Tag Archives: mystery novels

7 Life Lessons From My Summer Vacation

by Kassandra Lamb

Remember those essays we had to write in school…What I Did on My Summer Vacation?

Well, I went to Europe on mine.

It’s a trip that hubs and I had begun to plan multiple times (starting in 2015), and something always happened to derail the plan. So this year, we were determined.

The trip was all about seeing some sights we’d been wanting to see for years—which we did—but I also picked up a few life lessons along the way.

Lesson #1 — People can be family even if they don’t speak the same language.
Our friend Nathalie, with the baguette for dinner, in the town nearest her home.

The first week of our trip was spent in Brittany, France, visiting a friend of twenty some years now. My husband, the linguist, speaks fluent French, but me, not so much. He sees this friend and her family every couple of years, when he’s overseas doing what linguists do (after 43 years of marriage, I’m still trying to figure out what that is). I’ve been over there four or five times now.

Dessert our second evening in France.

The French are fairly reserved with strangers, but once they get to know you—and if they decide they like you—then you’re family. We were welcomed with open arms, bised (kissed on the cheeks) by every man, woman and child in the extended family, and then fed until we almost exploded!

And every meal was accompanied by lively conversation (most of which washed right over my head) and lots of laughter.

It was a wonderful, joyful time and a great way to start our adventure!

Lesson #2 — Our lives today would be radically changed, if a few things had happened a bit differently in the past.

Our second stop was Brest, France, the city where our friend’s eldest daughter lives and works.

View of Brest from our Airbnb’s window.

Brest is a major French naval port. During a visit to the naval museum there, we discovered that the French Navy, and this port in particular, played a pivotal role in our War of Independence.

Four-hundred and fifty ships of the Royal Navy were dispatched from Brest to intercept and blockade the British Navy near Yorktown in 1781. They kept supplies and reinforcements from reaching land, a turning point in the war that eventually led to the signing of the peace treaty.

The tip of the iceberg. Underground are several stories of the German installation, now a museum.

On a more somber note, a visit to a World War II museum, in a former Nazi artillery bunker on the coastline near Brest, poignantly reminded us of how much France and Europe had suffered during that war.

The artifacts of the war included possessions, drawings and photos of specific, real people—military from both sides and French civilians—accompanied by audio recordings of actors playing those people and telling us about their experiences (based on diaries, journals and letters). The hair stood up on the back of my neck a few times.

A profound sight: the juxtaposition of these remnants of a devastating war against the tranquil countryside and the sea beyond.

Brest was a very strategic port for the Germans, and therefore it was bombed regularly by the Allied Forces. Most of the city was destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

It was quite an experience, looking out over the cityscape of modern buildings from our Airbnb’s window, and suddenly having one’s eye stopped by a surviving church spire, a castle tower or an ancient house—the only reminders left that this city was founded before the Middle Ages.

Can you spot the castle? (No, it’s not the tall tower slightly to the left; look a bit to the right instead.)
Lesson #3 — Online friends can be just as wonderful as IRL friends.

Next up was a visit with a friend in Glasgow, Scotland, and a trip to her “wee cottage” on the Isle of Arran.

The side wall of my friend’s “wee” cottage and the view from her front window.
I discovered when I got home that I hadn’t taken any pics of my friend. 🙁 But I did get this one of her wee dog, and my friend’s shoes.

This friend is someone I’ve “known” online for several years now, and I was so excited to finally meet her in person.

She showed us a delightful time!

And I am now proud to call her an in-real-life friend.

Lesson #4 — Some things resist being checked off the bucket list.
No, it’s not Hogwarts, it’s the University of Glasgow on a typical Scottish cloudy day.

We felt like we “did” Glasgow sufficiently (plus a day trip to Edinburgh).

But the Isle of Arran gave us a taste of the beauty of the highlands that left us wanting more. So we’re hoping we can spend some time again on the island, soaking up that beauty at a more leisurely pace.

Maybe we’ll rent one of the lovely holiday cottages that are so plentiful on the island.

Lesson #5 — Sacred spaces come in all shapes and sizes.

High on my bucket list was Stonehenge, and hubs and I are also cathedral junkies. So a trip to Salisbury was the centerpiece of our week in England. After a stop-over in Stratford-upon-Avon for a Shakespeare fix, our train chugged into Salisbury on one of the few sunny afternoons during this leg of the journey.

We dumped our bags in our room and walked the few blocks to get a look at the outside of the cathedral. And stood with our mouths hanging open for a while.

Salisbury Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1238, is one of the biggest and most magnificent cathedrals we’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something).

The next morning we attended the 10:30 mass before shifting into our tourist roles. It was a lovely service, especially in such an awe-inspiring space.

And we visited with the local parishioners for a while afterwards, during the “coffee hour” that is part of almost every Episcopalian/Anglican service in the world (I’m Episcopalian).

Then we wandered around the cathedral’s interior for quite some time (with more mouth-hanging-open moments), before having tea and scones for lunch in the refectory.

The next day, we went to Stonehenge, and we weren’t nearly so lucky with the weather there. It was rainy and dreary the whole time.

We kept asking ourselves why we were walking around in the rain just to look at a bunch of rocks. And yet, we kept walking, and staring.

And stopping to take “one last photo” of those stones that were obviously intentionally placed in that field, in some particular arrangement for some sacred reason, many centuries ago.

Indeed, some of the stones have a blue cast to them that identifies them as a type of rock NOT naturally found in that area. The constructors of Stonehenge had dragged those huge rocks on sledges across many miles to that spot.

Archeologists are still piecing together the whys and wherefores of the phenomenon that is Stonehenge.

Lesson #6 — The justice we take for granted in the West is not universal.

Salisbury Cathedral houses one of the few remaining original copies of the Magna Carta. I hadn’t given much thought to that part of the visit beforehand, assuming that this would just be another historical memento I would glance at and think, “That’s interesting.”

But the Cathedral folks have done a really good job of pointing out the significance of this document, signed begrudgingly by King John of England in 1215.

With various displays around the room, they remind visitors that rights we take for granted in “Western” countries—such as the right to not be arrested without due process and being considered innocent until proven guilty—all stemmed from this incident in British history.

And these concepts are not universal in other countries.

Lesson #7 — Nobody’s getting any younger, so go where you really want to go sooner instead of later.

We were really sorry we’d waited so long to make this trip, especially since we found the lugging of suitcases, the climbing of steps and the many miles of walking much more challenging then in the past.

So our next big adventure will be happening a lot sooner. Before our old bodies give out on us completely.

How about you? What did you do on your summer vacation? And what’s still on your bucket list?

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 the cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

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

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6 Things I’ve Learned About Labor — An Encore

aerial of crowded beach on Labor Day
Traditionally, beaches are jammed full on the last big weekend of summer. (photo by John Murphy, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Another Labor Day has rolled around. For many of us this is just another three-day weekend, an excuse to have a cookout or make a trip to the department stores to grab some bargains.

Or we may look upon this holiday as the bittersweet end of summer.

But the day was originally set aside to honor people who worked for a living (which is almost all of us). Back when this holiday was a new thing, in the late 1800s, many more people did actual physical labor in their jobs than we see today.

Indeed, the word “labor” implies hard physical effort. We talk about a woman laboring to give birth.

But what about if our work is something we are passionate about. Then we may call it a “labor of love.”

Here are 6 things I’ve learned about labor during my lifetime:

1. Find work that you enjoy, and preferably work that you can feel passionate about.

There are lots of different vocations available today. Don’t settle for one that you can barely tolerate, if you can help it.

2. Accept the bad with the good.

Not all of the tasks involved in that work will be ones you like. I try to deal with the less pleasant tasks first thing, so I can enjoy the rest of my day without them hanging over my head.

3. Take time to experience a sense of accomplishment.

The next time you finish a task, stop and notice what that sense of accomplishment feels like for you.

For me, it’s a light feeling in my chest and I find myself smiling even if no one else is around. I experience this feeling, to varying degrees, every time I accomplish something, no matter how small. Even something mundane like changing the sheets on the bed comes with a small sense of satisfaction.

image of joy
(image by Camdiluv ♥ from Concepción, CHILE CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When the accomplishment is a major one, there may be bubbles of joy in my chest and the urge to jump up and down. I get that more intense feeling when I finish a first draft, and when I hit Publish for a new release.

Once you’ve discovered what “accomplishment” feels like for you, stop to let yourself experience that feeling every time you finish a task. Take the time to savor it; it’s your reward!

4. Realize that passion can burn out eventually.

We have much more permission to change careers today than previous generations did. Don’t hesitate to at least explore other options when what was once pleasant is now burdensome. I’m now working on my 4th career.

5. Don’t make what has come before wrong because it is no longer right.

Things we once felt passionate about can become mundane. Tasks that we once tolerated can become excruciating. But that doesn’t mean that particular passion wasn’t right for us back in the day. Things change; cherish the memories and move on.

My first career was as an administrative assistant in Human Resources (we called it Personnel back then). The tasks I did in that job would bore me to tears today, but I was excited to be part of the business world and to use my interest in psychology to help my employer hire good people.

line drawing of Labor Day parade
The first Labor Day parade, in New York in 1882. (public domain)

When I hit the glass ceiling (which was a lot lower in those days), I went back to school and then became a therapist. I loved that work.

For two decades, I loved it, until I didn’t anymore. But that didn’t make what I had accomplished any less meaningful to me or my clients, nor did it change the fact that I had indeed loved that career for a very long time.

And then I loved to teach, until the other aspects of the job (like grading papers) got to be more trouble than it was worth. (I miss the students though.)

And now I’m writing fiction. I’m still passionate about it, but not as much so as I once was. It feels a bit more like “work” these days. Nonetheless, I suspect I’ll be at this until I’m old enough to finally be content with full retirement.

Each of my careers was fulfilling in its own season, and I cherish all the memories.

6. Balance work with play.

There is much truth in the old adage: All work and no play makes one a dull girl/boy. If work is nonstop—no matter how passionate we are about it—we can become dull shadows of our fully alive selves.

I learned this one the hard way. It’s easy for the business of writing, polishing, publishing and marketing books to become all consuming. I let this happen for several years until a vague sense of discontent had grown into a low-grade depression.

Now, twice a week, I make myself take time off from my business and writing tasks and go to the senior center to play cards or mah jongg. I call them my “old lady days” but really they are my mental health days.

Any thoughts about “labor” you all would like to add?

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 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. 🙂 )

Do You Really Know What’s On Your Plate? (And a New Release)

by Shannon Esposito

The murder victim in my new release, Pushing Up Daises (A Pet Psychic Mystery No. 5) is an infamous food critic who exposes local restaurants’ false claims—and flat out lies–about what they’re serving their customers. Unfortunately, seafood fraud is a real problem.

Is this really what you ordered? Seafood fraud is a real thing.

I always thought one of the perks of living in Florida was getting to eat fresh seafood, until I started doing research for this book and found out ninety percent of the seafood consumed in the US is imported from countries with loose aquaculture laws.

Okay, so it’s not fresh caught off our coastal waters. Is that so bad? Well, yes, it is.

When fish is imported, it has little oversight.

According to a recent study by Oceana—a non-profit ocean conservation organization—one in five fish sold in the US are conveniently “mislabeled”. Cheaper fish are sold in place of more popular fish. These are fish that contain higher mercury levels and fish that are farmed, instead of wild caught, which means you are consuming antibiotics, pesticides, artificial coloring and other toxins.

Restaurants in Florida have been caught serving foreign crab meat touted as Atlantic blue crab, Asian catfish as Florida Grouper, foreign shrimp as domestic, and Escolar—a fish with gempylotixin which causes gastrointestinal distress—as white tuna. Ordering red snapper? Odds are high that’s not what you’re getting, since it’s mislabeled eighty-six percent of the time. But one of the most troubling deceptions discovered is King mackerel, a high methylmercury-content fish, being served as grouper. 

Can something be done about this deception?

The good news is it can be fixed. Europe had the same problem, but after voting for stricter labeling laws, and educating consumers about the issue, they managed to cut seafood fraud and mislabeling from thirty-three percent down to four percent.

What can you do? Learn what fish are in season in your area. Ask where the fish is sourced. You may not always get the truth, but if they know consumers are educating themselves about this issue, they may start thinking twice about their deceptive practices.

Does seafood fraud in the US shock you? Or were you aware of this problem?

Pushing Up Daisies (A Pet Psychic Mystery No. 5)

The dog days of summer are back, and Darwin Winters, pet psychic, is excited to attend the St. Pete Seafood Festival with her sister. Unfortunately, the festival gets shut down early when a despised, local food critic dies from ingesting pufferfish toxin while judging the Chef’s Golden Lobster Contest.

When Hana Ishida, the chef who served pufferfish to the victim, is taken in for questioning, Darwin agrees to dog-sit the woman’s dachshund, Daisy. Darwin receives a vision from Daisy showing Hana in a heated argument, but for Daisy’s sake, Darwin desperately wants to dig up the truth and help her boyfriend, Detective Will Blake, prove Hana’s innocence.

Though Will does have a few fishy restaurant owners on his suspect list, none of the clues are pointing to anyone but Hana. Can Darwin help him reel in the right suspect? Or will this killer be the one that got away?

Available on Amazon (free with Kindle Unlimited)

Posted by Shannon Esposito. Shannon lives in a magical gulf coast town with fluorescent sunsets, purple dragonflies and the occasional backyard alligator. Her mysteries transport readers to Florida without the hefty price of airfare. You can visit her at murderinparadise.com

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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Stay safe this summer: know the REAL signs of drowning!

by K.B. Owen

image via clker.com

Happy mid- summer, everyone!

With everyone hitting the pool/beach, it seemed a good time to talk about the real signs of drowning (they may not be what you think). I was really impressed by the video below that shows what it looks like.  I know I learned a lot, and I hope it’s helpful to you, too.

We human beings have a number of hard-wired, uncontrollable, instinctive responses (we had even more of them as infants), designed by nature to protect us:  we blink when an object comes at us suddenly; we experience a fit of coughing when something gets lodged in our throat; we feel our heart racing when we’re afraid, as our bodies ready for a possible “fight or flight” action.

Turns out, there’s an instinctive response when one is drowning, too.  It’s a completely involuntary set of movements, and it looks nothing like the portrayals in film and t.v.  People have been known to drown – especially children – with others standing right next to them.  But no one recognized what they saw as drowning, because they didn’t know the real signs of drowning.

Differences between Aquatic Distress and Drowning:

Behaviors: “Aquatic Distress” (this can lead to drowning) Behaviors: Drowning (the person has 20-60 seconds before loss of consciousness)
   
Yelling for help Can’t speak; just trying to breathe (If you aren’t sure, try asking “Are you all right?” If they can’t answer, act quickly)
Waving arms/thrashing in the water.  Can respond to a rescuer and grab a rope or buoy. Arms out laterally, pressing down on the water’s surface (instinctive attempt to gain leverage).  Cannot control arm movements or reach for a flotation device.
The head is out of the water Mouth is moving just above and below the water surface, barely clearing the water to catch a breath.

Here’s a dramatic video of a drowning boy.  Don’t worry; he was rescued in time and is fine. 🙂  Note the people standing right near him, with no clue as to what was happening.  In their defense, you can also see how quiet and barely noticeable it is.  Thank goodness for trained lifeguards!  The video includes a terrific expert-narrated explanation of what is going on.

The instinctive drowning response.

What do you do to stay safe?  I’d love to hear from you.

Yep, these guys are mine, though they are much older now. 😉

Here’s to a safe rest of the summer for you and your family!

Until next time,

Kathy

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

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

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

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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

Please 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 Memorial Day Re-Run: A Pacifist’s Thank You to the Military

by Kassandra Lamb

1000px-United_States_flag_waving_icon pub domain.svg

This is an “off” week for our blog, but in honor of Memorial Day yesterday, I’m rerunning one of my favorite Memorial Day posts.

(Note: the following are the opinions of this author and do not necessarily reflect those of the other misterio press authors.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pacifist by nature. I abhor violence. But unfortunately in the real world there are some evil people, and even more people who are willing to do evil things in order to achieve their goals. So violence is part of the human condition and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

One of the many things I learned from being a psychotherapist is that evil survives and thrives on fear and passivity. So I do believe that it has to be stopped. And the only force evil understands is just that, force.

So how am I any different from those I accuse of using evil to achieve their own goals? I guess I’m not completely different. My only defense is that I believe in the use of violence only in defense of self and others.

In the real world, this country needs a strong military. It does act as a deterrent against a good bit of that evil. And the rest of the time, unfortunately, those men and women in uniform have to fight back the evil.

I was a teen and college student during the Vietnam War–probably the least popular war ever fought by this country. I protested against that war. But I was appalled by the treatment of the returning GIs at the hands of some of my fellow pacifists. These men and women who had served out country at great sacrifice (many of them drafted), were not always welcomed home as the heroes they were. They were sometimes spat on and called baby killers.

Humans have short memories and we don’t always learn from the past. But I think our society learned that lesson. By all means, hate war! But honor the troops who have sacrificed so much to protect our peace.

female soldier saluting
(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Any particular soldiers, sailors or Marines whom you’ve been remembering this week?

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.

What to Do When Anxiety Takes Over Your Life (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

If you’re someone who has been dealing with an anxiety disorder for some time, you probably know as much or more about them than I do. But perhaps this post will offer some useful tidbits. If you’re newly diagnosed and/or finally focusing on how one or more of these disorders is controlling your life, this will provide an overview of what to do when anxiety takes over.

The Gold Standard of Treatment

Only two types of anxiety disorder are curable at this point in the history of the science of psychology. Specific phobias and some social phobias, such as fear of public speaking, are almost always learned reactions, although they are deeply ingrained in the cerebellum (as I mentioned in my last post on this subject) and do not respond well to conscious efforts to control them.

But they can usually be unlearned via a process of systematic desensitization. While practicing relaxation techniques, the person is gradually exposed to more and more of the stimuli that they are afraid of, whether it be heights or spiders or whatever.

For the other anxiety disorders, a combination of medication and talk therapy is the gold standard of care. Plus, there are a lot of other things one can do—lifestyle changes that can reduce the anxiety and make it more controllable.

Medications

Meds can be the best thing when anxiety takes over.
Photo by Pina Messina on Unsplash

Better living through chemistry. There are over a 100 drugs on the market today that affect anxiety in one way or another. The trick is finding the right one for you, and getting used to it.

But, again with the exception of phobias (and some versions of social anxiety), there is no other way to truly control the anxiety. The body is producing it, so it must be treated biologically.

Now, if you have a fairly mild case of an anxiety disorder, there are coping techniques you can learn that may be sufficient. But for most folks suffering from these disorders… the brain chemistry is broken, and it takes adjusting that chemistry through medication to get somewhere close to normal.

1. Finding the right meds for you.

First of all, consult a psychiatrist. Don’t rely on your family doctor for this. The brain is incredibly complicated, and scientists are learning new things about it every day. And there are many different meds, each with its own pros and cons, its own way of operating on brain chemistry. There is no way that a general practitioner can keep up with all that. So find a good psychiatrist—they are the doctors who understand psychoactive drugs—and preferably find one who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Secondly, give the meds a chance to work. Most anti-anxiety meds take several weeks to start to make an impact. The best way to find the right med for you is through trial and error, which takes patience. Yes, I know it’s hard to be patient when you are anxious ALL THE TIME.

But if you eliminate a med too soon, before it has had a chance to show what it can do for you, well, that might have been the best one for you and you passed it by, out of impatience.

2. Getting used to the meds.

Folks with anxiety disorders tend to become hyper-alert to changes in their bodies and brains. Feel a little lightheaded or queasy and immediately your mind jumps to the conclusion that a panic attack is starting up.

But psychoactive drugs, by definition, are going to make you feel different. Yes, it’s really, really hard to do, but try to ride out those odd feelings until they don’t seem so odd anymore.

(For more on anxiety meds, check out this article.)

Talk Therapy

The most commonly used approach in psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). That’s psychobabble for the therapist is going to help you retrain your thinking and your behavior to lessen your anxiety and learn how to manage what’s left.

By definition, psychotherapy is a bit abstract and therefore hard to test scientifically, but cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most studied form of therapy—it has a lot of fairly concrete techniques that can and have been scientifically analyzed. And it has been found to be a very effective approach to anxiety disorders.

There are a lot of these CBT techniques, but two very commonly used ones are:

Journalling can help figure out the Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence, when anxiety takes over.
Journalling is often used to pinpoint antecedents, behaviors and consequences. (Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash)

1. An A-B-C Assessment

A-B-C stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence.

In other words, what proceeds the anxiety attack, how does the person respond to the anxiety behaviorally, and what is the consequence of that behavior. The antecedent can be an external trigger—anything from a loud noise to a weather or news report to a fight with your boss or spouse. Or it can be internal—a thought or feeling that gets things rolling.

Once the anxiety is running rampant, how does the person react? Do they become physically ill, do they hide from the world, lash out, have a drink (or several), try to pretend nothing is wrong (while anger and resentment builds up inside)?

Then the Consequence—how does the outcome then reinforce the behavior and/or the anxiety?

Ha, I bet you thought I was gonna say how does the behavior impact on the person. Well, often that is the problem. Hiding from the world (agoraphobia) definitely has a negative impact on the person’s life. But to break the pattern there’s a need to analyze how the avoidance behavior of not leaving the house is being REWARDED.

A person with panic disorder contemplates going out (antecedent), then they start to worry about having a panic attack while they are out among strangers, and how that will be so embarrassing and they won’t be able to get any help, etc. Then they decide not to go out after all (behavior), and the anxiety/worrying subsides a good bit (consequence). The avoidance behavior has just been rewarded by a reduction in anxiety.

The goal with an A-B-C assessment is to figure out where and how to break the cycle. (For more on ABC assessment, see this article.)

Which brings us to another CBT technique commonly used with anxiety disorders.

2. Changing Self-Talk

This is probably the simplest and yet most effective technique in a therapist’s toolbox. Have the person pay attention to what they are saying to themselves internally. And work with them to change those automatic internal ruminations.

Because almost always, self-talk is negative. “I’m going to screw up.” “This is going to be horrible.” yada-yada

People with anxiety disorders are NOT the only ones who tend to have negative self-talk. It’s very common in a lot of folks.

But those without anxiety disorders do not already have a constant sense of anxiety and impending doom coming from their faulty body chemistry. So they negotiate life’s twists and turns with mild to moderate insecurity, muddling through the things they’re sure are going to go badly and then breathing a big sigh of relief when it wasn’t all that bad after all.

And maybe they even gain a little confidence and are a little less negative next time.

But for folks with anxiety disorders, their self-talk often takes the form of “awfulizing.” Their already anxious minds immediately jump to the worst case scenario, and they quickly convince themselves that this is exactly what will happen, the most awful possible outcome imaginable.

When anxiety takes over your life, learning to monitor and change self-talk can be crucial.
photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Once the exact nature of a person’s negative self-talk is identified, the therapist helps them come up with good counter-messages. Not just some bland “Everything’s going to be okay,” but something specific, like, “I’ve dealt with this _________ (fill in the situation) before and handled it. I can do this.”

And then the therapist will use role-playing to help the person practice that new self-talk again and again. Until it becomes fairly easy to catch the negatives and switch gears, when out in the real world.

Again, there are more CBT techniques than these two, but this should give you an idea of what to expect in therapy.

Other Things You Can Do

1. Learn and Use Relaxation Techniques
Yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, etc. Again, there are multiple options. Check them out until you find the one or ones that work for you. And then USE them. Every day, multiple times a day, and especially if you start to feel anxious.

2. Be Physically Active
Nothing reduces daily stress (which contributes to anxiety) quite like physical activity! Find an activity that you like, or at least can tolerate, and then make it part of your routine. Twenty-five to thirty minutes every other day is sufficient. More often is better.

And if your anxiety disorder has led to other issues, such as fibromyalgia, find a gentle way to be active. Yoga or swimming are great options.

3. Take Care of Your Body
Of course, all of us should be doing this, but if you have an anxiety disorder, this is CRITICAL. Develop a healthy eating plan, with nutritious foods that you LIKE. Make a point of going to bed at a consistent time each night, and develop a wind-down routine that helps you go to sleep more readily.

Again, experiment with different possibilities. Does reading work for you, or watching TV? Whatever you do, don’t do household chores or other stressful activities past a certain hour in the evening!

(She says as she is writing a blog post at eleven p.m…. Do as I say, not as I do. 😀 )

When anxiety takes over, it's tempting to self-medicate.
Resist the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs. (photo by Sergio Alves-Santos on Unsplash)

4. Avoid Self-Medicating
Alcohol and recreational drugs can backfire on you. They may help initially in small quantities, but their addictive tendencies and the development of tolerance can lead to more anxiety in the long run. And alcohol suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. So it can contribute to insomnia big-time!

Also, nicotine is a sneaky drug. Smoking may make you feel more relaxed, but it is an illusion. Nicotine has a muscle-relaxant quality, which we feel almost immediately with each drag on a cigarette. But make no mistake, it is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate, your blood pressure, your muscle tension…i.e. your anxiety.

Caffeine can also be sneaky in its own way. I can’t begin to tell you how many people (my own husband included) have told me that “caffeine doesn’t affect me.”

Yeah, it does! But you’ve developed a tolerance for it so you no longer notice how it is affecting you. My husband eventually (not due to caffeine, due to aging) developed heart arrhythmia and had to cut back on his caffeine. He was amazed at how much calmer he felt and how much better he slept.

5. Break the Cycle
Do not let anxiety make itself at home. When you start to feel anxious, break the cycle. This may be through self-talk, or you may need to literally get up and move. Take a walk, read a book, watch TV, pursue a hobby. Do something that distracts your mind before it starts to awfulize.

6. Make a Commitment to Your Routine
Establish a routine of taking your meds regularly, paying attention to your self-talk, exercising, etc. And then when something knocks it out of whack, as life inevitably will—a holiday, a vacation, illness, etc.—make a point of getting back into your routine as quickly as possible afterwards.

7. Socialize and Seek Support
Make an effort to spend time with friends and family. Socializing is a great stress reliever and also a wonderful distraction from your worries. And finding a support group of people who are dealing with similar struggles can make the process so much more bearable. Google “anxiety disorder support” and your city and/or check out the websites of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

I hope you find all this helpful.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I’ll answer as best I can. Also, if you have discovered something in particular that works for you, please share.

And I have a new release in my Kate Huntington Mysteries, Police Protection. To celebrate, I’ve put Anxiety Attack, the book before this new one, on sale for just 99 cents (through 5/24/19).

Anxiety Attack, in part, explores the experience of someone with social anxiety.

Kate Huntington’s P.I. husband had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives is in the hospital fighting for his life, and Kate believes the alleged shooter the police arrested—one of her psychotherapy clients who suffers from social anxiety—is innocent.

Tensions build between the couple, until a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the spy/killer tying up loose ends?

Almost too late, Skip realizes he may be one of those loose ends, and someone seems to have no qualms about destroying his agency or getting to him through his family.

JUST $0.99 ~ THRU 5/24/19

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And Book #10, the last in the series, is here!! Just $2.99 during PREORDER and until after its release on 5/24 (goes up to $4.99 after that)

POLICE PROTECTION, A Kate Huntington Mystery

A story ripped from real-life headlines.

A police detective is found in an alley, standing over the body of an unarmed African-American boy. Groggy from a concussion, he has no memory of what happened, and he is literally holding the smoking gun.

To the Baltimore County Internal Affairs division, it’s a slam-dunk. But various forces push psychotherapist Kate Huntington and her P.I. husband to investigate behind the scenes, and what they find doesn’t add up. Why did the boy’s oldest brother disappear on the same day? And did the third brother, who’s on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, witness something relevant?

When seemingly unrelated events emerge as a pattern of intentional obstruction and diversion, it becomes apparent that what happened in that alley was more than just a bad shoot by a stressed-out cop. And for Kate, the case has become personal as she’s connected with the grieving mother, whose dead son was the same age as her Billy.

The answers may come from unexpected sources, but she and Skip better find them soon… before another life is lost.

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.

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

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

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

by K.B. Owen

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

The Criteria

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

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

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

Enter William Blake, the Very First Romantic Poet/Artist

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

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

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

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

What Made It Perfect for Concordia

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

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

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

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

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

Where the Research Takes Me: To See the Real Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVAILABLE NOW:

Unseemly Fate

Book 7 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

Beware of rich men bearing gifts…

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon:

Also available on:  B&N, Apple, Kobo

AND I’m running a pair of giveaways…

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

Check out these giveaways!

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Audiobook Giveaway

K.B. Owen Mysteries – Super Spring Book Giveaway

Anyone can enter! Contests end May 15th.

 

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

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

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

There are now seven books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, and three novellas in the Penelope Hamilton series.

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

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



When You Adopt A Puppy Mill Survivor: An “Off” Week Tidbit

When you adopt a puppy mill survivor, there are greater challenges than when taking on other rescue dogs (which can be challenging enough).

I hope to do an expanded post on the topic of adopting rescue dogs on my own website soon. But in the meantime, here’s an “off” week tidbit for you, a great post by Your Dog Advisor with some tips for dealing with a puppy-mill survivor adoptee.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries.

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

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

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

A Crime Writers’ Interview: Nancy Wood

We love introducing you all to up-and-coming crime writers! So we are very happy to welcome Nancy Wood to our blog today.

First, I’ll let her tell you a little about herself.

I grew up in various locations on the east coast and now call central California home. I’m recently retired, having spent 35 years as a technical writer, translating engineer-speak into words and sentences. Kind of like translating ancient Greek, when you’re not too familiar with the Greek part!

Since retirement, my husband and I are wandering across the globe, visiting various places in Europe, but also countries like Sri Lanka and India. You can check out our travel  blog at hansandnancy.wordpress.com.

The first book in my Shelby McDougall trilogy, Due Date, was originally published in 2012. It just got a face-lift and was recently re-released by Paper Angel Press. The Stork, the second book in the series, will be re-released later this year. I’m working on the third and final story (with the working title of The Found Child).

Kass (on behalf of the misterio gang): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Nancy: I LOVE to read; I’ve been a reader since I was teeny-tiny. So, it just seemed a logical progression to try to write fiction. It didn’t have to be life-changing, literary, heavy, or important! I just wanted to craft a book that would engage someone and would hold up as that person read it. I took creative writing classes, wrote stories, and wrote two terrible novels that, thankfully, never saw the light of day.

In 2006, I went to a commercial publishing workshop and was encouraged to try to write a mystery. At that point in my life, mysteries weren’t even on my radar. I started reading them, exclusively, and thought, ‘hmm…, maybe I’ll be able to do this!’

I retired two years ago, and since then, my husband and I have been traveling. A lot. We’ve traveled around the west (Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California), and have also been to Spain, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, and India. Wow, all amazing countries, and so different.

My other passion is photography; in fact, I seem to spend as much time with the camera as writing these days! Here’s one of my photos. If anyone’s interested, my photography website is nancywoodphotos.wordpress.com

(c) Nancy Wood

Kass: Wow, that’s gorgeous. So tell me, why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you?

Nancy: Before I decided to write a mystery, I had never read crime fiction. Now, it seems like crime fiction has expanded to include any subgenre of literature you can think of. Literary, social, cultural, historical, romantic, horror: it all can be incorporated in a mystery. There’s something very compelling about that. To be able to mold the genre to fit your story and your characters. I also love the idea of a series; getting to know a character over time and in multiple settings. 

Kass: What type of mysteries do you write? Why does that type of story appeal to you as a writer? Do you also prefer it as a reader?

Nancy: My books fall into the category of suspense, psychological thrillers. I initially thought I was writing a mystery, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t insert a dead body into the story! I love to read suspense. I love getting scared, but getting scared in a controlled fashion. Reading allows that delightful pleasure.

But sometimes, it’s too much, and I have to read the book in small bites, so as not to get too terrified and lose sleep! Some of my favorite authors in this subgenre are Tami Hoag, Patricia Cornwell, Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Lisa Scottoline, Tana French, and Lisa Jackson.

Kass: You mentioned loving to read since you were “teeny-tiny.” What was your favorite book/author as a child?

Nancy: The Nancy Drew mysteries were at the top of my list. I loved them because I could usually figure out ‘who done it’. The stories were predictable, yet kept me engaged. But the best part was that Nancy was a girl.

Kass: Nancy Drew has certainly inspired a lot of girls through the years, myself included! So where are you in your writing career? Tell us more about your stories.

Nancy: My Shelby McDougall series was picked up this past year by Paper Angel Press. They just re-released Due Date, and The Stork will be out sometime later in the year. I hope that the third book will be released not too long after that.

Shelby, the protagonist, stumbles her way into detecting. In Due Date, she’s signed on as a surrogate mother, and when it’s almost too late, discovers that things are not what they seem. In The Stork, Shelby has switched career paths and is working on her PI license. But her life is turned upside-down with a late night phone call. In the last book in the trilogy, the one I’m currently working on, Shelby will be a licensed PI specializing in locating missing children. Her mom does a DNA swab with a genealogy website and turns up results Shelby would rather not know about.

Treasure Hunt cover

I also have a story out featuring Shelby, called ‘Treasure Hunt.’ It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, Santa Cruz Weird, and is now available as a free download from Paper Angel Press. It’s about a ten-year-old boy whose granny encourages him to sign up for a Saturday afternoon treasure hunt sponsored by the city’s parks department. He’s not very happy about being out in the woods, looking for treasure, with a group of kids he doesn’t know.  The only person he does recognize is a man he’d never wanted to see again.

Kass:  When I first read Due Date in 2012, I really enjoyed it for two reasons. First, I loved the writing. It’s one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. But I was also intrigued by the topic. What made you decide to write about a surrogate mother?

Nancy: Thank you for your kind words; I am so excited to see Due Date get a second go-round with its wonderful new cover.

Originally, this story was women’s fiction, about the relationship between a birth mother and the adoptive parents. However, it was clunky and slow and needed a lot of work. Around the time I was trying to figure out what to do with this uninspiring manuscript, I was in a brainstorming session at a conference and someone suggested I turn it into a mystery. After a lively discussion in that small group, I realized that if the protagonist were a surrogate mother, I could explore some of the same themes I was interested in–mainly the relationship between the birth mom and the adoptive parents–but also introduce even more complexity to the dynamic.

At the time, I had a lot of friends who’d adopted children through both open and closed adoptions, but I had never known anyone who was involved in a surrogate relationship. I did a lot of reading on surrogacy and talked to a few surrogate moms. I read plenty of discussion boards, forums, and blogs as well. I also researched fertility clinics, trying to figure out how that end of the arrangement works. There are so many legal and financial considerations. I’m still interested in the topic and keep tuned for news stories, changes in the law, or blogs about surrogacy.

Kass: Well, all that research paid off. It’s a fascinating story. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nancy!

She’ll be sticking around for a bit, folks, to answer any questions you might want to pose in the comments.

Nancy: Thank you very much for hosting me! Misterio Press publishes high caliber books that are engaging, well-written, and really fun to read, so I am honored to be here.

Kass (blushing): Aww, thanks!! Check out Due Date below, folks. You will be glad you did! And I’m off to download Treasure Hunt.

And you can connect with Nancy Wood at her website or via email.

Due Date cover

DUE DATE, A Shelby McDougall Mystery

Surrogate mother Shelby McDougall just fell for the biggest con of all—a scam that risks her life and the lives of her unborn twins.

Twenty-three year-old Shelby McDougall is facing a mountain of student debt and a memory she’d just as soon forget. A Rolling Stone ad for a surrogate mother offers her a way to erase the loans and right her karmic place in the cosmos. Within a month, she’s signed a contract, relocated to Santa Cruz, California, and started fertility treatments.

But intended parents Jackson and Diane Entwistle have their own agenda—one that has nothing to do with diapers and lullabies. With her due date looming, and the clues piling up, Shelby must save herself and her twins. As she uses her wits to survive, Shelby learns the real meaning of the word “family.”

Available at all major online book retailers for $4.99. Click HERE for buy links or to download a sample.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, on behalf of the entire misterio press group of writers. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Florida where she now lives.

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

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

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

When Anxiety Is a Good Thing

by Kassandra Lamb

Say what? Anxiety is a good thing?!? It can be, up to a point.

This past weekend, I did my first public reading from one of my books. (Yes, I’ve been at this writing/publishing gig for 7+ years, but until recently my marketing has mainly been online.)

In the days leading up to the reading, I was terrified.

I’ve done plenty of presenting in my time, at professional conferences when I was a psychotherapist and in front of a college classroom for 17 years. I enjoy presenting/teaching, and normally I’m only mildly to moderately anxious beforehand.

And that is when anxiety is a good thing. On a practical level, it motivates me to be well prepared, to put in the work to make sure I’m ready. Because I know from experience that confidence is key to keeping the anxiety under control.

And emotionally, at the time of the presentation mild to moderate anxiety makes my brain sharper, and it stimulates me, animates my personality. When that happens, I am an enthusiastic speaker and the audience responds well. I can even get up the nerve to try to be funny, and sometimes I’m actually successful. 😀

Quite a bit of research has been done on the “optimal level of arousal” that will enhance one’s ability to accomplish tasks. I have mastered that optimal level when it comes to presenting.

But somehow “performing” my own creative work… it falls into a different category.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; a state of apprehension and psychic tension. If that “apprehension” is too intense, it can keep us awake at night, make us stutter, blush, freeze up or otherwise embarrass ourselves in certain situations.

For me, “performing” is such a situation. And anticipating performing tends to move me from helpful arousal to unhelpful distress to disabling ruminating and worry pretty darn fast.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.*

(*This quote has been attributed to Erma Bombeck and at least a dozen other people. But whoever said it first, they nailed it!)

The first time I “performed,” it was in a second-grade play. I was George Washington’s wife. I don’t remember much past walking through the classroom door in my Martha Washington costume. But I do remember laughter.

It wasn’t supposed to be a funny skit.

In high school, I tried out for several plays with the drama department. I never got a part. The stumbling and blushing might have had something to do with that.

Ever since, I’ve frozen up whenever I was required to “perform.” And yet I can “present.” The latter is more about sharing my expertise. I have much more confidence in that expertise than I do in my performing ability.

So here I was last week, facing this reading.

While I was being introduced… I only look mildly terrified!

I’ve been to some where the author just “read.” And that’s okay. I’d originally intended to do that. But as I went through my first practice round, my words sounded so flat. I decided I didn’t want to just read. I wanted to show emotions through inflection, produce the required deeper timbre for male voices, use accents when called for, etc.

In other words, perform. Aaack!!

The day before the reading, I was way past my optimal level of arousal. I needed to do a little emergency therapy on myself.

I asked myself what helped me control the anxiety when I was presenting, and realized there were four things I now automatically do before a presentation:

1. Acknowledge the anxiety.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. That doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it gives it more energy. For “presenting” nerves, a short pep talk is usually sufficient, along the lines of—Of course you’re nervous. That’s a good thing. It will keep you on your toes.

For “performing” nerves, I needed to go a little farther. I told a few people close to me how scared I was. It wasn’t to get their reassurance (although they were, of course, reassuring); it was to acknowledge the anxiety and bleed off some of its charge.

2. Draw confidence from past successes.

To Kill A Labrador cover
The book I read from.

I remind myself that I have done many presentations before, and I have always done a decent to downright great job.

Also, I remind myself that the anxiety always goes down once I get started. That’s a biggie!

This time, I had to add to this pep talk that presenting was not as different from performing as I have made it out to be. And the book I was reading from has lots of good reviews. The words were proven to be good, and my ability to “present” them has been proven to be good. So I would be fine. (In psychology lingo, that’s called a reframe. 🙂 )

3. Practice but not over practice.

I’ve learned that two to three complete run-throughs, out loud, is about right for a presentation. Enough practice to smooth out the rough spots and give me confidence. Not so much that the presentation becomes stale.

The second time through my reading practice, the inflections were mostly in the wrong places, my male voice sounded like I had a bad cold, and my Southern accent…well, let’s just say I don’t do accents well.

By the third time, I had the inflections in the right places, my male voice was pretty good, and my accents didn’t totally suck. I did one more run-through, for good measure, and felt a good bit more confident when all of the above still happened.

4. Remind myself that I do not have to be perfect.

And in this case, remind the audience as well. I added these words to my introductory remarks: Now before I start, I’d like to put this caveat out there—I don’t do accents well.

Ahhh, the pressure was off. Now if my accents were sucky, well, I’d said up front that I wasn’t perfect.

And the reality is that most people in an audience aren’t expecting perfection. Indeed, they may find it endearing when we make the occasional mistake. It’s makes us more human and relatable. In this case, my audience knew that I’m a writer, not an actor. They weren’t expecting perfection and I shouldn’t either.

So the moment arrives…

Definitely when anxiety is a good thing...when it lets up! Me, after the reading.
I look happy here because I’m almost to the end of the reading. Yay!

I’ve been introduced, and I give my little opening spiel (no problem, this is presenting after all). I’m borderline, maybe just past my optimal level of anxiety. Okay, definitely past optimal, but still manageable.

I start to read. And thank you Lord, my anxiety level goes down. (Did I mention praying? That always helps too.)

It was still higher than usual, but definitely quite manageable.

So I make it to the question-and-answer period and I’m downright exhilarated. It’s over! I can do Q&A standing on my head (which would make it more interesting, for sure).

And now that I have a successful reading under my belt, I can look back on that the next time and use it to bolster my confidence, to get my nervousness down to the level where anxiety is a good thing!

How about you? Have you discovered your “optimal level of arousal” for most things? What situations tend to push your anxiety over the top?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

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

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.