Sorry I’m late

Jayne Hitchcock here – I am in the middle of trying to get my taxes filed – my accountant filed an extension, but it turns out I can’t do that because I filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago, so I was on the phone with him last night.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet – my Siberian Husky, Phoebe, and I were featured on Good Day Maine on Wednesday morning. It was about how I use her to help kids and teens open up about problems they have online.

We met Kim Block from WGME last Friday at the Falmouth Memorial Library and for two hours chatted with her while the camera guy, Jim, filmed us. Kim and Jim fell in love with Phoebe (just like almost everyone else does, ha ha). After he put the camera down, Jim sat down and began rubbing and petting Phoebe. It was so cute.

So, without further adieu, here is a link to the story and video – enjoy!  Siberian Husky helps victims of cyberbullying

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Hey, all! Chris Holm here. Wait. Who?

Oh, right. Since this is my first official post as a contributor to Maine Crime Writers, I should probably introduce myself. Here’s my fancypants official bio:

CHAuthorPhoto300dpiChris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. His critically acclaimed trilogy of Collector novels, which blends fantasy with old-fashioned crime pulp, appeared on over forty Year’s Best lists. He lives in Portland, Maine.

One or two of you might read that and think, “Oh, I remember that guy from his guest posts, or Maine Crime Wave. He’s the one who writes the weird stuff.” And it’s true, my Collector series tips more toward fantasy than crime. So what the heck am I doing here?

The fact is, my most of my short fiction is straight-up crime. The first story I ever published was in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Doyle, Poe, and Christie were among my earliest literary loves. And as it happens, my upcoming novel, THE KILLING KIND, returns me to my criminal roots—it’s a big ol’ thriller, with nary a supernatural element to be found.

Killing Kind CoverTHE KILLING KIND, which comes out September 15th from Mulholland Books, is the story of Michael Hendricks. He kills people for money—but that aside, he’s not so bad a guy. Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the U.S. military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life—and beloved fiancée—and set out on a path of redemption… or perhaps one of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living as a hitman entrepreneur of sorts: he only hits other hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. Not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living—but a great way to make himself a target.

It’s early yet, but thus far, buzz has been good. David Baldacci called THE KILLING KIND “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.” Chelsea Cain said, “THE KILLING KIND crackles with muscle and moxie and wit. I will read it again and again.” (Bonus points to Chelsea for inadvertently referencing Maine’s State Soft Drink!) And according to Joseph Finder, “THE KILLING KIND is sleek and smart, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.”

Mighty kind of them to say, particularly because I’m such a fan of theirs. I’d like to think it’s because I wrote a terrific book—but chances are, they were just relieved to open their advance copy and discover it wasn’t more weird stuff.

Speaking of advance copies, my publisher will be giving away 500 of them at BEA this year, and I’ll be on hand to sign ’em. If you’re attending, be sure to grab one! And if you can’t attend, maybe next post I’ll give a few away. I expect I’ll give some copies away on Facebook and Twitter in the coming months as well, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’d like a sneak peek, you can download Publishers Marketplace’s free Buzz Books 2015 sampler to read an excerpt of THE KILLING KIND and thirty-two other upcoming releases!

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The Pile

by Barb, who expected to be in Maine by now, but who is marooned in Mass with a bad knee

Yes it’s that time of year–the time when everywhere I go I am accompanied by a tote bag full of submissions for the Level Best Books anthology. We get 130+  submissions every year, and this year is no different.

The pile

The pile

Somehow, that will get whittled down to 25 to 30 stories that go into Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn. In the meantime, I have a lot of reading to do. All four editors read every submission. In the past six years, I can think of only three stories I haven’t read to the end–one bit of violent pornography, one bit of pornographic violence and one story that was so far outside our guidelines for length so as to be considered a novel. But if a story meets our guidelines for content and length and submission deadline, we’re reading it.

I’ve tried a variety of rating schemes over the years. Sometimes I go elaborate–a ten point scale. Other times I swear I’ll keep it simple–yes-no-maybe. But then along comes a yes+ (I’ll fight hard for this one) or a no, no, no, no, no (I’ll quit if this gets in).

The spreadsheet

The spreadsheet

Over the next month or so, the editors will meet three times. The first meeting is the easiest, we weed out the definite “nos.” We also look for stories where all four of us are in the yes+ column. Those are IN.

The next couple of meetings get harder and more heated. Until we have a list of the finalists. Then we start arguing about the order they will appear in the book.

This year’s activity will have a bittersweet quality. My fellow editors, Mark Ammons, Kathy Fast, Leslie Wheeler and I have announced this anthology will be our last. We still have hopes some other group might pick up the mantel and the anthology will go on, but we are done.

But in the meantime, I have to keep reading. We’ve got an anthology to produce.

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Why I’m Against Mother’s Day

Lea Wait, here, two days past Mother’s Day. My husband calls that day (and Father’s Day — he’s an equal opportunity cynic) a “Hallmark holiday.”

And it probably is. Parents who do their best should be honored and respected every day. Especially on the days when children (of all ages) have conflicts with them. After all, if it weren’t for mothers and fathers …. But the end of that sentence is obvious.  And it’s equally obvious that there are parents who don’t deserve to be honored.

And “mothering” can be done by adoptive parents, foster parents, step parents, godparents, aunts, and just about anyone with a close relationship to a child or young person. Some of those people don’t have the official title of “mother” (and think of the bad rap step mothers get in all those fairy tales,) but they should also be given credit for everything they do to raise children. “It takes a village” …. not just a mother.

Having said all that, yes, I had a mother and a grandmother, and I think of them often, if not daily. Neither were perfect (who is?) but they both did the best they could, each under different circumstances. (My second grandmother was killed when my father was three years old, so I never knew her.)

And the question of being a mother has been one that defined my life in many ways.

Daughter Elizabeth, the day she came home.

Daughter Elizabeth, the day she came home.

I wanted very much to be a mother in the classic sense. I wanted to conceive and carry and give birth to one or two children. At one time in my mid-twenties I wanted that so much that I’d tear up seeing a woman who was pregnant, or hearing about a friend who’d had a baby.

But life conspired against my giving birth. I married when I was 25, but my husband was ill, and I was single again at 29. I thought seriously about having a baby as a single parent, but decided it would be too difficult to do that and continue working full-time, which I’d have to do to support my family. I also realized that although babies were wonderful, what I really looked forward to doing as a parent was sharing books and history and art and trips to the beach and the city. My vision of parenting was being a parent to a child old enough to talk, and listen, and share experiences.

So, as a single parent, I adopted four girls. They were ages 4, 8, 9, and 10 when they came home from Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and India. Their experiences before I met them were different from each other’s, and from mine. Challenges of all sorts defined our household.

One of those challenges was Mother’s Day.

To an adopted child the word “mother” is loaded. They had at least two mothers .. a birthmother, or biological mother, and an adoptive mother. (Some also had foster mothers.) And to children of a single mother, Father’s Day was also an issue.

The first year I was a mother we got through Mother’s Day without much fuss. My daughter hardly spoke English and we were just getting to know each other. It certainly wasn’t a time to make any fuss about me. But by Father’s Day, she came home from her kindergarten class with a Father’s Day

Lea and her daughters, 1985

Lea and her daughters, 1985

card. I thanked her for it, although I wasn’t a father. And she asked, “What do fathers do?”

I panicked for a moment. What DID fathers do? Aside from the biology of fatherhood, none of the stereotypes worked. At our house, I did everything, from mowing the lawn and building bookcases to working and paying the bills to cooking dinner and reading bedtime stories. So I said, simply, “Fathers help mothers.”

My daughter nodded. I hoped it made sense to her. She didn’t remember having a mother or father – once she’d told me she didn’t know what a mother was until she came home to live with me.

But my second daughter remembered her biological parents. Her father had died, and she often re-enacted his funeral with her sister. Her mother had relinquished her for adoption, choosing, for an assortment of reasons, to keep her brother. She had very strong opinions about parents.

By that time we’d joined a church that, in celebration of Mother’s Day, placed white roses on the altar for mothers who had died, and red roses for mother who were still alive. I had two red roses put on the altar for my daughters’ biological mothers. We didn’t know if they were alive or dead, and it seemed the right thing to do. I gave gifts to each of my daughters, to thank them for honoring me by making me their mother. Two years  later the minister of the church handed me a red rose, and I started crying. Yes; I was a mother, too.

When my fourth daughter came home, from India, where she’d lived for a while in one of the Missionaries of Charity homes, I overheard my mother, who then lived with us, explaining to her that Mother’s Day was a special day, and that she was lucky. She now had a mother and a grandmother. My daughter replied, “In India I had two mothers, too, I had Mother Theresa and Mother Mary Margaret.”

The word “mother” meant something very different to her.

For all these reasons, Mother’s Day was not a holiday we paid a lot of attention to in our house. My girls didn’t have fathers to encourage the celebration. And for at least two of them, honoring me as their “mother” seemed to them they were dishonoring their biological moms. I understood that. It was an awkward day.

Today, my daughters are grown, and three have husbands and children of their own. None live close by, so I can’t say exactly what happens in their homes on Mother’s Day, but I hope they celebrate. Some years one or two of them call me. This year I received lovely flowers from one of my girls, and a “Happy Mother’s Day” Facebook message from one. I didn’t hear from the other two.

But, after all, it is a “Hallmark Holiday.” Our relationship doesn’t depend on their feeling guilty if they don’t say nice things on one particular day of the year.

Our relationship depends on love, and on being a family.

We’re doing okay.

So –  whether or not you celebrated Mother’s Day this year, for whatever reasons, I wish you well, and wish you peace. After all .. it’s only one day. What happens the other 364 days of the year is what defines a family.

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Little Stories — Big Challenges

Vicki Doudera here. I’ve been thinking lots about short stories lately: what makes me want to read them, how they can satisfy us, and how they work in general. Most likely this is because I really enjoyed writing one over the winter, and spent some of those cold nights reading a collection of Andre Dubus’ that I found in a used bookstore in Boston, but also because right now I’m serving as a judge for a short story competition. When my work with the contest is through — in a week or so — I will have read and critiqued close to fifty short stories. So, needless to say, this form of fiction is top of mind.

A few years ago I took my first stab since college at writing one. Truthfully, I found it hard to begin. At that point in my writing life at least two Darby Farr Mysteries had been published, I’d penned three non-fiction books and countless magazine articles, and yet this form of writing eluded me. I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around just how to do it. At a Sisters in Crime event that I helped put together in Portland, I peppered some of the writers there with questions. I recall Leslie Wheeler, author of the Miranda Lewis “living history” mysteries, explaining that the world of a short story needs to be very small. Only a few characters, she said, one or two settings, and limited points of view.

I started to think in that vein and one day a tiny experience I had with a mean real estate client prompted me to pick up my pen. “A Neighbor’s Story,” the tale of an elderly woman with a chilling past, was the resulting story. I was absolutely thrilled when it was chosen for inclusion in Mystery Writers of America’s anthology, ICE COLD, and more determined than ever to continue my struggle with short fiction.

V.S. Pritchett’s definition of a short story is “Something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” I like that explanation, because it implies noticing something very telling, just barely, and then exploring it. An interesting nugget is certainly a great start to fiction — long or short — but it can work especially well when crafting a tale that will be brief.

What are some of the challenges presented by short fiction? Outside of the usual — injecting enough tension to keep the reader guessing, keeping the point of view consistent, and crafting compelling, believable characters, the use of clear and specific language is probably the most important point. Without precise words, the details won’t come to life on the page. There simply isn’t enough time in a short story for vagueness, a truism I encountered while reading some of the contest entries. Brevity means each word has to count — something a poet knows all too well.

We all write for different reasons. Some of us are paying bills with our work; some of us are looking to make a name for ourselves. When the idea for a short story takes hold of me, I’m doing it for the pure love of the challenge. Like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, the joy’s in the process of getting all the details right so that the result will be a finished whole. Unlike a puzzle, the final story will be my unique way of looking at the world — in 5000 words or less.

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