Tag Archive for: Kassandra Lamb

How My Muse Revealed Protagonist’s History with Flashbacks & Dreams

I knew I’d be out of pocket today so I invited fellow author Kassandra Lamb to guest blog. Kassandra has departed from her amateur sleuth series to write police procedure. Further, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more helpful muse!  Thanks for joining us, Kassandra~ Donnell 

I am a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. No outline, just a basic story idea, and I sit down and see what pours out onto the page. When I started writing Book 1 of my newest series, I didn’t even know my protagonist’s back story.

I only knew two things. One, a successful Maryland homicide detective would be snatched out of her comfort zone and dumped into a new job as Chief of Police in a small Florida city. And two, her first big case would be a serial killer.

I actually knew very little about Judith Anderson (who was a secondary character from my Kate Huntington mystery series)—other than she was a workaholic, no-nonsense cop who had a lot of integrity.

So imagine my surprise when this happened as she and one of her detectives are making a death notification to a victim’s next of kin…

Detective Jacobs rang the sister’s doorbell, then rapped knuckles against the door.

I jerked.

            Two burly county cops on the porch, the afternoon sun beating down. “Is your mother home?” Me, a scrawny teenager, staring at them, my throat so tight I couldn’t talk.

I shook my head slightly, brutally shoving the memory away.

Jacobs’s back was rigid. Had he picked up that I’d had a brief flashback? More likely, he was bracing himself for the task at hand.

Wow, I was as shocked by this little flashback as my protagonist was!

But I was a psychotherapist for 20 years, specializing in trauma recovery, so I quickly realized that Judith had some demons in her psychological closet. And they were being stirred up by the insecurity of being in a new and challenging situation.

I was quite familiar with the way that flashbacks and dreams often reveal more about such demons. But what was this flashback about?

I only had a vague idea at that point. I knew in my gut that her mother was dead. But was she murdered?

The dream Judith had a few chapters later wasn’t much help…

            The dead woman on the floor got up, as she sometimes did. “Are you hungry? I’ll fix you a snack.” She walked toward the fridge, and I sat at the tiny kitchen table.

            My long legs barely fit under it. She called it our postage-stamp table.

            A buzzing sound. Was it the microwave?

Another buzz.

I opened one eye.

Then a quick flashback in Chapter 10 told me why Judith had little to no social life back in Maryland (in the Kate books)…

More warmth in my chest, offset by anxious butterflies in my stomach.

            Talk about mixed emotions.

Maybe Kate was a friend after all.

A mental flash of a dark-haired woman lying on a floor, seemingly asleep but not.

My chest constricted, the warmth gone. The anxiety prevailed. Letting people in was dangerous.

Then Judith has a lucid dream in Chapter 14 (lucid dream is psychobabble for one in which you know you’re dreaming), and I learned more about how the woman on the floor died…

It was one of those freaky dreams in which you know you’re dreaming.

            The woman lay crumpled on the floor.

            Here we go again, I thought in the dream.

            I walked slowly toward her, trying to convince myself that she was only asleep. But why would she be sleeping on the kitchen floor?

            I saw the pill bottle, empty on its side, and my heart raced.

            The woman raised her head and stared at me.

Okay, that was new. She’d gotten up before and acted normal, but this penetrating stare was a new development.

            Her mouth opened and a mechanical voice came out. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

            It wasn’t my fault,” I said, in a quavering teenager’s voice.

            “You could have saved them,” the mechanical voice said.

            A phone rang.

            My mother stood up and walked to the kitchen wall phone. She picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.” But the phone kept ringing.

I jerked awake. My cell phone was ringing.

When I was writing Book 1, I hadn’t really thought through whether or not Judith would have a love interest, but my muse was a step or two ahead of me (as she often is). Judith meets the sheriff of the adjoining county in Chapter 20…

A rotund man in a khaki uniform and matching Stetson stepped out of the driver’s side of the lead cruiser—a stereotypical rural sheriff with graying hair and a bushy mustache.

“This here’s county jurisdiction,” he said as he approached where I stood.

“I know that. That’s why I called your department.”

The man opened his mouth, but another voice interrupted. “I’ll take it from here, Deputy. Why don’t you join in the search?”

“Harumph.” The rotund man huffed away.

A slimmer, taller man, mid-forties—also in a khaki uniform—stepped forward, hand extended. “Sheriff Sam Pierson, ma’am. You must be Chief Anderson.” His voice was a pleasant baritone.

I shook the hand, trying to hide my surprise. I, of all people, should know better than to make assumptions based on stereotypes. “Good to meet you, Sheriff.”

“Call me Sam.” He gave my hand a slight squeeze and let it go.

I hesitated, then said, “Judith.”

He raised an eyebrow, and I figured it wouldn’t be long before he tried to call me Judy.

He looked around, slowly shaking his head. “A serial killer’s one hell of a welcome to Florida for you.”

Sam never, ever calls her Judy, and over the next 2 books, he slowly but surely worms his way at least partway past her defenses.

But then, in Book 4, Felony Murder (my most recent release), Judith keeps seeing Sam around town, talking to various women. He swears it’s a doppelganger, someone who looks like him. As this issue is coming to a head, Judith is distracted by a flashback during a phone conversation.

“Judith, are you there?” Sam asked.


Should I ask him if he was in town earlier?

            No, the answer came back. Too quickly.

Was that my old distrust bubbling up? Or something else?

My mind flashed to my father coming home from work, and me, as a teenager, hiding in my room and listening for the timbre of his voice. Was he jovial or pissed at the world? And if I couldn’t tell, should I go out there? What if I said something that would set him off?

Not that he’d ever gone after me.

“Judith?” Concern in Sam’s voice still, but more strident.

My insides tensed. A flash of my father’s arm high in the air, his hand fisted. My mother cowering…

I can’t deal with this right now.

“Sorry, I’m kinda distracted. I need to go.”

And toward the end of this latest book, a dream helps Judith sort out her feelings about her stepmother, her father’s second wife…

            The dead woman was lying on the kitchen floor, the pill bottle beside her. She slowly rose and turned toward me. “You really should be nicer to her.”

            “Sheez, Mom, not you too.” The voice was that of a peevish teen. “That’s what Dad’s always saying.”

            “She’s doing the best she can.”

            “But she’s the one who took Dad away from us.”

            “Not you, darling.” Tears pooled in my mother’s eyes. “Only me.”

An annoying buzzing sound interrupted my thoughts.

The buzz came again, followed by a ping. I opened one eye.

I’m starting to have some fun with these dreams and flashbacks my muse keeps producing, and I’m loving how they reveal Judith’s back story and psyche…little snippets erupting from the deeper layers of her consciousness.

Now that I think about it, it makes sense that my muse would be fond of such devices, since all three—flashbacks, dreams and muses—reside in the subconscious mind.

I wonder what will pop out in the next book…

About Felony Murder:

All is not as it seems in Starling, Florida

A phone call from a desperate teen, awaiting trial for felony murder, spurs Chief of Police Judith Anderson to re-open the case of a drug deal gone wrong. But her investigation finds more questions than answers. How did the white gang members involved end up with sweet plea deals, while the Latino kid with no record is charged with felony murder? Meanwhile, attempts on the mayor’s life and glimpses around town of her lover with various women divide Judith’s attention and trigger her old demons of distrust.


About the Author: Kassandra Lamb has never been able to decide which she loves more, psychology or writing. In her youth, she had to decide between writing and paying the bills. Partial to electricity and food, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The magic portal to this universe (i.e., her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.

She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series (about a psychotherapist as amateur sleuth), the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries (about a service dog trainer and her mentor dog), and the police procedural series, The Co.P. on the Scene Mysteries, plus a guidebook for novice writers, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.


WEBSITE: https://kassandralamb.com

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