Jessie: Still surrounded by snowbanks

It feels to me like I’ve spent the last few weeks awash in email. Every day I make a to do list and it seems as though half the items on it are emails that need answering. That doesn’t take into account all the emails that simply require discarding. Or the email trash bin that needs dumping. Or the unsubscribing from junk email lists.

By the time I’ve waded through it all I feel ready to leave my desk for the day. Which doesn’t result in a great deal of creative output.  So, I’ve started  seriously thinking about strategies for managing it all. Every month I pick a new skill or habit to work on and for the month of April I’ve decided to tackle the email monster. I’ve mulled and pondered and considered many options.  What I’ve come up with is the idea of scheduling  regular deliveries.

It used to be that the post was delivered no more than twice a day. As much as I might like to think otherwise, I’m not nearly important enough to need to be constantly available to whomever needs to reach me. Twice a day post would have been more than sufficient. Is there really any reason email should be different?  Not for me there isn’t.

It isn’t going to be easy and I don’t expect to succeed right away, but I’m going to try to reduce my email checks to three or four times a day. It may take me longer to respond than senders would prefer but I think it will increase my creative output and leave me feeling accomplished at the end of the day rather than like I’ve simply been putting out fires that had no business flaring up in the first place.

Readers, do you have a any suggestions for how to deal with email?

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Weekend Update: March 25-26, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Jessie Crockett (Monday) Vaughn Hardacker (Tuesday), Maureen Milliken (Wednesday), and John Clark (Thursday), and on Friday we will have a group post to update our Works in Progress.

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

From Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: For anyone on Goodreads, I’m giving away five signed copies of the hardcover edition of Murder in a Cornish Alehouse (U.S. publication date April 1). Follow the link below to enter the drawing, which ends on Monday. This is the third book in the Mistress Jaffrey series and takes Rosamond and Rob to Cornwall, Lundy Island, and Ireland in 1584. There are pirates, smugglers, spies, a treason plot (real but all-but-forgotten by history, my favorite kind) and, of course, murder.


The Maine Crime Wave this year will honor Tess Gerritsen with its inaugural CrimeMaster Award. Fellow New York Times-bestselling author Gayle Lynds will introduce Gerritsen at the ceremony Friday, April 21 at 5:30 p.m. at USM’s Glickman Library in Portland. On Saturday morning, Tess will be joined by her renowned New York literary agent Meg Ruley of the Jane Rotrosen Agency for a discussion about the process of developing from debut author to New York Times bestseller. If you’ve been on the fence about the Maine Crime Wave, the time to jump in is now. Click on this link for more information.


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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Maine House Dreams

It’s been a crazy month here, between the sad loss of my grandmother and her subsequent memorial at the beginning of the month, a trip to Chicago to visit Ben’s family, and a blizzard that unexpectedly extended that Chicago visit an extra three days. We’re just getting back into the swing of things, which means we’re able to focus on the Next Big Thing in our lives: finding, and buying, a house!

With the threat of rising interest rates on the horizon and the end of our lease in July, both Ben and I are eager to find the perfect home and get things rolling. The past few months have been a little agonizing, as we’ve both been trolling Zillow looking at houses – knowing full well that, if the right house came along, we realistically couldn’t do anything because we didn’t want to pay for both a mortgage and rent at our existing location. During that agonizing time, there was a place in Woolwich that we kept returning to in our searches.

“We could use that shed for goats,” I said.

“Look how well they redid that kitchen!” said Ben.

For both of us, it ticked all the boxes.

Sadly, the Woolwich house showed up as sold on literally the day we were pre-approved for financing and decided we could reasonably begin scheduling showings. The universe, sometimes she is cruel.

My dream home showed up in Montville a couple of months ago. Five acres. Solar panels. Sauna. Greenhouse. Hen house. It’s a hippie paradise.

A poor facsimile of Jen’s Dream House.

And, it’s an hour and a half from Portland — where Ben works.

“But it’s perfect,” says I.

“It can’t be perfect if the location is wrong,” says Ben.

Still, I stubbornly refuse to remove it from my favorites on Zillow. I pester Ben about telecommuting for his job. It’s a possibility for this job now, but what if something changes, he insists? What if he loses this job, and then is stuck in Montville — where they are definitely not looking for technical writers with graduate degrees in library science, regardless of how extensive the resume. It’s good that he is reasonable; I traveled from Oregon to Kentucky in a former Portland city bus with 65 animals, to set up camp in an old elementary school purchased on Ebay. That adventure, however good the tales might be for cocktail parties, ultimately did not turn out well. Sometimes, reasonable is a stretch for me.

And so… We keep looking.

Our vision for this future haven has evolved over time. Initially, we’d thought maybe a small plot of land outside town — or even in-town somewhere, as long as there was enough room to house chickens. There’s some gorgeous housing stock in Bath, vast old colonials at shockingly low prices that Ben is captivated by. Maybe a house like that, with just enough land for a small flock of hens? (in Bath, a lot must be at least 7,000 square feet before you can even be considered for approval of backyard chickens)

But then at some point one of us — I honestly don’t know which — mentioned goats. Ben has always wanted them. I used to have them, and was never happier than sitting out with my LaManchas on a warm spring day. What about taking in a few goats before they become someone’s dinner?

A cool fall day in Oregon, feeding Bonita while Butterfly and Abby look on. Circa October, 2006.

We mentioned the idea to Ben’s son, Noah, who turns fifteen next month. He was home from the Maine School of Science and Math this weekend, and we dragged him around with us looking at potential homes. Including some of those grand old colonials in Bath.

“Where would you keep the goats?” Noah wanted to know immediately.

“For a house like this, we’d have to compromise on the goats. Maybe chickens –”

“I can’t cuddle chickens! Why are we even looking at these places?”

Noah hasn’t allowed anyone to cut his hair since he was nine. He does things like decide he’s going to build his own calculator or video game controller on school breaks — and then does it. He spends long hours watching YouTube how-to videos about things I will likely never understand. He’s pretty awesome, actually, but I had no idea he was looking forward to cuddling our goats.

Which means goats are back on the list. And chickens — ideally, ex-battery hens, as we’d like to do some farm animal rescue. We’re entertaining the idea of doing a vegan airbnb (“Why don’t you just call it a B&B?” asks Ben, every time I say this. “Because a B&B is more commitment,” I say, “and it’s for old people. Airbnbs are fresh and new, and we can do them whenever and however we want.”) I want space so my nieces can come and stay. And, of course, we need space for Noah. We both want fresh veggies from our own garden.

It feels like an endless list, but we’ve already begun the process of evaluating our priorities and compromising accordingly. We’re working with a stellar realtor at RE/Max who was recommended by a friend of mine, and she’s already proving invaluable in giving us some insight into the market. We’re both agreed that, ultimately, the most important thing is that we find a safe, leak-free, affordable home that we can both fall in love with.

And, also, goats.

Jen Blood is author of the USA Today-bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue mystery The Darkest Thread. You can learn more about her at www.jenblood.com



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A Peek Through My Window

Dorothy Cannell: As I write this a fine snow is coming down, dusting the garage roof with confectioner’s sugar and powdering the driveway. The road that runs in front of our house is empty of traffic, tranquil, still, left to itself and its own thoughts without being nudged into activity. A need we all have at times. I don’t mind that winter lingers with few signs of stepping aside for spring. I don’t want the seasons to be skimmed through in a breathless rush. Page turners are best left to books. If my husband, Julian (only have the one), and I had disliked winter, we would never have chosen a move to Maine.

We count ourselves wonderfully fortunate that we reached a point in our lives where we could make a choice in this matter and that it turned out to be the right one for us. Some people we know still can’t comprehend why we moved here, not only because of the long winters, but also the belief that there are no lively compensations. Tell that to those here who sail, kayak, fish, hike or ski, as do many of our neighbors. As for city life? Big surprise–there is that, too, with great shopping venues, restaurants, and night life.

Our daughter who lives down the road from us frequently spends a weekend in Portland, loving its energy and diversity. She also does quite a bit of nipping down to Boston.  I’m planning on going with her in the near future for a prowl round Ikea and the Pottery Barn and to visit the museums. At the end of April, Julian and I will be going to Washington, DC for Malice Domestic and on from there with our friends Margaret and Joe Maron for a few days at their home in North Carolina. We also plan on going to Bouchercon in Toronto later in the year and there’ll be a visit to our older son and his family in June. Other than that we are mostly delighted to stay put.

On Tuesday afternoon I had a doctor’s appointment and afterwards drove home thinking what a lovely little outing. It was just a routine visit and the news all good. I hadn’t needed to deal with traffic congestion in getting there or drive for what seemed like three hours around a parking lot in increasingly desperate hope of finding a parking space of sufficient dimension that if I got out of the car and tilted it on its side I could make it fit. Even happier was the short wait before being beckoned out of the waiting room and after the usual blood pressure taking, pulse taking, etc., was told that the doctor would be in directly, which he was. I like him a lot. He’s kind, listens, talks to me rather than at me, but even had he been the loveliest person in the world, I wouldn’t have come away with the warm feeling I did had I entered his office in a frazzled state of mind from just getting there.

I have always been glad to be rooted in the ordinary, drawing strength from it in difficult times and contentment in the good ones. In the little Maine community where I am now rooted I have the external quiet to notice the space in which to pluck small joys – like daisies from undisturbed grass. It is the same with my husband Julian. One of the small things he really enjoys is picking up our two grandchildren on weekday mornings on his way to exercising at The Y. There’s not a lot of conversation given the earliness of the hour, but it’s time with them he would not otherwise get.

Our fourteen-year-old granddaughter spent this past weekend with us. On Saturday afternoon she and I went to Hannaford to do some grocery shopping and in passing through the cleaning aisle she spotted some Clorox Cleaning Wands. On pointing them out. she told me a friend of hers had one and just loved it, and when I offered to buy her one for her bathroom she glowed. And so did I when it went in the shopping cart. We have always been close, but I knew at that moment that she shared with me the little joys of everyday.

The snow is still drifting down and the road beyond my front windows remains left to its own thoughts. This is my setting. I got to choose it as those of us who write fiction get to choose the ones to fit our plots and characters. In both cases, mine are much the same. I have to live in my books for months at a time, sometimes longer, and need to make myself comfortable. I do this by stepping into what I know, what I like, because that is what clears the space to fuel me with the energy to create situations not of my own experience. If I were to put myself in an environment, such as a big city cluttered with unknown material facts, I’d have to expend energy exploring them rather than getting down to propelling the story along by making things up. Of course, if it were my passion to write a mystery set in Manhattan or San Francisco, I’d do it – although the result wouldn’t be much to brag about.

I want to write ‘cozies,’ and I’m happy with the sometimes despised term. For me, it’s an embrace of setting, not pallid plots and tepid murders. It’s about beginning from a place sufficiently small and quiet to make for more of a jolt than might be the case somewhere life is on the surface more complex. Suppose a woman with too much time on her hands were to stand staring out her front windows and see that the snow had stopped falling and wonder if what was lying in the otherwise deserted street might be a body….?


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Welcome Maine Author Sandra Neily

by Barb, in her last post from Key West, beginning the long trek back to Maine at the end of the month

Please welcome my guest, Sandra Neily. Sandra’s debut mystery, Deadly Trespass, is up on Kindle and will soon be released in paperback. Before it was published, Deadly Trespass won a National Mystery Writers of America award, was a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s “Rising Star” contest, and won honorable mention in Maine’s Joy of the Pen contest. Sandy’s blog ValueNature supports her novels’ themes.

Sandra is a Maine neighbor of mine, a certified native of East Boothbay, growing up behind the shipyard when endless woods stretched all the way up the Damariscotta River. She now divides her time between Westport Island and Greenville; between the Sheepscot River and Moosehead Lake.

Take it away, Sandra.

Kneeling On Deer Droppings: The Idea

The author, outside

You just never know when the light bulb will go off. Or the loud click in the ear. Or the moment you slap yourself up the side of the head.

Personally, I need to be outdoors to have that kind of moment.

The click and head slap that gave birth to my novel Deadly Trespass came after I asked my daughter to kneel in a deer yard. (It’s where deer gather under tall trees that shelter them from wind and deep snow—where they can move about to find food.)

“You want me to kneel on deer poop?” she whined.

“It’s frozen,” I said. “We need a deer’s point of view and you have the camera.” (She did. See tiny black dots on the snow.)

deer yard, healthy

The day before, snowshoeing by the Kennebec River, I’d seen too much light filtered through too few trees and found the cut. Dragging my daughter back to document the remnants of the yard and the tree-harvesting behavior that had destroyed it, was our next day’s outing.

After her pictures made their way to the Bangor Daily News, I returned to the destroyed yard, this time with a BDN reporter and men who managed the cutting operations for a gigantic corporation that seemed to own more land than anyone else in the U.S.

A young photographer in fashion-y boots shivered in the deep snow and bitter wind. “Good point,” I said, probably too loudly. “Without trees, deer probably feel just like she does. Only later she gets a warm shower and hot tea. Deer just get weak and die.”

The cutting men glared at me, but they really weren’t happy when I unfolded two maps. The first map was a state agency map marking the site as important wildlife terrain. The second was a map from the cutting men’s real estate division that placed dozens and dozens of new condos in what has become a cleared lot. Two maps. Same place.

deer yard, destroyed

“So,” I asked, “if you eliminate the deer yards here, when the time comes to get a building permit for all these condos, it’s quite likely there won’t be any important wildlife habitat to stop those condos. Right? You’re getting rid of the yard and the deer so you can build without pesky animal problems. Right?”

Just the wind and the shivering woman stamping her feet.

At home over hot tea and feet too close to the wood stove, I thought about how that timber corporation bought many, many full-page BDN ads, and it was unlikely anyone would see what happened to the deer, or the woods next to the river, or just about anything far from the road or an electronic device. Far away from most eyes, close to nine million acres of Maine’s commercial forest was being stripped of anything that looked like a grown-up tree.

So why would anyone care if dying deer and disappearing forest were just another opinion piece in a paper or another on-line rant?

Why was the loss of a large chunk of Maine’s forest hidden? Such a mystery to most folks?

Click. Slap.

What if I embraced the mystery? Wrote a genuine, page-turner mystery? (Well, that was easier said than done. Understatement.) Millions of people read mysteries. And what if I flipped the script? Allowed wildlife to fight a fair fight against what made the woods not woods?

What would happen if dead bodies and wolves and Maine things tons of people cared about (whether they lived here or not), got all crowded together so a reckoning was guaranteed? If I could put readers into the woods, take them on a field trip while they remained warm at home?

Sandra Neily

Click. Slap. Write a murder mystery that kills both people and Maine’s woods—and maybe a wolf or two. Click. Slap. Deadly Trespass.

Hibernating in a cabin and covering mirrors to hide her face, Cassandra Patton Conover is about to become an outlaw. Searching for her wayward dog in Maine’s dense woods, she finds her best friend Shannon crushed under a tree, tracks larger than any animal she knows, and a mystery only wild animals can help her solve.

Readers: Has that lightning bolt of an idea ever struck you? Share your “click” and “slap” moments.





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