Voices From the Past

Jessica: Enjoying a day at the desk, listening to the rain.

One of the many pleasures of writing historical fiction is the research. And one of the things I particularly love is when I find new resources to use. Over the summer I was lucky enough to find several old souvenir postcards from Old Orchard Beach. All of them had inspirational images on their fronts that helped me to imagine life in Old Orchard during the Gilded Age. Today I thought I’d share a look at some of what inspires me as I work.


This is a postcard of Fern Park which was a scentic area in Old Orchard set away from the shoreline.


Except for the clothing styles this photo could have been taken on the beach at any time since European descendants began lounging on the sands in Old Orchard.


This was the way the shoreline with all it’s hotels looked until August 14, 1907. Before the next day was through most of the hotels pictured were burnt to the ground in the worst fire York County had seen up until that point.



The back of this one really made me feel connected to the the past in a way none of the other research I have done so far had. Most of the postcards had never been sent but this one briefly chronicled a vistor’s experience in Old Orchard just after the devastating 1907 fire broke out. The sender writes “As I stood for a moment on the piazza of the Aldine, and surveyed that beautiful stretch of sea and land, I little thought that before the midnight hour, the pretty picturesque shore would be a mass of seething, smoking ruins.”


Readers, do you collect or send postcards when you travel? Writers, what sorts of research do you do and what do you find the most inspirational?



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Weekend Update: September 17-18, 2016


One of our own Maine Crime Writers is bringing home the top prize from New Orleans Bouchercon. Congratulations Chris!


Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Jessie Crockett (Monday), Lea Wait (Tuesday), Maureen Milliken (Wednesday), Jen Blood (Thursday), and Bruce Coffin (Friday).

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

Co-authors ROGER GUAY & KATE FLORA present “A Good Man with a Dog: a Retired Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods”
Freeport Community Library
Monday, Sep. 19, 6:30 pm
Join us in welcoming Kate Flora and Roger Guay, co-authors of the April 2016 publication A Good Man with a Dog: a Retired Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods. This memior chronicles Guay’s career as a Maine game warden and certified K9 handler.

Keeping a watchful eye over the acres of wilderness that span the state, Guay spent years catching poachers, rescuing lost hikers and hunters, and even dealing with grizzlier tasks in the aftermath of violent crime. The book also looks at Guay’s years of work with dogs and the establishment K9 units throughout the game warden service.

From Kaitlyn Dunnett: Just showing off. This is the first time I’ve had an audiobook for any of my Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, and it’s on CD for those who (like me) can’t figure out how to download stuff.


I’ll be bringing copies to the New Gloucester Public Library where Lea Wait, Jen Blood and I will be speaking TODAY (September 17) at 1PM.


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

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The Big Uneasy

This has been a crazy, wonderful, nerve-wracking week for me. (Well, will have been. I’m typing this on Saturday, September 10th, for reasons which will soon become obvious.)

RRHMy fifth novel, RED RIGHT HAND, was released on Tuesday. It’s the second in my Michael Hendricks thriller series, after last year’s THE KILLING KIND. So far, folks seem to dig it. It earned stars from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and a rave from the Press Herald. Barnes & Noble named it one of their Best New Thrillers of September. And my Grandma quite enjoyed it… or so she said on Facebook. (Sidebar: only a writer could possibly be insecure enough to doubt a grandparent’s praise.)

On Thursday, travel gods willing, I flew to New Orleans for Bouchercon, where THE KILLING KIND is (was?) up for three awards: the Barry Award for Best Thriller, the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, and the Anthony Award for Best Novel.

Holm_KillingKind_PBmech.inddThe Barry and the Macavity were given out on Thursday night, so by the time you read this, I’m either elated to’ve won or honored to’ve been considered. (No, really. I’m up against some damn fine books by authors I truly admire. Much as I’d love to win, I’m just happy to be in the club.)

Tonight—not last Saturday when I wrote this post tonight, Friday when it went live tonight (keeping this post straight in my head is like trying to map out the timeline of the Terminator franchise)—the Anthony Awards will be given out, so I’m almost certainly a basket case right now (your right now, that is). Keep a good thought for me if you’re so inclined.

Oh, and on top of all that (good) stress, I’ve got a panel to moderate, another to participate in, and a wife to cheer on from the front row of her panel.

atsI’m not the only MCWer at B’con, of course. Barbara Ross, Bruce Robert Coffin, and Richard Cass are here, too (unless me writing this ahead of time jinxed them). If you’re reading this at B’con and would like to track us down, a) you can find our schedules here, and b) HOW THE HECK DID YOU CARVE OUT ENOUGH DOWNTIME TO READ A BLOG POST?!

Speaking of Bruce, I’m also not the only one who had a book come out this week. His excellent debut novel, AMONG THE SHADOWS, is now available! If you’re a fan of killer mysteries with strong Maine ties (a safe bet for readers of this blog), do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today.

Posted in Chris's Posts | 1 Comment

The Monster (Dust Bunny) Under the Bed

monster-dust-bunnyKaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, confessing one of my greatest sins—I’m a lousy housekeeper. If this wasn’t already obvious, it became blindingly apparent the other day when I decided to haul out the things stored beneath our bed as a continuation of the general weeding we began a few months ago when we were making room to install an upstairs half bath. It’s truly astonishing how many things can be put aside and forgotten just because they might “still have some good in them.” We tossed everything from ancient sweatshirts to moth-eaten blankets, to old electronics that haven’t worked for decades. But I digress.

We sleep in a nineteenth-century bed that was a wedding gift from my in-laws. It has elaborately carved head and foot boards and is much higher off the floor than most modern beds. There is lots of space underneath for storage. Our policy has been to shove it under there and forget it. Judging by the thickness of the layer of dust, it has been at least a decade, maybe more, since anything was pulled back out.


Let the treasure hunt begin.


Yes, that is what you think it is, a utilitarian piece of equipment we lovingly dubbed “the world’s largest chamber pot.” When we used to go camping in a pop-up camper, it went along. Let’s face it. No one likes to go traipsing through a wooded campground just to visit the comfort station in the middle of the night. After dusting, it went back under the bed. Yes, we have an upstairs bath now, but there are still those occasions when the power goes out, taking the pump with it. No pump, no water. It doesn’t happen often, but we can still remember the blizzard of ’98 when the entire state was without power for most of a week. We’re keeping the chamber pot.


Next up came the first of several suitcases containing old uniforms—bagpipe band, U.S. Navy, and Franklin County sheriff’s department. This first one used to be used, back when I was a kid, to hold hair rollers and clips for pin curls. Boy does that date me! Contents intact, these three suitcases went back under the bed, too.


I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled out the old green suitcase that belonged to my mother. It turned out to be a suitcase full of smaller suitcases. This was a nice set back in the day, but it’s way too heavy to lug on a trip now. These, and another suitcase-in-suitcase are going to the “share shack” at the transfer station. Maybe someone’s doing a play set in the 1980s?


Finally there was the mystery suitcase. I had a vague memory of storing it under the bed after my late mother-in-law gave it to us. I don’t even want to think about how many years ago that was. Anyway, it turns out to contain boxes of slides taken by my late brother-in-law. Some folks reading this probably don’t even know what slides are. Fortunately, since my father was also an avid photographer who left behind negatives, prints, and slides, I actually own a slide projector. We’re going to take a look at these soon, assuming the bulb in the slide projector still works. If it doesn’t, replacing it could well be my next challenge. Anyone know an easy, preferably inexpensive way to convert slides into either snapshots that can be scanned or digital photos?


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

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Beta Love

By Brenda Buchanan

There comes a time in every writer’s life when she needs to back away from the keyboard and ask for help.

For me, this moment comes when I’m so close to my story that I can’t separate myself from it. The telltale sign is when my characters show up in my dreams. At first, this nocturnal workaholism freaked me out. Now I know it’s my signal to call in my betas.

Beta readers are the indispensable people willing to read a full manuscript and give critical feedback at the point in the process when a writer cannot objectively assess her own work.

My sentiments exactly.

My sentiments exactly. Love your beta readers, that is.

Some writers work one-on-one with a series of beta readers, honing the manuscript in stages. Others have a standing writing group. Still others partner with a colleague who writes in the same genre, finding shared understanding of craft to be useful.

I’ve tried all three methods and they worked reasonably well. But with my last two books I’ve come to rely on a beta ritual I call roundtable, which supercharges me as I head down the home stretch. That said, it may not be for everyone. Like every aspect of the writing process, what works for me may not work for you.

Roundtable occurs after initial feedback from my spouse−who is my alpha reader−and separate from review by any necessary technical experts. For example, on my current project, I was lucky to have MCW’s own Bruce Coffin read the manuscript and share valuable knowledge about guns and police procedure.

In the lead-up to roundtable, I provide my beta readers with a full copy of the manuscript. Some find it easiest to mark up my prose on paper. I print out a full copy of the manuscript for them, put it in a three-ring binder and deliver it along with a sharp pencil and a pack of post-its. I email the file to those who prefer to evaluate it on the computer screen. A couple of weeks later, we meet around the big conference table in my office and my beta readers have at it.

There’s no stage of the writing process when kind words are not welcome, but the purpose of roundtable is for them to tell me what doesn’t work. How can I sharpen my characters? Give them more depth? Where have I failed to make the characters—major and minor, good guys and bad—believable, nuanced human beings? How can I create a more fully-realized setting? Where are the energetic lags, the holes in the plot, the clichés? Are there too many characters? Do they have the wrong names? Are there boring parts? If so, where? On the most fundamental level, how can I make it a better story?

With Truth Beat, the third book in my Joe Gale series, my four betas were Ann (a longtime professional editor with a serious mystery habit), Richard (a marketing expert who doesn’t read mysteries at all, but has breathtaking knowledge of popular culture), Shonna (a talented author with both fiction and non-fiction titles to her credit) and Travis (Shonna’s musician husband, who writes lyrics that make me weep with their compact brilliance). Other than Shonna and Travis, my beta readers didn’t know each other.

Before our meeting, I was hopeful but not entirely sure about the wisdom of putting myself on the hot seat and encouraging a barrage of critical feedback from this disparate group. But something told me they would click and it would work.

The hot seat

The hot seat

It turned into a synergistic spectacular. Multiple people reacting to my work at the same time yielded perspective and suggestions finer and richer than four individual critiques ever could have produced. Each beta reader started out with an individual critique, then they began to build on each other’s points, helping me to see not only what I needed to do to make Truth Beat stronger, but enthusiastically brainstorming with me how to get there.

Two nights ago the same reader foursome reconvened along with a new beta, Susan, a lawyer colleague and golf buddy who reads widely and perceptively. The five of them tackled my current project—the first book in a new series (I hope!) featuring a female criminal defense lawyer who returns to Maine and takes over her father’s practice after her hot-shot job in Boston didn’t work out.

Unlike Joe Gale, Christie Pappas and Rufe Smathers−three of the lead characters in my Joe Gale books−I’m still getting to know the characters in this new series. On Monday night every one of my betas identified my unfamiliarity with them as the manuscript’s greatest weakness.

My stories rely on strong, sure-footed characters. The betas were unanimous that with this book, I have more work to do. It was humbling, but so important to hear each of them make this essential point. What followed was a spirited conversation about the promise each character offers, and how I might go about making each as compelling as possible.

It feels good to have fresh bearings

It feels good to have fresh bearings

By the end of the roundtable I was exhilarated about returning to the keyboard. Thanks to my beta readers I have fresh bearings on my creative compass. I know where I’m headed and can’t wait to resume the journey.

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three Joe Gale books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available through Carina Press or wherever fine ebooks are sold.




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