A Sneak Peek and some really good books for your TBR Pile (With a Rant in Between)

Holly's cover revealed

Holly’s cover revealed

John Clark sharing the cover and an author picture of Holly Schindler (http://hollyschindler.com/) as part of her reveal for the forthcoming YA book Spark due next May. She also has a new contemporary and funny ebook out called Fifth Avenue Fidos. Here’s a teaser for that one:

“Mable Barker, a hilarious, good-natured sweetheart who is always the pal but never the girlfriend, endures nine horrendous months of bouncing between lackluster jobs in Manhattan (and suffering unrequited love) in her unsuccessful attempt to find her one true talent. So when she meets Innis, the ill-tempered Fifth Avenue Pekingese, she assumes her dog-walking days are numbered, too; soon, she’ll be heading back to Queens brokenhearted, tail tucked between her legs. But Innis belongs to the adorable yet painfully shy young veterinarian, Jason Mead, a man whose awkward ways around women have him dreaming not of finding love for himself but of playing canine matchmaker—breeding Westminster champions.”

I have this shirt on my Christmas list.

I have this shirt on my Christmas list.

You may remember Holly as the current cat herder for the blog I profiled last month YA Outside The Lines. Here’s a bit she sent me about Spark.

“When the right hearts come to the Avery Theater—at the right time—the magic will return. The Avery will come back from the dead.

Or so Quin’s great-grandmother predicted many years ago on Verona, Missouri’s most tragic night, when Nick and Emma, two star-crossed teenage lovers, died on the stage. It was the night that the Avery’s marquee lights went out forever.

It sounds like urban legend, but one that high school senior Quin is now starting to believe, especially when her best friend, Cass, and their classmate Dylan step onto the stage and sparks fly. It seems that magic can still unfold at the old Avery Theater and a happier ending can still be had—one that will align the stars and revive not only the decrepit theater, but also the decaying town. However, it hinges on one thing—that Quin gets the story right this time around.

Holly Schindler brings the magic of the theater to life in this tale of family ties, fate, love, and one girl’s quest to rewrite history.”


“In my hometown, the restoration of a former movie theater on the town square provided the genesis for my new YA novel, SPARK. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of seeing their name in blazing neon across a gigantic marquee? Let me invite you to dim the lights and draw back the velvet curtains—let your imagination run wild as you enter my fictional Avery Theater, where literally anything goes…”

—Holly Schindler

Can't wait for this one.

Can’t wait for this one.

Holly also has another book coming soon that I plan to read as soon as I can get my hands on it because it’s a sequel I never expected to see for a wonderful story she wrote back in 2011 called Playing Hurt. When I finished that one, I felt it was a crime not to find out what happened to athletes Chelsea and Clint. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as Play It Again is in the pipeline.

The picture below is approximately half of my current TBR pile and I just added another reviewing gig to those I already have, so I’m certifiably insane, but come by it honestly. Anyone who ever visited Mom at Sennebec Hill Farm knows how she sat on her couch in front of the picture window, wedged in by multiple stacks of books. I tend to read a book a day, sometimes as many as three. The ones that land in my piles seem to fall into four categories. 1: Sucked in immediately and the world morphs into what’s on the page, 2: It takes a chapter for the story monster to reach out and pull me under, 3: Somewhere between page 30 and 100, I pick up another book and maybe come back for another try later. If not, I catalog it and pass it on to Nick at the library, 4: By the end of page two, I’ve realized that it might win every award in the world, but there’s no way I’ll ever read it.

If the adage, 'he who dies with the most toys wins' includes books not read, then I'm in the running.

If the adage, ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’ includes books not read, then I’m in the running.

Category four reminds me of an evil phenomenon fostered by that segment of the educational system which insisted you must read classic literature or demons would devour your soul. I rebelled in eighth grade, in high school, in college and still refuse to read most books that are waved at me with the admonition “You have to read this!” Heck, I’m such a reading junkie, I’ve been known to re-read the classified ads in the Bangor Daily News while waiting for rice to cook, but my inner rebellious kid never let go of the aversion to ‘great literature’.

If it really is important to get kids to read and like doing so, is content so all-fired important? I know I’m editorializing here, but we just awarded a $1000 scholarship through the library to a graduating senior who is going to school in Vermont to study graphic arts and his portfolio is pretty impressive. When I first met Doug, he read little, if anything. I introduced him to Manga at the library and he was hooked almost immediately. Over the next several years, he went through our collection, then discovered interlibrary loan and branched out until he was reading pretty complex fiction and nonfiction. His initial interest happened to coincide with his love of drawing and that spark turned an average student into one who started taking advanced placement courses, as well as classes at the community college while still in high school. He graduated in the top ten at Nokomis and I have every reason to believe he’ll be a success in college. Would he have had a similar experience if he’d been forced to read classics? Maybe, but I’m of the opinion that there’s a magic book out there for every reluctant reader and one of the things we, as authors and librarians, can do is help as many kids as possible to find their magic.

Below are some recent books I’ve read that fit category one (with apologies to my friends on Goodreads who may have already seen these).

all we have

All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder, Point (July 28, 2015) , ISBN: 9780545802536

24 hours left before your world ends. What do you so? For Emerson and Vince who have been living on the street, it means choosing their way out before a giant asteroid hits Idaho and does the job for them. Most everyone in western North America who could escape did so, leaving cities like Portland, Oregon where they live, a ghost town. They’re on their way to jump off a bridge when they meet Carl who asks if they have a wish. Vince tells him that he’d really like to have some cash because living hand to mouth on the streets really stinks. When Carl hands over his wallet and asks them to grant someone else a last wish, it sets in motion an amazing series of events as they try to honor his wish and a few of their own. The journey takes them to new places both physical and mental in their effort to honor Carl’s request.

I wondered how this might compare to Tumble and Fall by Alexandra Coutts. Truthfully, they’re quite different. This is as much about friendship and hope as anything and what happens to Emerson and Vince in that 24 hour time frame is sweet and beautiful. I really like the circularity of the plot and how the author lets the teens’ feelings slowly leak out as they realize how much they care for one another and how much impact their actions have on the people they encounter.

Teens who like a love story with a few prickles, an apocalyptic tale with a twist and a book that will make them wonder exactly how they might spend their last day, will really enjoy this one. Another no-brainer selection for school and public libraries.

every last

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Disney-Hyperion (June 16, 2015) ISBN: 9781484705278

We all obsess, it’s part of the human condition, but for Samantha McAllister, it’s an all-consuming condition. When she was eleven, she was diagnosed with Purely-Obsessional OCD, a condition that hits her with an endless stream of dark thoughts and worries she cannot shut off.

She’s hidden it well, primarily from her group of friends, the Crazy Eights. They’ve been besties since early grade school and are among the most popular sixteen year olds in her high school. It hasn’t been easy. Sam, as she would like to be called, has been on medication and seeing Sue, a psychiatrist, for five years, but still has moments when she can’t back away from really scary thoughts. She’s obsessed with number three-the odometer on her car must stop at it whenever she parks her car, she swims in lane three (she’s a really good swimmer and hopes to get a college scholarship), if she’s stressing, she scratches the back of her neck in intervals of three.

When she’s really upset by one of her friends, she hides out in the school theater where she meets Caroline. As they talk, Sam opens up, even telling her about her OCD and being in therapy. In return, Caroline tells her about dealing with depression and invites her to meet a secret group of teens who have a room under the theater called Poet’s Corner. A.J. The first person Sam meets when entering the room, is cold and distant, telling her they’ve met before, but not saying more. At first, Sam can’t make the connection, but it’s at the lunch table with the Crazy Eights when Kaitlyn, the de facto leader of the group, reminds her of what happened when they were in fifth grade with A.J.

This starts some serious soul searching on Sam’s part and she tries, with Caroline’s help, to write a poem that will reflect her remorse for what happened. It takes a while, but she’s forgiven and then the sparks begin between Sam and A.J. They’re really good for each other and she’s beginning to develop some self-confidence when she learns something so mind boggling it makes her question everything she thinks is real. The author does a stellar job of pulling readers from her melt down through to the conclusion. This is a superb story, full of emotion and a cast of characters, not all nice, but all very real.

The book is an excellent one for any type of library to ad, particularly ones where teens struggle with mental health issues.

summer after you

The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, Sourcebooks Fire, 2015. ISBN: 9781492619031

Almost everyone remembers watching the horrible damage inflicted when Hurricane Sandy marched up the eastern seaboard. Many of us had friends and relatives who were in or near enough to its path that we worried until we knew they were safe. In this book, Jennifer brings alive what it was like to experience Sandy both in the physical and emotional sense.

Lucy’s lived on the Jersey shore all her life along with her teacher parents and three minute older twin brother Liam. The twins were very close for a long time and were competitive in almost every activity, from academics, to chess, to surfing. Lucy is beginning to realize that they’re growing apart and she’s unsure where Liam’s hostility is coming from.

The family lived on the mainland with their gram until the house was rebuilt sufficiently to allow them to return. Unfortunately flood insurance payments didn’t cover everything, so the cottage the family has rented every summer to cover taxes is a wreck. So is Lucy, thanks to what happened with next door summer neighbor, Connor, who Lucy’s been attracted to for a long time It was the day Sandy was about to hit, and generated another, internal storm. She expected him to call her afterward as he promised, but never got any response. Several months later, her long time friendship with Andrew crossed the line to romance, but she still can’t stop replaying that day in the house by the ocean with Connor.

When he returns, it starts a chain of events that, for Lucy, is like a train wreck in progress. After a disaster at prom, it seems like everything and everyone is angry at her and she’s not sure how much of it she owns or should own. It takes a near tragedy on her part to shock everyone into starting the healing and getting-back-to-friends process.

This is Jen’s third book and I’ve really liked them all. This is a great book for young adults who have been through their own personal storm, or struggle with friendships with the opposite sex to read as they will find that relating to Lucy and her growing-up pains is an easy thing. Another good addition for both school and public libraries.

game of love and death

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. Arthur A. Levine Books (April 28, 2015) , ISBN: 9780545668347.

Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.

It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.

One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death pickes up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.

While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.

By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.

Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.

While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Dearth have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.

not after everything

Not After Everything by Michelle Levy, Dial, 2015. ISBN: 9780803741584

Oh, what evil we do to our children in the name of love. Tyler’s removed himself from everything he cared about except for his dog. It wasn’t that long ago when he was alive with optimism, had stellar grades in all AP classes, was star of the football team and had a hot girlfriend. All that went up in flames the day he came home from practice to get dry socks and Advil, only to find his mom had killed herself in the bathtub. She left no note, just incredible pain and guilt, plus an alcoholic and horrible abusive (both verbally and physically) husband and a broken son.

When the story opens, Tyler still has the girlfriend, but can’t engage emotionally any more, he’s quit the football team and, while his grades remain high, he’s lost interest in class as well as the scholarship awaiting him at Stanford.

His father, wallowing in perhaps the most virulent self-loathing ever written about, makes his life miserable and unpredictable whenever Ty’s home. Perhaps the only person he even comes close to relating to is Dave, the therapist assigned to him by social services after Mom’s suicide. Even then, Ty locks down most of what’s happening inside and outside. His father makes him pay for everything and when Ty loses it at Subway where he works, things look pretty bleak.

Then he stumbles upon Henry and his photography studio where he’s hired on the spot. Ty’s shocked when he realizes that the angry goth girl he saw at school a while before is also working there and that she and her mom live with Henry and it works really well. When he starts verbally sparring with her, he realizes she’s Jordyn, the girl who was his best friend when they were kids until her parents divorced.

Their edgy and uneven relationship, Henry’s understanding of why Ty’s a mess and the escalating violence at home, all come together in a series of crises that had me blow off everything I planned to do the day this book arrived so I could find out what happened next. Having grown up with a less traumatic version dad than Ty, I could visualize what was going on like I was crouching in the corner. I couldn’t stop flashing back to Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory time after time while reading this book, because it does for abuse and parental suicide what that does for PTSD. The ending, while logical, will probably break your heart. This is beautiful, violent, profane and an awesome story for teens. School and public libraries shouldn’t let the sex, profanity and violence be deal breakers when considering adding it to their collection.

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Weekend Update: October 3-4, 2015

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Maureen Milliken (Wednesday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Thursday) and Brenda Buchanan (Friday).

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

From Kaitlyn Dunnett: The paperback of Ho-Ho-Homicide is now in stores. The paperback reprint of the previous year’s title is always a sure sign the next book is coming soon in hardcover. In this case, it’s The Scottie Barked at Midnight, publication date October 27. Look for giveaways in my Thursday post. There’s also a blog about the Scotties at Hobby Reads

Meanwhile, the ebook edition of my Halloween book, Vampires, Bones and Treacle Scones, is on sale for $1.99 until November 4.  Here are the links you can use:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1POjpfB

B&N: http://bit.ly/1KSoMH9

iBooks: http://apple.co/1OH39Q9

Google play: http://bit.ly/1O2PMbt

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1QLyC1i

Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones is number seven in the Liss MacCrimmon  series, Ho-Ho-Homicide is number eight, and The Scottie Barked at Midnight is number nine. The tenth book, to be published in 2016, is titled Kilt at the Highland Games.

And Kathy’s husband, Sandy Emerson, was featured in an article this week, announcing that he, too, has joined the crime writing community. You can read it here:


Lea Wait: 

Friday, October 2, I’ll be spending the morning with 5th and 6th graders at the Pemetic School in Southwest Harbor, Maine, and the afternoon at the Tremont Consolidated School, just down the road. Saturday, October 3, I’ll be one of the many authors and illustrators of books for young people at the http://www.barharborbookfestival.com, which includes talks, readings, workshops, signings … .and, best of all, is open to the public.  (Need to do some Christmas shopping for the under-15 set on your list?)

John Clark:

I’m happy to report that I sold my short story Lady Be Good to the online magazine Mystery Weekly  http://MysteryWeekly.com


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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My Writers Group

Hi. Barb here. Still recuperating from knee replacement surgery, but doing better, thanks.

I just looked back at 5 years worth of my posts on this blog (which is an interesting journey in and of itself) and was astonished to confirm that in all that time, I have never written about my writers group. I’ve referenced them in passing, but never talked about the group specifically.

I can’t believe it. Because there is no question I would not be here, a published author, an editor and publisher, a Maine Crime Writer, without them.

There are now five of us and we’ve been together, in one form or another, for twenty years. It all started in a class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. It was an advanced mystery-writing course taught by Barbara Shapiro, author of the The Art Forger. (Her new novel, The Muralist, will be out next month.) Barbara is a fantastic teacher. She taught me things about scene cards and scaffolding that first draft that I use to this day. But in addition to teaching technique, Barbara taught us how to workshop–how to read others’ work carefully, how to critique and how to be critiqued. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

My writers group. From left Barb Ross, Leslie Wheeler, Mark Ammons, Kat Fast. Laughing, as we so often do. Leslie calls us the Car Talk of writers groups. Absent: Cheryl Marceau

My writers group. From left Barb Ross, Leslie Wheeler, Mark Ammons, Kat Fast. Laughing, as we so often do. Leslie calls us the Car Talk of writers groups. Absent: Cheryl Marceau

Several of us in the class decided we wanted to continue workshopping our mystery novels–and that it was impractical to pay the Cambridge Center for the privilege. So we formed a writers group. Not one of us had more than a few chapters of our first mystery written. Mark Ammons, Leslie Wheeler and I were in that core group, along with Marge Leibenstein. A year or so later, I was walking in Harvard Square and ran into Kat Fast. She and I had been work colleagues and we had one of those “what are you doing?” “what are you doing?” conversations. When I mentioned I was writing a mystery, Kat’s face lit up. So was she! She became the next to join us. Cheryl Marceau joined several years after that.

Writer’s groups have lots of different formats. Ours continues to be the one we learned from Barbara. One to three people are “up” for the week (depending on number of pages). If you are up, you email your pages out by Saturday evening. Everyone shows up for the meeting on Thursday having read and made extensive notes on the work.

Each reader gives feedback in turn. In the early years when we were learning to trust one another, we followed the rule about mentioning the things we liked first. In our later years we are more apt to get straight down to it. The person being critiqued remains quiet, taking notes. They have a chance to ask questions at the end.

Each of us has different strengths.

Mark teaches drama to acting students at the Boston Conservatory. He knows more about dramatic structure than I could ever hope to. (Six books in and I feel like I’m just beginning to internalize it.) He’s also incredibly visual, which is helpful for those of us who are not, both in making our scenes more vivid and more accurate.

Leslie has the memory of an elephant. She will say, “I don’t like this as much as I liked your approach to this scene in your 42nd draft two years ago.” And you are thinking, “What approach to this scene? Was I actually working on this story two years ago?” And she will be right, every time.

Cheryl is that most cherished of people, an intelligent reader. She will tell you when you are hitting her over the head with something or cluttering your story up with information she doesn’t need. On the flip side, when she says, “I don’t get this,” pay attention. This is particularly valuable to me because I tend to underwrite in early drafts.

Kat is an amazing editor. My Level Best stories always start out as first drafts of 7000 or more words. Working on my own, I can usually get them down to 5500. Then I give them to Kat who takes out the last 500. I usually find a way to add back in two or three. Out of 500. The rest are never missed.

Of course, after all this time, we also know each others’ foibles. Kat doesn’t have a TV and is somehow immune to all print and cyber celebrity news and gossip. When she says, “I don’t know who this Kim Kardashian is. Should you explain?” I know to ignore her.

Others have come and gone. Sadly, Marge died in 2001. I still miss her. Some members have moved away geographically (sniff, sniff, Gin Mackey) while others decided fiction writing wasn’t central to their lives. And we’ve had to fire a few. The most common reasons for firing were people who didn’t actually want critiquing, just to be told how great their writing is; people who were all about themselves, expecting detailed critiques, but not putting the work in for others; and people who just didn’t write. This is a problem, especially early on when building a trust relationship. You can’t critique other people week after week and never put yourself on the line.

How did this wonderful group of people keep me writing? Aside from all the things I learned from critiquing their work and being critiqued by them, I knew writing was the price of admission. If I wanted to keep seeing these people who had come to mean so much to me, I had to keep writing. So I did. Even when the job was busy. Even when the teenagers were demanding. Even when my first agent dropped me and I wanted to crawl into a hole. I kept writing because it was the price of admission.

Not every writer finds a writers group helpful, but this writer did. Invaluable, in fact.

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Kathy’s Great Adventure

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here. The first thing you have to know about me is that I’m a chicken. The second thing is that I’m a worrier. Combine these two and you get a certain reluctance to try new things, especially on my own. I don’t think this is particularly uncommon, especially among women whose husbands are obliging enough to offer to drive when a trip of any distance is in the offing. I’m happy to have company and he sees better at night than I do. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly ever driven myself farther from home than the post office or the grocery store.

helping me get ready to go

helping me get ready to go

Then two events coincided. The first was the scheduling of my fiftieth high school reunion for September 25-27 in Liberty, New York, about an eight-hour drive from where I now live if you take all the high-speed roads available. The second was the dawning of an idea for a new contemporary mystery series, one in which a woman of my years is starting over on her own, making a major move as well as a career change. The next step seemed inevitable—I would have to get myself to that reunion. On my own. By myself.

a younger, braver me

a younger, braver me

Did I mention that I always go to full service gas stations and let someone else pump the gas? Or that I have a terrible track record when it comes to successfully swiping credit cards? Or that I have some physical challenges thanks to arthritis in my hands, knees, neck, and ankles? Never mind. I decided that if my protagonist could be my age and manage on her own, so could I. Any fumbles along the way would just have to become fodder for comic relief.

Because the new setting will be a small town, but this time not in Maine, I opted to take the scenic route through New Hampshire and Vermont and avoid the Thruway once I hit New York. This, of course, added time, if not miles, to the trip. Since I can’t do anything about that bad night vision, that meant taking two days for the drive with stops to explore along the way and look for details that may become part of my fictional setting. I expected this to be full-blown leaf-peeper season. Not this year. Still, it was a pretty drive.

It was also a long haul: five and a half hours the first day and nearly five the second.

the house I grew up in

the house I grew up in

Both Liberty, New York and Wilton, Maine are in the foothills of the mountains. In fact, the land looks remarkably similar, except that New York allows billboards and Maine does not. But there is one area where there are some distinct differences—how a murder investigation is handled. In Maine, the State Police step in at once, except in Portland and Bangor. In New York, it depends. Fortunately, one of my high school classmates has a son who is a Sullivan County Deputy Sheriff and he agreed to be my local law enforcement expert. We met the first afternoon I was in town and talked shop over McNuggets, fries, and a very large coffee to keep me going through the evening ahead. Yes, of course, my new sleuth will be an amateur, but there’s nothing worse than getting the details wrong and every state handles criminal investigations just a little bit differently.

boxes in carAside from reunion activities, there was one other addition to my personal schedule. I wanted to donate some of my books to the local library. To be honest, I was trying to clear some space for the boxes of new ones that have already begun arriving—the paperback of Ho-Ho-Homicide, the hardcover of The Scottie Barked at Midnight, the trade paperback of Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, and the hardcover of Murder in the Merchant’s Hall. However, when the librarian responded by asking me to do a talk and signing while I was in town, I didn’t exactly run the other way. I set out with a very full car trunk—two boxes of books for the library, four boxes of books to offer for sale (two oldies set in Liberty and the two most recent titles), and four more boxes filled with extra copies of a few of my older books to offer as freebies to classmates. I still had room left for a suitcase and a cooler for snacks and a tote with necessities: folder with information and maps, (I do not and will not use GPS!), change for the book signing, and the one thing I can no longer live without—my iPad. When my character makes the trip, she’ll also have to find space for a litter pan and feline necessities since she’ll be traveling with at least one cat.

liberty signingSo, how did it go, you ask? Just great. When I couldn’t find gas stations with full service pumps, I managed to con other people into pumping gas for me (dithery females of a certain age can get away with a lot!). I renewed old friendships, visited familiar places, took note of changes the last fifty years have wrought, and generally enjoyed myself. The library talk was well attended, both by classmates and others. The two gatherings of the class, a Friday night icebreaker and a Saturday night banquet, were both fun. Thank goodness, though, for name tags!

group shot

If you’re looking for me in the above photo, here’s a hint: only my nose is showing.

Back home again, I’m slowly catching up and getting back into my normal routine. I was fine as long as I kept going. It’s stopping that’s the killer. I still feel as if I could sleep for a week, but no rest for the wicked. Less than a week from now, I’m off to Bouchercon, another reunion of sorts, this one with fellow mystery writers and readers.



Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall). 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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Cooking Up a Good Villain

Kate Flora: Yes. You read that right. I’ve often written here, and elsewhere, about the Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.52.24 AMimportance of taking chances and how chance taking can have a surprisingly positive effect on writing and a writer’s career. Sometimes, as in the creation of Beat, Slay, Love, the group novel by the pseudonymous Thalia Filbert, which debuts tomorrow, the process is not just a positive adventure that stretches me as a writer, it is downright good fun. And a big part of that fun was constructing the scenarios in which famous TV chefs are killed, and the apparently invisible villain who is killing them.

Fun, you say? Since when is writing fun? Isn’t writing supposed to be a grueling activity that makes your bottom spread as you spend those endless hours at the keyboard and concentrate until drops of blood appear on your forehead? Well. Yes. That’s part of it. Maybe that’s most of it, a truth that is revealed if I back toward a mirror or swipe at my forehead. But writing can also be a whole lot of fun. Especially if it is done with the right group of people.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 9.33.09 AMHere’s how it all came about. (Though I’m betting each of the five of us who are Thalia Filbert will tell a slightly different version of the story.) One day I got an e-mail asking if I’d like to join some other writers in a blog group. After I got over the idea of cheating on Maine Crime Writers, I said yes. This group is made up of writers I’ve known since my beginnings in this business more than twenty years ago. We’re spread all over the country. I respected them and thought it could be an interesting adventure. Not long after we started blogging together, on a blog called “Views from the Muse,” someone suggested it would be fun to put together a crime story anthology. The result was Dead of Winter http://amzn.to/1MXFLh1

That was a lot of fun and the book was good, so naturally someone asked what we might do next. As we all jokingly now say—the next obvious thing to do was write a group novel. But how could we write a group novel, given the very different things we were writing, and what would it be about?

Here are the players:

Gary Phillips writes hardboiled tales of flawed characters and their pursuit of hollow dreams.  In addition to being part of the Beat, Slay, Love crew, he is co-editor of Occupied Earth, an anthology of life and resistance under the boot heels of the alien Mahk-Ra.

Katy Munger has written fifteen crime fiction novels, including series in the cozy, private eye, and modern noir genres. She was a co-founder of Tart Noir.

Lise McClendon writes mystery and suspense, celebrating 20 years in print last year. Her series include an art dealer in Jackson Hole, a private eye in Kansas City, and a lawyer with five sisters in France. She also writes thrillers as Rory Tate (PLAN X) and co-owns Thalia Press with Katy Munger. http://lisemcclendon.com

Taffy Cannon has written a mainstream novel, thirteen mysteries, an Academy Award-nominated short film, and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to SibCare.

Kate Flora writes two series—strong, amateur, female PI in her Thea Kozak series and cops in her Joe Burgess police procedurals. She’s published more than fifteen crime stories. She’s been a publisher at Level Best Books and teaches writing at Grub Street in Boston.

Somehow, the topic became a serial killer, traveling the country killing off celebrity chefs,

Bacon, squid ink pasta, and hot peppers!

Bacon, squid ink pasta, and hot peppers!

and our villain was born. Actually, she was more of a Frankenstein creation, with everyone contributing pieces, then written, tweaked, augmented, revised, and redescribed until everyone was satisfied. As motivation, she was given such a backstory of mistreatments and misadventures that she couldn’t help but want delicious revenge on those who had abused her. Imagine, if you can, having not one but five pen pals, and when their letters arrive, they come as chapters in an ever-unfolding adventure. An unfolding serial that we both read and wrote. That was Beat, Slay, Love, a story Charlaine Harris calls “an incredibly sly mystery.”

Oh, and the cover lettering? Real bacon, squid ink pasta, and red peppers. How culinary is that?

Read an excerpt from the book here:


To celebrate we’ve put together a cookbook of party recipes called Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party. To get a copy, send a quick note to Thalia (our pseudonymous five-person author) at thaliapress@gmail.com.

Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge  by Thalia Filbert

Thalia Press     October 1, 2015


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