Confronting the Horrors of Book Promotion

Kate Flora here, sitting in  gorgeous Sedona, Arizona, surrounded by red rock cliffs I cannot see because of so much rain and fog. I am at my borrowed desk, thinking about what to write this week. Some of this post is recycled because I’m suffering from a mild case of blogging block. Yes, you heard it—this is yet another ailment to strike writers, and something else we have to worry about.

A bit of background: When I sold my first book, back in the early 1990’s, shortly after the Mayflower landed, my far more businesslike husband Ken smiled and said, “Congratulations, dear. Now you have a new job.” That new job, of course, was moving from the long, silent, thoughtful time spent writing my books (and my ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner) to the arena of publicity and promotion.

Had I but known! That was the pre-social media era. The pre-webpage era. It was a time when a writer wasn’t expected to be always on. On tour. On Facebook. On twitter. On message. Taking cute photos for her Pinterest page and generally studying with a bunch of experts about how to perfect the “Buy My Book” dance. Back then, talking about the book was much more about writing and storytelling and not the cult of personality. Back then, I would write for nine months and then spend three promoting the book

Me at a bookstore in earlier times

Flash forward a couple of decades. I still can’t dance. I still hate having my picture taken. I still cling to the Flaubertian idea that the work should speak for itself and the author should disappear into the woodwork. But now I clash with everything that pundits, experts, friends, neighbors, strangers, and the checkout clerk at the grocery store would say: Authors must have a platform. They must be branded. They must find ways to use publicity, in particular social media, to connect with readers because this where readers, especially younger ones, are finding and buying their books. They should have a tik tok presence, a book trailer, clever materials printed and ready to handout, a chatty newsletter for which they collect subscribers at every book event. They should have a street team ready to help promote the book.

It will no longer suffice to say: But I have a book due on July 1st and I’m way behind. Blogs must be written. Promotion must go on. But when I sat down to write today’s post, I found myself staring at a blank page. Thus turning to one from the past and giving it some tweaks.

How to overcome blogging block or the more general promotion block? There are the

and at a library, back when I let people take my picture

obvious things to do. Take a walk. Take another walk. Take a shower. Great ideas always arrive in the shower, don’t they? Perhaps there is that never fail solution—take a drink. But the invisible sun is not over any yardarm (if such there were in Arizona) and I am not Hemingway. Eat chocolate? Drift over to ebay and buy a pair of shoes? Ah, but some of you are guys, and perhaps this won’t work for you. Then there is surfing the net.

Yup. This is the solution. Lacking clever ideas of my own, and hating self-promotion more than having a root canal, I look back through my old emails to see what clever promo ideas my friends have sent me. Today’s fishing expedition yields up some great food for thought.

My good friend Dale T. Phillips, author of many great mysteries and “How to be an Indie Author” frequently reminds me that I need to be sure all my books are available as audio books, so I’m not leaving money on the table. Along these lines, recently my publisher notified me that many of my Joe Burgess books are now available as audio books. Here are some links:

Redemption“Redemption was right up there with those by my favorite mystery writers (Ian Rankin, Carolyn Rose, Felix and Dick Francis).” ~David Edgar Cournoyer, 

And Grant You Peace“…nailed the culture of a Portland cop…beautifully written, and suspensefully told.”

Led Astray“If you’re a fan of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, Kate Flora’s Joe Burgess ranks right up there. Keeps you on the edge of your seat…”

I check for a reply to my email to the student who is crafting my book trailer, but so far, crickets in return. Before I go back and hunt down that email suggesting a platform other than mail chimp for crafting a new mailing list (mail chimp having lost my last one, and yes, I promise there will be one) I return that earlier blog about blogging block and find this.

Because controversy is good for all of us first thing in the morning (remember that 8:00 a.m. philosophy class in college?) my friend Barbara Ross posted this deliciously controversial piece at Maine Crime Writers some years back, about publicists and fiction. It is still absolutely true.

Four Lies that Publicists Will Tell You

Maybe you, faced with the task for book promotion via blogs or otherwise will be more inspired to brand yourself, develop a brilliant marketing strategy, challenge commonly held beliefs, or just crawl under a chair and moan. And then, get back to writing. Because if you haven’t written anything, you won’t have stuff to brag about, promote, and agonize over. And you won’t have to wonder what is the best way to brand you. And writing, in the end, is what we’re all about.

p.s. If you’d like to be a beta reader for the next Joe Burgess, Such a Good Man, let me know.

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Opinions and Elbows

Brief Commercial Message

Kate Flora, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and I are presenting Make Your Own Mystery in Room 102 of Wishcamper Hall at USM on Saturday April 1, 2023 from 1 to 3 PM. It is a free presentation and parking in the USM garage is free on Saturdays. Books will also be on sale. Would love to see you there. If you’re unfamiliar with Make Your Own Mystery, here’s a description:

Using suggestions from the audience, three mystery writers (who write very different types of books) build a mystery novel on the fly, demonstrating some of the ideas and techniques that go into plotting and creating the stories. Audience members suggest character names, weapons, motives, geographic locations, and other pertinent information for the writers to build from. It’s an interactive event and generally results in hilarity, at the same giving readers a view into how writers work.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

When I first started writing, I was hungry for advice. Until I saw how much of it there was. There were so many people with the one key to success, whether you wanted to write a novel to compete with Dostoevsky or with Stephen King. It was tough to filter through all of it, even if your intentions were clear and you knew what kind of writer you were. The books and programs and workshops could be opaque, contradictory, overly didactic, and sometimes just plain wrong.

I got to the point where, while I read for advice avidly, I only believed something I heard three or four times from separate sources, preferably (but not necessarily) reputable ones.

In that spirit, here are three bits of advice that have stayed with me through writing seven books.

E. L. Doctorow—“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

This probably applies only if you’re the kind of writer who prefers not to work from an outline or other detailed plan. As I am. When I’m tearing my hair out, sure that I’m never going to get to the end of a book, flailing in the words, I take a small comfort in this.

Of course, one key to this advice is not to get distracted by what’s going on outside the beam of your headlights, what dangers lie, what distractions might dislodge you from the road. Because, yes, you can follow your headlights right into the ditch if you’re not paying enough attention.

Ursula K. Le Guin—I once heard Ursula Le Guin in a workshop delicately chastise a young writer who was glorying in the twists and turns of her plot to the extent that none of us could quite follow what story she was telling. With the faintest gleam in her eye and the experience of sixty or more years writing serious fiction, she said “You must be able to explain your story to your dumb cousin Bunko.” I think of that every time I am tempted by a multisyllabic word or attributing a polymorphous perverse motive to a simple action. If Bunko doesn’t get it . .

Annie Dillard—I can’t locate the actual quote at the moment, but I recall a story in which a student wrote to her to ask if she thought he could be a writer. Her reply: “I don’t know—do you like sentences?”

Because as much as we are captivated by the stories we want to tell, the characters we want to bring into the world, this is what the writing comes down to: the sentences. The first sentence of a story starts to close off the possibilities and the last sentence is, in a great story, inevitable. In between, each sentence must work on its own, and with its siblings, toward the ultimate expression of the entire story. If you don’t like sentences, you’re going to have many bad days as a writer.

Of course, opinions are like elbows—everybody has a couple. Embrace or ignore, but also understand that for all the advice out there, no one can teach you to write but yourself. Do you have a particular bit of advice that has helped you, either to write or to live?

Posted in Dick's Posts, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Bingeing on BritBox

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about bingeing on BritBox. I got hooked on binge-watching during Covid lockdown and used up most of what was free on Prime and on Spectrum’s On Demand and on Ovation Now. I watched a ton of movies and TV series on DVD, too, but streaming them on my iPad with headphones soon become a nightly habit.

By the time 2023 rolled around, I’d watched a heck of a lot of shows, including the complete series of Midsomer Murders, Boston Legal, The West Wing, Downton Abbey, Warehouse 13, Stargate: SG1, Stargate: Atlantis, The Good Wife, New Tricks, The Bletchley Circle, and Eureka.

There were other series I hadn’t seen and wanted to, but they either weren’t available or came with umpteen commercials. The local PBS station runs a lot of British shows, as does BBC America, but not always at convenient times and not with access to earlier (or later) episodes. I’d been hearing about BritBox for a few years (at Malice Domestic initially, so that’s definitely pre-Covid) and although I’m cheap and reluctant to commit to monthly payments for anything (Prime and our Spectrum bill being the major exceptions), I eventually realized that, for the price, subscribing to this streaming service is a real bargain.

Since signing on in mid-January, I’ve watched all twelve seasons (most of them with 4 episodes) of Vera, seasons 4-6 (8 episodes each) of Death in Paradise (I have 1 and 2 on DVD and remembered 3 well enough from seeing in on TV that I didn’t feel the need to rewatch), season 1 (10 episodes) of Father Brown, The Seven Dials Mystery (movie), Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (episode 1—the others are supposed to be included in BritBox but come up with a rental charge from Prime, so I’m obviously not watching those yet!), and Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (6 episodes).

I jump around a bit, sometimes bingeing and sometimes just watching one episode before going to another series. My BritBox “watchlist” currently consists of the following:
All Creatures Great and Small (1978 version)—I loved this the first time around and won’t watch the new version
As Time Goes By—Dame Judi Dench doing comedy
—another I loved when it was on PBS years ago, especially for the Irish setting
Beyond Paradise (new series with one episode dropping each week)—spinoff from Death in Paradise featuring the detective from seasons 3-6 (he was also in Love, Actually)
Cranford—historical drama; episode one was hilarious, especially a bit with a cat, but I haven’t been able to get into episode 2. Since I like the cast, I’ll try again later
Death in Paradise (seasons 7-12)—mysteries set on a Caribbean island
Father Brown (seasons 2-9)—mysteries set in 1950s England
Pride and Prejudice—Colin Firth version in 6 episodes
Shakespeare and Hathaway—P.I. mysteries set in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Vicar of Dibley—another oldie with British comedienne Dawn French as the vicar

You’ll note that the mysteries are augmented by a scattering of comedies and historical dramas. There are lots of other older shows available of BritBox, too, some mystery series like Campion, Cadfael and Bergerac that I’ve seen before and some that are new to me, like Sister Boniface and Shetland—plenty to watch after I work my way through this first batch.

Of course, I still make time to watch other things. I watch three shows regularly on network TV: Young Sheldon, The Conners, and Finding Your Roots. Prime comes up with the odd new movie to rent or to buy not too long after they are in theaters, so this month I also saw 80 for Brady and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Did I mention that I love being semi-retired? I finally have time to binge-watch movies and TV shows to my heart’s content and, of course, to binge-read, too. I’m currently working my way through the first seventeen books in C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series (second read on each) in anticipation of number eighteen being published next month.

What TV shows or mystery series (books or film) are you bingeing on? Do you go back to old favorites or only watch/read new material? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. 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 most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and


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Weekend Update: March 18-19, 2023

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Dick Cass (Tuesday), Kate Flora (Thursday), and Maureen Milliken (Friday).

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


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, along with the very popular “Making a Mystery” with audience participation, and “Casting Call: How We Staff Our Mysteries.” We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Success: Ruin Meals. Write 5th Grade Prose.

Sandra Neily here: This post is about simple food and simple writing. Both, easily digestible.

Sugar Pie from “The Cruelest Month”

Author Louise Penny has ruined me for any restaurant or pub memories I used to cherish. What’s more, she may have ruined every attempt to enjoy future restaurant meals, no matter how much I might be willing to pay.

Nothing anyone serves me can measure up to the food in her novels. I’ve read most of Penny’s books. The food in them is literally to die for.

Instead of a book page I want a flaky, just-out-of-the-oven croissant stuffed with chunks of maple-baked ham and melted Gruyere wafting out fresh rosemary, and I want it next to crisp Pommes frites with the Bistro’s homemade mayonnaise.

French Onion Soup from “Bury Your Dead”

And that is just what she feeds her cops for lunch!

Even after a harrowing escape, bedraggled survivors covered in concrete dust stumble into a wood-stove warmed home where fragrant pea soup, pungent beef stew, and apple crisp exhaling cinnamon—greet them. I think I could be caught in a collapsed house if I could eat like that afterwards.

Her website has a featured recipe for various novels. Yum!

But that’s not what I am writing about today.

Food is just one of her talents for bringing readers deeply into her fiction. Driving along, I am listening to a Penny mystery novel filled with sophisticated, rambling discussions. We are asked to take deep dives down philosophical, moral, ethical, and sometimes literary rabbit holes.

How can she do that and still keep us turning page after page in anticipation?

Of course, there’s her amazing and artfully differentiated characters but also, pacing is the key. She reliably returns readers to drama, tension, and intense action, but here’s a deft trick she uses.

Penny’s syntax, grammar, and reading ease equal a fifth-grade readership. So, while much of the discussion is elevated, the language is easy to read.

I have no idea if she uses a Flesch Kincaid analysis or she just found her accessible, technical strategies as part of her talent, but here (below) I have used that device to analyze a passage from “The Brutal Telling.”


“Chaos is coming, old son, and there’s no stopping it. It’s taken a long time, but it’s finally here.

The Hermit nodded, his eyes rheumy and runny, perhaps from the wood smoke, perhaps from something else. Olivier leaned back, surprised to feel his thirty-eighth-year-old body suddenly aching, and realized he’d sat tense through the whole awful telling.

I’m sorry. It’s getting late and Gabri will be worried. I have to go.”


Olivier got up and pumping cold, fresh water into the enamel sink, he cleaned his cup. Then he turned back to the room.

“I’ll be back soon,” he smiled.

Then before closing the door, he whispered the single word that was quickly devoured by the woods. Olivier wondered if the Hermit crossed himself and mumbled prayers, leaning against the door, which was thick but perhaps not quite thick enough.

And he wondered if the old man believed the stories of the great and grim army with Chaos looming and leading the Furies. Inexorable, unstoppable. Close.

And behind the something else. Something unspeakable. He finally broke through the trees and staggered to a stop, hands on his bent knees heaving for breath. Then, slowly straightening, he looked down on the village in the valley.

Three Pines was asleep, as it always seemed to be. At peace with itself and the world. Oblivious of what happened around it. Or perhaps aware of everything but choosing peace anyway. Soft light glowed at some of the windows.


Here’s the Flesch Kincaid analysis. Penny has 2.4 sentences per paragraph, 10.2 words per sentence, and a reading ease of 73.6. That adds up to a fifth grade reading level. That’s eleven-year-olds. (See a reading ease graph at the end of the post.)

When I was writing my first novel, “Deadly Trespass,” I used the Flesch Kincaid device to analyze passages from other mystery and thriller authors. I wanted my work easy-to-read, even if the subject matter was complex.

Here’s what I found by typing up some pages from the following authors. (I included narrative as well as dialogue.)

Barr:  Sentences per par 5.2. Words per sentence, 13.   Reading ease, 78. Grade level, 5.6.

Evanovich: Sentences per par 6.2.   Words per sentence, 7.5.   Reading ease, 82.   Grade level, 3.6.

Spencer Fleming: Sentences per par 4. Words per sentence, 10. Reading ease, 79.4.   Grade level, 4.8.

Lee Child: Sentences per par, 7.  Words per sentence, 16.4.   Reading ease, 75.9.    Grade level, 6.7.

(All authors averaged 4-5 characters per word. That’s a gross average that allows them to vary word length a lot. I think that goes to rhythm and pacing.)

How Did I Do?

At the end of my first “Deadly Trespass” draft: sentences per paragraph 3- 4.5. Words per sentence 9-10.   Reading ease, 79-86.   Grade level, 4-5.9

My readability was right in the middle of successful authors I admired. While I now occasionally check a chapter, this easy-to-read goal is now part of my author voice.

Yes, what makes a story sing has many magical elements that are not reduced to math or analysis, but I was teaching myself by reading other authors: how they pulled readers onward page-by-page, whether by design or talent. I just wanted to learn.

Here’s how to use the device in Word.

Sandy’s debut 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 was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2023. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.

The Flesch Reading Ease Score table. Writers should aim for a 60+ score minimum. The higher the page score, the easier it is to read. Especially on-line where scanning reigns!

Score School level: USA Notes
100.00–90.00 5th grade Very easy to read. Easily understood, average 11-year-old
90.0–80.0 6th grade Easy to read. Conversational English for consumers.
80.0–70.0 7th grade Fairly easy to read.
70.0–60.0 8th & 9th grade Plain English. Easily understood: 13-15 age students.
60.0–50.0 10th to 12th grade Fairly difficult to read.
50.0–30.0 College Difficult to read.
30.0–10.0 College graduate Very difficult to read. Best understood, university grads
10.0–0.0 Professional Extremely difficult to read. Best understood, univ. grads









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From Nancy Drew to Nancy Droop

Aging Baby Boomer here. And maybe because I am so old, I’m noticing a trend to take commercial/literary advantage of “women of a certain age” like me. And I’m all for it. I have been reading more books with older protagonists lately and enjoying them.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not discriminating against Nancy Drew, although I was a Judy Bolton girl. Youth may be wasted on the young, but they have rights, too. However, I am definitely in my Miss Marple phase. Give me the pearls and twinsets and sensible shoes.

Numerous actors have portrayed Jane Marple on the big and little screens, the radio, and there is even a Japanese anime series featuring her and Poirot. Would Agatha approve? Probably. I think she liked to keep current. And make money.

There are 32 Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth, written from 1928 to 1961. Miss Silver, a retired governess-turned-detective, gives Miss Marple a run for her reputation. Both are elderly, physically unprepossessing spinsters who are easily underestimated until they catch the crooks. I have not read all 32 and probably won’t, but they are fine examples of Golden Age mysteries.

I have raved here before about Richard Osman’s three Thursday Murder Club books, set in a posh retirement village in the UK. Four very diverse residents have banded together (on Thursdays) to look at cold cases, and some very hot cases as well. The supporting characters are equally compelling, and I look forward to the fourth book coming in September.

A Spoonful of Murder by J.M. Hall bands three retired teachers together to investigate the death of a former colleague over their weekly coffee date. Elly Griffiths’ The Postscript Murders has a dead 90-year-old and her somewhat younger neighbors who help solve her murder. One of the heroines in Robert Thorogood’s The Marlow Murder Club is a mysterious Crossword clue-setting septuagenarian who swims in the Thames daily (shudder). Deanna Raybourn’s recent Killers of a Certain Age features four sixty-somethings who try to quit the spy business, but their agency has other—deadly—plans. None of these characters are in any way doddering, which I appreciate. (Even if I’m a bit doddering on occasion.)

I am on Season 10 (out of 12) of Vera on BritBox. At the beginning of the series in 2011, Vera was a close-to-retirement Detective Chief Inspector with a newly diagnosed heart condition. In real life, star Brenda Blethyn is now 77, and I’m wondering if a Season 13 is planned for the future. It’s probably time for Vera (and Brenda) to throw away her awful hat, retire, and go to Spain for a holiday like any proper British pensioner. Blethyn is wonderful in the role, though, and has cute young detective sergeants to do the jumping over fences to chase the criminals.

In my own new cozy mystery series (yet to be published), the heroine May (my tribute to Auntie Mame with a dash of Miss Marple) would never admit to her age, and the hero Charles is a ready-to-rusticate Scotland Yard detective. In the words of May’s niece: One has merely to catch a glimpse of Aunt May to know one is in the presence of an Original. It’s not just that she is well-preserved for a woman her age (whatever that may be—she has struck the exact year out of the family Bible with an “accidental” thumb smudge), but her personality is, to put it mildly, forceful.

Sometimes I think she is far more modern than I am. She has plucked her distinctive eyebrows and shingled her currently auburn hair. From a distance, at twilight, she could pass for one of the Bright Young People who motor down from London to drink themselves blind at the week-end in one of the converted weavers’ cottages.

The Bible-fudging is a nod to my own red-headed great-aunts, a few of whom somehow blotted out the years they were born in my great-grandmother Mary Hester Hardwick Miller’s Bible. They were known collectively as “the beautiful Miller sisters.” I don’t know about their beauty, but their waists look impossibly small.

My grandmother Ruth, second from left, and some of her sisters

Ruth Hardwick Miller Lanman

Does age matter? Do you have a favorite geezer-series?

For more information on Maggie and her books, please visit

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Online Interview With Lisa Haselton

The below Interview was published on March 1, 2023. Lisa does interviews on a first in First published basis. If you are interested here’s the link: the request form for an interview is on the right side of the page.

Interview with thriller author Vaughn C. Hardacker

cover for Ripped OffMy special guest helping me kick off a new month is mystery author Vaughn C. Hardacker. We’re chatting about his new crime thriller, Ripped Off.

Vaughn C. Hardacker is a veteran of the US Marines, and he served in Vietnam. He holds degrees from Northern Maine Community College, the University of Maine, and Southern New Hampshire University. Hardacker is a member of the New England chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance.

He is an avid reader of mysteries and crime/thrillers and the author of Sniper (finalist in the 2015 Maine Literary Awards Crime Fiction Category) and The Fisherman (finalist in the 2016 Maine Literary Awards Crime Fiction Category), and The Black Orchid. His thriller, Wendigo, was a finalist in the 2018 Maine Literary Awards. His seventh novel, Ripped Off, was released by Encircle Publications on January 25, 2023.

He blogs with the Maine Crime Writers and his personal blog and resides in Stockholm, Maine. Visit his website.

Welcome, Vaughn. Please tell us about your current release.
Upon leaving court after his fourth divorce, retired hitman Ian Connah learns that his financial manager has disappeared with his retirement funds. While he is determined to get his money back, Connah’s dilemma is that, to finance his quest, he must return to the trade.

Connah becomes a bodyguard for two former girlfriends (each a rival for his affection) who detest each other. When a million-dollar bounty is put on them, a team of three professional killers takes the contract. Connah takes the women to a remote lodge in Maine’s north woods to protect them from a killer afflicted with OCD, a ruthless former Irish Republican Army assassin, and a sadistic Mexican cartel hitman.

The search for Harry Sandberg will lead Connah from Maine to Boston, Boston to the Caribbean Islands, and to the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. He will face crooked lawyers, South American drug lords, and the largest and most violent of Brazil’s criminal syndicates.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to tell a story that allowed me to stay in the thriller genre. All my previous novels were written from the POV of a typical protagonist, and I wanted to do an anti-hero. I also wanted to interject more humor than my others.


Excerpt from Ripped Off:
Connah turned into his drive on Lake Osprey and saw his bank manager, Herbert Harvey, standing on his deck, staring at the lake. He walked to the deck and knew from the look on Harvey’s face that this was not a social call. Harvey was the only person, along with Harry Sandberg and Glenn Ouellette, Connah’s personal accountant, who knew about Connah’s turbulent past and how much money he had in his portfolio. “You don’t look happy, Herb.”

“If you think I’m unhappy, wait until I tell you what I learned this morning.”

“Why do I suddenly get the feeling that what has so far been a very crappy day is about to blow up into a full-fledged shit-storm?” Connah walked past Harvey and leaned forward, resting his forearms on the deck railing. He studied the unusually calm lake surface and said, “Okay, lay it on me.”

“You’re broke. Not quite to the point of insolvency, but broke just the same.”

Connah slowly turned his head, and his eyes narrowed. “Broke?”


“What about the investments that Sandberg made for me?”

“There never were any investments.”

“I had three million dollars, not to mention that stock in that solar panel company he told me was going great guns.”

“Over the past five years, Sandberg and Ouellette sold all your shares in Sun Power, Incorporated, and bit-by-bit withdrew what money you had in my bank.”

“How in hell could they do that without my knowing it?”

“You may recall that, against my advice, by the way, you signed a Power of Attorney giving them full authority to make any and all financial transactions for you. My people knew that you’d done so and thought nothing of it. To cut to the chase, by the time you send out this month’s alimony checks, you’ll need a co-signer to buy a pack of gum.”


What exciting project are you working on next?
Actually, I’m working on several novels. I’ve always worked on multiple projects. I have a sequel to Ripped Off (title undetermined) and a sequel to my novel, Wendigo (finalist for the 2018 Maine Literary Award), entitled Loup Garou. I’ve also got two thrillers and two westerns in process.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I first started writing short stories in junior high school (I thank God on a daily basis that they are long gone). However, in the late 1980s, while battling PTSD, I was advised to write about the experiences that bothered me the most. Those writings ended up being ELEPHANT VALLEY. A novel about my experience as a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. THE WAR WITHIN, in which I dealt with my teen years and how they affected me as an adult. WAR won second place in the June 1989 International Literary Awards contest. It was then that I knew I could be a writer. Little did I know that It would be twenty-plus years before I’d publish my first novel. I often tell people that I learned to write by the time I was in second grade — it took me a lifetime to learn HOW to write,

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write, and how do you find time to write?
I’m retired and write from home. Finding time to write has never been my problem. My constant battle against procrastination, now that’s another story. Like most writers, I’ve been asked, “What’s your writing style?” My reply is: “I don’t recommend my style to anyone — I can only describe it as prolonged periods of procrastination followed by frenetic periods of writing.” It takes me a while to decide what I want to write; however, once I know the basic plot, I write all day long (and sometimes late into the night).

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I think I described that in the above section. However, I will say that I can become addicted to research. The internet can be my best friend or my worst enemy. I often set out to research a topic and see something else that interests me and go down the rabbit hole.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in far northern Maine, Caribou. I was born there and then, at the age of 1, moved to New Jersey. When I was seven, we moved back to Caribou. I can honestly say all I wanted to be when I grew up was as far from Caribou as possible. Guess where I now live… yup, Stockholm, Maine, a little town northwest of Caribou.

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Thanks for being here today, Vaughn.

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When Jane Addams Met Radar O’Reilly

John Clark on an unusual offshoot of his careers as author and librarian. One of my fellow graduates of the University of South Carolina masters in library and information science program, Debbie Lozito, once observed that librarians exist so people can get rid of books without feeling guilty.

As time has gone on, I’ve realized how correct she was. It began when I was the library director in Boothbay Harbor. The library was blessed with a great friends group that ran a used bookstore next to the library. When someone moved or died, the library was one of the first places to be contacted. I often took my pick-up to a residence and returned with boxes of books. I realized it was a smart move to triage donations and replace worn copies of popular fiction titles, saving money and keeping patrons happy.

My first ah-ha moment about how far such a process would go came when a woman I was helping with her Ph.D. by getting articles, called in a panic. She and her husband ran a motel and new owners fired them, giving them just a few days to vacate the premises. She asked if I would be willing to stop by and take things they couldn’t justify holding onto. By the time I drove home that night, my truck was piled high with everything from dried flower wreaths, maple syrup, chairs, and even a set of antique silverware.

There was a lull when I worked at the Maine State Library, but once I started at the Hartland Public Library, I was right back in business. The more folks learned about my willingness to accept and find homes for books, the higher the volume. One of the local church thrift stores brought their excess when they ran out of room. Some were added to the collection, some sold to a couple local book dealers, but then I discovered a new resource. is a website (along with sister sites for music CDs and DVDs), where members can list books and audiobooks they want to swap. Each book claimed costs the requester one credit which goes to the person offering the book. I used it extensively to expand the mystery, christian fiction, and young adult fiction collections in the library. Even though retired, I continue to swap there, mostly for young adult and science fiction titles not held by a Maine library. Once I’ve read them, I pass them on, usually to a school library. As of this date, I have sent, or received 12,005 books.

In addition to becoming a resource for people looking to declutter/downsize their collections, I started selling surplus books online, initially to benefit the Hartland Library. Three academic institutions had books they needed to get rid of, stuff most wouldn’t think had much value, but I once sold a book on aircraft seat design for $400+. A batch of theology books went west with my brother-in-law to become part of my college professor nephew’s reference library. I also used Paperbackswap to acquire books for library patrons and family members.

When I retired seven years ago, I thought my book re-homing might slow or stop, but it hasn’t been the case. I’ve continued selling online, mostly for myself, but also for a library and a couple who were very generous to the Hartland library before moving to Massachusetts.

I’ve found homes for a couple hundred mysteries passed on by a judge in a national mystery contest. They all reside on shelves in smaller Maine libraries with limited budgets. Several times, I’ve gotten books from a fellow MCW blogger when they ran out of room. I’ve even had some of the people I swim with ask if I’d find homes for some of their surplus books.

Last summer, a fellow librarian contacted me about helping some house cleaners who were tasked with getting the former home of a professor of Chinese language ready to be sold. I got in touch with the cleaners and not only returned with a car full of books, but some classic Fisher-Price toys that my younger granddaughter now enjoys. Some of the books in Mandarin now reside with another retired Chinese language professor in Minnesota. The other morning, on a whim, I jokingly asked the swimmer who passed books on to me if she wanted any books in Mandarin. Well, it turns out she has a grandson who is Chinese, so I’m passing books on to her tomorrow.

Unless a book is too outdated, too torn up, or smells, I do my best to re-home it. It’s an enjoyable challenge and keeps retirement interesting.

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Weekend Update: March 11-12, 2023

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Vaughn Hardacker (Tuesday), Maggie Robinson (Thursday), and Sandra Neily (Friday).

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

March 30, 2023 – 6:00

Local author Jule Selbo will be in conversation with writer/comedian Anna Conathan at the South Portland Public Library on Thursday, March 30th at 6PM. They’ll discuss writing  – for novels, for tv and film and for comedy – and specifically Jule’s new book, 9 DAYS, the second installment of the Dee Rommel mystery series set right here in Portland, ME.

Anna is a writer and performer living in South Portland. Her experiences as a Hollywood actress, comic and screenwriter led to setting up a popular writer-coaching biz. She also has a favorite pastime –  serving as a sternman on a lobster boat. Jule Selbo spent a few decades working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Four years ago, she moved to Portland Maine to focus on writing novels. Five have been published so far – (two historical fiction Dreams of Discovery, Life of Explorer John Cabot, and Breaking Barriers, Laura Bassi’s Life (Goethe Award recognition) and a mystery romance Find Me In Florence (first place Chanticleer Award for Women’s Fiction). Finally ready to tackle her favorite genre, crime/mystery) she wrote 10 DAYS: A Dee Rommel Mystery (listed on the 2021 top-five list of Kirkus’ best crime/mysteries, nominated for a Clue Award, Maine Literary Award, received a Foreword Review Honorable Mention and a nomination for the Silver Falchion Award. 9 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery is the next book in the ten-part series and has just received another Kirkus Star Review.


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, along with the very popular “Making a Mystery” with audience participation, and “Casting Call: How We Staff Our Mysteries.” We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Reading Pet Peeves

After reading two highly anticipated thrillers this past week, and becoming exasperated after finishing them, I started thinking about what bothers me in novels. And I’m also curious to know what your hang-ups are as a reader.

Okay, so I read a novel that utilized a novel-within-a-novel technique. Let’s just say that I did not enjoy the book. That being said, does anyone really think a novel-within-a-novel would be a better story if the larger novel containing it was not good? The main plot was dull and sophomoric, and the novel-within-a-novel segments bored the hell out of me. It sucked all the energy from the tepid plot. This is when I started skimming the text instead of reading it.

That being said, I’m not totally against the idea of writing a novel-within-a-novel. But the NWN would have to be as good, if not better, than the novel containing it. I just haven’t read one of these types of stories yet that pulled me in. Wouldn’t it be better to just summarize the NWN so as not to take the reader out of the story? I find it hard enough to write one really good novel, never mind adding a second one inside my plot. I think it can be done; I just haven’t read a good example of it yet. What do you guys think?

My next hang up has to with dream sequences. The second mystery novel I read featured numerous dream sequences that blended seamlessly into the plot. While I admired what the author was trying to do here, interspersing dream sequences into the meat of the story took me right out of the flow. Not only that, but it confused me about what was real and what was not. What I did like was the dark, surreal atmosphere the author created by using this immersive technique. But overall it didn’t really work as effectively as I would have liked.

Despite my hang-up about dream sequences, I must admit that I have written a few of these scenes in the novel I’m currently editing. Have I used it efficiently and in an effective manner? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I have, but I can’t be totally sure. Maybe my editor will deem these scenes unnecessary and ask me to delete them. The dream sequences provide important information crucial to the protagonist’s character flaws. In addition, these sequences bring back old characters that appeared in two earlier books. So in some ways, these dream sequences acts as a recap of the two previous novels, reintroducing old characters that had been killed off.

I find that many authors use dream sequences to fill pages and make their novels seem literate and high brow. Most of the time I end up banging my head against the wall in frustration while reading these plot-killing passages. Or I skim over these parts until I get back to the crux of the story. Dream sequences need to be used for a specific purpose and be relevant to the story. And some authors make these so literal that they don’t even read like a dream. Give me some dark and twisted images in the vein of David Lynch if you’re going to write dream sequences.

Okay, here is my annual prologue rant. I hate prologues. Don’t like them. I dislike them possibly as much as novels-within-novels. Often times I won’t even buy a book if I see a prologue longer than a page.

But if they must be done, the shorter the better. And yes, I’ve used prologues before in my books, but only because I absolutely (honestly) had to to use one (although I probably didn’t need to). I’ve seen horrible uses of prologues that just as easily could have been incorporated into the gut of the story. I’ve read long, mind-numbing prologues that bored the crap out of me and made me slam the book down. Prologues that had nothing, if little, to do with the story that followed. If you’re gonna use a damn prologue, author people, use it only when absolutely necessary. And be as brief as possible.

There’s a show my wife are currently watching called Poker Face. I have to admit that it’s entertaining, but what really bugs me is the way the main character, Charlie, solves murders: she can tell instantly when people are lying. While this may sound cute, it strikes me as laziness. Whereas Colombo and Holmes used logic and reason to solve crimes, Charlie is able to solve the most difficult and complex murders by simply using her gift. While interesting on some levels, I just find this to be simplistic and an easy way out. And we don’t even know if her ability is supernatural or merely an ability to read facial expressions. Are there sociopaths out there who could lie convincingly and trick her? Maybe that will be addressed in a future episode. That said, I do enjoy the show.

Sadly, I have more hang-ups about reading than I should have. I despise shifting character POVs within the same chapter, as well as long segments written in italics, but that’s all I’ll complain to you about for right now. What are your hang-ups when reading a novel? What writerly tics and habits make you want to throw the book you’re reading out the window and shout, to quote the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

And please forgive me when I break my own rule and one day write that novel-within-a-novel story in italics about a woman whose dreams reveal the real serial killer. Oh, and their will be a prologue.

Carry on!

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