September Beginnings

Lea Wait, here.

To me, September has always meant “begin again.” From pre-kindergarten through college, it was the time school started. (I still can’t get used to schools starting in August, which they do for my grandchildren in Virginia and Kansas.) DSC01566

September is the time to buy notebooks. Pencils. Pens. Composition books. Assignment notebooks. Everything new, pristine, and full of promise. This year grades would be higher. Friends would be closer. Teachers would be more inspiring. In short: a time of hope.

I still get an unreasonable thrill going to office supply stores and searching the aisles for the perfect notebooks, pads, writing implements, calendars, mailing envelopes … all the tools of the writers’ trade. I know buying elastic bands and staples and padded envelopes and pads of paper shouldn’t make my heart beat faster. But does.

I’m choosing the tools that, this time, will ensure that my next manuscript will be stronger. My perpetual “to do” list will be completed. My files will be neater.

Ultimately, that I will, this time, be a better, more whole person. More efficient. More organized. More productive. And, ultimately, somehow, life will be better.THREADSOFEVIDENCE

Yes. When it comes to office supplies (aka school supplies) I am completely delusional.

But now it’s happening again. It’s early September. Last week the latest in my Mainely Needlepoint series, Threads of Evidence, was published. Yesterday I put the manuscript of my next Shadows Antique Print mystery series, Shadows on a Morning in Maine, in the mail to my editor.

Today I’m going to go through the rite of organization: clean out my desk drawers and in-box. Sharpen my pencils. File my notes for Morning in Maine. And get out notes for my next project.

I know what it’s going to be. I have a folder of ideas and a pile of reference books to be checked. It’s in a genre I’ve never tried before, and that’s exciting. And I have only a couple of weeks to test out the possibility … after that I’ll have to work on my next manuscript, due December 1.

But I’m giving myself two weeks to begin again. Try something new.

I hope it works.

And if it doesn’t … I’ll put it away for another day, and start on a new mystery.

Because September is a time for beginnings.

Lea Wait is the author of the 7-book Shadows Antique Print Mystery Series, the latest of which is Shadows on a Maine Christmas, and the Mainely Needlepoint series, Twisted Threads and Threads of Evidence. She’s also written a series of essays about Maine and writing, Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine, and five historical novels for ages 8 and up. She invites readers to friend her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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Being Published

Our guest today is Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin, who retired a while back from the Portland police department and has now embarked on the task of writing crime instead of fighting crime.

Bruce Coffin: The other day someone asked what it felt like to have one of my stories image1published. I told them it felt great. Of course. What else would I have said? My answer was short and direct, although as I think back on that moment, not entirely truthful. The truth is beyond words.

My writer friends have been a constant source of encouragement. Saying things like, “don’t worry it will happen,” and, “your writing is good, it’s just a matter of time.” But as the years passed I began to wonder. Do I really have what it takes to break through the barrier? The unpublished writer’s corner? I wondered…

In spite of the ever present specter of doubt, I worked hard on rewriting and re-editing my first novel, crafting new short stories and rewriting and re-editing those, again and again. I had trusted friends and relatives read my work and offer their opinions and advice. I continued to enter contests and submit my work to publishers and agents. And I continued to add to my collection of rejection e-mails.

If you’ve never received one, I can tell you first hand that notices of rejection from the publishing world are funny things. They look suspiciously like dear John letters. Designed to soften the blow, they say things like, “We thoroughly enjoyed your story,” or “your work shows real promise.” Well written and pleasant, but rejections just the same. As painful and heartbreaking as if they’d come from an ex-girlfriend to someone actually named John.

You can drive yourself crazy. I reacted differently each time I received a rejection. Sometimes I’d feel depressed. Other times I’d be angry. Pissed that they’d failed to recognized the brilliance in my writing. I thought, what possible story could someone have penned that was better than the one I’d submitted? Jeesh. But then I’d take a step back. Eventually, reading the work of the writers they did publish. Wow, I’d think. That story really was better than mine. I’d love to write a story that good. Then I’d look at the rejection e-mail again. It wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe they really did like my story.

So, I climbed back into the saddle of my trusted stead (my IPad), vowing to continue my quest. To push on toward that holy grail of publication. Being able to hold my head up high as I walked among the published writers, knowing I belonged. That I was one of them. From that day forward whenever someone I’d just met asked what I did, and I answered that I was a writer, I could mean it. When they asked the enviable follow-up question, where can I find your work? No longer would I have to mumble, oh, I’m not published yet, before slithering away to some dark corner in search of alcohol or a high ledge. I’d be able to actually tell them! Maybe they’ll want a signed copy of my work? Sure, I’ll say. Happy to do it. Who should I make this out to?

Doesn't this guy look happy!!!

Doesn’t this guy look happy!!!

The truth is, when I awoke on that memorable Tuesday morning and checked my email, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The word congratulations hung there on the screen. Surely this must be spam that made its way into my inbox. Who else begins an email with congratulations? Certainly not a publisher. Obviously, In my pre-coffee state I was hallucinating. The SPAM must have been right next to another rejection email and I’d jumbled the words together in my mind. I was sure that when I looked back the email would tell me that I’d won a free four day trip to the Caribbean, or maybe a surprise gift, all of which would only cost me three easy payments of $79.99.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Congratulations. It really was from a publisher. I jumped out of bed and did a short awkward version of the Snoopy dance. Thankfully, there were no witnesses. I went and found my wife in the next room. Wanting to appear nonchalant, I tried to calm myself. When I told her the news, she let out a squeal of delight. I think I may have let out a squeal myself. I was over the moon. Giddy with excitement. Insert any other tired cliché for thrilled that you can think of, here.

Time has passed. I’ve read that email at least a hundred times. Shared the news with others and tried to get a handle on the idea of finally getting published. What does it mean? What it means is working harder. Writing more and honing my craft. In the past week I’ve penned a new short story and returned to the task of re-editing my first novel. Neither of which feels like a burden any longer. Now that I’m a published writer.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, this newly published writer has a lawn to mow.

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Appalachian Trail is suddenly the place to be (theoretically)

Maureen Milliken here…

Remember back in 2009, North Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s alibi for an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina was that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Sanford was away from home for about a week, but events overtook him and the alibi didn’t hold up.

And the Appalachian Trail, briefly at least, became part of a bad punchline.

Until then, not that the trail was unheard of, but it wasn’t really in the news a lot. There’d be brief mentions here and there, but it was just there. Someplace, for most of us, other people went to hike.

Not this summer though. I’m going to dub this The Summer of the Appalachian Trail.

Paul Doiron's "The Precipice" is one of many reasons the Appalachian Trail is getting a lot of attention this summer.

Paul Doiron’s “The Precipice” is one of many reasons the Appalachian Trail is getting a lot of attention this summer.

A lot of the credit goes to Maine crime writer Paul Doirin, who’s sixth Mike Bowditch novel, “The Precipice,” was released at the beginning of the summer and the trail plays a big part.

Hollywood has also remade the Bill Bryson classic “A Walk in the Woods,” with Robert Redford playing the Bryson character. The movie comes out next weekend. If you’ve never read the book, it’s as harrowing as Doiron’s in its own way as Bryson and another horrifically unprepared friend hike the trail from Georgia to Maine.

The movie is getting a lot of buzz, and no one seems too bothered that 79-year-old Redford is playing the role of Bryson, who was 44 when he hiked the trail in 1996. Bryson, least of all. Though if Robert Redford were turning my book into a movie, I probably wouldn’t have any gripes either.

Nick Nolte, 74, is playing his friend, Steve Katz. And of course, because it’s Hollywood, 56-year-old Emma Thompson is playing Redford’s wife. I guess I’d look kind of jerky if I pointed out that Bryson’s wife would have had to be 21 for that to match, but I guess I should just be grateful Hollywood, which can’t conceive of men over 30 actually being paired with women their own age, didn’t give Redford a 21-year-old wife. I guess he wouldn’t be out on the Appalachian Trail if that were the case. But I digress.

This morning’s Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, as well as other Maine newspapers, carries an Associated Press story about hikers trashing the trail, drinking, crowding it out. Kind of the latest Mount Everest.

The story speculates that the movie “Wild” about a troubled woman hiking the Pacific Rim trail led to the resurgence and speculate “A Walk in the Woods” is going to make it worse.

The AP story says that more than 830 people completed the 2,189-mile hike last year, up from just 182 in 1990, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. At Baxter State Park, the north terminus of the trail, the number of registered long-distance hikers grew from 359 in 1991 to more than 2,000 in 2014.

So fame has its downside. Funny as an affair alibi, it’s now become a bucket list must-do for, I guess, people who like to party and throw trash around.

It’s getting bad enough that Baxter State Park officials are threatening to have the last miles of the trail and it’s famous end moved from the park and the summit of Mount Katahdin.

The reality of the trail, as Bryson so effectively spells out, is not as a party spot.

Doiron’s book, while fiction, is also a reminder that the trail is remote, it’s dangerous and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Doiron told the Boston Globe in an interview published in Sunday’s paper that a harrowing event on the trail when he was 22 changed his life and informed his fiction

He and two friends were hiking the trail in 1988 when they were struck by lightning and one of them was critically injured.

“It was the longest night of my life and my first brush with mortality,” Doiron told the Globe. “In my books now I write about the need for humans to be humble before the power of nature. I learned that lesson when I was 22 on the Appalachian Trail.”

Two years ago, Geraldine Largay’s disappearance on the trail, brought it onto the front pages of newspapers. The Tennessee woman, a thru-hiker, vanished without a trace in Franklin County here in Maine as she neared the last hundred or so miles of her hike. She has yet to be found.

Largay was hiking through what’s considered the toughest and most dangerous section of the trail’s 2,000-plus miles. Despite intensive and repeated searches, they have yet to find even her backpack. No, it’s not to be taken lightly.

My guess is that once movies that have made college kids and rich bucket-list people think the trail is something they just have to do fade back a little, the trail will get back to normal.

But the things that make it so compelling — to the brave few who understand it and hike it because of that, and the rest of us who settle for reading about it — will always remain.

Maureen Milliken is the author of Cold Hard News, the first in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series.

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Weekend Update: August 29-30, 2015

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday), Lea Wait (Wednesday), Barb Ross (Thursday) and Vaughn Hardacker (Friday) with a special guest post by Bruce Coffin on Tuesday.

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

Check this out. Many of us are planning to attend Murder By The Book in Bar Harbor Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19 and you can be there, too. Get your tickets now!

Lea Wait: On Sunday, August 30, I’ll be interviewed by host Harry Rinker of “What’ve You Got?” a nationally syndicated radio equivalent of Antiques Road Show. To check when the show airs in your city, check Harry’s website.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: If you’re on Goodreads, starting August 31st you can enter a giveaway for advance reading copies of the next Liss MacCrimmon mystery, The Scottie Barked at Midnight. Number nine in the series, it will be in stores October 27th. Also, the trade paperback edition of the first in the Mistress Jaffrey series, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, will be available in the U.S. on Tuesday, September 1st. The second Mistress Jaffrey Mystery, Murder in the Merchant’s Hall is already out in the UK. Publication date in the U.S. for both the hardcover and the ebook is December 1st.

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora: mailto: kateflora@gmail.com

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Judge Dread

Psst. Down here. It’s me, Chris. You might be wondering why I’m hiding under my desk with a pitcher of Mylanta White Russians. Well, I’ll tell you.

Killing Kind UK Cover

My, but that UK cover’s snazzy.

As of yesterday, THE KILLING KIND is officially out in the world. Okay, part of the world. More specifically, the British part. It doesn’t come out in the US for another couple weeks. (September 15th, to be exact. Which means you still have plenty of time to preorder it if you’d like.)

Book releases are wonderful, stressful, terrifying experiences. It’s like hosting an open house in your own head. “Greetings, strangers!” you say. “Here’s all the weird stuff I’ve been secretly thinking about for the past few years. Come poke around and then judge me on the internet.” And believe you me, they will.

I’ve been fortunate in my career. Most of my reviews have been quite favorable. So far, THE KILLING KIND has extended that streak. It received a starred review from Kirkus, as well as very favorable reviews from from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. But, like all authors, my books have gotten their share of howlers, too, and I’m sure I’ll get plenty more before I’m through. There’s no point complaining; it comes with the gig. You’ve just got to find a way to come to grips with it.

Killing Kind Cover

This is what the US version looks like. Commit it to memory. Consider memorializing it in tattoo form. Did I mention there’s still time to preorder?

I used to Google obsessively as release day approached, and read every single review I got. I even had a tried-and-true method for putting bad ones behind me. Thankfully, I’ve since mellowed. Sure, I’ll read the first couple reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, just to see which way the wind is blowing, but after that, I’ll glance occasionally at my average, and that’s that. If a book blogger points me toward their review on Twitter, I’ll read it, but I no longer seek them out. (Side note, bloggers: don’t feel obligated to @ message an author if you’ve given them a poor review. Most writers, this one included, would rather wallow in blissful ignorance.) And while I’ll cop to reading every professional review I get, these days it’s with an eagle eye and a mercenary heart, always looking for a pull quote I can use.

That’s not to say I don’t care what people think of my books. I care deeply. Too much, in fact. All authors do. But we live in a time when anyone can judge anything for any reason. It doesn’t pay to take it all to heart.

But why take my word for it, when you can hear from actual famous people instead?

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