Have I Been Looking At Things Backwards?

BLACK ORCHID PosterVaughn Hardacker here: In 2002 I realized that there was more to writing than just sitting down and putting words onto a page. I had to learn the craft. One of the first things I learned was that every story, whether it a mystery/crime story, a romance, or even a children’s story must have as a bare minimum, two characters: a protagonist and an antagonist. I set out developing two characters for my first Houston/Bouchard novel, SNIPER. I started with my hero, AKA the protagonist, Michael Houston and then my villain, the antagonist.

In an effort to refresh my knowledge of the craft, I started reading DRAMATICA: A New Theory of Story by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley (available at dramatica.com). The one thing that immediately struck me was in their discussion on characters, they maintain that in any story there are several distinct types of characters: the main character, the protagonist, and the antagonist. They define each as:

Main Character: The player through whom the audience experiences the story first hand.

Protagonist: The prime mover of the plot.

Antagonist: The character diametrically opposed to the protagonist.

In many stories, the hero is a combination of main character and protagonist. When taken in the context of the definitions above it is possible to argue that in most cases (especially in mystery and crime/thriller fiction) the villain better fits the definition of the protagonist. It is the villain, not the so-called hero, who is the prime mover of the plot (this is possibly more likely in the thriller genre). It is the villain who acts first forcing, for one reason or another, the hero to react. Throughout much of the story it is the actions of the villain that are the prime movers of the plot.

A couple of examples:

In Bram Stoker’s classic romantic tale of horror, Dracula, it is the villain, Count Dracula who is the prime mover of the plot, not the hero, Doctor van Helsing. Dracula moves, van Helsing reacts.

In every James Bond thriller it is the villain (Dr. No, Ernst Stravo Blofeld, etc.) who acts first and Bond who reacts.

In each of the cases above, I would argue that it is the villain who is the true protagonist and the antagonist is the main character or the hero. Who in your story is the protagonist; who is your antagonist; and who is your main character?


Vaughn C. Hardacker’s latest thriller, BLACK ORCHID, was released by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. in March 2016. Skyhorse has also placed is fourth thriller, WENDIGO, under contract. He lives in SAtcokholm, ME where he is currently working on several new projects.

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Weekend Update: April 23-24, 2016

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Vaughn Hardacker (Monday), Jen Blood (Tuesday), Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett (Wednesday), Jessie Crockett (Thursday), and John Clark (Friday).

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

Lea Wait: Thursday evening, April 28, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. my husband Bob (with his paintings) and I (with my books and antique prints) will be at The Bee’s Knees (617 Colonial Avenue) in Norfolk, Virginia, talking about — what else? Painting and Writing. Hope to see some of you there! Then I’m heading to Bethesda, Maryland, to Malice Domestic, where Kathy Lynn Emerson, Barbara Ross and I will be on the “Murder in New England” panel Saturday afternoon April 30 at 2 p.m.
Maureen Milliken. I’ll be speaking about Journalism & Writing from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, at the Belgrade Public Library, 124 Depot Road, in Belgrade. There will be light refreshments!

Exciting week!


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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No Bystander Effect Here

By Brenda Buchanan

The April 10 headline yanked me into the story.

‘No hesitation’ as Maine man rescues mother, 2 kids from sinking car.

The heroes were a 60ish couple from Steuben, Leonard and Rosemary Wallace, who were doing a little early-season trout fishing at Fox Pond in Township 10 when a car went airborne at a sharp curve in Route 182 and wound up in the 48 degree water.

The car, underwater in Fox Pond

The car, underwater in Fox Pond

The vehicle missed the Wallaces by maybe a foot. Despite the close call they sprang into action. Leonard waded in until the pond reached his armpits, wrenched open the car’s rear door and somehow managed to free both children and their mother. He handed the kids off to his wife, who attempted to flag down passing motorists while struggling to get a 911 call to go through in a virtual cell phone dead zone. When no one stopped to assist, she fired up their Grand Am and dug out some blankets to keep the freezing family and her adrenaline-fueled husband warm until an ambulance arrived.

Rosemary and Leonard Wallace next to the pond where they saved three lives

Rosemary and Leonard Wallace next to the pond where they saved three lives

The story got top billing in the media for several days, as did the unfortunate follow-up news that the mother—who was on her way home from getting treatment for her drug addiction—had been drinking. The Wallaces have since been honored by the Maine Legislature. The children were taken from their mother’s custody by the Department of Health and Human Services. I hope she gets the help she needs, which can be a complicated proposition, especially in Maine’s rural reaches.

Ten days later, I remain moved by the selfless heroism of the Wallaces. If I’d been sitting on that embankment that day, would I have dropped my fishing pole and jumped in after the sinking car? I’d like to think so, but until tested, who can say for sure?

Less than two weeks before the Black Woods Road incident I’d been pondering the same question from a different perspective.

Winston Moseley, the psychopathic serial killer convicted of the 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York, died on March 28. Moseley’s obituary recounted that numerous neighbors heard the middle-of-the-night assault but ignored the victim’s screams. That horrific part of the story didn’t become known until weeks later when the New York Times ran a sensational follow-up piece claiming 38 witnesses had turned their backs. That number later was found to have been exaggerated, but the fact remained that plenty of people heard and disregarded Kitty Genovese’s cries, a phenomenon that came to be dubbed “the bystander effect.”

In my books and those by some of my colleagues on this blog, non-cop characters tend to be more like the Wallaces and less like Kitty Genovese’s neighbors. When bad things happen, they dive right in.

Barbara Ross’s protagonist Julia Snowden doesn’t hesitate to get involved when trouble comes to Busman’s Harbor. Maureen Milliken’s Bernie O’Dea considers it her mission in life to wade into controversy and crime.  Lea Wait’s Angie Curtis deserves a badge of her own for her crime-solving ways, and Dick Cass’s Elder Darrow (what a great character name, eh?) doesn’t let his troubled past deter him from investigating stuff the cops ignore. (Chris Holm, who delights in breaking rules, writes a protagonist who is neither cop nor crime-solver. His Michael Hendricks is a big-time crime-committer, albeit with a moral center.)

My newspaper reporter protagonist Joe Gale’s vigorous journalistic style inevitably pisses people off, which brings me back to the Maine road where Leonard and Rosemary Wallace saved three lives this month. Readers of this blog who’ve read Cover Story, the second Joe Gale novel, will know Route 182 by its local name—the Black Woods Road.

The Black Woods Road, which winds between Franklin and Cherryfield

The Black Woods Road, which winds between Franklin and Cherryfield

In Cover Story, Joe Gale finds himself in big trouble on Route 182 during a January blizzard. With a fearsome antagonist riding his tail Joe skids around sharp curves in near-whiteout conditions—past the very spot where the young mother’s car flew into Fox Pond earlier this month—in a desperate effort to make it through the Black Woods alive.

After this month’s drama, I’ll never drive that road again without thinking of the courageous actions of Leonard and Rosemary Wallace, who saved a troubled Mom and her two babies from a tragic ending, a story Joe Gale and every real-life reporter in Maine would have shuddered to write.

Brenda Buchanan’s Joe Gale mysteries feature an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. The first three Joe Gale books—Quick Pivot, Cover Story and Truth Beat—are available in digital format wherever ebooks are sold. Brenda can be found on the web at www.brendabuchananwrites.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BrendaBuchananAuthor and on Twitter at @buchananbrenda



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Writing What I Know … My Home’s History

Lea Wait, here. Stories of the past speak to me. Historical novels have always been among my favorites, and I write books set in nineteenth century Maine for ages eight and up in addition to my two mystery series, many of which have slices of history included, either as backstory or as clues to the solutions of murders today.

Photo Postcard of my home from 1900

Photo Postcard of my home from 1900

What you may not know is that several of my books have direct connections to the history of the house I live in.

My home was built on an island in Maine in 1774 as a home for a Captain Decker and his wife and daughter. After the captain’s death his son-in-law, Captain Stephen Clough,  bought the home, and lived there with his wife, his five children, and his mother-in-law. (In those days women couldn’t inherit property. But that’s another story!) Because of Jefferson’s Embargo, many captains, including Clough, lost their jobs. The house was left empty for a number of years as the family moved north in search of other ways to make a living. In the 1830s the house was briefly owned by a man who moved it (legends say twenty-yoke of oxen pulled it across the frozen river and up a steep hill) to the mainland. Shortly after that it was bought, in turn, by three different captains (all brothers), one of whom was a widower who married one of Stephen Clough’s granddaughters, bringing the house back into the original family. My family bought it in 1955.

So — what has that history to do with my books?

Sally Clough, the young sixteen-year-old bride in my Stopping to Home (1806), was the oldest child of my house’s second owner.Stopping to Home

Reverend Adams, in Wintering Well (1819-1820), was the husband of one of Sally’s nieces.

Lea's Kitchen Fireplace

Lea’s Kitchen Fireplace

In Shadows on the Coast of Maine I tell the story of a house moved from an island to the mainland, and the original fireplace closed to make way for a modern stove. In the book my characters open that old fireplace and find … well, you’d have to read the book.  But my mother and grandmother and I opened the wall in our kitchen and found … a lot of dirt, and the original crane in the fireplace.

In Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine I write more about the people who lived in this house; how they kept warm in the winter, and how the rooms in their house and ell and barn were used in the past.

THREADAnd in my most recent book, Thread and Gone, one of my main characters is a descendant of Captain Stephen Clough … and the mystery involves Clough’s involvement in trying to save Marie Antoinette, or other royalists, during the French Revolution. My historical notes explain what happened. My plot adds a few twists to the history.

Are there more stories to be told connected to my home? Quite possibly. In (almost) two hundred and fifty years, a house hold many secrets and tells many tales. And a writer often writes about what she knows. Or imagines.

Lea Wait writes the Shadows Antique Mystery series and the Mainely Needlepoint series, and historical novels for ages eight and up set in nineteenth century Maine. For more information about her books, see her website. 

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Novel Architecture


I suppose this is one way to pray for inspiration.

Chris Holm here. Though Library Week has officially passed, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the role libraries played in making me who I am. Money was tight when I was young, and my love of books hit early and hard. As a consequence, libraries were how I kept my brain (and soul) fed. I doubt I’d be a writer today if it weren’t for them, and the wonderful people (librarians, volunteers, readers, and writers) who populate them.


I’d like to buy a vowel.

That’s why I’m always delighted to give back whenever I can. Library events are among my favorites in this business, because they always feel a bit like coming home. Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to read at the Portland Public Library. (Thanks to everybody who came out!) I’ve got three library events scheduled for the coming months. A couple more I’m still firming up. (Check the Appearances section of my website’s sidebar if you’re interested in attending any.) And if you’re a librarian within reasonable driving distance of Portland, I’m always looking to add more.


G’night. Sleep tight.

Since we’re on the topic of wondrous places that feed both brain and soul, I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite local haunts: Portland Architectural Salvage.

Don’t let the name fool you. This ain’t some bland home-improvement center. What it is is a ramshackle, four-story maze made entirely of writing prompts. Creepy statuary? Check. Stained glass recovered from Masonic temples? Check. Terrifying demon masks that will haunt your dreams for years to come? SO VERY CHECK.

I go whenever I feel like I need to recharge my creative batteries. After a few hours spent wandering around, I always come home brimming with ideas. Pictures, too—including every photo in this post, and dozens more besides.


My wife’s seen too many horror movies to let me buy this.

Understand, I’m not affiliated with Portland Architectural Salvage in any way. In fact, I’m probably the sort of customer that drives them bonkers, because I rarely buy anything. (Turns out, stone lions from Tuscany are expensive.) But if your writing needs a jolt, I highly recommend you check them out. You can also like them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram if you want to inject a little mystery and intrigue into your social media feeds. Who knows? You might even get a story out of it.

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