Murder by the Book: A Mystery Mini Print Length: 27 pages Publisher: Mike Byrnes and Associates, Inc. (February 27, 2016) Publication Date: February 27, 2016 ASIN: B01CC3NJQO
An ordinary work day at the western Massachusetts Sugarloaf Inn turns more chilling than the winter weather when staff member Candy Wadsen makes a gruesome discovery. Her day goes from bad to worse when Candy realizes that Detective Sergeant Dan Petrowski suspects her of committing the crime.
“What if?” Those two words all too easily send Devorah Fox spinning into flights of fancy. Best-selling author of an award-winning literary historical fantasy series and several thrillers, she also penned Mystery Mini Short Reads and contributed short stories to popular fantasy anthologies. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she now lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with rescued tabby cats … and a dragon named Inky. Visit the “Dee-Scoveries” blog at http://devorahfox.com
Sinful’s newest resident, Mary-Alice Arceneaux, is starting to catch on to the fact that the Sinful Ladies’ Society does more than brew 100-proof cough syrup to sell at the church bazaar.
When her new friend Ida Belle gets into serious trouble, Mary-Alice wants to help the Sinful Ladies in their quest for justice. But this means that the unflappable Mary-Alice will have to endure a visit to the Swamp Bar (where decent ladies don’t go) and battle her vindictive cousin, Mayor Celia Arceneaux. Will Mary-Alice’s gentle temper and unshakable faith in human nature endure?
The Miss Fortune series has been described as Miss Congeniality meets Golden Girls, a lighthearted fish out of water adventure with a dash of romance in Louisiana bayou country.
We first meet Mary-Alice Arceneaux in SCHOOLED, where she plays a supporting role. In MARY-ALICE MOVES IN, our heroine relocates to Sinful and takes center stage. In BAYOU BUSYBODY, Mary-Alice uses her expert knowledge (derived entirely from her mystery reading) to deal with a strange missing-person case while Ida Belle and Gertie are out of town. In THE VANISHING VICTIM, Mary-Alice is eager to join Gertie and Fortune to do whatever it takes to save Ida Belle from a terrible injustice.
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A lover of all things green, CeCe Prentice is not impressed when a fully-sustainable development, Green Acres, pops up next to her family’s homestead. It’s not so much the ridiculous price tag of the million dollar homes built entirely from re-usable materials and powered by the sun, but rather the new neighbors who think they can simply buy a green lifestyle.
To make matters worse, one homeowner turns out to be CeCe’s high school nemesis, Phoebe Purcell, a hair-tossing vamp who tried to break up CeCe and her long-time boyfriend, Charlie.
Already disillusioned by the so-called eco-friendly development, CeCe’s family home is threatened when a series of power-outages at Green Acres kicks off a rash of home invasions. When neighbors start showing up dead, the mood at Green Acres turns south. But when Charlie, CeCe’s on-again, off-again love interest is implicated in the murders, CeCe springs into action when she discovers the only clue – a portrait she painted years ago.
Deirdre, welcome back to Island Confidential! Can you tell us a little about your protagonist?
Deirdre Verne: CeCe Prentice is a Freegan, otherwise known as a Dumpster-diver. She is an expert on scavenging furniture, clothing and anything else she needs. She’d much rather repurpose an old item than purchase something new. Her resourcefulness is one of her best qualities!
How much of you is in CeCe? How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?
DV: I’m an awful lot like CeCe Prentice. I adore all things vintage and I have a houseful of items I’ve either scavenged or found at garage sales. I would love to meet CeCe for a day of scavenging road-side furniture. My latest project includes spray painting a pair of old figure skates shiny pink and adding red laces. They will be hanging on my front door next holiday season.
Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?
DV: There’s something nice about returning to a series and jumping back into a character you’ve come to love. On the other hand, it can get boring. I like to put my characters in challenging situations to uncover something new about their personality. For example, CeCe has surrounded herself with Freegan friends which is very safe for her. By introducing a love-interest who questions her beliefs, she has to see things from a different perspective. She is proving to be more open than I expected.
Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?
DV: I’m sure I’m not the first writer to take out my frustrations on paper. It happens to be great therapy. That being said, I’ve never directly created a character based on a real-life person. However, I have definitely used qualities of people I don’t like in characters that ultimately meet their demise. I have also used names of people I dislike and then changed the names before publication.
How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?
DV: My books take place on the North Shore of Long Island. I grew up on Long Island and although I no longer live there, I try to be as true to my memory as possible. When my memory fails me, I’ll jump in the car and spend a day in the towns I write about which is always great fun. I also use Google maps and paper maps to sketch out scenes and locations.
When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?
DV: I am a big fan of the TV program Orphan Black so my first choice to play CeCe Prentice would be Tatiana Maslany. She is a phenomenal actress with the perfect combination of strength and vulnerability. I’d like her father to be played by John Lithgow and Meghan Mullally, (Karen from Will and Grace), to play CeCe’s mother. I know that sounds like an odd cast, but this isn’t my area of expertise.
What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?
DV: The best advice I received was don’t hide. Writers can often be shy and uncomfortable promoting themselves. I would never have been published had I not joined writing groups, attended conferences and reached out for professional critiques of my work.
Worst advice? It hasn’t happened! The wonderful thing about writing is that fellow authors offer great advice. There are so many experienced people in the field who are more than happy to help out.
About The Author
Deirdre Verne (Scarsdale, NY) is a college professor and an active college blogger. A writer for the millennium crowd, Deirdre’s interest in green living inspired her to create an off-the-grid character who Dumpster dives her way though a suspense-filled mystery series. A member of Sisters in Crime, Deirdre’s short stories appear in all three New York chapter anthologies –Murder New York Style, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices and Family Matters.
How do you persuade somebody of the facts? Asking them to be fair, impartial and unbiased is not enough. To explain why, psychologist Tom Stafford analyses a classic scientific study.
One of the tricks our mind plays is to highlight evidence which confirms what we already believe. If we hear gossip about a rival we tend to think “I knew he was a nasty piece of work”; if we hear the same about our best friend we’re more likely to say “that’s just a rumour”. If you don’t trust the government then a change of policy is evidence of their weakness; if you do trust them the same change of policy can be evidence of their inherent reasonableness.
Once you learn about this mental habit – called confirmation bias – you start seeing it everywhere.
This matters when we want to make better decisions. Confirmation bias is OK as long as we’re right, but all too often we’re wrong, and we only pay attention to the deciding evidence when it’s too late.
How we should to protect our decisions from confirmation bias depends on why, psychologically, confirmation bias happens. There are, broadly, two possible accounts and a classic experiment from researchers at Princeton University pits the two against each other, revealing in the process a method for overcoming bias.
The first theory of confirmation bias is the most common. It’s the one you can detect in expressions like “You just believe what you want to believe”, or “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” or when the someone is accused of seeing things a particular way because of who they are, what their job is or which friends they have. Let’s call this the motivational theory of confirmation bias. It has a clear prescription for correcting the bias: change people’s motivations and they’ll stop being biased.
The alternative theory of confirmation bias is more subtle. The bias doesn’t exist because we only believe what we want to believe, but instead because we fail to ask the correct questions about new information and our own beliefs. This is a less neat theory, because there could be one hundred reasons why we reason incorrectly – everything from limitations of memory to inherent faults of logic. One possibility is that we simply have a blindspot in our imagination for the ways the world could be different from how we first assume it is. Under this account the way to correct confirmation bias is to give people a strategy to adjust their thinking. We assume people are already motivated to find out the truth, they just need a better method. Let’s call this the cognition theory of confirmation bias.
Thirty years ago, Charles Lord and colleagues published a classic experiment which pitted these two methods against each other. Their study used a persuasion experiment which previously had shown a kind of confirmation bias they called ‘biased assimilation’. Here, participants were recruited who had strong pro- or anti-death penalty views and were presented with evidence that seemed to support the continuation or abolition of the death penalty. Obviously, depending on what you already believe, this evidence is either confirmatory or disconfirmatory. Their original finding showed that the nature of the evidence didn’t matter as much as what people started out believing. Confirmatory evidence strengthened people’s views, as you’d expect, but so did disconfirmatory evidence. That’s right, anti-death penalty people became more anti-death penalty when shown pro-death penalty evidence (and vice versa). A clear example of biased reasoning.
For their follow-up study, Lord and colleagues re-ran the biased assimilation experiment, but testing two types of instructions for assimilating evidence about the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent for murder. The motivational instructions told participants to be “as objective and unbiased as possible”, to consider themselves “as a judge or juror asked to weigh all of the evidence in a fair and impartial manner”. The alternative, cognition-focused, instructions were silent on the desired outcome of the participants’ consideration, instead focusing only on the strategy to employ: “Ask yourself at each step whether you would have made the same high or low evaluations had exactly the same study produced results on the other side of the issue.” So, for example, if presented with a piece of research that suggested the death penalty lowered murder rates, the participants were asked to analyse the study’s methodology and imagine the results pointed the opposite way.
They called this the “consider the opposite” strategy, and the results were striking. Instructed to be fair and impartial, participants showed the exact same biases when weighing the evidence as in the original experiment. Pro-death penalty participants thought the evidence supported the death penalty. Anti-death penalty participants thought it supported abolition. Wanting to make unbiased decisions wasn’t enough. The “consider the opposite” participants, on the other hand, completely overcame the biased assimilation effect – they weren’t driven to rate the studies which agreed with their preconceptions as better than the ones that disagreed, and didn’t become more extreme in their views regardless of which evidence they read.
The finding is good news for our faith in human nature. It isn’t that we don’t want to discover the truth, at least in the microcosm of reasoning tested in the experiment. All people needed was a strategy which helped them overcome the natural human short-sightedness to alternatives.
The moral for making better decisions is clear: wanting to be fair and objective alone isn’t enough. What’s needed are practical methods for correcting our limited reasoning – and a major limitation is our imagination for how else things might be. If we’re lucky, someone else will point out these alternatives, but if we’re on our own we can still take advantage of crutches for the mind like the “consider the opposite” strategy.
Coming up with the perfect recipe for crisps or the ideal marketing strategy for a soft drink used to depend on explicit measures. In focus groups and surveys, consumers were asked which product tasted best or which commercial was most appealing. But these measures are imperfect: consumers may choose to hide their true opinions or they might not be fully aware of their own preferences. Food and drinks companies need more objective measures. Currently their best hope is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The idea is that somewhere in the brain, a “buy button” is hidden away: a region (or combination of regions) that influence your purchase decision. The promise of neuromarketing is that one day, we will be able to find this region, record its activity when you watch an ad or sample a product, and then predict how well this product will sell. So far, the success has been limited. But in a recent study in NeuroImage, Simone Kühn from the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf and her colleagues claim to have found “multiple ‘buy buttons’ in the brain”.
The researchers showed six different ads for the chocolate bar “Duplo” to 18 healthy women while they underwent fMRI. In these ads, the chocolate bar was presented either next to the face of a woman; a couple; a group of people; in two hands; in two hands and with an additional slogan; or next to a toothbrush (the toothbrush was meant to serve as a control condition).
The researchers measured brain activity during the adverts in eight brain regions thought to be involved in making purchase decisions. Then they entered these measures into a formula that weighed key areas such as the nucleus accumbens and medial orbitofrontal cortex more strongly than others, which were expected to have less influence. Some areas, such as dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, were even weighed negatively, assuming that higher activity in these regions would make a purchase less likely. The team then used this “fMRI sales forecast value” to predict the sales of the chocolate bar. After the scan, the women were also asked which ad they liked most.
Next, the researchers ranked the six ads in different ways: according to the fMRI forecast; according to the women’s explicit preferences; and according to actual sales in a real German supermarket where the chocolate bar was sold in a display showing one of the six different ads, with a different advert used each week. In total, more than 63,000 customers were recorded, of whom 317 bought the chocolate bars. The six weeks were not consecutive and were carefully chosen to be uninfluenced by holidays and promotional periods.
The fMRI-based forecast was a surprisingly accurate predictor of sales, while self-reports performed poorly. The two ads which did best in the supermarket (chocolate bar in front of a group and next to a woman) were also predicted to be most successful by the fMRI sales forecast value. In contrast, the two most-liked ads from the self-reports (hands without text and, somewhat surprisingly, the toothbrush) were actually the least and third to least successful ones.
These seem like impressive results for the field of neuromarketing, but I had a number of reservations. For instance, while the authors tried to justify their selection of brain areas, arguing that these regions had previously been implicated in neuromarketing research, it is not entirely clear how they came up with their specific formula to calculate the “fMRI sales forecast value”. A clearer rationale would have been helpful.
The new results also contradict earlier studies, which found that asking people directly about their preferences was far superior over modern measures such as fMRI. Note though that in this study, people were asked which ad they liked best. But likingdoes not equalwanting. You might not like an ad very much, but it could still increase your desire for a product. A more useful question for the self-report part of this study would have been: “How much does this ad make you want to buy the chocolate?”
Also, there was a potential effect of the order in which the ads were displayed in the shops. The most successful ad, which was also predicted to be most successful by the fMRI based forecast, was the one that was used first in the German supermarket. The authors argue that most customers would have bought and eaten Duplo before, since it is a very popular sweet in Germany. However, it is easy to see how a new display in your local supermarket could encourage you to buy this product, regardless of the ad attached to it. Future studies should take this effect into account and maybe start with a shop display without any ads in the first week.
But perhaps most concerning is that one of the study authors, Enrique Strelow, is only listed in the paper as a member of the Justus-Liebig University of Gießen, even though he is also Head of Shopper Communication at Ferrero, the company that makes the chocolate bar Duplo. This is a clear conflict of interest, which was not disclosed in the paper. From reading the article, it is clear that the authors had cooperated with Ferrero, since they had early access to the advertisements which would later be placed in the supermarket. However, one of the authors being an employee of this company is a different thing altogether. Since these conflicts of interests can implicitly or explicitly influence study design, analysis, and result presentation, it is common practice to disclose any links to industry. Why this information was not made publicly available for this paper is unclear.
Nonetheless, the study highlights how neuroimaging-based market research in relatively small groups could one day reliably predict product sales on a large scale. Giving companies access to such sensitive data holds the potential for abuse and should therefore be carefully regulated. While there are strict regulations for fMRI based research in academic settings, such rules are lacking for industry applications. A public debate about the merits and dangers of neuromarketing is therefore more and more pressing.
How much do you trust your own opinions? Do you feel that your beliefs and worldviews are based upon an “evidence file” of real facts? Most people do — and if asked to justify their position on big issues like politics, religion and life they would be able to hit you with a list of supporting facts and arguments. It’s the same for the smaller things too; people are usually very good at justifying their actions based on a reasonable-sounding chain of logic.
But are our opinions really as solid as we think they are? Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t always “believe yourself” without giving your opinions a second look.
The human mind loves patterns. We love it when things fit together nicely and we’re innately primed to spot and recognize recurring patterns and ideas in the world around us. We’re so good at it that we can identify patterns even when there aren’t any.
This becomes an issue when we apply this same principle to our important life experiences. If the human brain is naturally good at finding patterns where none exist, it can link pieces of information which on their own are perfectly true but do not logically follow on from each other. This leads to forming conclusions which do not reflect reality.
This fallacy of over-generalization and forming beliefs on isolated facts is the basis of stereotyping. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience when visiting a certain town, or with someone of a certain ethnicity. Maybe you know someone who has had a similar experience to you. In your mind these small, isolated incidents paint a much broader picture that leads you to conclude that everyone from that town, or everyone of that ethnicity are just as bad as the one you came into contact with.
Making Facts Match Belief
Once a belief is formed in your mind, it’s very hard to shake. People like information that matches their pre-existing beliefs. This confirmation bias leads us to pay particular attention to information that confirms what we already know, while ignoring or discounting info which would conflict with our previously held views. Not only that but we will bend over backwards to make new information fit within our existing concepts.
Imagine a town where two politicians are running for mayor. At one end of town the existing mayor is holding a rally. He proudly states that during his last term he cut unemployment in the town by 10 percent, thereby proving that his policies are working and that he is the only man for the job. The room erupts in applause and cheering.
On the other side of town his rival is holding a rally. He says, “In his entire term my opponent only managed to cut unemployment by a minuscule ten percent! If a moron like him can achieve that much, think how much a genuinely hard working, forward thinking politician like myself could achieve!” The assembled crowd roars in agreement.
When preaching to people who have already made their minds up two people can take the exact same bit of information and use it to draw entirely opposite conclusions. And most people listening will be totally unaware they’ve done anything illogical in believing them. So all those facts and figures you have in your mental evidence folder might need a second look — you could have mentally shoehorned them in there so as to protect your established view of the world.
Mental Illness and Believing Yourself
All of this becomes a much bigger problem when you throw mental illnesses like anxiety and depression into the mix. These conditions bias your thinking towards the negative- they make you far more likely to interpret events in a negative way. If a friend doesn’t respond to your text, most people would think they were just busy, but someone with depression would take that as evidence that they aren’t really your friend and hate spending time with you. They then might start to form illusory patterns based on a few unrelated incidents- thinking that everyone they know secretly hates spending time with them.
Depression causes you to believe negative things about yourself and your value as a person. When “I am worthless” or “everyone hates me” is your starting point, confirmation bias becomes highly damaging because it makes you interpret every situation as validating your negative view of yourself. If people do choose to hang out with you- they’re only pretending to like you. And if they don’t- then you were right all along. With the filter of mental illness over your perception it doesn’t matter what happens, it all looks and feels the same.
You don’t have to suffer from mental illness to fall foul of the occasional faulty assumption or over generalization. From time to time everyone makes this kind of mistake and ends up believing negative things about themselves or the world around them. Learning to take a second look at your opinions rather than seeing them as infallible can free you from all kinds of damaging beliefs.
Have you ever felt stuck in an emotional state that you can’t seem to get out of? If you’ve felt this way before, you may have even wished that there was a way to turn these emotions off entirely.
With colder temperatures outside and fewer daylight hours, the winter months can be especially tough to trudge through. Just like the weather outside, we may often feel powerless to change the emotions we feel on the inside. Calling upon our favorite music, however, just might help us to transform the winter blues into a different sounding tune.
While seasons shift gradually, our inner emotional states can change rapidly, like the channels on a radio or a TV. Think of your mind as a radio. There is a vast and constant amount of information to digest and process. Sometimes we might get stuck on a certain song or station, hearing the same thing over and over. If you’ve experienced this kind of rumination or thought-looping before, you know it is an unwelcome and negative cycle. When this happens, anything that helps us to switch to a different channel can provide emotional relief.
Sometimes when we get in these entrenched states, it can be difficult to dig ourselves out. We may start listening to negative messages that have been internalized and deeply ingrained within our minds, (consciously or unconsciously) playing them on repeat. The good news, however, is that we actually have the power to shift our thinking. We have the ability to bring ourselves away from the destructive noise of our own cognitive distortions and into the sweet sounds of serenity.
Music can be a useful tool in helping to turn down volume on the (often irrational) song or story that’s being played incessantly. While muting the unpleasant tracks we’re so accustomed to hearing in our minds and boosting the sound on some uplifting tunes, our favorite music automatically becomes a natural mood enhancer.
Plug back in
When we feel disconnected or burnt out, listening music can help us to feel more grounded and aligned — physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. When we feel inspired or uplifted by the sound or the lyrics of a song, it can result in a truly profound experience. When we are moved by the music we hear, we gain a greater understanding about ourselves. With that comes the ability to foster a better sense of connection to other people and the world around us.
Flip the Switch
Much like meditation, putting on our favorite song or playlist can take our minds out of the vicious cycle of regret, worry, or fear, and help us to refocus our attention on the sound and rhythm of the song, even if just for a short while. Almost instantaneously, we have the ability to bring our minds away from the trap of its constant mental chatter, and into states of present moment awareness and enlivened being.
Feel the Beat
The mind and body are connected. Music often makes us want to move, inspiring us to dance or exercise. This helps release endorphins and serotonin in the brain, so we feel better and adopt a naturally more positive outlook. Combining music with movement is a potent way to improve your mood with the potential for long lasting effects.
Each of us may have different taste in music, but we all crave many of the same things, including happiness and belonging. Music can help us strengthen the bond we have with ourselves, and ultimately, with each other. While listening to our favorite music in solitude may be the perfect antidote, some people find that the energy and vibrations that abound at live music shows are powerfully therapeutic. No matter where you are, it’s important to remember, that if you’re feeling a particular emotion, you are surrounded by human beings everywhere who have felt that same emotion before.
All of these ideas depend on what works best for you and what makes you feel good. Not sure what music to put on? Try checking out Spotify and Soundcloud to explore new artists and songs that might be appealing to you.
Of course there is no magic remedy to alleviate all emotional pain when going through a difficult experience, but we can make small choices that add up over time to contribute to our overall well-being in a big way.
Just like the seasons, our emotions will come and go. If you’re having difficulty shifting out of a particular emotional state, grab that remote and switch the channel on your thoughts. Program your mind just like you would program your favorite radio stations and let the music guide you to a better place.