Lifting Spirits

If you’ve read my latest novel, Murderous Means, you may be thinking the title of this post has to do with other-worldly, occult happenings. Not so. This post is about lifting one’s spirits, literally, as we kick off 2024. 

There are many of us eager to make positive and meaningful changes in our lives; to achieve personal growth and transformation and to move forward in a better way. It doesn’t take all that much to make this happen. Just a little will and mind power. It starts by finding little things that bring us joy. 

Our eight-year-old shepherd, Chico, did just that recently. A sweetie pie and nonathletic fellow, he prefers lying down to practically anything else. After a short walk around the yard, if I dare pause for any reason, he’ll hit the ground…lying.The other day however, Chico grabbed a toy that he hadn’t played with in a long while, and thrashed it about with great enthusiasm. For about eight seconds. We’d adopted him when he was four, and have only seen him thrash and shake a few times and that was a while ago. What prompted the burst of joy? 

He’d just finished eating (his first and foremost reason for being) and enjoyed his meal immensely, which gave him an instant lift, which he displayed by thrashing. Ah, the simple pleasures of life!

If we each take time, daily, to pause and contemplate the beautiful experiences in our lives, we too can become happy thrashers. We have the ability to manufacture our own joy, which can change our present experiences as well as our attitudes. 

I visited the local library today. After I’d checked out my books and returned to my car, I didn’t leave right away. I paused and spent a few minutes appreciating my surroundings; the air that flowed through my open window, the pure blueness of the sky dotted with silvery, puffy clouds, as well as the tall oak trees whose widespread canopy gave me shade during my pausing. It was an instant spirit and mood lifter.

I read that we should picture the New Year as a garden we are responsible for planting. If we sow the seeds of good thoughts and habits in the soil and weed out the worries and troubles of the past, we can create our own happiness right where we are. How easy is that? 




Inside Murderous Means

Dysfunctional families can be complicated. So can writing a mystery. Imagine writing a mystery centering around a dysfunctional family, which is what happened in MURDEROUS MEANS, #6 in my Southern California mystery series. Was it tougher to write? Maybe. But also more fun.

Book Cover: Murderous Means by Lida Sideris

I like playing around with words. I came up with the name of this blog* after a visit to Boston Harbor where most of the boats have memorably clever names (the Codfather, the Reel Deal). I was thinking of those names when I came up with the Means Well Ranch, the perfect setting for an odd, not even close, family named the Means. Oh, those family dynamics! Gets me every time.

Telling the future can be complicated, too. How about that psychic/medium/fortune teller who insists the Means family matriarch didn’t just die in her sleep. What’s that about? Exploring the psychic world opened up many opportunities for shenanigans in my book. I’ve never been to a séance, have you?  Rather than attend an actual (or is it pretend?) one, I threw a séance into my book and let my heroine and her sidekicks handle it. 

A hands-on mother can also be complicated. Especially when you’re an adult child. Just ask Corrie. Victoria Locke definitely has her own ideas about everything, especially about the direction her daughter’s P.I. work should take. Victoria somehow manages to fit herself into each situation, risky or not, much to Corrie’s chagrin, but Corrie can’t get rid of her. Or maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t want to. Corrie’s never exactly told me. Victoria is there mostly to watch Corrie’s back and to be part of the thrill of the investigation. If she knew how exciting cracking a case was, she would’ve joined in sooner! The mother-daughter scenes make me smile the most while writing them. Do they remind me of my own mother-daughter scenes? Maybe, a little.

I had a different story in mind, when I first started writing this book, as well as a different criminal, but my characters showed me I was dead wrong (forgive the pun). 

* It’s not “Follow the Lye-da.” It’s “Follow the Lee-da.” Get it?

Need a Lift?

Do you feel down sometimes? When that happens to me, I turn to an immediate mood lifter: gratitude.

November is the month to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, reminding us to be thankful for all of our blessings. The rest of the year, I write in a gratitude journal to make sure I keep all the good stuff in front of me.

I recently heard a story about how a grateful attitude dramatically changed a person’s life: An inmate in a San Diego prison was constantly being placed in solitary confinement, due to his aggressive nature. When his thirty days in solitary would be up, he’d be back almost instantly.

One time, a guard slipped a pamphlet on gratitude in the prisoner’s tiny solitary space. At first, the man became very angry, but having nothing else to do, he read the pamphlet, which suggested taking a deep breath, for starters. He did and noticed he felt a little different. A little bit better. Next, he turned to giving thanks, sarcastically at first (“Am I supposed to be thankful for being stuck in this miserable stink hole?”), but as he continued thanking, he noticed a change. His words became less sarcastic and more sincere. And, for the first time, he felt a little compassion for himself. As this thanksgiving continued, his heart began to soften.

After his thirty days were up, the prison guards were astonished to see him emerge with a smile on his face. His behavior changed dramatically enough not only to avoid solitary confinement, but to earn him an early release.

Without the right attitude, I can’t write my books. To get the right attitude, I remind myself of all that I’m grateful for by writing in my journal. It feels good, it feels right, to give thanks and helps me to focus on the better parts of life and cast away the rest. Studies have even shown that a tiny bit of gratitude produces positive results such as lifting one’s mood, lowering blood pressure, having fewer aches and less stress. 

Gratitude is an expansion of the heart, leading to peace and calm. My writing flows when I keep the right frame of mind, for which I am always thankful. What writer doesn’t want that?