Weekend Update: June 12-13, 2021

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

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

from Susan Vaughan: On Win a Book Wednesday 6/16, I’ll be giving away 2 copies of Always a Suspect. This month is the 20th anniversary of my first sale to Harlequin Books. Always was originally published as Dangerous Attraction. I’ve updated the technology, but mostly it’s the same story. Hope to see you Wednesday!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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CASTLES ALONG THE RHINE

Or is it Castles in the Air? After that homebound year of 2020, I’m wishing for a trip to somewhere scenic and abroad. But even though my husband and I are both vaccinated, traveling is still a problematic proposition. So today I’m revisiting a Viking River Cruise we did in 2014. We’ve taken three, but this, our first, is still my favorite. You’ll see why. And yes, there’s a bit of a mystery. Why are there so many castles along the Rhine?

After leaving Amsterdam, our ship took us up the Rhine toward Basel, Switzerland. After the ship left Cologne/Köln, we sailed the Middle Rhine, the location of castle after castle on the heights above small villages and vineyards. Our first stop then was an eye opener. Marksburg Castle is the only Medieval castle on the Rhine to have survived intact.

Marksburg Castle

The oldest section, the inner keep, dates from about 1200. The great hall and the kitchen contain some of the original furnishings.

Dining table in Great Hall

The entry for knights on horseback featured rough cobblestones and a low overhead passage to make sure their arrival wasn’t for attack.

Knights’ entranceAfterward, we cruised on upriver. Seen from a cruise ship’s deck, the Middle Rhine seems like a journey through history. In rapid succession, we gawped at a pageant of vineyards, walled towns, and hills topped with castles. The ship’s program director announced their names, along with tidbits of history. Even though I still have the map and my photos, I cannot say for sure which castle is which.

Ones I remember were the Sterrenberg and Liebenstein castles, owned by brothers who hated each other, so the pair were called the Hostile Brothers. Thurnburg, or Burg Maus (Mouse Castle), gets its nickname for its diminutive size compared to Neu-Katzenelnbogen, or Burg Katz (Cat Castle).

I can’t guarantee my photos match any of those names. Most of the many castles we saw were ruins, some only a tower and others a few walls. Centuries of European wars and wars between rival nobles burned the wood and tumbled the stone. My binoculars picked out potted geraniums and patio umbrellas on a few, where enterprising contemporary owners had turned semi-ruins into B&Bs or restaurants.The Lorelei is not a castle, but a fabled cliff which towers over a bend in the river, narrow at this point to 350 feet. Tricky currents and rocks spelled disaster to many ships and inspired German poets to invent the “Legend of the Lorelei,” which told of a beautiful girl whose seductive song lured mariners to their doom. A statue of her commemorates the legend.

So why all these castles, which by my count number at least 20 in about 40 miles? Kings had their royal palaces, but many other nobles built castles and fortresses along the Rhine in order to defend their lands and enrich themselves. Along this narrow stretch of river, with steep hillsides blocking the wind, ships often couldn’t sail without help from land—animals pulling them along on tow paths. Knights and barons could fire cannons down on ships and demand taxes or cargo for safe passage. The origin of the term “robber baron.”

As I said, this was my favorite cruise. I’d do it again in a flash. But for now, I’m enjoying sharing the photos and memories with you.

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The Coming Cashless Society and the Crime Novel

We live in a rapidly evolving world that is rushing headfirst toward a technological revolution. This means adopting a digital currency and moving toward a society where cash is obsolete and made irrelevant by laws. What does that portend for the future crime novelist? Will it change the way we chronicle criminal behavior? Will it render us as futurists and science fiction storytellers, seeing that everything in our lives will be moving over to technology?

And how will authors write about a society in which petty theft, burglary and drug transactions no longer occur on a regular basis? Will some form of black market currency replace the dollar and allow individuals to continue to pursue their darkest desires? What will happen to blackmail, robbery and extortion when digital currency makes ‘follow the money trail’ much easier.

These are fascinating questions for future and current writers of crime fiction. A cashless society, on the surface, seems like a good idea. The absence of hard currency will no doubt eliminate certain vile crimes in society, but at what risk?  Do we really want the government—Big Brother—knowing what we spend our hard-earned money on? Or tracking our spending habits? What about tax evasion, the type Al Capone committed? And how will digital transactions affect the vice industries such as strip clubs, prostitution, drugs and pornography?

It might seem sad that I pay homage to the future loss of these criminal enterprises. As a human being, I recognize that it’s a positive development to watch these vice industries slowly fade away. The human tragedy that occurs from such degrading and dehumanizing activity is significant and worth eliminating. But this is our reality right now in certain pockets of the country. It reveals the disturbing darkness that lives in the hearts of many persons. It also reveals the general public’s complicity in allowing such horrible behaviors to perpetuate and simmer. Does that mean that authors decades from now will only be able to write about such activity through the lens of historical fiction? These are the questions I keep asking myself when considering future novels.

Cash greases palms and makes it possible for bad things to happen. It’s the engine that fuels aberrant behavior: behavior not fit for proper society. Cash facilitates crime, anonymously and with lightning speed, however repulsive these behaviors are. Digital currency will all but eliminate these unlawful actions. But will it cause humans to repress their desires and stop engaging in such risky behavior? Will the knowing eye of Big Brother shut the door to certain cash-based crimes that can only occur if there’s fiat currency?

As an author, I ask what will happen to the hooker with a heart? The neighborhood bookie who collects numbers and helps out the elderly people in his neighborhood? The corrupt politician who takes cash bribes on the sly in exchange for a desirable outcome? The local drug dealer? The purse snatcher? The pimp? Is there a more celebrated character in crime movies and novels as the pimp? Will the changing face of crime in the twenty-first century reflect these new realities or morph into something completely different?

I’m sure financial methods will change over time, as all things are wont to do. Thieves will learn how to manipulate this new technology and profit illegally from it. It may not be as violent as a street mugging, but it certainly will be more lucrative. Hacks will plunder cryptocurrency accounts and transfer these assets into personal wallets. They’ll steal digital fiat out of banks and financial institutions. Recently, the Colonial Pipeline paid five million dollars in cryptocurrency to retrieve breached information that was hacked from their website. Thieves ride the subway every day during rush hour, their devices skimming off NFC phones left unlocked by fellow passengers. These thefts are silent and lucrative, highly technological in nature and leaving no physical injuries behind.

As bad as I feel for the many victims of vice and violent crimes, I’m not yet ready to give up my cash and cede our privacy over to Big Brother. So I will continue to chronicle these stories. Maybe in ten years we’ll have a cashless society, but until then make sure to keep paying off your bookie’s nut and tipping your waiters and waitress. Cash is still gold to us writers. Thank goodness.

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After The Fall/Coming Soon

John Clark elaborating on my fractured elbow adventure and a new look at Post-Covid movie possibilities, but first the elbow. Regular blog followers may remember the fun(?) we had clearing the jungle that was the back of our lot at the home in Waterville. Remnants of Asian Bittersweet vine still hang from several tall trees at the property line. They annoy Beth more than they do me. Two weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, Beth was napping, so I took our very light ladder and leaned it against one of the oak trees. I had a pruning saw and a garden rake to pull the vines closer and cut them. All well and good until I leaned too far out for a vine and felt the ladder tilting earthward.

I was extremely lucky, able to twist away from the ladder and land flat. Seconds later, I’m looking at blood oozing from my arm and thinking I’m too damn old for this. The rake and saw were flung to the side, the ladder was atop my feet and I missed landing on the rock wall. At first, I thought I’d escaped with a sore elbow and some cuts, but three hours later, I accepted reality (well, as best as I’m able) and we headed to the emergency room. I got pretty fast treatment considering it was a Saturday night. Everyone was great and after CAT scans of my head and torso, plus X-rays of my right arm, I got the following diagnoses. Fractured elbow, bruised ribs, a spot on my lung that needs a followup, and a comment from the radiologist that had me chuckle: “Normal aging changes to the brain.” To which I replied, “Ain’t nothing normal about MY brain.”

After a lecture from Beth and a very fortunate followup the next day at the orthopedic clinic thanks to a cancellation, I was cast free and on the mend. As of today, the elbow is feeling just a twinge now and then, but the ribs are barking at me most of the time. Writing hasn’t happened, but gardening (Watching Beth run the rototiller was fun) proceeded on schedule, Mother Robin has started a second clutch of eggs in her nest on the back flood lights, and we’re building a new stone wall around the lower flower garden.

by Angeline Boulley

Before moving to movie titles, I want to share a great YA mystery I read last week. Firekeeper’s Daughter reminds me in very favorable ways of the late Tony Hillerman as well as the terrific author William Kent Krueger. It blends Native American mythology/culture with contemporary issues many teens face. Think fitting in, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, prejudice and secrets. All of these are mixed together to offer readers a seamless and enthralling plot. It deserves a place on every library shelf.

Like many cultural venues, movies took a huge hit thanks to COVID-19. I envision a resurgence with many remakes/sequels coming soon. Below is a list of ones I’ve thought of, but I bet you can add plenty of your own.

2021: A Covid Odyssey

A Clockwork Outbreak

Alien?

Cool Mask Luke

Covidbusters

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Face

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Epidemic

Ferris Bueller’s Day On

Finding Newmask

Foregoe (by the Cohen Brothers)

Gone With the Masks

How Clean Was My Valley

It’s A Wonderful Death

Mad Mask

No Country For Old Masks

Once Upon A Time In A Mask

Pandemic’s Labyrinth

Peter Pandemic

Saving Private Patients

Sickfellas

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Mask

The Covid of Dr. Caligari

The Epidemic Strikes Back

The Eternal Safety of the Spotless Mask

The Innoculist

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Social Gathering

The Mask or the Red, White and Blue Death

The Mask That Saved Liberty Valance

The Maskchurian Candidate

The Not so Lone Ranger

The Sound of Mutation

The Texas Chainsaw Mask Removal

The Trumask Show

The Unmask of Zorro

Wear the Right Mask (Spike Lee)

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Better Homes & Gardens

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Clay tablets. Papyrus scrolls. The earliest libraries of ancient civilizations were governmental, dedicated to business inventories, state record keeping, and also housed some knowledge relating to history, science, astronomy, and philosophy. (You can tell I looked up the history of libraries on Wikipedia.) It wasn’t until the 5th century BC that private or personal libraries consisting of written books became popular in Greece.

Nowadays, one might collect Ferraris or Fabergé eggs to demonstrate one’s wealth. Back then, rich old Greeks wishing to impress would buy and display books that they never read and never would read. Seneca complained, “Now, like bathrooms and hot water, a library is got up as standard equipment for a fine house.” It was just window-dressing, books by the yard.

I expect we think of bathrooms and hot water as slightly more necessary than books, even if we are rabid readers. But when our basic needs are taken care of, Cicero is right. There’s a wonderful wall of books in my living room, two closets with shelves lined with books, and several unopened boxes of books in storage. I’ve probably given away, donated, and sold more books than I still possess, since we’ve moved quite a bit and I don’t usually re-read. At the moment, there are hundreds of unread books on my Kindle. Does that stop me from 1-Clicking? I’m afraid not. At least that electronic TBR pile won’t topple over and kill me. I’ll never be bored, if I remember to charge the device.

However, I’m really here to talk about my garden. Writing and gardening have something in common—you are never truly done. Even after a book is in print, I can see opportunities I missed. A more succulent word could have been added here. A plot point there should have been more fully explored. And as I sit at my desk, the weeds are not at all respectful of my advanced age. It’s like having perpetual homework hanging over your head, no matter if you graduated long, long ago.

When I’m writing, I think I should be outside. When I’m outside, I feel like I’m cheating on my manuscript. If only I could clone myself, or manage my time better, those problems would be solved.

We moved into this house almost two years ago, and one of its selling features was its small three-tiered, park-like fenced garden, with exquisite stonework and numerous perennial shrubs and flowers. There’s a pond with a rock fountain, a sun terrace, a hammock, a fire pit, a hot tub. Really, you never have to leave home to go on vacation.

However, it isn’t maintenance free. I’ve been pretty stubborn this spring, trying to do mostly everything myself with the occasional help of my 13-year-old granddaughter and her friends. One Saturday my oldest daughter and her husband came and bagged up eleventy-billion leaves. Another daughter cut back the roses and tree hydrangeas. My husband bought a leaf vacuum, and roars around the yard. Sadly, my garden guy moved to New Mexico last December, though the 200 spent purple tulips he planted for me last fall that I now should trim remind me of him every day. Much as I hate to admit it, I need some professional help.

But life is good. I have books to read, books to write, and a garden. And two working bathrooms! Cicero and Seneca would approve.

Green thumb? Black thumb? How does your garden grow? What’s your TBR pile like?

“You can bury any number of headaches in a garden.” – Charles Barnard

Maggie Robinson has written over twenty historical mysteries and romances. Her latest series, the 1920s-set Lady Adelaide Mysteries, features a widowed marquess’s daughter, and Anglo-Indian Scotland Yard detective, and the pesky ghost of her late and unlamented husband. The fourth and final book, Farewell Blues, releases in September.

 

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Weekend Update: June 5-6, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maggie Robinson (Monday), John Clark (Tuesday), Joe Souza (Thursday) and Susan Vaughan (Friday). Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

Maine Crime Writers Vaughn Hardaker and Maureen Milliken will be reading at a special virtual Noir at the Bar Saturday night, beginning at 7 p.m. Maine Crime Writer Brenda Buchanan will be the excellent moderator. Each author will read for five minutes, so be sure to have the wine bottle nearby so you don’t miss anything! This is an event of Maine Crime Wave, but you don’t have to have registered for Crime Wave to tune in and join the fun. Click here to get the link to attend. Besides Vaughn, Maureen and Brenda, other writers taking part are Tess Gerritsen, Rob Kelley, Jule Selbo, Alexia Gordon, Janet Murch, Jim Ziskin and Emily Bernhard.

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: For the month of June, the e-book of the most recent Liss MacCrimmon mystery, A View to a Kilt, will be on sale for $1.99. In this one, Liss finds a body, literally, in her own back yard. The Scotties also make an appearance. For a quick link to e-book outlets, you can click here: https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781496712677/a-view-to-a-kilt/

 

 

 

A final reminder, as time is running out: don’t forget to snap those photos so you can win our “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest. Entry information here:

‘Where Would You Put the Body Contest’ 

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 and the photo’s location in the body of the email. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. Maybe a Duck of Justice tee shirt? 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 begin May 1st and will run through June 15th.

The winners for the Win a Book Wednesday offering of Katharine Clark’s Steal Away are L.C. Rooney and Julianne Spreng. Please send your snail mail address to: writingaboutcrime@gmail.com so we can mail you the book. Thanks to all our commenters and stay tuned for more Wednesday giveaways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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So, What Cha’ Doing This Weekend?

A bevy of top-notch crime writers will be in Maine this weekend and we writers and readers of crime fiction get to hang out with them. Virtually, that is.

Maine Crime Wave is tomorrow. It’s happening on Zoom, and as much as we all wish we could be together in person this year, there are distinct advantages to an online conference:

  • You won’t have to drive into Portland, which is a relief, because the whole city is a giant road construction zone right now.
  • Given that the forecast is for a spectacular early summer day, it will be perfectly fine to participate from a chaise lounge on the deck.
  • Thanks to the miracle of technology, there’ll be opportunities to schmooze (and buy books!) between events.

At 9 a.m, five powerhouse authors will be talking about building their protagonists.

MCW alum Barbara Ross, author of the wonderful Maine Clambake Mysteries, will moderate the discussion among Lou Berney, who has won every crime writing award ever invented for The Long and Faraway Gone and November Road, Maine’s own Paul Doiron, whose 12th (!) Mike Bowditch novel Dead by Dawn will be released not soon enough in my opinion, New York Times bestselling romantic suspense author Carla Neggers, known especially for her Sharpe & Donovan series, former police officer Isabella Maldonado, whose new series featuring FBI special agent Nina Guerrera is drawing raves, and the fabulous  Tess Gerritsen, who lights the path for so many of us with her medical mysteries, Rizzoli and Isles series and recent foray into supernatural thrillers.

At 11 a.m., MCW author Richard Cass, author of the marvelous Elder Darrow series of jazz mysteries, will entice five other superb writers to talk about their top plot secrets.

Jess Lourey, author of award-winning adult mystery novels (Unspeakable Things – wow!) and YA adventure books, will be there. So will NY Times bestseller Michael Koryta (who sets some of his super suspenseful books in Maine), Portland’s own Chris Holm (author of the multi-award-winning Michael Hendricks thrillers and the eagerly anticipated Child Zero), Alexia Gordon (if you haven’t read her Gethsemane Brown series, start with Murder In G Major and trust me, you’ll keep on going) and James Ziskin, whose short story The Twenty Five Year Engagement and most recent Ellie Stone novel Turn To Stone have been nominated for a slew of big awards this year.

The inimitable Julia Spencer-Fleming

After lunch, Kelley Ragland, Vice President/Associate Publisher/Editorial Director for Minotaur Books will give a keynote address after being introduced by our own Julia Spencer-Fleming.

But as they say on those TV commercials for Flowbee™ hair trimmers, wait, there’s more!

At 7 p.m., I get to host a virtual Noir @ The Bar with three of the above-mentioned authors (Tess Gerrisen, Alexia Gordon and Jim Ziskin) and six other fine local writers:  Robert Kelley (defending champion of the annual Two Minutes in the Slammer event); Maureen Milliken (author of the Bernie O’Dea series); Jule Selbo (recently relocated screenwriter whose debut novel 10 Days will be out in August); two-time Maine Literary Award finalist Vaughn Hardacker; Stonecoast MFA standout Emily Bernhard and Janet Murch, winner of the 2019 Crime Wave Flash Fiction Award.

Each writer will read a five-minute scene. You can pour yourself whatever you prefer to drink.

You don’t need to be a Crime Wave registrant to tune in. This Crime Wave Noir@The Bar is FREE and it will be fun. I hope to see lots of you in the virtual audience.

Here’s the RSVP link, which will get you a special super secret link to Noir@The Bar itself:  https://www.mainewriters.org/events/noirbar

Saturday night at 7 p.m.  Join us!

Many of the Maine Crime Writing family at an in-person Noir@The Bar held live at Banded Brewing in Biddeford.

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Copycat Kate Looks Back at Maine Summer Jobs

Kate Flora: Hanging on Kaitlyn Dunnett’s coattails, I woke up this morning thinking about Maine summer past, and some of the jobs that I had. As many readers know, I grew up in Union (on Route 17 between Rockland/Camden and Augusta) on a chicken farm. Agriculture is very much an up and down thing, with good years and bad years, and it was always clear that if I wanted new school clothes, I was expected to work in the summer.

At twelve and thirteen, the summer job was raking blueberries. We all raked blueberries. I remember my mother driving me down to the town center, which we called “the village” where we would climb on a truck and be driven to that day’s field. We’d rake the berries into baskets, then carry them to the winnowing machine, and get a check on the little card that kept track of how many baskets we’d raked. I used part of my earnings to buy a small transistor radio that got the best reception on a burner on the kitchen stove. Once my father turned on the burner, and ever after, the smart brown case had brown, burner-shaped scorch marks on the bottom.

When I look back, it seems like there must have been an awful lot of summers once I was old enough to work off the farm. The summer I turned fifteen, my friend Karin and I worked as cook’s helpers at the Pemaquid Seminars, a summer writing program located on the shores of a lake. When I had my birthday, they were shocked to learn I’d only been fourteen. The writers were thrilled when I made them all homemade bread, part of my 4-H training. Of course I’d grown up in a household where we made all of our own bread, and my mother was always developing recipes for her magazine articles.

In the downtime, we listened to Bill Cosby records. Once a week we paddled equipment and food down the lake and set up for a lobster bake on the shore.  It was a summer of revelations, the first time I’d lived away from home. The cook, Mrs. Moulder, was southern–something new to this small town girl. Once a week (as I remember it) we would go to see plays–Hedda Gabbler, A Thousand Clowns, and others, at the local summer theater, which must have been the Pemaquid Playhouse..

Blueberries coming off the belt

One summer I took courses at the University of Maine, in a program for talented high school juniors. Lived in a dorm, learned the ways of a college campus, took courses with college students, and contemplated skipping my senior year. Another summer, unless it was the same one, I graduated from raking blueberries to working in the processing plant. It entailed sitting for hours along a conveyer belt as blueberries rolled past, and it was our job to pick out the leaves, and clumps of dirt and sticks and spiders and bugs and bees and the occasional mouse. Again, it was agriculture, and if there was a large harvest that day, we stayed until late in the night, until all the berries were processed. There were no cell phones, of course, so I imagine those of us who didn’t have our own cars had to use the phone to call our parents to come and pick us up.

The summer before college, I worked as a chambermaid in Camden at The Whitehall Inn. At that time, it was a place where many of the guests returned every year for a week or more, while other guests had just come off a week sailing the coast of Maine on schooners. Again I lived away from home, walking back to where I was staying with one of my high school teacher’s families. I know that in August we did a staff show for the guests, and have vague memories of wearing a white nightgown, carrying a candle, and singing a song from “The Sound of Music.”

The next year, it was being upstairs-downstairs maid for an eccentric millionaire’s family

Pie from my Union blueberries.

out on Islesboro. They were very particular about how the house was kept, and we carried Brasso to keep things shiny, and an iron to smooth the sheets when we made the beds. The family had a number of untrained dogs and part of the job was constantly cleaning up after them before the lady of the house stepped in dog poo as she swanned about the place. That summer included my making a wedding dress for one of the other girls who worked there, taking the ferry back to compete for Maine blueberry queen, and my very first hangover.

Summer in Maine. Just thinking about it brings back so many memories. Even before I had jobs, there was always food to process, and a houseful of guests who’d come to Maine to escape the city heat. Many summer nights, we sat at the kitchen table and processed food that would be frozen or canned for what was always called “the long, cold winter.” It was a life so connected to the land and the seasons, and one quite unlike the childhoods of most of the people I later met at college and on my jobs.

 

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Mystery and TV Tropes for Writers

Today our friends at Mainely Murders open for the season. https://mainelymurders.com

A reminder that you can still enter last week’s Win a Book Wednesday by leaving a comment here. Winners will be announced in our weekend update. And while we aren’t offering a book this week, we’re sharing something you may find a lot of fun.

Which of these drive you crazy as a reader, and what would you add to the list?

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Summer Jobs

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today reminiscing about summer jobs. It’s that time of year, isn’t it, when high school students are thinking about how to earn money during their summer vacation? Whether it’s to buy that first car or to save for college, teenagers still look for work to meet their goals.

Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, most of us started early when it came to earning our own money. Whether we had an allowance tied to doing chores around the house or an outside job, the “work ethic” was drummed into us. If you agreed to take on the responsibility, you carried out your obligations to the best of your ability. Complaining might be allowed, but there was no quitting until the job was done.

My first “job” was helping my mother sell Christmas cards. In the 1950s, many people ordered their cards, with their names printed on them, months in advance. In addition to her regular job as a beautician, Mom carted around heavy sample books from three Christmas card companies—Wallace Brown, Marion Heath, and Tom-Wat—taking them into people’s homes so they could make their selections. [And aside: she sold Tom-Wat cards because that business was founded by my cousin’s husband. They were and are more famous for fundraising kits.] Eventually, she turned the business over to me. I couldn’t have been more than twelve, but I remember sitting patiently in various living rooms while customers paged through the offerings and then writing up their orders. I don’t remember all my customers, but I do recall that they included Dr. Vornos, my physician’s wife and partner, and Mrs. Stickle, who was married to the owner of the drugstore we patronized.

When I got a little older, I was roped into a traditional girls’ job. Babysitting was not my thing. I didn’t even care for it when my charges were asleep and didn’t need entertaining. I do recall getting a kick out of taking a close look at my employers’ possessions while they were out. I didn’t touch anything except the occasional book or LP, but I enjoyed being able to snoop, especially when I was babysitting for one of my teachers.

There’s a pattern to most of my early jobs, including the first “real” one—my parents were the ones who arranged them for me. The summer between junior and senior years in high school, I went to work as a long-distance operator for the local telephone company. A lot of my friends worked there, too, using the kind of “cord board” that, these days, you only see in old black-and-white movies. When someone wanted to make a call, a light would come on over their number. That meant we knew who was calling out. We were supposed to stick one cord into the hole and say “Long Distance,” (local operators said “Number, Please”) but there was one number, belonging to a local businessman, that no one wanted to deal with. It’s no surprise he complained, among other things, about slow service!

By the next summer, that office had closed down and all operations had been moved to a neighboring town. Instead of a cord board, we had brand new TSP machines to handle calls—early computers, if you will. I don’t think anyone could dial a number from home yet, although that must have come soon after, but they definitely still needed an operator for long distance. The job paid well, and paid better if I worked split shifts or at night. A family friend was persuaded to provide transportation and probably had something to do with arranging my schedule, too. The money was nice, but I suspect I missed out on a lot during that summer after high school graduation. At the time, it never occurred to me to question the choice of jobs, or suggest that I might be happier working closer to home, even though my best friend, who had worked for the phone company the year before, had a job at the local Woolworth’s and much more free time than I did.

Two things happened before the next summer. I started college in another state and my parents moved to a new town. For the first time, in April of 1966, I went job hunting. I had an advantage, Thanks to the tri-semester schedule at my college, I had almost four full months off. Although my mother went with me to apply, I got my next job, as a deli clerk at the local A&P, all by myself.

That was a great summer. I started out not knowing anyone, but a lot of seniors from the local high school also worked at the A&P and several of them became good friends. Let’s just say I didn’t spend much time at home. The term “party hearty” comes to mind.

For some reason, probably to do with how much more the job paid, I let my father convince me to work at a local bank the next two summers. In those days, that meant spending a lot of time sorting paper checks and posting data into what were essentially primitive computers. It was the most boring job I ever held. I worked in a back room with no windows and was by far the youngest person there. Although I was still in touch with some of the friends I’d made the summer before, there wasn’t nearly as much socializing. When my mom had to have surgery the second summer, I generously offered to quit my job to take care of her. My father wouldn’t hear of it. That darned “work ethic” thing again! I’d made a commitment and I was expected to keep it.

By the next summer, I was married (two weeks after college graduation). Unfortunately, although I had hope of a teaching job in the fall, I didn’t have any job lined up for the summer and my new husband was in imminent danger of being drafted. After a brief stint going door-to-door to hand out samples of a new detergent, I got smart, left my college degree off my resume, and landed a job based on other qualifications. I spent the summer working as a switchboard operator/bookkeeper at one of the local shoe factories.

At least the office was air conditioned.

Readers: What summer jobs did you hold? Did you stick with one you hated, or rebel and find one you liked better?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books and three works of nonfiction. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her next publication (as Kaitlyn) is the fourth book in the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series (Murder, She Edited), in stores in August 2021. As Kathy, her most recent novel is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.

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