Tag Archives: mystery series

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.

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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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. 🙂 )

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Random Moments That Change Our Lives (And a Contest!)

by Kassandra Lamb

Another author’s recent post, about how a random conversation changed her career dramatically, got me thinking of a few such random moments that have affected my life.

In a minute, I’ll tell you about my biggest random, life-changing moment, but first…

There is nothing more random than a pandemic.

What we are going through right now as a country and throughout the world is almost beyond comprehension. And it is likely to change our lives in certain ways, for better or worse, forever.

It would probably be worthwhile to give some thought to how each of us wants our lives to change, so that we can take control of that process as much as possible. More on this in a bit. Now back to my story.

The random moment that changed my life.

random moments that change our lives -- the glass ceilng
Even a lovely glass ceiling will still give you a headache 🙂

In my late twenties, I was trying to get ahead in the business world (we’re talking early 1980s) and banging my head rather regularly on the glass ceiling. I had a toddler, and I was very tired of working 40 hours a week, plus 10 hours of commute time, to make peanuts.

If I was going to be away from my son for that many hours, I wanted to be doing something more meaningful and more lucrative. But I had no idea what.

Around that time, my husband went to a hypnotherapist to quit smoking. He was worried about the secondhand smoke in the house. He was so successful that I went too. We both stopped smoking, which was the planned outcome.

But there was another unexpected outcome as well. I was fascinated by the hypnosis. I had a bachelors degree in psychology, and as I sat in the comfy chair in the hypnotherapist’s office and listened to his droning voice, a little part of my brain was thinking, “I could do this.”

So I enrolled in graduate school to get the required credentials, studied hypnosis on the side (there were no college classes on it; still aren’t at most schools), and investigated what I needed to do to set up a private practice as a hypnotherapist.

Two years later, I had a thriving practice. I wasn’t making great money but it was better than I had been making in the business world. And I had control over my schedule. I worked four 8 to 10-hour days, one of them Saturday, and was home two weekdays, which meant my son was only in daycare part-time.

And I was helping people. I’ve never looked back, other than to wonder occasionally how different things would be, if I hadn’t had that random experience that changed my life.

So back to current events…

random moments that change our lives -- learning not to take things for granted, like toilet paper

I haven’t totally sorted out what may change permanently in my life after this craziness is over. I’ve certainly come to appreciate certain things that I once took for granted…like my husband, and unlimited supplies of toilet paper.

(Not that those two are of equal importance. 😀 )

I’ve also been touched by the generosity of strangers to each other. And the bravery of those who are doing the “essential” tasks that keep our country running, from the medical personnel to the truck drivers to the guys who collect the garbage.

I think it behooves us to give some conscious thought to how we want to change ourselves and/or our lives in the future. What positive meaning can we find in this very negative event?

How do you hope this pandemic will change the country, the world and/or your life for the better? (Please, no politics!)

~~~

And we have a CONTEST going, to help with the boredom. Grand Prize is a Bag of Free Books! Click HERE to check it out.

~~~

 

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

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

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

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We’re Here For You (Plus a Contest for Free Books)

We at misterio press hope and pray that all of our readers and their loved ones come out of this crisis healthy and unscathed.

In the meantime, we are trying to offer as much support as we can. Please see this post and this post for tips to help you stay calm and de-stress during these difficult times. Plus, if you’re looking for a new way to make money while working at home, check out this offer to learn how to become a freelance writer.

And to help out with the boredom of staying at home, we have a CONTEST for Free Books!

Grand prize is a Bag of Free Books — this fun tote plus SEVEN first-in-series, signed paperbacks from 6 of our authors.

one of the books in contest for free books

Four more winners will receive a free ecopy of one of our books!! (Winner’s choice but exceptions may apply.)

Two ways to enter!

Go to the contest and click on the appropriate ways to enter. Then…

#1 — Comment on this blog post.

And tell us how you’re doing.

one of the books for this contest for free books

#2 — Get another entry (worth 5 points!) by signing up for our blog!

If you have trouble figuring out how to subscribe (“subscribe” area above on the right), you can….

one of the books for this contest for free books

Comment and include your email address and permission for us to subscribe you.

This contest for free books runs through April 25th.

one of the books for this contest for free books

Winners will be announced soon after that.

Best of luck!!

To enter the Contest to Win a Bag of Free Books please click HERE!

~~~~

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.

Stay Calm and Wash Your Hands

by Kassandra Lamb

We interrupt our regular blogging schedule… This is not what I had planned to write about this week, but it’s an important reminder to stay calm. Not only for our mental health, but for our physical health as well.

Why is it important to stay calm? Because stress reduces the effectiveness of our immune systems. So stressing about getting sick can increase the chances of getting sick.

We humans have a variety of mental defense mechanisms that our psyches employ to cope with stressful and scary stuff. Some of these defenses are helpful and some, not so much.

The Unhelpful Ones: Denial, Minimizing

Pretending the coronavirus is not a big deal, not in your area yet, etc. (it probably is; just no reported cases yet) is denial and minimizing. Buying into the idea that it’s no worse than seasonal flu is denial and minimizing. The facts say otherwise.

The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic. The goal of that declaration was not to have everyone either panic or go into denial. It was to get us to take measures to stop the spread of the disease before it gets out of hand in this country and others.

The Potentially Helpful Defenses: Rationalization, Repression, Sublimation

First, do the things you’re hearing that you should do in order to prevent and/or prepare for the worst-case scenario. Wash your hands. Be aware of what you touch and try NOT to touch your face. Wash your hands.

Stay calm and wash your hands.
Meme created on imgflip.com

Stockpile, within reason, food and medicines, etc. in case you end up quarantined. (Just got home from the grocery store myself.) Then wash your hands.

Practice social distancing by leaving space around you and subbing a wave or a slight bow for a handshake or hug. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds or going out in public if you can. Wash your hands.

Then, once you have done all that, tell yourself that you and those in your household will most likely be okay. You’re doing everything you can do. It will be fine. (Rationalization.)

Is this lying to yourself? Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t know if the disease will hit close to home, but you might as well assume that it isn’t going to—AFTER you have taken the needed precautions to lower your risk.

There’s no psychological benefit to assuming that you or your loved ones will get sick. That’s pessimism and it’s also unhealthy. More on this in a minute.

Then Push the Thoughts Aside

Don’t let your mind dwell on the disease any more than is necessary to maintain the precautions you have taken. To stay calm, actively push those thoughts away when they come up (Repression) and distract yourself with other things. Read an engaging book, finally do some of those projects around the house that you’ve been putting off (look out bathroom, I’ve got my paintbrush and I’m coming in), do something creative, etc.

This latter idea is called Sublimation—actually channeling the emotional energy into something else. A whole lot of my author friends are currently writing stories about pandemics. Most of those stories will never get published, but the writing process keeps those authors sane (or as sane as authors ever are 😉 ).

(Read more on defense mechanisms here.)

The Proven Benefits of Optimism

Why should we bother to try to fool ourselves into believing all will be okay? First of all, for many of us, it will be okay. We’ll go through a scary time of worrying about our own health and that of our loved ones, but either no one in that group will get the disease or they will have a mild case of it.

And if and when the disease does strike a harder blow, well that’s soon enough to worry about it. As my grandmother used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

Remaining optimistic has been proven again and again in scientific studies to have all kinds of health benefits. Optimism reduces stress, improves immune system functioning, makes people feel happier and helps them live longer. Being pessimistic, has the exact opposite effect. (For more on the benefits of optimism, here’s a good article.)

The first American study evaluated 839 people in the early 1960s, performing a psychological test for optimism–pessimism as well as a complete medical evaluation. When the people were rechecked 30 years later, optimism was linked to longevity; for every 10-point increase in pessimism on the optimism–pessimism test, the mortality rate rose 19%.

~ Harvard Health Publishing, Optimism and your Health, 2008.

But Isn’t This Just Another Form of Denial?

Yes, it is. I call it healthy denial. And all of us exercise this defense mechanism every day. Otherwise, we would never get out of bed, much less leave our houses.

Stay calm and run like hell! A tornado's coming.

Every day, we assume that we will not be mugged that day, we will not be run over by a truck, we will not be swept up by a tornado, etc. Even though those things will happen to some people somewhere.

Without healthy denial, we couldn’t function. We’d be paralyzed.

And that’s what I’m trying to fight here—the paralyzing effects of fear. Because we all need to do what we can, including remaining optimistic, in order to slow and eventually stop this pandemic.

And slowing it is extremely important. Because by slowing it, we keep it from overwhelming our healthcare system. This article has an excellent chart that shows this better than I could explain it (Note the dotted line that is labelled “healthcare system capacity.”)

Easier Said Than Done for Some

Some of us have been blessed with a naturally optimistic personality. Others have not. Those folks are going to have to work harder at this whole stay-calm thing.

Just as we try to become more aware of the surfaces we touch (or don’t touch, in the case of our faces), we need to become more aware of our thoughts. We need to catch ourselves if we are obsessing on the situation too much. We need to redirect our thoughts.

Stay calm and stop those negative thoughts,
Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

One very simple but very helpful technique that therapists teach clients with OCD is called thought-stopping. When you notice your thoughts going down an obsessive track, you literally say, “Stop!” either out loud or inside your head.

A variation for visually oriented people is to imagine a big red stop sign in your mind’s eye.

Then you intentionally redirect your thoughts to something else that is engaging.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Keep your entertainment lighthearted during this crisis. Someone said to me just last night that they started to watch a show about the Nazis in Germany and had to turn it off. It was too much on top of worrying about the coronavirus. Good for her!

Even if you feel yourself drawn to heavier, more negative topics (understandable), don’t go there right now. Positive, uplifting, and even silly books and TV shows are preferable, to help maintain our optimism and healthy denial.

And keep those hysterical memes coming on social media. Promote laughter as much as you can.

Let’s all do our part not just to stop the spread of germs but to increase the spread of positive energy during this difficult time.

What helps you the most to stay calm at times like these?

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

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

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

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The Importance of Backstory (Or How the Brain Connects the Present to the Past)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University today, talking about characters’ backstories, the human brain and implications for writers.

Here’s a teaser…

First, a brief excerpt from my own backstory—I recently let go of someone whom I have loved dearly my entire life. I did so because he was acting in a way that was far too reminiscent of my dysfunctional family.

I spent many hours and beaucoup dollars in my youth on therapy, and it was successful. For a very long time now, I’ve hardly given a thought to all that craziness I grew up with. So when this person, after experiencing a highly emotional event, suddenly began acting like his crazy father (the brother of my crazy father), I had to make a tough choice.

I contemplated letting it slide for the sake of family peace, but I repeatedly found my stomach, chest and throat tightening up in a very uncomfortable way. It took me awhile to sort out that this was the same uncomfortable feeling I’d had all too often as a child—a combination of confusion, fear and hurt.

Why am I telling you this sad story? Because it provides some excellent examples of the connections that I’m about to explain—between our minds, our bodies, and our emotions—and between the past and present.

How Our Brains Connect Us to the Past

Some people still scoff, to this day, at the idea that our past affects our present and future reactions. But there is actually a scientific explanation for how this works.

There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It is a component of the limbic system, located between the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and the brain stem (the part that controls automatic functions, like breathing).

The Importance of Backstory: How the Brain Connects Past to Present

The limbic system, comprised of several structures and organs, is the emotional center of the human brain. One of the hippocampus’s most important functions, as part of this system, is processing memories.

And right next door is the amygdala, the part of the brain that feels anger and fear, and produces our instinctive knee-jerk reactions to those feelings.

The hippocampus not only processes memories—without it, we would have no long-term memory—but it also remembers the emotions (and the physical sensations associated with those emotions) of past events. Read More

Implications for Writers—The Importance of Backstory

First of all, we need to give our characters backstories that match their current neuroses. Any time a character overreacts (or under-reacts) to a situation in the present, there has to be something in their past that explains it.

Then, how do we show the reader that very important backstory…

Read More…

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

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

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

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IRL Mysteries: The Mystery Behind That Annoying Tamper-Resistant Packaging

by Kassandra Lamb

You know what I’m talking about – those frustrating, multiple layers of plastic, foil, paper, and/or cotton that keep you from the pill that will wipe out your headache, calm your anxiety or dry up your allergy-produced drippy nose.

Pills weren’t always distributed that way. Here’s the in-real-life (IRL) mystery behind tamper-resistant packaging, which is still unsolved to this day.

In 1982, seven people died mysteriously. Three were in one family, but the rest were scattered around the Chicago metro area. Other than the family members, there was no connection between the victims.

The Investigation

The mystery behind tamper-resistant packaging
Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

The police quickly discovered that they had all taken Tylenol® shortly before their deaths. The capsules were tested and were found to contain potassium cyanide, along with the actual medication.

Someone had tampered with the drug, with no particular victim in mind and for no apparent motive. The hardest type of crime to solve.

In the next few days, there were several copycat tamperings and more people died.

The drug’s manufacturer, Johnson and Johnson®, determined that the contamination was not happening at their plant, but nonetheless they immediately implemented a massive recall. Investigators soon decided that the tampering had happened in the stores.

The Response

So Johnson and Johnson came out with the first tamper-resistant packaging. Their quick response to the crisis saved their company, and also saved many, many lives since then, as such packaging soon became the norm.

Some of the copycat tamperers were caught, but the one who started the whole mess was never found.

The police thought they had their man when James W. Lewis sent a letter to Johnson and Johnson demanding a million dollars to stop the killing. He was convicted of extortion, but there was no evidence that he had actually done the tampering. He had just taken advantage of the situation.

Other leads were pursued but no culprit was ever definitively identified, and the Tylenol-tampering murders remain unsolved today.

So the next time you are cussing at that pill-bottle you can’t get open, remember this mystery behind that tamper-resistant packaging.

It’s there for a good reason.

To read more about this case and Johnson and Johnson’s response to it, see this article in The New York Times.

This is the first in a new series here on misterio press, regarding IRL mysteries that remain unsolved. In some ways, it’s a rather grim topic, but we are mystery writers after all, so we find such things interesting. We hope you do as well.

Are you old enough to remember the Tylenol-tampering in the 1980s? Do you know of any other in-real-life mysteries?

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.