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:

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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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 …”


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.


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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Haunted or History

I once lived in a haunted house. No, this isn’t a Halloween post, but a history one. It’s partly my history and that of the farmhouse where I lived for a year as a child.

My husband and I recently took a road trip from Maine to rural, southern West Virginia to visit my dearest childhood friend. I won’t share how many years that is, but it’s a lot! I hadn’t seen her in about fifteen years, we’re both getting on in years, and it was time to go.

We had a wonderful visit which included a stop at the old farmhouse that is my focus here. A little of my personal history first. My father had been teaching in Greenbrier County, a beautiful valley of green field, hills, and small towns and named for the river that flows through it. While completing his doctoral program in education at the University of Virginia, he took the job of principal, grades 1-12, in the farming community of Smoot. It was there I started first grade and met my forever friend the first day of school. But that’s another tale.

While our small house was being built near the school, my parents and I boarded with Lillie Deitz in her 1840 brick farmhouse a few miles away. The house sits on a high knoll with gently rolling pastures and nearby woodlands.

Mrs. Deitz’s son and daughter-in-law also lived there and worked the farm. My little family occupied two rooms on the second floor.

A door on the other side of the central staircase led to rooms that were unoccupied… by anyone living. I was told that during the Civil War (Civil War was meaningless to me at age five and a half) that side of the upstairs had been a hospital. I was to stay out of there because ghosts of soldiers haunted the rooms. One day the door stood slightly ajar. I gathered my courage and nudged the door inward. Cold air and the odors of dust and something dank raised goosebumps on my arms. The glimpse of faded and stained canvas and wood cots and a table with dusty metal implements was enough to back me out and close the door. Looking back now, I think the parental warning was because the medical instruments would be dangerous to inquisitive little fingers.

I don’t know why all that was kept. Maybe the Deitz family knew it was important to preserve it, although the heirs didn’t pursue having the house designated an historic site until much later. It was designated a National Historic Place in 1992.

On my previous visit to the house, also with my friend as guide, I had been appalled to see the deterioration of the house. A fallen oak had crushed part of the roof. Vandals had broken windows, damaged fireplaces, and sprayed graffiti. The porch was gone.

So why beyond being a hospital does this farm deserve to be in the National Register of Historic Places? Because it was way more than I knew until this visit. Between 1861 and 1865, the farm served as a headquarters and military hospital by both sides of the war. General Robert E. Lee occupied it twice in 1861. In 1862 and again in 1864, Union troops commanded by General George Crook used it as headquarters and hospital. During part of this time, this was western Virginia. West Virginia became a state in 1863.

On two knolls are the earthwork remains of Confederate fortifications. In a depression between them lie military trenches and unmarked graves said to be of Confederate soldiers who died in the hospital. On some inside walls are about two dozen soldiers’ names and regimental inscriptions by members of both Union and Confederate troops.

Rear of house. Depressions in hillside hard to see.

At some point the owner returned, and in the early 1900’s Lillie Deitz’s father bought the property. The current Deitz heirs eventually raised money to restore the house and applied to the state and federal government for recognition. Today the structure has been repaired and restored to its original design, except the windows are still boarded up, for vandalism prevention, I imagine.

The Deitz House, according to the National Register, is a fine red brick Greek Revival, two-story gabled-roof home, built by a wealthy captain in 1840. The restored wooden porch across the front is supported by four columns. The interior is divided by a central staircase and has long wide windows on both floors. At the back is a brick kitchen. Hardwood floors and four brick-and-stone fireplaces, two on each floor, add elegance. And heat.

Barbed wire and security alarms on the surrounding fencing prevented us from getting close enough to peek inside. I don’t know if the interior is restored or if there are plans for visitation. If that happens, I’ll be the first to sign up.

You must agree there are good reasons ghosts might linger inside and outside. Have you ever lived in a “haunted” or historic house?

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Many of Us Didn’t Almost Serve

Sgt Vaughn C. Hardacker
USMC Iwakuni, Japan 1973

Vaughn C. Hardacker here:  What is it about veterans that make non-vets say:  “I almost joined…”?  I can’t count the times people have said this to me.  When my daughter’s first father-in-law learned that I was a Marine vet and had served in Vietnam, he said that.  The only comment I could think of at that time was:  “Well, you didn’t miss anything.”

I was wrong.  He did miss a lot.  For most of my generation, the military was where our childhood and naive way of viewing life came to an end.  I recall my first night at Parris Island (Talk about culture shock!).  I sat in a barber chair and told the barber “Just take a little off the top.”  He didn’t say a word as he ran the clippers along the center of my hair.   Thirty seconds later I sat on the floor (or the deck as I was soon to learn) in a sport coat, shirt, and tie with a bald head.  The first thought that entered my mind was “These people don’t care what you think.”

Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps, I was a mouthy, wiseass (probably haven’t changed all that much either) and in the next three months, (eight weeks at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by four at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) I learned a valuable lesson, although I haven’t always adhered to it: It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If nothing else the Marine Corps impressed two things on me.  (1) To be responsible for my actions and (2) nothing in this world is free–not even freedom.

This blog will post on November 11, 2021.  It was on this date in 1919 the armistice ending WWI was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  It remained Armistice Day until 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.  Many people seem to misunderstand the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  The latter is to commemorate the sacrifice American Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen made when they gave their lives for this country and for us.  Veterans Day is for everyone who served.

I have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou on Veterans Day.  I usually try to ad-lib my way through this sort of thing, but I thought about it and realized this was an honor and not a chore.   I spoke with Roger Felix, Post commander at the Caribou VFW, who had asked me to speak and asked what should I speak about?  He said:  “What about freedom isn’t free?”  I immediately realized that was a very appro pro topic.

You may think that the phrase has been used so much that it has become a cliche (and we authors know that they should be viewed as lazy writing and be avoided), yet it is the truth.  I believe that we have lost sight of the basic fact that everything has to be earned.  Look at where our society is today.  The current generation seems to feel they are entitled to everything they want.  Even our government uses the word entitlement freely. They consider social security and medicare to be government entitlements–wait a minute!  Our generation (the baby boomers) is the first to have paid into social security for our entire working lives–we paid for it and earned it, not entitled to it.  Veterans hear this too.  Military retirement is an entitlement,  even though you worked for salaries lower than the private sector, endured separations from your family, and either stood ready to go to war or did go.  VA pensions are an entitlement, even though you only received compensation for illnesses and injuries that are directly linked to your service.  I believe that even these so-called entitlements have a price.  That price is freedom.  The message being sent is simple:  “Give me the power to control you and I will give you…  I believe that not even $600.oo dollars on top of unemployment and more food stamps than your family can use in a month is too high a price.  It is also apparent to me that the people who make freedom-restricting rules also make themselves exempt from them.

So, you may ask what is an entitlement?  How about a government handout that makes it financially stupid for you to return to work for less money than unemployment pays?  How about demanding the government pay for your college?  What about the generations of people who paid back their student loans for years?  Aren’t they entitled to some or all of that money back?

Are we entitled to freedom?  I would argue no, we are not.  We have to earn it.  Our country exists because our forefathers paid for freedom from a tyrannical king with their blood and lives.  The people of Europe are not universally speaking German because two times men stood up and paid the price for freedom from tyranny.  This is by no means a new struggle.  It has gone on since men decided to be different from one another.  Different countries (tribes), different languages, how about different skin color?  So long as there are people on Earth who want to dominate, control, and enslave other people we will need people who didn’t almost join.  The next time you pass a cemetery and see all those flags on veteran graves pause for a moment and say:  Thank you for joining.  The next time you pass a veteran and say:  Thank you for your service, mean it…don’t just be saying another platitude.  Maybe you might say:  Thank you for not almost joining.


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