Weekend Update: November 28-29, 2015

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kate Flora (Monday), Lea Wait (Tuesday), Barb Ross (Wednesday), John Clark (Thursday), and Maureen Milliken (Friday).

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

Murder in the Merchant's Hall (192x300)from Kathy Lynn Emerson: December 1 is the official publication date for Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, the second of my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, set in England in 1583. Of course, Amazon had been selling the hardcover for a couple of weeks, and it came out in England earlier this year, but it IS the launch date for the ebook in both Kindle and Nook formats. I’ll be blogging on that day at Severn House blog, Lady Killers and Wicked Cozy Authors.

Lea Wait: Congratulations, Kathy! Really looking forward to reading it! This next week is a busy one. Tuesday afternoon/evening December 1, I’ll be signing with other writers at the Barnes & Noble in Augusta, Maine, from 4 p.m. until about 7:30. The event is a benefit for the Manchester (Maine) Elementary School.

Then Thursday evening, I’ll be at Mystery Night at the New England Mobile Bookfair, 82 Needham Street, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts along with other Maine Crime Writers including Barbara Ross and Kate Flora. My signing time is 6-7, but there will be dozens (yes!) of New England mystery authors signing from 6 until 8 — plus you can enjoy refreshments while chatting with your favorite writer. Not to be missed annual event for anyone who loves mysteries — or has mystery lovers on their holiday gift list.

Then Saturday, December 5, selling my books and signing at the Holiday Arts Fair sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, Maine, from 9 am until 2 pm.

Maureen Milliken and Kate Flora will be at the Belgrade, Maine, Holiday Craft Fair Gingerbread House Making and Craft Fair 2015from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons, about 15 miles north of Augusta on Route 27. It’s a great craft fair with a wide variety of gifts — aside from some very excellent Maine Crime Writer books, of course.

Kate is the award-winning author of the Joe Burgess mystery series as well as the true crime books “Finding Amy” and “Death Dealer.

Maureen is the author of Cold Hard News, the debut novel in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series, and will also be selling her non-fiction books “The Afterlife Survey” and “Get it Right: A Cranky Editor’s Tips.”

There’s also a gingerbread house making contest and food. Stop by and say hi!


Barb: Kensington, which is my publisher, and one of Lea and Kaitlyn/Kathy’s publishers, is having a big ebook sale in December. EBooks by all three of us will be on sale, along with a host of other New England Authors. If you’ve been resisting our charms, now may be the time to try one out. Sale starts 11/29.

Six Great New England Authors-2




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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One Scene at a Time

writer-at-work-a2Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, blogging today about what, for lack of a better word, I’ll call the milestone I aim for when I sit down to begin my day’s work. I gather I’m a bit of an oddball. Most writers I know set a daily goal of a certain minimum number of words. A few go by page count. Some devote a set period of time to writing each day.

I aim to complete a scene during each writing session.

When I outline—which, granted, I tend to do after I’ve roughed out that section of the book—I break chapters into scenes. Usually, but not always, there are three scenes to a chapter. In some of my historical novels, which have shorter chapters, each scene is a chapter. Scenes vary in length. They are moved around in the text when I revise, sometimes more than once. Each scene is presented in a single point of view and, generally, it takes place using only one setting. When my characters move to another time and/or place or the pov character changes, that signals the start of a new scene.

27149da424ac1bf38cbedb0617ea0814_251x320x1In each scene, something is accomplished: the plot is advanced, a character is developed, or an important clue is planted. Sometimes a scene tells a mini-story within the story. Step by step, scene by scene, I advance toward the end of the tale, but there is an added bonus. At the end of each writing session, I have a real sense of accomplishment. I have completed something—a whole scene—rather than just reaching an arbitrary word or page count. That is a very satisfying feeling, one I can enjoy even when I know that the entire novel will not be finished for many months to come.

Oddly enough, this sense of completion comes through even when a scene ends with a cliffhanger.

I usually finish a writing session by making a few notes about what happens next. On rare occasions, I am inspired to go on and write a second scene, but I find I am more creative when I take a break before going forward, especially if the next scene involves a shift in point of view from one character to another.

Not every day’s writing goes as smoothly as I’d like. Some scenes just don’t work. Others feel incomplete even when they take the action and the characters where I think I want them to go. That’s okay. Everything will undergo several revisions anyway. What’s important is to keep moving forward, at least one new scene a day, until the proverbial lightbulb goes on and I know what to do to make earlier scenes better. At that point, I usually go all the way back to the beginning and work my way forward again to the place where I stopped. If all goes well, I am psyched up to continue on, armed with fresh ideas about where the story is headed.

This past week, I’ve been revising the three chapters I’ll include in my proposal for a new cozy mystery series. I revise by hand on a printout, then make further changes when I type them in. The first day, I got through all of Chapter One. On day two, barely a word escaped unchanged and I was back to one scene at a time. Here’s what a typical hand-revised page looks like:

proposalpage (384x500)

So, that’s how I organize my writing sessions. For me, setting a time limit on how long I spend at the keyboard would be counter-productive. Setting a minimum word or page count goal might work, so long as I didn’t let myself fall into the trap of stopping when I hit the minimum. I can’t imagine that would be very satisfying. I’d also end up having to go back and find my place in the scene before going on again, something I’d rather not do until I’m ready to revise. Would trying to write the rough draft of an entire novel in a single month work for me? I doubt it. That doesn’t seem to leave any room for inspired revisions.

Would writing scene by scene work for you? The only way to find out is to give it a try. Every writer has to experiment at first to find what best suits him or her.

Do you have techniques or a writing routine you’d like to share? If so, I hope you’ll leave a comment below. One of the best things about the writing community is that we can learn from each other.


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 (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) 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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Senebec Hill Stuffing

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Mrs. Clark with family

Today we feature a “Ghost post” from John Clark and Kate Flora’s late mother, A. Carman Clark. Country living writer, journalist, newspaper editor, and, late in life, a mystery writer, Mrs. Clark always had a wry way of looking at tradition.

Sometimes I think an extra question should be added to personnel files, marriage ceremonies and partnership contracts. Namely: What kind of stuffing do you prefer in your Thanksgiving turkey? Stuffing preferences, built up through years of holiday associations, resist compromises.

The best turkey stuffings I’ve ever tasted were made by my friend Everett who financed his college education working in Chinese restaurants. Ev’s cleaver minced celery, onions and mushrooms with rhythmic speed while oysters simmered and butter melted. That man could stuff a bird and whip the kitchen counters back to order in less time than I could cube the bread. A touch of sage and thyme to enhance but not dominate. Sometimes he added chestnuts. Turkey broth or cider to moisten the mixture. Elegant.

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Enjoying the feast on Sennebec Hill

The mother of a college friend made the worst stuffing while repeatedly proclaiming that her way was the only way turkey stuffing should be prepared. Piles of dark toast were broken into milk and then wrung dry with twists which could have strangled a tiger. One onion. Never use more than one onion. What she called stuffing looked like chunks of damp plaster and tasted like warm sawdust.

Our Sennebec Hill stuffing developed gradually. The dry bread filling, which I was told good Maine wives were supposed to make, became a bit more moist and flavorful each year as additions were secretly added. Extra onions, sautéed in butter with celery, and several beaten eggs lightened the dressing. Then each year an increased amount of country sausage, cooked, drained, and crumbled, was mixed in with chopped tart apples. I copied Ev’s method of moistening the dressing with broth or cider and added parsley and herbs from the garden. Sometimes I mixed a bit of hot peppers to the portion used to stuff the neck cavity. Guests, accustomed to Southern cornbread and bacon stuffing or Pennsylvania Dutch potato stuffing, take second helpings. I’m thankful for guests with a willingness to try something new.

My friend Molly’s husband didn’t have that quality and that was why one Thanksgiving mainemulchmurderMolly allowed herself to have a sinking spell. In the Victorian era such spells were known as “having the vapors” — a brief time of weakness during which ladies are unable to carry on routine tasks. That year Molly had her sinking spell none of their children were able to get home for the holiday so she suggested going out to dinner. On Thanksgiving? Absolutely not. They would have turkey and lots of stuffing if he had to cook it himself. He did. Molly had planned on a brief relapse but she languished for four days because it took Herb that long to clean up the kitchen.

Not too many years ago, country turkeys were stuffed before they lost their heads. About six weeks prior to Thanksgiving, the chosen bird was caged to preserve its energies. A diet of nuts, cracked corn, onions and apples was gradually increased until the gobbler became heavy and well-flavored throughout. Children weren’t given these feeding chores. Even a Tom turkey, destined for the holiday dinner, can seem like a pet when it responds to the daily fattening-up routine.

Meanwhile, sage clipped from the herb garden dried in the warming oven with slices of homemade bread. Children shelled out beechnuts. Northern Spy apples ripened on the kitchen counter, onions cured on the attic floor, and the last celery plants were mounded with hay to keep them from freezing.

There’s a sameness to the herb-seasoned dry bread now packaged and sold for stuffings, although using these saves time and mess. I prefer a mixture of whole wheat and white bread, cubed and dried and my own measures of fresh herb seasonings. Years of getting turkeys stuffed and in the oven by 7 a.m. have given me an eye for quantity and proportions. I no longer measure but I protect my image by making sure there will be enough stuffing to put into post-Thanksgiving sandwiches for 10 adults. If that amount won’t fit inside the body and neck cavities (leaving room to expand), I bake the extra in a separate casserole.

IMG_0535Each November, wherever I go, I ask for and listen to tales of memorable stuffings, the tastes and textures of the dressings others prepare or expect to find baked in the bird. Some grandmothers toss in a cup of chopped cranberries saying that these cut the fatty taste of a big turkey. Many families look forward to the textures which chopped walnuts, peanuts or pecans add to the stuffing. James Beard once published a recipe for a moist, meaty dressing which incorporated a pound of ground fresh pork stir-fried with onions and mushrooms before being mixed with coarsely ground dried bread, chopped parsley, and hot broth.

One neighbor showed me how she slides her hands between the turkey’s skin and breast and then pushes a layer of stuffing in to help keep the white meat moist. Another said she roasts both turkeys and chickens with the breast side down so the juices flow into the white meat. Both ideas are worth trying. These turkey conversations, at Thanksgiving or when the markets advertise special low prices, include comparisons of open basting vs. foil-wrapped birds, timing, and favorite family recipes for using leftovers.

I’ve tried many methods for roasting turkeys. The children and their families come to the farm for Thanksgiving so we need a 23 pound bird. Wrapping such a creature in heavy duty foil and placing it on a rack is easiest for me. Another keep-it-simple idea for this holiday is thawing turkey “juice” from the last bird and making the gravy ahead of time. Call it riding the gravy train. I’d rather spend time with my grandchildren than fiddle with gravy.

Someday I’m going to slip the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey into a trash bag and haul

Sara Lloyd's signature pie: cherry-raspberry

Sara Lloyd’s signature pie: cherry-raspberry

it off to the dump. Or ask someone to carry it away so I can’t change my mind enroute and bring the bones home for turkey soup. I’d like to be able to yell, “Hey, gulls, you pick this one. I’ve done it for 44 years. It’s your turn.” But each year I bring forth the lobster kettle and face the whole mess again.

Even after the midnight and breakfast turkey sandwiches, the carcass of a 23 pound bird yields enough meaty pieces of many winter meals, from Cornish pasties to gobbler chili. Through the years, I’ve filled a file with recipes for using left-over turkey. Sloppy Tom, a variation of the Sloppy Joe hamburger and tomato sauce mixture. Gobbler chili, made with hot peppers, garlic, kidney beans and tomato sauce is welcome after too many meals of bland turkey. With lots of tender, crisp vegetables, julienne-cut turkey fits into oriental meals flavored with ginger, soy sauce and a touch of molasses. I freeze broccoli stems, Swiss chard and kohlrabi for these quick stir fries.

The list goes on and on. The motto, “Waste not, want not,” embroidered and framed, hung on the walls of most homes when I was growing up during the Great Depression. I think it’s etched in my brain. So, although I have the urge to be a wastrel, a turkey carcass pitching wastrel, I still crack the bones for the stew pot and try new recipes for using the meat and the broth. By January, I’ve forgotten the mess and can be thankful for the holiday bird’s contributions to a fine Armenian pot pie with whole wheat pastry crust.

And now, dear readers…what kind of stuffing or dressing does YOUR family prefer? Family Thanksgiving 1 001Cornbread? Oysters? Wild rice? And do you have a relative who was absolutely certain her way was best?

And here’s a family secret: Once, on Thanksgiving, John made the turkey and forgot to make stuffing. Many years later, he still gets anxious calls ahead of time, reminding him to make stuffing.



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Thanksgiving Again!

Vaughn Hardacker here. Another year is almost gone and I’m staring my 68th Thanksgiving in the eye. I’ve never been a holiday type of guy (even less so now that my nuclear family has disintegrated) and for many years I’ve often wondered why people make such a big deal over them. My late wife loved them even though she worked herself into a state of exhaustion over them every year.

All that said. Since I lost Connie and most of my relatives have passed over to a better place or I have become isolated from them, I have started to look at the holidays differently. One factor that helps is I have many, many fewer people to provide for, the few who I am in touch with I have requested that they send no Christmas gifts and I will return the favor. What a stress reliever that is! It has taken the commercialism out of my holidays. I still don’t enjoy them, but at least I don’t get upset by ads in which every retailer in America tries to reach inside my wallet. I believe I lost Christmas spirit in 1973. I was a Marine stationed in Iwakuni, Japan. As Christmas came upon us all the Japanese stores were decorated with Santa Claus–now why would a Buddhist country that doesn’t observe Christian holidays do that? Simple, Japanese retailers don’t want to miss out on a good thing! Ask any one who works in retail what they think of the holidays–I worked in a big box store and we all hated and dreaded Black Friday (if you want to see a retailer invention look no further).

I remember my childhood. The Christmas season began on the day after Thanksgiving (not Labor Day as it does now), stores were closed on Sundays, and families spent those days together!

I now sit back and since I no longer have to run all over the place shopping for a bunch of stuff, which will in all probability be returned anyhow, have an environment that allows me to take time to reflect on the things I have to be thankful for:

This year’s list:

  1. Publication of my second novel, THE FISHERMAN.
  2. My third, THE BLACK ORCHID, under contract, edited, and sent to production for release on March 1, 2016.
  3. My companion, Jane, who has kept this surly old curmudgeon in balance this past year.
  4. I am, for the most part, healthy–at least healthier than most people my age.
  5. The terrific authors who have kept me entertained and enlightened.
  6. Readers! ‘Nuff said.
  7. The community of writers who were instrumental in getting me to where I am as a writer.
  8. Now that I’m retired, I can write whenever, wherever, and for whatever duration I want.
  9. Finally, I’m thankful to be closing in on the completion of the first draft of a novel I started in 1989. (At the rate I’m going, first draft in twenty-six years it should be ready to send to a publisher in 2037!)

Finally: I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and find a few quiet minutes to reflect on how lucky we Americans are to live where we do.

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A Secret Past

Jessie: In Northern New England, thinking about the past.

Sometimes you think you know someone and it turns out that really you don’t. I’m not talking about politicians or dear friends or even a spouse with a secret. I mean characters. Especially those of my own making.

Last Saturday I was out shopping for Christmas gifts with a friend. Near the end of the day we wandered into a shop filled with vintage clothing for gentlemen and in amongst the waistcoats, suspenders and top hats I came upon a box filled with stereographic cards all dating from around 1900.  I pounced up on them and began sifting through them one by one, admiring the old time photographs.

There were coastal views of Italy, temples in Egypt, elephants in India and my favorite, one labeled The Fishwives of Finland. As I looked them over I began to wonder not only about the people in the pictures but about the photographers who created the images. Who were these people? Were they avid photographers who just happened to live near popular tourist attractions and sent their work off to sell? Or were they taken by photographers traveling far from home?

As I stood in the dimly lit little shop an entire history for a character in my most recently completed novel unfolded in my mind. He’s a Gilded Age photographer who loves to snap candids of everyday people in Old Orchard. But looking at the cards in my hand I realized he had taken images much like the ones before me. We’d spent hundreds of words together, have known each other for over a year and I had no idea he had ever left the state of Maine.

I love it when this sort of thing happens. I’ve just begun working on a new book in the same series as the one I just completed and I’ve been thinking about ways to give this photographer a greater role. I’m still not sure what that will be. But I am certain at some point in his past he’s gone traipsing across Finland in search of fishwives to capture for posterity.

Readers, do characters in books often surprise you? Do you like it when they do? Writers, do your characters have secrets you are startled to discover?


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