Susan Vaughan here. This post will complete my summer vacation travelogue of Rhine mysteries. Why are there so many castles along the Rhine?

Marksburg Castle

The morning of day four of our river journey, we went to Braubach and toured Marksburg Castle, the only Medieval castle on the Rhine to have survived intact. The oldest section, the inner keep, dates from about 1200. The great hall and the kitchen contain some of the original furnishings.

bBraubach11 - castle kitchen

In the afternoon, we cruised on upriver. Seen from a cruise ship’s deck, the Middle Rhine seems like a journey through history.

cMidRhine14 - Town, castle

In rapid succession, we gawped at a pageant of vineyards, walled towns, and hills topped with castles.

cMidRhine25 - Town, vineyard, castle

The ship’s program director announced their names, along with tidbits of history. Even though I still have the map and my photos, I cannot say for sure which castle is which. Ones I remember were the Sterrenberg and Liebenstein castles, owned by brothers who hated each other, so the pair were called the Hostile Brothers.

cMidRhine24 - Two castles

Thurnburg, or Burg Maus (Mouse Castle), gets its nickname for its diminutive size compared to Neu-Katzenelnbogen, or Burg Katz (Cat Castle). I can’t guarantee my photos match those names. Most of the many castles we saw were ruins, some only a tower and others a few walls.

cMidRhine35 - Castle

Centuries of European wars and wars between rival nobles burned the wood and tumbled the stone. My binoculars picked out some potted geraniums and patio umbrellas, where enterprising contemporary owners had turned semi-ruins into B&Bs or restaurants.

cMidRhine17 - Castle

The Lorelei is not a castle, but a fabled cliff which towers over a bend in the river, narrow at this point to 350 feet. Tricky currents and rocks spelled disaster to many ships and inspired German poets to invent the “Legend of the Lorelei,” which told of a beautiful girl whose seductive song lured mariners to their doom. A statue of her commemorates the legend.

cMidRhine21 - Lorelei statue

So why all these castles, which by my count number at least 20 in about 40 miles? Kings had their royal palaces, but many other nobles built castles and fortresses along the Rhine in order to defend their lands and enrich themselves. Along this narrow stretch of river, with steep hillsides blocking the wind, ships often couldn’t sail without help from land—animals pulling them along on tow paths. Knights and barons could fire cannons down on ships and demand taxes or cargo for safe passage. The origin of the term “robber baron.” So there you have the answer.

*** My newest release is a box set of the Task Force Eagle trilogy for your Kindle, price reduced August 26-30. You can find excerpts and buy links at

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Meet Bette Stevens

John Clark sharing an interview with fellow Hartland author (and member of the library book discussion group), Bette Stevens.

Author BAS Blue text

1-Tell me about growing up–where, what authors influenced you, what are some of your strongest/most vivid memories from childhood?

I grew up in California (the early years) and later New York State. Our home was filled with books, magazines, pencils, crayons and water color paint and Mama had me reading, writing and drawing before I entered kindergarten. Fairy tales and Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes were among my early favorites. As the eldest of five children, I had a great deal of responsibility at home once babies started arriving (I was five). I was fortunate to spend several weeks each summer with my grandmother who taught me how to sew, knit, crochet, tat lace, make jewelry and create wood fiber flowers. Grandma regaled me with her stories of growing up in ‘the good old days’ when horse and carriage was the transportation norm and blizzards left snow drifts taller than two story houses. By middle school, I discovered Thyra Ferra Bjorn’s books at the local library, where I whiled away treasured quiet time with new friends (characters from Bjorn’s novels are a Swedish immigrant couple and their family). Papa’s Daughter was my first read from the series. I was hooked on historical fiction that helped me learn more about my family roots.

2-Coming to Maine, how did that happen?

The year was 1973—the year of the great oil crisis, when New Yorkers sat among the millions of Americans who were literally ‘sitting in line’ behind steering wheels on odd or even days, waiting to fill up their gas guzzlers. That was enough to make Dan and I put our home in Upstate New York on the market and head up to the land of “The Way Life Should Be,” where we’d been vacationing (tenting) for nearly a decade.

We already owned a parcel of land in Southern Maine. My husband’s maternal ancestors had been Mainers before Maine was a legitimate entity. Here’s the lineage link via Wikipedia: Simon Bradstreet, (baptized March 18, 1603/4[1] – March 27, 1697) was a colonial magistrate, businessman, diplomat, and the last governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Arriving in Massachusetts on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, Bradstreet was almost constantly involved in the politics of the colony but became its governor only in 1679. He served on diplomatic missions and as agent to the crown in London, and also served as a commissioner to the New England Confederation. He was politically comparatively moderate, arguing minority positions in favor of freedom of speech and for accommodation of the demands of King Charles II following his restoration to the throne.

The Bradstreet family farmstead burnt over in the 1947 fire—a forty-acre plot where we built a home without a mortgage (that took nearly ten years to complete) when we set out as part of the ‘back-to-the-landers’ movement. We raised sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs and a variety of other critters and plowed ten acres for pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. The girls were six and three when we ‘landed’ and we’re proud to say that we’ve been Maine land owners ever since.

3-What did you take away from your teaching career that influenced you as a writer?

Actually, teaching was a second career. The first was in business where writing, editing and desktop publishing kept me on my writer’s toes until 1994 when I left to earn a B.S. in Education from University of Maine Orono. I volunteered in local schools for several years and saw a need that I wanted to fill. Teaching for eight years (1997-2005) was a dream job. I believe that teachers have the privilege and the opportunity to read and write on a daily basis and also to inspire kids to enjoy reading and writing. Those are among the things I want my children and young adult books to accomplish. I also hope that they’ll inspire readers to be the best they can be and to help others to do the same.

4-How did you become a writer?

Writing began during our ‘back-to-the land’ farm days in the 1970s and ’80s.

Inspired by nature and human nature, I enjoyed writing nugget poems and short stories for the family back then. In the business world of the 1980s and ’90s, I interviewed fellow employees and wrote human interest articles for the company’s twelve-page company newsletter. I was also editor and desktop publisher for the publication that reached more than 1,500 families. By the mid-1990s, I was an undergrad at UMO, where I mentored peers at the Writing Center and had two of my articles published in ECHOES Magazine.

By 1996, the first edition of THE TANGRAM ZOO AND WORD PUZZLES TOO! was published by Windswept House Publishing in Mt. Desert, Maine. In 1997, I wrote the first draft of AMAZING MATILDA, A Monarch’s Tale and used it as a teaching tool for my students. By the time I retired from teaching in 2005, I decided it was time to publish AMAZING MATILDA and publish a second edition of THE TANGRAM ZOO. Of course, I had to learn how to draw on the computer for THE ZOO and complete the pen and water color artwork for AMAZING MATILDA which took about six months.

I invite you to visit my website/blog at to find out more about my books and my blog, read some of my poetry and download some free stuff too. You can sign up for my (approximate/bimonthly) email updates (right hand column) to get pre-released stories/news, photos and find out when my eBooks are free/discounted on Amazon.

Bette and her books

Bette and her books

5-What have you written and what were the things that influenced them?

THE TANGRAM ZOO AND WORD PUZZLES TOO! is a hands-on activity book and a great resource for home or school that teaches and reinforces math, reading and writing skills.

AMAZING MATILDA—an award-winning picture book for children ages 5-10—follows the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and teaches kids, not only science, but life lessons about bullying, friendship, patience and persistence. As a writer, I advocate for monarch butterflies, a threatened species and for children and families, both on my blog and through my books.

PURE TRASH is a 1950s short story prequel to my soon-to-be-released debut novel—DOG BONE SOUP, A Boomer’s Journey. I wrote PURE TRASH as a short story for the YA/Adult audience to highlight the plight of a poor boy growing up rural New England. I believe the story is as relevant today as it would have been back then.

6-How have your books been received?

I’ve received a great deal of positive feedback from readers around the globe. Some of it is the form of book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Writer blogs. Kids love AMAZING MATILDA and I thoroughly enjoy visiting local classrooms, libraries, businesses and homes to read and discuss MATILDA’S story. There’s nothing that compares to watching and listening to my wide-eyed young friends!

7-What are you working on now?

My first novel:

DOG BONE SOUP, A Boomer’s Journey by Bette A. Stevens


Onion sandwiches and dog bone soup…
Shawn Daniels is leaving it all behind!

Boomers call them ‘The Good Old Days’—the 1950s and ’60s, when America was flying high. An era when the ‘All American Family’ lived a life filled with hopes and dreams come true.

Shawn Daniels isn’t your typical American boomer boy. No, Shawn is a poor boy. His father is the town drunk. Shawn’s family has no indoor plumbing or running water, but they do have a TV. After all, Dad (an alcoholic) deserves the rewards of his labor; while Shawn and his brother Willie keep the firewood cut and stacked, haul in water for cooking and cleaning, weed the gardens and shovel the snow. But when chores are done, these two resourceful boys discover boundless pursuits that are downright entertaining—and they don’t cost a dime.

On a bitter New England day in 1964, Shawn is on his way to boot camp to soak up the southern sun and strike out on a new adventure—one where it’s possible to make his hopes and dreams come true. Find out where this Boomer has been and where he’s going in DOGBONE SOUP: A Boomer’s Journey.

8-Has living in Hartland had any effect on you as a writer?

Being a writer inspired by nature and human nature, I’ve written several poems about nature since moving to Hartland and, yes, I’ve met lots of people. So, no matter where I go, there will always be poems to pen and stories that need to be told.

9-Best/worst experience as a writer?

Best? There is nothing that compares to getting that first copy of any book (proof or final). To this writer, holding it in my hands is worth a million bucks!

Worst? Reading a review by someone who doesn’t like my book, but even that has it’s upside—learning how to improve my writing.

Here's lookin' at ya kid.

Here’s lookin’ at ya kid.

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Breathing Space

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, musing today about the most useful trick I’ve learned in over thirty years of writing novels—giving myself breathing space between drafts. Deadlines being what they are, this isn’t always possible, but whenever I can manage it, I like to set aside the first complete draft of any work in progress for at least a month. That way, when I go back to it, I have some perspective. I can be objective about what needs fixing. I’ll have had time to find answers to those pesky research questions I didn’t anticipate and for my subconscious to come up with solutions for troublesome plot points. I try to take longish breaks between each revision, too. To accomplish this, I pretend that each project is due several months ahead of the actual due date. This isn’t always easy to do, but I have a good reason to try.

original cover

original cover

Back when I was writing historical romance as Kathy Lynn Emerson for the now defunct Harper Monogram line of paperback originals, I was offered a three book contract. Great, you say, but what was not so great was that the senior editor wanted the second story I’d proposed ahead of the other two and she wanted it in three months. I’d already started writing the first story. Finishing that one wouldn’t have been a problem. But the second novel I’d proposed, Firebrand, existed only as a title and a one-page synopsis—a very vague synopsis. The hook was something along the lines of “Today she’d be called a psychic. In 17th century New England the word was witch.” Never attempt to go from 300 words to 100,000 words in ninety days! Oh, I made my deadline, but I had a stress headache for almost that entire stretch. More than anything else, that convinced me that it is far better to incorporate lots of breathing space into the writing process . . . and not only because it will result in a better book.

e-book cover

e-book cover

Nowadays, having learned my lesson, I try to plan well ahead. When everything goes smoothly, this allows me to continue to write two or more books a year. While I work on project one, project two is “resting” and vice versa. In very rough terms, for just about anything I write under any name I need about a month for research and figuring out where to start, another three months or so to complete a rough draft (with several trips back to the beginning to revise and reorganize), three to four weeks for a complete read through/revision of the rough draft, and one to two weeks for a “final” revision that usually doesn’t end up being all that final, since there always seems to be tweaking that needs doing.

scottidogIn the breaks between those steps in project one, I work on project two. Most recently, I’ve been alternating between revising Kaitlyn’s 9th Liss MacCrimmon mystery, tentatively titled The Scottie Barked at Midnight and due September 1st, and working on the rough draft of the second Mistress Jaffrey Mystery (w/a Kathy), due January 15th. When I can, I take a break from both to add to my online opus, A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, or dig out one of the many projects I’ve started and abandoned over the years. A contemporary short story is the current “back-burner project”—a manuscript that isn’t going to sell in its present form but still has potential. As with the novels, if I let enough time pass before I take another look at that story, I may just think of an absolutely brilliant way to revise it.

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe coverOf course, there is one caveat. Interruptions are bound to occur in even the most carefully planned writing schedule. Some might be personal—everything from a bout with the common cold to helping care for an aging parent. Others derive from the editorial process. The dreaded revision letter from the editor may require five minutes of tinkering or five weeks of major rewrites. Dodge that bullet and there are still copy-edits to deal with. And then there are the page proofs, what used to be called galleys, to review. Since this is the author’s last chance to catch anything that still needs fixing, that means it’s necessary to drop everything else and get it done. All three of these stages are likely to take up large chunks of time, but the real problem is that you never know exactly when they will demand your attention. As of today, August 18th, the manuscript of Liss #9 is due on September 1st and I’m about to start one last read through. I think it’s in good shape, but what if I find some previously overlooked error that requires rewriting an entire scene? Meanwhile, the copy edits for the first Mistress Jaffrey Mystery, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, are scheduled to arrive “toward the end of August” and my responses will need to go back to the publisher ASAP.

I think I can guarantee that, despite my best efforts to create breathing space, I will be feeling the pressure of those deadlines for the next two weeks.

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Weekend Update: August 16-17, 2014

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), John Clark (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Wednesday), Sarah Graves (Thursday), and Kate Flora (Friday).

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

KIltDeadCover (201x300)from Kaitlyn Dunnett: The first book in my Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery series, Kilt Dead, is on sale through the 22nd of this month as a Kindle download. Bargain price is just $1.99. We’re gearing up for the release of the paperback edition of last year’s hardcover, Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones [#7] on September 2nd and the debut of the new hardcover, Ho-Ho-Homicide [#8] on October 28th. In Kilt Dead, Liss returns to her hometown of Moosetookalook, Maine after a knee injury ends her career as a professional Scottish dancer. She’s agreed to take charge of the family business, Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium, while her aunt makes a buying trip to Scotland. What she doesn’t bargain for is finding a body in the stock room and being suspected of putting it there.

Lea Wait: Busy week, here! Saturday, August 16, I’ll be speaking about my Uncertain Glory and Maine during the Civil War at Willowbrook Village in Newfield, Maine. Willowbrook is a reconstructed 19th century village … a great place to talk about an historical novel. Wednesday, August 20, I’ll be putting on my Maggie Summer persona and displaying and selling both my books and my antique prints!cid_5DD80D18-4277-43A2-92BE-A87ACD38DB1B@maine_rr at the Maine Antique Dealers’ Association show at Round Top Farm on business route 1 in Damariscotta from 9 until 4. Lunch will be available, I’ll be one of about 70 dealers, and if you come looking for me — my booth is inside the barn. Then Saturday, August 23, at 11 a.m. I’ll be speaking about Shadows of a Down East Summer at The Yarn Seller, 264 Route 1, in York Maine. I’ll be bringing some of my Winslow Homer engravings to share, and will have copies of my other books available for purchase and signing, too. And I do have a manuscript due September 1 …

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. Don’t forget that comments are entered for a chance to win our wonderful basket of books and the very special moose and lobster cookie cutters.


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:



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Online Scams Are Increasing

Jayne Hitchcock here – I got my husband a police scanner the other day and noticed a lot of citizens were calling their police departments about a prevalent scam these days. They were getting phone calls from someone claiming to be with the IRS and if they didn’t pay a certain amount of money (anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars) they would be arrested. Well, that scam has hit Maine.

The scammer sounds threatening and demands payment be made via Western Union or a Green Dot MoneyPak Card (purchased from Wal Mart). One person duped by this actually paid $14,000 before realizing it was a scam.

I honestly don’t know why people are still falling for scams like this one. If there was a problem with your tax return or if you really did owe money, the IRS would not call you, they would mail you letter detailing what is owed. Also, you would never be asked to pay via wire or a card – that really should have raised a red flag for victims. It’s a shame people lose money from scams like this. Even if the perpetrators are caught, it is highly unlikely the victim will ever see the money they lost.

This is similar to the Microsoft Windows scam – you would either get a phone call or a window would pop up on your computer screen claiming there was a problem with your version of Windows. They would then ask to remotely control your computer (GIANT red flag right there). If you did that, they would infect your computer with a virus, then demand money to remove it. This actually happened to a friend’s wife. Luckily, I was on the phone with her while she was on her cell phone with the scammer. I told her just to hang up. She was being way too polite. She told me afterwards her computer had been acting very slow of late. I gave her the number of a local computer repair guy who is a friend of mine and told her to never, ever respond to any demands for money or remotely controlling her computer and to call me if anything like that happened again.

How do these scammers get your phone number? Two ways: 1. They scour White Pages listings online and call all listed numbers 2. They Google “cell phone numbers” and if your cell  number is somewhere online, they’ll get it and call you.

To lessen the chance of getting a scam call, either change your number to an unpublished one or switch it to unpublished and notify any white pages search engines to remove your listing. If you don’t make your number unpublished, the white pages search engines will add it again when they update their site every year. Don’t post your cell or phone number anywhere online. I use a free voicemail service at The reason it’s free is it is not in your area code. I get any voicemails or faxes sent to my email inbox. I use this number pretty much everywhere I can online and put it on my business cards. If you do want to have the number in your area code, there is a small monthly fee you need to pay.

Microsoft won’t call you. The IRS won’t call you. Mark Zuckerberg surely won’t call you. My advice is to not even respond to the person and hang up. If they call back, block them on your smartphone or let the answering machine pick up if you don’t recognize the number (many scammers switch to a new phone number hoping you will still answer the phone).

But if you do want to have fun with them, you can do what this guy did: Man Records Fake Microsoft Call

Stay safe online, my friends.

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