Jen’s Best of 2019

Jen Blood here, with a look back at 2019, since it is in fact that time again. This year was a rough one around the homestead – between politics and dire climate predictions and the loss of a close family member, it’s definitely been a year I’m eager to put behind me. However, in my effort to escape all the horrors of reality, I did manage to find some quality means by which to do exactly that. Here, then, is a list of my top podcasts, TV shows, and YouTube channels of 2019.

Podcasts:

Podcasts are a mainstay for me, particularly when I’m working in the kitchen. My weekly roster:

Pod Save America, in which former Obama staffers bemoan the decline of the country, interview politicians about what’s coming next, crack wise about the state of the world, and generally keep me from sticking my head in ye olde oven.

WTF, with Marc Maron. I started listening to WTF because Ben listens, and at first found Maron a little bit much. Before long, however, I came to appreciate his rants, neuroses, and – especially – stellar interviews.

Judge John Hodgman, in which comedian/actor/author John Hodgman (formerly of The Daily Show and those old Apple commercials, among other claims to fame) hears silly cases from people around America, and rules on those cases. Warm, witty, and occasionally wise, this is the podcast most likely to be playing when Ben and I go on road trips together.

TV: 

Okay, so… My TV is not like other people’s TV. I know this is the golden age of television, and there are things like Game of Thrones and Killing Eve and a thousand other things that I will eventually, possibly, watch. But Ben has a problem with plot-driven drama, and this year I had a problem with intense storylines, so…um, yeah. Our TV is not like other people’s TV. Mostly, we watch British panel shows – most of them starring the same eight or nine UK celebrities on a perpetual rotation. Here are a few of our favorites:

QI. This is what started us down the rabbit hole that is British panel/game shows. Originally hosted by Stephen Fry and now with Sandi Toksvig at the helm, QI features four different British celebrities – well, three different British celebrities, and Alan Davis – who crack wise about a particular topic. Each series revolves around a different letter of the alphabet, and then each episode focuses on a word or set of words beginning with that letter. Simple, soothing, often informative, and sometimes hilarious.

Would I Lie to You, Mock the Week, The Last Leg, Taskmaster, Eight Out of Ten Cats, Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown..The list goes on. I’m not actually going to go into detail about these shows, since there’s nothing particularly astounding about any of them. But they’re funny, dark but not too dark, and the fact that Ben and I now know all of these British celebs as well – if not better – than their US equivalents just kind of strikes me as funny. We watch most of the shows on YouTube, though occasionally they can be found on Amazon.

YouTube:

YouTube is one of my favorite things on the planet, at this stage. If you need to learn to do something, chances are you can find at least half a dozen video tutorials on YouTube to help you along the way. Since a good portion of the time I spend seeking entertainment is on YouTube, I thought I would include a few channels that really had an impact for me this year.

SustainablyVegan, in which British twenty-something Immy Lucas shares ideas for leading a more sustainable life. I love how earnest Lucas is, how transparent she is with her audience, and how passionate she is about the causes she cares about. I’ve learned a great deal from the weekly videos, and gained a greater appreciation for the young men and women leading the movement toward a more holistic, sustainable, and inclusive world.

Nik the Booksmith, in which artist Nik the Booksmith (I tried to find her real name, but this was all I could come up with) shares videos on how to make astonishing books, journals, and other paper crafts on a weekly basis. Nik is not only hilarious but also genuinely talented, and I’ve actually taken a couple of her online classes in order to learn more about making junk journals and zines. If you’re interested in paper crafts and especially alternative forms of book making, this is the channel to watch.

MIGardenera channel devoted to organic gardening in all its forms. Informative videos presented two to three times per week, on every gardening-related topic under the sun. The host’s perpetual pep sometimes makes me a little weary, but he’s passionate, well-informed, and committed to his audience and his topic, so who am I to complain? And, seriously, the amount of information provided on the channel is kind of astonishing. Highly recommended for both novice and experienced gardeners.

Since I’ll be talking about the books I’m reading in Wednesday’s post this week, I’ll save that for later. Hopefully, this gives you a few things to chew on if you’re looking for something new to delve into. The watchwords for me this year were gentle, funny, and/or informative, and I think most of these – with the exception of Pod Save America, which is sometimes funny and always informative but is rarely gentle – fit that bill.

What about you? What’s your go-to when it comes to escapist forms of entertainment?

Thanks to all who have read my rambling here at Maine Crime Writers this year. Wishing you the very sweetest of holidays, and a very, very happy New Year. See you in 2020!

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. To learn more, visit http://www.jenblood.com.

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Weekend Update: December 14-15, 2019

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Jen Blood (Monday), Sandra Neily (Tuesday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (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 and MCW alumna Sarah Graves are featured in a recent article on mysteries set in Maine. https://www.criminalelement.com/maine-in-crime-fiction-light-and-dark/

If you missed it last year, here’s a Christmas story from Kate. Click on the link and then on A Christmas Story in the header.

https://wordpress.com/view/kateclarkflora.com

From Christmas long ago – Kate Flora and John Clark on the Union, Maine farm:

 

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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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! My Bests of the Year!

Dear Readers,

Thank you for another amazing year. This will be my last post for 2019. Great things happened. I had a short story, ‘School Daze’ published in Landfall: New England’s Best Crime Stories. My novel PRAY FOR THE GIRL came out in April and hit #1 on The  Portland Press Herald best seller list. And I finished my new novel, THE PERFECT DAUGHTER, which comes out April, 2020.

Since it’s the end of the year, here are a few of my bests for 2019.

Best Book I Read—BAD BLOOD
A chilling true story of one woman’s corporate greed and unethical behavior.

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Best Movie—PARASITE from South Korea.

A brilliant movie about class tension and domestic turmoil. Beautiful camera work and scenery. A classic!
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Best TV Show—YOU from the same named book by Caroline Kepnes

Creepy and cringeworthy, you won’t be able to forget Joe, Beck and Peach Salinger.

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Best Pizza Places—It’s a tie

1. Monte’s Pizza on Washington Ave in Portland. Amazingly crafted pizzas, nurtured and cold fermented for three days, with the finest pepperonis.

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2. Scarr’s on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Scarr mills his own flour!!! What more do you want? Get the grandmother slice.
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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and catch you next year!

Best,

joe

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Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

John Clark on the topic of short stories. Years ago, I was invested in writing full length books when my sister Kate suggested I might be good at writing short stories. She was one of the founders of Level Best Books and, at the time, they were soliciting entries for the second anthology of crime stories by New England writers.

My initial thought to myself was no, I should stick with what I’m doing. However, the longer I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. One of the motivating factors that pushed me across the line was the recurring dream I was having at the time. In it, I had murdered a young woman before getting sober, hid the body and, with a fairly clear head, was now petrified that someone would find her and I’d be busted.

I decided it was worth trying to exorcise this demon by turning it into a story. I did, it was published in the anthology and I never had that dream again. (Too bad the paralyzed in the jungle about to be attacked by cannibal ants and a couple other similarly vivid ones haven’t met the same fate).

Since then, I’ve written a decent number of short stories. Some have been accepted for publication, many have not, but the process of having an idea pop into my head and a day or so later turn into a work that others can enjoy is extremely satisfying.

Writing short stories serves other purposes. At parties or meetings, I often mention that I’m paid to kill people. That gets attention quickly. Depending upon the mood I’m in, or the situation, I string the other person(s) along for a while before clarifying. Very few get upset at the explanation and on occasion, the conversation turns into a new story opportunity.

There are multiple resources for short story ideas, especially mystery and horror (more about that in a moment). The older I get, the less I need to say, but the more I’m willing to listen. Quite honestly, the world is starved for good listeners, just ask any small town librarian. People frequently come there as much for the sense of being heard and recognized, as to check out an item. Since my hearing, especially in crowds, has deteriorated to a point where I have to strain to follow a conversation, I often find myself hearing parts of one and stitching bits of another onto it with delightfully strange results.

The daily newspaper provides more story fodder, particularly the obituaries. I have a morning ritual that starts with fresh coffee and the print edition of The Bangor Daily News. I tend to read at least half the obituaries completely and find some really fascinating stuff that can be woven into a good Maine tale.

Other stories have their germination in something I see while driving. One story I sold to Level Best, Tower Mountain, was inspired by a distant hill sprinkled with communication towers I saw every morning when getting on I-95 in Pittsfield. I took the liberty of moving it north of a scenic lookout on the Airline that overlooks a big bog.

I wrote one inspired by the Nigerian Oil email scam combined with the punch line from one of Tim Sample’s jokes. Another followed Kate and I discovering someone had stolen the flat rock wall our father had spent an entire summer building back in the 1970s, while three were inspired by Pine Grove Cemetery and the cement plant on opposite sides of the road approaching Hartland from the south.

One trend in competitions for anthologies is the requirement to write a story around a featured theme. One such that has been offered on and off for the last few years is The Killer Wore Cranberry. All submissions must feature a thanksgiving dish. I wrote one about a greedy lawyer who screwed his sister and her adult children out of their house and blueberry fields. It wasn’t accepted for this competition, but was included a couple years later in a Level Best anthology called Noir At The Salad Bar.

As my writing has progressed, I’ve realized more of my stories stray into horror than mystery. While the market for such stories isn’t as robust as that for mystery, I like my frequent excursions into the dark side of humanity a lot. Having grown up in a small town on a poultry farm at a time when everyone who did so was going into debt big time, I can easily tap into the sense of desperation and insecurity having little money creates, and can develop characters wounded or driven by that mindset. Likewise, my years of active alcoholism, coupled with going to AA meetings for 39 years also lets me go to the dark side easily.

One intangible aspect of the creative process for me has been finding what I call, for lack of a better description, places of power. Those of you who remember Carlos Castanada’s books about Don Juan, the Yaqui Sorcerer, will understand what I mean. I discovered my first such place of power when I was the library director in Boothbay Harbor. I was writing my first book and every time I was stuck on where to take it, the answer came to me while driving past Edgecomb Pottery.

When we lived in Hartland, my power spot became the kitchen sink. I’d be washing dishes and looking into the back yard when a new story idea would start growing in my head. I was a bit worried when we moved to Waterville, but I have found one that’s a dandy. I have generated half a dozen such ideas while enjoying the 93 degree water in the pool before my morning aquatic exercise class. What better spot could there be.

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Of Course We’re Giving Books for Christmas

Group Post:  Today, we’re sharing the whats and whys of some of the books our writers will be giving for Christmas this year. Hope you’ll chime in with some of yours as well.

Kate Flora: Recently, at an event for 826 Boston, an organization that coaches writing inScreen Shot 2019-12-02 at 11.41.08 AM schools founded by David Eggers, I heard Ambassador Samantha Power speak about her life and her new book. She was an impressive and inspiring speaker, and now I have a copy of her book. Another copy or two will be wrapped and under the tree for family members I hope will be equally inspired.

As a Mayflower descendent, I’ve always had a special interest in Screen Shot 2019-12-02 at 11.40.30 AMThanksgiving, but it has been a Euro-centric one. Now that we have a daughter-in-law and step-grandson with Native American ancestry, I want to be more informed, so I’ve put this book on my list, and plan to get the children’s version for the ten-year-old. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0807049395/coliid=I2WO546GZOKU0R&colid=3IVXHNP7HI1Q1&psc=1&ref_=lv_ov_lig_dp_it

Darcy Scott: My husband loves both historical nonfiction and all things nautical; finding him a book that combines both (with a bit of true crime thrown in) can be a challenge. This year I think I nailed it with Murder Aboard: The Herbert Fuller Tragedy and the Ordeal of Thomas Bram by C. Michael Hiam—a book Sebastian Junger calls “An utterly original and gripping story of murder on the high seas.”

The book chronicles the brutal murders of three of the twelve people aboard the Herbert Fuller, a ship hauling lumber from Boston to Argentina in the summer of 1896. Those killed included the captain and his wife, and all were asleep when the murders took place. Though 750 miles from shore, the Herbert Fuller makes for Halifax where the riveting inquest and subsequent trials take place.  C. Michael Hiam, Ph.D., is also the author of Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the AirshipA Monument to Deceit: Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars; and Eddie Shore and That Old-Time Hockey. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Sebastian Junger’s full review: “Hiam has combined true crime with nautical adventure to create an utterly original and gripping story of murder on the high seas. Three people lay hacked to death in their bunks and the murderer had to be on board—but who was it? A fiction writer who dreamed up such a premise could rightfully be proud, and yet it actually happened—and has been brought to life for us by Hiam’s impeccable research and elegant prose.” https://amzn.to/33LEQuu 

Susan Vaughan: For a change of pace, a gift for my great-nieces is a picture book. Maine author Valerie L. Egar published this fall a delightful Christmas tale, Oh, No! Reindeer Flu!, beautifully illustrated by Tamara Campeau. When the reindeer fall ill on Christmas Eve, the North Pole huskies save the day by pulling Santa’s sleigh. Kirkus Reviews calls Oh, No! Reindeer Flu! “a lively holiday tale that may make youngsters wonder why Santa ever used reindeer in the first place.” To my delight as a dog lover, the huskies steal the show, and the story should charm old and young alike. Valerie L. Egar is also a published poet and author of other children’s stories, Snickertales, that may be viewed on the Snickertales Facebook page. Oh, No! Reindeer Flu! is available in Maine at Sherman’s Books & Stationery stores. For other retailers, readers can go to the publisher’s website at www.whistleoakpublishing.com.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: As it happens, aside from copies of my own newest (Clause & Effect and an advance reading copy of A View to a Kilt) to two sets of relatives on my husband’s side of the family, I don’t think I’m giving any books this Christmas. Usually I do. I had hits two years running with our great niece, first with Lea Wait’s Pizza to Die For when she was 14 and then with Michelle Obama’s Becoming last year. Our nephew’s wife also got a book. Since she and said nephew were really into the television series based on it, I gave her a copy of Shirley Jackson’s original The Haunting of Hill House. Now it’s still two weeks short of Christmas, so things may change, but at the moment the closest to a book I’m giving is the Game of Thrones edition of Monopoly to that same nephew and his wife. Maybe I’ll do better next year.

Jen Blood: In an effort to do more handmade gifts for the holidays, I’m actually making books this year rather than buying… I’m in the process of hand binding a grimoire for my older niece, and have a naturalist’s diary and supply kit that I’m making for the younger of the two. This month’s post here at Maine Crime Writers will be all about the process, including many shots of the chaos my studio is currently in. 

Lana

Calvin

Sandra Neily: I’m with Jen, but with a digital twist. I’m giving sturdy board books to grandchildren. I collect family pics and write the text. This site assembles sturdy books with lots of creative tools that I use. https://pinholepress.com/c/custom-board-books-for-kids

And I am regifting The Hidden Life of Trees to my great friend/editor Kyle … as soon as I re-read a few chapters. Who knew trees could repel predators and assaults (sometimes), care for wounded family nearby, and figure out spring before we do?  Here’s some lines and I linked to an article as well:

Raven in squirrel contemplation; I am simply loving trees.

“If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.”

“Forest air is the epitome of healthy air. People who want to take a deep breath of fresh air or engage in physical activity in a particularly agreeable atmosphere step out into the forest. There’s every reason to do so. The air truly is considerably cleaner under the trees, because the trees act as huge air filters. Their leaves and needles hang in a steady breeze, catching large and small particles as they float by. Per year and square mile this can amount to 20,000 tons of material.”

“There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet.”

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World

 

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O Tannenbaum!

Our neighborhood is especially bright with holiday lights this year, a reflection, perhaps, of a shared yearning to lessen the darkness in our world.

Before the recent snow, we strung some white lights around the yard, but it was far too early to hang the garland around the front door.  Now I’m hoping it’s not too late, because the greenery around the entry makes the house look so festive. We’ve done the ladder-on-ice thing once or twice in the past, but we’re getting smarter as we age, so here’s to a couple of warmish days ahead.

This weekend we’ll get our tree. The ritual around that has changed as well. Up to and including the year I had knee surgery in early December, we cut our own at a tree farm a few miles west of our home. I say “we,” but that year I ventured out into the field and picked out an absolutely perfect tree (I was walking okay by then, albeit with a cruch) but Diane had to kneel on the frozen ground and cut it (the doctor would have frowned on me doing that).

She also had to drag it back to the car, which turned out to be a fair distance away. She was a good sport about it, but let’s just say I was convinced by the following December that there were easier ways to proceed, and since then we’ve bought a tree at a local nursery. They have a nice selection. The helpful staff gives the stump a fresh cut. They tie it on the roof of the car. It costs a little more, but aching knees have their own price, so off to the tree store we will go.

That night or the next, we’ll haul the lights, garlands and ornament boxes up from the basement and transform the tree into the most beautiful one ever.

Here are some of the ornaments we will hang:

A Claddagh, the Irish symbol of love, loyalty and friendship.

A precious, retro ornament from Diane’s childhood.

We love bird ornaments. Here, a snowy owl visits with a goldfinch, while another owl spies from the background.

Oh, Canada! We were married there nearly 15 years ago, so this one always has a place of honor on our tree.

Many readers of this blog have one of these, am I right?

A very fancy bird, indeed.

But of course.

I wish you happiness this season, whatever holidays you may celebrate, and a joyous, peaceful, wonderful new year.

To the readers of this blog: What are your favorite holiday traditions? Please let us know in the comments.

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. She is writing a new series that has as its protagonist a Portland criminal defense lawyer willing to take on cases others won’t touch in a town to which she swore she would never return.

 

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Weekend Update: December 7-8, 2019

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Vaughn Hardacker (Monday), Brenda Buchanan (Tuesday), a group post (Wednesday) John Clark (Thursday) and Joe Souza (Friday).

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

Sandra Neily is working up a newsletter to go out next week offering up free Kindle copies of her first novel, Deadly Trespass. Readers who sign up for the newsletter at her site this week will all get a free copy. www.authorsandraneily.com After losing her publisher (who simply disappeared) and regrouping, she will release the second novel of the Mystery in Maine series, in January. Meanwhile, she’s making cookies and training the dog to do her part.

 

 

 

 

 

For a limited time, Lea Wait‘s publisher has reduced prices on the ebook editions of some of her backlist at Amazon and Kobo.

And in related news, THREAD AND BURIED debuted at # 21 on this week’s Barnes & Noble mass-market bestseller list.

Last Christmas, Kate Flora wrote a Christmas story for her friends (you) to enjoy. While she works on this year’s story, you can read last year’s by clicking here https://wordpress.com/view/kateclarkflora.com and then on A Christmas Story.

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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