(Not Quite) Goodbye

Before I get to today’s post, a quick note: I’ll be appearing at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick tomorrow, 10/18, at 7PM. If you’re around, stop by and say hello! Now, onto our regularly scheduled programming…

The Broadway Bridge in Arkansas was deemed too weak to stand.

That’s no surprise, I guess, since it was 93 years old and in serious need of repair. What is surprising is what happened when a demolition crew tried to bring it down last Tuesday. But why take my word for it when you can see for yourself?

As the Arkansas highway department tweeted, “that didn’t go quite as planned.”

Why did I decide to share this with you? Two reasons.

The first is that my latest novel, RED RIGHT HAND, begins with a terror attack on the Golden Gate Bridge that leaves the landmark damaged, but still standing. Obviously, that’s a potent metaphor for humankind’s resilience in the wake of such horrors, but it’s also the likeliest outcome thanks to some truly spectacular feats of engineering. (Aside: did you know the Golden Gate Bridge was designed by a Mainer? I didn’t, until someone on Twitter told me.)

The second is that this is my last post as a regular contributor to Maine Crime Writers. I’ve been circling a new project for a while now—the big, ambitious standalone I mentioned on 207—and now that I’m ready to dive in, I realize it’s going to require every ounce of focus I can muster. But, not unlike the bridge, I’m sure this ain’t the last you’ll see of me around these parts. I’ve been guest-posting here since 2012, after all, and will happily continue to until the sun burns out or you folks get sick of me, whichever comes first. (My money’s on the latter.)

Anyway, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for reading, commenting, and generally supporting Maine writers, this Maine writer included. I promise you, it means a lot to all of us. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with all things me, keep an eye on my websiteFacebook author page, and Twitter. And, of course, you can swing by the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick tomorrow night!

Since there’s nothing I like more than a viscerally satisfying ending, I should tell you that they eventually managed to tear that old bridge down. Even weakened by the explosions, it didn’t go quietly. But again, don’t take my word for it. Like their failed first attempt—and the fictitious attack on the Golden Gate in RED RIGHT HAND—someone uploaded video of it to YouTube, because of course they did.

Posted in Chris's Posts | 3 Comments

Weekend Update: October 15-16, 2016

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Chris Holm (Monday), Jessie Crockett (Tuesday), Lea Wait (Wednesday), Brenda Buchanan (Thursday), and Jen Blood (Friday).

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

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: That Goodreads giveaway for the paperback of The Scottie Barked at Midnight is still going on. It’s open until October 20. Here’s the link:


From Maureen Milliken: The digital audio version of No News is Bad News , the second in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series is now available on Audible and iTunes. It’s produced narrated by the wonderful Trudi Knoedler, who also produced and narrated Cold Hard News.

Click on the photo below to listen to an audio sample:

Click on the photo for a sample of the audio version of No News is Bad News.

Click on the photo for a sample of the audio version of No News is Bad News.

Kate Flora: The wonderful Dale Phillips did a long interview with me this week on his blog site. Curious about a writer’s long career and perhaps some dark secrets? Check it out: http://daletphillips.blogspot.com/2016/10/interview-with-kate-flora.html

From Bruce Robert Coffin: Join me as I make appearances at three libraries this week! Tuesday, October 18th at 6:30, I’ll be at the Gray Library. Thursday, October 20th at 5:30, I’ll be appearing at Westbrook’s Walker Memorial Library. And on Saturday, October 22nd at 2pm, I’ll at South Portland’s Public Library. Booksellers will be present at each event with copies of Among the Shadows. Hope to see you there!

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

Posted in Sunday Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Details to Use in Describing Characters

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, writing today about the challenges of finding just the right descriptive details to make characters, even the minor ones, distinctive for the reader. Although it is possible to write about someone without ever describing their appearance, in most cases it helps to provide a few hints. If the reader first meets a character in Chapter Two and he doesn’t appear again until Chapter Nine, it is convenient to be able to refer to “the guy with the big nose” or “the woman with the squeaky voice” to refresh the reader’s memory, rather than rehash the entire earlier encounter.

one of the great British faces

one of the great British faces

You can, of course, model a character’s physical appearance on a real person. There are some great faces out there, especially among British actors. And, at least in a contemporary setting, you can describe someone as looking like a young Judi Dench or an older version of Miley Cyrus. There are a couple of problems with that, though. You need to be certain that your readers  know who the heck you’re talking about. And, of course, the reference may end up dating your work.

A better plan is to come up with a few memorable details to describe each new character as he or she comes into the story. The difficulty comes in finding a happy medium between details that are bland—he was six feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes and an aquiline nose—and language that is way too florid. Some of the best (or worst) examples of the latter are finalists in the annual Bulwer-Litton competition for opening lines. That said, the boundary between an over-the-top description and writing that is vivid can often be a bit blurry, and it is very easy to get stuck trying to come up with the right words to describe someone, no matter how clear the writers’ mental picture of the character may be.

david-tennant-tenth-doctorNot too long ago, the Maine Romance Writers’ Facebook page posted a link to a “Master List of Facial Expressions for Writers!” Naturally, this intrigued me, so I followed the link to Bryn Donovan’s webpage. It turns out that Bryn has written an entire book, Master Lists for Writers, and published excerpts online to give folks a feel for what’s in it. I have not read the book, or all of the online lists, but what I did look at is exactly the sort of thing that writers trying to describe a new character would find useful.

What all this is leading up to is a similar share from me. Over the years, while writing both historical and contemporary novels, I came up with my own “Details to use in Describing Characters” list, arranged by an assortment of somewhat random categories. I refer to this collection of descriptive details every time I start a new book. It has saved me many a frustrating stretch of searching for just the right word. Feel free to borrow at will.



always listening


a great exercise is to find the words to describe this famous character

a great exercise is to find the words to describe this famous character



narrow shoulders

all angles

beanpole thin

newly-acquired height








bulging biceps


spindly legs

slightly bow-legged

plump ankles








slight paunch

here's another, if you don't get distracted by the cat

here’s another, if you don’t get distracted by the cat

slightly concave abdomen






lost looks to swine pox (from the 16th century novels, obviously)




full of pustules and a new quat (ditto)

pale, flawless skin

livid scar


peaches and cream





hard of hearing


mild gray


faded blue

perpetual squint




murky green

pale, watery


trough-eyed (one lower than the other)

brown so dark they appear black


deep bags under—look of a sorrowful hound



color of hazelnut shells

lynx-eyed (sharp sighted)

mud colored

beady little

wears an eye patch

publisher's way to avoid showing sleuth's face

publisher’s way to avoid showing sleuth’s face

face and facial hair:

negligible chin

broad red beard



double chins

bushy eyebrows

broad forehead


sculpted features

plump cheeks

high cheekbones

trailing mustache

wispy beard

long beard, narrowing toward chin

hollow cheeks

little tuft of a beard

cleft in chin


winged eyebrows



narrow jaw

mole on one cheek






thick as sausages


walked flat-footedly with a shuffling movement


lack of grace

slight limp






light on the feet

cover art with lots of descriptive detail

cover art with lots of descriptive detail



the color of ___




receding hairline

rich, blue-black hair that reflects sunlight







folded over slightly concave abdomen




mouth and teeth:

lips flattened in a hard line

thin, cruel

large yellow teeth


four large front teeth all the same size

pouting lips

small, perfect

missing tooth in front

blue-tinged lips

brown teeth

teeth overlap

toothy smile

small, sexy gap between two front teeth

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Is this Lady Appleton from my Face Down and Mistress Jaffrey mysteries?

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Is this Lady Appleton from my Face Down and Mistress Jaffrey mysteries?

nervous habits:


tugs on beard

drums fingers on ___

clenches and unclenches hands

pleats fabric



broken veins in


beak of a

bump on the bridge from a break

large, slightly flattened



or is this Lady Appleton? (same artist, by the way, the talented Linda Weatherly S.

or is this Lady Appleton? (same artist, by the way, the talented Linda Weatherly S.


musky perfume

scent of lavender

old socks

scented kitty litter

voice and diction:


nasal whine



slow, measured speech

repeats everything twice

hoarse smoker’s


deep baritone

clipped speech

lazy drawl

careful of words


And there you have it. Kathy/Kaitlyn’s little list. They may all be things you’d think of anyway, but sometimes having a quick reference written down can be a life saver. Happy Writing, Everyone!


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



Posted in Kaitlyn's Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Saying Goodbye to Mister Roger

John Clark here to share some memories of good times I had with a friend who left us last week.

Coming round for the first time at Louden

Coming round for the first time at Loudon

I’ve never had an abundance of friends, well close ones anyway. It never seemed to work out for more than two or three people at any given time. When we moved from Chelsea to Hartland, one of my major concerns was losing my long time support system in the recovery community. After all, I’d been going to meetings in the same area for 23 years. My friend Loyd and I had alternated as coffee makers for the Sunday night Coopers Mills meeting for over ten years and separating from that security and stability was unsettling.

Luckily the meeting closest to our new home was at the same time and on the same night, not to mention less than a mile away as compared to the nine mile drive each way to Coopers Mills. Even so, I was antsy going down those stairs at the Grace Linn Methodist Church for the first time. I had no reason to worry. The same group was sitting around a table. They just looked different and talked a bit different. Roger was one of them and the first to stick out his hand to welcome me.

It wasn’t long before we began to spend time together outside meetings. We both liked fishing and Roger was happy hop in my truck and direct me to some of his favorite places to fool trout. In the process, I learned a lot about his life. He’d lost his left eye in a sledding accident when he was young and struggled with self-esteem and school during his teen years as a result. Like me, he’d discovered the subtle allure of alcohol to mask insecurity and fear. And, like me, it had seduced him before biting him in the butt big time.

He described himself as a retread, having been in and out of AA twice before hitting the bottom that landed him in rehab and then the Hope House. That did the trick and earlier this year Roger celebrated 29 years of continuous sobriety. He and I fell into a similar pattern to the one Loyd and I had down state. We alternated opening up the Sunday meeting and over time, I figure between us, we made more than 600 gallons of coffee.

In addition to being fishermen, we also were fanatic Red Sox and Pats fans, listening to games at times, watching them on his TV at others. I was a latecomer to NASCAR, while Roger was a lifelong fan. When Coke offered free tickets to Loudon two years in a row, I drove us down and it was a tossup as to who had a better time. If you’ve never attended a live race, you have no idea how much of a rush it is when 40 supercharged engines fire up simultaneously. Roger also had a fairly unusual hobby. He collected salt and pepper shakers, so many in fact, they dominated his living room. Perhaps a more surprising fact was that he was an accomplished archer, quite an impressive feat when you’re missing an eye.

Roger checking out the crowd at Loudon.

Roger checking out the crowd at Loudon.

As time went on, Roger’s health got worse. His heart began failing and years of smoking (he’d quit by the time I met him) had resulted in emphysema. The combination began robbing him of very important things. Roger was an avid golfer, often playing every weekend during the summer with Mickey and Marie or with Michael and Debbie. It was an emotional blow when he could no longer muster the stamina to play. Even harder for Roger was the loss of his drivers license for medical reasons. However, Roger had more than turned his life around in sobriety, he had become a doer of good deeds and kindnesses. When he needed those acts repaid, there was an army of friends there to chauffeur him or assist with navigating the healthcare system.

He lived in a subsidized apartment complex just up the road from us in an apartment across the hall from his stepdad, Jack Woodbury. I got to know Jack through Roger and wrote a couple newspaper articles about Jack’s long career in music.

Even when Roger’s health declined, his attitude remained positive and he was comfortable letting his family and friends know that he was okay with what was coming. I’d call every Tuesday and ask whether he was up for going to the Canaan Bog meeting. If he wasn’t we both knew it was okay and we’d had a mini-meeting over the phone.

When I got the call from Jack, I was sad, but not surprised. He told me Roger died doing what he liked best, helping someone else. He was carrying a bag of groceries in from Jack’s car, sat on the steps to take a breather and left this earth. His step-brother, the pastor at the Jubilee Worship Center in Newport did the funeral and it was both funny and memorable because he’d known Roger when he was still a holy terror, complete with eye patch.


We thought Danica might come home with us, but it didn’t work out

I’ll miss my friend, but smile on my way to Canaan every Tuesday evening as I remember all the good times we shared. Goodbye Mr. Roger.

Posted in John Clark | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Male Partnering in the Birth Experience (Or, You Can’t Fire the Coach, No Matter How Big a Dufus He Is)

Since a previous post about preparing for parenthood was received well, here is another chapter from my tongue-in-cheek guide to parenting called How to Raise the Perfect Child, Or At Least Lie About It. Thanks for indulging me as I take a brief respite from the murder and mayhem of writing thrillers to luxuriate in the humor and mayhem of parenting.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think this deserves its own whole chapter.

When my cousin and his wife were taking Lamaze classes for the first time, the instructor gave the soon to be mothers an important piece of advice at the outset: you can’t fire the coach. Left unsaid was the remainder of her sentence: no matter how big a dufus he is.

Coaching is the generally accepted term for the soon to be father’s role in delivery. He’s supposed to guide his wife through the process, letting her know what’s coming, praising her and just generally being a supportive, loving and caring force for her during this difficult, yet triumphant and empowering, experience.


When I think of coaching, I think of Vince Lombardi prowling the sidelines at frozen Lambeau Field. A master tactician. Making all the right moves. In control of everything. Marching the Packers on to victory. That certainly wasn’t my role in the birthing process.

I wasn’t the coach. I wasn’t even the assistant coach. I was the coach’s sister’s idiot son, sitting on the end of the bench. A senior who never had and never would see a minute of playing time and whose biggest athletic attribute was the ability to separate the home from away uniforms. I wasn’t in control of anything. At best, every now and then, I could contribute a feeble “Go team” from the sidelines.

When my wife and I were in Lamaze for the first time, our instructor showed us a video of what the husband should do in the delivery room. Maybe you’ve seen this video. There is a lovely red-haired woman sitting in a rocking chair, slowly rocking back and forth. She’s enraptured. She smiles constantly. In fact, she smiles through the entire delivery. I thought it was a commercial for Crest. Either that or she was an Osmond.

Now, the only inkling you get that she is, in fact, in labor is that every once in a great while she sucks in a small amount of air and then lets it out slowly. This woman goes through the entire labor without once swearing, crying or even mussing her hair. She spends most of it cross-stitching. Now I won’t say that my wife feels that that woman misled her about childbirth, but if you hold your screen close to your ear, you can still hear her swearing. Just keep this away from the kids.

Perfect, unruffled woman was not alone, however. By her side was perfect, supportive man. Her husband knew precisely what to say and when to say it. He knew when to remain quiet. He was calm and reassuring. And I’m pretty sure he was reading from a script, because I certainly don’t know any guy that facile. Most of us are like the second guy in the video: the just shut up guy. This guy couldn’t do anything right. The entire delivery was one long monotone: you’redoingfineyou’redoingfineyou’redoingfine. All the women in our class cheered when, after the delivery was finished, his wife looked at the camera and said: “I wanted to tell him to just shut up.” All the men in our class glanced apprehensively at each other. We knew. We were going to be the just shut up guy.

Some of my friends made the just shut up guy look good. One friend, seeing his wife in greater pain than ever before in her life, decided the moment needed a little levity. He broke in a new stand-up routine. As she writhed in pain, trying to bring his first child into the world, he did his best Jerry Seinfeld impersonation. For their second child, this friend abandoned stand-up for a career in sports broadcasting. He did play-by-play on the telephone to his parents for the entire delivery. “And the doctor hands the baby to the nurse. It’s an end-around. Oh no! Fumble!” His stitches will come out soon.

Another friend had it even worse. Now, most guys picture themselves Rambo-tough. The kind of guy who would never become squeamish at the sight of blood or anything, to use the scientific term, gooky. And this friend is a pretty tough guy. Unfortunately, not on this day. As he’s standing next to his wife, holding her hand, trying to be supportive, suddenly the room starts to get a little wavy. Being a tough guy, he doesn’t want to say anything, but that room keeps getting wavier. He lets go of his wife’s hand, who by the way is being of no assistance to him, and wipes his forehead when suddenly the instrument tray lunges against him and crashes to the floor, scattering the instruments around the room. Then the monitor smacks into him. Just trying to be polite and get out of the way, he backs into the wall and triggers some alarm. Seeing no graceful way out, he faints dead away. He wakes up on a gurney in the delivery room next to his wife’s gurney. His stitches come out soon, as well.

Another one of our friends took the complete opposite tact from the fainter. He LOVED the delivery. Not five minutes after his wife, battling dangerously high blood pressure, delivered his first child at great personal risk, our friend turned to his wife and, with a smile on his lips and love in his heart, proclaimed: “THIS WAS GREAT! LET’S DO IT AGAIN!” I don’t think his stitches will ever come out.

Now I was sure that I was ready for a starring role as coach. I had read how to be a good coach. The book said to bring a tennis ball to massage my wife’s back, so I did. The book said to bring a book to read to distract her from the pain, so I did. None of these ever left the overnight bag.

Instead, with our son, Morgan, my job was to watch the pain monitor. Unsure what the appropriate term for this was, I called it the “Holy Mother” box. As in “Holy Mother of God, a big one’s coming!” The nurse turned the monitor away from Erica and explained that the thin line tracking across the screen would show the strength of the contraction she was having, the one she just had, and the one coming. That placed me in a bit of a moral dilemma. I felt like Keith Jackson on the Weather Channel during tornado season: You think that one was bad, wait until you get a load of the next one coming. Whoa Nelly!

I struck a compromise with myself. I would tell her about every third contraction. The others I would swear the machine didn’t show. It led to priceless conversations like:

My wife: Arggghhhhhh! Is it almost over?
Me: (glancing nervously at the pain monitor): Ah, yes?
My wife: Seriously. Just tell me. Is it almost over?
Me: (a little more definite now) Yes.
My wife: Are you lying?
Me: (turning machine farther away from her) Absolutely not.
My wife: (next wave hits) ARGGH! BASTARD!

With our first daughter (second child), I was demoted. I was still on the sidelines, but I was primarily the student trainer who walks the injured athlete back and forth. That was my job. Walk my wife up one hallway, then down the second. Then back to the first. Then, oh heck, let’s see that second one again. For approximately six hours, my wife and I walked up and down these two hallways. After the first hour, I stopped asking her how she felt every two minutes and concentrated on not being the Just Shut Up Guy.

Then, suddenly, the Head Coach decided it was time my wife joined the game. Within twenty minutes, my wife shot from four centimeters to full dilation. We raced for the delivery room. More accurately, my wife proceeded at full waddle while I buzzed around her like some hopped-up mosquito. The nurse told Erica that the doctor hadn’t expected her to progress so rapidly, but would be in our room in “two minutes.” In her best Clint Eastwood impression, Erica informed the nurse that the doctor’s two minutes were up. At that point, I hid under the gurney.

When the doctor arrived, I figured it might be safe to crawl out from under the gurney, because, at that particular moment, my wife hated him even more than me. Just the sound of his voice ticked her off. “Push?” I offered meekly. “I can’t, it hurts,” she panted. “Erica…” the doctor began. “YAAARGHHHH!” she responded. Two pushes later, our daughter shot into this world. It’s a good thing the doctor had his catcher’s mitt on, or Shannon would have ricocheted around that room like a pinball.

I congratulated everyone on playing a good game, but, I have to admit, I had a few misgivings. While I was no longer the Just Shut Up Guy, I had become the Were You in the Room Guy. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Things didn’t improve with the birth of our second daughter, Maura (third child, for those of you still counting). I wasn’t even the student trainer any longer. I was the star athlete’s groupie friend, hanging out in the hot tub and trying to score drugs for the star from anyone and everyone. Erica’s mother took her up and down the hallways to “walk it off” while I played with the buttons on the hospital bed. They gave my “Holy Mother” monitor to a nurse; like she would know what to do with it. Basically, I spent the game parked in Row ZZZ.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. By the third time, Erica was no longer a rookie. She knew what she was doing, and didn’t need the coach. It’s just the state of the game these days. No one listens to their coaches anymore.

Given recent history though, that might not be a bad thing.


Posted in Brendan's Posts, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 9 Comments