Weekend Update: September 19-20, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Charlene D’Avanzo (Monday), Darcy Scott (Tuesday), Maureen Milliken (Thursday), and Vaughn Hardacker (Friday).

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

from Kathy Lynn Emerson: Last week I showed you the cover for my next adult mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. Today I’m revealing the first of a series of covers to go on reprints of some of my earliest books—mysteries for children ages 8-12. First up is my very first published fiction, The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle, originally published by Down East Books back in 1985. The new edition doesn’t change the story (it’s set in Maine in 1982) but I did revise a few clunky sentences and commission a new cover. Here’s the book description: Kerry Odell and her younger brother Lyle are not enthusiastic about spending the next six months in rural western Maine. It seems like a pretty dismal place, especially in March, and means entering a new school in mid-year. The house their mother has rented, with its locked tower, has all the makings of a haunted “castle” with mysterious comings and goings, odd noises in the night, and a landlord who seems to have it in for them. Reading level 4.9.

It’s currently available as an e-book—click here for links:https://books2read.com/u/4jWJND

A paperback (print on demand) edition is in the works and should be available in about a month

 

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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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Back at it

After a one-year leave of absence (and thank you for that, Kate!) I’m happy to resume blogging on Maine Crime Writers.  Let me explain why I left and why I’m back.  Last October my wife tripped on a curb in Philadelphia and broke her femur—for the second time in six months.  The first, last March, resulted when she was hit by a snowboarder.  The recent one was purely accidental:  crossing the street she glanced up to renew acquaintance with a 19th century bank building she had once written an article about.  Not a good idea.  She had surgery in Philadelphia and managed to fly home, but, unlike the earlier injury, this time she could not put weight on the affected leg.  That meant that for over three months we had to stay in our one-level condo in Yarmouth rather than our multi-level home in Newry.  And since she was confined to a wheelchair and walker, it meant that I was on 24/7 caretaker duty.  The writing I had been doing on a new mystery came to an abrupt end, as did my blogging.  And simply being away from home for such a long time was a trial. 

In the winter she regained the use of her right leg, we returned home, and I faced resuming my writing.  But I found I couldn’t pick up where I had left off and became increasingly frustrated.  Writer’s block is no fun, and I couldn’t bring myself to blog about it—or anything else.  With her two accidents that year, we called 2019 our annus horribilis.  Little did we know what 2020 would bring! 

The dreaded blank page

Like everyone else we sheltered in place, and my frustration at being unable to write grew alongside the other negative mental responses the lock-down brought.  I envied the way my wife coped by working several hours a day on an earlier textbook of hers that a publisher contracted her to revise.  She urged me to try the same approach: write.  I tried, but without success, and finally realized—or accepted—that the mystery I had been working on just wasn’t going to jell.  Then a new idea gripped me as I was trying to sleep, and the next morning I sat down and started sketching it out with notes and timelines.  I’m now over 100 pages into it.  I have no idea whether I’ll be able to finish it, but I find that for at least three or four mornings a week I can sit down at my laptop and write.  When I say “write” I of course mean developing characters, creating dialogue, constructing a plot, and laying down prose.  But I also know that what I’m doing is coping— coping with the pandemic and its intrusions into our lives by focusing on an imagined story over which I have complete control.  Who, in these days, doesn’t want control?  So if I finish this mystery and it gets published, I suppose I’ll have to credit the pandemic.  And if that doesn’t happen, at least I’ll have focused my way through to what I hope we can call a normal life.  Either way, at least for now, I’m glad to be back at it.         

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Is the Government Watching Me?

Susan Vaughan here. A recent post by Maggie Robinson about how easy it is to be sucked into detailed research for a book prompted me to consider how research by writers who create fictional murders, terrorist threats and attacks, and international spy rings might trigger attention from government agencies like the FBI or the NSA.

When I began writing, researching meant walking into a library building and sitting down with large tomes or calling on experts in person or on the phone. Sometimes fascinating but tedious and slow. For my first published book (originally titled Dangerous Attraction and now Always a Suspect), I telephoned the Drug Enforcement Agency in Boston with a list of questions. When I was finally transferred to the Public Information Officer, she required that I send in personal information including my Social Security number. I also had to ask my employer to send her a letter verifying my identity and upstanding character. A month later—yes, thirty days—I was able to ask my questions—make of pistols, make of vehicles, etc. Basic stuff. That still didn’t mean the PIO would answer. She did share the weaponry but wouldn’t reveal what vehicles they drove. Now the information I wanted back then can be found on the Internet. The standard issue pistol is a Glock 19, and the vehicles vary depending on the case, some labeled DEA, some anonymous. But hmm, does my search engine then alert NSA?

In Primal Obsession, my hero and heroine are deep in the Maine woods being stalked by a serial killer, but state detectives are working on the case. In the state of Maine, except for in the larger cities of Portland and Bangor, major crimes like murder are investigated by state police detectives. So I needed information on the Maine State Police Major Crime Unit. I went to the small State Police building in nearby Thomaston (It’s no longer there.) and started asking questions of the dispatcher. He obligingly turned off his radio (yes, really), but after hearing my questions, referred me to a better source. He gave me the phone number of the state’s public information officer in Augusta.

When I phoned, I reached Steve McCausland, the PIO, directly. No intermediary. Amazing. Those of you who live in Maine know Steve’s distinctive voice announcing homicides or abductions and progress on solving them.  No extensive background check or reference letter was required, but I can picture him signaling someone to verify my identity before he listened to me further. On the phone, he was funny and charming and eager to help. He did answer my questions and even invited me to call again if I needed more, which I took him up on. But much later.

For another book written later when technology had made research a matter of clicking, I needed to know if it might be legal to carry a pistol on an airliner. And if so, what were the procedures and requirements. Easy research. I popped over to the Transportation Security Administration website and found my answer. Except for certain trained law enforcement personnel and air marshals, the answer is no weapons in carryon luggage. Weapons in checked baggage must follow certain regulations and inspection. My security specialist and guide in On Deadly Ground, had to check his weaponry and take care of all the red tape. I eventually deleted my carefully detailed scene because it didn’t seem dramatic. Nevertheless, does the TSA know I visited their site to look for that? And do they care? I’ve never been contacted, so…

For my current project, as yet untitled, I’ve been researching art forgery and authentication of art, specifically paintings. I’ve learned what provenance might be required to prove a work of art is legitimately for sale and authentic and also how to fabricate such information. I even found a website explaining how to create fake art to sell on eBay. The disclaimer said the contents were “satirical.” Right. Apparently selling fake artwork on eBay a flourishing cottage industry. A forger was recently caught after selling a fake Picasso there. I don’t plan to try my hand, but the criminals in my story are benefiting from the tips I’ve picked up. FBI Art Crime is too busy with those eBay forgers to bother with me. I hope.

I called Steve McCausland again when I was writing Hidden Obsession . I needed information on whether the medical examiner had to arrive at a murder scene to declare the victim deceased or if technicians or a medical doctor could perform that function. The short answer is, it depends. But back to the phone call. When I identified myself, to my surprise, Steve remembered me! We chatted and he again graciously answered my questions. A year or so later, he has retired, and I wish him well. The state announcements and my Maine research won’t be the same though.

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A Vocabulary for Fall

Kate Flora: Years ago, my mother’s Christmas gift to me—still a lawyer aspiring to be a IMG_2717writer—a copy of Rodale’s Synonym Finder. Over the years, as I transitioned from lawyer to writer, that book has always lived beside my desk, and lists of words have been taped to the wall above it. My family loved word play, and the dinner table was a lively place as we played with words and groaned at Brother John’s awful puns. I’m sure that some of the pleasure of creating my characters is seeing how distinctions develop among the ways they use words and how those distinctions arise from their backgrounds and the way they see the world.

After her stroke, when my mother was still determined to write her weekly column for The Camden Herald, she began one that described the late fall fields at the farm as “sere.” It was such a perfect, evocative word for what happens when the frost has taken away the color and the world becomes more monotone, more shades of fading gold and brown.

fomydlDdQ9yjboNzqQ4BFAThe character in my Joe Burgess police procedurals, trained by his mother to stop and see the world, often challenges me to slow down and see the world that he would see, and I am grateful. As I drive south on I-295 from Brunswick, I will pass what I call Burgess’s salt marsh, and observe how it changes through the seasons from brown in spring—land and mud nearly the same, to vibrant green in summer, to gold that deepens and then grows pale in autumn.

Slowing down and seeing and listening comes not only from my characters. It began with my mother, who was so passionate about observing life on her hilltop farm in Union from sunrises over the orchard and sunsets over Sennebec Pond. In her collection of columns, From the Orange Mailbox, she writes:      

            “. . . as we pass the autumn equinox, the earth is beginning to cool off. The chirping

            fiddling insects quiet their night songs but come out at noon, warming themselves by

            the stone walls, to sign their September tunes.”

She was a better observer of the land and the changing seasons than I am. I struggle toautumwestlake describe the smells of late August and September, when the plants are drying in the heat and the air smells of hot vegetation and dust and warm grass. When the air changes over from dry to the first faint scents of damp and decay. When a walk will bring the surprise of  the season’s last roses, or smelling warm apples or the intoxication of ripe Concord grapes.

It is interesting that in my synonym finder, when I look up fall, I get descend, sink, slip, decline, diminish and wane, when we tend to see the word as inspiring thoughts of brilliant color, surprisingly blue skies, the bounty of harvests and invigorating air. I always remember driving from Augusta, when I worked in the attorney general’s office, east on Route 3 early in the morning, seeing the valleys and hollows filled with dense white fog against the purple shadows of hills, and passing fields of golden corn and the bright orange of pumpkins and roadside ditches filled with purple asters.

It is true that fall can be depressing—the great crescendo of color before the dark of winter—and make us sad. But it also is a time to take note, breathe in the majesty, and to feel vibrantly alive.

Grace Paley writes:

What is sometimes called a   

   tongue of flame

or an arm extended burning   

   is only the long

red and orange branch of   

   a green maple

in early September   reaching

   into the greenest field

out of the green woods   at the

   edge of which the birch trees   

appear a little tattered   tired

   of sustaining delicacy

all through the hot summer  

Or this thoughtful piece:

Leaves

Lloyd Schwartz – 1941-

Every October it becomes important, no, necessary

to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded

by leaves turning; it’s not just the symbolism,

to confront in the death of the year your death,

one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony

isn’t lost on you that nature is most seductive

when it’s about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its

incipient exit, an ending that at least so far

the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)

have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe

is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception

because of course nature is always renewing itself—

        the trees don’t die, they just pretend,

        go out in style, and return in style: a new style.

 

 

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Cover Reveal: The Finder of Lost Things

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing as Kathy. You’d think, after having over sixty books traditionally published in various genres and under various names, that I’d have hit just about every genre there is. But no—my October 6th release from Level Best Books, The Finder of Lost Things, is a first for me in that it’s a standalone historical mystery. And here, for the first time, is a look at the gorgeous cover the folks at Level Best Books have provided for it.

I’ve written historical mystery series in the past, and standalones, but I’ve never before combined the two. That said, I’m back in familiar territory with this one, writing about England in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. The Finder of Lost Things is set in the winter of 1590/1 and the protagonist/heroine/sleuth, Blanche Wainfleet, is on a quest.

Blanche and her two older sisters recently learned that their youngest sibling, Alison, died under mysterious circumstances. Since there is reason to suspect foul play, Blanche, whose husband is conveniently traveling on the Continent, takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Alison. She contrives to have herself committed to the prison in Colchester Castle, where Alison died after being arrested during a raid on a Catholic household. It was illegal, you see, to hear Mass in England in the 1590s, and those who recused themselves from attending services of the Church of England (called recusants) were also heavily fined.

real stairs in Colchester Castle (they wouldn’t have had the railing in Tudor times)

Blanche has excellent powers of observation and she has always had an uncanny ability to find lost objects. When she infiltrates first the prison and then the household where her sister was employed as a gentlewoman’s companion, those traits don’t always work in her favor. Despite her careful planning, aided by her sisters and their husbands, Blanche ends up on her own, forced to live by her wits and call on strengths she didn’t know she had. If she isn’t careful, she’ll find out, first hand, how Alison ended up dead.

I was able to explore some interesting parts of Elizabethan life in The Finder of Lost Things, including various superstitions about witchcraft, possession by demons, and exorcism, and the religious divide that still existed decades after Henry VIII broke with Rome to found the Anglican church.

The Finder of Lost Things will be available for preorder shortly. The release date is October 6 and it will come out in two formats, trade paperback (priced at $16.95) and e-book ($5.99). I don’t have author copies yet, but keep watching this blog for opportunities to win a copy when I do. If you comment on this post, your name will automatically be entered in that future drawing.

With the publication of The Finder of Lost Things, Kathy Lynn Emerson has had sixty-three books traditionally published under several names. 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. In addition to writing under her own name, she currently she pens the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn Dunnett. 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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It’s Really Ok to Call Something Stupid

Sandra Neily here: With apologies for crashing into this lovely fall weather with anything sobering (this is not about covid), but maybe after the hottest summer on record in Maine, we can shake loose our brains for something we can do something about.

clearcuts aren’t really forestry

I have been on a bit of a mission. Both my novels attempt to seduce readers into a compelling murder mystery, into the magic of woods, and also into what threatens to murder those woods. (One murder mystery inside another murder mystery.)

In Maine, this forest is the last temperate forest of its size and kind in the northern hemisphere. Rich in all kinds of plant and animal diversity and essential water resources, and the last of its kind: chunking it up with industrial development is, well, just stupid.

There, I’ve said it. Stupid.

And now if you’ll read on, I’ll make the case. (Or you can acquire a copy of Deadly Turn and get seduced into finding out what I will spell out more coldly in this post.

Deadly Turn is about wind power where it might not belong, but all the issues in it could also be about CMP’s proposed energy corridor where more energy has been spent putting millions into advertising it, than actually proving the case it will reduce our carbon footprint.

Here’s the best info on it.…and info on What You Can Do. (Natural Resources of Maine webinar). And if you like trout or just rivers and streams and ponds, listen to Trout Unlimited’s Jeff Reardon talk about how 300 industrial, wide-road stream crossings in undeveloped woods (many on public land bought with our tax dollars) is, well, pretty stupid.

First a quote from Deadly Turn to set up the Trees Beat Turbines issue.

*******

Kate’s face brightened. “There’s tons of calculations in forestry. It’s not just boys with axes any more. Folks crunching numbers are all over the place analyzing the forest’s outputs and versatility. I’m headed toward the new stuff. My advisor teaches Climate and Carbon Dynamics and even though I’m not that far along in the program, he lets me audit that class.”

“Smarty-pants,” I said.

“Yup. I am. Your idea about how Maine should appreciate what it has—tons of trees rather than putting industrial energy in remote locations? Well, it didn’t look like you got beyond the public relations thing. It looked like you were working the spin part, but you never got to the math.” She grinned a very wide grin that quickly disappeared. “I’ve got the math. The proof. And most of my notes were in the pack that got stolen.”

“How far did you get?” I asked.

The damselflies were back, this time hooked up in mid-air to mate right in front of us. Kate ignored them. “The math might disappoint some environmental organizations who thought wind power was a climate-change answer for us here. It’s weird. I can run computer models based on real field research. I can show how growing Maine trees and leaving them longer on the land before they’re harvested pulls more carbon from the air than any other carbon reduction strategy we could go for.”

I attended a Wind and Wildlife Conference, and we often met under the turbines.

She looked at me, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Weird they don’t do their homework. The green groups. They claim that wind power closes down fossil fuel plants. No way. Those plants need to stay on-line to produce power when the turbines are down or when there’s too little or too much wind. Every time they say wind will power so many homes, it’s theoretical bullshit. Wind can’t power a home twenty-four hours a day. Impossible. Would be like brown-outs in third-world places that only have one crummy power source that goes down all the time.”

I was afraid that if I jumped up and hugged her, the moment where she’d gone far beyond anything I’d imagined would end badly.

*******

(And here’s my plain vanilla mission statement that defines the Trees Beat Turbines case. All the carbon facts I use come from energy experts. After reading it, you might understand why I tiptoed in with a novel instead of …. plain vanilla anything.)

INSTEAD OF SAYING”NO” TO CMP’S CORRIDOR IN ME’S FORESTS OR SAYING “NO” TO WIND POWER’S ROADS, TURBINES, AND TRANSMISSION LINES IN ME’S FORESTS …

     HOW ABOUT SAYING “YES” TO MAINE’S MOST NUMEROUS ASSET? 

Consider Two Converging Facts:

A 1% change in carbon storage from our Maine forest (either up or down) equals 3 years of carbon output of the entire state of Maine.  (The Nature Conservancy)

The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change. A three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has “grim implications …”

 MAINE TREES AS A CARBON REDUCTION CONTRIBUTION

What if Maine could create the largest carbon reduction program in the country? With over 17 million acres of trees, we are the most forested state, and we have more than enough forestry expertise to figure out how to increase our carbon storage.

Industrial wind development involves blasting wide roads up through previously unroaded forests found on high elevations.

We might create a “YES” moment that avoids the “NO” now defining many of our forest conservation efforts as we resist forest-destroying initiatives.

Why aren’t we talking about Maine forest assets that could really assist carbon reduction efforts? Why are we industrializing the woods? (Blowing up mountains for industrial wind that delivers power less than 32% of the time or building a CMP corridor in forests that should never host transforming development? 

At a 2007 carbon conference (when I worked for UMO’s “Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative”) Seven Islands Land Company’s manager said, “Why don’t you just pay us to keep trees longer on the land? That would do it.”

He was suggesting that we find a way to incentivize landowners to leave trees longer before harvest.

Since that time, the Appalachian Mountain Club and The Nature Conservancy (and other nonprofits) have successfully researched and executed carbon exchange programs based on Maine’s forest carbon reduction potential. Their research clarifies carbon sequestration and negotiation values for various tree species.

When I ask why this issue is not discussed, I hear there’s “no money” to incentivize land owners. That might be cart before the horse thinking. If Maine (and other forested states) can find a way to increase forest health and retain intact woodlands even as we make a carbon reduction contribution—money to fund that kind of innovation will follow.

DOING CARBON THE MAINE WAY could be a significant win-win effort. Currently both the CMP transmission corridor and industrial wind power create winners and losers and needless controversy.

What if we didn’t pit tourism communities that need intact resources to maintain their brand against those who plan to profit from industrializing Maine’s forests?

What if we didn’t need to pit one green goal (carbon reduction) against another green goal (forest conservation in the face of fragmentation threats)?

What if we could actually rejuvenate northern forest lands and wildlife habitat by leaving some trees on the land longer?

What a powerful way to grow Maine’s reputation and brand, nationally and internationally. We could make progress on the world’s two most serious environmental issues at the same time: climate change and loss of the natural world. (These crises are happening at the same time; they are connected.)

“The Rapid Decline of the Natural World Is A Crisis Bigger Than Climate Change.” A “three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has grim implications …”

It is true that many corporate-owned forests are now so heavily cut (barely 2% in mature growth here in Maine), that normal carbon exchange programs on these lands could not essentially be a total model at this time. But the research underpinning the work AMC and TNC have done on carbon storage of Maine trees should give us what we need to create a state-wide, carbon storage program.

To repeat: CMP’s energy corridor will cross forested streams with wide roads and transmission lines at least 300 times.

… a Maine program that will pull more carbon from the atmosphere than transmission lines to MA or the 300+ miles of industrial wind development authorized for our high elevation forests.

Developing high elevation lands and roading unfragmented forests to send power to New England states that have green portfolio laws requiring them to buy power anywhere they can find it, seems like a poor Maine solution when we have carbon-eating trees.

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award, and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Update: September 12-13, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Thursday), and William Andrews (Friday).

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

It’s Maine Crime Writers “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest – late summer/early fall edition. How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to: WritingAboutCrime@gmail.com with “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will run through the middle of October.

Here’s a nice review of Dick Cass’s upcoming book: https://www.netgalley.com/book/200913/review/714740?fbclid=IwAR3lVRpCorKMEoKkIPnrc6LhyO3xdv6j-OdZbBCB31ijpdCdJtHZA0VP38Y

SweetieBogansSorrow_Front_Final 

What do you wonder about the writing process when you are reading a mystery? Is it how characters are created? Is it how a writer plots the story? Is it how writers do their research? Is it what the writer’s background is or what lead them to become a writer? Here at MCW, we welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

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

IMG_2701

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Down the Rabbit Hole without a Ladder

EDITED TO ANNOUNCE THAT TEMPEWYTCH IS MY WINNER! Please contact me at maggie@maggierobinson.net and tell me which Lady Adelaide Mystery you’d like me to send you.

Thanks to Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Flora for inviting me to join and blog with Maine Crime Writers! I’m thrilled and honored to be in such exalted company. As a recovering romance writer, I have discovered it’s so much more fun to have people kill each other than kiss, and at only three cozy mysteries in, I’ve lost count of the bodies I’ve strewn about.

I think anyone who ever knew me would be startled at my recent foray into crime—I was an earnest rule follower from my fist tentative baby steps, ever the good girl. An only child. A teacher’s pet. I skipped two grades and consequently missed the year they studied my home state’s history. I know nothing, and would have forgotten it by now anyway. And since you don’t know MY history, I thought I’d share a personal fact I’m not sure I’ve even told my kids.

In the fourth grade, my whole class collaborated on writing a play based on popular children’s books and fairy tales. (Probably a violation of copyright, but it’s a little late to prosecute; fourth grade was many, many decades ago.) I was cast as Alice in Wonderland. My mother made me a ruffled pinafore to wear, and my long blonde hair was held back in an Alice band. Someone got dressed up in a rabbit suit, and at my cue I obediently followed him off stage.

Foreshadowing! Who knew I was to obediently follow all the rabbits and be forever lost down the rabbit hole of research? Some years ago, I wrote an Edwardian-era romance. (It got a starred review in Library Journal, upon whose laurels I still rest.) My characters get on a train and go to Kent, a county in England. The year was 1903, and it really would have been perfectly fine for me to have them meet at the unnamed station and get on the unnamed train, right?

Oh, no, the rabbits whispered. Which railway station in London would have been used to travel to Kent back then? What was the name of the company that serviced that area? How long would the trip take? When did the train leave? Do you see where I’m going here? (Not to Kent.) I probably spent at least an hour Googling train schedules and rail lines.

And what did I find out? The Chatham Line, which was in perpetual economic difficulty, left from Victoria Station to go to Kent. And what lyrical, sparkly gems resulted from that lost hour in the actual text of the book?

“…he was grateful to sink into a somewhat tattered first-class compartment of the Chatham Line. The railroad company had the reputation of being a somewhat shaky enterprise, but at least its trains always arrived on time.”

Anyone who traveled on the defunct Chatham Line to Kent in 1903 is undoubtedly dead. My readers most likely wouldn’t know or care if I had my characters meet at Paddington instead of Victoria. But you’ll remember this Alice was a goody-goody, so here we are.

I’m beginning a new mystery set in the 1920s to follow the Lady Adelaide series (the fourth and final book is out next fall), and already I’ve got myself in trouble. I was looking for a historical event that might provide a reason for someone to be murdered many years afterward. I hit upon a battle in the Zulu Wars, where a company of about 150 British soldiers held off between 3,000-4,000 Zulu warriors. I’ve read numerous articles, but don’t quite feel I have a handle on it. Am I going to have to watch the 1964 movie Zulu? I think you know the answer.

Are you a stickler for historical accuracy in books and movies, or are you willing to let things slide for entertainment’s sake? What’s a weird historical fact you’ve picked up? I learned mouse skin was once cut and glued onto foreheads to provide lush eyebrows. Alice’s dormouse had better watch out.

By way of introducing myself, I’ll give away the Lady Adelaide Mystery of choice (Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, Who’s Sorry Now?, or Just Make Believe) to one random commenter!

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How’s Them Apples

I know it’s not autumn yet but it feels that way. The temperatures here in Maine are quickly dropping, especially at night. It’s noticeable because this past summer has been one of the hottest on record. So this Sunday after mowing the lawn and hitting the gym, my wife, my daughter and I headed to the country to get us some apples and blueberries. Having completed two manuscripts this summer, the rest of my day was clear and free. There would be no writing today. It would be all about the apples—and blueberries.

It was a beautiful day. We climbed in the car and drove the forty-five minutes out to the country. The smells of grass and cow manure filled the air. We arrived at the farm and immediately took in the rolling mountains and greenery. Come October, the colors would be more spectacular than they were now. But it was still quite beautiful. For once it was nice not to have to think about murder and deceit.

We climbed out of the car and got shuttled by golf cart to the main entrance. In the distance I could see rows upon rows of apple and blueberry groves. The day was festive and many people had already showed up. A two-man band played a Van Morrison song inside a tent-covered patio. Little kids danced in front of the two band members, along with their parents. The aroma of fresh beer, apple cider donuts and brick oven pizzas filled the air.

There were sweet varieties of blueberries and tangy blueberries, although we all agreed that the sweet blueberries were the tastiest. Three quarts tasty. Then we proceeded to the apple groves where we filled a large bag with Courtlands, Macs and Golden Delicious.

A great day of family fun. If only our son was home from college it would have been better. But we sent him the pics. Better hurry before they run out.

How you like them apples?

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Playing Virtual Detective/Absentee Makes the Vote Grow Stronger

John Clark on an extremely important issue right now. While Brenda stole a bit of my thunder on Friday, this issue is too important not to keep up the reminders. I’ve never missed voting in an election since I became eligible to do so. What transpired with the Vietnam War and student activism during my college years sold me solidly on the importance of doing so. Sometimes the candidates were as exciting as cold, greasy hamburger, but I held my nose and still cast my ballot.

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like every other aspect of life, it has kicked the election process in the butt big time. We’ve seen what happened in various primary elections: long lines, epic rhetoric and distrust about the process and a huge spike in requests for absentee ballots. If you follow Maine news outlets, or active in the political arena as a volunteer, you’re aware that larger municipalities like Portland are desperate to recruit enough poll workers for the November 3rd election.

That brings me to the theme of this post-absentee balloting and how to go about it in Maine. First, I realize many readers of the MCW blog are from other states, but what I lay out here can be extrapolated to whatever state you live in. If you’re active in a political party at this moment in history, sure as hell, you’ve been asked to get involved, whether it’s through donating money or time, it’s happened. I’m doing both (monthly contributions to Moveon.org and Emily’s List) and through various candidate campaigns in Maine (senate on both state and national levels, local mayor and city council in Waterville). I learned early on that I’m completely useless at phone banking. I got over my fear of knocking on doors when I ran for the legislature in 2018, but cold calling makes me freeze up (no pun intended) every time. I’ll deliver signs, display them on our lawn, put stickers on my car, help with mailings, write postcards and letters to the editor…And even pilot the blimp, or hang upside down waving a banner as it flies over the country.

Never take your right to vote for granted.

Most of my recent involvement has been through being on call with a voter hotline to field questions about the upcoming election in terms of where to register and vote, as well as in efforts to make sure that clear and accurate information about the absentee voting process is available. It’s worth noting that as of September 3rd, 120,000 Maine voters have requested an absentee ballot.

One thing I’m doing that’s pretty easy is evaluating town websites to see what they’ve got posted in terms of information for residents. I’m looking to see whether they have easily found information on how to request an absentee ballot, what the deadlines are for requesting one, when it needs to be completed and where to send/deposit it. Of the six towns assigned to me thus far, two-Bucksport and Milford, have no information about the November election. Warren has its act completely together and the other three hover between zip and comprehensive.

Requesting an absentee ballot if you’re a registered Maine voter is very easy, just go to this link and fill out the information. https://apps.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl While the deadline for doing so is 10/29/20, the sooner you request, the less chance it doesn’t reach you. While the most common way to return them is by mail, many towns have a secure drop box where voters can deposit them and there’s even a way to absentee vote in person. This and other questions are answered at this link on the Secretary of State’s website. https://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/voter-info/absenteeguide.html

Two more things of note. First be aware that in person voting in many Maine municipalities will involve waits of an hour or more because of limited poll workers and COVID-19 precautions. Second, if you want to help, AARP is encouraging people to ‘adopt’ a town clerk to help process and mail out requested ballots. If you’re interested, call your town clerk and see if they need help.

Stay safe, but please DO vote.

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