Notes from a Sabbatical

Kate Flora: When I first announced that I was thinking of taking a sabbatical from FipZyfbARtKRsnMVeU+JOAwriting, not only were my friends skeptical, but I was. It was more of a joke than a reality—a declaration of restlessness and surprise at finding that the next book wasn’t breathing impatiently down my neck. But about two weeks ago I closed my computer and stepped away, curious about what would happen if the pressure to write wasn’t there every day, dogging my steps and making me feel guilty if I didn’t write my daily quota of words.

For the first several days, I had a grand time. I puttered in the kitchen. I puttered in the garden. I read some of the accumulated magazines I’d been carrying around in my tote bag all summer. I read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road. I swam in the cool Maine ocean. I drank gin and tonics on the porch and watched a succession of wonderful Maine sunsets.

I made pulled pork. Roasted vegetables on the grill. I grilled bread. Made salmon burgers. Salad with fresh corn and faro with coconut milk. I baked a cake from a recipe my friend Karin clipped from the Courier-Gazette years ago and decided it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had.

I tended my mini-garden where my pathetic little cucumber vine is making exactly two inelegant cucumbers and the sun gold tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Bees are happily swarming around the many pots of summer flowers I have out on my dock.

And then my exploration of bliss and leisure was suddenly derailed. Shortly after my husband and I had been happily swimming in the cove, a neighbor came over to tell us that those sirens we’d heard were because another neighbor had been attacked by a shark while swimming just around the corner.

Suddenly everything about my cottage by the edge of the sea was colored with danger. I told my husband that it was as though a piano had fallen out a window and landed just behind me. Thinking about poor Julie and the trauma for her family pulled me right back into something we crime writers think about a lot—the ripple effect of crime, of all terrible events, and the lingering impact such events have on the survivors, the community, and people’s sense of safety.

VBQ+rl%zRvqTcQT9JKvDFwDespite the way this tragedy has sent my mind ticking over, I’m not yet ready to go back to work. I’m enjoying exploring how long it will take me to get restless and what story will appear and demand to be written. I expect such a story to arrive soon. I’ve already started dreaming plots and wonder if I’ll be able to write the book I’ve been toying with for more than twenty years. In the meantime, I’ll keep puttering, gardening, cooking, and watching sunsets. And hoping that the sea will become less menacing.

 

Here’s the recipe for that cake:

Yummy Rhubarb Farm Cake

 

Georgeanne Davis –Courier Gazette

 

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Grease 9” springform pan

 

½ stick melted butter

½ C. vegetable oil

1-l/4 C. sugar (I used just 1 cup)

2 TBS. lemon zest, finely minced

1 egg

1-1/2 C buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla

 

3 C flour

¼ C cornmeal

1 TBS baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. salt

2 Cups ½” dice rhubarb (about 3 big stalks)

 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together butter, oil, sugar and lemon zest.  Whisk in the egg, then buttermilk and vanilla.

In separate bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter and then gently fold in the rhubarb. Spoon into the and bake about 55 min., small cracks will appear on the top and the cake will begin to color. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before removing the sides of the pan.

 

From the kitchen of Fluffy Quimby

 

 

 

 

 

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Reality, Part II

In my last post I predicted that someone would find something to question in A Fatal Fiction and that it would be something it would never have occurred to me to do differently. I hate it when I’m right!

There’s a scene in which my seventy-year-old sleuth, Mikki Lincoln, is obliged to sneak out of her own house. She’s fully aware of the absurdity of her situation, but at that moment, the best solution she can come up with is to use the “fire escape” her father set up for the family when she was a child—go out onto the little balcony off what was her bedroom and is now her office, climb over the railing onto the gently sloping roof of the garage, and jump off the lower end onto the neighbor’s lawn. I made every effort to clarify that this wasn’t all that dangerous. If she dropped straight down, onto the path between the properties, it would be a fall of 6-7 feet, but the neighbor’s yard is up a bank, cutting the distance in half. What I failed to make clear is that Mikki, like me, has nice dense bones, the kind that don’t break easily. Since I didn’t clarify that point, a reviewer for an online review site devoted an entire paragraph in an otherwise favorable review to detailing why no woman of Mikki’s age would risk making such a jump. She found the scene unbelievable.

Picture me grinding my teeth (which are also quite durable). Some days you just can’t win. What was intended to get Mikki where she had to go, but also add a bit of comic relief, obviously failed with at least one reader. And, naturally, she had to tell the whole world (or at least her entire readership) about it. That’s her right, of course. In fact, it’s her obligation. And I’m probably making matters worse by talking about the same scene here. Anyone who reads that review or this post and then reads A Fatal Fiction is going to be looking hard at those details, which may well pull them right out of the story. My fingers are crossed that the detecting that follows and the maneuvering Mikki has to go through to get back inside the house on her return, will make up for it any momentary loss of what the pundits call “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Really, though, the worst part of having failed to make this scene work, for at least one reader, is that I didn’t have to have Mikki jump off the roof. I just wanted her to. You see, her house is my childhood home, and I always wondered if Daddy’s “fire escape” would work. Being a rather timid kid, I never had the nerve to try it. And, thank goodness, we never had to use it to escape from a real fire.

On the typo front, I’ve also heard from a keen-eyed reader who spotted one. For anyone who cares to look, it’s on page 77 of the hardcover edition: “Steering around yet another a gigantic pothole . . . ” At one point it must have read “a gigantic pothole” and then I must have decided to change it to “yet another gigantic pothole” and in the process, the “a” was left behind. Aaarghh! As I’ve said before, there’s always at least one that slips through, no matter how carefully my editors and I have gone over the manuscript. One of these days, though, I’m going to manage a perfect, typo- and mistake-free book.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d be happy to sell you.

With the publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett  has had sixty-two books traditionally published. 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. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

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Weekend Update: August 1-2, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Thursday), and Brenda Buchanan (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. Contact Kate Flora

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An Anniversary of Sorts

(Begging your indulgence if you’ve seen this before):

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

Despite the bluebird desert sky, the rich sage air, the gorgeous red sun rising over the canyon rim—in spite of the prospect of a perfect river day—I am angry. Angry at myself. Angry at my fishing buddy Steve.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

We chased steelhead up and down Oregon—the Clackamas, the Sandy, along the Deschutes. Fished stripers in Sacramento, shad in the North Umpqua, smallmouth bass in the Willamette. Today I’m swinging a Skykomish Sunrise through runs I know as well as my backyard, as little as my heart.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I launched while the stars were still out, rowing hard to warm up. Dropped the anchor in Trout Creek, stepped into the river, the same river once. Rigged the rod with a Green Butt Skunk. This much I know how to do.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I’m angry because I don’t know how to feel. Steve has brain cancer and all I can do about it is walk in the water, lose myself in the thoughtless rhythm of the wading, the rhythm of not thinking at all. What I’m most angry about is that I don’t know how to tell Steve I love him. This isn’t something most men say to each other. “You’re a mensch, Steve” is as close as I come.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

We froze our asses off on winter runs in the Sandy River, broiled in July on the lower Deschutes, got blown out by winter rains on the Trask and the Nehalem. He was there for the first August fish I hooked, the four-pounder on the short Scott rod I loved so much I sent it back for repairs to the factory three times. The startled power of that fish is eternal in my muscle memory—I dream it sometimes, though I didn’t know enough to steer him across current and lost him.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

By choice and necessity, I fish alone today, laying out the graceful casts a spey rod gives me. The leaves on the hillside are the burning yellow I love. The breeze shoving down the canyon—a true headwind later in the afternoon—carries the faint cold breath of winter coming.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I turn my back to the river to watch a train on the opposite bank and only then comes the tug on my fly, that racing, muscular, unpanicked run.

“When I pursue happiness, I never find it,” Yang Wan-li says. “Then suddenly, when I’m not looking, it appears.” I release the fish—I want to kiss it goodbye—and flick out a long snap T-cast cross-current.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

Steve tells me over the phone he lost his fear of dying in Vietnam. What I haven’t lost, apparently, is my own fear of losing—losing fish, losing friends, losing life. Ave, Steve. I love you, brother.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step on.

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What Maine Authors are Up To

Today, we’re getting together to give you a group update on what we’re writing or what we’ve recently written. All in one place so you can update your TBR list with books you’ve missed or get excited about the new books that are coming. Enjoy!

Kate Flora: Looking ahead from last year, I would have said that this year I have nothinghh ebook coming out. Then everything changed. A request from the publisher of the fun noir collection, The Obama Inheritanceasked for a story about a twist on some current or former president for this year’s, The Faking of the White Houseand they published my story, Long Live Long. Then, following the suggestion of a kind friend on Facebook, I submitted a “book from the drawer” and ended up publishing my first romantic suspense from SoulMate Publishing, Wedding Bell Ruse. As if that wasn’t enough, at another friend’s suggestion, I send in a story about an old lady who watches Maine lobstermen, and it appears in a collection called Heartbreaks and Half-truths. Truly an embarrassment of riches. If all goes well, the 10th Thea Kozak mystery, Death Comes Knockingwill be out in September, and the 7th Joe Burgess, The Deceits of the World, before the end of the year. Is it any wonder I’m enjoying a brief sabbatical?

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: I’ve been spending the past few months proofreading some personal projects to put up online as original ebooks, starting with my biography of my grandfather, The Life of a Plodder. It’s available now for the bargain price of $3.99. I’m still revising and proofreading my A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, all 1.140 pages of it, for the eventual move from online webpages to ebook. I still have a long way to go before that’s ready. I’m also looking at creating ebooks of my long out-of-print novels for middle-grades readers. What I’m not doing at the moment is working on anything new for a traditional publisher. A Fatal Fiction came out from Kensington this summer and I’ve already turned in next year’s “Deadly Edits” mystery, Murder, She Edited. Sad to say, they don’t want any more Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, so that series is, at the least, on hiatus, but I do have a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, coming out from Level Best Books in October. All in all, I have just the right amount of work to keep me busy and out of trouble.

Dick Cass: The fifth book in the Elder Darrow series will be out in October, Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrw, from Encircle Publications. Elder Darrow helps Boston Homicide Detective Dan Burton solve the murder of a low-rent music impressario and a New Orleans gangster’s right hand man. Suspects include a(nother) reluctant bar owner, an aging jazz diva, and assorted thugs in the musical world with varying desires. Look for preorder information on August 1, at Barbara Kelly’s web site.

I also have a story in a COVID-related anthology Stop the World, Snapshots from a Pandemic, from Thalia Press in August, 2020. (COVID anthologies being a growth industry, it seems.) My story Day 13 is a reverse-English riff on Rear Window and I hope you’ll take a look.

 

Charlene D’Avanzo: The fourth book in the Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi series (Glass Eels, Shattered Sea) came out earlier this summer. Like everyone else, all my in-person events were canceled which was so very sad. I especially enjoy speaking to a library (or whatever) group about why I write environmental mysteries with climate change understories, answering questions, and hearing what folks have to say. At this point, I have no specific plans for book #5 although I never intended to write one dealing with trafficking of glass eels either. Story after story in local newspapers convinced me otherwise.

Research for the book was fascinating – my library includes a half dozen volumes about eel biology and ecology – and I was able to draw on my own experience as a grad student working off a research ship in the Sargasso Sea. Readers may especially enjoy SCUBA scenes in the crystal-clear, gloriously warm Sargasso waters. Now I’ll see what happens with another in the series. The very recent shark attack off Harpswell (Maine) is certainly a good starting place …

A completely different type of book calls to me from my basement where my father’s WWII trunk is filled with letters to my mother. Dad was a physician stationed in the Solomon Islands for several years – a very dangerous place to be at the time. In addition to the letters, I have lots of photos from his time there. I have no idea what to do with this all, but as a writer now I think I should do “something”. We will see.

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CRITTERS IN HAND: LESSONS FROM MOM

John Clark reflecting on generations and what they can pass on. Kate and I grew up on 187 acre Sennebec Hill Farm where we spent plenty of time outside as kids. We created hiding places on the hill across from the house, named places like the secluded spot we called the deer’s bedroom, dug clay from the brook at the back of the orchard (even sent off a sample to a family friend in New Jersey who was a chemist. He sent back an assay report that was a hit at school), had clam races in the shallows where we swam and even found a radiosonde attached to a deflated weather balloon that we sent back to the government so we could learn where it had been launched. In fact, we were outside so often and so much that Mom had a 4 inch cowbell she rang while standing on the back porch so we’d know when it was supper time.

Sara and Lisa on the shore of Sennebec Pond

As we got older, we tended to spend less time in the outdoors. School, summer jobs, then college, all frequently pushed nature aside. For both Mom and I, addiction also stole away lots of time as well as interest in the natural world. Part of our recovery involved the process of relearning to connect with nature. Mom wrote her Camden Herald column From The Orange Mailbox, Notes From A Few Country Acres for more than twenty years. She shared thoughts, observations from what she saw from her windows, aspects of local history and the nature of friendships, all in a way that drew in readers and gained her friends across the globe.

Piper and Grampa with golden cricket

When Kate, Sara, and I had children, Mom spent time with them, exploring the farm, sometimes for entire afternoons. It not only expanded their world, but helped her get back in touch with her own inner kid. I learned to do the same. One of my fondest memories with my daughters when they were young was at an AA picnic on Islesboro. I helped a bunch of kids build a small tide pool. We spent hours after it was constructed, stocking it with crabs, starfish and sea urchins.

Lisa and Cousin Jake with frogs at Sennebec Hill Farm

As of July 16th, I have three grandchildren. Piper is six, Reid is eight months and Gemma is eleven days old. By the time Reid was six months old, I’d spent more time with him than I had with both grandfathers and my maternal grandmother. Grandparenting in the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t a priority, at least in my family. Likewise for my daughters. Aside from my mother, the other three were pretty hands off. That’s not how Beth and I work. She took care of Piper for 2 ½ years and is doing the same on weekdays for Reid, as well as on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Piper. I’m with them almost every Thursday afternoon. In addition to reading and being goofy, Piper and I have a routine. We go critter hunting. It’s similar to what Mom did on the farm with her grandchildren. We look under rocks, boards and rotting logs to see what we can find. Slugs predominate, followed by earthworms, ants and sowbugs, but we’ve also found four salamanders, a frog, a couple toads and last week, golden crickets and a green worm we think is a Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar. We’re hoping to find a snake sometime soon. We’ve also used my metal detector a couple times, but the only treasure thus far has been an old gear and some flattened tin cans. Another bonus has been snacking on ripe raspberries and blueberries.

Piper and Reid entertaining each other

Piper and Reid have three grandfathers because of divorce and remarriage. Grampa Jack bought both of them lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. Piper and I went a couple weeks ago and she caught five sunfish and a yellow perch. A week later, she told me she wants me to show her how to clean a fish. We’ll be after a trout or two soon so I can help her add to her skills.

Lisa with Gemma Clare

Proud dad Sam with Gemma

Gemma Claire Barrese will be more challenging, given that she lives in Port Chester, NY, but I have plenty of time and am more than happy to use as much of it as necessary to invest in these three wonderful kids.

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Let’s All Make Believe (and a giveaway)

Thanks so much to my quasi-neighbor Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett for inviting me back to talk about Just Make Believe, the third Lady Adelaide Mystery set in the 20s. The 1920s. I’d hate to set a novel in the 2020s—it would be marked up by an editor for including way too much drama, death, and despair. I like to kill off people on the page as much as the next writer, but reality is definitely too real lately.

The 1920s are fraught enough: my widowed heroine Lady Adelaide Compton is off to a house party at fabled Fernald Hall, hosted by a disabled Great War hero and his glamorous wife. The world is still feeling the effects of political upheaval and its own pandemic, with unemployment skyrocketing and soldiers begging on the streets. Addie is keenly aware of the injustices around her, but she attempts to shut it all out and relax for the week. There are new garden improvements to inspect, and quiet rambles around the estate in her elegant new riding habit. How hard can it be to enjoy delicious dinners and the companionship of her oldest friends and neighbors?

Things go awry immediately—the horse throws her, her hostess is murdered, and another body is discovered buried in the garden. But having had some unfortunate previous experiences, she knows just who (whom?) to call—Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter of Scotland Yard.

I’ve used 1920s song titles and their lyrics for inspiration in this series, and Make Believe’s first stanza is the perfect intro:

Make Believe

There are times when you feel sad and blue
Something’s wrong, you don’t know what to do
When you feel that way, stop and think awhile
Just make believe and smile

(Music and lyrics: Jack Shilkret/Benny Davis, 1921)

Just about everything is not as it seems at Fernald Hall, and it’s up to Addie, Dev, and the ghost of Addie’s late and unlamented husband Rupert to figure out what’s what. It’s handy to have a ghostly assistant to rummage about undetected, although Rupert was an awful pain when he was alive, and is still damned annoying in death. Think Blithe Spirit, Topper, and The Thin Man. No guts or gore in this cozy, just pure escape.

I’ve escaped to my own share of English country houses and their magnificent gardens, sadly not as a guest but a paying visitor. I’m in absolute awe of what can be accomplished…if you have the money and the staff! I’ve always done a bit of gardening on a much, much more modest scale in any house we’ve lived in. Last year we moved into a new house (well, it was built in 1880 but it’s new to us) with a park-like three-tiered garden in the back. The previous owner is twenty years younger than I and probably part mountain-goat, and I struggle clumsily to climb the stone steps to the top terrace. But I can make believe (get it?) that I’m in a posh private oasis, far from the troubles of the 2020s. There’s a small stone pond with a burbling fountain, lots of perennials and flowering shrubs. I’ve made my own improvements with scores of day lilies. I can identify most of the stuff that’s growing, but some things remain a mystery, which is as it should be.

Where do you go to escape? Do you garden? Visit gardens? Spend too much at garden centers? I kill everything indoors but seem to have luck outside. I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of Just Make Believe (or any book from my backlist) to a commenter! You can read the first chapter on my website: https://maggierobinson.net/books/just-make-believe/

 

July 28, 2020 update from Maine Crime Writers: The winner of the giveaway is Alice. Congratulations! Maggie will be contacting you by email.

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Weekend Update: July 25-26, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by special guest Maggie Robinson (Monday), John Clark (Tuesday), a group post (Thursday), and Dick Cass (Friday).

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

John Clark’s stories, Nowhere To Hide and Flat Brokehave both been accepted for the 2020 BOULD Awards Anthology, which will be published in late November.

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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Potato, PoTAHto: Notes from the Ship’s Galley

Darcy Scott here, coming to you mid-summer from the good ship Skater, where cooking, like writing, is a decidedly creative endeavor—one often wildly impulsive in direction, especially when unforeseen culinary substitutions become necessary. In our case, this most often occurs when the chef (moi) inadvertently leaves something important off the provisioning list, not realizing it until shortly before the boat is to leave the harbor. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Along about mid-spring each year, after the boat’s been launched and the ship’s kitchen (a.k.a., the galley), has been filled with a summer’s worth of provisions, hubby and I drop the mooring line for a four or five day shakedown cruise to test the various repairs and upgrades we’ve made over the course of the long winter. This initial cruise of the season includes a number of important traditions, including the RITUAL OF THE SEAFOOD CHOWDER—a dumbed down, ship’s version of the classic that I linger over on our first day at sea, then let rest in the fridge for several days. It’s a kind of cheat, really, as there’s not a chunk of ham or a piece of bacon in sight. Worse, we use Snow’s canned clam chowder as a base to which we add all manner of goodies. I know…I know…sacrilege, right? 

Our habit is to sleep onboard the night before heading off on any cruise, something that ensures our usual 6:00 a.m. start—this after I’ve rousted the grumpy captain, who’s known to require two cups of black coffee before arising from his bunk. This year, having settled in for the night, lulled to sleep by the gentle motion of the boat, I was jolted awake around two, eyes wide with the knowledge I’d forgotten a key ingredient for said chowder: namely a small potato—those delightfully dissolved little bits being an all important element in the thickening of the soup.

Skater Seafood Chowder

Mind racing, my captain snoring softly beside me, I mentally tallied the larder for possible substitutions. That pile of bananas I’d brought along for a pancake feed or pie? Hardly. A handful of crushed potato chips? Yuck. It was then I remembered the extra corn I’d bought against the unlikely possibility of dinner guests (remember those?) who’d go along with our admittedly rigid social distancing demands, seniors that we are. Corn chowder in all its various permutations has been around forever, of course, just not in my galley. Not as a thickening agent, in any case. Anyway, problem solved. In fact, this new version tasted so good, it’s now my new go-to.

SKATER SEAFOOD CHOWDER

1 Small potato, diced (if I can manage to remember it)

½ Small onion, chopped

3 TBS. salted butter

Salt AND LOTS of ground pepper

2 Small pieces flounder 

1 Can Snow’s Clam Chowder

1 Pint of fat-free half and half 

Handful of large sea scallops, cut into bite sized pieces

Handful of large, peeled shrimp, cut into chunks

1 ear of corn, cooked, kernels removed

Brown the onion and potato in the butter over low heat until softened. Salt and vigorously pepper.  Add the flounder and sauté until the fish breaks up. Add the Snow’s as well as the half and half, cooking over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Add the scallops, turn down the heat, and simmer for maybe an hour. Take off the heat, toss in the shrimp and corn, and let sit for a while. Should you have a bit of leftover lobster meat (is there even such a thing?), you might toss it in as well. Refrigerate for 2-3 days to allow the favors to meld.

While I’m on the subject, I thought I’d share a few other recipes that comprise a typical dinner onboard (no worries, they’re just as tasty prepared at home): my mother-in-law’s Quick Chicken Curry and my Mom’s Philadelphia Cole Slaw—both the kind of simple boat fare I gravitate toward because those gentle, late afternoon breezes often build in intensity until we’re being tossed about the waves like the good ship S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island fame. Remind me to tell you about my world-class bread-making disaster during our 1995 passage to the Caribbean sometime. Took a good half hour to scrub the oozing dough off the galley wall. Not pretty.

LOIS’S QUICK CHICKEN CURRY

My mother-in-law, Lois, made no secret of the fact she didn’t like to cook (or measure ingredients—see below). Getting through the process of meal preparation as quickly and painlessly as possible was her only goal. This was her favorite recipe. 

Ingredients:

Olive oil

Small chopped onion

Large apple or two, peeled and cut into chunks

Lots of curry

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into chunks

Large handful of white raisins 

Water or chicken stock, whichever is handy

Brown the onion in oil. Toss in the apple and cook a bit. Add lots of curry and stir until it coats the apple and onion. Add chicken, browning and cooking ‘til it looks about right. Add the raisins and the liquid (Lois was known to douse the whole thing with white wine if she was feeling particularly peevish) and cook until the meat is tender. Add more curry. Serve on a bed of white rice or whatever.

MOM’S PHILADELPHIA COLE SLAW

One small cabbage, shredded

Small can of pineapple chunks (juice reserved)

For the dressing: combine ¾ cup sour cream, ¾ cup mayo, some yellow mustard, a splash of white vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and some of the reserved pineapple juice to taste.

Combine the dressing and cabbage. Toss with the chopped pineapple and refrigerate for a few days, turning two or three times daily so the whole mess can stew in its juices. 

Skater, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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Hey writers, there’s no excuse for boredom

A view of a pretty river from a bridge with a pot of flowers ont he railing

Crossing a bridge in Dover-Foxcroft loosened up a plot conundrum. And it was pretty too!

You may have seen the clickbait “news” last year that Dover-Foxcroft is supposedly the “most boring” town or city in Maine. It was apparently based on the fact that it has the oldest median population, combined with lack of population blah blah blah.

So, in other words, few people and old people make for boring. Do with that information what you will.

As far as I’m concerned boredom can be directly related to the person feeling it, no matter what their surroundings. As my mom used to say, “If you’re bored, I can find something for you to do.”

The reason Dover-Foxcroft is in my thoughts is because I’m there. I’m taking a writing vacation in the heart of my book-in-progress’s setting. (And thanks, too, to a discount for Mainers designed to make up some of the lost income from COVID-19 restrictions).

I’m not bored at all. Not one bit. First of all, because it’s a beautiful spot in a beautiful part of the state and there’s nothing boring about it.

More importantly, I’m never really bored when I’m allowed to be alone with myself and my thoughts and doing what I want. Boredom comes from having to deal with other people’s stuff that doesn’t interest me. And, most importantly, I’m immersed in the area where my book takes place. Everything I see and do is fodder for my writing.

I went on a walk yesterday to a local cemetery to get ideas for character names. Any writer out there knows how hard it is to come up with names, and I find that getting names from local cemeteries not only lends authenticity to a book, but keeps me from having to think too hard when I can be using my brain for other things.

A dam lock and fish ladder

Boom! Plot issue solved!

On the way, I walked over a bridge over the Piscataquis River that overlooked an old dam and its works. I’d been struggling with a specific plot point, and seeing that dam, its locks, fish ladder and more, gave me a plot epiphany. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is. 🙂

I’m also near the Piscataquis County courthouse and jail, which play a small, but significant, part in the book. I probably look suspicious walking around the block taking photos of things like the jail parking lot, but as long as they don’t snap the cuffs on me, having those photos is going to help with my scenes.

I know that, if I’m lucky, the huge majority of the people reading my book won’t know the Piscataquis County Jail from the Alamo, and some would wonder why it’d be necessary to describe it so carefully. Particularly when what will go on in it in my book is far from what likely goes on in it in real life.

But it’s not so much about being sure the details are right as seeing a solid manifistation of my ficitional world. That not only goes for the jail and courthouse, but everything around me. The town my book takes place in is fictional, but being here make sme feel like I’m actually in the pages.

Spending some time in your setting not only helps you add small details you may not think of otherwise, but also will spur bigger ideas about plot and character you also may not have thought of.

I know everyone can’t go to the setting of the book they’re working on, but if you can, I highly recommend it.  And I promise, no matter where it is, you won’t be bored.

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