When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Virtual

Maine’s crime writers are blessed to be part of a resilient, resourceful community. The particular obstacle doesn’t matter – a sluggish economy, an endless winter, upheaval in the publishing industry – we find a way to survive, buoyed by readers whose support sustains us.

Dick Cass reading to a rapt crowd

When the going gets tough the tough get creative, and creative is exactly what our community has been since the middle of March, spinning out imaginative ways to maintain the bond among and between writers and readers despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 health crisis.

Maine crime writers who have released new books recently and those who will be soon  – including MCWers Kate Flora (Wedding Bell Ruse), Charlene D’Avanzo (Glass Eeels, Shattered Sea), Joseph Souza (The Perfect Daughter) and Kathy Lynn Emerson (A Fatal Fiction) as well as former blogmate Julia Spencer-Fleming (Hid From Our Eyes) – have found innovative ways to engage readers despite the suspension of in-person bookstore signings and library readings. They’ve done Zoom chats and group readings, online Q & As and FaceTime book clubs. Local independent bookstores can hook you up with their books, as well as those by other Maine crime writers.

That prompts a well-deserved shout out to our ingenious, hardworking Southern Maine bookselling friends: Barbara at https://kellysbookstogo.com/, Josh and Emily at https://www.printbookstore.com/, Paula and Ann at https://mainelymurders.com/, Ari, Meg, Matt, Sarah and Lucinda at https://www.longfellowbooks.com/, and Katherine, John and Karen at https://www.letterpress-books.com/ and so many others who run wonderful bookstores across the state. Somehow they have found ways to feed our reading habits throughout the pandemic and are now figuring out how to safely welcome in-store customers back to their shops.  Many thanks to all of them.


Many of us at MCW are members of Sisters in Crime New England, which is doing its annual Member Reads via Zoom on Thursday, June 18 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  This means you can participate or watch from the comfort of your own couch (or deck, if it’s a nice night).

I’ll be reading, as will Gayle Lynds, Kirsten Reed, Dick Cass, Bruce Coffin, Charlene D’Avanzo, Barbara Ross and perhaps a few others. (If you’re an SinCNE member—published or unpublished—and you haven’t signed up yet, email me!) Each of us will read a brief selection from our work and then we’ll chat with each other and the audience. Pre-registration is required for this event – for the audience as well as the readers. If you’re keen to tune in, drop me a note at brenda@brendabuchananwrites.com and I’ll put your name on the list.


Maine Crime Wave 2020, originally teed up for June 19-20, had to be cancelled as a live event. But there will be a virtual gathering called Maine Crime Online from ­7:00 p.m. to 8:30 on Thursday, June 25.   Maine crime writers reading from their work include recent Maine Literary Award winners and finalists Gerry Boyle, Richard Cass, Kate Flora, Vaughn Hardacker, Bruce Coffin and Joseph Souza as well as flash fiction judge and NYT bestseller Julia Spencer-Fleming.

My favorite Crime Wave tradition, Two Minutes in the Slammer, has been re-named this year Two Minutes in Quarantine. It involves a bunch of terrific writers you may not have heard of yet doing dynamic two minute readings.  There also will be online book selling by Barbara Kelly of the aforesaid Kelly’s Books to Go.  For more info about Maine Crime Online and a link to the Zoom registration: https://www.mainewriters.org/calendar/maine-crime-online


The first Noir @ the Bar took place about a dozen years ago in Philadelphia, and is now a worldwide (really!) phenomenon. It is what is sounds like: a group of crime writers meet at a bar and entertain the crowd with brief readings of their darkest prose. A pub atmosphere + lovers of crime fiction = lots of fun for writers and readers.

The readers at a Portland Noir at the Bar, in the pre-Covid-19 days. Left to right, Maureen Milliken, Bruce Coffin, Barbara Ross, Jessie Crockett, Dick Cass, Brenda Buchanan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, E.J. Fechenda, Gayle Lynds, Jen Blood, John Sheldon and Brendan Rielly.

We weren’t able to hold our traditional early spring Noir in Southern Maine, but the Covid-19 crisis has given rise to plenty of virtual Noirs @ The Bar. During the past few months, online Noirs have been hosted by writers based in Boston, New York, Washington DC and Edinburgh, Scotland, among other places. Most are recorded, so you can watch them at your leisure. If you google “Virtual Noir at the Bar,” you’ll easily find a good sample.  These events benefit a variety of worthy causes, so if you can afford to pitch in a little bit, all the better.

If you’d like to “attend” such an event live, on Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m. I’ll be reading at a Noir at the Bar celebrating Pride Month. Ten LGBTQ+ crime writers will be reading from our work via Crowdcast.

There also will be music and a special Pride-themed cocktail (a professional bartender will instruct on how to put it together.) The event will raise money for Lambda Literary, which works to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature through programs that encourage development of emerging writers. Because of the COVID19 crisis, Lambda had to cancel all programs and events for 2020 on which it relies for funding, so join us to show your support. The link to register for this event is here: https://bit.ly/2XyyNtd


Bottom line: writers love to connect with their readers, probably even more than readers enjoy meeting writers. We’re all grateful there’s so been much interest in keeping the writer-reader bond alive when our local libraries, bookstores and pubs are closed to in-person gatherings.  No one will argue Zoom and Crowdcast events are as intimate as live readings. But they’ll do for now.

Trust me, when it’s safe to do so, writers will be eager to resume in-person events where we don’t have to worry about the dreaded screen freeze and can exchange hugs with each other and our readers, without whom none of this would be possible.

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold.  These days she’s hard at work on new projects.





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Be Careful What You Wish For


Vaughn C. Hardacker here: As most of this blog’s readers know, I live about as far north as one can go in our state as one can go and still expect to encounter civilization. The winters here start in mid-October and we usually don’t recognize the arrival of spring until the passage of our mid-May snow storm. As a result we spend a lot of time wishing for the months of June through September. Well, almost. June is usually a chilly, damp month so our summer truly starts in July and ends sometime in . . . July. (However, this year it may have come and gone already. Last week, May 26 – 28 we had temperatures in the high 80s–hitting 90 on one . . . the night of May 29, as well as June 2, we had record lows and frost. For the first time in the 80 years they have been keeping records at the Caribou National Weather Service we had two June nights with frost.)

You might ask, what  does all this have to do with the title of this blog? Here are some possible answers.

First, I live in a 120 years-old house which is another way of saying I have a lot of maintenance work. Since mid-May I have spent five days rebuilding the west end of the porch that surrounds half of the house. The west side faces the weather and takes a beating. After who knows how long, the entire side of the porch was–all I can say is that I tore it apart by hand, using no hand-tools. In winter, I ignore outside projects.

Skipper & Gin early June is a time when grass up here makes up for lost time. It has been dormant for almost seven months and so far I’ve cut the grass two times a week (I live on a .85 acre lot) and with the obstacle course Jane, like most women, creates on our lawn causing me to have to move and then replace all of the lawn furniture, it takes three hours to cut it. This year my tractor rolled over and died so I had to buy a new one. I purchased a tractor for $2400 at Lowes and was told they could deliver in three weeks. That I said was unacceptable. Solution: I bought a $1,200 trailer so I could take it home. In winter I can’t even see grass let alone worry about cutting it.

Skipper & Ginger (Winter)

In non-winter, I walk our two Yorkies twice a day. In winter, due to the cold maybe twice a week if they’re lucky. In non-winter we have fenced in a 26′ by 40′ area in which they get to run and play. In winter, they lay on the back of the couch and stare out the window. In non-winter I can’t even dress my feet without them sitting in front of me expecting to go for a walk. Talk about the ultimate guilt trip!

In winter I have a single chore. To keep the front walk clear using my snow-blower. The drive is plowed by Jane’s son-in-law. We get on average one storm every two weeks. In non-winter . . . Have I mentioned cutting the lawn?

All winter long we sit in the cold darkness (up here in December we are in the dark by 3:00 pm–if not all the time) and think about the warmth of spring. Did I say warmth? Maybe absence of snow is a better choice of words. Then the snow goes and the season of yard work (I have never been able to figure out where all the

Coming September 4, 2020

stuff that magically appears with the passing of snow coverage comes from), planting flowers, and repairing those areas of the house that have born the brunt of winter is upon us. It never fails that, after a couple of weeks of frenetic springtime activity, I look back on the winter months and can’t help but wish for the laid back time of the year when I have nothing to do but sit, write, and wish for the disappearance of the snow.

I don’t want to leave everyone in a state of depression so I will say that on a personal level I’ve had a good run of late. Last week, May 29, I received the ARCs of my novel, THE EXCHANGE. The publisher also ensured that Bill Bushnell (book reviewer for Bushnell On Books, Kennebec Journal and Publisher Weekly) got a review copy and Lisa Gardner is reading it for the purpose of giving us a cover blurb. The county has thus far dealt with a grand total of ten Covid-19 cases, eight of which have recovered, one is still receiving medical care, and (unfortunately) one died. This past Monday, June 1, local restaurants reopened and the furthest north bookstore in the continental United States (Bogan Books in Fort Kent) is also open for customers to actually enter and browse the books!

Bogan Books
Fort Kent, ME

Now the disclaimer: Regardless of how I sound in this blog entry; I’ll take non-winter with all of the chores and projects over winter any day!

Oh, yes. Some of you may recall my blog about Ronnie Jay. Ron and I have been in touch. He is in Tennessee, where his life has taken some major turns . . . that’s a subject for a future blog.


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The Brown Thumb Struggles On

Kate Flora: Confessing that today, with so much chaos in the country, I am finding it hard to write. Hard to think because I have no focus. I have nothing to say about writing, wouldn’t touch politics with a barge pole, and yet the calendar says it is my turn to blog here at MCW.

What do you do when things are so overwhelming that they disable your focus? I tend to do one of three things. I cook, I visit my favorite second-hand shop and scout out bargains, or I go out to the garden. My favorite shop is still shuttered due to the virus. If I cook it, I am going to have to eat it, and I’m already working on my Covid-19 pounds, so it is off to the garden I trot.

I should stop and say here that I am the brown thumb (the gardening equivalent of black Kate Flora - Maine Mulch Murder- Cover1asheep) in my family. My mother was a garden writer who in her 80’s wrote about mysteries where her protagonist was woman with large Maine gardens. My father had a degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. My brother John gardens like a fiend, and my late sister Sara, like my father, could hold out her hand and plants would jump to meet her like an eager pet. I, on the other hand, am the queen of invasives. I can grow the things other people eagerly give away. My ineptitude doesn’t stop me from trying, though. I just joke that I don’t have a green thumb, I have a green credit card.

First, because I thought it would be cool, as I step out into the garden, I try out a new app called Plant Snap to see if it can identify a plant I love but have forgotten the name of. Alas, Plant Snap strikes out three times. Ah well. There are plenty of other garden-related things to do. Before I dig in, I usually walk the yard, making mental notes of what most needs to be done.

Then I dig into weeding–an endless battle with Gout Weed or Bishop’s Weed, which is everywhere or I embark on a game I call “musical plants” because it involves moving things around because I, or they, have put them in the wrong places.

This is part of what I saw on my walk around:



I actually have two sets of gardens, and so I get to play even more musical plants. At the oceanside cottage, I planted Ladybells because I loved them in my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens. Alas, because of my talent for raising invasive plants, I now have Ladybells (Adenophora) choking out everything else, so I will transplant some of them to my other garden, and dig up some of the hardy ageratum–lovely periwinkle blue and blooms in September, to take to my cottage garden.


Centranthus on a wall in France

Gardening, it seems to me, is an endless set of decisions. There’s a tiny purple weigela that is being dwarfed by Centranthus Ruber, newly introduced because I saw the centranthus blooming on a tall rock wall during a barge cruise in France last year. Now it has grown tall and the little wiegelia is very unhappy, pressed on the other side by Russian sage. Keeping plants happy is a perpetual challenge. What will grow tall and overwhelm a smaller plant? What is supposed to be in that bare spot where something was eaten over the winter? Why on earth did I decide to plant huge grasses that would need the strength of ten to dig out? What will bloom in September and October when most things are done? (My answer is chrysanthemums, ageratum, and a frothy planting of anemones.)

My spring garden is subtle–after the daffodils, I get delicate purple stalks of my favorite cranesbill geranium, Mourning Widow, and then pink cranesbills. Later, the trailing blue of cranesbill Roxanne (or Jolly Bee) will wind itself through the garden, a lovely contrast to the bright yellow (and very aggressive) evening primrose and anything that’s pink or yellow.

Despite the brown thumb, scratched arms, and occasional tick, I seem to be unsatisfied with too many beds to care for, and always have to have colorful planters as well And then there is my daylily addiction. As I’ve written here before, gardening is very valuable for a writer. The meditative quality of garden lets me plot, just as the challenges of the garden plot teach me to slow down, calm down, and be present. And when I’m present, despite the chaos of the world, I can see my story more clearly and figure out what happens next.


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The Cozy Timeline vs. Real World Events (and a giveaway)

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today pondering, not for the first time, the difference between book time and real time. Cozy mysteries and contemporary romances, two of my favorite types of reading, have this is common: they are set in the present in the “real” world, but with a caveat or two.

Both genres generally avoid making references to current events, especially politics. Pandemics haven’t come into consideration before, but ongoing wars are usually ignored. In part this is to avoid “dating” the story. It’s also because a book is written long before its publication date and even longer before most people will read it. Writers can’t predict the future any better than anyone else.

Clive Cussler tried to find a way around this by putting a dateline in his novels that was a few years ahead of their publication date. That was fine when they were new, but I recently reread Flood Tide, published in 1997 and set in 2000. In 2020, the ability to suspend disbelief was much more difficult—I knew for a fact that the apocalyptic events the author described didn’t really happen.

I’ve never done a survey, but I suspect that many novels, unless they are historical or futuristic, go out of their way to avoid telling the reader what year it is. That said, writers generally need to have a calendar of some sort in mind when they map out their plots. What month the story is set in makes a difference. So does the choice of a day of the week when it comes to creating certain scenes. I was very aware of this in writing A Fatal Fiction, if only because I happened to be writing a story set at exactly the time of year I was experiencing in reality.

I have a timeline for the series. I know in what year Mikki Lincoln was born, when she married, and when her nephew, who has a role in this story, was born. In fact, all the continuing characters in the series have somewhat detailed life stories in my notebooks, not only to flesh them out, but also so that I have a quick reference guide to how old they are and when the major events in their lives occurred. That still gives me some choice when it comes to the date of each novel. In my Liss MacCrimmon series I once let five years pass between books, mostly to let fictional time a chance to catch up with real time.

A Fatal Fiction was (mostly) written in the spring of 2019 for release on June 30, 2020. While I was in the early plotting stages, I realized that using 2019 as the year of the story would put Easter and Passover and Maine’s Patriots’ Day in the same week, a coincidence I could utilize in the story. Then serendipity came into play. In addition to weather forecasts and reports, I had access, by way of a Facebook group, to daily posts that include the weather in the town that is the model for my fictional Lenape Hollow, New York. As much to amuse myself as for any practical purpose, I decided to make the weather in my novel match reality. Since I was already doing this with things like phases of the moon, it didn’t strike me as too weird.

Okay, it was a little weird. But it was kind of fun to start a new scene, taking place on a new day, and discover that Mikki was going to have to do her sleuthing while ducking rain showers. I took a few liberties when the story demanded it, but overall I let reality have its way.

Now here we are in 2020 and I’ve just finished writing next year’s Deadly Edits mystery, Murder, She Edited.  Once again, I never say what year the story takes place in, but the clever reader in July of 2021 and later will find it easy enough to figure out that it is set in the summer of 2020. That brings me to a dilemma many writers are facing right now—how much reality should we include in what is supposed to be escapist literature?

The book was due on my editor’s desk today, well before anyone can say with any certainty what the summer of 2020 will bring. At the moment, my text makes no mention of the world-shaking events that have taken place during the first half of 2020, but it can still be revised before publication. The real question is, should it be?

Leave your answer to that question, or any other comment you’d care to make, in the comments section below or at my Kaitlyn Dunnett Facebook page and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win one of three Advance Reading Copies of A Fatal Fiction. Shadow will pick the winners at noon on Friday, June 5. Unfortunately, I can’t ship books outside the US right now, but I’d still love to hear from international readers.

With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two 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, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.


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Weekend Update: May 30-31,2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Thursday), and Brenda Buchanan (Friday).


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

From Kathy Lynn Emerson (writing as Kathy Lynn Gorton Emerson): You’re hearing it here first. I’ve just launched my first attempt at a self-published e-book with The Life of a Plodder: Fred Gorton’s 95 Years, the biography I wrote of my grandfather way back in 1980. It’s gone through several revisions since and was online at my website for ages, and now it’s available for the bargain price of $3.99 at numerous e-booksellers. Here’s the link to assorted buy links https://books2read.com/u/mlwvAP. It’s already up at B&N and iBooks and in the publishing pipeline for a Kindle edition. I’m hoping to be able to bring out a POD version later this year. If you’re interested in local (rural New York) history or just want to know what life was like from the 1870s to the 1960s, you might enjoy reading what Grampa Fred recorded about his family, friends, and neighbors. Hint: he was a terrible old gossip and wasn’t shy about expressing his opinions. Most of what is in the book comes directly from his diaries and the memoir he wrote when he was in his 80s.



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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The New Normal is an Oxymoron

John Clark will not bombard you with another barrage of Covid gloom. Yeah, it’s here, it’s real, and I’m slowly wrapping my head around the probability that it’s gonna be with us forever (or some crazy number like that). Screw it. I’m taking all the suggested precautions, but at age 72, I don’t have time to rent much space in my head to pandemics. I’ve got too many odd, bizarre and creative thoughts running through it to be sad or bored. If you look carefully, there ARE some silver linings. Take projects we needed done to whip this place into shape. We were bedeviled with water problems. The back yard was a mudhole and the sump pump was billing us for overtime. The first two companies I contacted never responded, But Carrier Landscaping in Lewiston did, Dustin drove up on a Thursday, did an assessment and on Monday, we had an estimate. Andy who did the work, came up last Thursday and by Friday afternoon, we had two new French Drains in place. The sump pump is resting and the mud is gone. Over the weekend, Beth and I created a small garden space, agreed on what will go where and burned the remainder of the junk wood so things look even nicer. A pear tree, a flowering plum, six raspberries, and a grape vine have been planted. As I write this Caleb and his assistant are installing our new back deck and just discovered they have to remove the sliding door to address hidden rot under it in order to attach the new deck, but the bottom line is that another project is on its way to resolution.

My writing has already taken advantage of some of the possibilities inherent in the Pandemic. One of my Level Best entries takes place after the economic effect of the pandemic alters rural Maine. Another short story with a horror flavor taking place in rural Maine has been accepted for a Pandemic themed anthology. I tend to imagine along a line dividing horror and dark humor, a very fertile environment right now. In the pipeline are stories of varying lengths about a bored teen who falls asleep during a performance at Lakewood, only to wake up in the same seat after a performance in the 1930s, a teen with moderate OCD who discovers a skeleton while bush hogging an overgrown field, and another teen running from an abusive home, only to get hit by a car in a blinding snowstorm, ending up stuck between two dimensions.

Below are a few photos taken over the years. Each of them has the potential to spark a story idea. Which one does it for you and what is about to happen?



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Raw as an Oyster

I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been feeling raw as an oyster these past few months, enough so that I’m listening to podcasts by the TED Talk-famous Brené Brown and trying to parse out feelings about what we’ve lost and what we’re grieving. In effect, we’re grieving the world as we knew it, and with nothing yet to replace it.

Said feelings of vulnerability are not really being helped   by an underlying sense in some of the discourse around the Dreaded Covefe™ of 2020 that’s focused on how it’s OK for the old folks to die, as long as we get the economy going.

Not that I’m considering myself an old folk just yet, though there are mornings (and doctors’ appointments) that remind me it might be right around the corner, but it does remind me how little we actually do respect our elders. Native Americans/First Nation People place their elders in positions of respect, listen for their wisdom. In America, we push them out in wheelchairs and leave them at the bus station if they can’t afford to pay the freight of the nursing home.

What raises my spirit back up, thinking about this, is the knowledge that many of our elders swing into the seventh, eighth, even ninth decades of their time on this blue ball with knowledge, skill, and wisdom that allows them to create at a level most of us could only hope to match.

I think of John Huston, the director of that great gangster film Prizzi’s Honor, which he made at age 79. Pablo Casals, the great cellist, played and gave master classes into his eighties, played at the White House at eighty-five.

Harriet Doerr published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, at the age of 74. Lawrence Block, the prolific crime writer, published his (approximately) hundredth book recently at the age of 89. I give you also Maine’s own Ashley Bryan (96), Willie Nelson (87), Betty White (98), and Stirling Lord, who recently started a new literary agency at the tender age of 99.

I’ve been as guilty of youth bias as anyone, especially when I was a youth myself. And there is a great deal to be said for energy, freshness, even naivete. But when we discard out of hand the contributions someone has made, or could make, because of their age . . . we’re sliding down a slippery slope. That kind of argument begs the question of at what age one becomes irrelevant to any conversation about art, creativity, music, entertainment, or any of our pursuits.

As an eldering person, I plan to keep pushing as best I can, stretching what I know and what I don’t know, keeping on with whatever it is my lizard brain is trying to get me to do. What I will not do is give up because I’m being ignored or diminished because of age. I hold fast to a quote I’ve heard attributed to Pablo Casals. When someone asked him why he practiced the cello sixteen hours a day at age 95, he said: “Because I think I’m making progress.” This is the man who rehearsed a set of Bach cello suites for twelve years before he thought himself worthy of playing them in public.

So excuse me if I don’t buy anyone’s desire for me to step off the planet in favor of a younger demographic. Or to get the economy back on track, for cry-eye. I do plan to die at my desk, like Robert Parker, and I don’t intend to give up on the work. Because I think, maybe, I hope, I might eventually make some progress.

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