Tag Archives: mystery series

Family Dynamics in Fiction (And Our Contest)

by Kassandra Lamb

Family Dynamics in Fiction

Family dynamics make fascinating fodder for us fiction writers. Even in mysteries, where the main plot revolves around whodunnit, we can weave in some interesting aspects of our characters, based on their pasts and the often complex dynamics in their families of origin.

The main character in my new story, Marcia Banks (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) has always described her relationship with her mother as “basically good.” That is, until Mom falls in love with a Florida sheriff. She unexpectedly leaves her home state of Maryland to take up long-term residence in Marcia’s guest room, while she and the good sheriff work out the details of their new life together.

And Marcia discovers that she doesn’t really know her mother as well as she thought she did:

…..“Honestly, Marcia, I think you see me as some two-dimensional cutout that’s still standing on the sidewalk back in Maryland, hand raised in a wave, as you drove off in that ratty old van.”
…..“That’s not fair. I see you as a person.”
…..“Do you?” She shot me an exasperated sideways glance.
…..“I do. It’s just that I thought you were more…” I trailed off, trying to find a word for prudish that wasn’t insulting.
…..“People don’t stop growing and changing in their senior years.” Her voice was still huffy. “All that stuff about you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is hooey.”
…..“I know,” I said, though I honestly hadn’t given it much thought before now. I’d assumed that Mom was Mom and would always be the same.
…..It was a tad disconcerting to realize that might not be the case. Who was this woman sitting in my passenger seat?

Excerpt from My Funny Mayfair Valentine

Slowly, Marcia and Mom work toward a better understanding of each other and a more adult-to-adult relationship (while also trying to figure out what gives with the mysterious newcomer to Mayfair who’s dating the town’s “favorite daughter”).

More Mother Issues

Family Dynamics in Fiction

In Kirsten’s new release, Oolong, Farewell, Abigail Beanblossom is dealing with a more blatantly dysfunctional relationship with her narcissistic mother, who abandoned her at age two in order to seek “spiritual enlightenment.” Most of the time, she can ignore her woo-woo mother, but now she has returned to town and is staying with her grandfather.

At her tearoom, Abigail receives a phone call from her Gramps:

…..“Hi, Gramps. How are you doing?” My chin dipped, my chest squeezing, because I knew my mother was driving him crazy. I just didn’t know what I could do about it.
…..“You’ve got to get out of the tearoom,” he said. “Now.”
…..I stiffened. “What? Why?”
…..“She’s on her way. I’m sorry, Abigail. I couldn’t stop her.”
…..My blood ran cold. I didn’t need to be told who she was. My mother.
…..“I don’t know what’s gotten into her,” he continued. “I think… I think you may be her new spiritual quest.”
…..“What?” I yelped.
…..“I know it sounds nutty,” he said, “but she had an odd look in her eye over breakfast when she was talking about you.”
…..My heart gave an odd lurch. “Oh?”
…..“And she threw out all the milk and replaced it with that soy stuff. And she replaced my favorite peanut butter cereal with nuts and twigs. It’s supposed to be healthy, but it tastes like sawdust.”
. . . .
…..I leaned against the cool, concrete wall. “Aside from the milk and cereal, how are things going? With her in the house, I mean.”
…..“The incense burns Peking’s eyes. She knows we hate incense.”
…..Peking was his pet duck. I wasn’t sure if ducks could smell, but I knew Gramps hated incense.
…..I shut my eyes. “Look. If you need a break. She can stay at my place.” Because the only thing worse than the thought of spending time with my mother was the thought of my mother breaking my grandfather.
…..“No,” he said manfully. “It’s okay”….

Excerpt from Oolong, Farewell

Abigail’s business partner, Hyperion Night, tries to be supportive.

..…“My mother’s on her way to the tearoom.”
..…“Seriously? That takes some brass. No offense,” he added quickly. “It’s bad form to criticize other people’s relatives. But… what are you going to do? I know I said you should rip the proverbial bandage off, but I also know it’s not that easy.”
..…“No, it isn’t.” I slumped in the seat. I’d have to face her someday. Just… not today.
…..“Do you think it’s possible she wants to make amends?”
..…“For abandoning me at the airport when I was a toddler?” I rapped out. How do you make up for that? “No, I don’t. I don’t care how much self-actualization she’s gone through. There’s no coming back from that.” My panicked grandparents had raced to collect me while my parents flew to India. I hoped my parents had at least hit turbulence.
…..Hyperion was quiet for a long moment. “But what if there was a way? What if she could come back from it?”
…..“There isn’t, and she can’t.” But my heart pinched. A tiny part of me wanted to believe it was possible. I mentally gave that part of me a swift kick in the butt.
…..This happened every time my parents came back. I’d get my hopes up that they’d changed, that things would be different, that they wanted me. And every damn time I’d been disappointed.
…..I wasn’t going through all that again.

Excerpt from Oolong, Farewell

Between their efforts to clear a friend of a murder charge, Abigail continues to struggle with a concept that she gets intellectually, but is having trouble applying emotionally. That forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s for one’s own mental health.

Over to you all – As a reader, how do you feel about family dynamics in fiction, especially as subplots in mysteries?

Here are the blurbs and PREORDER links for the books…And don’t forget to enter out contest below!

Oolong, Farewell, A Tea and Tarot Mystery #3

When all the neighbors want you dead…

Abigail Beanblossom is finally getting into the groove of her new Tea and Tarot room. But in Abigail’s mind, when things are going right, that’s exactly when they’re about to go wrong.

She never could have guessed, however, that the mother who abandoned her as a child would suddenly return, looking for tea and sympathy. Now, all Abigail wants is to escape. So, when her grandfather’s friend, Archer, asks Abigail and her partner Hyperion to investigate the murder of his neighbor, the two amateur sleuths leap at the opportunity.

Abigail suspects Archer’s fears of arrest are a tempest in a teapot. The victim’s been renting out his mansion for noisy events and bringing the entire neighborhood to a boil. And the old money and nouveau-riche suspects are as plentiful as they are quirky.

But when Archer becomes suspect #1, Abigail and Hyperion must steep themselves in the fraught world of upper-crust homeowners associations and Instagram stars. Because this cockeyed killer is just getting started…

(Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.)

RELEASES ON 9/21/2020 ~ AVAILABLE NOW FOR PREORDER ON:

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

My Funny Mayfair Valentine, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #10

A newcomer to Mayfair charms the socks off of Susanna Mayfair, the sheltered niece of the town’s elderly matriarch. In a panic, the aunt turns to service dog trainer Marcia Banks to dig into the man’s past.

What Marcia finds, with her detective husband Will’s help, is disturbing—a trail of broken hearts and outstanding warrants. But when the older gentleman is arrested, he claims it’s a case of mistaken identity.

While Will attempts to untangle the truth and Susanna struggles with her feelings, Marcia is worried about her friend’s mental health, unaware that Susanna may be in physical danger as well. Will Marcia figure it out in time to protect Susanna…and herself?

RELEASES ON 9/22/2020 ~ AVAILABLE NOW FOR PREORDER ON:

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And don’t forget to Enter Our September Self-Care Contest HERE!

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. 🙂 )

Age Is Relative, Especially During a Pandemic (Plus a New Contest!)

by Kassandra lamb

My birthday and Labor Day are usually close together, sometimes on the same day. This year, they were three days apart, and both were bittersweet. On Labor Day, hubs and I grilled burgers, but it was just the two of us, as it has been now for months, and my birthday…well…

At the beginning of 2020, I didn’t feel all that old. I was 67, in my “mid-sixties.” *wink, wink* I was basically in good health, just some annoying chronic issues, but nothing that seriously impaired my quality of life.

And then we had a pandemic.

Age is Relative!
Not my birthday cake, but about the right number of candles, if six of them represent decades! (photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash)

And I was in one of the “high risk” groups—those over 60. Of greater concern was that my husband was 70, higher risk still.

So we hunkered down, as advised by the CDC, for the duration. Only the duration has been a lot longer than we counted on.

And knowing that we have to stay home as much as possible has made us very aware of our age, on a daily basis.

Then, last week, I turned 68. I am now in my “late sixties.” Somehow, this year has aged me more than any year should. I feel like I’ve been robbed of my last year in my “youthful” mid-sixties.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

Age is relative!

And the older you get, the more relative age is.

As in, it’s related to a lot of different factors. One, of course, is how healthy you are. Another is how old you look. I’ve finally hit the age where it’s a good thing to have oily skin. I have virtually no wrinkles.

But one thing I’ve had to come to grips with during this pandemic is gray hair. I’ve gone to the hairdresser religiously every 5 weeks for years, having my roots touched up—not necessarily to cover the few gray hairs I had in my younger days, but because I like being a redhead. I’ve had auburn hair for so long now that my “natural” brunette doesn’t seem natural anymore.

But there’s been no going to the hairdresser for months, and I’m discovering that I am now MOSTLY GRAY! Yup, my “natural” color is no longer brunette; it’s a rather splendid silver tone!

So I keep debating…

Age is relative

Should I let the gray grow out completely, or go for a lighter auburn dye when I can finally get my hair done professionally again? *sigh*

Every few weeks, I hack away at my hair when it gets too long and heavy around my face… and put off the decision to gray, or not to gray.

Meanwhile, restlessness has set in. Time becomes more precious as you age. You become more aware of having only a limited amount of it left. So not being able to see my friends and extended family is starting to get to me.

Okay, I want to stop here and say that I am grateful.

I’ve not lost loved ones to this insane disease, and my heart goes out to those who have. And to the first responders, medical personnel and other essential workers who are putting themselves on the front lines every day! And to those who’ve suffered financial setbacks, sometimes life-changing, because of this pandemic. I do very much realize that I am one of the lucky ones who only has to deal with the self-isolation.

Now back to the concept that age is relative. Barring major health issues, aging is more and more a state of mind the older we get. As a friend of mine once said, on the occasion of her 50th birthday, “How did my 25-year-old mind get trapped in this 50-year-old body?”

I don’t particularly appreciate being reminded on a daily basis, by Covid-19, of my age. It makes it harder to keep myself “thinking young.” One thing that helps, though, is playing with my imaginary friends (i.e., my characters), many of whom are still younger than me. I have been writing a lot, during my quarantine. It’s a good distraction.

Maybe all of this is why the theme of “age is relative” ended up in my new story, coming out on September 22, My Funny Mayfair Valentine. Marcia Banks finds herself dealing with the interplay of age and romance, with her own mother and also other “older” members of the Mayfair community.

(And yes, I know it’s a little weird to release a Valentine’s Day story in September, but it was ready and I figured no point in making my readers wait for it. We can all use as much diversion as possible right now.)

How about you? Do you feel the pandemic is aging you before your time?

Oh, and we have a new contest! See below.

My Funny Mayfair Valentine, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery #10

A newcomer to Mayfair charms the socks off of Susanna Mayfair, the sheltered niece of the town’s elderly matriarch. In a panic, the aunt turns to service dog trainer Marcia Banks to dig into the man’s past.

What Marcia finds, with her detective husband Will’s help, is disturbing—a trail of broken hearts and outstanding warrants. But when the older gentleman is arrested, he claims it’s a case of mistaken identity.

While Will attempts to untangle the truth and Susanna struggles with her feelings, Marcia is worried about her friend’s mental health, unaware that Susanna may be in physical danger as well. Will Marcia figure it out in time to protect Susanna…and herself?

Available for Preorder Now for just $0.99 ~ Goes up to $2.99 after release on 9/22/20

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And Our New SEPTEMBER SELF-CARE CONTEST!

Win a Self-Care Box of Goodies from Etsy and 4 Signed Paperbacks!

Age Is Relative -- Sept. Self-Care Contest
Age is Relative -- Sept. Self-Care Contest

Click HERE for more details and to Enter!!

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. 

Announcing a New Stress Management Resource For You

We’re taking this week off from blogging. But we wanted to let you know that we now have the information on Stress Management from our blog summarized for you on one topic page HERE. This stress management resource also has links to all relevant posts.

You might want to bookmark this page for future reference.

And Stay Tuned for our September Contest — to be announced soon!!

Here’s a hint:

PLUS SOME PAPERBACKS!!

Handling Stress, Part IV: How We Interpret Stressors (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

As we’re launching our new misterio press Facebook readers group this month, I’m re-running my series on stress management. Definitely useful info right now!

Over the last three weeks, we’ve talked about the three components of stress: the stressors (stressful events) in our lives, our body’s response to those stressors and how we interpret stressors cognitively and emotionally.

And we’ve drilled down some on the subject of stressors and our body’s response, and last week, we explored some easy ways to add relaxation breaks to your daily schedule (and why that’s sooo important). If you haven’t read the three previous posts, they are full of helpful tips, so I hope you’ll check them out.

Today, I want to talk about that third factor: how we interpret stressors. What is our own take on the events in our lives? Because, for the most part, a stressor isn’t a stressor until we view it that way (a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a few exceptions, some sneaky stressors).

This is why something can be sooo stressful to one person and someone else thinks they’re nuts for worrying about it. How we interpret stressors is unique to each individual, influenced by personality and past experiences.

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

how we interpret stressors -- fear of flying
(photo by Dylan Ashe, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When we were first married, he was a basketcase whenever we had to fly somewhere. We had to get to the airport extra early, so he could have a drink in the airport bar to brace himself. But once we were on the plane, he wouldn’t drink.

Now, this was back in the days when alcohol on the plane was free (Yes, folks, once upon a time, airlines fed you for free, and they would get you liquored up as well. No extra charge!)

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

“Concentrate on what?” I asked.

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

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

I later found out, as a psychology graduate student, that this wasn’t an unusual fantasy on the part of folks afraid of flying. It’s their way of taking control of a situation where they feel out of control. (Control is often a big factor in how we interpret stressors.)

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

how we interpret stressors
(photo by Peretz Partensky, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

Now, let’s talk about job stress.

My husband handles it fairly well. Why? Because he’s an easy-going guy (has to be, to put up with me!) who doesn’t mind having bosses, as long as they’re not an idiot. And if his boss is an idiot, he just figures out a work-around and moves on.

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

Yes, I am cussedly independent! So much so that by the time I completed graduate school, I’d decided that I really needed to be self-employed. I went into private practice as a mental health counselor.

how we interpret stressors
(photo by ThisIsRobsLife, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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

Fast forward 15 years and I was burning out on listening to other people’s descriptions of their stressful lives. I had done a little teaching here and there and really loved the interaction with students. Applying to teach college part-time seemed a good solution. Then, I could cut my counseling hours back so it wouldn’t be so stressful.

I landed an adjunct position at Towson University. I  liked the department chair and the atmosphere in the psychology department, and was told there would be an ongoing need for my services as long as I did a good job.

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

I finally figured out that having a boss again, even one I liked, was pushing my control buttons. I wasn’t completely in charge of my own destiny anymore, as I had been for years. Indeed, when you teach college part-time, your employment is completely at the whim of your department chair. You are a contractual semester-to-semester employee.

This was the source of my anxiety. And no amount of lecturing myself about how everybody at Towson liked me and said I was doing a good job seemed to help.

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

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

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

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

how we interpret stressors
(photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash)

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

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

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

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

Handling Stress, Part III: Simple Relaxation Techniques (encore) ~ Plus our Contest!

by Kassandra Lamb

For the month of August, while our misterio authors are focused on launching our new Readers’ Group (pop over to enter our contest!), we are re-running my series on stress management. Today, in our third installment, we’ll be talking about the best antidote to stress—relaxation.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve talked about the three components of stress: the stressors (stressful events) in our lives, our body’s response to those stressors and how we interpret stressors cognitively and emotionally.

And we’ve drilled down some on the subject of stressors and our body’s response to stress. (Both of those posts are chock full of tips for reducing stress, so I hope you’ll check them out.) Next week, I’ll explore how we interpret stressors and how to change those interpretations to lower stress.

simple relaxation techniques -- woman receiving shoulder massage
(Rama Day Spa Frankfurt — photo by Thomas Wanhoff from Phnom Penh Cambodia CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

But on to today’s topic…

What do you think of when you hear the word relaxation? A long soak in a hot tub, a massage, going to a yoga class, a vacation to the beach…

Those are excellent ways to relax, but they require some time and effort. So, if you’re like me, you may very well put off doing those things until you are “less busy.” (Which rarely seems to happen for me.)

There are however, many simple relaxation techniques you can use throughout every day. AND it is important to relax throughout the day, every day. Those big relaxers are great, but they don’t last. I get a massage and the tension is back in my shoulders by the next day–sometimes sooner.

Why is it important to relax throughout the day? Remember that part of the nervous system that controls arousal vs. relaxation that we talked about two weeks ago?

Quick refresher:

The autonomic nervous system controls our body’s response to challenges and threats in our environment. When something is threatening/challenging us, the sympathetic branch of the ANS arouses our body to meet that challenge. Our heart rate, blood pressure, etc. go up, muscles tense, respiration increases, etc. When the challenge is over, the parasympathetic branch calms us down again so everything can go back to normal.

(photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash)

These two branches counterbalance each other, like the old-fashioned teeter-toters on children’s playgrounds. When one kid pushes off and goes up, the kid on the other side goes down.

Every time we activate the parasympathetic branch (relaxation) we are deactivating the sympathetic branch (arousal). And then it takes a little while for the body to get all stressed out and tense again.

Let me say that again—every time you take a couple of minutes to relax, it takes a lot more stress to get you all tense again.

In terms of our minds, when we use simple relaxation techniques throughout the day, we recharge our coping batteries so that we go back to the tasks at hand with a clearer focus. Thus the time spent on these short breaks will actually enhance our productivity.

simple relaxation techniques -- get comfy
Get comfortable! (photos by Ian Dooley, Sophie Dale, Kelly McCrimmon, and Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash)

So here are some quick and simple relaxation techniques one can use periodically throughout the day. All of these can be done in 5-10 minutes, some of them even less than that.

Btw, with all of these (except #4) it’s a good idea to be seated or lying down. It doesn’t matter where—you can even do these in a car (preferably not while driving!)—as long as each part of your body is comfortably supported.

1.  Progressive relaxation:

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, then focus on each muscle group, telling those muscles to relax completely. You can start either with your scalp or your feet. I’m a scalp person myself. I imagine the tension just flowing down and out of my body.

After my scalp, I tell my face muscles to relax (sometimes the jaw needs separate attention), then my neck, shoulders, etc. I imagine the relaxation slowly moving down my arms and hands, and down my legs, as all the tension flows out the soles of my feet.

2.  Guided imagery:

simple relaxation techniques -- guided imagery

No need to book a flight or pack your bags. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your favorite relaxing vacation spot. Build the imagery by engaging all the senses.

Lay on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on your skin, hear the seagulls and the lapping waves, smell the salt in the air, etc.

Or perhaps you’re more the cabin-in-the-woods type. It really doesn’t matter where you go, as long as it is relaxing for you. Again, engage as many of your senses as possible to help put yourself in that place.

Can’t think of a relaxing place to go, or not the best at imagining things. Then try a little…

3.  Self-hypnosis:

simple relaxation techniques -- self-hypnosis
(photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash)

Hypnosis has this big mystic around it, that it really doesn’t merit. It’s nothing more or less than using the power of suggestion, while the mind is in a relaxed state, to influence our behavior/mood.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize a set of steps in your mind’s eye (or a hill gently sloping downward in front of you). Imagine yourself slowly going down those steps/that hill and tell yourself (silently inside your head, and repeat the suggestion several times) that with each step you will become more and more relaxed. Once at the bottom, tell yourself that you will relax completely for a certain number of minutes (whatever time you have available), and then you will ‘wake up’ refreshed and energized (again, repeat this suggestion several times).

Then just let yourself drift. You may want to set a timer or alarm on your phone, just in case, but 9 times out of 10, your internal clock will get it right and you’ll “wake up” at the time you designated.

If even imagining a hill or staircase is not that easy for you, then count slowly to 10 or 20, telling yourself that when you reach that final number, you will be completely relaxed.

4.  Deep breathing:

I’ve saved the easiest and fastest of these simple relaxation techniques for last.

Have you noticed a trend above? Each time you start with a deep breath.

simple relaxation techniques

That’s because deep breathing automatically engages the parasympathetic (relaxation) branch of the ANS and gets the ball rolling.

So if you don’t have time to stop even for 5 minutes, you can just do the deep breathing. Three slow, deep breaths in a row can do wonders!

I also saved this one for last because I have a fun story to share. A friend of mine was going through a really busy time (a new job plus planning her daughter’s wedding). I kept reminding her to take time to relax, and she kept saying she couldn’t do that. She would relax once XYZ was off her plate. Everything I suggested, she said she didn’t have time or wouldn’t remember to do it.

So I suggested that I hypnotize her and give her post-hypnotic suggestions that whenever she started to get tense she would automatically take a deep breath. She gave me a skeptical look, but she did sit still long enough for me to do this.

The next time I saw her was about two weeks later. I asked how the deep breathing was going.

“It´s wonderful!” she said. “I don´t have to think about it. I just automatically take a breath whenever I need to relax some. There was one problem though. Jim (her husband) kept looking at me funny. I finally asked him why and he said he was worried about me because I was so depressed.”

“‘I’m not depressed,’ I told him. ‘What gave you that idea?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re constantly walking around the house sighing.’” 😀

I suggest trying all of these simple relaxation techniques and then focusing on the one(s) that work best for you. I mainly use #1 and #3 myself.

What do you think? Which of these techniques appeal the most to you? Or do you have other ways that you like to relax?

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

Handling Stress, Part II: Managing the Stressors in our Lives (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

As the authors of misterio press deal with the “good” stressor of launching our new Readers’ Group, I’m re-running (and updating) my series of posts on stress management from a few years ago.

Last week, I talked about the three factors involved in how stressed we feel at any given time. These are (1) the stressors in our lives, (2) the body’s response to them, and (3) our cognitive/emotional interpretation of those stressors.

Last time, I drilled down some on the body’s response to stressors (the flight-or-fight response), and I talked about how stress is good, energizing even, up to a point—that point being the stress threshold that we all have and beyond which we have maxed out our coping ability.

If we want to avoid stress overload, we have to keep our stress level below our threshold, and in order to do that, we need to understand the stressors in our lives.

Happy Events Are Still Stressful.

the stressors in our lives -- even happy events are stressors
Heading into the church just before my wedding. Note the spaced-out look on my face. My mother’s hanging onto my arm because I think I was staggering a bit.

Can I see a show of hands, folks? How many of you were in a bit of a daze on your wedding day? I know I was.

And it wasn’t a blissful, I’m-so-happy daze either. It wasn’t even an I’m-worried-about-what-can-go-wrong daze. It was more an I’m-so-overwhelmed-because-it-took-so-much-to-get-here daze.

I actually remember very little of the ceremony itself, mainly the bloopers: my father tripping over my train, the fly buzzing around our heads, and my husband forgetting the vows we had written together and supposedly memorized. And no, I’m not remembering those things because I was upset about them. I actually found them to be moments of comic relief that brought me out of my daze a bit.

I have a fairly clear memory of the reception, however, because that’s when the stress level finally got down below my threshold!

So yes, happy events still add to our stress level, because they use our resources: time, energy and emotional coping ability.

And here’s another thing about stressors that most people don’t realize.

Stressors Are Cumulative.

the stressors in our lives are cumulative
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.com

You don’t have to have some major stressor going on in your life in order to end up too close to or even past your threshold. If we’ve got too much little stuff going on, it can push us over the edge.

And we Americans tend to carry around way too big a stack of little stuff, sometimes without even realizing we’re doing it. Then stress overload can sneak up on us.

So one of the things we can do—indeed, we should do—when we realize we are too close to our stress threshold or have passed it, is to reduce the number of stressors. More on this in a moment.

Some Stressors Can Be Sneaky

Some things in our environment are stressful without our realizing it, because we are “used to them.” And/or we may like those things and therefore assume that they are not stressing us.

These stressors include sensory stimulation, noise, environmental temperature, etc.

I’ll use noise as an example. Even if you love the hustle and bustle of the city (85 dB), its noise level is still stressing your body. You may love listening to loud rock music (90+ dB) in order to “relax,” but its noise level is still stressing your body. (For comparison’s sake, the average conversation is about 50 decibels.)

the stressors in our lives -- noise is a stressor
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.com

Regardless of how you feel about the source, any noise above about 70 decibels is triggering that flight-or-fight response.

Again, our nervous systems are designed for more primitive times, to protect us from roaring lions and marauding enemy tribes. So when it registers loud noises, it assumes something threatening is going on. (For more on how noise is stressful, check out this article.)

Reducing Stressors — Hafta vs. Wanna

I used to teach a community education class on stress management. The first session, I’d give my students a homework assignment—to list everything they normally did on an average weekday, including minor tasks like loading the dishwasher or making the bed. Then they were to divide that list into two columns, labeled “hafta” and “wanna.”

The next class, I would ask them how many things were on their hafta list vs. their wanna list. Often there were more haftas than wannas; sometimes they were about even.

I would then point out that if they had more than 3-4 things on their hafta list, it was too long. They’d all look at me like I’d lost my mind – until I started going down some poor volunteer’s list asking, “Do you have to make the bed? …go to work? …pack your children’s lunches?” (Yes, I’d even challenge the premise that they had to feed their kids!)

The conversation would go something like this:

  • “Why do you have to do that?” I’d ask.
  • Usually the answer would boil down to some version of because they were responsible adults.
  • “Do you have to be a responsible adult? What happens if you’re not a responsible adult?”
  • They’d list a bunch of dire consequences, such as losing their house if they didn’t earn a living, or people looking down on them if their kids went to school in dirty clothes.
  • “And you don’t like those things, right?”
  • “Right.”
  • “So you choose to do this other thing (pointing to the item on their hafta list) to avoid those consequences?”
  • “Well, yeah.”
  • “So it’s a wanna. You want to do this to avoid that, because you don’t like that.”
  • “Well, yeah.”

I highly recommend this little exercise. Make your two lists without thinking about it too much. Then go down the hafta list and ask yourself what the consequences would be if you didn’t do that thing, or if you did it differently, in a less stressful way.

One objective here is to take back your sense of power over your life. You are doing these things out of choice, not because you have to do them. Feeling in control of the stressors in your life has been scientifically proven to reduce the amount of stress experienced.

And you may identify some things that you really don’t hafta do, nor do you wanna do them. (Making my own spaghetti sauce from scratch got dumped the first time I did this exercise; why should I go through all that when store-bought sauce actually tastes better than mine.)

Through the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself if a task is a hafta or a wanna, and then I ask do I truly wanna be doing it. This habit has served me well. It’s kept me from tipping over into stress overload on more than a few occasions.

Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper

When we find ourselves on the brink of, or actually in stress overload (i.e., we have exceeded our threshold and we aren’t coping with anything anymore), the first thing we need to do is reduce the number of stressors in our life.

The formula for this, that I developed years ago, is Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper.  “Just remember, DDPP,” I would tell my therapy clients.

One client jokingly said, “That sounds like a pesticide.” And thus DDPP was dubbed “Kass’s stressicide formula.”

reducing the stressors in our lies -- dump, delegate, postpone and pamper
Photo by Ildar Sagdejev CC-BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

DUMP: Is a particular task really necessary or can you simply stop doing it, temporarily at least?

When I’m stressed out, the first thing that goes is making the bed. I like a neat house and a bedroom with a made bed. But it’s not essential. I can let it go when other things are demanding my coping resources.

DELEGATE: Is there someone else who also legitimately shares responsibility for the task you are stressed about? Or is there someone you can trade off with to deal with some of the current stressors, and you’ll pay them back in kind later?

In the mid 1990’s I was getting burned out as a therapist, so I started teaching part-time and cutting back on my psychotherapy practice. My husband and I negotiated a little deal. During the last three crunchy weeks of the semester, when I had a gazillion papers to grade, final exams to write, etc., he would do pretty much all the household chores. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would do pretty much all of them so he could have a break.

POSTPONE: I’m not advocating procrastination here. But if it’s something that can legitimately be put off without causing harm or making things more stressful, then do it!

After my husband retired from his long-term career, he began teaching part-time. He quickly came to appreciate just how bad that end of semester crunch can get. And in the fall semester, it came just as we were getting ready for the holidays.

One of his tasks was writing the Christmas cards. That year, he decided to adopt the European tradition of sending New Year’s cards instead—in January when he was on winter break. 🙂

PAMPER: Unfortunately when we’re stressed out, the first thing that goes is taking care of ourselves. But that’s when our bodies and minds need pampering the most.

reducing the stressors in our lives -- pampering
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on unsplash.com

We need to pay more attention, not less, to getting enough sleep and trying to eat a healthy diet. Because when we’re in stress overload we are past that health threshold I talked about last week. We are putting more wear and tear on our bodies than they can really handle.

A few minutes of relaxation, a few times a day, can do wonders. Stop, sit, put your feet up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. Read, take a bubble bath, or both, or just sit and daydream.

The time spent relaxing will be well invested, and not just from a health standpoint. You’ll find that you are more focused and productive when you go back to doing the tasks you need to get done.

More on relaxation next week!

How about you? What’s on your hafta list that’s probably really a wanna? And do you still wanna be doing it? What can you dump, delegate or postpone when you’re in or near stress overload?

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

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. 

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: A Facebook Readers’ Group and Contests!

Super exciting news!! We’re starting a Facebook Readers’ Group with monthly contests and other fun stuff. It’s called misterio‘s Magical Mystery Ride.

our Facebook Readers' Group
The group’s banner!

Our misterio press authors will be hosting the group, one each week, and they will be posting about monthly contests and daily and weekly giveaways, as well as interesting background tidbits related to their stories. There will also be book reviews, reading challenges, guest author posts, fave recipes, and maybe a magic spell or two from our paranormal authors. 🙂

If you’re on Facebook, pop over and take a look — https://www.facebook.com/groups/misteriopressmysteries/ We hope you’ll join our Facebook Readers’ Group (and don’t forget to click on notifications and mark All Posts or Highlights.)

This month’s contest has a summer beach read theme.

Facebook Readers' Group

Prizes are this cute beach towel and 7 FREE ebooks (winner’s choice, some restrictions apply).

Click HERE to enter the contest — runs July 27 to August 29, 2020.

Good luck!

Facebook Readers' Group

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. 

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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE. 

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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE. 

 

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

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

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

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

Gilian Baker:

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

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

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

Murder Over Medium cover

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon Esposito

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

Karma's a Bitch book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vinnie Hansen

May is National Pet Month: Vinnie's Lola

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

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

Murder, Honey book cover

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

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

She’s the real deal.

Kirsten Weiss

Steeped in Murder book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was inevitable that she ended up adopting one…

K.B. Owen

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

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

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

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

Beloved and Unseemly book cover

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

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

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

Kassandra Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

To Kill A Labrador cover

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

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

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

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

Happy National Pet Month!!

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

Grand Prize: Betty R.

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

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

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

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.