Weekend Update: April 12-13, 2014

fallsbooks1Next week is Library Week at Maine Crime Writers. Look for posts by guest librarians on Monday (Marie Stickney from the Camden Public Library), Wednesday, and Thursday, together with our regular monthly post from Jayne Hitchcock on Tuesday and a library story from Barbara Ross on Friday.  

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

Next Saturday, April 19, is the Maine Crime Wave in Portland. It’s not too late to register and there is a great line-up of crime-writing talent: Gerry Boyle, Paul Doiron, Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson, Kate Flora, Tess Gerritsen, Chris Holm, and Julia Spencer-Fleming. There is a session on the business of publishing with industry professionals, and if you want to be sure you get investigative details right, another set of panelists will tell you, from firsthand experience, how the Portland Police Department and Maine’s Game Wardens solve crimes. For more information, click here:


On Thursday, April 17 at 7:00 pm, Barbara Ross and Vicki Doudera to discuss “Using What You Know (Or What You’d Like to Know) to Write a Mystery” at the Carver Memorial Library,12 Union Street, Searsport, ME 04974. Love to see you there!

We’re trying something experimental for Simply the Best, the Malice Domestic panel for the Agatha Best Contemporary nominees. (Friday at 3:00 in Waterford/Lalique. Mark your calendars, if you’re attending.) We’re crowd-sourcing the questions!

So, is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask G. M. Malliet (Pagan Spring), Hank Phillippi Ryan (The Wrong Girl). Julia Spencer-Fleming (Through the Evil Days) or moi (Clammed Up)? Louise Penny (How the Light Gets In) is sadly unable to attend this year–but maybe we can catch her in writing somewhere. Shawn Reillly Simmons is moderating, so you know she’ll be able to handle your toughest questions.

Let a comment here, or send us a tweet #GoAskMalice.

For those who remember the post on Maine firemen at that huge fire just over the border in Canada, here’s a link to a follow-up story:

Lea Wait: Looking forward to seeing most of you guys (and you guys?) at the Maine Crime Wave conference next Saturday … I’ll be taking it easy as a conferee. Saturday, April 12, from 10-2 I’ll be at the Cape Author Fest, a children’s author festival at Cape Elizabeth High School. Busy times! I look forward to getting back to writing ….

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: kateflora@gmail.com


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“Poor old Michael Finnegan – begin again!”

Lea Wait, here, wondering how many of you remember this old nursery rhyme?

“There was an old man named Michael Finnegan.

He grew whiskers on his chin-negan.

The wind came up and blew them in again.

Poor old Michael Finnegan – begin again!”

Well, that’s the song I can’t get out of my head today. Because that’s what I’m doing. One book

Notes for Next Book

Notes for Next Book

approved by editor: now, begin again. Write another.

The book my editor approved was Twisted Threads, the first in my Mainely Needlepoint series, which will be published by Kensington next January. The book I’m about to begin  – Threads of Evidence — will be the second in the series. It’s due to that editor September 1. My goal is to finish a decent (but still rough) first draft by the end of June to allow time for both rewriting and for a few days enjoying  any summer visitors or activities. Plus, of course, near the end of the summer I’ll be letting people know about the publication of Shadows on a Maine Christmas, to be published early in September.

So — three months to write a book. Three months that also include a number of speaking and signing days for the book that was just published last week. (Uncertain Glory.) So, although not impossible, it will be a lot of work.

Lea's chair ... waiting.

Lea’s chair … waiting.

But I think I’m ready. I’ve written brief biographies and descriptions of all the major characters – both those in the earlier book in the series who are still around, and a new group of characters who will revolve around the murder. (Of course. Has to be a murder. Or two.) I know who dies. I know all the suspects  and their motivations. I even know how the truth will be revealed. I’m thinking about adding in a couple of romantic possibilities for my protagonist, Angie Curtis. I’ll have to update readers about the business she runs. Bring back more memories of her (murdered) mother, whose story was in Twisted Threads. I know the time of the year (early June,) and the weather (60s, with possible rain and perhaps one or two very warm days. Typical Maine June.) Part of the book will involve a cold case from 1970 … so I’ve done research on that summer, to make sure I’m being true to the way things were then — politically and  economically as well as what people ate, drank, wore, listened to and watched that summer.

My editor has approved the plot outline he required. (I don’t always write one as detailed as I did this time, but what your editor wants, your editor gets.) While I’m writing I’ll probably make changes and add details, but, basically, I know what’s going to happen.

So … what’s left to do? The hardest part of all. Sitting in my chair in front of my computer and writing.

On my mark. Get set! Begin again …..


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Shooting guns in Holliston, Massachusetts? A BLAST!

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America’s New England Chapter in Holliston, Massachusetts, for the express purpose of learning about guns.

I’m a member of MWA NE, but hardly ever get to go to meetings, and those of you who live in Maine know why.  One way, it’s a four hour drive from where I live in Camden, and without a place to stay at night, it makes for a L O N G day.  But sometimes I “bite the bullet” (am I really saying that in this post??) and get in the car.

And that Saturday, I was glad that I did, because it was a fascinating experience.

Steve Ulfelder, President of MWA NE, arranged for a group of us to meet at Mass Firearms School for a course and time on the firing range. Our teacher – James Wise –  gave us a fairly detailed safety class, and then we shot laser guns to practice our grips and stance. 

We split into groups (I was with Barbara Ross’ husband Bill Carito) and headed into the range, first donning safety glasses and ear protection. 

We shot revolvers, rifles, and semi automatics – 22 caliber first, and then 45 caliber later.  We had one-on-one training with a Mass Firearms instructor at the range.

Here are a few things I learned, thanks to James:

* Focus on the front site

* Allow the trigger shot to be a surprise

* the Glock is the most common government-issued firearm

* 15 yards is the maximum distance you could really shoot someone in self-defense.

I shot the high caliber guns, but I can’t say I really liked it. (I’m not giving up my ukulele to start shooting guns.)  The feeling, however, was amazing! The sheer power emanating from the semi automatic – what a rush!  It really did blow me away.  (sorry….)

I didn’t try the rifle – too much kickback for small frames, but I got back in my car a happy writer. I learned a lot, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and I brought back some cool targets.

In short — a blast!

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The Book of the Heart

Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) here. What, you may be asking, is the book of the heart? For me, right now, it’s my historical mystery, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, the first in a new series set in sixteenth-century England.

The term, as used by most professional writers I know, means a book that the writer has to write, even knowing going in that it will be difficult to sell when it’s finished. If writing is the way you make your living, it is no easy task to find the time to write a book of the heart. For one thing, instead of writing a proposal and finishing the rest of the novel only after a contract has been signed and an advance against future royalties has been paid, most books that don’t have a readily apparent market usually have to be written on spec. In other words, the writer has to finish the novel before trying to sell it. That’s both good and bad. Good because what goes out to an editor is a polished, as-near-to-perfect-as-possible piece of writing. This is often more persuasive than a synopsis, especially if writing a synopsis isn’t that writer’s strong point. The bad? To produce that polished, as-near-to-perfect-as-possible piece of writing takes time. In my case, it meant finding six months when I wasn’t committed to doing anything except working on Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe.


The new sleuth?

The new sleuth?

I’d been wanting to get back to the world I created for my Face Down series ever since the tenth entry, Face Down O’er the Border, was published back in 2007. Unfortunately, I needed to be writing books that would pay the bills and historical mysteries set in the sixteenth century were not going to do that for me. Instead, I became Kaitlyn Dunnett to write contemporary cozies. I returned to the sixteenth century, although in earlier decades, to write non-mystery historical novels as Kate Emerson. I was writing mysteries and I was writing historicals, but I was not writing historical mysteries. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, and still do enjoy writing the Liss MacCrimmon series, I had to tamp down my desire to once again write books that combined those two elements. Even finding time to write the occasional Lady Appleton short story was a challenge.  

FaceDownInTheMarrow-BonePieCover (197x300)Susanna, Lady Appleton, is an Elizabethan gentlewoman who also happens to be an expert on poisonous herbs. As the sleuth in ten mystery novels and numerous short stories (some collected in the anthology Murders and Other Confusions) she accumulated a large number of friends and relatives, many of whom appear as continuing characters in the series. Each book takes place about two years after the events in the previous one. Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie is set in 1559 when Susanna is in her mid-twenties. When the series went on hiatus, it was 1577 and, for a woman of that era, Susanna was getting on in years. I had ideas for more books, but gradually, between 2007 and 2013, most of those ended up as short stories. Susanna got older and less active.

I have nothing against older detectives, and I’m no spring chicken myself, but at some point in those six years it began to dawn on me that the way to revive the Face Down world, and make it more appealing to a publisher, would be to focus on a younger sleuth. Such a character already existed in the person of the illegitimate daughter of Susanna’s late, unlamented husband, Sir Robert Appleton. Rosamond Appleton first appears in Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross and crops up again and again in the series, featuring heavily in Face Down Beside St. Anne’s Well. She starred, with Rob Jaffrey, in the short story “Any Means Short of Murder,” in which the two of them defy convention and elope at the age of sixteen. Rob, you see, is the son of Susanna’s steward, Mark, and his wife, Susanna’s housekeeper and longtime sidekick, Jennet. Most people in the sixteenth century would consider this marriage a misalliance, especially since Rosamond, although illegitimate, is heir to a considerable fortune.

DeadlierThanThePenCover (195x300)I’ve written books of the heart before. Deadlier than the Pen was one. So was Winter Tapestry, my first attempt at historical mystery. It ended up being published as historical romance, a story for another post. So, for that matter, was Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie. As with those books, ideas for Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe wouldn’t leave me alone. The plot revolves around the very real negotiations in 1582 and 1583 to marry an English “princess” (Queen Elizabeth’s distant cousin, Mary Hastings, sister of the earl of Huntingdon) to Ivan the Terrible of Russia in order to secure trade concession for the Muscovy Company. I kept asking myself one question: what if someone wanted to sabotage those negotiations? Then all I needed was a way to get Rosamond involved, and I didn’t have far to look for that. Nick Baldwin, Susanna’s lover in the later books in the series, traveled to Muscovy and Persia as a young man. He provided the link between the Muscovy Company and Rosamond . . . especially after I sent Rob Jaffrey off to Moscow and, once I got him there, put him in jeopardy.

tapestryOne door closes and another one opens. I’ve always found that to be true. After writing six books as Kate Emerson, the demand for historical novels set at the court of Henry the Eighth was petering out. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have any brilliant ideas for another one anyway. And the urge to throw in a murder or two had been getting stronger with each one I wrote. Last spring, just about a year ago, I finished revising the Liss MacCrimmon novel that will be published as Ho-Ho-Homicide this coming October and put it aside to “rest” for a minimum of two months. It wasn’t finished, but I was fairly confident that it wouldn’t need too much more tweaking before it had to be turned in that September. I did not sign up for any conferences for the remainder of 2013, no matter how tempting their offerings. I did not agree to any signings. I discouraged visitors. And for the next six months, I concentrated on writing Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

No one saw the manuscript until it was finished and I was satisfied with it. Only then did it go to my first reader, my husband, and to a writer friend, Kelly McClymer, for feedback. After some revisions, I took a deep breath and sent an efile off to my agents, Meg Ruley and Christina Hogrebe. The good news was that they liked it. The “oh-my-God-what-do-I-do-now?” news was that they wanted to start submitting it at the beginning of the new year, less than a month away. Why the panic? Because I’d reread the manuscript myself in the interim and come up with several things I wanted to improve upon. And I knew it needed at least one more pass to find all those sneaky typos and misspellings. I had about three weeks to fix everything and this was Christmas tree season, too, when I’m supposed to be helping out in the shop.

You already know how this story comes out. I finished the revisions on time. The manuscript was offered to publishers. After several rejections, the book of my heart found a home with an editor who loves it and sees it as a series. Severn House will bring out a hardcover edition in the UK this November and the hardcover and ebook will be available in the US in the spring. The second book in the series is due January 15, 2015. I guess it’s a good thing I’ll finish major revisions on the next Liss MacCrimmon mystery later this week, because it looks like I’ll to be busy for the rest of the year writing the sequel to my book of the heart.

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What Was I Thinking?

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. And I want to tell you about my new assignment. In 20 years of writing mystery novels, it’s a first.

My new publisher, Islandport Press, has asked me to write introductions to my early books, which Islandport will begin reissuing this fall. This is a great thing, as anyone who has been in this business for a while will tell you. After a couple of decades the early books get scarce. And if you’re writing a continuing series, in this case my Jack McMorrow novels, that’s a problem. A new series book is a tougher sell if the early books are out of print.deadline

So thank you, Islandport Press. Those introductions are on the way.

But I’ve never written retrospectively about  any of my books. This assignment called for me to get them out and reread them, including time spent staring at the jacket photo of me with brown hair and a cherubic look. Okay, maybe just the brown hair.

The assignment also calls for me to try to recall writing these books more than 20 years ago, and to ask myself: what was I thinking?

I don’t know about you but I’m sort of a forward-looking writer. The next chapter. The next book. The next series, even. I don’t presume that readers have prior knowledge so I tend not to refer to earlier books in later ones. Just a matter of taste.

So not only had I not written about these early titles. I hadn’t dwelled on them of late, either.

This is a little embarrassing to admit. Sometimes I do a book talk and I look out and I see someone with a copy of the first or second book and I get a little nervous. Will they ask me about some small plot detail? Will they bring up a minor character by name? Will I be left standing there like the flummoxed kid in the spelling bee? (Could you please repeat that character’s name in a sentence?)

BLOODLINEThey say hindsight is 20-20 but only after it’s in focus. And that’s what I’ve been doing, in between writing a new book: refocusing on work I did early in my career.

I won’t keep you too long here, but a few observations:

* I don’t recall a moment where a muse visited, and the plot was revealed. I do remember deciding to start to write a novel and then refusing to give up until it was done.

* I don’t recall where the characters’ names came from, not specifically. McMorrow? I didn’t know any McMorrows when I came up with that one. I vaguely remember deciding to go with a Celtic surname. But McMorrow’s partner, Roxanne—where did that come from? Hard to say. Maybe I should have kept a journal, but hey, I was busy writing a book.

* I do recall the places that inspired the settings, wonderful towns like Rumford, Maine, a fascinating steam-belching paper mill town that provided much of my early education.

* I do recall the inspiration I got from mysteries I was reading then: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Very early Dick Francis. The first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript. I decided I had to try this myself, on the chance that some of the magic in those books would rub off.

* And— this is important for writers in the early stages of this effort— I remember that when it came to writing a book, I just plunged in. No hesitation or calculation. No consideration of markets or the hot theme of the time. Just the seed of an idea that turned into a story. We’re storytellers, after all. Nothing more.

*Lastly, I remember the thrill of getting the news that somebody wanted to publish my first book. I wasn’t crazy after all. It was a long slog but it actually worked. Many books followed but none of them replicated that moment. What a rush. Think of that, you first-time writers. That moment makes all of it worthwhile.

So back to work on my intros for DEADLINE and BLOODLINE. Writer of 2014, meet the writer of 1990. We’re not the same people or even the same writers but we’re glad to get reacquainted.

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