Woman with a Dagger

Murder in the Merchant's Hall (192x300)Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) here, to share some of what I learned in the three-hour Rapier/Dagger/Smallsword Workshop at the Historical Novel Society’s North American Conference in Denver last month. This opportunity came at an extremely good time for me, as I’m about to start writing the third book in my series featuring Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey, Elizabethan sleuth and sometime spy. When I developed the character, in Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, I gave her two knives to carry for protection, one sheathed in her boot and the other hidden in a special pocket inside her cloak. Beyond establishing that she knows how to use them, both for stabbing and for throwing, I haven’t had her do much with them in the first two books in the series.

That’s about to change.

The dagger pictured on the cover of the second entry, Murder in the Merchant’s Hall (December 2015), is too large to be one of Rosamond’s concealed weapons, but compared to the daggers used in what is called “rapier and dagger fighting,” it’s not that big, either. This was the style of fighting taught to men in the sixteenth century. I’d read quite a bit about it, but until the workshop I’d never had the chance to see it demonstrated up close and personal, let alone an opportunity to actually handle the blades and practice some of the footwork and wrist movements involved.

swordfight (300x212)

Several of the points made by instructor David Blixt seem likely to apply to the situations Rosamond will encounter in the next novel, even though she will probably not engage in two handed fighting herself. What follows are some examples of advice I hope she’ll take to heart.

*Using a blade requires constant training and drills to create muscle memory and dancing is one of the ways men train for fighting with rapier and dagger.

*Force your opponent’s body to bend in the direction it wants to go to throw him off balance.

pose from manual (195x300)

*Adrenalin is not your friend. You have to keep thinking and be measured and calm.

*Making noise, such as shouting or swearing, while you fight is to remind yourself to breathe. Holding your breath will get you killed.

*Hit with the forearm, not the hand. The hand has too many bones.

*Gloves protect the hands and can knock away a blade.

*Fights are usually very short.

rapier and dagger fighting

*Left-handed people either learned to fight right-handed or fought left-handed and were mocked. But the left-handed fighter had the advantage of being able to make unexpected moves.

*The dagger (in the off hand) defends and the rapier attacks, but it is possible to seize an opportunity and attack with the dagger.

*In fighting, use joints rather than muscles because muscles tire.

The illustrations above were taken during the workshop. Since I was the one taking them, I’m not in any of them. Probably just as well. Arthritic fingers and ankles do not lend themselves to the necessary moves, although I was able to do enough to get a feel for the process. I also used my iPad to shoot brief videos of parts of the demonstration. I expect these clips will be very useful if Rosamond’s husband Rob, or any other male characters, end up fighting with rapier and dagger in Book Three. Rosamond may even toy with the idea of taking lessons in sword fighting herself and ask Rob to teach her, although I expect she’ll decide to stick to smaller blades.

There will definitely be a scene in which she is practicing throwing her knives at a target.

blixt (195x300)I can’t close without saying a few more words about David Blixt. In addition to being a gifted teacher, he is also a stage actor and a writer. Although I generally avoid reading other people’s fiction when it is set in the sixteenth century, I couldn’t resist buying his Elizabethan novel, Her Majesty’s Will. Picture Shakespeare and Marlowe, before they became playwrights, as two very inept spies.


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 (Ho-Ho-Homicide, 2014) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, 2015). The latter series is a spin-off from the Face Down series and is set in Elizabethan England.

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Maine crime writers just wanna have fun

Maureen here, getting some last thoughts in before I head off to Baxter State Park for a few days.

Writing is a funny business. Yes, it’s a business in that we write books and it’s important to sell them. But selling them isn’t primarily why we do this. A bunch of us Maine Crime Writers gathered Saturday to take part in the Belgrade Lakes Fourth of July extravaganza. And yes, we brought books to sell. But as the several hours we spent at the event made clear, a lot of the real fun of this business, besides writing the books, is meeting people and talking about writing and our books.


John Clark, Lea Wait, Kathy Emerson and Dorothy Cannell get ready as the Meet the Maine Crime Writers booth opens for business.

John Clark, Dorothy Cannell, Lea Wait, Kathy Lynn Emerson and Kelly McClymer, all of whom blog on this site, had a grand old time talking to those who stopped to say hi, and I think to a person we’d say that the books we sold during the event were just the gravy on what was a great day.

Speaking for myself, “getting rich” was never really the goal of becoming a published writer. It was also never the goal of my day job, newspaper editor. Both are things I wanted to do since I was 9 or 10 years old. Being from a newspaper family, I knew the journalism gig was never going to make me a lot of money. That prepared me for the reality of being a published writer, I guess. But money — or fame — never was a goal in the first place.

Those who are driven to write do it because they have something they want to say. I’m lucky that there are people out there who are interested in hearing it. I don’t think I’d change the message in order to get more money for it. In fact, I know I wouldn’t.

I could have written for a certain audience, sexed things up more, thrown in some vampires, if they’re still the rage. Maybe written a dystopian vampire-themed BDSM-

John, Lea, Kathy, Maureen, and Dorothy

John, Lea, Kathy, Maureen, and Dorothy

tinged mystery thriller about a couple of PI/meth cookers who break all the rules and some heads in order to bring the bad guys (so I guess they aren’t the bad guys? These days, it’s hard to tell) to justice.

But my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I’ve read a lot of bad books in my life, and while they’re all bad in their own way, the lack of heart is obvious.

It was obvious to me from the way my fellow Maine Crime Writers talked about their books and their writing that they had heart Saturday. I think it was obvious, too, to those who stopped by to chat. Some of them even bought books.

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Weekend Update: July 4-5, 2015

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday), Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett (Tuesday), Lea Wait (Wednesday), Barb Ross (Thursday) and Susan Vaughan (Friday).

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

Don’t forget that today (July 4th) MCW regulars Dorothy Cannell, John Clark, Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson, Maureen Milliken, and Lea Wait, together with recent guest blogger Kelly McClymer, will be signing books from 11-2 at the Belgrade Lakes 4th of July Festival in Belgrade Lakes, Maine. For those who want to stick around, there’s also a frog jumping contest at 5PM and fireworks once it gets dark.

Here’s a look at our venue, ready and waiting. I’ll try to post pictures later in the weekend to show what it looked like with people crowding around to talk to us and buy our books.


As promised, a few pictures from Belgrade Lakes on the 4th of July.

Kathy and Dorothy setting up

Kathy and Dorothy setting up

A very successful day.

Lea Wait, John Clark, and Kelly McClymer from inside the tent

Lea Wait, John Clark, and Kelly McClymer from inside the tent

And a lot of fun, too.

John, Lea, Kathy, Maureen, and Dorothy

John, Lea, Kathy, Maureen, and Dorothy

Monday, July 6th at 7:00 p.m. Dorothy Cannell and Kate Flora will be at the library in Castine, sharing writing secrets, research stories, and where our characters come from.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 3.55.52 PMNext Saturday, July 11,  is Books in Boothbay, held at the Boothbay Railway Village in Boothbay, Maine. Many, many Maine authors in all genres, including Maine Crime Writers. The morning is for children’s and YA books, the afternoon for the rest of us. (P.S. That means Lea Wait will be there all day — from 9 until 4.) Check here for more details. We’re likely to be giving away fun things, like books and cookie cutters (moose or lobster, anyone?) perhaps even a cool tee shirt from Liberty Graphics.

What’s your favorite Maine book? We’d love to hear what it is and why you like it. We recently heard from Mainely Murders Bookstore that their customers love the mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder, written by John Clark and Kate Flora’s late mother, A. Carman Clark. Rumor has it there may be another Amy Creighton mystery, The Corpse in the Compost, coming in the next year. If you’d like your own copy of The Maine Mulch Murder, share your favorite Maine book with us…and you could win one.

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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Meet Some Fellow Travelers

John Clark posting today

Regular readers of this blog do so for many reasons. They may be friends with someone who contributes, they may be lovers of mystery or lovers of Maine or they may simply like what we post. Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled to have them stop by. I’m sure that those of us who post here regularly also have blogs we love. As a young adult author, reader and reviewer, I’m always looking for something interesting and stimulating that relates to that genre. I’ve been a follower and pretty much a daily reader of one called YA Outside The Lines (YAOTL) (http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/) for quite some time. Not only do I get some interesting perspectives on how others approach writing YA fiction, but since the folks blogging there try to have a monthly topic (last month was theme parks), I enjoy how varied the takes are.

Holly says the sequel is in progress

Holly says the sequel is in progress

Since blogs without readers risk becoming like the falling tree in the forest, I wanted to share this favorite of mine with MCW regulars, so I contacted Holly Schindler, the administrator and who has written some really great YA and juvenile fiction (her Playing Hurt is one of my all time favorites) and asked her about doing a profile. As you can see from what follows, she and several of the other members of YAOTL have come through in spades, so read on, consider checking it out regularly and enjoy. One quick reminder: If you’re in Belgrade tomorrow for the 4th of July festivities, make sure to stop by the Maine Crime Writers table. We’ll be there from 11-2.

Who started the blog and why? The blog was started by several authors with MTV books—they enjoyed blogging at the MTV site, but wanted to expand, reach out to some YA authors not necessarily being published by the same company. So YA Outside the Lines was born.

You inherited the blog—how has that gone? I know it’s a lot of work making sure blogs get up in a timely manner, even more so when you’re a writer. I always say I inherited the blog from Jennifer Echols. She was the administrator when I was asked to join. When her writing duties got to be too much, she needed to back away from blogging; I said I’d take over administrative duties. But really, there’s been very little work on my end. I shoot the bloggers reminder emails for their posts, and email the group in order to come up with a monthly “theme.” Then I just get to sit back and enjoy the posts along with everyone else.

How have posters been selected? New bloggers arrive in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they come to me asking to join, sometimes other bloggers at YAOTL will suggest new bloggers, sometimes I ask writers I meet. The only requirement is that they write (and are passionate about) YA lit.

What do you hope the blog accomplishes? I hope it introduces readers to some fabulous YA authors. I hope it provides some sense of community for both our bloggers and readers.

Funniest Post? Most unusual / embarrassing post? So hard to pick! You know, we let it fly at YA Outside the Lines—we talk about our writing journeys (full of bumps in the road), as well as our own teen lives (which are just ripe for crazy stories). You never know what you’re going to read next at YAOTL.

What do a few of your regular bloggers have to say about YA Outside the Lines?

Patty Blount

Patty Blount: “OK, my two cents': YAOTL helps me feel like a real author. It’s hard to stay confident in this industry and hanging out with other writers who ‘get it’ makes me feel so much less alone. I’ve never met many of these authors but in a very real sense, they’ve become my family. Nothing Left to Burn is my fourth YA with Sourcebooks Fire and releases on 8/5!”

Jennifer Hubbard

Jennifer Hubbard: “My first experience with YAOTL was as a reader–so many authors I admired were part of it. I loved the ‘pushing the boundaries of the genre and writing from the heart’ tagline, because that’s what YA is to me: A genre that’s constantly being redefined. Writing with emotional depth. I love reading everyone’s take on the different subjects we tackle. It’s like a mini-anthology every month.
Bio info: Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of three YA novels, most recently UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP, and a nonfiction book about writing, LONER IN THE GARRET: A WRITER’S COMPANION.”


Courtney McKinney-Whitaker, author of the historical YA THE LAST SISTER: “I think the best part for me has been “meeting” other writers, if virtually, and getting to know you all through your posts and comments. It makes a lonely job feel less lonely.”

Jody Casella

Jody Casella, author of THIN SPACE: “I love being a part of YAOTL. I enjoy the themes each month– coming up with a post and reading the other writers’ approaches to the topics. But what I like most about the group is the sense of community. Writing is such a solitary activity. We’re plugging away, alone, on our laptops, and sometimes it can feel pretty lonely. It’s been nice to meet the people behind the books, people, who it turns out, are a lot like me, with kids and pets and dirty dishes and part-time jobs, people who are juggling writing and promoting, who are working and reworking manuscripts and always dreaming to get more of their stories out into the world. Many of the YAOTLers have become my friends over the past few years.”

jen Doktorski

Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, author of THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME: “W riting is such a solitary craft that I’m happy to be part of a community of YA authors who understand that the day-to-day business of being an author isn’t always pretty. Some days/weeks/months are more intense than others and during those periods, I become very anti-social, often turning down invitations from friends and putting all non-writing related activities on hold. Reading the blog posts of my fellow YAOTLers, as well as writing my own post once a month, forces me to think about something other than the project I’m currently submerged in and makes me feel connected. I’m always inspired about what others post and often find myself expanding my reading list as well as following their advice about everything from writing a better sentence to decluttering my home.”

Natasha Sinel

Natasha Sinel: “I have been a follower of YAOTL for years (and years and years), and it has been so inspiring to read the heartfelt posts during the long lonely stretch of working toward getting traditionally published.

What I loved about YAOTL as a follower was how different it was from other author blogs. First off, it was one of the first co-op blogs I’d seen, and I loved the monthly topics and how each author had something different to say. It was also different from other blogs because it was about craft and emotion. Most other blogs I followed were about querying, how to get published, etc. I loved seeing the inside look at authors’ writing lives. I remember dreaming of being an author and being a part of a site like YAOTL!

I also loved YAOTL as a follower because it introduced me to authors I wasn’t familiar with (like Holly Schindler whose A BLUE SO DARK really stuck with me). Once I finally got a publishing deal, I approached Holly for a blurb request, and not only did I get the most amazing blurb for THE FIX, Holly invited me to join YAOTL. I have loved writing my YAOTL monthly blog posts about interesting topics where I can dive into my feelings about writing, reading, life, being an author. And I continue to love reading my colleagues’ posts. My debut YA novel THE FIX releases September 1, 2015 from Sky Pony Press.” (NOTE: I’ve read an ARC of This and it’s a great book!)

How do you pick a monthly theme and can you say which have worked the best? I shoot an email to the group mid-month, saying it’s time to throw out some ideas for a theme. Many of our themes have been seasonal, some have been tied strictly to the writing industry. Our best themes have always been those that are the most open-ended (so that bloggers can still find something fresh to say at the end of the month). But we also usually find ways to tie even the most non-writing-sounding theme into our work…

What else would you like MCW readers to know about the blog? Just that we’re always looking to interact with new readers. Be sure to follow us at yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com. If you’d like to suggest a monthly theme you’d like us to write about, you can always shoot me a message at writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.

holly s

About Holly Schindler, YA Outside the Lines Administrator:

Holly Schindler is the author of four traditionally published books; her work has received starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, has won silver and gold medals in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and the IPPY Awards, respectively, has been featured on Booklist’s Best First Novels for Youth and School Library Journal’s What’s Hot in YA, and has been a PW Pick of the Week. She recently became a hybrid author; FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS (contemporary adult humor) is her first independently published book. She is owned by a Pekingese named Jake and can be found working on her next book—PLAY IT AGAIN, the sequel to her YA romance PLAYING HURT—in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri. She can also be found at hollyschindler.com, @holly_schindler, and facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor For sneak peeks, giveaways, news, writing tips, and more, subscribe to her newsletter: tinyletter.com/hollyschindler.

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Teach Her a Lesson

IMG_2579Kate Flora: Summer is a great time to refill the well of creativity. A quick trip to L.A. for The Sound of Music sing-along at the Hollywood Bowl. Passing banks of roses at the edge of the sea and admiring the swaths of lupines along the Maine roads.

Every summer I make the same vow: No, I will not teach. I will sit on my porch in an armchair and stare out at the sea and read books and play in my garden and work on a book and take it easy. And every summer, without fail, when I get the e-mail asking if I’d like to teach, I find myself saying yes. Why? Because, also without fail, spending three hours a week in a room full of writers is wonderful.

What do they teach me, you ask? What could they have to teach a writer who has been at

The cell phone flashlight app becomes magical at the Hollywood Bowl

The cell phone flashlight app becomes magical at the Hollywood Bowl

this for thirty years and is working on her twenty-sixth book? In a nutshell–everything. Much in the same amazing way that having a small child teaches us to see the world anew, spending time each week listening to writers take the same homework assignment and give it a dozen individual spins reminds me of all the tools we bring to the table when we sit down to write, and the many ways we can wield them.

Language? You bet. This room has writers from all over the world, from different age groups, who work at different careers. They may all be doing a sensory isolation exercise where they go to a place and write three paragraphs of description, each using a different sense, but when they share their work, they will take us into many different places and firmly anchor us there. From the deadly serious to the highly comedic, their writing helps them to understand their distinctive voices and world views, and reminds me of the importance of choosing the best word. Of crunchy nouns. Of the challenges of describing smells or the tactile nature of surfaces. Of dynamic flow. I am awed–and jealous–as I listen.

Voice? Again, you bet. Stunning opening lines. Powerful contrasts. Undisclosed yet evident character. Simple descriptions that manage to reveal deep emotional connections.

Writerly choices are all over the place.

IMG_2542-2How about a sense of place so powerful you can feel the blisters on your feet, the crunch of pine needles, smell the mingled scents of a summer commuter train or dining at an outside restaurant? How about an observing eye that makes things architectural? Or one that operates cinematically, beginning with the wide, establishment shot and then zooming in on the essence of the piece?

Or a sense of taste so vivid the entire class is hungry?

Or combining three such different smells that each one is elevated, giving the piece more depth?

There are no rules about where the place must be, and their writing flows from dark, fraught interior spaces and the cramped immediacy of a car seat to towering trees twisting in the wind and the varied grays of stormy skies.

I think you get the picture. Every summer I break my vow and teach another writing class because there’s a kind of magic that comes from doing it. Magic in the many ways that different writers can write. And a reminder that as writers, we never have have this craft knocked. We’re always learning. A reminder that we all began with the blank page, and allScreen Shot 2015-07-01 at 5.52.47 PM of those endless editing heads, perched on our shoulders like a many-headed hydra, telling us we’ll fail. We won’t get it right. We don’t know what we’re doing. So part of the magic is watching writers shrug off those don’ts, and you can’ts, and you musts, and finding their way to their own writing practice.

So sorry, lonely white L.L.Bean chair. I’m not on the porch after all. I’m spending time being inspired by writers. Maybe next year.


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