Tag Archives: music

Contemplating Christmas and Cuba

by Vinnie Hansen

With the release of Black Beans & Venom, my seventh Carol Sabala mystery, my mind turns to Cuba, the book’s setting.

My husband and I ventured there during December, 2010, partly to attend the International Jazz Festival. But one doesn’t have to attend an event to hear the Latin beats there. Full bands perform on the sidewalk. Guitar and woodblock duets float from a park, and trombone players practice on the seawall.










I did not miss the canned muzak that assaults us during the holiday season in the United States. In this communist country we saw few signs of Christmas—and heard fewer.

Which is not to say I dislike Christmas music. Last year the ukulele group for which I play keyboards, the All in Good Time Orchestra (AIGT), performed Oh Holy Night at two holiday events.

When that music swelled and our vocals rose in “Fall on your knees/Oh hear the angel voices,” the vibration filled me with ecstasy.

Vinnie playing her keyboard with ukulele band.

Vinnie rockin’ it with her ukulele posse, the All in Good Time Orchestra

Since other groups also performed Oh Holy Night, this year our director suggested we do a piece that no one else would do—a Paul McCartney song. I expected a familiar tune. Instead I was introduced to a short melancholy piece that is now stuck in my head like an earworm.

Junk is not a Christmas song. But after once again watching people on Black Friday punch each other in order to score a television set, the lyrics speak to me. To paraphrase: Buy, buy the ads cry, but why, why the discarded junk asks.

Which brings me back to Cuba, a place singularly lacking in true junk. We all picture the old American cars there, but those aren’t the only things kept alive on the Caribbean island. Between the U.S. embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people lack supplies.


So a wooden seat is crafted for an old bike. A worn tennis ball becomes a kid’s baseball. Old headlights are brightened with silver paint.






Kids play with slingshots fashioned from branches and elastic. A cart with no wheels squeaks by on rusty rims.

So many of the details of Cuba wormed their way into my heart and into Black Beans & Venom.  While primarily a story of suspense, the book is also a tribute to the resourcefulness of the Cuban people.

As the holiday season commences and AIGT rehearses Junk, I think of this island country pressed into recycling, reusing, and repurposing. Is there a way to catch that spirit of resourcefulness, I wonder, without being forced into it?

Are there countries or regions you’ve visited where you were particularly impressed by the locals? What’s your favorite Christmas music?

book cover Black Beans and Venom, A Carol Sabala Mystery

No one wants P.I. Carol Sabala to take the case. Her boss is apprehensive about an illegal investigation in Cuba. Carol’s boyfriend worries about her physical safety. But the client is rolling in dough, the office has unpaid bills, and Carol chafes under the mundane tasks assigned to her.

In Old Havana, Carol sets off to track down Megan, the client’s missing daughter, who is battling metastasizing cancer and running from a sociopathic boyfriend. Struggling in the exotic world of the island, Carol races to find Megan, before the disease or her ex-boyfriend kills her.

Now available on AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her cozy noir mystery series, the Carol Sabala mysteries, is set in Santa Cruz, California.

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.

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The Music That Feeds Our Souls

by Kassandra Lamb

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  ~  Berthold Auerbach

All Saints Episcopal Church, San Francisco (photo by AJ Alfieri-Crispin CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(photo by AJ Alfieri-Crispin CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I finally got around to uploading a post to my own website. It’s one I wrote last year for Catie Rhodes’ Author Celebrity Playlist series on her blog. But instead of doing my own playlist, I did one for my main character, Kate Huntington.

It includes the songs that were meaningful to Kate at various turning points in her life. (If you’re a Kate Huntington fan, check it out; it gives a lot of her back story.)

Posting that playlist got me thinking about music, and how so often it can speak to us in ways that mere words alone cannot. Somehow combining those words with a beautiful melody makes the message so much more powerful.

My favorite song of all time is Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Teach Your Children. I first heard it in 1970, the year I graduated from high school. It spoke to me then, but it’s appeal has only increased through the years. I can now relate to the song from both the perspective of a grown child and that of a parent of a grown child.

Listen carefully to the lyrics:


“And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked…”

There is one dream that has survived for three generations in my family: to be a writer.

My mother was a public relations specialist for a college. She used words all the time in her job, writing press releases and college catalogs. But it had always been her dream to be a “real” writer. The closest she came were a couple rough drafts of children’s books and some travel articles she wrote in her retirement for a seniors’ magazine.

I spent the majority of my working life as a psychotherapist. It was a very satisfying career and I have no regrets. I wrote professional articles through the years. But the demands of my job and family left me little time or energy for creative writing. My second career was that of college professor. Again I found an outlet for my writing lust as I drafted lecture notes and developed tests, but still there never seemed to be much time left over.

Finally, at age 59, the novel that I’d started in my mid-forties came to fruition and was published (sadly, six years after my mother’s death). Now I have several published works to my name. I have been well fed by my mother’s dream, the one I picked.

My son has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a masters in divinity. His full-time job is that of Episcopal priest. Like I did before him, he can satisfy some of his desire for writing through his profession as he drafts his weekly sermons. But he also carves out what little time he can for writing fiction–fantasy novels with a strong spiritual component. I have no doubt that he will be published, hopefully some day soon.

My mother is dancing in heaven. We have fed her with our dreams, the one she picked.

And then there is the chorus:

Don’t you ever ask them why; if they told you, you would cry.
Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

I get a lump in my throat every time I read or hear those lyrics. I have learned through the years that there are things we may never understand about other generations, the ones that came before us nor the ones that follow us.

Don’t you ever ask them why; just know they love you!

What song speaks to your soul? Do you share a dream with other generations of your family?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)