Win a Book Wednesday: August 4, 2021

Today’s offering for “Win a Book Wednesday” is a chance to win a download of the audiobook edition of Kaitlyn Dunnett’s new Deadly Edits Mystery, Murder, She Edited. The series features a retired teacher turned book doctor, Mikki Lincoln, as the amateur detective, and in this one she’s plunged into intrigue and danger when she inherits—with conditions!—an old farmhouse in the countryside near her home in Lenape Hollow, New York.


In order to win, leave a comment below. Kaitlyn’s cat, Shadow, will pick six lucky winners this coming Friday evening, August 6. Winners will be notified by email (from Kathy Lynn Emerson’s address) and  their names will also be posted in the Weekend Update and on next Wednesday’s Win a Book Wednesday. Winners will receive a code and instructions on how to access the audiobook.

Disclaimer from Kathy/Kaitlyn: I have not heard this audiobook. I still listen to cassette tapes on a Walkman. This means I have no idea how the download codes work or how this particular reader interprets my novel. We’ll all just have to trust the publisher on this one!

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books and three works of nonfiction. 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 newest books are Murder, She Edited (the fourth book in the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series, written as Kaitlyn) and, as Kathy, I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries. She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.

“Win a Book Wednesday” is a semi-regular feature at Maine Crime Writers, offering giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by every week at mid-week to see what’s new.



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How It All Began – Revisited

For our August “Blogcation” some MCW writers are revisiting our posts from past. Here is one of mine from a few years ago, tweaked a bit to add to the story.

Kate Flora: Crime writers sometimes engage in a competition that could be titled: Who IMG_2887has suffered most? This usually begins by comparing how many years each competitor spent in the unpublished writers corner. This is followed by stories of horrible book events, editors who leave while the book is in process, savage reviews, and other tales of woe, like sitting in Barnes & Noble at Christmas, wearing a ridiculous Santa hat and repeatedly being asked the way to the bathroom. It may sound strange, but we find comfort in knowing that our journey isn’t Job-like, or Sisyphean, even though it can often feel that way, but one that many share.

Usually, we keep these stories to ourselves, within the writing community. For readers, we like to present optimism, a bright smile, and project the image that our writing careers are all rainbows and unicorns and pots of gold at the end of those rainbows. We may tell the truth if asked, but usually those thoughts of giving up and moving on are not something we share.

Are you bracing yourself for bad things ahead?

Relax. I am not feeling dark, nor am I about to confess to an overwhelming desire to give up writing and go rain skipping instead. But it can be helpful to aspiring writers to know that “Yet she persisted,” is the mantra for many writers.

IMG_2888So, how did it begin? As I remember it, I was practicing law, had a child in daycare and another on the way, and I was sitting at a stop light, on my way to court to have a fight about blistered paint on a tennis court, when I had an epiphany: two reasonable adults should be able to work this out between themselves. I decided to leave work for a while and stay home with my boys. Then I immediately panicked. I had always had a job. What would I do? And I hit upon the naïve idea that since I’d always wanted to write, I might be able to fit it in around the times when the boys napped.

Foolish me. I bought a computer and set it up. I began to cook up a plot in my head, a semi-autobiographical mystery involving law students and trusts and estates, and realized my children rarely napped. Undeterred, I wrote in little bits of time, and nine months later I typed “The End” on a book that I put in a drawer.

That was the beginning of ten years of writing, four books in the drawer, and a whole box of rejection letters before I sold a book. But I am a stubborn Yankee. I said I wouldn’t stop submitting until I had enough letters to paper the bathroom. It was a small room, and I was eyeing the dining room when I found an ad in a magazine—either The Writer or Writer’s Digest—from a literary agent seeking manuscripts. Ha! I thought. There is no literary agent in the world who needs to look for clients. Having nothing to lose, though, I sent her the cover letter, synopsis, and first chapters of Chosen for Death.

A few weeks later, I got a message on the answering machine: “I’m very interested. If you haven’t signed up with someone else, can we talk?”

We talked. Later, when we met at a conference, she told me that she had had 2000 responses to the ad. She’d assembled a group of friends, ordered a lot of takeout, and they’d had a reading party. Out of that 2000, she’d found two she was interested in agenting, and I was one of those two.

Getting an agent was only the beginning. She moved to New York to be closer to IMG_2890publishers. And one slushy winter night, I was on the phone with a neighbor when the operator interrupted, said she had an emergency call for me, would my neighbor yield the line? She yielded. It was my agent. She had an offer on the book, but wanted to see if she could get a better one, was that all right with me? She ended up getting me a three-book, hard-soft deal. I was finally going to leave that unpublished writers corner behind.

The journey that followed was like an erratic EKG, but that beginning was lovely. I have stuck to writing despite those ups and downs, while I’ve seen many writers I started with back then (the early 1990’s) give up. I love the craft, and the emergence of stories far too much to quit. I long ago decided that however negative the world of publishing was—poor pay, unsupportive publishers, cruel reviews or no reviews at all—only I got to decide whether I was a writer. That stubborn decision has carried me through many dark moments, and it is one I pass on to my students.

I had three books published before I stopped writing “lawyer” on forms as my profession, rather than “writer.” Getting to call myself a writer seemed far too important to claim until I’d earned it. At this point, there are, I believe, six books in the drawer. Some of them may yet emerge. And I still have the beautiful painted Perrier-Jouet champagne bottle, now empty, that my husband trudged through slushy Boston to find when I told him I’d sold my first book.


At one point in the journey, the publisher of my Thea Kozak series decided to drop me as an author. They didn’t tell me, they just kind of ghosted me for months on end before finally bringing out Liberty or Death without any promotion or a paperback to follow the hardcover. That was devastating, and I was forced, as many authors are when we’re dropped, to figure out what to do next. Go back to practicing law? Or try something new. Since I’d been spending time with cops in order to get Thea’s investigations right, I decided I’d try writing cops. It was a big challenge to go from writing a strong female protagonist to writing middle-aged male cops, but soon I was as wrapped up in Joe Burgess as I had been in Thea.

At the same time, a friend with whom I’d been discussing whether there was something special about New England that influenced crime writers invited me to be an editor on an anthology of crime stories by New England writers. It was fascinating to sit on the editorial side of the desk, to learn more about the craft of short story writing, and to get to put new authors and new voices into print.

From both of these endeavors, I learned about the value of taking chances. However scary that was, it stretched me as a writer and led me into new worlds and many adventures, including, eventually, writing true crime, a novel written by my blog group as Thalia Filbert, a pair of novellas about a book group taking revenge on men behaving badly, and even into memoir.

Sometimes we are asked what advice we’d give other writers, and from these adventures, I can definitely say: Take chances. Do the things that scare you. Write the books you don’t think you can write. Write in different genres, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s all part of the writer’s journey.

Right now, I am waiting for a message from the universe about where I should go next, and it will likely be both scary–and exciting.

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A Favorite Past Post: Using Cuss Words in Cozies

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. This month we’ll be reprising some of our favorite past posts, and I’m starting it off with one originally published back in 2014. It was slightly revised to be included in I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries. So here goes:

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from a reader taking me to task because Liss MacCrimmon, my amateur sleuth, after her earliest, cuss-free adventures, had started swearing. In this reader’s opinion, swearing disqualifies a novel from being considered a cozy mystery. Furthermore, such a book should not be left lying around the house lest a child pick it up, open it, and be exposed to bad language.

Needless to say, I disagree with this very limited definition of a cozy. And I make it a policy not to respond to e-mails that force me to go on the defensive, a no-win situation if there ever was one. However, I was curious as to what had prompted this complaint.

Since the e-mail was not specific, I pulled up the doc file of the book in question (A Wee Christmas Homicide) and used the “find” function to check for the presence of any words a reader might object to. I knew I hadn’t dropped the f-bomb, and I didn’t think I’d referred to any other bodily functions or . . . let’s call them byproducts. Of course, strictly speaking, none of those are swear words, although most would probably be considered inappropriate language for a traditional mystery. What did I discover? I did use the word “pissed” once, to mean “angry with,” but since the speaker was a man and the situation he was in warranted strong language, I figure that word choice was pretty mild compared to what he might have said in real life (or in a hardboiled detective story).

Swearing, so I was always taught in Sunday School, is taking the name of the Lord in vain. I was pretty sure I hadn’t done that, although the use of “damn” (as opposed to not giving “a Tinker’s dam”) implies the use of “God” before it. I’ll be honest with you. My search yielded more instances of the word “damn” than I’d expected. I probably should have cut some of them, but not because they were swear words. They should have been cut because they were repetitious. Liss is frustrated on several counts during the book and seven times, twice in one sentence, she uses the words “damn” or “damned.” She also thinks it once. Other characters use “damn” four times in conversation. But here’s the funny thing: neither the number of times I used the word nor the word itself struck me as excessive any of the many times I reread the manuscript, nor did they jump out at my first reader, my agent, my editor, or the copy editor, all of whom had the opportunity to tell me to remove some or all of them from the text before publication.

Having investigated this far, I was intrigued. By my definition, “hell” isn’t swearing, either, but I figured that was the second most common “offensive” word I was likely to have used. I found five instances in this same novel, but Liss herself didn’t use any of them.

What about other books in the series? According to the e-mail, the earlier entries in the series were in the clear, so I picked another later one at random and ran the same check. My grasp on realistic language appears to be consistent. One person, provoked, said “pissed.” The word “hell” appeared four times, used by two different characters, neither of them Liss, but Liss did use the adjective “hellish” on one occasion. As for “damn” and “damned,” Liss used the former four times and the latter once. Liss’s gal-pal Sherri said “damn” once. Liss’s love interest, Dan, said “damned” twice and other characters used that word three times. When I turned in the manuscript of that book it was 76,803 words in length. It contained seventeen “bad” words. In another in the series, Ho-Ho-Homicide, Liss only said “damn” once, but other people said “hell,” “damn,” and “damned.” Out of a total of 78, 411 words, those instances added up to a total of twelve. On the one occasion where Liss swore, she was under extreme stress, afraid neither she nor Dan would make it out of their predicament alive. I’d be more surprised if she didn’t swear.

“But wait,” as the TV commercials say. Here’s the kicker. I was taking that “fan’s” word for it that Kilt Dead and Scone Cold Dead were cleaner than A Wee Christmas Homicide. Well, guess what? On page five of the hardcover edition of Kilt Dead, Liss gets the bad news that a knee injury has ended her career as a professional Scottish dancer. Her reaction: “No. Damn it, no!”

And it doesn’t stop there. I counted twenty-nine “damns” in Kilt Dead. And twenty-three in Scone Cold Dead. There is one instance of “pissed” in each and several “hells.” My goodness me! That’s more cussing than in the book my correspondent was complaining about. How very strange.


Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books and three works of nonfiction. 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 newest books are Murder, She Edited (the fourth book in the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living. She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.


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Weekend Update: July 31-August 1, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), and John Clark (Friday). On Thursday we’ll have a repost from one of our alums. Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: The last Liss MacCrimmon Mystery, A View to a Kilt, will be on sale in ebook format for $1.99 from July 30 until September 1. In this one, Liss finds a body, literally, in her own back yard. The Scotties also make an appearance. For a quick link to e-book outlets, you can click here:





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. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Crime Writers Share Some Favorite Maine Places

Today, we’re sharing some of our favorite Maine places. An impossible task, I know, since we all have many favorites. We would love it if you would share some of yours in the comments–photos and descriptions. Summer. Winter. Land. Sea. Coastal. Inland. Maine has so much to offer.

Kate Flora: A big part of summer, growing up on the farm, involved agriculture. Weeding the garden. Harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables. My father always knew the best places to find wild blackberries. Mom had a huge raspberry patch. And across the road, we had a blueberry field, where we would pick berries and sell them at a table we’d set up beside the road. Sometimes, at Thanksgiving, if it wasn’t snowy, our after turkey would be an able through the blueberry field. Some years it would be black from the  semi-annual burning to keep down weeds and pests; other years it would be a brilliant red. Once we found a charred wallet. Another time, a deer skull. But it was best when the every other year crop was ready for harvesting, and the undulating open field was a vivid blue that matched the August sky overhead. For my 55th birthday, my husband Ken bought me the blueberry field adjacent to the family field, and I went out and ran through it, a truly ecstatic experience.

Pie from my Union blueberries.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: I know it’s boring, but it’s true. My favorite place in Maine is my own back yard. I was just going to use some old photos,  from 2010, and then decided to take a few new ones, since it is a beautiful summer’s day as I’m writing this.

old photo, in fall

part of the same field now with the Christmas trees all grown up

the other field, 2010

and part of it now

That small body of water in the third photo is the original Moosetookalook. It’s very small, just a mini-pond dug to drain off a swampy area, and at this time of year it’s completely dry.

Maggie Robinson: I’m with Kaitlyn/Kathy. I’ve talked about my garden here before. I can’t think of any other place in Maine I’d rather be. But if we’re going for incredible beauty, may I suggest Islesboro? We lived out there for four years while my husband was the superintendent/principal of Islesboro Central School, which is housed in a magnificent former estate. No matter where you look, there are water views, charming antique houses, grand “cottages,” and wonderful gardens.

Island living is not for everyone with its isolation and dependence on the ferry. (Though if you’re buddies with a lobsterman, maybe you can talk him into crossing Penobscot Bay after hours.) It wasn’t for us, but my middle daughter and grandson still live there. Here’s the lighthouse and museum on a chilly winter day.

This is my daughter’s sunset view!

And here’s my three-tiered garden in Farmington.

Brenda Buchanan:  I’m also rather predictable. Regular readers of this blog know that part of my heart lives in Hancock County and another part lives on Peaks Island, two places where I made my home for a lot of years, and where I still spend as much time as possible. Here are some photos of my favorite spots:

View of Penobscot Bay from Barred Island in Deer Isle.

My favorite swimming beach, the location of which I am not inclined to reveal.

Whaleback, on the back shore of Peaks Island

The path through the aptly-named Davies Sanctuary on Peaks.


Sandra Neily here: I love camping by the Penobscot River north of Millinocket. (Husband Bob, relaxing and Raven refusing to come and get in the car when we are all packed. She loves it too.) The bridge shot is from a land trust tail on Westport Island, but I am so grateful for so many Maine land trust properties. Find them here. And my favorite wild flower walks happen in June and July on ski area slopes that are open and sunny and welcoming to so many different kinds of flower. This one is one Moose Mt. trail just north of Greenville (formerly Squaw Mt.).



Maureen Milliken here. While there are tons of places in Maine I love, my absolute favorite is Baxter State Park. Fun fact: You don’t have to hike Katahdin to enjoy Baxter. It seems to be a common misconception that’s the only reason to go there. I’ve written about it plenty here already, so I won’t go into it all.

I will say this: no wifi, no cell service, no leafblowers, no fireworks. Just nature. Before our family went there for the first time in the 1970s, our next-door neighbor told my parents, “It’s a pain in the ass to get there, but once you’re there, Shangri La”

But since I just got back from a visit, where all I did was hike a little and sit by Trout Brook and read, here are some snaps.

Trout Brook, the scene from my lean-to at the Trout Brook Farm campground at Baxter.

My private reading spot outside my lean-to.


That’s me on North Traveler Mountain, I believe in 2015.

My sister Liz kayaking on South Branch Pond in, I believe, 2015.

Me enjoying the wild blueberries in 1975.

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Summer of Soul

John Clark shifting gears on the way to a blog. I had two other topics in mind for today until Beth and I went to the movies last Sunday night. I’m old school and prefer watching movies in a theater. After hearing about Summer of Soul, I knew I wanted to see it. I was at Woodstock the same summer that this six weekend festival happened in Harlem, but to my utter shame, never heard of it until I saw the promo for the movie a week ago. After watching it, my first thought was that viewing it was like getting handed a box of puzzle pieces, many familiar, that when assembled, created a completely new way of seeing something.

Most of the performers featured in the film are familiar. In fact The Fifth Dimension was the first musical group I ever saw live when they performed at Grady Gamage Auditorium during homecoming weekend at Arizona State University in the fall of 1966. Two of the members reminisce about how they came to record The Age of Aquarius. Add in Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, a quick appearance by Moms Mabley among others, and you’ve got almost two hours of great toe tapping, memory stimulating music, but that’s just a small part of the experience. Several of the performers, as well as many concert goers are featured, talking about how it felt then and how it feels looking back from today.

It’s saddening and thought provoking to realize that it this long and support from a charitable foundation for this film to be made. The footage sat, neglected for fifty years. It’s blended with interviews with performers as well as notables who grew up in that era like Charlaine Hunter-Gault. She shared her fight to start using Black instead of Negro while working for New York Times. When editor A.M. Rosenthal, changed it from Black back to Negro in a headline, she responded with an eleven page memo. It did the trick.

Also of note are the clips and reminiscences about losses felt by the Black community through assassinations, JFK, RFK, Malcolm-X and Martin Luther King. Jesse Jackson and a younger Al Sharpton weigh in on the effect. I also found the comments by Harlem residents regarding the impact of a man landing on the moon during the festival to be eye opening and thought provoking.

Don’t take my word for how great and impactful this film is. Make the effort to see it, then think about how those times were for the Black community and ask yourself if much has changed for them since this was filmed.

Here’s a description of the movie from the brochure at Railroad Square as well as a link to a NPR article and a trailer for the movie.

The United States in the summer of 1969 was at one of the most significant moments in national history. Culturally, scientifically, economically, the tenuous fibers of the great experiment were unraveling to reveal the tentacles of change engulfing the country. Most of us pinpoint at least one event―Woodstock, Apollo 11, the Manson murders, the Stonewall protests― but everywhere America looked there was disruption. Lost amongst the wondrous chaos of 1969 was The Harlem Cultural Festival (or “Black Woodstock”), a two-month celebration of Black pride and music attended by nearly 300,000 mostly Black Americans. The lineup speaks for itself: Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, B. B. King, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela, The 5th Dimension, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, and The Staples. But for half a century this celebration of Black identity had been lost to the world. Miraculously, this incredible footage—looking and sounding up-to-date and spectacular in all ways by director Questlove—has been found and turned into the film event of 2021, winner of the Audience Award at Sundance.


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Win A Book Wednesday July 28th

It’s another Win a Book Wednesday (July 28) here at Maine Crime Writers.

Sandra Neily here:   First I need to announce Grace as the winner of my first novel, Deadly Trespass. Apologies to all jumped in promptly, hoping to win.  It took me a while to figure out I should email folks in return. I’ve given away Kindle copies to all the other entrants!)

Win More of the Maine Woods:  To win a copy of my second Mystery in Maine, Deadly Turn, just leave a comment below mentioning the title. (Sandra’s an award winning author from East Boothbay, Maine, working on her third novel, Deadly Disease.)  Deadly Turn is reviewed as:

“What a whopping good read! Gripping as Agatha Christie, evocative as Aldo Leopold, and in the end as satisfying as a Brother Cadfael mystery. The book drew me into the Maine woods, reawakening memories of the thrill as well as the peace of being fully immersed in a forest or a river.”

“Ms. Neily has done it again! She has produced another fast-moving mystery grounded in the both gritty and endearing truths of human behavior, based in the northwoods setting she clearly knows so well, starring her gutsy, no-frills protagonist, Cassandra Patton Conover and her canine sidekick Pock!  …  Loved every minute of it! Count me as another reader asking, ‘when is the next one com

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The only writing rule? There are no rules!

I was chatting with a new acquaintance about my new, more flexible, schedule, and how it will give me the time I need to finish my book. I think I mentioned to him that the first half of the day is for the book, the second half for the paying gigs. I may have mentioned that I still plan to have coffee and read the Boston Globe before anything else, as I have nearly every morning for the past four decades.

New Acquaintance, however, insisted that the only way I can be a succesful writer is if I write immediately upon getting up in the morning, before I even have coffee or breakfast, or read the paper, or anything else.

The fact I’ve written three traditionally published mystery novels had no impact on his insistance that I COULD NOT WRITE A BOOK if I didn’t do it first thing in the morning, immediately upon getting up, before I have coffee, breakfast or newspaper. Otherwise, he said, I’d get caught up in doing other things and would never get around to writing.

The fact that I’ve never ever written in the morning before having coffee and newspaper, as well as often doing other things, and have still managed to write three books that have not only been published, but also fairly well-received, didn’t deter him. He kept insisting.

The fact that I know many many succesful fiction writers, and they write at all sorts of times of day, also didn’t deter him.

Did I mention he hasn’t, to my knowledge, written a novel? Apparently he read somewhere that’s the “only way” Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway were able to write. He also, if I remember the conversation correctly, claims King even advocates for this writing process in his book “On Writing.”

Memo to aspiring writers: Anyone who tells you a writer “has to” do it a certain way, or at a certain time of day, or for a certain amount of time or anything else like that is simply wrong. The time of day you should write is whatever time of day that works best for you. I have never discussed this, or anything else, with Stephen King, but I’ll bet a year’s worth of morning coffee he’d agree with me.

In fact, if you’re looking for writing advice, the best I’ve ever found is my one big takeaway from Stephen King’s “On Writing”: Just sit down and write.

You’re welcome.

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Weekend Update: July 24-25, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maureen Milliken (Tuesday), John Clark (Thursday) and a group post (Friday). Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

Sandra Neily here: Announcing that Grace is the winner of my first novel, Deadly Trespass. (From the June 30th Wind a Book Wednesday.) I emailed all entry hopefuls a free Kindle copy of the novel. (Apologies. Took me a while to realize I needed to email everyone in return.) Please stop by this Wednesday for our next Win-A-Book-Wednesday!

On August first I’ll be interviewed by V. Paul Reynolds on his “Maine Outdoors” radio program at 7 PM. It’s been a few decades since I sat in the studio with him. I think I had a loon calling contest with someone who called in. I think I won.







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. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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A Good Cry & the Do-It-Yourself MFA

Sandra Neily here (also sharing a selection of disparate pics that may wander away a bit)

At a library author talk this past week, I was asked how I wrote a novel when I’d only written non-fiction for work.

I said I burst into tears, got up and paced the room, made a mantra of the names of women friends who said I had a voice and should write, repeated that names mantra over and over … and I sat back down and started typing. Crying but typing.

But I also told them about my do-it-yourself MFA. (Still ongoing …)

I attended some writers’ conferences. (I used a tax refund to audit Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Writers Conference. The next year’s return went to the UMaine’s Stonecoast conference.) I attended several New England Crime Bake mystery writers/readers conferences in Boston, sleeping on a friend’s floor as I couldn’t afford the hotel. (Best seminar? How to write about sex. Not what I expected, but it was right on!)

And helpful books! Favs: Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott. (Don’t miss the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter.) Also, On Writing by Stephen King, The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson and Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden, and absolutely anything Donald Maass writes.

I found lots of free webinars on line as various people tried to tease me toward buying a tutorial package, but most marketing sessions were helpful. Derek has the best free seminars; just sign up for his newsletter.

And I could not live without Jane Friedman’s newsletter. You’ll just have to sign up to see why. She’s the best source for anything related to publishing. I share out her pathways to publishing chart at least once a week.

I distill essential writing reminders on a wall chart I stick it up wherever I write. (Recently I duct taped it to camper curtains as I worked on a tiny table … Tiny.)

Here’s some of my updated 2021 list.

The first reminder below is about Pain; I’ll l be bringing a special pain to my narrator Patton in Deadly Attack (the 3rd Mystery in Maine.) These pics explain that pain.

Maine mountain wildlands being blasted apart for … in this case…17 miles of remote roads.

CMP’s clearing of wildland vegetation (eventually crossing over 300 streams, ponds and wetland areas) so we can send power to MA.

 BRING THE PAIN to your protagonist and bring it early.


On Emotional Originality: My narrator Patton (whose first name is Cassandra), shares a lot with the mythical Greek Cassandra (painted here). She spoke truth and was ignored. Too bad for the people of Troy. (Wooden horse.)

Deliver “EMOTIONAL ORIGINALITY” (Maass). My narrator chooses outdoors struggles to know she exists; her job diminished her.



DO A LONGMIRE (aka author Craig Johnson). Others describe your character’s M.O. or expected behavior, etc.

Always ask the SITUATIONAL PREMISE: WHAT IF? (re: King)


Worst thing. Your beloved dog disappears down a crack in the melting spring ice. (Deadly Attack). Yes, paid for the pic.

SECRETS: for everyone & in most chapters (Can be simple: hides chocolate to find it as later surprise.) Also, maybe an epic, huge, life-animating/diminishing, under-the-radar secret for protag?

EACH SCENE, Each PG, WHO WANTS WHAT? (can be simple: drink of water or BIG). Thwart the ‘wants’ a lot.


Sidebar: My dog Raven WANTS to chase squirrels, not sit for pics. But I caught her motionless anyway.

EACH PG…EVERYBODY WANTS SOMETHING…even glass of water.  Character defined by wants and needs.  All character is want/desire.

FIRST TIME we SEE PROTAG we see her weakness/strengths, get a sense of her journey.

FIRST WORDS, first impressions ENCAPSULATE CHARACTER.  Each setting, description, word of dialogue, action and reaction and reflection is a CHARACTER BRUSH STROKE.

The open book near my desk is a first hardcover edition of Thoreau’s “The North Woods,” 1909. A few parts of Maine still look like what his prose captured. Thoreau’s words make a few appearances early on in Deadly Attack.

DESCRIBE a location, people, animals, etc. in the EARLIER narration. Don’t slow action or climax w/descriptions. Readers should already know these places and people.

DO SOMETHING during conversation. (Moz carving stick. Kate’s finger through butter.)

Create a DISCONNECT b/w character’s APPEARANCE and true CAPABILITIES

EACH CHAPTER TO HAVE AN ARC! Each chap at least one character has a WANT and frustrations with it. Part of arc.


PLOT is people, emotions & desires at CROSS PURPOSES, getting hotter, fiercer until they rub up against each other and explode.

STRUCTURE: ¼ opening, ½ middle, ¼ climax; false climax (or a crisis that does not resolve ¾ way through)

About the “Code.” Patton always chooses wild ones, even small ones like salamanders, over most anything else. (Who knew Asian restaurants deep fry them alive and import them illegally.)

Case WORKS ON SLEUTH, not just how sleuth works on the case.

REDEMPTIVE ARC Sleuth makes up for something in her past.

Protagonist has a PERSONAL CODE. Adhered to no matter what costs or consequences.  Must protect code like parent protecting child.  CODE IS CHARACTER. (i.e. Reacher)

Patton arriving late when the body’s already under the ice. The WWI knife with brass knuckles? (Was her grandfather’s and I’m still working on that.)

ARRIVE LATE; LEAVE EARLY (start close to action, leave when action just done)


WHAT’S AT STAKE for any character? What happens if she/he fails?

BIG IDEAS NEED TO BE CONTAINED IN SMALL STRUCTURE (i.e. divorce trauma revealed in T-shirt worn inside out)

SCENE ENDINGS: major decision, terrible things, portents, strong emotion, question w/ no answer

DEADLINES: create in story line to move/force action forward

CREATE WORTHY ADVERSARY: spend as much time on her/him

re: the Time Jump. Well. Many pots of make-believe tea and days of crayons and smeared jam everywhere and author Neily started to write again. (Will drop all for the grandgirls.)

JUMP/compress TIME, “two pots of tea and one hour later …”

LISTS to COMPRESS BACK STORY (In high school we’d ….etc)

FOIL READER EXPECTATIONS. Make a list of what readers might expect; decide several ways they won’t get it. (Advice from the great mystery writer, Elizabeth George).

THE ABOUT TO BE MOMENT “Don’t Do It!  Don’t Do It!!!” screams a reader’s brain.

Last thing, but it might be the first thing:  “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

The second Mystery in Maine, Deadly Turn, was published in 2021. Her 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. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.



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