Seasonal adjustment

Is there anything more trite than observations about the changing seasons and how we react to those changes?  Poets, composers, and painters have had a field day with that subject, using it to explore attitudes toward life and death, the cycle of the seasons serving as a metaphor for the cycle of life.  While I have no profound views to offer, at this time of year I’m unable to resist writing about the shift from fall to winter that is now upon us.  I leave it to others to muse on deeper meanings; for me the change is practical.

Full disclosure:  winter is my favorite season.  I love snow and the activities it makes possible, particularly in my case snowshoeing and downhill skiing.  I’m very fond of fall for its foliage, and I’ve learned to tolerate summer because I can bike and boat.  I really, really don’t like spring, when the lengthening light triggers my RSAD (reverse seasonal affective disorder).  It’s a real disorder, affecting 5% or so of the population, in whom it induces claustrophobia, anxiety, and mild depression.  Winter may appeal to me precisely because it’s the opposite of spring:  daylight decreases, and sun on snow opens the world and mitigates claustrophobia (okay, there’s such a thing as cabin fever, but an hour or two on snowshoes in the woods easily overcomes that).

As the switch from fall to winter begins, the ritual in our house is called Seasonal Adjustment.  Bikes go down to the cellar to enjoy their long winter’s nap; skis and snowshoes come upstairs;  parka, gloves, and goggles migrate from a remote closet to the main one.  Snow shovels come to the porch, scrapers return to the cars, and snow tires are installed in the one vehicle that lacks AWD.  Fire wood is loaded on the porch, handy for frequent restocking beside the stove. 20181112_090606_resized

Seasonal Adjustment is now underway in our house, and in a few days all things winter will replace all things fall and summer.  Then the wait will begin for the first serious snow.  We’ve had a few inches here and there over the past weeks but not nearly enough to provide the full cover I yearn for.    20160426_120058_resized

When that first serious snow comes my wife and I will head to the trails in the woods above our house with our snowshoes and begin tracing the various routes we favor.  20170316_143036_resized

The beginning of the season is like the ending in April:  too much low vegetation will still be uncovered, brooks will not be fully frozen, and trees blown down by the recent winds will block some trails.  But we’ll be out there, overcoming those small obstacles so we can once again experience the thrill of silence and bright sunshine on crisp white snow while we watch for the tracks left by deer, moose, foxes, and rabbits.  After that great first day on snowshoes, we’ll await the next milestone event:  the start of the downhill ski season.  We live at Sunday River Ski Area, or more exactly in a small development a half mile from one of the lodges.  Although skiing has been going on (and off) for the past few weeks at Sunday River, we wait till serious natural snow joins the manufactured variety and allows access to a few dozen trails.  If the past is a guide, we’ll be taking our first runs in early December.

I anticipate all this with the glee children feel as Christmas approaches.  Christmas will be great, too, with family and friends gathering for multiple seasonal celebrations.  But it’s the snow, the cold temperatures, the bright sunshine that really excite me now as winter approaches.  Does this say something about my character?  Am I acting out some deep human need to celebrate the cycle of seasons/life?  No doubt, but abstract thoughts aren’t really on my mind right now.  Summer and fall were fun, and I’m grateful to have had them, but winter is fast approaching.  Bring it on!

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Maine Writers at the Crime Bake

The New England Crime Bake, our own regional mystery conference held every November, was this past weekend. The guest of honor this year was Walter Mosley, who inspired us all. Here are some pics from the event. Dick Cass was the volunteer wrangler and Bruce Coffin was swarmed by writers looking for cop expertise. Kate Flora received the Lifetime Achievement Award and got to wear a banner of crime scene tape and tiara and clutch roses like a prom queen. Brenda Buchanan was guest of honor wrangler. Lea Wait was talking about her next book, due in February. Barbara Ross was there with the Wicked Cozies and her adorable granddaughter, Viola.





Dick bowing down in front of the Queen . .

The Crime Bake Mascot . . with handcuffs applied.

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Vaughn Hardacker here: Today, November 11, is special to our veterans. Memorial Day honors all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life to maintain our way of life. November 11 is Veteran’s Day and it honors all who have served in our country’s military services not just those of us who are combat veterans. Always remember that although many veterans did not serve in a combat zone, all were willing to go if sent.

Pvt V. C. Hardacker June 1966

Those of you who attend the New England Chapter of the MWA and Sisters In Crime CrimeBake Conference may have noted that while I attended the first eleven (serving on the committee for five of them) I have been absent for the past ten. The reason, it falls on Veteran’s Day weekend and as the Commandant of the northernmost Marine Corps League Detachment in the continental United States I have any number of veteran and Marine Corps events (November 10 is the Marine Corps birthday–this is our 243rd year) which I have come to believe are more important than CrimeBake. A few years ago I came across a poem that really hit home with me and I’d like to share it with you. It is titled: A VETERAN DIED TODAY.


Flag Raising, Iwo Jima Island February 1945



He was getting old and paunchy, and his health was failing fast.
And he sat around the Legion, telling of his past.
Of the war that he had fought in. Of the deeds he had done.
Of the exploits with his buddies. They were heroes, every one.

Though, sometimes to his neighbors,  his tales became a joke.
All his buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer, for old Bill has passed away.
And the world’s a little poorer, for a Veteran died today.

No, he wasn’t mourned by many, just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary, very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family, quietly going on his way.
And the world won’t note his passing’ though a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state.
While thousands note their passing, proclaiming they were great.
The papers tell their life stories, from the time that they were young.
But the passing of a Veteran, goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of this land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise,and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow, who in time of war and strife,
Goes off to serve country. And offers up his life.

The politician’s stipend, and the style in which they live.
Are sometimes disproportionate, to the service that they give.
While the ordinary Veteran, who offered up his all
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps a pension small

Its so easy to forget, for it was so long ago.
That our Bobs and Jims went to battle, but we know.
It was not the politician, with his compromise and ploy,
Who won for us this freedom that our citizens enjoy.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand.
Would you really want some cop-out, with his ever waffling hand.
Or would you want a veteran, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and his country and fight until the end?

He’s just a common veteran and his ranks are growing thin.
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, we find the Veteran’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor, while he’s alive to hear the praise.
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days
Perhaps a simple headline in the paper that might say
“Pay honor to this hero, for a Veteran died today”.


Reflections by Lee Teter

Every day I reflect on many of my fellow veterans who are no longer with us. Above the head of my bed is a print of Lee Teter’s painting Reflections and I spend a few moments studying it each day recalling all of my brothers and sisters who gave of themselves so that those who preceded us and those who follow us will be the beneficiaries of the freedoms which many of us take for granted.

In closing, any time that you greet a veteran saying: “Thank you for your service.” Shake their hand, if they are close friends or relatives give them a hug it will tell us that “Thank you for your service,” is more than just impersonal words like “How are you doing.”

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Weekend Update: November 10-11, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will a special Crime Bake Edition on Monday, followed by posts by Kate Flora (Tuesday), William Andrews (Wednesday) Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Thursday), and a guest post from Maggie Robinson (Friday).

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

Lea Wait: Yes, I’ll be one of the Maine Crime Writers at Crime Bake this weekend. I’ll be moderating a panel on writing for “the younger set” on Saturday afternoon. Then, from November 15 through the 18, I’ll be signing my books at Gifts for Giving, a special art and crafts holiday show in Boothbay Harbor.  Thursday, November 15 I’ll be there (Studio 53, 53 Townsend Avenue) from 10 am until 5 pm; Friday, November 16, I’ll be there from 4 p.m. until 8 pm (the official opening, with wine and goodies, will be from 5 until 8), Saturday, November 17, I’ll be there from 7am until 5 pm, and Sunday, November 18, from 10 am until 4 pm. If you’re heading for Boothbay, don’t forget that Gardens Aglow, an annual spectacular of lights, will be at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at night, beginning November 15.

NEWS BULLETIN!  At New England Crime Bake this weekend, Kate Flora, the founder of this blog, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her many years of inspirational service to the New England crime writing community  A parade of colleagues took to the podium to talk about Kate’s consistent, enthusiastic support of other writers and her sustained work over many years to build a strong, vibrant community.  Congratulations, Kate!

Kate Flora, in her well-deserved tiara.

And 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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Launching #3

Happy Friday all! Bruce Robert Coffin here, fresh off the launch of the third novel in my Detective Byron series.


You might think by now that launching a book would be old hat. You’d be wrong. I felt exactly the same for all three launches. The same thrill. I’ve got a new book coming out! The same anxiety. Will people show up? Will the books arrive on time? Will people like the book? Even the same mad dash to pull everything together. But in the end it always seems to work out.


This was the first time we launched a book in Portland. The first two launch parties were held at Mast Landing Brewing in Westbrook. Ian Dorsey and the gang were absolutely awesome! And if you haven’t tried any of their Maine-made libations, please do. You’ll be in for a treat. We held the launch for Beyond the Truth at DiMillo’s on the Water. With the help of the DiMillo Family, staff, and Longfellow Books everything went smoothly. Even the weather cooperated.


As with the previous launches we partnered with a local nonprofit, K9s on the Frontline, a worthy cause if ever there was one. The president of K9s on the Frontline, Dr. Hagen Blaszyk, was on hand to take part in the festivities, along with his wife Gina.


In typical fashion, the evening raced by, but it was a great time. I want to thank my family, friends, and fellow badges who turned out in full force. My agent, Paula Munier for making the drive up (for the third time). And my wife Karen for holding it all together and for putting up with me.


The third launch is in the books. We sold and signed a lot of books, shared a lot of smiles, and raised a lot of money for a great cause. Not sure I could ask for more than that.

Thank you one and all!

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Harold and Kumar took a Pass, But Bill and Ted Came Along on My Excellent Adventures

John Clark on the day following the election, feeling like a winner even though I only received 35% of the votes cast in Maine House District 105. How can that be? Read on.

It started with a message on my answering machine back in February…No that’s not exactly correct. It started 8 years ago when two guys walked into the Hartland Library and introduced themselves as Randy Huber and Daniel Swain. Daniel was running as the Democratic candidate for the house and was looking for a PR person. Getting involved in politics again wasn’t on my radar, not after that infamous night when Brownie Carson lost the Democratic primary to Peter Kyros back in the early 1970s and I told the mayor of Portland to go bleep himself after Brownie lost. That was well before I sobered up and decided that such behavior wasn’t in my best interests.

In any event, I agreed and during both of Daniel’s campaigns, I did promo work as well as driving him around. Somerset County isn’t very friendly to Democrats, particularly progressive ones. He lost both times as did Josh Hartford when he ran in 2016. By that point, Beth and I had come out of our respective comfort zones thanks to the Orange Haired Idiot and were making phone calls, marching for progressive causes, and attending protests around the state.

Back to the message. Craig Heavey announced that nobody was willing to run as a Democrat in District 105. There was a long pause before he asked if I would consider doing so. My first inclination was ‘No way in hell!’ I’d been retired for three years, had developed a comfortable routine and the idea of going door to door trying to sell myself as a viable politician scared me silly…But…I kept coming back to one thought. If I said no, I’d wonder about that decision forever, so three days later, I called Craig back and said I’d run.

There’s a pretty interesting learning curve once you start the process for the first time. I had to get at least 36 signatures from Democratic voters in the district to get on the ballot. Each town’s voters had to be on a separate sheet, all sheets needed to be notarized and the respective town clerks had to verify those who signed were registered to vote in that town. Once that was done, I had to drive to Augusta and turn them in at the Secretary of State’s office.

One of my weekly ads

As soon as that was done, I had to decide whether to run as a traditional or clean election candidate. I went clean and immediately faced another set of hoops. I had to declare how I was going to run, open a separate checking account, scrounge up what was called seed money (funds to get up and going, but no more than $1,000) and start getting 60 clean election contributions of $5.00 each from registered voters in the six towns comprising the district. People could contribute online at the Maine Clean Elections site, cut me a check, or make out a money order. Cash was a no-no. I quickly learned from another candidate that buying a bunch of $5.00 money orders and eating the cost, worked well in rural Maine where cash remains king. It too three weeks to get them which allowed the Maine Ethics Commission to transfer $5500 to my campaign account. I eventually got 15 more contributions that released another $1250. In all, I ran my campaign on about $7200 in an era where the suggestion is to have at least $10,000.

All candidates must file regular finance reports, 5 in all by the time the process is complete. What does $7200 buy? Quite a bit once you realize what’s effective. T-shirts and bumper stickers are pretty much a waste. Palm cards, the promo piece you hand to potential voters are probably the best investment, signs not so much. By the time you’ve hit the last month of the campaign, everyone is what I’d call sign blind and big signs just annoy people. Besides, you have to retrieve every sign on public property or get fined, so knowing where the heck volunteers put them is important. I decided to place a different issue-oriented ad the last seven weeks of the campaign in our local free newspaper The Rolling Thunder because almost everyone reads it. I heard from plenty of people who noticed them.

My Things I Believe in ad

Nothing, however, beats doing what I wasn’t thrilled about doing-knocking on doors, but I soon started looking forward to it. Not only did I discover plenty of new roads in Cambridge, Ripley, Palmyra, etc., but I met many interesting people and heard parts of a lot of life stories. 95% of folks I got a chance to talk with were sincere and interested in telling me what concerned them. I’d knock, introduce myself and ask them “What’s important to you?” Some conversations lasted as long as an hour and I probably solved one dilemma per day for a fellow Somerset County Resident.

I was offered a hybrid melon, a purebred English bulldog, a pregnant Pomeranian and three horses. Each animal had been rescued by the person who offered them to me, but they already were overburdened with their own pets. I saw folks living in conditions that were horrible, but their finances left them no choice. My fellow Democrat, Sue Mackey Andrews, made 25 referrals to agencies of people she met who were living in unsafe conditions. Poverty is a sad way of life for many here in Somerset County.

I also involved kids in the conversation when they came to the door with parents and took time to answer any questions as well as encouraging them to express their opinions. One six year old girl in Canaan was intrigued by my melon story and asked if I would give her some of the seeds. The next time I went past her home, I left a box of ‘Magic Melon Seeds’ on her doorstep.

The book I won at the election night party in Dover-Foxcroft for the melon story.

Was it worth all the hours invested? Yes. Would I run again, No, but I’ll drive and campaign for others next time around because I believe in the process and am a much wiser and humbler person for having run. I also came away with a sense of cameraderie thanks to all the amazing people I met who were running themselves or supporting our efforts to get elected.

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Writing a Novella

by Barb, in Boston with my new granddaughter

Yule Log Murder was released on October 30, 2018. It contains three novellas, one each by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and me. All three take place in Maine, and all three feature a Bûche de Noël, a traditional French Yule Log Cake.

Before Kensington asked me to write a novella for Eggnog Murder, the first collection featuring Leslie, Lee and me, I had never written in that length. Novellas are popularly defined as 20,000 to 40,000 words. Kensington wants 25,000 to 35,000.

Of course, I had read novellas. Tons of them. Animal Farm, Billy Budd, Heart of Darkness, The Metamorphosis, Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea, The Stranger (in French for high school French class).

And we all know novellas often translate brilliantly to other media–plays, radio plays, and movies, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Carol, The War of the Worlds, Brokeback Mountain, and Wide Sargasso Sea.

(I’m looking at these lists and realizing how pathetically incomplete they are. But suffice to say, even if you think you don’t like novellas, you do love a story from a novella, in some medium or another.)

I’ve joked that I thought I would love writing novellas because my novels are always too short and my short stories are always too long. This is true. When I was submitting stories to Level Best, they had an absolute, iron-clad max word count of 5000, even for editors. My first drafts were always 6000 to 8000 words, and then the cutting began. It often felt like a game of Jenga. How much could I remove before it all fell apart?  In the final trimming, Anna Maria Bollen Smith would become Anna-Maria Bollen-Smith, or even Anna to squeak in under the word count.

On the other hand, I write the first draft of my novels in a cold sweat hoping there are enough pages to create a spine on the finished book wide enough to display the title. My first drafts are sketchy. I’m telling the story to myself at that point, so I don’t need physical descriptions of people or places, because I see them so clearly in my head. So I know the book will get longer in revisions, but is there enough story? I go through this every single time.

My novellas, however, cruise in to the contracted length without worrying me at all.

An author friend once asked me how to write a novella. I answered, rather glibly,”You need to decide whether you’re using a short story structure or a traditional mystery structure.”

Then she said, “What do you mean?” So I had to actually think about it.

A traditional mystery has a central mystery, usually a murder. There are multiple suspects, who all have secrets, and often, secret connections to one another and to the victim. The sleuth’s job is to figure all that out.

The first two stories in Eggnog Murder, by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis, are structured like that. They are short, traditional mysteries. Neither of my stories in Eggnog Murder or in Yule Log Murder has this structure. There aren’t multiple suspects. There’s one person who may or may not be up to something terrible.

I’ve just finished a third novella, this time for a Halloween-themed collection. That story does have a traditional mystery structure.

In addition to the length, that’s another reason I love writing novellas. There’s a tremendous amount of freedom in how you approach a story of that length.

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