“Haunted by Waters . . .”

Maine, thank goodness, is a land of rivers, something people forget when they fall in love with the coast and the ocean. In Massachusetts, I was born next to the Neponset and baptized early in the Charles River, a long story involving a sixteen inch pickerel and a slippery mud bank. We didn’t eat fish out of most rivers in those days. Actually I was baptized twice in the Charles, learning to sail at Community Boating and riding home on the T in wet pants and shoes.

The Kennebec came next, above Solon, where I fished for rainbow trout with my uncle the dairyman, my father, and my brother, who stored earthworms in his pocket so he didn’t have to keep recrossing the bridge to bait his hook.

When I moved away to college, my river was the Kennebec again, the Two Penny Bridge between Waterville and Winslow, the sulfur smell of money sharp in my nostrils in the foggy mornings on my way to Calculus class.

Which is only to begin to explain that I’m drawn to moving water, where the view before you changes constantly. A lake can be still as a pewter plate, but rivers never stop moving.

I confess this is why I love them. They run top down, high country to lower by the grace of gravity, no matter if the source is a mountain tarn or a crack in the rock. They move, and if you’re careful and pay attention, you can move with them. Though pushing straight against the current is usually a mug’s game.

I think of myself as both washed and carried by the rivers I’ve known. After college, leaving Maine, my river was the Potomac, years spent rubbing against the dailiness of government. Back to New England, the Merrimack, Sugar River, the Contoocook in New Hampshire. To the West, in Oregon, the Willamette, the Trask, Nehalem, Deschutes, and Metolius. Crabbing on the Columbia on Thanksgiving morning with two hungover Finns. The Rogue. The Sacramento. In Connecticut, I barely remember them, subsumed by their cities: Farmington, Housatonic.

And then, finally, home again: the Kennebec once more, much cleaner now and full of fish and birds. The Spurwink, Presumpscot, Cat Mousam. The Androscoggin and the Penobscot. Both branches. And finally to this house on Trout Brook.

What the river taught me, sometimes the hard way?

  • Know where your feet are before you start moving.
  • Hidden rocks are more treacherous than the ones you see.
  • Bucking the current is a fool’s game, but you can always slide sideways.
  • The shore is no safer than the deepest pool.
  • Mud always sticks.

So, I believe in the words of Norman MacLean: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. . . I am haunted by waters.” And intend for that always to be so.

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Winter Reading, or How I Got Through Knee Replacement Without Losing My Mind…

Darcy Scott again, here to report that in mid-December, after having put off the inevitable for a number of years, I had knee replacement surgery. Good timing, I figured, as it would get me out of all that last minute shopping and pre-holiday running around (no driving for six weeks), not to mention the long hours of cooking—my sister and husband being more than happy to pinch-hit. Besides, our kitchen, lovely as it is, hardly lends itself to hobbling about on a walker.

During my über-organized, pre-op planning phase, I recognized a window of opportunity for undertaking a number of projects that had long been on my list—including throwing myself into the research for my new novel and making a start on those piles of books gathering dust beneath my bedside table. 

A truly sucky plan, as it turned out. The first few weeks post-surgery, I was so exhausted and loopy I was incapable of the focus necessary to read let alone write, and forget anything requiring organization. Hell, I barely made sense when I spoke—the whole thing weirdly reminiscent of my mother’s illness a number of years back. “Who let the frogmen in the living room?” I remember her asking our startled assemblage one night at dinner. “And why the yellow goggles?” 

Relax, my medical team suggested when I complained about the boredom and inactivity, the three-month injunction against virtually all physical exercise including my beloved yoga. Take advantage of the downtime to rest and convalesce, they advised—a quaint term bringing to mind languid afternoons spent lounging on the porch of some elegantly decaying plantation house, lavender-infused ‘kerchief draped over the eyes. Not easy for a woman used to being constantly on the move. Eventually though, as I weaned myself off the drugs and slowly got to know my new cobalt and chromium body parts, I found a few trickles of interest beginning to sneak in along with just enough focus to allow a start on those stacks of books I mentioned. Something—anything, I figured—to keep me from losing my ever lovin’ mind. 

I started light. Long a fan of Carol O’Connell’s quirky Kathleen Mallory mysteries, I pulled out It Happens in the Dark (the 11th book in that series). This proved just the ticket. A bit of backstory for those otherwise unaware. At the start of book one, Mallory, an 11-year-old wild-child, petty thief, and budding sociopath living on the streets of New York City, is rescued by police detective Louis Markowitz who ends up raising her as his own. After his murder a number of years later, Mallory—by this time a ferociously intelligent detective with the NYPD Special Crimes Unit, whose own criminal tendencies are only minimally kept at bay by the combined efforts of her long-suffering police partner and a brilliant criminal psychologist unlucky enough to have fallen for her—continues her adopted father’s fight for right, with a decidedly dark twist. Excellent stuff, this.

Next up were two terrific mysteries by Texas writer Rachel Caine: Wolfhunter River and Bitter Falls (books three and four in her Stillhouse Lake series). More riveting narrative and dialogue here, the edge-of-your-seat tension almost too much at times. In this series, a shy Midwestern housewife’s happy (read “clueless”) existence is shattered when her husband’s secret life as a serial killer is revealed and the families of his victims turn on her. A word, gentle reader: to set yourself up for these later books, be sure to start with books one and two (Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek).

Wouldn’t you know, all this murder and mayhem suddenly had me feeling better, so I picked up Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep—one of the best reviewed nonfiction books of 2019. This story recounts the life of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime tell-all that Harper Lee worked on obsessively (and ultimately unsuccessfully) in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published—this in hopes of creating a non-fiction saga along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (for which Lee did much of the research). Furious Hours has it all: multiple murders, high courtroom drama and the racial politics of the Deep South, as well as a moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved author’s struggles with her fame.

In his NY Times book review, Michael Lewis describes what makes Furious Hours so good. “It’s in her descriptions of another writer’s failure to write, that [Cep’s] book makes a magical little leap, and it goes from being a superbly written true-crime story to the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.”

Now that I’d sunk my teeth into some serious crime writing, I was ready for The Border, the 700-plus page finale of Don Winslow’s sprawling, intense, and thoroughly excellent Cartel trilogy (The Power of the DogThe Cartel). This was a deliciously complex, unabashedly violent read, breathtaking in its scope. Crime Reads called it “One of the most ambitious works in modern crime fiction, an epic narrative of the ill-fated War on Drugs.”

By this time, I was making my way through all the grueling, post-op physical therapy that knee replacements require, and feeling massively sorry for myself in the bargain, so I opted for a little mind candy in the form of Blue Moon—the 24th installment in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years or are otherwise unaware of this prolific writer, his mystery/thriller series follows the adventures of a retired (except when he’s not) Army MP who wanders the country righting wrongs and falling for all the wrong women. I’ve read every one of these books—a guilty pleasure that’s about to come to a screeching halt, it appears, as Child recently announced his intention to hang up his authorial pen. Bummer. It seems even authors who sell zillions of books eventually grow tired of the characters they create. Then again, could be that a knee replacement did him in. I’ve asked Siri, but so far she’s refused to comment.

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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Weekend Update: February 22-23, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Darcy Scott (Monday), Dick Cass (Tuesday), John Clark (Thursday) and Charlen D’Avanzo (Friday).

 

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

The Line UP online magazine has listed Vaughn C. Hardacker’s novel Wendigo as one of 11 Chilling Horror and Thriller Books to Read This Winter. These terrifying reads will make your blood run cold. https://the-line-up.com/winter-horror-books

 Vaughn C. Hardacker’s sixth thriller, The Exchange, is under contract with Encircle Publications for a September 2020 release. Lisa Gardner, NYT Best-selling author has agreed to read the ARC and possibly do a cover blurb.

Kate Flora has just learned that her story, “Afterlife” has been accepted for publication by Superior Shores Press in the anthology, Heartbreaks & Half-Truths: 22 Stories of Mystery and Suspense, to be published in June.

Mark your calendars, mystery lovers, registration for the Maine Crime Wave opens in March.

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

 

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

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Dreaming Up An Answer

Kate Flora: Often, at bookstore and library events, I, and other writers are asked where we get out ideas. There are many answers–overheard conversations. Stories in the newspaper. Things that happened to us or people we know. Something we read or saw. A strange incident we passed on the street or observed happening in another car. Something we read in a book that made us wonder how it we be if we flipped that. I’ve never heard anyone say: It came from a dream. But that’s sometimes where story ideas, or characters, or plot twists come from.

I used to wonder if this happened with other writers. I’ll have hit a snag in my plot and after several hours of struggling to find the answer, I’ll give up and go to bed. Sometime during the night, I’ll suddenly wake up and know what I need to write. I used to have to jump out of bed and immediately go and write it down–behavior that my husband found unfriendly. These days, even though I can’t remember my grocery list or why I dashed into a room, I can usually hold a plot idea in my head until morning. Just last night I was immersed in So Dark The Nightthe new book I’m finishing, and suddenly I thought: a ring! The vision was so clear I could even see the ring.

This morning I am at my desk, wondering whether I do want to weave a ring through the plot, and it’s very exciting.

We’ve all heard the expression, “to sleep on it,” and for me, this seems particularly true. Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 2.55.39 PMSometimes it not just a plot point or some small detail I need to work out. Sometimes the story I’ve been writing during the day goes on in my sleep like I’m watching a movie. During the wonderful and intense four and half months when I was writing Playing GodI was so deeply into story that it never fully left me. I would drift off to sleep at night with the next scenes from the book beginning to play in my head, and in the half-asleep hour before I woke, I would already find myself composing those next scenes, hearing the dialogue, watching my characters begin the next bits of action in the book. I could put on my robe, stagger to the computer with my coffee, and the part of the story planned in my sleep would pour onto the page.

According to this article in the LA Times, I am not alone. Stephen King has incorporated his dreams into books and William Styron got the opening for Sophie’s Choice while sleeping. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-jul-18-mn-56942-story.html

E.B. White’s Stuart Little was reportedly inspired by a dream, as was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 2.57.09 PMAs Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 told the Paris Review: “I was lying in bed in my four-room apartment on the West Side when suddenly this line came to me: ‘It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, Someone fell madly in love with him.’ I didn’t have the name Yossarian. The chaplain wasn’t necessarily an army chaplain—he could have been a prison chaplain. But as soon as the opening sentence was available, the book began to evolve clearly in my mind—even most of the particulars . . . the tone, the form, many of the characters, including some I eventually couldn’t use. All of this took place within an hour and a half. It got me so excited that I did what the cliché says you’re supposed to do: I jumped out of bed and paced the floor. That morning I went to my job at the advertising agency and wrote out the first chapter in longhand…. I don’t understand the process of imagination—though I know that I am very much at its mercy. I feel that these ideas are floating around in the air and they pick me to settle upon.”

More such stories can be found in this article from Paste Magazine: https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2013/10/10-great-stories-inspired-by-dreams-and-visions.html

So, dear readers, do stories come to you in dreams? Are plot ideas winging at you on the street? In a coffee shop? While you’re driving? A few years ago, I suddenly had this vision of a weary and desperate young woman going into a coffee shop. She orders coffee, goes to the ladies room, and when she comes back, a strange man is sitting at her table. He tells her, “Smile, and pretend you’re glad to see me.” Their story became Wedding Bell Ruse.

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My “Want List”

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, wondering if other people make a “want list” to keep track of when new books by favorite authors, and a few select DVDs of recent movies, are due to be published. I’ve done this for ages, in a doc file with a printout for handy reference. I tend to check it on Tuesdays, which is when most new books are released. It’s eclectic, to say the least. The titles on it aren’t so much a reflection of favorite genre as they are of favorite authors. Many of them are fellow writers I’ve actually met. A smattering are acquaintances of long standing, thanks to frequent meetings over the years at assorted conferences and conventions.

On February 4, I downloaded two ebooks, J. D. Robb’s Golden in Death and Charles Todd’s A Divided Loyalty. I’ve already read both. Below is the rest of the current “Want List”:

February
Julia Buckley                  Death  with a Dark Red Rose (2/25)
Knives Out (2/25)

March
Midsomer Murders Series 21 (3/31)

April
Anne Perry                       One Fatal Flaw (4/7)
C. S. Harris                       Who Speaks for the Damned (4/7)

May
Amanda Quick              Close Up (5/5)
Patricia McLinn            Reaction Shot (5/20)
Nora Roberts                 Hideaway (5/26)

July
Lindsay Davis                The Grove of the Caesars (7/28)

August
Rhys Bowen                  The Last Mrs. Summers (8/4)
Donna Andrews           The Falcon Always Wings Twice (8/4)

In addition,I have a list of authors whose names I periodically check to see if they have anything new coming out. This doesn’t include everyone. I don’t have to check Amazon for updates to know when my fellow Maine Crime Writers have new books out. Ditto for the folks over at The Wickeds and at a couple of other group blogs I follow.

Donna Andrews
James R. Benn
Rhys Bowen
Jayne Castle
Lindsay Davis
C. S. Harris
Charlaine Harris
Jayne Ann Krentz
Anne Perry
Mary Jo Putney
Amanda Quick
J. D. Robb
Nora Roberts
Charles Todd
Lauren Willig

The final part of the Want List consists of two genres. movies—I wait until the DVD comes out for theatrical releases—and older TV shows, which I tend to buy a season at a time and binge watch. These move up to the main list when I have a release date. Here’s the current list. You’ll note that some of the movies haven’t even been in theaters yet. I tend to plan ahead.

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Black Widow
Wonder Woman 1984
Miss Fisher movie
The West Wing,  seasons 2-5
Murdock Mysteries, current season

So, what’s on your want list?

With the June 2019 publication of Clause & Effect, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty books traditionally published. 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 as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, 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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‘So what, it’s Maine’ isn’t good enough for the book you’re writing

I was wandering through a local gift shop recently, a little stunned at how such a large store could have so little I wanted to buy, when I came across a small Maine section. Imagine my delight when I saw notecards with “Augusta, Maine” on them. Not only is it my hometown, but it’s not often celebrated on notecards.

When I took a closer look, I saw the cards had a pastoral coastal scene. Definitely NOT Augusta, Maine.  I even took a photo, so you’ll see I’m not making this up:

When I brought it up later to a Portland acquaintance, he said, “So what? It’s Maine. People from out of state don’t care.”

SIGH.

Granted, he’s not a writer. Nor should he be. But here’s a tip if you are an aspiring writer and wondering about setting: “So what, it’s [fill in the blank]” isn’t good enough.”

I’m sure I’ve discussed in this space before the young woman I was talking to at a conference a few years ago who was writing a book set in Maine. She’s never been here, might visit someday. She’s using guidebooks for information.

The notecard made me wonder if that young woman was going to put Augusta in her book and if that Augusta, too, would have a rocky coast with sailboats. That same day, I also bought the Lonely Planet book “The Unique States of America,” hoping to find some tips for a cross-country drive I’m going to do this summer. [Different store, in case you were wondering.]

The first state I turned to in the book was Maine, just to see what unique things about Maine it had for those not lucky enough to live here.

Oh my head. I think whoever wrote the Maine passage used a guide book for the guide book.

It starts out, “The Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., particularly New England, is often thought of as a manicured, developed place, more well-tended garden than untamed, rugged wilderness.” Um, on what lonely planet is your New England? Have we all turned into Connecticut? Who thinks that? Maybe someone who watched a lot of “Murder, She Wrote.” Which was filmed in California, people.

In any case, it goes on to make the case that no, we’re not all lounging in our developed gardens here — “the cliche is blown away in Maine by a salty wind lashing off the Atlantic Ocean over granite sea cliffs that look as raw as the oysters plucked from a cold-water estuary.”

In other words, a cliche I’m not sure is even a cliche is blown away by a cliche that we all live and suffer under. It may not surprise you the recommendations for food are blueberry pie, lobster and “Portland’s food scene.” Wait! Portland has a food scene? Just kidding. I read the paper and watch TV.

On the next four pages all the natural escapes; art, culture and history; family outings are on the coast except for a nod to Baxter State Park. Lonely planet tip: “There’s a good chance you’ll see a moose.” [Maureen tip: I haven’t seen one the last four times I’ve been there]. One tip it doesn’t have is that if you’re planning on driving up in July or August and camping on a whim, you’re not going to get in since it fills up months in advance. But why quibble with those details?

Oh, and, wait for it… there’s a little sidebar about lighthouses. Just in case you wondered but couldn’t find that information anwhere. And, if you’re wondering where to shop, they recommend L.L. Bean. Hmm, they’re going out a limb, but you never know, people just might check it out.

So, apparently the unique things about Maine are the absolutely most obvious things that anyone who knows anything about Maine thinks about Maine.

I know this sounds like a random rant, but really is a writing tip. I’ll get there soon.

I heard an author say recently than an agent told him “Maine is hot.” In the publishing world, not temperature-wise. Though if this winter is any indication, that’s coming.

I wonder, though, which Maine is hot? Is it the one with the lobsters, lighthouses and craggy coast with the salt sea spray, or the 95 percent of the state that doesn’t have those things?

Anyone can do guidebook Maine. Maybe that’s comforting to the rest of the world, and that’s the Maine they want.

But if it’s the latter, come on up and get us, publishers.

There are writers, many of the Maine Crime Writers, who take a lot of pride in making sure Maine gets its due in their books. Some of them even do it while throwing in a lighthouse or two.

Setting is more important to some writers than others, and to some readers than others. As a reader, I get annoyed (go figure) when I read books set in Maine that seem a lot like that notecard or guidebook. Even worse, they keep saying it’s Maine, but it could be anywhere.

As a writer, I wasn’t going to do that. I aim for writing about a Maine that, if you live here, you say, “Yeah, that’s it.” If you’ve never been here — whether you think it’s a manicured garden state (really? I still don’t get that) or a craggy, sea-driven coast — you say, “Ohhhh, that’s what Maine’s like.”

The real Augusta, rather than the Cabot Cove one on the notecard, is an interesting place, full of history, interesting architecture, winding little streets and some neighborhoods that go back more than 200 years. I’m sure you can find some Adirondack chairs and beach roses, but they’d be the least interesting thing you’d find.

But those are just facts and I won’t go into a lot of detail, because you can probably find all of it in guidebooks. To get the texture of the city, or any other place in Maine, or any other place, period, you need to spend some time there and see how it feels.

Instead of that notecard, how about something like this:

Pretend both the notecard and this photo are books. Which one would you pick up and read? If it’s the first one, OK. Enjoy the lobster roll and lighthouse tour. I’ll take the second one, because it’s something that I may not have seen before and I’m curious about what I’m going to find.

Seriously, too, which one would you want to write?

I’m not saying books with lighthouses on the coast of Maine are bad books. I’m not saying writers should only write about places they know. I’m just saying know a place before you write about it. Then find a way to make a reader know it, too.

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Not The Usual Romance Suspects

Dear Readers,  I am reposting my contribution from Valentine’s day for a couple of reasons: 1. people said they liked it and wished it could be up longer and 2. I’ve spent some recent time in the ER and have not put the finishing touches on what I wanted to post. (All is well; now just a bit behind on things.)

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 I’ve taken my author romance cues from a group of women sitting around a campfire talking about romantic scenes we wish potential partners (or current ones) would watch. For hints. Scenes that sweep us into a place of intense caring.  Except for the scene where Kevin Costner sweeps everything off the table to pursue Susan Sarandon in “Bull Durham” (oh, my), no one mentioned sex as essential.  

Hidden Figures

The top votes went to the hair washing scene from Out of Africa and the dinner served on a lovely table after a long day at work as an after-work surprise. From Hidden Figures. Look at the eyes. Oh my.

Extra credit: unexpected caring and. the eyes.

In this scene from my upcoming novel Deadly Trespass (out soon, I hope) I was after a Leave-It-Hanging romantic moment filled with unexpected caring … and surprise. (I like surprises; even small ones keep readers turning pages late into the night.)

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  Deadly Turn excerpt: After catching some trout, the narrator, Patton, is sitting on the ground in woods frequented by wildlife and what they leave behind. Moz, game warden, ex-husband’s best friend, and now, perhaps something more … is sitting next to her. Pock, the wayward Lab, is swimming nearby.

Moz reached behind me, put his arm around my waist, and pulled me closer. It didn’t look like there was going to be much discussion. I thought about all the lady-like things I could do with a blow dryer, eyebrow pencil, and other strategies to offset, dark eye circles and hair that had to be mad at me for its permanent pony tail. I’d covered the camp’s mirrors when I’d moved in full time. Personal grooming was limited to soap in the shower.

“I know no easy way to say this,” Moz said, pulling me closer, “but I believe you sit on something an animal left behind, and it is now melting under you.”

I tried jerking my arms away. ”You mean I smell?”

Moz tightened his grip, turned, and leaned down to my neck. I think I went limp, probably just like birds do when you’ve got a good grip on their body and wings at the same time.

He laughed low into my neck. I think more of my small skin hairs floated free. “Yes and no. The part of you at my nose smells like pine and trout and clean water.”

I was a great believer in sniffing one’s way toward shared intimacy even if my daughter rebelled against the practice. It never crossed my mind I’d be on the sniffed end of such a moment. I stayed limp but whispered, “Not having a problem with the part that’s furthest from your nose?”

His chuckle pressed teeth against my neck, but I felt their pressure all the way to my toes. “Pretty sure whatever it is, the owner ate only grass,” he said.

I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and found a not unpleasant horse barn odor. I could feel a Moz smile spread wide on my skin. It seemed like we were suspended, breathing each other. He also smelled like pine, trout, and clean water.

Am very partial to wet doggies.

Even Pock smelled that way when he landed on us, fish head in his mouth and stream pouring off his body. Moz rolled away and leaped to his feet. Pock dropped the fish head in my lap.

“Oh, many thanks, Pock,” I said. Drenched, we all stared at each other. My dog wagged his tail and laid a protective paw on the fish.

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published in 2020

 

 

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