in your body.

Then take a few moments, or at least a few seconds, to stop and notice that feeling after each task you complete. Even little things like doing a load of laundry or scrubbing the kitchen sink. Give yourself permission to stop and savor. It’s a huge motivator, and mood elevator too.

#5 – Give yourself little rewards for getting the tougher tasks done

Pick some self-care things that give you pleasure—a bubble bath, reading a magazine with your feet up, taking a walk—then take a break and indulge in one of those things after finishing a tough task.

help with focus in these stressful times

I know I shouldn’t be promoting the idea of food as a self reward, but the truth is, I’m a chocaholic. I allow myself one dose of chocolate per day. It may be a bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies or candies (love me some Dove dark chocolate!) And I usually have it whenever the mood strikes.

But lately, I’ve been using that chocolate break as a reward for getting the toughest task of the day done.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to tackle another chunk of Kirsten’s last novella right now, and when I’m done I’m going to tackle some Famous Amos cookies!

Do any of these tips strike a chord for you? Have you found new ways to help with focus in these stressful times? Share with us, please.

And speaking of Kirsten’s stories, here are the first two of them. I really loved them!

OAK, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#7)

Doyle Witch Lenore has one job…

Destroy a magical book that threatens to devastate the world.

But try to tell that to her small-town sheriff.

When a decade’s old corpse turns up in the hollow of a haunted oak, Sheriff McCourt drafts Lenore into service. Since the coroner can’t identify the body, why not ask a shamanic witch who can see the dead?

Little does the sheriff know how dangerous the spirits of Middle World can be. And once they have Lenore in their sights, she can only keep moving forward – into a cold case at a local winery that threatens her sanity, and her life…

This novella is a witch cozy mystery featuring true-to-life spells in the back of the book, a trio of witchy sisters, and a dash of romance. Oak can be read as a standalone.

AVAILABLE NOW AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND STONE RELEASES TODAY!!

STONE, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#8)

A murder. A haunted house. A possessed spell book…

What could go wrong?

Since childhood, Doyle Witch Jayce figured the old stone house was haunted. Turns out, she may have been right.

A string of odd deaths in the house has culminated in murder, and newlywed Jayce is on the case. She is a witch after all. So what if it’s Samhain season, when the veil between the worlds is thin?

Right?

But when Jayce finds creepy connections between the old house and the spell book she’s sworn to destroy, she’s plunged into a conspiracy darker than anything mysterious Doyle has thrown at her before. Are supernatural forces at work? Or is Jayce facing a mortal foe?

If you’re a fan of Charlaine Harris, Heather Blake, or Amanda M. Lee, don’t miss this Halloween novella.

RELEASES TODAY ON: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND you can PREORDER STREAM (#9) ~ Releases 7/23/20

Will murder cancel this Doyle Witch’s Christmas?

Certain holiday spirits are keeping Karin’s hands full. And the challenges of motherhood and a cursed spell book have already put a dent in her usual good cheer.

But when she discovers the body of a man in a mountain stream, she’s swept into a mystery that will take all her magic and mental powers to solve. Because the dead man’s mysterious colleagues have taken an interest in Karin’s children…

This Christmas holiday novella is a complete cozy mystery and wraps up the story of the cursed spell book once and for all.

PREORDER AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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.

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Crime Writer’s Interview…A New Misterio Author, Sasscer Hill!

We are delighted to announce that we have a new misterio author, Sasscer Hill. Please help us welcome her to our happy band of mystery writers! (She was already scheduled for a crime writer’s interview when we invited her to join us.)

Crime Writers Interview logo
a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

Sasscer Hill was involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for most of her life. She sets many of her novels against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing. Her mystery and suspense thrillers have won multiple awards and many award nominations.

Her newest title and first non-horse racing mystery, is Travels of Quinn, a mystery-thriller based on a real American group of gypsy con artists.

Kass (on behalf of the whole gang: I am so pleased to welcome you to misterio press, Sasscer! What can you tell our readers to help them get to know you better?

Sasscer Hill: I was born with horses in my veins and started galloping about the family farm on a stick horse when I was four years old. By the time I was seven or eight, I was sneaking rides on the Belgian plow horses. I did this because my father didn’t like horses and considered ponies dangerous. So instead, I drummed my heels on the sides of a 2,000-pound draft mare, while grasping whatever string or rope I managed to tie to her halter.

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

When I was sixteen, my father passed away. Shortly after that, a wealthy banker and racehorse breeder, Alfred H. Smith, Sr. took me under his wing and gave me a right-off-the-track steeplechase horse to ride.

At sixteen, I was fearless, and by the time I was thirty-six, I was breeding racehorses on my family farm and even rode in and won a timber race in Potomac, Maryland.

Because I had so much experience breeding, raising, training, and racing my horses, writing a horse racing mystery seemed logical. My first book, Full Mortality was nominated for both Agatha and Macavity Best First Book Awards.

Kass: What subgenre of mysteries do you write—cozies, traditional whodunnits, historical?

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill
Sasscer’s first book

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Sasscer: I call my subgenre, “Edgy Cozies.” Some of my characters swear every so often, and sex fires a bit of heat in some of my books.

Not the kind of graphic, gratuitous sex you find in some romance novels, but if there’s a particularly handsome and sexy male in the story my heroine will always look twice, and sometimes more if it moves the plot forward.

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

Sasscer: My favorite childhood book was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I loved all his wonderful action-adventure horse stories and devoured them, starting with a picture book of The Black Stallion given to me when I was three or four.

I’ve always loved books filled with mystery, action, and adventure. After reading everything by Walter Farley, I graduated to the Dick Francis horse racing mysteries. As I got older, I read everything by Robert Parker, then went through all the Dorothy Sayer, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and other excellent writers of British mysteries.

The spare writing style of Francis and Parker is what I loved best, and my style tends to go in that direction. I’ve never liked books where the author wanders off into tangents and long descriptions. Anything that slows the pace down too much is a turn off for me.

Kass: So, you already have several books out, most traditionally published. With the latest book, what led to your decision to become an indie author?

I never fit in all that well in the work world. I much prefer self-employment. Novel writing is wonderful; if you write a good story, the readers don’t care if you’re the independent type.

I’ve been with two traditional publishers, one a very small press and the other a larger, better known one. I loved my editor there, but neither publisher did much in the way of marketing—despite the fact that Flamingo Road (my first book with the second publisher) received excellent reviews, including an editor’s pick in the Toronto Star, a starred Booklist review, and it won the $10,000 Ryan Award for Best Book in Horseracing Literature.

When I started working on Travels of Quinn, I suspected it was different enough that traditional publishers wouldn’t be interested. My agent did make an effort to sell it to several of them, but I became tired of the waiting game and self-published it in February of 2020.

Kass: And I read it and loved it, and that started the whole process that culminated with you joining us here at misterio. By the way, huge congrats for winning the Ryan Award!

Tell us, has there been anything particularly interesting you’ve ever had to research for your books?

Sasscer: The oddest thing I’ve ever researched was for the first Fia McKee book, Flamingo Road. There is a drug called Demorphin that was first used at Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma. It is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and a few of the shoddiest and most horrible trainers were using it. Their sore or injured horses would run through the pain and win—if they didn’t break down before the finish line. The drug was made from enzymes and peptides collected off the skin of a certain South American tree frog. Race trackers referred to the drug as “frog juice.” 

a new misterio press author, Sasscer Hill

I got a tip from a former trainer that I should call Dr. Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. I did and he was delightful. We talked about everything from frog juice to how much we loved the series, “Breaking Bad.” Stevens was the doctor who produced the first test for Demorphin. Thanks to him, trainers were stopped from using this drug. 

But I needed frog juice for my book and asked him what if there was a different South American tree frog which also produced a Demorphin-like substance? And what if the chemical makeup was different enough that Stevens’s test wouldn’t catch it in a horse’s bloodstream? He said it was possible, and I almost did a happy dance knowing I had my drug for Flamingo Road.

In the recent Travels of Quinn, I had to write about Quinn’s time in prison. The novel takes place here in Aiken, SC, and I was lucky enough to meet with Capt. Nick Gallam, who runs the Aiken County detention center. He took me on a tour of the entire facility and answered every question I had.

Armed with accurate information and mental images of the women I’d seen in this prison, I was confident and enthusiastic as I wrote about Quinn’s experience in jail.

Kass: What are you working on now?

Sasscer: I was able to get the rights back for my Nikki Latrelle series. I’ve re-released them with new covers. My novel in progress, Shooting Star, will be my fifth Nikki Latrelle book, and I am delighted to be bringing it out with misterio press!

Kass: And we are delighted to have you as a misterio author!! Folks, see Sasscer’s new book, Travels of Quinn, below…and you can see my review of it on BookBub HERE.

You can connect with Sasscer on her website, or on Facebook, Goodreads and Instagram, and you can follow her on BookBub and/or Amazon for updates on new releases.

Travels of Quinn

Born into a subculture of American gypsies, Quinn’s father and stepfamily raise her to be a con artist. Can she escape a binding marriage contract and a life of crime?

Jailed for theft, Quinn pays restitution working on a horse farm. Unfamiliar with horses, her love for them surprises her. They make her hope for a better world.

Until the farm’s owner is brutally murdered and Quinn is the prime suspect.

On the run, Quinn uses every scam and con she knows to save herself. Can she find the real killer before she’s imprisoned for life or murdered because she knows too much?

A mystery-thriller of deceit, murder, greed and hope, by multiple award-winning author, Sasscer Hill.

Available at:

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO

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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Where Our Research Takes Us: 1880s Newport

by K.B. Owen

…or, more specifically, sea-bathing in 1880s Newport, where my latest book, THE SECRET OF THE FORTY STEPS, is set, during the summer of 1887.

sea-bathing in 1880s Newport

Forty Steps, along the Cliff Walk. Date of photo unknown, approx 1900-1910. Newport Discovery Guide (dot) com.

You may have heard of Newport, Rhode Island … the place with all the opulent summer mansions (whimsically termed “cottages”), where wealthy industrial tycoons such as Vanderbilt retreated from the workaday cares of their railroad/steel/coal/shipping empires.

Aside from the parties, promenades, and musical entertainments, one of the chief attractions of summering in Newport was the seaside. What’s not to love about sun, fresh air, and bracing salt water?

But what to wear when sea-bathing in 1880s Newport? Evening gowns and tiaras obviously wouldn’t cut it. I wondered if visiting the beach served as the great equalizer between the classes, at least in terms of attire.

I changed my mind after a bit of research.

I’m sure you’ve seen the typical bathing costume for women during that time. For us 21st century folks, it’s hard to see past the fact that there’s so much material involved–wool and flannel, no less(!). From our perspective, it practically falls into the “why bother?” category. Here’s a fashion plate from Harper’s (originally published 1880-89), for example:

sea-bathing in 18802 Newport

Look – you can see limbs! Courtesy of Dover Publications, Inc, 1974 (used with permission because under 10 images)

Wow, that’s a lot of fabric. But there’s more to the above illustration than how hot it looks. As it turns out, a wet bathing suit was not the great equalizer between classes. Notice how elaborate these bathing costumes actually are–trimmed with ribbons and lace, cut in a way that’s flattering to the figure, lots of accent buttons…even the shoes are fancy.

By contrast, middle-class bathing attire looked more like this:

sea-bathing in 1880s Newport

Capital City Courier (Lincoln, Nebraska), June 8, 1889.

The newspaper article that accompanies the sketch of this plainer bathing costume makes a number of distinctions between “fashionable Newport” and the seaside places frequented by the “more modest” middle-class. It’s pretty clear who the paper’s target audience is (apologies if it’s hard to read):

sea-bathing in 18802 Newport

(Umm…did anyone point out to the reporter the irony of writing in such detail about a wealthy woman’s bathing dress, even as she claims to “have no patience” for writing about it?) From the Capital City Courier.

So, what did the men wear while sea-bathing in 1880s Newport? In many cases…nothing.

That wasn’t a typo. Zip. Nada. It’s amazing what sticks in your mind when you pull up these research bits, you know?

Don’t worry–the gals weren’t around to see the gentlemen in their altogether.

But how did they pull that off? (Get it? hahaha).

I can at least tell you how they did it at Newport’s First Beach (also known as Easton’s Beach…only half a mile from the major hotels, mind you). They used a flag system–a red flag flying meant it was time for the men-only swim, and no suit was required. Scram, ladies.

A white flag meant the fellas had to get their clothes back on, and the ladies could return to the beach.

I know your next question: were there binoculars back then?

Yes, indeed.

New Release! The latest lady Pinkerton mystery

THE SECRET OF THE FORTY STEPS, The Fourth Chronicle of a Lady Detective

Money, love, and murder in 1880s Newport high society…

Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton is summoned to fashionable Newport to investigate the two-year-old death of a wealthy matron. Did she fall from the Cliff Walk’s Forty Steps in the middle of the night, as was presumed, or was she pushed by her much-younger husband?

The case is personal this time, since Pen’s client is her own mother—breaking her near-decade of silence—and the man under scrutiny is to marry Pen’s cousin in a week’s time.

The lady detective discreetly enlists the help of a local, but the inquiry quickly unravels when he turns up dead. To make things worse, Pen’s identity as a Pinkerton is uncovered by Newport’s most prominent summer resident, whose complaint to her boss brings Pen’s estranged husband and fellow Pinkerton, Frank Wynch, to Newport.

With her cousin’s wedding day nearly here and no answers yet, Pen has no choice but to accept Frank’s help while dodging his romantic overtures. Nothing like a little danger to heighten an already-fraught relationship, as they work to expose a desperate adversary…who could prove deadly to them both.

Available at these online retailers:

Amazon  ~  Apple  ~  B&N  ~  Kobo

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, and four stories 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 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 Goodie: Fun Character Interview

by Kassandra Lamb

Lord of the Fleas book cover

I had a lot of fun last week when my character, Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) Banks was interviewed on Anastasia Pollock’s blog. (She’s the character of author Lois Winston.)

Click HERE to pop over and check out what Marcia had to say about me and her latest adventure in Lord of the Fleas (plus what’s coming up for her).

~~~~

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.

A Memorial Day Salute to All our Heroes, Including Our Readers!!

by Kassandra Lamb

Memorial Day salute to the fallen in war, and to the first responders and healthcare professionals fighting our current war.
photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unpslash

This year, we would like to honor three groups: our fallen warriors, our first responders/ healthcare workers, and our readers.

First, we’d like to recognize all those who have given their all to defend our country! It is hard to even find words (and I’m a writer so words are my thing) to express our deepest appreciation for their sacrifice. Where would the U.S. be today without these selfless warriors?

And this year, we would like to include our gratitude to first responders and health care workers, who are on the “front lines” of our current war against coronavirus. Your fortitude and courage are amazing and awe-inspiring! Thank you so much for all that you are doing.

Also, today we’d like to honor our readers, and explore a bit the symbiotic relationship between writers and readers.

We ran a contest for free books recently, and, as you can imagine, we got a lot of responses. It was gratifying to connect with our readers through those comments. But one comment in particular touched my heart.

I love this blog. The authors are treating us like friends. That makes us very happy. Thank you so much.

comment from Joyce W.
That comment got me thinking about the symbiotic relationship between writers and readers.

Obviously readers need authors to produce the books for them to read.

Honoring the symbiotic relationship between writers and readers.
photo by Dan Dumitriu on Unsplash

But authors need readers as well, and not just because of the “trying to make a living” thing. Authors, of course, want to be paid for their efforts … but I think if I were making a million dollars a year in book sales, and I never heard from a single reader, I would get pretty discouraged after a while.

The pleasure of receiving an email from a reader is right up there with the thrill of holding one of my new books in my hands for the first time. Yes, I love writing, and I love seeing my work blossom during the editing process into something worthy of sharing with the world.

But that sharing it with others is a huge part of the satisfaction of being a writer.

Early on in my writing journey, I went to my first writers’ conference. An established author asked if I was a writer.

When I stumbled over my answer, he said, “Do you write?”

“Yes.”

“Then you are a writer.”

“But I’m not published yet.”

“If you write, you’re a writer.”

I ran into him the next day, toward the end of the conference, and I said to him, “I’ve been thinking about what you said. Yes, I am a writer. And you know what? I’m going to get published, one way or another. I have to. Otherwise, my characters will die a slow death inside my computer.”

And that is the essence of the symbiotic relationship between writers and readers.
Honoring the symbiotic relationship between writers and readers.
photo by Kourosh Qaffari RrhhzitYizg on Unsplash.com

You, the readers, keep our characters alive.

We create characters out of thin air, but they become real to us. We have a relationship with them.

Without readers, though, they would die.

Every time a reader opens a book, they breathe life again into the characters in that story.

So thank you, Readers! We love you!

We couldn’t do this without you. And to show our appreciation, we have new releases!

Lord of the Fleas, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery #9

Lord of the Fleas book cover

What could be more innocent than a country flea market?

When service dog trainer Marcia Banks takes up temporary residence with her best friend in Williston, Florida, her goals are simple: spoil her toddler godchildren and train her newest dog’s veteran owner, a vendor at a local flea market.

Ha, the universe has other plans. When the owner of the flea market is found dead and her client is a prime suspect, she discovers that nothing is as it seems—from the flea market owner himself to the ornate dragonhead cane he gave to her client.

The only true innocent seems to be her guileless client. But when he shares a confidence that puts her in a double bind with local law enforcement, she’s not sure she can even trust him. Despite her promises to her new husband, the only way out of her no-win dilemma seems to be to find the real killer.

The flea market, however, is hiding more secrets…and one of them could be deadly.

Just $2.99 for a limited time, so grab a copy quick!

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

Hostage to Fortune, A Tea and Tarot Mystery #2

Hostage to Fortune book cover

Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail Beanblossom is used to running interference for her socially-awkward former boss, tech billionaire Razzzor. So when he invites her on a stakeout to investigate the sale of counterfeit wine from his latest venture – an upscale winery – she barrels on in. But the two stumble across the corpse of a wine merchant, and new wine in old bottles is now the least of their problems.

Good thing amateur detectives Abigail and her partner, tarot reader Hyperion Night, have a nose for murder. Their investigation takes them from elegant wine cellars to chic tea parties on the California coast. But just as the investigation starts to get its legs, Abigail discovers there’s more than wine at the bottom of this crime.

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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. 

Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan

Crime Writers Interview logo

We periodically introduce our readers to other mystery writers whom they might find interesting. Because as we all know, there is no such thing as too many books to read, especially in these strange times when distraction is a very good thing.

Today, please help us welcome Nancy Nau Sullivan. Nancy has led an interesting life and has many stories to tell…

Nancy Nau Sullivan began writing wavy lines at age six, thinking it was the beginning of her first novel.

It wasn’t. But she didn’t stop writing. After eight years of newspaper work in high school and college, she contributed to editorial posts at New York magazines and for newspapers throughout the Midwest.

Nancy grew up outside Chicago but often visited Anna Maria Island, Florida. She returned there with her family and wrote an award-winning memoir, The Last Cadillac-––a harrowing adventure of travel, health issues, and adolescent angst, with a hurricane thrown in for good measure.

She went back to the Florida setting for her first cozy mystery, Saving Tuna Street, creating the fictional Santa Maria Island. Nancy now lives, for the most part, in Northwest Indiana…or anywhere near water.

Kassandra Lamb (on behalf of the misterio gang): We like to start with an open-ended, “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Nancy Nau Sullivan: I must have been born with a bitty little suitcase in my hand, because I can’t sit still—except to write. I was born in San Francisco, but grew up in Lansing, Illinois, in the steel belt outside Chicago. I moved 19 times with my ex-husband, a West Pointer. Over the years, I’ve lived in Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, the South, and now I’m back home in Indiana near the kids.

This peripatetic life has influenced my writing. My new series has an international bent, starting in Santa Maria Island, Florida, a fictional adaptation of Anna Maria Island, my favorite place in the world.

Kass: What subgenre of mysteries do you write?

Nancy: The Blanche Murninghan mystery series is somewhere between traditional and cozy, mostly the latter. The first book, Saving Tuna Street (due out June 23, 2020), takes place on Santa Maria Island when the quiet little island comes under threat from land-grabbing goons. They want to  turn it into a mecca of McMansions. Blanche, who lives in a cabin on the beach, is having none of it—especially when her suspicions tell her the goons are also murderers, kidnappers, and a front for drug-runners.

I picked Santa Maria (fictional Anna Maria Island) because it’s the beloved setting for my memoir, The Last Cadillac. I’m inspired by setting. Blanche will go on to Mexico next, then Ireland, Spain, Argentina, and maybe Vietnam.

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

Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan

Nancy: All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I loved the Brooklyn “family” and their customs, and I can still see the maple syrup coming out of those trees in the “big woods.”

Later, I read all of Nancy Drew in her little motor car, finding lost jewels, with a doting father in the background.

Kass: I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books as a kid. So, where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little about your stories.

Nancy: I worked at newspapers all through high school and college, and in New York City publishing following graduation, then went back to my first love, newspapers, for almost 20 years. Along the way, I was always diddling with stories. But it wasn’t until the 1990s, when my life exploded, that I wrote my first book, The Last Cadillac, a memoir of high family drama.

I joined the Peace Corp in 2013, and with no TV (the writer’s enemy), I started writing short stories  and sending them out for publication. I think that was a springboard to getting the memoir published in 2016. I went back to that setting to write Saving Tuna Street, my first mystery due out in June.

I’ve also written a novel about a woman who teaches in a boys’ prison and gets mixed up in their escape plan. The Boys of Alpha Block will be out next year. It’s based on my own teaching experience in a boys’ prison in Florida for five years. They did not escape, but they darn near did everything else in this novel.

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

Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan -- The Last Cadillac cover

Nancy: I dread the first draft, and I don’t know why. Once I sit down to write it, it usually flows. I figure if the writing gets boring, then the reader will be bored, so I stop. Take a walk or mop the kitchen floor (I have a very clean kitchen floor).

I am pretty much of a pantser, but I can see the rough arc of the story when I sit down to write. Once I’m in, I don’t want to get out until it’s done. And I love to edit and research.

I’m an old newspaper type with a master’s in journalism, so I guess it’s coded somewhere in my brain to edit and research, or the writing just won’t work.

Journalism requires tight writing and deadlines and checking the facts. The practice has helped because I can see where to cut and fill in later, how long it’s going to take (always longer), and where to pace.

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

Nancy: How to make a mummy!

In the No. 2 mystery in the Blanche Murninghan series, Down Mexico Way, which should be out in the summer of 2021, Blanche discovers that a mummy in a museum exhibit is not “real,” but was more recently manufactured.

I had to research ancient methods, and it was fascinating. You should have seen what turned up on my news feed!

Kass: In Saving Tuna Street, your first mystery, what was your favorite (or hardest to write) scene?

Nancy: Those tense scenes involving the kidnapping were the most fun and the hardest. The sentences had to be short and snappy, and I had to put myself in the moment. Fortunately, I’ve never been kidnapped, but I do know fear, and so I channeled it. A friend who was once mugged also helped, and she picked apart that first draft.

At a conference I attended once, Lee Child said: The action scenes have to be longer, and the descriptive, backstory, more mundane scenes have to be on the shorter side (I paraphrase. Sorry, Lee.)

Kass: In Saving Tuna Street, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?

Crime Writers Interview:  Nancy Nau Sullivan -- path to the beach
Path to the beach on Anna Maria Island

Nancy: The main character. The first time I wrote her up, an editor told me she was “flat.” How dismaying.

So I let that puppy out of the cage. Pretty soon she was using her anger as a tool and throwing back shots of tequila with her friend (Blanche is a bit of a drinker). I also got a good look at her appearance—She lives on the beach, and her T-shirt is stiff with salt and the only footwear she has are sandals.

That is a drag when you get kidnapped and have to kick your way out of a van.

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

Nancy: Are you in it for the money?

And the answer is HAHAHAHAHA. What money?

Kass: LOL…Thank you so much, Nancy, for joining us today.

Readers, please check out her debut novel, Saving Tuna Street, now available for preorder! (see below) It’s due to be released by Light Messages on June 23, 2020.

Nancy will hang out for a while to answer any questions you may have. And you can also connect with her on Twitter (@NauSullivan), Facebook, Instagram and via her website.

Saving Tuna Street (A Blanche Murninghan Mystery)

Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan -- Saving Tuna Street cover

Blanche “Bang” Murninghan is a part-time journalist with writer’s block and a penchant for walking the beach on her beloved Santa Maria Island. When land-grabbing tycoons arrive from Chicago and threaten to buy up Tuna Street, including her beachfront cottage, her seemingly idyllic life begins to unravel. Blanche finds herself in a tailspin, flabbergasted that so many things can go so wrong, so fast.

When her dear friend is found murdered in the parking lot of the marina, Blanche begins digging into his death. With her friends Liza and Haasi by her side—the latter a mysterious, tiny Native American with glossy braids and dark eyes, who seems to appear just when she’s needed most—Blanche stumbles into a pit of greed, murder, drug running, and kidnapping. She has survived her fair share of storms on Santa Maria Island, but this one might just be her last.

Available for Preorder on:

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO

Also two of our books are available for Preorder:

Hostage to Fortune, A Tea and Tarot Mystery, by Kirsten Weiss ~ Releases May 21st!!!

Hostage to Fortune book cover

Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail Beanblossom is used to running interference for her socially-awkward former boss, tech billionaire Razzzor. So when he invites her on a stakeout to investigate the sale of counterfeit wine from his latest venture – an upscale winery – she barrels on in. But the two stumble across the corpse of a wine merchant, and new wine in old bottles is now the least of their problems.

Good thing amateur detectives Abigail and her partner, tarot reader Hyperion Night, have a nose for murder. Their investigation takes them from elegant wine cellars to chic tea parties on the California coast. But just as the investigation starts to get its legs, Abigail discovers there’s more than wine at the bottom of this crime…

Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.

Click HERE for Preorder links!

Lord of the Fleas, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, by Kassandra Lamb ~ Releases May 26th!!

Lord of the Fleas book cover

What could be more innocent than a country flea market?

When service dog trainer Marcia Banks takes up temporary residence with her best friend in Williston, Florida, her goals are simple: spoil her toddler godchildren and train her newest dog’s veteran owner, a vendor at a local flea market.

Ha, the universe has other plans. When the owner of the flea market is found dead and her client is a prime suspect, she discovers that nothing is as it seems—from the flea market owner himself, to the ornate dragonhead cane he gave to her client, to the beautiful but not very bright young woman whom her client has a crush on.

The only true innocent in the bunch seems to be her guileless client. But when he shares a confidence that puts her in a double bind with local law enforcement, she’s not sure she can even trust him.

Despite her promises to her new husband, the only way out of her no-win dilemma seems to be to find the real killer. The flea market, however, is hiding more secrets, and at least one of them could be deadly.

Click HERE for Preorder Links!

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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Live Where You Thrive (Lessons from a Pandemic)

by Kassandra Lamb

Live Where You Thrive ~ Happy Mother's Day!
We hope all mothers out there had a fabulous Mother’s Day! (photo by Karolina Bobek on Unsplash, so not my magnolias, but my magnolia tree is starting to bloom!)

A few weeks back, I wrote a post wondering how this pandemic, with all its short-term repercussions on families and finances, etc., might change our lives in more permanent ways.

And maybe, at least in certain areas, for the better.

I mentioned that one impact it had on me was to make me grateful for the things I had previously taken for granted (like toilet paper 😉 ).

Recently, I realized something else to be grateful for, that I can live where I thrive.

For the first five decades of my life, I lived in the state where I was born—a place that I kind of liked a good bit of the time, hated some of the time (winter) and never really loved any of the time. Then we moved to northern Florida, where I love it about half the time and definitely like it the rest of the time.

But we’ve been here almost sixteen years now, so I was beginning to take it for granted.

Live Where You Thrive ~ spring in Florida
The azaleas along one side of our fence. (photo copyright by my hubs)

And then we had a pandemic, and I’ve had to stay on my own property pretty much all day, every day for weeks on end. Fortunately, this was during my favorite time of the year down here—spring.

Yes, spring starts in March (sometimes late February), runs through April and usually at least a few weeks into May. It’s relatively dry and fabulously sunny that whole time, with temps most days in the 70s to low 80s, and mostly low humidity.

Spring in Florida has really made the pandemic lockdown tolerable for me. Indeed, it’s probably kept me from sinking into a depression (and also helped me to keep writing!!)

I realize that not everyone has been as lucky. Many have been cooped up in apartments—others in parts of the world where they were still experiencing winter or the chilly, damp beginnings of spring during March and April, or in the Southern Hemisphere, autumn. (And yes, I get it that some people like autumn or even winter; yay for you!)

The lesson learned is that it’s really important to live where you thrive.

Live Where You Thrive -- my editing chair
My editing chair. 🙂

I know that’s not always possible. We have to go where the work is sometimes, or where family is, or spend some time at school in a less than ideal climate for us.

But I think in making such decisions, all too often we Americans put climate and the local culture too low on our list of considerations. Yes, work and school and family are very important.

But being able to live where you can thrive should also be very important.

A couple of my friends and family members up north have asked me a few times if I would ever move back to Maryland. It’s my home state and I love it for that reason, but the answer is a resounding “No!”

Climate isn’t the only thing I’m talking about here.

The culture of a place is important too, and other things, like how densely populated it is.

Are you a country person, who loves a lot of space around you, or are you someone who thrives on the excitement of the city?

Or maybe somewhere in between?

I’ve always been a country girl. I loved the wide open spaces enough that I was happy to drive half an hour to get to anything, including a gas station or convenience store. My husband liked the fresh air and the fact that a nice piece of property, in Maryland, was much more affordable in the country than nearer to the city. But he didn’t particularly like the inconvenience of living in the boonies.

When we moved to Florida, he wanted to live in a more convenient location. I figured I owed him, since I’d had my way for decades. Well, we lucked out. We now live in a medium-small city, in an older neighborhood with decent sized lots and plenty of mature trees.

Live Where You Thrive ~ view from my back porch
The view from my editing chair on the back porch.

With a tall privacy fence in our backyard, I have my own little slice of country, while nothing in the entire city is farther away than a twenty-minute drive.

We have found a place to live where we both thrive!

How about you, do you live where you thrive? What about where you live now works well for you? Or is there something you would change if you could?

My sister misterio author, Kirsten Weiss, has also recently relocated to a place where she is thriving, Colorado. She misses the nice weather in California but loves the wide open spaces.

She and I have been thriving so well that we’ve both managed to get stories ready for publication during these stressful times. Here’s her next installment in her Tea and Tarot series, and mine in the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries.

Both are available for Preorder Now and will release on May 26th.

Hostage to Fortune, A Tea and Tarot Mystery #2

Hostage to Fortune book cover

Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail Beanblossom is used to running interference for her socially-awkward former boss, tech billionaire Razzzor. So when he invites her on a stakeout to investigate the sale of counterfeit wine from his latest venture – an upscale winery – she barrels on in. But the two stumble across the corpse of a wine merchant, and new wine in old bottles is now the least of their problems.

Good thing amateur detectives Abigail and her partner, tarot reader Hyperion Night, have a nose for murder. Their investigation takes them from elegant wine cellars to chic tea parties on the California coast. But just as the investigation starts to get its legs, Abigail discovers there’s more than wine at the bottom of this crime…

Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.

Click HERE for Preorder links!

Lord of the Fleas, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery #9

Lord of the Fleas book cover

What could be more innocent than a country flea market?

When service dog trainer Marcia Banks takes up temporary residence with her best friend in Williston, Florida, her goals are simple: spoil her toddler godchildren and train her newest dog’s veteran owner, a vendor at a local flea market.

Ha, the universe has other plans. When the owner of the flea market is found dead and her client is a prime suspect, she discovers that nothing is as it seems—from the flea market owner himself, to the ornate dragonhead cane he gave to her client, to the beautiful but not very bright young woman whom her client has a crush on.

The only true innocent in the bunch seems to be her guileless client. But when he shares a confidence that puts her in a double bind with local law enforcement, she’s not sure she can even trust him.

Despite her promises to her new husband, the only way out of her no-win dilemma seems to be to find the real killer. The flea market, however, is hiding more secrets, and at least one of them could be deadly.

Click HERE for Preorder 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. 

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

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

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

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

Gilian Baker:

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

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

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

Murder Over Medium cover

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Esposito

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

Karma's a Bitch book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vinnie Hansen

May is National Pet Month: Vinnie's Lola

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

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

Murder, Honey book cover

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

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

She’s the real deal.

Kirsten Weiss

Steeped in Murder book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was inevitable that she ended up adopting one…

K.B. Owen

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

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

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

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

Beloved and Unseemly book cover

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

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

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

Kassandra Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

To Kill A Labrador cover

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

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

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

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

Happy National Pet Month!!

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

Grand Prize: Betty R.

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

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

A Crime Writers Interview: Donnell Ann Bell

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

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

We are pleased to introduce you to Donnell Ann Bell.

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

Here is Donnell’s bio:

Crime Writers Interview: Donnell Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“El Paso, Texas,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After that, I’d keep on writing.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Kass’s review:

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

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

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

You can reach Donnell at:

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

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

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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MacGyver® Recipes for a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

Kathy’s mother’s original handwritten recipe.

Serves 4+

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

You can also add cooked vegetables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacGyver recipes and contest

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.