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

by Kassandra Lamb

help with focus in these stressful times

Celebrating Independence Day this year was bittersweet for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 – Don’t blame yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 – Break the tough tasks into chunks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

help with focus in these stressful times

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

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

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

#4 – Stop and savor the little achievements

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

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

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

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

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

help with focus in these stressful times

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

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

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

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

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

OAK, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#7)

Doyle Witch Lenore has one job…

Destroy a magical book that threatens to devastate the world.

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

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

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

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



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?


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.


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.


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

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

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Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan

Crime Writers Interview logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kass: What subgenre of mysteries do you write?

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

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

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

Crime Writers Interview: Nancy Nau Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy: How to make a mummy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy: Are you in it for the money?

And the answer is HAHAHAHAHA. What money?

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

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

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

Saving Tuna Street (A Blanche Murninghan Mystery)

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

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

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

Available for Preorder on:


Also two of our books are available for Preorder:

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

Hostage to Fortune book cover

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

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

Tearoom recipes in the back of the book.

Click HERE for Preorder links!

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

Lord of the Fleas book cover

What could be more innocent than a country flea market?

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

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

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

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

Click HERE for Preorder Links!

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

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

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.