Longing for More Time- And a Giveaway!

Jessie: In book jail on the coast of Maine.

WhispersBeyond_FixI am pressing up hard against the deadline for Book 2 in my new Change of Fortune Mysteries series. The first book in the series, Whispers Beyond the Veil launches on September 6. I have one child to get off to a first year at college on Friday and another who starts high school the following Wednesday.

What this means is that the dishes are piling, the laundry is heaping and dinners are all about scrounging. It also means I am wishing I could time travel and get some things accomplished months ago. Since that isn’t possible, but I like the time travel notion, I thought I’d interview the protagonist of my soon to be released book, as well as my work-in-progress, Ruby Proulx, about herself and life in Old Orchard in 1898. Here goes:

Jessica: I understand you are a newcomer to Old Orchard. What is your impression of the town?

Ruby: I have only just arrived but I am completely smitten. The town pulses with enthusiasm for the new pleasure pier that is almost complete. Everywhere you look there are grand hotels, confectioners, photography studios and ballrooms. The trains and trolleys run constantly and there is never any shortage of amenities and amusements. On top of everything else there is the constant, awe-inspiring majesty of the ocean.

Jessica: Rumor has it that you are living and working at your aunt’s hotel. Care to put in a plug for the Hotel Belden?

Ruby: The Belden may not be the largest hotel on the beach but it is the most unique. My Aunt Honoria had the insprired idea to add a faculty of metaphysical practitioners to the hotel staff and to offer readings and lessons to our guests. Where else can you hold a seance, learn to dowse or have your natal chart cast all within a pebble’s toss of the sea? If you want to visit you should telegraph or write immediately. We are already booked for most of the season.

Jessica: I’ve heard that there is a pickpocketing problem in Old Orchard. Should potential visitiors be concerned for the security of their valuables?

Ruby: While sneak theives have been as enthusiastic about a seaside visit as anyone else, we are fortunate to have a dedicated and  skilled police force in town. Well, perhaps it would be more correct to say we are lucky to have Officer Warren Yancey looking to our best interests. He doesn’t let personal gain influence his service to the community no matter how much easier it would be for him to turn a blind eye to corruption and murder.

Jessica:Murder! Care to elaborate?

Ruby: If you want to know more about that sort of thing I suggest you read Whispers Beyond the Veil.

Readers, where would you go if you could time travel? Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win one of two advanced reading copies of Whispers Beyond the Veil.

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Oh, The Sacrifices We Make for Art!

Working hard or hardly working?

Working hard or hardly working?

Hi. Barb here.

Lately I have been thinking about…oysters.

That is to say, I have been acutely aware that when I turn in the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery, Stowed Away, on March 1, it will be time to write a proposal for the next three books in the series.

But it will be winter. And I will be in Key West. Which means I need to do any on-the-ground research for the proposal (and really, if the proposal is accepted, for the first book in the series) now. This summer.

So my mind has been ranging over what topics and murders and mysteries I could cook up to show off my part of Maine.

I knew, of course, that there were several oyster farms on the Damariscotta River and I’d gotten intrigued by aquaculture, just generally, but also via a series of short films done by the Island Institute. Many of Maine’s fisheries are gone and the main one that’s left, lobstering, is imperiled as the water in the Gulf of Maine gets warmer and more acidic and the lobsters move north. Smart communities continue to adapt to changing circumstances.

The Damariscotta River

The Damariscotta River

I started looking into how to learn more about oyster farms. I always thought once I had a few books published, it would get easier to approach people to interview them for my books, but it hasn’t. It’s the dumbest thing. I learned long ago when I documented corporate procedures for a living that people love to talk about their jobs, in detail. Let’s face it, most people don’t have anyone in their lives who’s terribly interested in what they do day in and day out. But for some reason asking people I don’t know about this stuff fills me with anxiety. Not the interviewing part, the asking. So I looked for alternatives.

And I discovered the Damariscotta River Cruises. They take you on an afternoon cruise to look at oyster farms and watch the farmers at work. Fantastic.

But before I even booked tickets I had an e-mail from fellow Maine Crime Writer Lea Wait who lives just up the road. She and her husband Bob had their eye on a Damariscotta River Cruise, too, but they were interested in the evening trip, a wine and oyster tasting. Were we interested in going along? Were we!

The evening we went (tasting tours are Wednesday and Saturday evenings during the summer) was, like so many days this summer, absolutely gorgeous. The river boat was truly cool, comfortable, covered. It even had a head.

The RiverTripper

The RiverTripper

The owners were incredibly knowledgeable about oysters and they’d brought along a wine expert and an expert on hard cider.

An oyster farm

An oyster farm

damariscottarivercruise20168We got to taste oysters from five different Damariscotta region farms, with generous wine pairings. With every round there was a description of the oysters. How oysters taste and feel depends very much on the variations of how they are grown. It takes at least two years to grow an oyster to a size for eating and those young ones will be smaller and lighter. Some oysters are grown entirely in the river, where the warmer water makes them grow faster. Others are grown in the river and then “finished” for three months in the cold ocean, which gives them a brinier, heartier taste. What you prefer is entirely a matter of personal taste. The wine pairings, most from France, were also really delicious and interesting.

I learned a ton, including some really good reasons people might kill one another over oysters. Lea got some leads for stories, too, on the wine side of things–I’ll say no more.

Farm equipment

Farm equipment

For those who don’t like oysters, there were wonderful cheeses and crackers on board. For those who don’t drink wine or cider, there was a full bar including non-alcoholic drinks. In addition to the oyster farms, we saw seals and eagles and, of course, the beautiful river itself.

A lonely seal

A lonely seal

damariscottarivercruise20169And, of course, a beautiful summer evening spent eating and drinking great wines and talking with interesting, companionable friends. I cannot recommend this trip enough.

Damariscotta River Cruises–

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Want proof a community cares about a library? Take a trip to Augusta, Maine

We’ve written often in this space about libraries and how much we appreciate them — as writers they hold a special place for us.
Recently, I was reminded just how much libraries are part of a community as a whole when I joined hundreds of others on a rainy Saturday morning to check out the renovation of Augusta’s Lithgow Public Library.

Downtown Augusta as seen from the Memorial Bridge (2010).

Downtown Augusta as seen from the Memorial Bridge (2010).

First, a little bit about Augusta, the city I grew up in. Like most cities in Maine, it’s had its ups and downs and is challenged the way small cities in Maine tend to be — the industries that bolstered the state’s economy for a century or more have faltered over the past several decades. The state, never wealthy, has a small population, many in far-flung remote areas who struggle to make a living. Cities like Augusta — cash-strapped and with challenges of their own — also welcome those who can’t find social and mental and physical health services in their small rural towns, adding to the strain.

Augusta may be the state capital, but with just under 19,000 residents, it’s the third smallest population-wise in the country after Montpelier, Vermont, (about 7,500 residents) and Pierre, South Dakota (about 13,000). Its aging housing stock includes a lot of beautiful, historic homes, but also a lot that are ramshackle, vacant — or should be. Its downtown, three or four blocks of ornate Victorian buildings on the bank of the Kennebec River, is beautiful but underused as complexes of big box stores at each end of the city and right off Interstate 95 draw shoppers who have no reason to navigate the city’s narrow roads and nutty rotaries to check it out.

Yet, somehow, the city keeps plugging away.

I have a lot of affection for Augusta. As a child, the State House was my playground, and on hot summer days I’d find a cool corner in it’s polished halls to read a book, or hang out on the balcony that looks across the river at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute (the state mental hospital). Legend has it, that porch was deliberately intended to have that view, so legislators would remember, as they sat out there and smoked their cigars (or these days, check their email on their phones) that even the most challenged of the state’s residents are their responsibility. Today, as then, I’m sure more people find delight in the humor they can get out of the view than some insight from its poignancy. But I digress.

The balcony at Augusta's State House looks across the river to the grounds of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute -- the state hospital.

The balcony at Augusta’s State House looks across the river to the grounds of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute — the state hospital.

I learned to drive in the massive State House parking lot and zipping around the crash-inspiring traffic rotaries and sat behind a cash register in Mr. Paperback at Shaw’s Plaza on summer Sunday afternoons looking out a barren city as everyone escaped to the lakes or the coast. I walked — almost daily, this was the 1970s and kids were still allowed, or rather expected, to walk — the mile from my Green Street home to Cony High School, crossing the Memorial Bridge (sans anti-suicide fencing) over my favorite river in the world. The view of the State House from the bridge, the downtown with the granite bulwark of the old post office, the green (or gold, or orange, or bare) hills beyond always thrilled me.

I delivered papers on two different routes from age 13 to 15,for  the Kennebec Journal, where my dad was managing editor, and where I now work as city editor of its sister publication, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. I can still feel the grit sandy streets below my sneakers (or boots), smell the early morning paper-mill tang,and  taste the chocolate chip cookies and orange soda I’d buy at the bakery at the south end of Water Street when I was done. Governor Jim Longley used to jog (alone) and I’d often see him crossing the Memorial traffic circle, where he’d give me a friendly wave and hello. I’d watch the early Greyhound bus go by with “New York” on its destination sign and dream of growing up and living somewhere else.

Me, my dad and my brother Jimmy show our paper-folding techniques in a Kennebec Journal promotion in October 1975. Dad was managing editor and I was on my second paper route at the company I know work for.

Me, my dad and my brother Jimmy show our paper-folding techniques in a Kennebec Journal promotion in October 1975. Dad was managing editor and I was on my second paper route at the company I know work for.

And I loved Lithgow Library. My mom started taking my siblings and me to libraries before we could walk, talk or read. Everywhere we lived, libraries were always an unquestioned part of our routine. I loved having a library card, and loved the excitement of browsing through the shelves, finding new books to read. Taking them home and deciding which one to read first. Back then, Lithgow had mysteries in their own section. After I finished all Dorothy L. Sayers’ books and was told there were no more, I started at the top left corner of the shelf, which was against the left wall when you first walked into the stacks room, and went across, reading every single mystery novel the library had during my teen years.

Augusta's Lithgow Public Library, pre-renovation.

Augusta’s Lithgow Public Library, pre-renovation.

Last summer, I was thrilled to donate a copy of my first mystery novel, Cold Hard News, to the library that was the foundation of my mystery writing career.

So it was with a lot of excitement on  Saturday, August 13, when I visited the library to check out its renovation. It’d been housed in temporary quarters across the river in the Ballard Center (the former Augusta General Hospital, another place I had spend some time in my youth), for more than a year, but now was back home.

The renovation had cost $11.5 million and taken years to get underway, with some setbacks. I couldn’t wait to see what they had done to my old friend.

But man, I was stunned at what I found.

This was no ordinary renovation. The 1896 building was restored — lovingly. The new section is a beautiful, living work of art that triples the library in size. From the restored original section, to the new stacks, immense children’s area, teen center, use of old features (including stained glass windows found packed away in the attic), it goes beyond renovation.

Equally impressive were the swarms of people who visited that morning. I got there at 11:30, long after the 10 a.m. ceremony, but there were dozens, more than dozens, wandering the new library. Local folks, tourists. Lots of families, carrying kids or leading them by the hand. Older folks sinking into the comfortable chairs, leafing through books, admiring the restored fireplaces and expansive new areas. In the two hours it was open that morning, library officials estimated more than 300 people stopped by the check it out.

There is a lot of grousing these days about taxes, money, government. There seems to be little support for the arts or the other necessities that make our communities glow and thrive, but are considered expendable or unimportant.

It took my breath away that my tough little hometown could get behind such a glorious project. And that hundreds would come to see it. All for a library.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story, but you should really go see it yourself. (To read more about it and see some photos that are much better than mine, check out the Kennebec Journal’s coverage of the opening by Jessica Lowell, with some beautiful photos by Joe Phelan, by clicking this link.)

 

The "new" Lithgow Public Library.

The “new” Lithgow Public Library.

The new entrance.

The new entrance.

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The ornate reading room is preserved and spruced up. Beautiful.

Lithgow7

The old stacks area — where I used to spend hours among the narrow shelves — is now an open media and reading room, with the fireplace that was once hidden by shelves, now a centerpiece.

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Closeup of the restored fireplace in the former stacks.

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The stacks in the addition.

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These stained glass windows were found packed away in an attack. Now they’re back in use.

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My friend Cara Courchesne and her daughter Elena, already an avid reader, check out the new front desk area. Elena gave the renovation two tiny thumbs up.

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Part of the new children’s area. That’s a project room for kids in the background.

The front desk area in the old section is now a comfortable reading nook. The one thing that hasn't change is old Mr. Lithgow keeping an eye on things from above.

The front desk area in the old section is now a comfortable reading nook. The one thing that hasn’t changed is old Mr. Lithgow keeping an eye on things from above.

 

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. The second in the series No News is Bad News came out this summer. Ask your librarian for it! Follow her on Twitter @mmilliken47, on Facebook at Maureen Milliken mysteries, and get updates and more information at maureenmilliken.com.

EVENT ALERT: Maureen will join fellow Maine Crime Writers Lea Wait and Jen Blood Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Designing Women Craft Show and Authors, Longfellow’s Nursery, 81 Puddledock Road, Manchester, Maine. It’s a one-day event that raises money for the area Sexual Assault and Crisis Center.

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Weekend Update: August 20-21, 2016

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday), Barb Ross (Tuesday), Jessie Crockett (Wednesday), Dick Cass (Thursday), and Lea Wait (Friday).

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

Today, Saturday August 20, Lea Wait will be signing at the Arts and Yachts festival at Hodgdon Yachts Services, 100 Ebencook Road in Southport, Maine, from 10am until 6 p.m. She will also be there tomorrow, Sunday, from 3 until 4 p.m.

Saturday, August 27, Lea Wait, Maureen Milliken and Jen Blood will be signing at the Designing Women Art and Crafts Show at Longfellows Greenhouse, Puddledock Road in Manchester, Maine, from 9:30 until 4 p.m. (This event is a benefit for the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center in Winthrop, Maine.)

Bruce Robert Coffin will be appearing on two different morning radio shows, discussing his debut novel, Among the Shadows. On Wednesday August 24th, from about 9 to 10, he’ll be in studio on News Talk 1270 WTSN, Dover, New Hampshire with Mike Violette. Thursday morning, around 8:40, he’ll be chatting with Ken and Matt on Newsradio WGAN, AM 560 or FM 105.5. Tune in and listen!

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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Of Cats, Hats, and Headshots

headshot1Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about publicity photos. Like actors, writers pretty much have to have them. If you’re a big, bestselling author, your publisher will send a professional photographer to your house for a photo shoot. The rest of us are left to provide our own headshots.

The idea to blog on this subject came from a discussion on a Facebook group I belong to called “People Who Come From Liberty, New York.” Fifty or more years ago, the stores in downtown Liberty, a small town in the Sullivan County Catskills (aka “The Borscht Belt”) had other businesses above them. Someone posted a photo showing the word “Tailor” in an upper window, and that reminded me of a long ago trip with my mother to buy a hat from a milliner in a similar upstairs business. I posted a comment, asking if anyone remembered where that shop was and got an immediate answer. Turns out it belonged to the mother and aunt of a classmate of mine. Small world, right.

Where, you’re asking, is this digression going? It’s going to one of the first photos of me ever to appear on a book jacket. When the first book featuring my sixteenth-century detective, Susanna Appleton, was about to come out from St. Martin’s Press, I paid a visit to our local Glamour Shots. For those unfamiliar with this chain, which sadly no longer has any branches in Maine, they provide everything—costumes, hair styling, and makeup as well as portraits in color or black and white. At the time, author photos in color were still a rarity on book jackets. Anyway, among the items in the extensive wardrobe was a hat. I’ve always loved hats. I wish they’d come back into fashion. And the clincher was that, at that time, activities at Malice Domestic featured a hat contest at the closing tea. What better way, I thought, to present myself as an author of traditional mysteries than to have my picture taken in the kind of hat one might wear to tea? So—me in hat.

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You may notice that I am totally unrecognizable in the hat and without my glasses. That, too can be a plus. I’m not always sure I want to be recognized. To tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like having my picture on my book jackets. When I started looking for them, I realized that there were only four times that I actually had to put my face out there along with my prose. The first was on a YA biography of nineteenth-century reporter, Nellie Bly, Making Headlines (1989). That’s the one at the top of this post. The second was the hat picture, for Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie and Face Down Upon an Herbal. For #3-7 in the series, I substituted a photo from a second trip to Glamour Shots, one without a hat. At that time, I was also writing category romance for Bantam’s Loveswept line and they wanted my photo in the books. The first one below went with my contemporary romance novels. The second was the new one for my historical mysteries.

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The fourth and, as of this writing, last time a publisher included my picture with the text was when I wrote three more Face Down books for Perseverance Press, and then my nonfiction How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries. For the novels, they used what came to be known as the “nun in the woods” shot and for the how-to, we went with another Glamour Shots photo taken at the same time as the last one.

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Since then, no one has insisted on a photo for a book jacket, but I’ve still had to come up with pictures of myself to use to publicize library appearances and the like and—one of the highlights of my writing career—to advertise the fact that I was Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic. That was when I had the photo I currently use taken. By that point, I no longer wanted glamour, or to be hard to recognize. I wanted to look like myself, slightly crooked teeth, double chins, glasses and all, so it was my husband who took pictures. Lots of pictures. We ended up with several good ones. I currently use two of them for publicity.

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Kaitlyn Dunnett (298x400)

Remember the title of this blog? Lots of authors have their pictures taken with their cats. I’d love to do that. As a goal, it was right up there with a photo in a hat. Unfortunately, there’s a problem—our cats are more photogenic than I am. They come out looking great. I look like something that, well, the cat dragged in!

headshot with cat

So, what do you like to see as readers? Do you care what writers look like? Do you expect headshots on book jackets? Does seeing a photo of the writer have any effect, positive or negative, on your enjoyment of the book? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse ~ UK in December 2016; US in April 2017) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com

 

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