Weekend Update: April 21-22, 2018

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

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

 Some of us at Maine Crime Writers are off to Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland, this week for a long weekend (April 27-29) of panels, mystery-related events, and socializing with our “tribe” of writers and readers. If you are attending and recognize any of us, please stop and say hello. We’d love to meet you.


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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Chained to a Desk in Rural Virginia

Kate Flora: For the next two weeks, I have the pleasure of being a fellow at the Virginia fullsizeoutput_1e7aCenter for the Creative Arts. VCCA is a retreat for writers, visual artists, and composers set on a hilltop in lovely Amherst, Virginia, just across the highway from Sweetbriar College. This is my third residency here, and I am thrilled to have this gift of two weeks of uninterrupted writing time. During my first stay, five years ago, I wrote 150 pages in ten days. On my second visit, I wrote the second half of the novel I’d started the first time, and wrote two short stories.

At breakfast this morning, one of the artists remarked that since someone else prepares the meals and changes the beds and there are no responsibilities, it is like living at home. For me, it is a chance to free my mind from distractions like taxes, and book promotion, and laundry, and what to make for dinner. My plan for this visit was to start the sixth Joe Burgess book, and as I write this, I am now thirty pages in.


Creativity blossoms

For those of you who sometimes wonder about the plotting and writing process that goes into writing one of my Joe Burgess police procedurals, I thought I’d take you on a quick tour of how things progress as I begin book six in the series. Tentatively titled A Child Shall Lead Them, it opens, as my police procedurals usually do, with the discovery of a body. Before I began, I know some of the things I would put at the crime scene, and some of the details about the crime I would include to make the process of identifying the victim more difficult. I know who did it, have an idea about other suspects, and some plans for the ending. The rest develops as I write.

Some of my initial questions refer back to what has happened in prior books. Some series writers, those far cleverer and more organized than I, keep character diaries and record important details. I am forced to pull up old manuscripts and do searches. What’s the name of Stan Perry’s pregnant girlfriend? What are the name of Burgess’s sister’s daughters. The name of his other sister? I know the name of one of Terry Kyle’s daughters, but what is the younger daughter’s name? Does Burgess’s other sister have children? Who runs the deli that makes the best meatloaf sandwich in Portland? Is Kyle’s significant other Michele or Michelle?

It may be that a clue to the victim’s identity will be her sleeve of tattoos, so I have to spend some time on websites, learning about the terminology. Horror? American traditional? Ornamental? New school? I will leave the interviewing up to Detective Stan Perry, who has some tats of his own, but undoubtedly I will have to track down the family tattoo artist to get more inside details.

Fifteen years of interviewing police officers, and writing books with and about them, though, often causes me to have more questions than answers. Here are some of the questions that have arisen already.

Where shall I put a body, in the City of Portland, that is remote enough for the killer to have had a chance to hide it? So I ask a Portland police officer for suggestions. Then, because I’m in Virginia and can’t go scope it out, I search on google maps and other sources to learn more about the location.

What value might bringing in a K9 add to the investigation? That involves a call to my retired game warden friend, who knows a lot about dogs and crime scenes. He hasn’t called back, and my list of questions is getting larger.

Then there’s the jogger who found the body. What happens if he doesn’t want to cooperate in the investigation? Another query goes out to my police advisors.

Since the plot involves sex trafficking in Portland, I search on line for the name of the Portland officer who might be a good resource on sex trafficking. When I get home, I’ll have to see if I can meet with him.

And then there are my questions for the medical examiner, details of which I cannot share here without giving away too much of the plot.

Many years ago, when I embarked on this writing adventure, I thought that what writers did was sit at their desks and make things up. For crime writers, though, that simply isn’t possible.


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Back To Basics

Vaughn C. Hardacker here: It’s been a long winter up here in The County (it’s a quarter past April and we’re still looking at two feet of snow on the ground). The winter of 2017/2018 seems to want to hang on forever and I’m starting to think I live in the north of Westeros and the winters last several years long.

Last fall I finished my novel, The Exchange, and then went into my usual funk where I begin to believe that I’ll never again write a novel. When a sports team struggles the coach will return to the basics of the game to get his/her team back to where they should be. This winter I decided that I’d go back to basics and what better way than to spend some time with the masters, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett? I’m tempted to add Mickey Spillane into this category because he raised the hard-boiled detective to a new height. However, Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op were solving cases while Mike Hammer was in grade school. Hammer was born in 1947 with the publication of I, The Jury whereas  Chandler and Hammett had already been publishing in the pulp magazines for twenty years.

Let’s take a moment to look at the commonality of their plots. Basically, good looking young woman visits detective’s office, everybody smokes and drinks whiskey, eventually the detective will get beaten up. However, being the hero he is, he overcomes, ultimately solves the crime and wins the girl (although he and she never have a long-term relationship). These two writers so dominated the short stories and novels of their time that it caused the detective novel to develop its own paradigm set: located in L. A., detective was single, hard drinker, and capable of lethal action. Surprisingly, the plots themselves still work, although I have to smile when I read (as in Chandler’s short story, The King In Yellow) about the average room rate in hotels being $8.00 and the expensive suites going for $28.00 per night, bellhops and doormen grateful when they are given a twenty-five cent tip (not to mention the handgun bought for $5.00 in Pearls Are A Nuisance).

This winter I have read Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder, The Big Sleep, and Farewell my Lovely as well as Hammett Crime Stories & Other Writings (an anthology of his short stories) and Red Harvest (one of several novels Hammett wrote that came from linked stories he’d published in the pulps). Both of these writers created private investigators who are literary legends Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Hammett’s Continental Op and, of course, Sam Spade.

To get to the point, reading these classics of our genre led me back to my desk and a new novel is born (after a week of writing it’s at 12,000 words!). If nothing else these iconic writers (along with Mickey Spillane, Ross MacDonald, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, etc, etc. inspire me to get back to work. Looking back, I didn’t waste my winter after all–now if the @$^%&ing snow will go away.


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My New Novel, THE NEIGHBOR, Set To Release

0F0DB937-8309-4534-B785-E9EF1A1858BBMy new novel THE NEIGHBOR publishes next Tuesday. It’s been a long but enjoyable road getting to this point in the game. Two years since I finished my original draft. Then came my agent’s editorial changes (the incomparable Evan Marshall). Then there was the suspense of waiting to hear what publisher wanted to take on my novel. Or even if they wanted it. How happy was I when John Scognamiglio of Kensington Books picked it up in two-book deal? Very! Of course then I had to incorporate all of his editorial changes.

And now I sit yet again on the verge of publication, nervous and excited, and awaiting the verdict of my dear readers.

Traditional publishing is a long waiting game where one must be patient. The best advice I can give any author fortunate to be in this position is to keep writing. Start your next book. Get your marketing house in order for when the day comes to promote it, but keep the creative wheels in your head turning.

Early reviews for THE NEIGHBOR have been wonderful. Of course they all won’t be. Myrtle in Tacoma will hate everything about it. So won’t Larry in Sacramento. Not everyone is going to love your book. This is the realty every author must face, and once you accept that fact, the thicker your skin will develop. My goal was to write a book that would have the reader frantically flipping the pages. A book that was equivalent to crack cocaine. A book so addictive that if the world stopped spinning people would still keep reading my book. That was my goal, anyway.

My favorite quote about writing comes from Elmore Leonard. “I try to leave out the parts readers skip.”

It’s fun to be an author. Little scary at times as well when people realize how twisted things are inside that crazy brain of yours. It takes a bit of artistic bravery to put forth your art and let people judge it purely on its entertainment merits. THE NEIGHBOR is my first collaboration with Kensington and so far it’s been nothing short of being a wonderful experience.

I hope you get a chance to read THE NEIGHBOR. And pleas let me know what you think. It’s a noirish domestic thriller where bad people do bad things to each other, creating bad scenarios. It’s a book that’s as uncomfortable as it is twisty. Provocative while at the same time deliciously sinister. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed writing it.

And with that I give you THE NEIGHBOR!

Thanks and best,


Here’s all the places you can pick up a copy.


Barnes & Noble:


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Feline Muses

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today musing about muses, this time of the feline variety. Anyone who reads by books is probably aware that I almost always have at least one cat as a character. In my Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries, I’ve had two, Lumpkin, who first appeared in Kilt Dead, the first book in the series, and Glenora, who turned up in #3, A Wee Christmas Homicide. Lumpkin and Glenora were inspired by two cats who came into my life in 2001, litter mates Nefret and Bala. The cat in my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, set in sixteenth-century England, was based on the third cat we acquired later, Feral, who previously belonged to my late in-laws. In the novels, he’s called Watling.

There’s one big problem with basing characters in a continuing series on a current pet. In real life, pet owners eventually lose their feline companions. Even if they are house cats and run no risk of being run over by a car or killed by predators, most cats die of disease or old age in less than twenty years. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that most of the animals who have shared my home, cats and dogs both, have lived long and healthy lives. That said, both Feral and Nefret are gone now, leaving a big hole in my personal life and presenting me with an equally big problem in my professional life.

In Feral’s case, I had already finished the three books featuring Watling and what might have been a fourth has evolved into a single-title historical novel that does not contain a cat, but with the Liss MacCrimmon series, it’s a different story. We lost Nefret in late 2017. I’d already written Overkilt, the book that will be out in October 2018, but I’m under contract to write another Liss MacCrimmon mystery this year. That’s left me with a hard choice. Do I continue to write about Lumpkin now that Nefret is gone? Or do I write his passing into the story line, starting this new one with Liss and Dan grieving but consoled by the fact that they still have Glenora in their lives?

Either choice will be painful to write, but Lumpkin is not a young cat. He’s full grown when Liss inherits him. Even in the fictional timeline of the series, more than ten years have passed since then. My agent and editor, of course, may have something to say about this decision. The book isn’t due until December, so nothing is yet written in stone, but this whole question of basing fictional animals on real ones, which was first brought home to me when Feral died, prompted me to make a different decision when I was working on my new “Deadly Edits” series.

There is a cat in Crime & Punctuation (in stores May 29, 2018) and Clause & Effect (2019) . Of course there is. Her name is Calpurnia, “Cal” for short, and she came with my protagonist, Mikki Lincoln, from Maine to New York when Mikki moved back to her own home town after being widowed. There was a real Calpurnia, but she’s been gone for a good many years now, long enough for the memories to be sweet rather than painful.

We had been without a cat for awhile when we went to the local animal shelter to find a new feline companion. I was walking past one of the cages when a white paw reached out and touched my arm. It was attached to a Maine coon cat, all white except for a couple of dark patches. Sharing the cage with her was a short haired calico. I’m sure it will surprise no one to hear that we took both of them home with us.

The white cat told us her name first—Lavinia. That’s the name of a character in Titus Andronicus. The relevant line is “My Aunt Lavinia follows me everywhere.” If you were in college with me in the 1960s you can probably identify a secondary reference, especially given the white hair. Once one kitten had the name of a minor Shakespearean character, it was obvious the other must, too. Calpurnia is a character in Julius Caesar and this particular kitten was a calico and purred. Purr-fect, right?

Calpurnia lived to be nearly twenty, surviving Lavinia by several years. She was still in residence when Nefret and Bala joined our family. She’s the ideal muse for the “Deadly Edits” series, not only because she’s an interesting character on her own, but also because she provides Mikki with a sounding board. You cat people out there—you talk to your cats, right?

Sometimes they even answer back.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written 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. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

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Another thing to love about Maine

Sorry all, I’m nearing deadline on a book and don’t have time to chat.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Took this photo Friday morning on Long Pond in Belgrade. Almost ice out! Spring is right around the corner.

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Weekend Update: April 14-15, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday) Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Tuesday), Joe Souza (Wednesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Thursday), and Kate Flora (Friday).

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

 Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson has expanded her list of reference books available for free to those interested in sixteenth-century England. She used these to do research for Elizabethan mysteries written as Kathy Lynn Emerson and Tudor novels written as Kate Emerson. If you’re interested, the complete list is at: http://www.kathylynnemerson.com/ResearchBooksGiveaway.htm

It is with great sorrow that Maine Crime Writers has to report that Lea Wait‘s husband, Bob Thomas, passed away this past week. His obituary appeared in the Portland Press Herald. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/04/11/feature-obituary-robert-thomas-edgecomb-artist-inspired-by-maine-landscapes-time-spent-in-beirut/






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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