Boring Can Be Bliss!

Dorothy Cannell: My husband Julian and I have taken to drink. Well, somewhat truish.

Perhaps you’ll sit by a cozy fire?

At Christmas time I usually make hot wine punch, mostly because it makes the house smell nice, but this time, either because it tasted better than usual or because we told ourselves we were coming down with colds, I kept replenishing the pot. At first saying ‘this is the last batch,’ then ‘just while it snows,’ until the present when we are talking of a ‘moratorium in June.’

Could have put this confession another way as in ‘Julian and I have been enjoying a cup of hot wine punch of an evening during this winter season,’ but I didn’t think that would have made for the arresting opening sentence which is one of the basic writing requirements. That’s the problem with writing from a personal experience perspective, it often requires some embroidery to make it passably interesting reading when life is going through an uneventful patch.

Nothing else of a current nature springs to mind deserving of even a second paragraph, so (with apologies) continuing on is the self-indulgence of keeping my arthritic fingers nimble. Today started exactly the same as yesterday, the day before yesterday, the day before the day before the previous yesterday and the day before the previous, previous yesterday. I awoke at six thirty to the stealthy sounds of Julian leaving to exercise at the Y. As always I wondered if he might be sneaking off for good into the arms of a statuesque, or buxom blond, whichever is the irresistible sort these days. But inevitably there was no ‘don’t try to find me’ note pinned to the pillow.

Not Dorothy’s puppy, but another dog eager to become someone’s pet

For three and three quarter minutes I contemplated a brief lie-in, but before I had closed my eyes half way the dogs Teddy and Watson roused as if having thawed back to life after lying buried in a crater since the last ice age. Here is what follows:

  1. Put them out in fenced area
  2. Fill their food bowls and place in separate areas to avoid one of them insisting he is the only one entitled to eat
  3. Make coffee
  4. Bring them in and cajole each into his food station. Closing doors behind them
  5. Pour myself a cup of coffee
  6. Turn on the news
  7. Release dogs
  8. Fill their water bowls
  9. Turn off news, to avoid an attack of depression over state of world affairs
  10. Pour myself another cup of coffee
  11. Have bath and dress
  12. Boil an egg and toast an English muffin

And so it continues with one dull doing activity after another, but out of concern for anyone who has continued reading on in hope of gaining sainthood through martyrdom, but is beginning to think being boiled in oil preferable, even cheering, I’ll leave it there.

Well, not quite. There is a point, inadequate though it may be, for my dwelling on the trivial and it’s this: As a writer I am fueled by mindless activity, it allows me to go inside myself to work out the next scene in current book, think up ways of fleshing out a character, come up with a slice of dialogue, make a discovery such as realizing the person I had designated at the murderer didn’t do it.

I have written books during times that weren’t tranquil – when life was filled with grim realities, and in those cases I endeavored to find strength in continuing with the ordinary. Grounding myself in the mundane. To have the luxury of not having anything better to focus on than whether to add another stick or two of cinnamon to the hot wine punch, or engage in similar blissfully boring endeavors.

Note to readers who have enquired whether I am going to write another Ellie Haskell book, I’ve been working on one in my head and plan to get on with it while replenishing the hot wine punch, etc.…

Happy reading,

And here’s the recipe: 2/5th of sweet red wine; 32 oz. of orange juice; cup of light brown

Something to read while you imbibe?

sugar; 6 cinnamon sticks; 12 cloves stuck in a slice of orange; a tablespoon of ginger; dash of nutmeg; bring to a boil and simmer for half-hour.

When taken at night encourages nodding off to pleasant dreams.

Dorothy

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Bikes of Key West

Hi. Barb here. Unfortunately I’m in book jail. Deadline near and far more writing road to travel. Then a proposal and a short story due after that. Like planes stacked up over an airport with a single runway open.

Fortunately, my husband, Bill Carito, has stepped up to fill the void. We’re in Key West until April 1. While I pound the keyboard every afternoon, he roams the town, looking for the right shot.

Bikes are the preferred method for navigating Key West. The island is compact and flat and the parking is terrible. The highest point, laughably called Solares Hill, is 18 feet above sea level. I have walked over it many times, and you don’t even notice an incline.

I share some of Bill’s photos of bikes with you today. Enjoy!

[All photos in this post are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bcarito and follow him on Instagram at billcarito and bill.carito.colorphotos.]

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Weekend Update: February 18-19, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Barb Ross (Monday) Dorothy Cannell (Tuesday), Jen Blood (Wednesday), Jessie Crockett (Thursday) and Vaughn Hardacker (Friday).

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

From John Clark: I just had a short story accepted for an anthology edited by Kaye George that will come out this summer. The anthology title is DAY OF THE DARK (stories of eclipse) and my story set in the fictional town of Freeman, Maine is called “Relatively Annoying.”

From Vaughn C. Hardacker: I just heard from my publisher that ARCs of WENDIGO will be ready soon and the release date has been set as July 17, 2017.

Bruce Robert Coffin: Will be appearing at the Berwick Public Library (103 Old Pine Hill Road, North Berwick, Maine 03901) on Wednesday, February 22nd, from 5:30 – 7:30. Bruce will be discussing the road from cop to published author. Copies of his bestselling debut novel, Among the Shadows, will be available for purchase.

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

 

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The Meaning of a Dining Room Table

As many of you know, I am a fourth generation antique dealer.

I was taught, by example and explanation, to value possessions not only because they were functional, but because they had been well designed and crafted. That, for example, furniture made of “real wood” was more beautiful, and would last longer, than modern commercial versions. That, in fact, such furniture might be worth more in the future, whereas “used furniture” would be worth little or nothing.

When I began furnishing my own home, I did it by attending auctions, and antique shows. Occasionally I’d buy something at a department store sale, knowing it would have to be replaced in the future. But I’m still using most of the furnishings and accessories I bought when I was in my twenties. Every thing I bought meant something to me: a moment, a history, or a style. Everything was bought to last.

Like many young people, my funds were limited. I first lived in a Greenwich Village apartment, where there was little space. I slept on an inherited convertible couch and one table from Macy’s was my desk, dining and kitchen table.

When, as a new adoptive parent, I bought my first house, a small Victorian with adjoining living and dining rooms, I used both spaces as sitting (and playing) areas.

I was single. When I had friends visit, usually other single adoptive parents, our children played together, and we ate buffet-style, balancing plates of Chinese food or pizza on our laps. Being single in suburban New Jersey meant I was not invited to dinner parties — they were for married couples — and I didn’t give them.

Secretly. the idea of hosting an elegant dinner intimidated me. Family Thanksgivings and Christmases I could manage. But other than that, my entertaining was casual, comfortable – and informal.

When my family grew, and my mother came to live with me for most of the year, I bought a larger home. This home had a living room, dining room, and “family room” as well as a kitchen on the first floor. I dealt with it as I had my smaller home — I made the spaces separate, but informal, living areas. No dining room or dining room table. If I needed table space for a large gathering, I lined up card tables and covered them with table cloths.

And then, when I was in my mid-forties, and had just survived the break-up of a serious relationship, I had a revelation. In my mind, dining rooms (and dining room tables) were for married couples. Grown-ups. The sort of people who had large weddings and were gifted china and sterling silver place settings. (Or, in more recent times, stainless steel.)

Somehow people like that knew how to cook large elegant meals, and had the accoutrements to serve them. And other couples to invite to share them.

They were grownups.

I was a corporate manager, the mother of four and the grandmother of one. My mother, my children and my granddaughter all lived with me. But I finally admitted to myself that in some ways I was still waiting to be part of a grown up couple.

As a feminist, I was angry with myself for feeling that way. And I declared my independence by deciding that I would buy a dining room table.

Of course, I wanted to find the perfect table — one that would last, and fit my life and my home. For several months I visited furniture stores and department stores. Most of the tables I saw were not made well, and few would fit into my traditional home. I also discovered that a dinning room table was a major investment. I was a single mom.  I didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a table. I was saving for my kids’ education and my retirement.

I gave up looking for my table.

That July I went to Maine on vacation. Since I was an antique print dealer, my mother and I (and various of my children) often visited antique shops. That year we visited the nearby shop of a high-end dealer whose family had one shop in London, one in Maine, and who did the major New York shows every winter. Although he specialized in seventeenth to early nineteenth century furniture, he occasionally found prints, and had called my mother to tell her he had a set of Cries of London. (A series of early 19th century hand colored engravings showing street sellers “crying” their goods in London.)

My table, as a circular table seating four.

While we were there, of course, I checked out the dining room tables. And I fell in love.

The table I admired was, the dealer told, me, one he’d just purchased from the Booth Tarkington estate in Maine. A writer’s dining room table! It was mahogany; Queen Anne style. And it was special for several reasons. It was three pieces — a small center piece, with two sides that would fold down, so the (then) oblong table could be put against a wall. And two semi-circles that fit together, making a table large enough to seat four. The half circles  would also fit against a wall independently– or the entire table could be assembled and would easily seat ten to twelve.

Because of its versatility it would fit in either an apartment or a large home.

As a full table, leaves up, but without the semi-circular ends (that make up the round table.)

It was my table. Except for one thing. It cost four times as much as I had already determined to be too much to spend for a table. I admired it, drooled a little, and went home. (My mother and I did buy the Cries of London.)

Three days later I went back to visit the table. And then, a couple of days after that, I stopped in again. It haunted me. I dreamed  about it.

And — a miracle happened. Each time I went back the dealer reduced the price to me. I didn’t even ask. He understood. And he knew I was a dealer. A single parent. A writer. And clearly I loved the table. But his price was still too high. The last week I was in Maine, visiting “my table” one last time, he threw up his hands. “It’s your table,” he declared. “I’ve had a good summer. I’ll take a tax loss on it if you can come up with … ” and he named the exact sum I had resisted paying for one of those modern tables I hadn’t liked.

Queen Anne legs …

I wrote a check on a line of credit for my antiques business. Two weeks later the table arrived in my New Jersey home. It is now in my home in Maine — part in the dining room, and part in the living room.

I never regretted it. That table was my proof to myself that I could be myself, successfully single, and grownup.

I’m not single anymore. And my husband and I do occasionally have dinner parties. It’s just as I had imagined. When we got married (at the town hall in Wiscasset with two witnesses) we decided to buy ourselves “wedding china” — which we did, piece by piece — so we now can serve guests in our own version of elegance.

Many books today suggest how to down size, and get rid of unwanted or unneeded possessions. Yes, we all have those.

But when you have the perfect table, it will stay. I hope I’ll live in this house for the rest of my life, but, if for some reason I don’t, that table will go with me.

It’s not just a table. It’s a symbol, of growing up, and accepting. And believing that what you really want and will work for, can be yours.

 

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Seeing Red

Kate Flora: When I was working on my last Joe Burgess, Led Astray, I noticed that I was using the weather, in particular the mysterious qualities of fog, and the discouraging chill and damp of a string of gray Maine days, to underscore the struggles of the central characters to find their way through a maze of lies, confusion, and lack of information to head off a killer before there was a full-on disaster. Once I noticed that I was using all these grays—and darkness punctuated by small bits of light—to create my atmosphere and mimic my characters’ challenge, I continued it throughout the story. The story began on a gray afternoon and the sun did not come out in Portland until the bad guy was caught.

Most of the time, we do this work on both a conscious, and an unconscious level as we’re crafting story.

A single bright red boat on a summer sea

I was thinking of that recently when I opened up a coffee table book that belonged to my late sister-in-law Emily, who lived in the world of fabric and fashion. The book was from an exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, and the title was Fashion in Colors. As I leafed through the book, my eyes lit on a section called “The Two Faces of Red.” Red, the curators had observed, is a word with many powerful meanings.

There are words like crimson and vermillion, which suggest elegance and opulence. There

Orange-red roofs of a Czech village

are the red garments worn by Cardinals of the church. In these ways, the book suggests, “red endows a sense of the brilliant, dazzling, magnificent, or simply beautiful.”

On the other hand, red has negative implications as the color of executioners or prostitutes

—scarlet women. Red light district. The color of anger—as in “seeing red,” and “an angry red haze.”

And sometimes, over time, the early symbolism changes. During the French Revolution, a red flag signaled “the intervention of public forces to disperse seditious crowds.” Now, far from suggesting the assertion of public order, it is a sign that something wrong has taken place or should be investigated.

The warmth of sunset on Utah’s red rocks

Wikipedia says: Since red is the color of blood, it has historically been associated with sacrifice, danger and courage. Red is also the color most commonly associated with heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy. In China, India and many other Asian countries it is the color of symbolizing happiness and good fortune. In the United States, red pertains to the Republican Party and its supporters. Red is also a color widely used for getting attention, such as stop signs or royal dresses. In addition, red is widely associated with socialism and communism.

For writers looking to play with symbolism in their work, consider this. In Victoria Finlay’s book, Color, we learn that the shade of red paint called “carmine” was actually made from blood. Before the advent of artificial dyes which revolutionized the dying and fabric industries, red often came from the crushed shells of cochineal beetles or a beetle that lived on the Scarlet Oak called the kermes beetle.

The red in the rocks of the Southwest comes from iron, as does the red in our blood. If you take a few minutes and a sheet of paper, you can probably come up with a long list of words for the many shades of red. Then take the time to consider how different these words feel. Consider scarlet vs. burgundy. Let your senses go from the richness of vermillion or crimson to the softness of cherry or rose; from the brightness of cardinal to the subdued darkness of maroon. The exotic suggestion of cinnabar or cerise. The gemlike qualities of ruby or garnet. We readily use the terms “blood red” and “fire engine red.”

The gentle colors of a December rose

As the weather outside persists in the white of snow, the gray of ice, and the dull gray-browns of leafless trees, this is a good time for writers—and observers—to be playing with color. It doesn’t have to be red. How many words for the color gray can you think of? Iron gray, steel gray, battleship gray, pearl gray, slate gray. How many more might you add if you played with your dictionary or your thesaurus? Where might inspiration take you if you played with this a bit?

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