Matt Cost, the New Kid on the Block

Hello all, Matt Cost here. I’m the new kid on the block and am going to start off my introduction with a confession. I’m not actually a Mainer. I did not move here until I was eight years old. That was also the year that I decided I wanted to be a writer. Coincidence? I think not. There’s something about this state of ours that creates, molds, and develops authors. Even up in mill town Madison, Maine, where I grew up.

The natural artistry of Maine was aided by the Hardy Boys in my decision to become a writer at age eight. Along with Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Great Brain. These early mysteries would be replaced for a time by the westerns of Louis L’Amour, which were little more than PI stories set in the west. The protagonist rides into town, becomes enmeshed in local wrongdoing, and fixes the situation. Think Jack Reacher.

But then I became a history major at Trinity College and one particular professor got me excited to write about the past. For the first time I realized that history was really the greatest story ever told. I decided to give a try at historical fiction and chose as my topic the charismatic Fidel Castro and the time of the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959. I finished a first draft of this novel in 1990, my first year out of college, and immediately realized three things. I was a terrible writer, I needed to do more research, and I needed to visit Cuba to write more sincerely about that island nation.

In the meantime, I had to make a living, especially when the kids started popping up, so I opened a video store. And then a health club. And, perhaps the reason I’m now a blogger for Maine Crime Writers, a mystery bookshop, The Coffee Dog Bookstore. During those years, I wrote a couple of mysteries about a PI who also owned this very same business, as well the namesake Coffee Dog. The bones were good, but my craft still needed work.

In 2015 I wrote a historical about Joshua Chamberlain. I thought this was pretty good, but I was unable to find a publisher, so I self-published it. The following year, I got the opportunity visit Cuba and follow the revolutionary war trail of Fidel and his band of bearded guerrillas. This allowed me to return and rewrite that novel, originally written some twenty-five years earlier. And in March of 2021, Encircle Publications, published it, right at the start of a pandemic.

Between finishing that novel and the publication of it, I was attending various writing conferences, mostly historical in nature. I did not feel like I fit in. And then I attended Crime Wave in Portland and my life changed. I’d met my people. My tribe. This was confirmed by going to ThrillerFest in New York City and then Crime Bake outside of Boston.

Trapped at home along with most of the rest of the world, I got down to the brass tacks of writing. Every day, all day. I rewrote those early Mainely Mysteries, based in Brunswick, with a PI who also owned a mystery bookstore. The first one, Mainely Power, was recommended by Gerry Boyle and selected by the Maine Humanities Council as the Read ME fiction book of the year. The fourth one, Mainely Angst, is due out in January of 2022.

Looking for some variety, I began a new series as well, about a fictional coastal Maine town named Port Essex. Clay Wolfe is a former Boston homicide detective returned to his hometown. He sets out his PI shingle while taking care of his elderly grandpops. Wolfe Trap and Mind Trap have been published, while Mouse Trap and Cosmic Trap are due out next year.

I am still a lover of the past, though, so I penned a historical novel about the fight for social equality in New Orleans after the Civil War. Love in a Time of Hate also involves the hunt for a serial killer, Voodoo, politics, street fighting, and racial unrest. It is a powerful book that in many ways mirrors what is going on today in our country.

My latest work in progress, of which I just finished the first draft of on Thanksgiving day, blends my love of histories and mysteries. Eight Ballo is a PI in 1923 Brooklyn who is given the case of finding a missing young lady. This is also due out in 2022.

That is me. Not a true Mainer, but forty-six years toward that goal, with children who were indeed born here. I’ve owned local businesses, taught history at the junior high in Brunswick, and have coached just about every sport imaginable at one level or another. And now I write.

My website is: http://www.mattcost.net

Or contact me at: matthew-cost@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Outline Using the 3-Act Structure

Today’s blogger got bogged down (I almost wrote “Blogged down”) so since we’re all about craft as well as all things Maine, we’re sharing a post about story structure from our blogging alum, Jen Blood:

Jen Blood: When I first started writing, I rarely had any idea how a story would end or what kind of twists and turns I might find over the course of the process. I liked it that way – it meant more surprises for me, and I loved going along with the characters on a journey that could ultimately take us anywhere. Eventually, I would invariably find my way and at some point I would get where I was going. During that process, there were usually a few false starts and sometimes I would figure out that the bad guy was someone hadn’t even suspected initially, which would mean having to go back and retrace my steps, plant clues that might not have been there before, and make sure I hadn’t inadvertently written a solution to the mystery that would be disproven by some detail dropped earlier in the novel.

That worked just fine when I was working on a novel consistently for ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week. Back then, I lived in an apartment alone with two dogs and worked from home. My characters were my friends, I lived the story I was writing, and I was so immersed in a work-in-progress, it felt like I inhabited those words. Now, I live in a giant house with a dog and a cat and a man and sometimes that man’s seventeen-year-old child. There are gardens and shared meals and dog walks and doctor’s visits and so, so, so much vacuuming. I need a way to keep track of my novels, now that my writing isn’t exactly the central focus of my life. Which is where outlining comes in.

I’ve always outlined to some extent. A few years ago, however, I got very interested in three-act structure – one of the oldest, simplest, and best-known types of dramatic structure. To be clear, when I talk about three-act structure I’m talking about several specific components that make up a dramatic work. These are the basics, and I’ll just use a simple story about a round orange cat to illustrate what I mean.

Act I:

Inciting Incident – The event that sets the story in motion. Within the inciting incident, there is often the foreshadowing of the Obligatory Scene – the inevitable moment readers are waiting for, when the protagonist fulfills his destiny.
After a heated argument in which our protagonist’s virility is impugned after he’s compared with the neighbor’s conceited Russian blue, a round orange cat leaves his lady friend cat at home, and goes out seeking adventure. He spies a plump bluebird, and climbs a nearby oak to catch said bluebird. 
Turning Point #1 – A complication shifts the story in an unexpected direction.
The bluebird flies away, and ROC (round orange cat) can’t get back down the tree.

Act II:

Midpoint – A dramatic event deepens the conflict for the protagonist and intensifies the readers’ suspense/ups the stake in the story.
ROC, still stuck in the tree, smells smoke and realizes a nearby house is on fire. The flames are getting closer. 


All is Lost – Events seem to be conspiring against the protagonist; there is no apparent way out of the dilemma in which they have found themselves.
ROC tries once more to climb down the tree, but is paralyzed whenever he tries to venture from the branch he’s been perched on for an hour. Meanwhile, sparks from the nearby blaze are beginning to land close to the cat’s tree.
Dark Night of the Soul – With no apparent solution and all hope lost, the protagonist despairs. How will he solve the crime/rescue the girl/save the world?
Alone and terrified, certain that his lady love was right and he truly is worthless, ROC hunkers down and prepares for his demise.

Act III:

Final Commitment – Some internal or external force restores the protagonist’s faith in himself, and he is now determined to prevail.
ROC hears the cries of his lady friend cat, and realizes she is in dire need of saving. 
Crisis – The sequence of events that sets the climactic scene(s) in motion.
Terrified but determined, ROC faces his fear and slowly, painfully makes his way back down the tree. 
Climax – The moment everything has been building toward (frequently, the obligatory scene foreshadowed at the inciting incident, or a twist on it).
Down from the tree, ROC evades the flames, finds his feline love, and is about to save her when he realizes she’s trapped with the neighbor’s Russian blue. They’ve clearly been consorting for some time. Hurt but nevertheless heroic, ROC risks his life to save his feline damsel and her unsavory cohort. 
Denouement – The final strands of the piece are pulled together and random bits are explained as needed.
On solid ground once more with the feline damsel enraptured by his heroic act, ROC turns his back on her and Russian blue and leaves with a pudgy tortoise shell named Sheila.

So, that’s three-act structure in a nutshell. When I first started using it, I would either apply the elements retroactively to a completed draft of my novel, or I would start using it halfway through the novel as a basic guide to figure out where I was going. I found it challenging, however, if I didn’t have a clear understanding of what the novel was about as a whole.

Then, I read an article on outlining that suggested coming up with the ending of a story first – before getting anything else down on the page. I’ve looked high and low to try and find that article, or who wrote it, or what else is in it, and I unfortunately can’t. The only thing I remember is the recommendation that an author try coming up with the ending first. I think I stopped reading at that point, because I wanted to try applying it to whatever novel I was working on at the time. I did, and the rest is history. For me, the pieces fell into place from there. This, then, is how I outline a novel in full before I begin writing.

I start with the ending. With all of this, keep in mind that there’s always room to play – no one says I have to stick with the outline. Characters still surprise me, and I’ll often find halfway through the novel that the ending I’ve written or the twists I’ve manufactured can be outdone by something else. But, I start everything with some ending.

From there, I go through and write an outline based on the three-act structure explained above. I get pretty detailed, and definitely think about the obligatory scene and any twists and turns that might come in along the way. When I first started, my final novel looked very little like the original outline… These days, however, I’m writing a bit faster and have a better sense of the way novels (and my characters) work, so what I first put on the page in the outline is close to what is ultimately published.

What I like best about this process is the fact that starting this way means I can generate a fairly extensive list of scenes revolving around the elements within the structure. If I’m not feeling particularly creative one day, all I need to do is go to the outline and go through the motions until my muse returns. Once that happens, things feel spontaneous and magical all over again – but since I can’t count on spontaneity and magic to earn a living as a writer, I know I’ve got the outline to fall back on whenever necessary.

If you’re interested, I’ve created this handy infograph with the key elements of 3-act structure here. Feel free to download and reference whenever you need it, and happy outlining!

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. You can learn more at http://www.jenblood.com. 

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Weekend Update: November 27-28, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Dick Cass (Monday) a guest blogger (Tuesday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (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:

 

 

 

 

 

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. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Over the River and Through the Woods – MCW Thanksgiving Memories

Today we’re sharing Thanksgiving stories, photos, possibly even some recipes. Hope you enjoy, and have a happy holiday.

 

Kate’s all-time favorite family Thanksgiving picture, our group walk after dinner. Don’t we look rustic?

John Clark: I must have taken this one because I’m invisible. Thanksgiving has many memories, some bad, most good. When I was young, it was a toss-up whether hunting or eating took priority. Eating generally won. Then as time went on, there were long cutthroat card games while we digested food in order to make room for more pie. I remember winning one pie eating contest in the 1990s that backfired because I couldn’t look at dessert for days. Thanksgiving now involves our daughters, their husbands and best of all three grandchildren, Piper, Reid and Gemma. I’m particularly thankful this year because Lisa, Sam and Gemma now live an hour away as opposed to Port Chester, NY, so everyone will be at their house this Thanksgiving.

Another Thanksgiving at Sennebec Hill Farm

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Thanksgiving always seems to revolve around food and family, back when I was the kid in the photo in 1950, and in 2003, when the family gathering first included our great niece, now a very grown up young lady of eighteen.

I’m looking forward to catching up on news and to stuffing myself on turkey, stuffing, rolls, apple pie, and that frequent addition to Maine holiday tables, the whoopie pie.

Maggie Robinson: 1979 was a most memorable Thanksgiving for the Robinson family. My husband was the new headmaster at Lee Academy, so we’d moved into Dewdrop Cottage, a house on campus.

The move from Virginia had been somewhat stressful that August, as I was six months pregnant with Baby #3, and had a 5-year-old and an almost 3-year-old. (Baby #4 would not come along until 1983, just in time for Easter.) But everything was finally in place for our first Thanksgiving in our new house. We had a smallish turkey, as only the only guest was my mother-in-law, who drove up from Brewer that morning and planned to drive back the next day. Oops.

All during dinner I felt uncomfortable, so we decided to go to my doctor on Friday to see what was cooking with the baby who was already over a week late. He put me in the hospital, but Jessie did not arrive until Saturday afternoon. My poor mother-in-law was stuck at in Lee with two little kids and no clothes for almost a week. When I came home with the baby, she shot out of the house like her pants were on fire. She’d had quite enough, LOL.

We always tease Jessie that she weighed more than our turkey that year. At 9 pounds 11 ounces, she was plump and juicy and looked just like a baby doll you’d buy in the store–blonde, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked. She’ll be with us this year to celebrate her birthday with a gluten-free cake as well as pumpkin pie. 🙂

The Robinson girls

Kate Flora: I’ve always found it a bit strange that our traditions evolved so that Ken and I and the boys would spend Thanksgiving in Maine with my family and Christmas in Massachusetts with Ken’s family, who are Jewish. But that’s how it ended up, and so we would head north either the night before or the morning of, to the farm. Sometimes that Thanksgiving morning would be clear and brown, sometimes icy, sometimes snowing. There would steaming pots on the stove and the delicious smell of roasting turkey filling the house. There were traditions that couldn’t be changed–there had to be a tall glass compote filled with fresh fruit. There had to be trays of dates and figs. There had to be a hammered aluminum bowl of mixed nuts and a stack of lobster crackers doubling as nut crackers. While the grandchildren waited for dinner, they could crack nuts until the entire area around that bowl was a sea of bits of shell and crushed nuts.

When we were kids ourselves, our house was always the venue that relatives came to. The women would cook and the men would go out hunting, coming back somehow miraculously just as the turkey came out of the oven. I know I’ve told this story before, but I love the year that my feminist mother, sick of the women doing all the work while the men sat and waited to be fed, put slips of paper in a bowl with everyone’s name, and pairs were drawn out to take turns washing and drying the dishes. There was no dishwasher. My father was outraged at the sight of his elderly uncles washing dishes.

Cranberry sauce upper right beside the gravy boat.

Susan Vaughan: No matter whether my husband and I join other family members for the holiday, when we get home, we always have our own turkey with all the traditional accompaniments. One special dish is the cranberry sauce made from his mother’s recipe. I grew up being served the canned, jellied cranberry sauce, but always passed it on to the next relative. Some people prefer it, but my husband’s mom introduced me to her whole-berry sauce and the recipe. The amounts are easily reduced or expanded. Here you go: Mrs. Vaughan’s Cranberry Sauce. 1 12-ounce package of whole cranberries, 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Put all together in a saucepan on the stove. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. Let cool a bit. Then pour into a bowl or a mold and chill. It’s the best!

Maureen Milliken: Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because, let’s face it: food, food and more food. I like the basics. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. The leftovers are as good as the originals. I could eat it for weeks. For many years, working for newspapers, I’d work on Thanksgiving, but frequently would try to find a local restaurant serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal, or make my own. I don’t care who cooks it, as long as it is there.

I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving Day football on TV, mostly because no one in my family has a large enough house to separate the loud football-watching from the conversation with family. My point is, why are we all getting together if we’re going to watch football rather than socialize? And I prefer buffet-style service to sitting around a table. Please don’t get in between me and the food.

five women sitting around a table with thanksgiving food on it, a TV with football playing can be seen int he background

A recent Thanksgiving at my sister Nicki’s in New Hampshire with, from left, my mom, my niece Adele, Nicki, my sister Becky and my sister-in-law Nina. Where are the menfolk? The screen with the football game in the background may give you a hint.

I did host one Thanksgiving for the entire family, in 1999. I’d bought my first house, in Manchester, New Hampshire, a few years before and was anxious to actually use the dining room. I remember it as being a resounding success, and also the only Thanksgiving, I believe, that we have a full family photo from.

Thanksgiving 1999, the only time I hosted the entire family. Some of those babies have babies of their own now.

Over the years, Thanksgiving dinners that included my five siblings and their families have pretty much fallen by the wayside — people are far-flung and the crowd is too big. For several years, my parents alternated between having it at their house in Portland and going to my youngest sister’s in New Hampshire, but in more recent years, they’ve preferred to stay home in Portland , and we usual gather with my two siblings who live there, one of whom lives with them  and one who lives a few blocks away, any other related hangers-on.

I start focusing in late October on making sure someone at my parents’ house will be providing Thanksgiving dinner. This year I was given a free turkey from one of my freelance gigs, which made things easier. I also always bring the cranberry sauce. There was a time in my life when I atually thought it always was a round oblong, with the imprint from a can on it. When I discovered that it could be a delicious lumpy so tart and so sweet homemade treat (or bought from a local maker), I was so totally on board. There is nothing — nothing! — as scrumptious as a forkful of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy all in the same mouthful. Side note: In our teenage and early adult years, my siblings and I called cranberry sauce “I buried Paul.” Beatle fans will remember that on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon, with a little imagination, can be heard saying “I buried Paul.” Lennon said what he was actually saying was “cranberry sauce.” And why wouldn’t he be?

Another family tradition is someone calling out, “How can these rolls be burned on the outside and still frozen on the inside?” Another treasured ha ha holiday memory from the past. But a story for another day.

Here’s how I make cranberry sauce (I can’t claim it as an original recipe, I’m sure many folks make it the same way). This makes a good enough batch for a small Thanksgiving dinner with cranberry-sauce lovers, but can easily be expanded to make more. It takes about half an hour to make and is best made the day before, if not even more in advance, so it’s nice and chilled and jelly-like:

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of orange juice

4 cups cranberries (either frozen or fresh, if fresh be sure all stems are removed and cranberries are rinsed)

Boil water, orange juice and sugar in a medium or large saucepan until all the sugar is dissolved.

Add cranberries. Once it starts boiling again, lower heat to simmer and let it cook about 10 minutes until most of the cranberries have burst, then turn off the heat.

Let cranberry sauce cool and thicken in the pot until it’s room temperature, then put it in a bowl or container and put it in the refrigerator.

If you like it with add-ins — nuts, cinnamon, orange rind, etc. — but them in after you’ve removed it from the burner but while it’s still hot and before it starts to thicken.

Brenda Buchanan:  Great cranberry sauce recipe, Mo!

I can’t claim my story as a memory but it’s true, and it’s not exactly a Thanksgiving memory but close.

I was born on the first of December, which in the year of my birth was during hunting season in Massachusetts.  My father was not a dedicated hunter, but he enjoyed a quiet walk in the woods. That year some friends invited him to go hunting on the first of December, so on the night of November 30 he prepared to head out early the next morning for the first time all fall.

During the evening he set his hunting license on the kitchen table and set about gathering the rest of his gear. He awoke at 5 a.m., dressed in darkness and crept downstairs. He shrugged on his coat and reached for his hunting license, but his fingers didn’t find it. When he switched on the light, it was nowhere to be found.

As the story was told every year, Pa called his friends after turning the kitchen upside down to report he couldn’t join them after all, because he couldn’t find his darned hunting license.  He returned to bed, only to be awoken a couple of hours later when my mother went into labor.  Had he been off hunting she would have had to call an ambulance to get to the hospital, but thanks to the missing license, he was right there with her for the birth of the second Buchanan daughter.

Later somebody found the missing license in a most illogical place. Apparently, my sister SuEllen, 15 months old at the time, was going through a stage where she found it hilarious to toss things into the trash.  There it was, among the family detritus, and everyone agreed she’d saved the day.

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Apply the Bechdel Test, with a twist, when you read, watch and write

I recently learned about the Bechdel Test for sexism in fiction. This is a way to gauge the level of sexism in a work by checking to see if it has a conversation between two women that isn’t about a man or men. It’s been on my mind for a week or so, ever since I watched the documentary “This Changes Everything,” which is about how tough it is for women in Hollywood to get jobs as directors or other male-traditional jobs, or even get good parts.

At first I thought, gee, it can’t be that rare to have two women in a movie, TV show or book talking about something other than men. Then I started paying attention. In the past week or so as I’ve watched many episodes of a well-loved ’90s sitcom, several episodes of two different BBC shows based on very popular books (both by women), a few episodes of other British and U.S. mystery series and two movies, I’ve found not only is it rare to have two women having a conversation about something other than men, it’s rare to find two women having a conversation about anything.

This eye-opener came as I was already getting irritated at the number of mystery and crime TV shows and movies I’d seen recently that had plots that involved either strip clubs or sex workers. If an alien landed on Earth and got all their knowledge about our culture from TV crime shows and movies, their conclusion would be that the best job opportunities for women are in sex work, and that many, many women spend most of their time wearing nearly nothing in order to show off their young very attractive perfect bodies. If a show or movie has a fair amount of women in it, often it’s because the show has a strip club or hooker theme.

I know many of you right now are thinking of all the exceptions to what you’ve just read. That’s great. There are exceptions. Thank goodness! But wouldn’t it be great if the exceptions were the norm?

If you want a dose of reality, here’s a Bechdel Test with a Milliken twist. (And as an aside, similar testing can be done for race, but today I’m talking about women). I’ve devised a series of questions not only to ask when I’m watching and reading, but also to ask when I’m writing. All these scenarios, if the gender were flipped, are fairly normal for male characters. Not so much for women, I’ve discovered:

A conversation — about anything — between two women

A conversation — about anything — between two named female characters

A conversation — about anything — between two women who are significant characters in the book, TV show or movie

A conversation between two women that isn’t about a man or men

A conversation between two women that’s doesn’t involve a female cop interviewing a female suspect or witness

A conversation between two women in which one later doesn’t end up being a victim (therefore the conversation is mostly an introduction set-up)

A major positive (or likable) female character who is overweight/middle-aged/considered in some way to be conventionally unattractive

A major positive (or likable) female character who is overweight/middle-aged/considered in some way to be conventionally unattractive who has a real love interest who doesn’t later turn out to be a murderer, con man etc.

Female characters central to the plot who aren’t strippers or hookers

A professional group (cops, work/professional group central to the story that’s not a group of strippers or hookers, friends group, etc.) with more than one woman or where women have representation that reflects real life

A girlfriend/wife/love interest for a male protagonist who’s his age or older (and if she is his age or older, it’s a good, strong relationship)

A strong female character who doesn’t become the love interest of the male protagonist

A strong female character who doesn’t become a victim

I’m sure that I’ll get emails from people insisting I’m overreacting, wrong, laden with examples that “prove me wrong.” Or with rationalizions as to why female characters can’t be used in stronger, better ways. Fighting it, instead of taking a deep look at it, won’t solve the problem, though. As I’ve said, I’m putting the test to my own writing going forward. My books don’t have strip clubs or sex workers — there are way too many good professions and interesting crimes for women that don’t involve further objectifying us — but on some of the other questions, I have room for improvement.

I’ve been waiting for six decades for the world to change, and in a lot of ways it has. But, in a lot of ways it hasn’t. Changing the world of fiction is a step in the right direction.

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Weekend Update: November 20-21, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be a post by Maureen Milliken on Monday and an alumni post on Friday. On Tuesday we’ll be sharing Thanksgiving stories and on Thanksgiving we’ll be taking the day off.

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

John Clark is happy to announce that he has three stories in the 2021 BOULD Anthology just released this week. They are “Bait and Switch” and “Bust My Buttons.”

 

 

 

 

 

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. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Remembrance

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, once again waxing nostalgic. The farm that belonged to my mother’s side of the family has appeared in many of my books, in one guise or another, and I even based my children’s book, Katie’s Way, on Mom’s recollections of growing up there in the 1920s, but until now I haven’t singled out the one person who made time spent at the farm most memorable.

Catherine May Hornbeck was born on January 18, 1886 in Hurleyville, New York, the second child of Myron (known as Miles) Hornbeck. He inherited the family farm from his father, Lawrence. I imagine it was shortly after he married Ella Applebee, whose family ran a small hotel, that they expanded into the business of taking in summer boarders. Farm/boardinghouses were common in the Sullivan County Catskills. Folks from New York City flocked to the area in search of fresh air and cooler temperatures.

Catherine, known as Katie (although not the Katie in my novel) had four younger siblings, two sisters and two brothers. It was Tressa, three years younger, who was actually my grandmother, but since she died giving birth to my mother in 1910, I never knew her. It was Katie, along with her parents, who raised the baby, Marie, since Marie’s father worked for the O&W Railroad and was away much of the time. He lived at the farm when he was home, but he may not have felt all that welcome. His mother-in-law, Ella, blamed him for Tressa’s death. She may have had some cause. In doing genealogical research, I discovered that Leslie Hamilton Coburg and Tressa Estelle Hornbeck married only a few months before my mother was born.

1915: Katie, Marie, Les, Ella, and Miles

Somewhere along the line. Katie fell in love with her sister’s widower, but her mother forbade them to marry. It wasn’t until after Ella died that they could finally wed. For me, Katie was Grandma Coburg.

Tressa was a portrait on the wall of the living room at the farm.

I have many fond memories of Katie Coburg. She sewed and crocheted and hooked rugs. She regularly listened in on neighbors’ telephone conversations on the party line. She raised chickens for their eggs and we had Sunday dinner at the farm (chicken, of course) every week. I often stayed there during the week, too. By that time the boarders were roomers, cooking their own meals in kitchenettes off the summer dining room. Years later, I learned I wasn’t the only one who loved visiting the farm because of Katie. Some of my Hornbeck cousins did, too. And so did the daughter of my mother’s childhood neighbor and lifelong friend.

The Hornbeck siblings at their parents’ 50th anniversary

After all the others married, Katie was the only sibling still living at the farm. Her father left the property jointly to all five of his surviving children, but he left the furniture to Katie. I always knew she loved the farm and never wanted to leave it. What I didn’t know until much later was that her siblings would have preferred to sell it. I was eight or nine when she and my grandfather briefly looked at houses in the town where I lived with my parents. She was in tears at the thought of uprooting herself from the only home she’d ever known.

The older I get, the more I understand clinging to the familiar. I’ve traveled to many parts of the U.S. and visited several other countries, but I get it—home is where the heart is. Katie never wanted to leave. In the end, she didn’t have to.

I was ten when she died. After the funeral, held at the farm, Mom had me ask Grampa to come live with us. I didn’t understand then that the farm was about to be sold and he had no place else to go. I still don’t know all the details surrounding the sale. I do know there were hard feelings, and that I never saw most of my Hornbeck relatives again. A few years later, the farmhouse burned to the ground.

No place has ever had such an impact on me, and few people have ever held such an important place in my memory. As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m thankful to have had Grandma Coburg in my life.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published eight more, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But …”

READ ON TO MAKE SENSE OF THIS IMAGE

Sandra Neily here:

If I had to pick a time to avoid open heart surgery like the plague (oops; useless expression these days), I would avoid it now when Maine Medical Center is packed with more Covid patients than any time since the start of the pandemic.

But, as Mick Jagger says, “you can’t always get what you want.” Sigh. (I sang that to my very young daughter when she was asking for the impossible. We always ended up  dancing around the kitchen, so it worked.)

The song goes on to say that sometimes, “you get what you need.” I needed a new aortic valve. My cardiologist has been watching it for years as it went from a mild thing, to a moderate thing, to a severe times up thing when climbing stairs left me breathless.

When my brain was fogged during the early part of my hospital stay, I appreciated the advice of my good friend Sally and listened to Harry Potter on my iPad. I only took off the huge wireless headphones my husband gave me when I went to bed or when my vitals got taken.

I know I’ve recommended Jim Dale’s reading of this series to all my adult friends and Maine Crime Writers’ readers before, but there’s nothing like his talent at making another world come alive. I thought I could use transport to another world beyond my hospital roommate’s speaker phone conversations with her family (who all sounded lovely, but … honestly).

It worked. Chock up another win for us story tellers!

I was spared endless recipe comparisons and tales of dog output performance from the other side of the curtain when I was with Harry and friends.

Jim Dale has won every audio book award multiple times! See why, here. Age or skepticism or snobbery is no barrier to enjoying it, but he’s so good, please, if driving, turn it off when you get to traffic, lights, and civilization. Harry’s world is that distracting.

After a few more days, I thought I could read through the first chapters of my next book. I’d emailed them to myself, thinking I could at least visit my writing brain and get myself ready to type more chapters when I got home.

Nope.

I don’t remember much about that effort except re-reading (many times) the lines about my narrator Patton as she completes a tough medical adventure.

“And no tears,” Liz said, pulling down her jacket cuff to wipe mine away. “I know how much you hate the entire fragile idea—even hate the word fragile—but that’s what you are. Probably not forever, but in the near future, please dial it back and just heal. Please. Just heal. Make that lovely but lawless canine run circles around you while you walk slower than clams.”

“Clams don’t walk,” I said, settling Pock on his car sleeping bag.

“My point, exactly,” Liz said, wiping her own tears.

Boris Karloff, 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein.” Grateful my significant stiches are…elsewhere.

I am now, however, walking a mile or more a day (faster than clams), impressing my health care team, inspecting my chest to see if the Frankenstein stitches are fading, and reading the newly released (and best-selling) Eleanor. This hefty biography technically pushes the limit about how much weight I’m supposed to lift, but I could not have ordered up a more engrossing story about a woman overcoming great odds.

A woman we thought we knew a bit, but not really. A woman who achieves her fullness later in life. I didn’t intend it, but this biography seems to be a recovery infusion of grit and hope.

“Squirrel! I can hold this pose for a long time while my human catches up to me.”

For a while now, the things that lift me up and onward have not been available: the outdoors and physical activity, reading, and writing. All are back now. And just in time for the first flirtation of snow as it decorated the balsams leaning over my woods walks.

I think by January I’ll be cleared to snowshoe on the lake when it freezes. Or ski on flat trails. By then, maybe I’ll have most of Deadly Disease, or Deadly Invasion, or Deadly Loss (the title is illusive) … written. At least the first draft.

I’ll need to reread the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Reviews below.) In it she says, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. … the first draft is the down draft–you just get it down. The second draft is the updraft–you fix it up. … And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

ps: Many thanks to the Maine Crime Writers team for all the great posts I’ve enjoyed this past month or so while I took a break. What a diverse coterie of authors, united by talent but each sharing diverse and quite unexpected advice, stories, recipes, family updates, travels, and of course, the passion for storytelling.

ppss: Wondering why adults are drawn to the Harry Potter series? Here’s Harry’s headmaster: “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

Oh my …

(Boomers and those feeling creaky take note: I suggest you watch that entire video of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for impressive senior energy and the magic cigarette.)

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. She lives in a camp on Moosehead Lake. Find more info on Sandy’s website. 

*******

Reviews for Bird by Bird: “Superb writing advice. . . . Hilarious, helpful, and provocative.”
The New York Times Book Review ** “A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.” Los Angeles Times ** “One of the funniest books on writing ever published.” The Christian Science Monitor ** “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write. . . . Sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind—a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can.” Seattle Times

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Coloring The World With Words

Kate Flora: I’m late with my post today because I’m still recovering from spending the weekend with other humans at the always marvelous New England Crime Bake mystery conference. This year was the 20th anniversary of an event that born in my living room at a Sisters in Crime meeting. I said we needed our own conference here in New England, where we had such a rich field of mystery writers, and the presidents of the local chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, both present, announced that they would start one.

After a weekend inside, this morning, once I got my bleary eyes open, I went outside and took a walk around my yard. I’ve been thinking about teaching, and in particular, teaching one of my classes that focus on being observant, seeing the world, and then trying to see it through different eyes. This morning on that walk, I focused on how different the colors of late autumn are from the colors of spring or summer. More subdued, with darker, richer hues, the natural world’s last gasp before the leaves fall and our eyes begin to be drawn to structure and shades of gray and brown.

In thinking about this post, I went looking for some of my reference book that I often turn to in helping me to enhance or improve my descriptions. Alas! Ever since we had to move everything to have the inside painted, I haven’t been able to find anything. My reference books seem to have grown legs and walked off. I can see that my first project, once the current WIP is done, will be to round them up and return them to eye-level shelves in my office. For now, I am forced to rely on memory (not so great anymore), the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and my trusty Rodale’s Synonym Finder.

The colors of fall are challenging. Remember the giant 64 crayon Crayola box? It had odd colors like burnt umber. Can’t find that in Rodale’s, but luckily a search for brown offers up bay, chestnut, roan, sorrel, rust, brick, terracotta, cinnamon, ginger, hazel, maroon, chocolate, cocoa, coffee, mahogany, walnut, henna, auburn, dun, fawn, beige, tawny, drab, bronze, copper, and gold.

Doesn’t the world immediately feel different, depending on which of these words is applied? A tawny world is warmer and more appealing than a dun or drab one. Maroon suggest richness and majesty. When I follow that to purple, which is the color some of my hydrangeas have turned, they conjure up eminence, nobility, as well as brilliant, radiant, glorious, splendid, resplendent, and the ridiculous word splendiferous. Yet splendiferous is just how the world has felt these past weeks, as our slow and stately fall had kept the color glowing long after it has usually departed.

Following the trail of words is a habit from childhood when we kept a dictionary near the table so we could grab it and look words up. It is easy these days to simply type in a google search and get  definition, but that eliminates half the fun, which is seeing other words on the page. My search for purple goes on to the idea of “purple prose,” offering ornate, flamboyant, florid, flowery, grandiose, pompous, and the delicious words orotund and grandiloquent. And of course there are high-flying, pretentious, stilted, and lofty.

This is what happens to writers, by the way. We go searching for an answer, a detail, a fact, a definition, and find ourselves disappearing down rabbit holes of research. We do it with delight, with curiosity, and sometimes, after finding the answer, we don’t want to stop until the demands of deadlines force us to.

Today, despite the thousand must be written words on my horizon, I drift to quotations. Find John Clare writing:

Summers pleasures they are gone like to visions everyone

And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on

 Thomas Hood gives us:

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn

Stand shadowless like Silence listening to silence

 And from Shelley:

The day becomes more solemn and serene

When noon is past–there is a harmony

In autumn and a lustre in its sky

Which through the summer is not heard or seen

As if it could not be, as if it had not been!

 Go outside and look around at the colors, at the shapes that emerge as the green falls away, and think how you would describe them.

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Weekend Update: November 13-14, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be  posts by Kate Flora (Monday), Charlene D’Avanzo (Tuesday), Sandra Neily (Thursday), and Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Friday). Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

The winner of last Win a Book Wednesday’s giveaway, a download of The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, is Ann Hough. Thanks to all who entered.

 

 

 

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. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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