Me and those Guys in Black Suits

Lea Wait, here, thinking about how incidents years before can influence scenes an author writes now.

For example: in my PIZZA TO DIE FOR there’s an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with a back room where “men in black suits” hang out. Stereotypical?  Perhaps. But let me tell you a story …

When I was in my mid-twenties I lived in Greenwich Village and was married to a comedy writer. You’d recognize the names of most of those he wrote for. One was Rodney Dangerfield, who also owned Dangerfield’s, a small nightclub on New York’s East Side, where my husband (and often I) spent a lot of late nights.

When we needed a car, my husband borrowed Rodney’s limo. When Rodney was invited to perform or even appear somewhere outside his club, he felt more secure if my husband and I, and his manager and his wife, went with him.

On one such night we all piled into Rodney’s car and headed uptown. Rodney cautioned us, “Don’t talk about business. This guy, he runs numbers and girls in the Bronx.  None of our business.” Then he turned to his current girlfriend. “And don’t be telling anyone your last name, or where you’re from.”

We all knew her father was the chief of police in a major East Coast City.

The tone was set for the evening.

The car stopped at a small Italian restaurant close to (and almost beneath) the Cross Bronx Expressway. It wasn’t an elegant location. The building was shabby, and the restaurant only had two rooms and a kitchen.

The tables in the front room had been arranged in a line and set for only one party: the six in our car (Rodney, his girlfriend, the manager and his wife, and my husband and I) and four other men (in black suits) who joined us.

We could see other men in black suits seated in a room in back of ours. But no other diners arrived while we were there, and no one left. I was seated next to a heavyset man perhaps in his fifties, who was at the head of the table and clearly in charge. (“Hey, the blonde can sit here, next to me.”)  I have no recollection of what we ate, although I’m sure it involved pasta.

He asked my husband and I how long we’d been married (a short time) and drank several toasts to us. He asked what I did. At the time I produced and was talent for a daily corporate CCTV show. He nodded in appreciation and then asked, “You got any problems with your boss there?”

I assured him I did not.

“Well, if you do. If you got any problems, you let me know. You’re a nice young couple. You shouldn’t have any problems,” he concluded, draining another glass of wine.

The dinner didn’t last long: Rodney had to get to his club to perform. I never asked who our host was, although I saw him at Dangerfield’s a few times after that.

But when I wrote PIZZA TO DIE FOR, a funny mystery about a fourteen year old girl who finds out her family is “connected,” those men in black suits in the back room came back to me.

I suspect they weren’t as funny in real life as I depicted them in my book. But, yes: they were real.

I didn’t realize at the time that years later I’d write a mystery, and they would have roles in it. But all experiences, and memories, are fodder for a writer …

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It Ain’t Always Winter in The County

Vaughn 2017

Vaughn

Whenever I tell people that I live in THE COUNTY their first response is “It’s so cold up there and the winters are sooo long!” This is not always the case. I spend a lot of time riding my ATV on the hundreds of trails and woods roads where ATVing is allowed. Without a doubt late September and early October is the optimal time for this.

In the past week I’ve been fortunate enough to have encountered several moose, two black bears, and numerous partridge. I use the excuse that I’m going bird hunting, but the truth of the matter is I consider a good HUNT one in which I see birds, shoot at several, but kill none.

The following photos are the real reason why I do it

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One Reason Why I’ll Never Sell My ATV

 

Fall 2017 2

It’s true that fall has its downside (Like what follows) but I still look forward to it every year. The crisp, sometimes frosty mornings followed by sunny days when the temperatures reach the upper sixties and lower seventies (although this year we’ve had several days in which the National Weather Service has posted temps in the eighties) are idyllic. When people ask me what is the best time to visit I send them the pictures above.

Anyone up for some Bird Hunting?

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Weekend Update: October 21-22, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Vaughn Hardacker (Monday), Lea Wait (Tuesday), Jen Blood (Wednesday),Barb Ross (Thursday), and Susan Vaughan (Friday).

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

from Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: I’ve been updating my webpages, including the list of all my books. If you’d like to take a peek, each of the websites is just my name .com and the list is at http://www.kathylynnemerson.com/booklist.htm

Saturday the 21st (TODAY) Kate Flora and Gerry Boyle will be at the Barnes & Noble in Newington, NH from 1-4 as part of a benefit for the Rice Public Library. Stop and say Hi if you’re in the area. Genevieve Morgan and Melissa Kim will also be there with their childrens books.

Kate Flora and Joseph K. Loughlin will be launching their new book about police shootings, Shots Fired: The misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths about police shootings this coming Thursday at DiMillo’s in Portland, from 5-8 p.m.

Planning ahead? Next weekend, October 28 and 29, Barbara Ross, Kate Flora and Lea Wait will have a booth at the 2017 REM Craft Fair, Champions Fitness Club, 30 Elm Plaza, in Waterville, Maine, 10am-5 pm Saturday the 28th, and 10am until 3 pm Sunday, October 29. Dozens of Maine  vendors will be selling food, clothing, crafts, jewelry — and wonderful Christmas items, for you, or for gifts. Com’on over!  (Signed books make great gifts!)

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Interested in sampling some police procedurals and thrillers for free? Kate Flora’s publisher is doing a promotion from the 24th to the 30th of October. Here’s the link: http://mailchi.mp/ebookdiscovery/9-free-police-procedural-mystery-thriller-ebooks

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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Harvey Weinstein: Sex Crimes, Conspiracy of Silence & what it Means for Writers

 

FF0F1BE3-84CA-435A-85B3-3C2BC2A46464“Everyone in Hollywood knew.”

This is the common refrain now coming out of Tinseltown since Harvey Weinstein’s hideous crimes have come to light. So what does that mean to writers, especially writers of crime fiction?

As a writer myself, I’d be hard pressed to create a villain as despicable as Harvey Weinstein. The man was a monster, both physically and emotionally. He masked his behavior in sheep’s clothing sewn out of righteousness, political correctness, art, power, and Oscars. All the above conspired to hide his monstrous acts. That and the conspiracy of silence those in Hollywood took part in. In many ways, it is very similar to the conspiracy of silence the Catholic Church practiced when priests were abusing children.

But how can something like this happen in this day and age unless there was NOT a massive conspiracy to keep his crimes quiet? We’re supposed to be an enlightened populace. We’ve supposedly learned from previous eras, where the casting couch was as common as an audition. We’ve been lectured repeatedly about sexual harassment in the work place and the meaning of the word ‘no’. So what gives?

And how does all this impact us as writers?

Here’s the thing about crime: it flourishes in a vacuum. Now, depending on the crime, that vacuum can be lax bank security. A museum without adequate security. A woman walking home alone at night. Young boys from broken families left alone with predatory priests. Little to no loss prevention officers at your local Target. Crime will always flow to the most vulnerable areas in society.

Harvey Weinstein knew this about criminal vacuums and used it to his advantage. He had power and money in spades, and knew instinctively that we live in a culture that idolizes celebrities. He knew there were women who would accede to his lascivious demands in exchange for unlocking the door leading to fame and fortune; because he held the key. And the ones who protested, either vocally or to the police, he could stifle through legal maneuvers and brute power. He could ruin a young girl’s career if he wanted, and he often did. The lack of controls on this monster allowed him to continue his crimes undetected for years.

So then we ask why so many women failed to speak up about him? And why some continued to remain on friendly terms with him despite knowing what he was like? Why did they thank him after winning an Oscar? Were they afraid to lose their careers? Did they believe it was futile and that there could be no legal case made against him? Why did they remain silent? Is this just yet another sad aspect of human nature? That some people will do anything to become famous. One big name actress even told all her friends what happend to her and they advised her to forget about it. That it was only Harvey being Harvey.

Huh?

And politics aside (and I truly do mean this in an apolitical  way) did his advocacy for liberal causes provide him a moral front for his criminal behavior? He said the right things, donated money to the proper causes, as well as helped pay for Bill Clinton’s legal defense in the Monica Lewinsky case (to the tune of $10,000). Power, access, and political correctness further insulated his violent criminal deeds, and allowed the vacuum to prosper and grow, and provide a front for his criminal behavior.

Many say Weinstein is merely the tip of the iceberg in Hollywood and that other big wigs will soon be exposed. Corey Feldman was ridiculed for saying there were child predators in Hollywood. Does it happen in other industries? Of course it does. There’s Roger Ailes, Anthony Weiner and Bill O’Reilly. It happens all the time in politics and in the music industry. It happens in religious organizations, as evidenced by the Catholic Church (I grew up Catholic and one of our parish priests was a predator). Any industry or group that promotes celebrity worship and power gives rise to sexual harassers, rapists, and predators.

Celebrity + power + conspiracy = criminal vacuum.

It takes brave people to stand up against the entrenched power structure and call them out on the red carpet. It takes teachers and parents to teach kids to work hard and not succumb to celebrity worship and the easy path to fame. But I fear that this will prove difficult in this day and age, although I hope I’m wrong. Living in a culture that idolizes celebrities and treats them as demigods, there will always be a few who’ll do anything to be famous. Sell their soul to a Weinstein. Let’s hope we can fill this vacuum and prevent anymore Weinstein’s from happening. Let’s speak up and expose these villains.

I have children and want this begavior to finally end. In the future, I only want to read about such villains in crime novels not newspapers and use them in the plots of my crime novels. As writers, it’s our job to get out the truth.

Joseph Souza’s domestic thriller THE NEIGHBOR (Kensington) comes out April 24, 2018 46D53A6A-B48B-4D4B-B871-BF19BD5779EA.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Importance of a Great First Line

Dear readers:

Dorothy Cannell is suffering from a pinched nerve and cannot blog today, so instead we DSCN0875share some responses to a Facebook question: Please share a favorite first line from your book or someone else’s. Kate Flora led off with the opening line from Led Astray: Burgess wished he could have slapped the little shit silly.

What makes a first line work? What draws you in? Please add your favorites in the comments, and keep an eye on our weekend updates and our Facebook page, where interesting questions for you may pop up.

Terrie Moran First line of Well Read, Then Dead: “Oh, pu-leeze, Rowena, Anya Seton never measured up to Daphne du Maurier’s elegance. I’m shocked you would say such a thing.” Jocelyn Kendall, pastor’s wife and book club gadfly, crossed and recrossed her legs in perfect tempo with the ever-increasing meter of her rant.”

Dottie MacKeen Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Bluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke

IMG_1307Earl Brechlin The light is different in the north, far above Bangor, up beyond Greenville in the realm of townships with numbers rather than names, where moose outnumber people, where thundering double-trailer logging trucks reign supreme on tracks of dirt, dust billowing behind them like the wake of a nameless ship fading across the surface of a deep and unexplored sea. (Earl didn’t attribute this, but inquiry reveals it is from a forthcoming book of his nonfiction)

Sandra Neily “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mom as they were setting the table for breakfast. “Charlotte’s Web,” E.B.White

Mary Ellen Hughes First line of Scene of the Brine: Bang!

Rick Helms First line from VICAR BREKONRIDGE: “Had Edward Drummond worn a thicker, heavier overcoat, he might have lived.”

Joyce Tremel First line from TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, the first book in the Brewing Trouble series: “If looks could kill, the plumbing inspector giving me the bad news would have been in big trouble.”

Hank Phillippi Ryan From Air Time: It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.

Les Roberts First line of my first novel, An Infinite Number of Monkeys: My ficus benjamina was dying.

Valerie Lentz Horowitz “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” (Amy, Little Women.)

Robert Lopresti “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn’t ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.” – Russell Hoban, RIDDLEY WALKER

LynDee Stephens Walker Julia Spencer-Fleming still holds my “best first line ever” trophy. From IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER: “It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby.”

Polly Iyer From Hooked:If Linc rated high-priced call girls on a scale of one to ten, 877642Tawny Dell would score a twelve.

Katie Caprero “I poisoned your drink” from Duane Swierczynski “The Blond”

Gretchen Asam How about Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers? “I was in bed with my catamite when the archbishop came to call.”

Vicki Lane From my ART’S BLOOD — second of the Elizabeth Goodweather books. “I still see the bed — its wide white expanse floating like a snowy island on the deep pearly carpet — the creamy tufted silk coverlet neatly folded back — the soft heaped pillows, their pale lace soaked and stiff with her blood.”

Laurie Graves From my own “Maya and the Book of Everything”: “The first time Maya Hammond saw the man who didn’t smile, she and her mother, Lily Turcotte, were on a train going from Boston to New York.”

Susannah Charleson From my next book, FAITHFUL: NOTES FROM THE SEARCH FOR MAN’S LOST BEST FRIEND.Puzzle wakes me with her going.
A favorite by someone else: Erik Larsen’s DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: How easy it was to disappear: A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago.

 

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The part of the writing process that makes people run screaming

Even my dog didn’t want to hear about my works in progress.

The writing process is a weird and wonderful thing. Every writer has his or her own process. Want to know what a writer’s process is? Just ask, writers will talk about it endlessly.

It’s similar to when you ask a golfer how the game went, hoping for a “good” or “bad” and instead get a hole-by-hole, stroke-by-stroke account that makes you want to do a Colonel Mustard with a putter.

I’ve been thinking about writing process as NaNoWriMo approaches. Oh, you don’t know what that is? It’s the National Writing Month challenge – write 50,000 words by the end of the month. Presto! You’ve almost got a novel. You register, do all sorts of other things. I’m not clear, because I don’t do it.

I saw that the Waterville Public Library is having Wednesday “write-ins” for writers who are taking part. These hour-long sessions, I’m guessing, are more support group and rap session than writing. Sorry, library, if I’m getting it wrong. I just can’t see getting a lot of actual writing done in an hour with a bunch of other writers around, even if it’s in a nice quiet library.

Not that that’s a bad thing – I mean the support group and rap session. Many writers, including me, have taken part in writer groups, which not only provide feedback but also give writers a chance to talk things out.

One thing I’ve discovered about my writing process is the need to talk it out. I have to talk out backstory, plot – hear it, let it develop verbally. I didn’t decide that part of my process, it’s just something that I realized. It’s weird, right?

And, frankly, it’s not easy. I don’t mean the talking part. I mean the finding the right person to listen part.

Writers may understand – when you try to talk out your plot or character background to people, it’s often like telling someone about your golf game. You see the eyes of the listener glaze over, the lack of interest. The confusion. The panic when they think, listening, that your book is going to truly suck because the lengthy convoluted story you’re telling them seems to have nothing to do with what they thought the book was about.

Just as bad is when they start rewriting it for you, which is one reason I don’t want to have another writer as my sounding board for this part of the process.

I don’t want to be derailed. I don’t want to debate whether a plot point is good, or whether the character would actually say or do that. I want my brain to go where it needs to go to work it all out without interference. So, I’m not looking for advice so much as someone to bounce it off. And by bounce it off, I mean they listen with understanding and comprehension, making appropriate points when needed.

That person, I can tell you from experience, is not easy to find. (No offense to anyone I’ve talked about details with my book, and you know who you are). My sister suggested I hire a sex worker who’d just sit and listen to me talk about my book, but I can see a lot of pitfalls in that. In fact, it wouldn’t be much different from the issues I have now, except I’d be losing money in the process.

I’m not looking for an answer here, or advice, or sympathy. I’m just talking it out. Thanks for listening.

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A Magical Day in the Garden

Kate Flora: Here at Maine Crime Writers, we don’t always talk about writing. One of our 03EF7696-5624-4D2B-B149-4C81FC287B8Fgoals is to bring you “all things Maine” and share some of the places, and events, that we find special and hope our readers will, too. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are not a new subject for this blog, I’ve mentioned them before, and so has Barbara Ross. Today, the subject is a bit different: butterflies, scarecrows, gardens in the fall, and in particular, the beyond wonderful Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden.

Looking for a way to spend a lovely fall day? Grab yourself a child and head to the gardens. Especially for fall, the gardeners have assembled wonderful collages of flowering plants, grasses, pumpkins, squash, and gourds, like these.

Scarecrows are everywhere, and they are endlessly creative. They hang from the windmill, tend large tin tubs, recline on the rocks, and lean against the trees, playing their drums.

Even though it is mid-October, the mild fall means that many flowers, especially annuals, are still in bloom, and those blooms are abuzz with busy bees and the amazing delicacy of butterflies. Worried about the Monarchs? They are everywhere here. Wondering what those butterflies that look like little Monarchs are? Those are your painted ladies. Amidst the bees and butterflies, the ponds attract a variety of dragonflies.

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Some of the fun things to do with your child? There is almost too much to do. At the entrance to the children’s garden, there is a quote from Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius engraved in the stone. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” There is no doubt that the Alfonds and other donors have done that here. More beautiful, magical, and engaging.

Walk past the spouting whales. Take tea in the little tea house. Go rowing in Burt Dow’s boat (from Robert McCloskey’s Burt Dow: Deep Water Man) or stroll past Mr. McGregor’s garden and see Peter’s blue coat. See little bear and Sal’s spilled pail of berries from Blueberries for Sal. Go up in the tree house and walk the rope line. Don’t worry. You can’t fall.

That is just one small corner of the garden. After the children’s garden, there were scents and textures and a chance to stick your head in a stone and hear your voice thunder. Black petunias (at the small child level, so guess who saw them?) and sculptures moving in the wind like silver birds. And because our small child had a camera, there was pond to photograph frogs.

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Did I neglect to mention the amazing flowers? Globe Thistle and Love Lies Bleeding and other jewels of the late season?

This is a place to visit again and again, season after season, to watch the botanical world change. Maybe next time, I’ll see you there.

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