Loving Our Big Blue Dumpster

There’s a big blue dumpster in my driveway.

No, we’re not doing re-doing our kitchen or adding a new room, or even re-doing a room we already have.

We’re cleaning up.

Now, I want to assure you that my husband and I are not hoarders. Walking through the rooms of our house isn’t a problem. Although Bob’s studio … and the ell room that holds our dryer and the cartons of my books .. and that other room in the ell where we have a freezer and a pile of empty boxes and odds and ends we used at antique shows (when we did antique shows). Yes, those rooms could use some help.

OK. We’re not hoarders. But somehow we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. (And nonsense.) We’re tossing a lot of the past into that big blue dumpster. Computer and audio equipment and televisions that stopped working years ago, but that we never got to the dump.

Papers that belonged to parents, former spouses, or former selves. Cans of almost-empty-and-now-hardened paint from ten years ago, when we were re-doing rooms. Appliances and tools that don’t work. Jars we might use to clean paint brushes or make pickles. But we haven’t. Bits and pieces of construction materials, also left from ten plus years ago, “in case we needed them.” We haven’t.

Broken glass we never recycled or took to the dump, but kept nice, neat piles of. Broken picture frames we never fixed. Metal and wooden stands and worn portfolios we used in the antique print business we now run solely out of the house. Hoses with holes. Plastic flower pots.

And etc. Lots of et ceteras.

Yes, recently both my husband and I have both had some health issues. But we’re feeling better. He’s painting. I’m writing. We went out for lunch today.

But this purge is improving our mental health more than any pill. Feeling weary or aggravated? Throw something out! Tired of sitting at a desk or standing at an easel? Clear that clutter!

Plus, there’s the bonus of re-finding long-lost items. (Bob found the original of his will yesterday. I found a needed surge protector in the case of a long-dead laptop.)

We’ve even purged our closets, and donated bags of clothing that doesn’t fit our bodies or lifestyles any more. (Clothing doesn’t go in the dumpster.) We have a pile of “still-good-but-not-for-us” items to donate to the Historical Association yard sale next spring. (We donated a van full this year, too.)

Next challenge? Trimming bushes I haven’t touched for over a year because of manuscript deadlines, and whose healthy new growth is beginning to cover our first floor windows and has totally eliminated our using one door.

I can hardly wait to get started with my clippers. But – first – I have to write my daily quota of pages. Then, my daily reward? Filling that dumpster.

It’s a challenge Bob and I can live with. We’ll live better without everything we’ve avoided dealing with for too long. (One of the hazards of having a cellar and an attic and a barn, as well as those ell rooms.)

And, who knows? Maybe I’ll find the clues to a future mystery in the debris we’re sorting through. Stranger things have happened.

I’ll think about that soon.  Right after I clear out that drawer full of non working tape recorders and cameras and wires that connected computers that are long-gone. I have my trash bag ready …

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I Could Use That

Only because it’s happened to me three times in the last week am I moved to address something I’m sure many writers have to deal with, that moment when someone tells you a bit of interesting information or an intriguing anecdote and then says: “You should write that; that would make a great story.” (Though I’m also sure few of my friends speak with semicolons.) (But when they do, they’re used correctly.)

Usually the jot or tittle someone is offering you is less a story idea than a bit that, combined with other bits, might make a story if you could find the right other bits and then combine them in the right way. But most nonwriters probably don’t want to be involved in a long conversation about the exigencies of turning raw material into stories and so I’ve developed as noncommittal a polite response as I can manage.

My new response to would-be story matter experts is this: “I could use that.”

So in the spirit, in case you are a writer in search of something you can use, but something that is not in fact a story in and of itself, I offer you the following bits that have come across my ken recently:

  • French fitness model killed by exploding whipped cream canister.
  • Misplaced sparkler accidentally ignites fireworks in the back of an SUV.
  • Man with record for longest life with bullet in his head dies at 103.
  • Oregon State Asylum baseball team goes barnstorming.

  • Vermont woman assassinates her own car with an assault rifle on Interstate 91.

What these individual bits lack, of course, is both the detail and backstory to turn them into stories. How exactly does a burning sparkler set off an entire compartment full of fireworks? What does it look like? What does it sound like? What does an asylum baseball team wear on the field? When it’s not on the field?

You can’t have a story without characters. Who be stupid enough to stand close enough to a load of fireworks with a burning sparkler? And why? Distracted? Under the influence? Suicidal? Or did someone toss the sparkler in there deliberately?

Who is this woman trying to kill her car and why did she do it? Did it fail to start one too many times while she was on her way to work at the strip club? Or is she a lapsed nun with PTSD?

How did the 103-year old man get a bullet in his head? Did his brother think he was a squirrel? Was it a war wound? Did he do it himself?

So you can tell your interlocutors that a bit is not a story until you apply some curiosity to it, the element that turns a fact or two into a tale worth telling. And it is the particular curiosity that a writer brings to his or her bits that makes the story. Which means the someone telling you what a good story something would make should write their own. I think we can agree that we should all write our own stories.

As horrible a tale as the whipped cream death is, I suspect the first reaction of many of my crime writer cohorts was: “Yup. I can use that.” It’s OK to fess up. We are not horrible people but we do lean toward the bizarre, especially if the bizarre happens to be fatal. And if you’ve got a good bit, we can use that. We don’t mind stealing. Just don’t try and tell us what is and isn’t a story . . .

Posted in Dick's Posts, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Weekend Update: July 8-9, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Dick Cass (Monday), Lea Wait  (Tuesday), Barb Ross (Wednesday), Brendan Rielly (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:

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: I’m doing another Goodreads giveaway, this time for ten copies of the fourth book in the Liss MacCrimmon series, The Corpse Wore Tartan. You can enter by clicking here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/242038-the-corpse-wore-tartan and signing up for the drawing. The giveaway runs from July 5 until July 19. The Corpse Wore Tartan strands my regular cast of characters and the members of the Scottish Heritage Appreciation Society at a luxury hotel during a blizzard. And then, of course, there’s a murder . . .

 

 

Today, Saturday, July 8, you’ll find Barbara Ross, Lea Wait, Dorothy Cannell, Kate Flora, Paul Doiron, Richard Cass, Bruce Coffin, Jen Blood, Jim Hayman, and many other authors of fiction, nonfiction and books for children, at Books in Boothbay, a wonderful summer book festival at the Boothbay Railway Museum on route 27 in Boothbay, Maine, from 9a.m. until 1 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 10, Kate Flora will be speaking at the Witherle Library in Castine at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, July 11, Lea Wait will be speaking with children attending the Young Authors Camp at the University in Maine at Orono sponsored by the Maine Writing Project, and leading a teachers’ workshop about exciting their students about writing.

 

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 Scents of Summer

By Brenda Buchanan

This time of year is one long olfactory system celebration.

You can fill your lungs with the sweet smell of a just-cut hayfield.

Huff the scent of ripe strawberries.

Stick your face right up close to a rosa rugosa bush (watch out for bees!) and inhale nature’s perfume.

It’s high summer in Maine, friends, and it sure smells good.

How can you not love the smell of a campfire?

Of chicken being grilled low and slow?

The salt on your skin following an after-work dip in the ocean?

A blessed sea breeze on a muggy day?

In June, July and August I sometimes feel like a black lab with my head out the window, gulping in all the smells that are mostly absent during the nine months between September and May.

Ozone after a big lightning storm.

Ice cream. (If you don’t think ice cream has a smell, your first job must have been doing something other than scooping cones for jillions of Little Leaguers who’d just won the big game.)

The well-oiled pocket of a baseball mitt.

Yes, some summer smells are to be endured.

The compost bucket when it sits too long on the counter.

The acrid stench of road paving.

A skunk going off in the middle of the night.

But those nose-wrinklers make the good ones all the sweeter.

Running over the mint patch with the mower.

Fried clams.

Coppertone.

Happy summer to all of you, and to your noses, too.

 What are your favorite summer smells and why? Please share in the comments. Backstory gets bonus points!

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 books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available through the Carina Press website, http:// carinapress.com and everywhere else quality ebooks are sold.

 

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The Second Time Around

Happy July 6th! Bruce Robert Coffin checking in. I hope you’re all enjoying this fab summer weather. It certainly took long enough to get here, right? But not everything takes that long. For example, John Byron #2, Beneath the Depths, is due to be released on August 8. Book two? Seriously? How can that be? How in hell did we get here already? Why it was only two years ago that I was beginning to think I’d never be published. Not traditionally, anyway. I couldn’t even find a publisher willing to take on my short story Fool Proof. The one I thought was my best to date. It seemed totally crazy to imagine publishing a series of novels when I couldn’t even get one piece of short fiction off the ground.

 

And then it happened. Sandwiched between two spam emails was the electronic communication of which I’d been dreaming. An email from Level Best Books congratulating me on the inclusion of Fool Proof into their Best New England Crime Stories Anthology, Red Dawn. Which reminds me, if you haven’t checked out the latest Level Best Anthology, Busted: Arresting Stories from the Beat, you should! In addition to my latest story, Bygones, you’ll find a tremendous collection of new crime fiction to feast upon.

Every published author has a similar story. The road to publication is a long and twisty affair. Full of potholes and detours. Half of the time we don’t even know if we’re going the right way or if we have enough gas in the tank to reach our destination. But like the lost spouse who refuses to stop and ask directions we press on, continuing to write even when it makes no sense. Why you ask? Because we love to write. We love to tell stories. Spin yarns. Take those ‘what ifs?’ and slap ‘em down onto the page. In short, we love taking you on the ride with us.

 

You may wonder why publication is so important, if it’s the writing that truly matters. Well I’ll tell you. It’s as simple as validation. The idea that a publisher values what we’ve written as much as we do. And values it enough to package it into a book and put it out for all the world to see. But beyond validation is the dream that the masses will pick our story up and read it. And not just read it, but devour it. We want them to love what we’ve written so much that they can’t wait for the next. It’s the reason we drew on cave walls. I think the dream of any serious writer is that someone will wander into their cave and begin reading.

Am I excited to see my second novel in print? Of course I am. I’m already working hard inside cave number three!

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