LOVE AND CHOCOLATE

Susan Vaughan here. Saturday was indeed “Love and Chocolate.” Librarian Sue McClintock, of the Vose Library in Union, Maine, invited me to be the first romance author to do a book talk. The month of Valentine’s Day seemed to be the logical time for a romance author. Vose

The Vose Library has occupied a modern building with up-to-date services that go way beyond books since 2011, but it began small in 1931 with a bequest of books and money from Helen Ayer Vose, a teacher who was born in the town of Union. As a former teacher, I found this dear to my heart. Sue arranged a table and folding chairs in the sunny and cheerful children’s area, furnished with the best clock for readers and writers.

Read Clock

Guaranteed to draw in library patrons who didn’t know me as an author were yummy refreshments—hot chocolate and chocolate tarts prepared by Sue. My contribution was a Valentine collection of decadent chocolates from Safe Harbor Confections .

Chocolate Table

The nice-size group collected refreshments and then settled in chairs for my presentation. After Sue’s brief introduction, I shared some of my background as a teacher and what led me to writing romantic suspense. I’ve always read mysteries, and when I discovered that genre folded into romance, I was sold.

Granted, suspense is slightly different from a straight mystery. Usually a mystery is about solving a crime, typically a murder, that has already happened. In a suspense novel, with or without a romance as a large part of the plot, often the reader knows up front the villain’s identity; the plot focuses on stopping his nefarious plot. Most of my romantic suspense books incorporate both suspense and mystery.

I shared some of the background on my newest book Always a Suspect, which is a revised and updated release of my very first book, published in 2001 by Harlequin as Dangerous Attraction.

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Although during most of my teaching career I taught in other areas, my college major was French literature, so the French-Canadian heritage in Maine fascinates me. Briefly, here’s how I used that background. I needed a strong internal conflict for Claire and hit on the idea of a curse. Because of tragedy in her childhood, the superstitious French-Canadian aunts who raised her led her to believe her beauty was a curse and that anyone close to her would die. When two husbands and a fiancé are killed under mysterious circumstances, belief in the curse causes her to shut herself off from the world. But an anonymous caller and persecution by the police force her to hire a PI to clear her name.

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When I received the publishing rights back, I suspected to do a lot of revision because (I believe) I’m a better writer than I was back when I wrote the original on my huge Gateway computer. In addition to tightening the prose, I needed to update the technology. My audience chuckled as I described those. Land lines became cell phones, an answering machine became voice mail, hand-held police radios became cell phones, and a mini-tape recorder became a digital recorder.

I then read three excerpts from the beginning of the book, to give the audience a sense of the characters and to set up the plot. When I finished, people had lots of questions about research, promotion, and publishing in general. I had a wonderful time chatting with this group and sharing my story with them. I did sell a few books as well.

We authors love our librarians, who not only promote reading and authors, but offer opportunities like this one for particular authors to share snippets of our books and insights into our writing processes. So thank you, Sue and the Union residents who joined me for “Love and Chocolate.” I’m feeling the love!

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Weekend Update: February 6-7, 2016

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Susan Vaughan (Monday), John Clark (Tuesday), Kate Flora (Wednesday), Dorothy Cannell (Thursday), and Chris Holm (Friday).

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

From Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: In keeping with my blog last month on Jigsaw Puzzle Therapy I’ve finished another jigsaw puzzle.

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And I’m almost finished with the rough (very very rough) draft of the third Mistress Jaffrey Mystery. Then all I’ll have to do is make sense of the plot, fix all the continuity problems, make sure my characters are behaving in a rational manner, correct the thirty gazillion typos and misspellings, and delete all the repetitious and unnecessary words. And, oh yes, think up a title. Wish me luck.

 

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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HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE ALCATRAZ EEL?

Vaughn Hardacker here: In my last post I wrote about Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia. I’d like once again to cover a true crime case, this one much closer to home. I’d like to introduce you to The Alcatraz Eel.

Who was the ALCATRAZ EEL ?

John Millage Stadig – a young man from northern Maine – who, through his own genius and daring, became a folk hero and legend in a decade of criminals comprising the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, Roy Gardner and Machine Gun Kelly.

John Stadig was born in Jemptland (about two miles from where I live) near Caribou in northern Maine in December 1908, Stadig moved to St. Francis with his family and later across the St. John River to St. Francis, New Brunswick. In his rather short life, he had also taken up residence in Bradbury and Bangor, Maine as well as Boston, Massachusetts; Indianapolis, Indiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Washington state, and Kansas.

Stadig came from a long line of mechanically inclined people. He also worked on log drives, keeping motors going on boats, and worked the shore, where his name is carved in a rock at “The Ledge” along the St. John River. He tinkered with electricity and was a store clerk, but never stayed at one job too long. Dead at 28, he spent many years in prison.

Criminal History

John Stadig’s early life was calm. From an affluent family, he could have been educated or gone on to do anything he wanted but during the Depression years he found his own way to make money, using plates and printing presses to print counterfeit money. That part of his life brought him to several federal prisons, including McNeil Island in Washington, Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, and Leavenworth, Kansas.

His early crimes included motor vehicle crimes, petty larceny, larceny and violation of the Dyer Act, the national motor vehicle act that made interstate transportation of stolen vehicles a federal crime. His first prison term began in Boston in June 1927 when he was 19 years old.

It was in New Brunswick that he was first arrested for making counterfeit money. That was June 1930. He served some time in Canadian jails, but his notoriety increased when he was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada in November 1931 and he began his first term in a federal prison.

John Stadig: The Alcatraz Eel

John Stadig: The Alcatraz Eel

He and four other men were arrested for making $100,000 in $5, $10 and $20 bills. He testified against the others and was sentenced to 18 months in the Nevada State Prison.

Within 10 months, he was arrested again for counterfeiting, this time in Chicago. He escaped from federal marshals on his way to court, only to be arrested again two months later for counterfeiting in San Francisco.

Prison Life

Stadig did time in several federal prisons, including McNeil Island in Washington, Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, and Leavenworth, Kansas, where he ended his life by cutting his jugular vein. Sentenced to six years in prison, he was sent to McNeil Island, from which he escaped within one month. Recaptured, he was sentenced to two more years in prison.

Alcatraz Dungeon Cell

Alcatraz Dungeon Cell

Stadig was among the first 50 civilians jailed at Alcatraz, which was built as a military fortress in 1853 and used as a Civil War prison in 1861. Closed by the military in 1934, it became a notorious jail. He was taken to Alcatraz in August 1934. Two months later, he was taken to Oregon to be tried on counterfeiting charges. Convicted again, he escaped from federal marshals by jumping from a moving train while en route to Alcatraz. Having slipped by his guards on two different occasions, he was given his nickname: The Alcatraz Eel.

Henri Young spent a total of three years in the dungeon at Alcatraz

Henri Young spent a total of three years in the dungeon at Alcatraz

Recaptured seven days later, he was returned to Alcatraz where he was confined in the dungeon cells below the prison’s main cell blocks, where problem prisoners were kept in darkness and solitary confinement. Dungeon prisoners have described their time there: “There’s no light. It’s wet. You’re in shackles. You’re naked. It’s horribly cold. There are rats and bugs.” One prisoner, Henri Young, (portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the movie: Murder in the First) whose original arrest was stealing $5.00‡ from a store that was also a post office–which made it a federal offense–spent three years in the dungeons. Standig spent nowhere near that much time in the dungeon, but still went mad. During the ensuing two years he attempted suicide four times. In September 1936 he was transferred to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, where three days later, on Sept. 24, 1936, he slashed his throat, killing himself.

His body was returned by train to Fort Kent. He was buried in the Congregational Cemetery in St. Francis.

‡ A March 16, 1994 letter to The New York Times from the Federal Bureau of Prisons points out that Henri Young went to Alcatraz after serving time in two state prisons for burglary and robbery. His subsequent Federal crime was bank robbery, not theft from a post office. He did not commit suicide at Alcatraz in the 1940’s; he completed his sentence there in 1954, then served a term in Washington State Penitentiary for murder. He was paroled there in 1972, and it is not known where he is or whether he is alive. This correction was delayed by checking at The Times.

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Why do Maine crime writers love Sherlock Holmes? It’s elementary, dear reader

Hi folks. Maureen here in my cozy central Maine bungalow, which is worlds away in so many ways from 221B Baker Street, the famous address of Sherlock Holmes.

But while we’re worlds away in every possible way, like most mystery writers, Holmes (and Watson) is always with me. I was reminded of this Sunday, when I attended the fantastic Portland Stage Company production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a rousing third-wall breaking, fairly profane comedy that still managed to capture Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic story.

The Portland Stage Company's "Hound of the Baskervilles" was a hilarious take on Sherlock Holmes.

The Portland Stage Company’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” was a hilarious take on Sherlock Holmes.

The show was followed by a panel featuring fellow Maine Crime Writers Chris Holm, Gayle Lyndes, Paul Doiron and Kate Flora.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads crime fiction that every single one of the panelists went way back to their formative years with Holmes. I’m pretty sure most mystery writers can say the same.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” was my favorite Holmes story. I was deeply, profoundly influenced by that fog on the moor, the quicksand and the scary-as-hell hound that terrorized the Baskerville family. As the panelists pointed out, some of the scariest things are those that aren’t seen. That fits the bill.

That foggy moor and another one had such a huge impact on me, they heavily influenced the climatic scene in my book, “Cold Hard News.”

The second life-changing bog was the one that Lord Peter Wimsey wanders into during a blinding fog and almost sinks to his death in “Clouds of Witness.” Wimsey is saved by his loyal man, Bunter, who manages to keep him from going under with his walking stick until a couple locals come along and pull him out. (Yeah, spoiler alert, but the book was written in 1928, so I get a pass.)

Maine Crime Writers, from left, Chris Holm, Gayle Lyndes, Paul Doiron and Kate Flora, discuss "The Hound of the Baskervilles" after the Portland Stage Company production Sunday.

Maine Crime Writers, from left, Chris Holm, Gayle Lyndes, Paul Doiron and Kate Flora, discuss “The Hound of the Baskervilles” after the Portland Stage Company production Sunday.

Wasn’t it great to be a young reader and be so affected by what we read? The moors of “Baskervilles” and that foggy nearly fatal bog in “Clouds of Witness” settled into my brain and it felt like there was never any doubt they’d make their way into a book.

One of the points the crime writers panel made at Sunday’s show in Portland was that aside from all the other things, one thing that makes Sherlock Holmes so popular is that it’s a buddy story. Holmes and Watson, bickering, deducing, hanging out and solving crimes together.

I started reading mysteries as soon as I started reading books. I always loved them. But as much as I loved Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books were the ones that sucked me in like the mud in an English bog and never let go.

They were the first mystery novels I read that I truly focused on character. And they were buddy stories, too. Not just Wimsey and his man Bunter, who was with him in the trenches of World War I and understood like no one else the shell shock that still affected Lord Peter, at least in the early novels, but also Charles Parker, Wimsey’s pal at Scotland Yard.

My 40-year-old copy of "Clouds of Witness."

My 40-year-old copy of “Clouds of Witness.”

While Bunter is the solid, always-there, unfailingly loyal pillar for Wimsey, I always found the relationship with Parker much more interesting. Divided by class, but dear friends, the two manage to have an equal relationship, though always with a little bit of tension. “Clouds of Witness” is one of my favorites of the Wimsey books. Besides the sinking-in-the-bog scene, it also has a major conflict between Wimsey and Parker. Parker falls in love with Wimsey’s sister, who’s on the unsavory side of some of the happenings in the book. I won’t spoil it more for you here, in case you actually do read it, but that conflict — two friends who care deeply for each other but are torn apart by a fundamental, visceral disagreement that may rip their friendship to shreds, had enough of an impact on me that it also found its way into “Cold Hard News.”

As much as I always knew I’d have a climatic bog scene in my mystery novel — knew it without ever really thinking about it — I also knew I’d have some deep conflict between two friends that wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but also may not be possible to mend.

I was once asked, when talking about influences from my youthful reading on scenes in my book, whether that wasn’t “cheating.” After all, couldn’t I come up with my own stuff instead of stealing it from other, better writers?

I think I quoted my gradeschool teacher, Sister Catherine, who used to remind us that even Shakespeare “wasn’t one big original.”

But more than that, I feel that all the books we read and love throughout our lives become a part of us. The huge influence that Conan Doyle, and even more so Dorothy Sayers, had on me helped form the writer I am. Those scenes by Conan Doyle and Sayers, and so many others, had become part of the tapestry of my mind long before I ever actually wrote my book. They’d spent decades forming themselves into the story I wanted to tell. I’m humbled when I say that those writers, all the ones who came before me and whose books were such a large part of my young life, are my constant companions as I try to do what they did.

I’m grateful to them for the role they played in my life and still do, and if the scenes in my book that formed out of their influence have half the effect on a reader theirs did on me, I’ll consider that homage to them. It’s the least I can do.

.Speaking of loving books, libraries, book stores, mysteries and writers: If you can make it, please be sure to come by the Sandwich Public Library in Sandwich, Massachusetts, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, where I will join fellow crime writers Kate Flora and Arlene Kay, and moderator Leslie Wheeler on a Sisters in Crime Speakers’ Bureau panel “It’s a Mystery to Me.” The panel is part of a Sisters in Crime presentation to Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich, winner of SincNE’s “We Love Bookstores!” competition. I love to talk mysteries and writers, and I’d love to see you there. Thanks for reading!

Maureen Milliken is the author of Cold Hard News, the first book in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on twitter, @mmilliken47, like her Facebook page, Maureen Milliken mysteries, and sign up for email updates at her website maureenmilliken.com. Cold Hard News was recently released in digitial audio, and is available on Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

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Found in Translation

damselcoverKaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. The contents of this post have been in my “blog topics” file for quite a while now. I’ve been trying to decide if this topic was blogworthy or not. I alternate between thinking this text is hilarious and worrying that people will think I am poking fun at those whose first language is not English. Seriously—no disrespect is intended. In fact, the Russian edition of The King’s Damsel, one of the historical novels I wrote as Kate Emerson, is my one and only genuine best seller. It was a book club selection and as such sold more copies than any other single book I’ve written.

So, onward. The material below is the preface to that edition, translated from Russian into English and sent to me to make sure there were no glaring errors in historical fact. I was instructed not to change to text. As you will see, the wording in English is often . . . interesting, and reading this did make me wonder how well my words fared when translated into Russian, but all-in-all, it does sum up what happens in my story. Here goes:

Intrigues Behind the Throne

It seems rather difficult a task to find another period in the history of medieval England that has been constantly attracting writers as much as the times of King Henry the Eighth who ruled between 1509 and 1547. Such an obvious interest is provoked by a number of reasons, the Monarch’s private life being not the least of them. Six wives, one after another, are more than normal for any man. To follow all the intricate ways leading from divorces to new royal marriages is a real thrill both for authors and for their readers. Especially providing we do not forget that King Henry, not a man of virtue when it came to love affairs, sent to the scaffold two of his wives for having been unfaithful to the king, which crime then amounted to high treason.

Five years before his death, the august sinner was punished with obesity to such a degree that he lost the ability to walk, compelled to be pushed in a wheelchair. Yet, at the time The King’s Damsel by the U.S. author Kate Emerson is set King Henry VIII was still a very attractive man. Here, we see him through the eyes of the novel’s heroine, Thomasine “Tamsin” Lodge, who is the narrator of the story, and we have to agree that “his appearance never failed to arouse people’s admiration.” A big and very handsome man, a skilled rider, fencer and hunter, a true gallant, a witty man in a good company, an excellent dancer and a composer of refined music, Henry fails to win Tamsin’s sympathies on account of his single fault: His Majesty is going to get divorced from his legitimate consort, old Queen Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn who fascinates him beyond reason. The king is driven not by love only, but also by political considerations: he should have a son, an heir of the throne of England. If this desire of Henry’s comes true, Princess Mary, his daughter by Catherine, will lose her right of succession.

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This divorce and subsequent marriage created a deep division within the royal household. Thomasine Lodge, who was orphaned at the age of 13 and then became, through her guardian’s efforts, a maid of honor of Princess Mary, got truly attached to Her Highness. She is ready for great sacrifices in the name of her mistress, for the sake of the latter’s well-being and happiness. A lot of crafty intrigues and artful designs await the reader’s attention — those flourishing at the court, among the ladies and cavaliers of the self-assured king and his Lady Anne, whose cleverness matched only her prescience, and those instigated by Princess Mary, who had to grow up far away from both her parents and to quickly learn the intricate ways behind the throne.

The King’s Damsel is abundant in details of ladies’-in-waiting everyday life, court rules and etiquette, state ceremonies. Life in the royal palace, so noble and dignified in its outward appearance, requires one always to be on one’s guard in order not to risk one’s career or even one’s own life. Tamsin, a young provincial girl, managed to win the Princess’s favor due to her talent to invent and tell stories while her mistress was extremely bored with her obligatory embroideries. As the years pass, she becomes a real master of survival at the court. Yet, she happens to have a tinge of adventurism in her nature — enough to start, very carefully (as she sees it herself), a risky game of her own…

Thomasine Lodge is a fictitious character created by Kate Emerson’s imagination. The author was guided by letters and reports of the Spanish ambassador to England, saying that some nameless but very pretty lady of the court happened to attract the king’s attentions and was almost banished by Queen Anne. Some other characters in the book are also fictitious but most of the characters in The King’s Damsel are real historical figures, and there are special references concerning them after the main text of the novel. Even so, it is hard to disbelieve the reality of Tamsin herself as she is described so vividly and convincingly. By the way, she is loyal to the Princess but not so fanatically as to forget her own future and her own happiness. As a rich heiress, she hates staying a puppet of her loathsome guardian. Due to author’s masterly plot, Tamsin’s fate excites the reader not less — even more — than that of royal characters. When some Rafe Pinckney, a young man with curly dark hair and a courageous look on his face with an aquiline nose, appears in the novel, a shrewd reader clearly understands that this man is destined to play a very important part in Tamsin’s further life. However, they have to undergo many an ordeal before the novel’s happy end.

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Written in Russian, this preface appears to have attracted plenty of readers. Color me relieved. I’d love to hear what experiences other writers have had with translations. And if any of you, readers or writers, are fluent in another language, what has been your impression of books translated from English? I remember that back when I was writing romance novels, the French editions were always much shorter than the English versions. I never could figure out what it was that they cut.

P.S. The second Kate Emerson novel to be translated into Russian, At the King’s Pleasure, had only moderate success.

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Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) 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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