Weekend Update: January 23-24, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday), Dick Cass (Tuesday), Darcy Scott (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:

A reminder to our writer friends that submissions for the Maine Literary Awards close on Feb. 1st. Get the details here: https://www.mainewriters.org/mla-submission-guidelines

Kate Flora is looking for a few volunteers to be beta readers for a new mystery, Not What You Think. To volunteer, contact her at: writingaboutcrime@gmail.com

Dick Cass: As fans of my Elder Darrow mystery series know, I designate a charity each year to receive a contribution per sale. This year’s charity is themayflyproject.com, which uses fly fishing to mentor and support foster kids. I look forward to helping them thrive.

Sandra Neily: The chance to win a half day birding tour with Downeast Nature Tours ends on Sunday the 24th at midnight (est).  Owner and superb guide Michael Good fact checked all the bird and bat material for my mystery Deadly Turn.  He’s so amazing. Just email me with a subject line of “Birding Please.” sdougn@gmail.com

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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The Writers’ Ah-hah and Uh-Oh

Like so many these days, I’m not sleeping like I used to. For the most part, it’s not pandemic worries that keep me awake at three in the morning. Instead, it’s what I’ll call “the new book syndrome”.

I’m working on number five in my Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi series. “The Shark, The Girl, And The Sea” (working title) will be published in May or June, and at this point I’m pretty much on schedule. So no pressing deadline is interrupting my dreams.

Instead, I am experiencing two distinct “writers’ ah-hah” moments. In the wee hours of the morning as my husband softly snores beside me, I am awake trying to untangle a snag in my story or, one some occasions, a downright monkey wrench. After quickly taking care of the first, I’ll be asleep not long after. The second, however, might keep me awake for hours.

Writers often face small, often momentary, snags in a story that need fixing. I’m talking about things like “the thirty year old dirty blonde in chapter one is inexplicably fifty and brunette in chapter eleven”. Such mistakes are usually readily remedied; the harder part is identifying them because they are so easy to miss.

Money wrench mistakes are a lot messier to repair. Imagine you are writing a fictional account of Britain during World War II and build your story around islands that you should have known were totally destroyed early on in the blitzkrieg. While you could back peddle, it would take time and might end up being a very different kind of narrative. You get the idea; there is no easy remedy to this one. The fix just takes time.

There are many reasons, of course, why writing is so darned hard. Perfectionists keep returning again and again to their work. Avoiders find every excuse to postpone what they must do. Someone fearful of failing may be afraid to even try.

All this means, writing colleagues, that every once in a while we need to hold up our published books or manuscripts in progress and simply be proud.

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My Joe Biden Story

Many people who lived in the Delaware Valley (southeastern Pennsylvania, southwestern New Jersey, and the state of Delaware) in the 1980s and 1990s have a Joe Biden story.  Here’s mine. 

In the early 1980s I was the dean of a small college in Philadelphia.  A professor invited me to attend his class on the American political system to meet and hear a guest speaker he thought I would like.  For 50 minutes Senator Joe Biden enchanted the students, mixing commentary on the Constitution with anecdotes about current politicians and lessons learned in campaigns.  It was an impressive performance that clearly captured student interest.  I was so impressed that afterwards I recommended to the college’s president that we invite Biden to receive an honorary degree and give the commencement address that spring.  Entirely to my surprise, the president, a staunch republican, agreed.  I later learned that he had discussed the matter with a trustee who happened to be a senior officer at Dupont and who therefore knew Biden well.  “Joe’s okay,” I found out the trustee told my president.

One of my jobs as dean was to be the master of ceremonies for commencement.  The stage party was assembled in a building adjacent to the large tent where the ceremony would take place.  As the time approached to lead the party forward, we were without our speaker.  Where was Joe Biden?  I managed to reach one of his aides by phone in his Delaware office (this was long before the wide use of mobile phones) and learned that the senator had left Wilmington and was on his way.  The crowd under the tent was growing restless.  In the middle of May, Philadelphia is tropical, sitting under a tent doesn’t make the heat and humidity more bearable, and so the audience was not enjoying the delay.  I went on stage to explain that our commencement speaker was slightly detained and would arrive soon.  Groans.

We waited.  No Biden.  I called the aide again and got a description of the car Biden was being driven in, and the head of our security office phoned a contact at the Philadelphia Police Department.  In several minutes we got a report that the PPD had picked up Biden’s car on the Schuylkill Expressway and was escorting him.  It must have been a slow day for the cops because they made a bit of a game out of it, leading and trailing his car with motorcycles and patrol cars, lights flashing and sirens roaring—though no one could have known it then, a preview of the way Biden travels today.

I went back to the stage to announce that we would begin shortly and that the sounds of emergency vehicles they heard meant that Senator Biden was almost there.  Loud cheers.  When we met up the senator apologized and thanked me for the escort.  “Anytime, I told him.”  He laughed, suited up in academic garb, and lined up for the march.  More cheers greeted our arrival on the stage.  When his turn came, Biden apologized for the delay, gave a short but enthusiastic speech, thanked the college for helping him get there “almost on time,” and received a standing ovation.  I have no memory at all of what he said.  Who remembers such things?  What I do remember is the way in which Biden so quickly turned the crowd his way.  They might have booed him for making them broil in the Philadelphia cauldron, but they responded to his humility and the strong image he projected as being down-to-earth and decent.  He stayed after the speech to chat with parents and students and pose for pictures.  Smart politician, of course, but at his core a nice guy who instinctively empathized with the crowd, sharing and amplifying the joy a commencement triggers for graduates and their families.   

This remembrance of Joe Biden came to me vividly in the days leading up to yesterday’s Inauguration.  Whatever your political leanings, you had to feel tension and fear as chaos  seemed to reign.  In such times we writers and readers of stories create or recall narratives that give shape and direction to our emotions.  Collectively, we add our individual stories to the national story.  Remembering my early experiences with our new President reinforced my patriotism, my hopes, my conviction that our nation will heal. He showed up on time. 

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Poems for You, While I Catch Up

Kate Flora: I am dug deep into a first review of the manuscript of my next book, Not What You Think, with the final edits on the next Joe Burgess procedural, A World of Deceit, waiting for me. With a head so full of word choices and character names and is there enough momentum, I couldn’t pull together a topic for a blog posts today, so I am sharing some winter poems instead.

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Snow Day

BY BILLY COLLINS

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,   

its white flag waving over everything,

the landscape vanished,

not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,   

and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,

schools and libraries buried, the post office lost   

under the noiseless drift,

the paths of trains softly blocked,

the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots

and step out like someone walking in water,   

and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,   

and I will shake a laden branch

sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,   

a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.   

I will make a pot of tea

and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,   

as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,   

the Ding-Dong School, closed.

the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,   

the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,

along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,

Little Sparrows Nursery School,

Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School   

the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,

and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,

These are the nests where they letter and draw,   

where they put on their bright miniature jackets,   

all darting and climbing and sliding,

all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard

in the grandiose silence of the snow,

trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,   

what riot is afoot,

which small queen is about to be brought down.

White-Eyes

BY MARY OLIVER

In winter 

    all the singing is in 

         the tops of the trees 

             where the wind-bird 

with its white eyes 

    shoves and pushes 

         among the branches. 

             Like any of us 

he wants to go to sleep, 

    but he’s restless— 

         he has an idea, 

             and slowly it unfolds 

from under his beating wings 

    as long as he stays awake. 

         But his big, round music, after all, 

             is too breathy to last. 

So, it’s over. 

    In the pine-crown 

         he makes his nest, 

             he’s done all he can. 

I don’t know the name of this bird, 

    I only imagine his glittering beak 

         tucked in a white wing 

             while the clouds— 

which he has summoned 

    from the north— 

         which he has taught 

             to be mild, and silent— 

thicken, and begin to fall 

    into the world below 

         like stars, or the feathers 

               of some unimaginable bird 

that loves us, 

    that is asleep now, and silent— 

         that has turned itself 

             into snow.

Winter Trees

BY WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

All the complicated details 

of the attiring and 

the disattiring are completed! 

A liquid moon 

moves gently among 

the long branches. 

Thus having prepared their buds 

against a sure winter 

the wise trees 

stand sleeping in the cold. 

Dust of Snow

BY ROBERT FROST

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

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Mystery or Suspense?

Although my mystery author friends here accept me into their ranks, I write romantic suspense and have been published in that genre for a long time. When I tell non-romance readers what I write, they look at me blankly. I usually keep the explanation simple that I write romance interwoven with a mystery, and I don’t distinguish between mystery and suspense. There’s certain blending and crossover, but here’s my take on the general difference.

Of course, all novels contain suspense to one degree or another, the suspense of wondering what will happen next. All novelists want readers to keep asking questions. And mystery novels involve suspense beyond that—the tension of danger and if the sleuth will solve the mystery.  But for my purpose, a mystery typically begins with the crime, usually a murder, and the remainder of the book involves a sleuth, either police or a PI or a citizen with personal reasons for getting involved, trying to identify and apprehend the murderer. Sometimes there are additional murders.

Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake Mysteries features an amateur sleuth, Julia Snowden, who runs her family’s clambake business but who has also been instrumental (in 8 books) in solving local murders, some of which connected to Julia’s family members. In SHUCKED APART, the upcoming February release, Julia’s reputation attracts a local oyster farmer asking for help. Mysteries featuring amateur sleuths are typically considered “cozy” mysteries.

For professional sleuths, like police officers and private detectives, the book descriptions vary from police procedural to thriller to mystery to detective novel. In Kate Flora’s Joe Burgess Mysteries, her sleuth is a Portland, Maine, police detective. Those stories are deep and portray the detective’s investigation in as well as the personal effects on Joe of dealing with death and crime. The book description calls A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM a murder mystery thriller. It is that, but also a police procedural novel and an exposé of child trafficking.

Now for something completely different. Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide Mysteries, set in the 1920’s, feature our heroine, a beautiful widow, as well as a dashing Anglo-Indian police detective and the ghost of Lady Adelaide’s husband Rupert. The book description of JUST MAKE BELIEVE calls it an amusing historical cozy mystery with touches of the paranormal and women’s fiction. Lady Adelaide is our amateur sleuth, aided by her sometimes annoying ghostly husband, and Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter appears as the professional. What the book description fails to include is the touch of romance. No, not with the ghost.

A suspense novel, whether romantic or not, involves the hero (protagonist) who may be a federal agent or a police detective or other law enforcement officer or an extraordinary citizen (think Jack Reacher.), trying to stop the villain (the antagonist) from carrying out his dastardly scheme. Sometimes there are additional crimes and murders as well, and often the sleuth is in danger at the end when confronting the killer. In a suspense novel, both the hero and the reader might know the villain’s identity. The tension and suspense come from the rising action, usually a time factor, and keeping the reader wondering if/how the villain can be stopped.

My most recent release, HIDDEN OBSESSION, has elements of both mystery and suspense—and of course, romance. The hero, Maine State detective Justin Wylde (who was also the detective in PRIMAL OBSESSION) must solve murders in a coastal village, so he’s my professional sleuth. The heroine, Sheri Harte, back in her hometown to ghostwrite a woman’s memoir, gets caught up in the intrigue and involved romantically with Justin. The suspense involves tension about the killer’s identity, who might be the next victim, and as the plot enfolds, why Sheri is also being stalked by the killer.

Whether mystery or suspense or thriller or a mix, readers have more flavors to choose from than vanilla and chocolate.

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Weekend Update: January 16-17, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Susan Vaughan (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), William Andrews (Thursday) and Charlene D’Avanzo (Friday).

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

Revival of a regional treasure, and a submissions opportunity:

Hi, FB friends, especially New England mystery authors, just wanted to share the exciting news that the award-winning Best New England Crime Stories anthologies will now be published by Crime Spell Books, under the editorship of Susan Oleksiw, Ang Pompano, and yours truly.
Submissions for the 2021 anthology, Bloodroot, will be accepted from January 15 to March 31, 2021.
The anthology is open to all writers who currently live in one of the six New England states, but stories do not need to be set in New England. (The six New England states are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.)
Stories may be written in the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, historical, and horror.
Stories may be between 1,000 and 5,000 words.
Stories must be previously unpublished in print or electronically, including author websites.
Writers may submit up to two stories per anthology, but only one story per author will appear in the anthology.
The editors will not consider stories that feature gratuitous violence or sex.
For details on how to submit, visit http://www.crimespellbooks.com.
Thanks!
The Editors

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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Double Dipping

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today talking about the recycling of ideas, settings, and anecdotal material. I don’t think I’m alone in doing this, but perhaps I’m more aware of it than some authors.

next book (August 2021) but utilizing a floor plan I’ve used before

Here’s the thing: at least in my case, not everything I’ve written has been snapped up by a publisher. It’s a rare writer who sells his or her first attempt at a novel or short story and has continuous success ever after. Since I’m a firm believer in avoiding waste, I look on all my unsold projects, both complete and incomplete, as material that can be cannibalized. Some bits are more useful than others. In fact, some bits have ended up being recycled into more than one novel.

Is that an “oops” or a wise use of resources? I don’t have an answer, and to be completely honest, in some cases where I’ve double-dipped, I did so because I didn’t remember that I’d already made use of the whatever-it-was. On the other hand, sometimes I used something in more than one book just because I really liked it.

A case in point is the “thinking place.” Up in the woods on our twenty-five acres is a glacial deposit of boulders, much weathered and cracked so that there’s a cave-like space between them. In 1979, I wrote one of several never-to-be-published historical novels, this one set in Colonial New England. It was 785 manuscript pages in length (typed on a manual typewriter, by the way) and was rejected by eight publishers before I got the idea, after selling my first children’s novel, to revamp it for young readers. The first version of Shalla garnered eighteen rejections in 1984-5. I revised again, but had no better luck selling the project. Then, in 2000, when all kinds of e-book publishing houses were springing up, an outfit called Bookmice made an offer to publish it. I would have taken it, but before we’d gotten very far, Bookmice was bought out by another company and the contract they offered was not author-friendly. This project, in which the “thinking place” was a key setting, was revised several more times over the following two decades and I finally ended up self-publishing it earlier this year.

At the same time I was trying to sell the first version of Shalla, I was also writing what eventually became The Mystery of the Missing Bagpipes. It was rejected fourteen times before being revised with a change in point of view and a new villain. It then sold to Silhouette Books’ Crosswinds line for YA readers, along with a sequel. They were scheduled to be published in 1989.  Unfortunately, that line was discontinued at the end of 1988, before either book came out. The rights were returned to me, allowing me to resell The Mystery of the Missing Bagpipes to Avon Camelot, who published it in 1991. By the time I got ready to reissue it earlier this year, I’d forgotten that it also included a “thinking place.” Will anyone reading both books notice? Hard to say, but the boulder in question did end up on one of my covers!

There have been other instances of “double dipping” in the course of the forty-four years I’ve officially been writing books and short stories. The legend of an Indian lead mine plays a role in both my juvenile historical novel, Julia’s Mending, and the adult historical mystery, No Mortal Reason. And the source material for both, and for my other self-published children’s book, Katie’s Way, set in 1922, is found in my family history. There are probably a few other details in No Mortal Reason that show up in the children’s books, too.

yes, that’s me as the hero of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

In my contemporary fiction, I’ve recycled my unsold short story, “The Tallest Girl,” about being the tallest one in ballet class and therefore assigned to play the prince in the annual recital, into two novels, the YA Someday and the Bantam Loveswept romance Sleepwalking Beauty.

The floor plans of three real houses turn up repeatedly—the house I grew up in, my maternal grandparents’ farm, and the house my paternal grandfather built in around 1910. In particular, I keep going back to the farm. The real house burned down in the early 1960s, but my memories of it are vivid and detailed. It appears, in various incarnations, in Katie’s Way, in the Bantam Loveswept romance Tried and True, in my Liss MacCrimmon mystery, Ho-Ho-Homicide, and in next year’s Deadly Edits mystery, Murder, She Edited.

I’ve heard double dipping called “self-plagiarizing” but I don’t buy it. Plagiarizing, of course, is bad, but recycling is good. Waste not, want not, and all that. If I’ve used a few bits more than once, I make no apologies. After all, most have been pieces of my own past, reworked as fiction.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three 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 “Deadly Edits” series (A Fatal Fiction) as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

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The Body Count

After seven years as a published historical romance author, I started writing the Lady Adelaide cozy mystery series in 2017. All of a sudden, killing seemed so much easier than kissing. Perhaps it was the political climate, or I just got bored untying corsets. I wrote the first book Nobody’s Sweetheart Now in two and a half months, a record for me. (Subsequent books have taken much, much longer, LOL.) It was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2018, the fourth and last will come out in September of this year.

Some of the commonly agreed-to rules for cozies: no blood or gore or anything too gross or stressful or scary. Therefore, with two exceptions, I have killed about a dozen people in four books off the page, most of whom are unknown to the reader/getting what they deserve/very unlucky but inconsequential. Unlike real life tragedy in this pandemic, the reader is not meant to mourn them very much, if at all.

I don’t want to downplay murder or criminals, because death is, after all, rather final, and criminality is downright evil. But I’ve tried to be somewhat light-hearted, even making one of my main characters a ghost with a wicked sense of humor. (Of course, I did have to kill him off first.) He is atoning for his louche life on earth by assisting in murder investigations before he can move on to Heaven, and we’ll see how well he does in Farewell Blues.

At my stage in life, I contemplate death and Heaven more often than I used to. When I was in first grade, my paternal grandfather Huntington Lanman, AKA “Pete,” died, and his was the first death that hit close to home. At that tender age, I did not know him very well, but apparently Pete was a prankish bon vivant who dropped his glass eye into other peoples’ drinks at cocktail parties. No wonder my grandmother divorced him. I am forever grateful I never found anything untoward in my milk on any family visits.

Anyway, I remember boarding the Staten Island Ferry with my parents and step-grandmother Leone and a large brown paper bag, which was filled with my grandfather’s ashes. When we passed the Statue of Liberty, my father threw Pete overboard. I’ll always wonder if they burned my grandfather’s glass eye along with the rest of him. Perhaps this unconventional—and probably illegal—good-bye put me on my current murderous path.

My father David Trumbull Lanman sprinkled my mother Margarete’s ashes in the sand dunes of Jones Beach, which was one of their favorite places (also no doubt illegal, and kind of icky for the next barefoot sunbather). For three years in the 90s, we took care of my father and my husband’s mother Frances, both elderly and ill, before they died in our house in Norwich, Connecticut. In an unfortunate sequence of events, Frances passed on three weeks before my dad, and I will always remember the undertakers asking, “Weren’t we just here?” when they arrived the second time. I felt like I was in Arsenic and Old Lace, and expected the authorities to arrive any moment and haul me away in handcuffs.

My mother-in-law Frances still resides in an upstairs closet in a very handsome wooden box. Needless to say, I avoid that closet. I buried my father’s ashes in our garden, since Norwich seemed a fitting place. The Lanman family first settled there in the 1700s before they went down south to New York, and my father was very interested in genealogy. Lots of the houses in town date to before the American Revolution, and I know Lanmans and Trumbulls and Huntingtons all hung out seditiously together in taverns and revolted. And probably drank a lot.

Simon Huntington Tavern on the Norwichtown Green

When we went to my childhood home to clear it out, I found a very nice green pitcher in the dirt crawl space of the cellar that had some strange granular substance in it. I dumped out the contents into a trash bag, washed it, and it’s now in my kitchen holding spatulas and spoons. It was a little while afterward that I realized I threw away my paternal grandmother Ruth. Really, my dad should have attached a warning note to it or something. I remembered too late he’d been indecisive as to where to dispose of her, but I guess Granny didn’t mind as she’s not haunting me seeking vengeance. I don’t think.

When my time comes, I really don’t want a funeral or fuss. Cremation is fine, and I want no one arrested when they figure out what to do with me. I do know I don’t want to wind up in somebody’s closet or cellar or trash bag. Gosh, the kids will probably have to finally deal with Frances after I’m gone too.

What are your post-life plans? I’m still deciding where to be scattered. Then I’d like a pizza party and have Get Together by the Youngbloods played a couple of times. Dancing and singing are optional.

Love is but a song we sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Some may come and some may go
He will surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand, listen
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

I said come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
Right now
Right now

Songwriter: Chet Powers

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Whether to Outline Your Novel or Not.

Us writers typically fall into the category of Pantser or Plotter. While some authors claim that we’re equally divided, we certainly don’t live in harmonious union. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are Plotters and happily reside on their Deathstar. I don’t get too upset that these Plotters are hell bent on world domination. But I’ll be totally honest with you, reader, when the subject comes up there’s a bit of value shaming involved. Plotters proudly pull out their hundred page outlines, waving them through the air if it a lightsaber in the hands of an imperial stormtrooper. It’s meant to shame us Pantsers into coming over to the Dark Side.

But I’ll never go over to the Dark Side and become a Plotter! Not when we have the Force on our side.

For those of you not familiar with these terms, I will explain. Plotters are the Darth Vader’s of the writing universe. They spend weeks and months detailing their novels. All the subplots are in different ink. Every character has a name. There are separate notes for “character motivation” and “Timelines”. They do a “Hero’s Journey” synopsis and a meticulous “Story Map”, which they cover the walls of their office with. Oh, and there are index cards. Hundreds upon hundreds of index cards. Plotters are the evil force in the writing universe, and Pansters are part of the Rebel Alliance. Plotters snuff all the creativity out of the story, we believe. They seek to control the universe and expand their control over the literary domain. They are proud of their accomplishments and hold their massive outlying tombs up as a badge of honor.

Pantsers, on the other hand, have the Force behind them. We tend to live and let live, and often feel like underdogs in this galactic war, and are often made to feel inferior because of our quiet preference to use the Force (Subconsciousness) to our writerly benefit. We are the Yodas of the writing universe, only wanting to live our lives fully and be left alone. We create wholly using the Force, writing under the motto: May The Pantser Force Be With You!

All kidding aside, this Star Wars analogy is a fun way to explain the two methods, but it does have some truth to it. And I must admit, I’m often jealous of those writers who can produce a detailed plot outline for their novels. It must make the writing that much easier. Then it’s merely a matter of execution: writing the novel.

So why have I never been able to successfully plot? It goes to the point that everyone creates different. We’re all unique and our brains process and produce differently. What works for one person has no relevance for another.

I must, however, take exception to this conflict and introduce a wholly different concept; an idea that is quite contrary to the accepted wisdom. I posit that Pantsers are actually highly advanced Plotters who are just too timid to admit it. I’m here today to tell you that the first drafts of our novels are merely exceptionally detailed plots outlines. Mine usually run between eighty to ninety thousand words. Now that’s pretty good plotting.

Lee Child claims he does absolutely no research before writing one of novels. Amazing, huh?So that begs this question: how does creativity spawn? In my case, once the seed of an idea hits me, I utilize mental tent poles. I think of myself as a nomadic scribe, traveling to spaces that are creatively more fertile than others. Once I come up with the initial idea, my mental tent poles provide me with a loosely based map of where to go. When things change, I simply pull out my shallow poles and stick them into the new grids. Thus they keep shifting depending on where my imagination wanders, and where my characters dare take me. The few times in my life when I made detailed outlines, I found my tent poles where so far pounded into the ground that it was difficult for me to move them. The novel then died of malnutrition.

I suppose what I’m saying is this: flexibility is key to Pantsers like myself. We develop a novelistic way of thinking that allows us to internalize plot devices while at the same time freeing us from the rigidity of central planning. Pantsing allows us to be nimble and cut through the red tape of outline. It gives greater currency to the Force—subconscious—then it does to Darth Vader like outlines. Grass roots creativity versus Top Down dictatorial control.

Just joking, my Plotter friends.

So us Pantsers should stand tall and unite. There’s room for all of us, so don’t be made to feel like second class citizens in this wonderful universe that we call literature. And may the Force be with all you authors the next time you sit down to write.

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Getting a Read on 2020

John Clark deliberately ignoring the clusterdiddle in the capitol. If I’m going to look back, I’d rather look at something brighter. I had 4 stories published (two in the 2020 BOULD Anthology, one in Stop The World-Stories of the Pandemic and one in Masthead. I read 323 books last year, not counting picture books read to Piper and Reid. Some were borrowed from our great Waterville Public Library which participates in the statewide borrowing and lending program with daily van delivery, but many were bought or obtained through Paperbackswap.com.

If you’re unfamiliar with this website and are an avid reader, I encourage you to check it out. Members list books they no longer want and get a credit (two for audio books) when someone requests one from your available list. I’ve been a member for close to 20 years and have swapped or gotten more than 10,000 books. That seems like a lot, but many were gotten fro the collection when I was the librarian in Hartland. It made a huge difference in the audio book and young adult collections. I now pay $20 annually as a supporting member. That allows me to create a wish list of up to 500 items. You can search posted books on a daily basis by category. Since I like young adult and science fiction, I look at those almost every day. I particularly like finding ‘hidden gems’ books published by small presses, or self-published. Last year, I found at least a dozen that were very good reads by doing so.

We’re extremely lucky to have a Bullmoose store less than a mile from our house. I buy several dozen books from then each year. Any order over $35.00 gets free shipping and I often pre-order titles I know won’t be bought by a Maine library. Some titles I can’t get through either source are usually listed on Ebay where I also sell used books. My revenue becomes my ‘book play’ money. I’ll be the first to admit that I have zero self-control when it comes to buying or swapping for books. If I stopped buying today, what I’ve ordered or have on hand would last into 2022.

Most of what I’ve read is passed on to the librarian at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Sylvia and I went to library school together and she’s very much an advocate of teens reading for pleasure. In fact, her circulation has increased in the past year despite the pandemic. Duplicate copies and juvenile titles go to Holly at the Pittsfield Public Library.

It’s a challenge to pick out outstanding titles when You read in excess of 300 books in a year, but I can say that there were some really great dark fantasy and dystopian titles in young adult fiction last year. Here are a few: Assassins: Nemesis and Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron are violent and profane, but feature tons of action and intrigue, not to mention a genderfluid character who changes from chapter to chapter. Perhaps the most striking book I read last year was A Breath Too Late by Rocky Callen. It’s a story told by a girl shortly after she kills herself, looking back at what got her to that point. It’s a book that should be in every library. Across A Broken Shore by Amy Trueblood is a great historical fiction entry that takes place in San Francisco during the time the Golden Gate Bridge was being built. Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly is a neat retelling of Snow White. If you want to see everything I read and reviewed last year, go to https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/3537117-john-clark?page=2&ref=nav_mybooks&shelf=read I review every book I finish to support authors and give others an idea of what’s good.

Speaking of good, One author I love and have bought/read all of their books is Diane Burton. Her science fiction books are a neat blend of steaminess and space opera. She’s also written three cozy mysteries. I’m giving them to a reader who comments on this post and lets me know they’re interested. They are: The Case of the Fabulous Fiance, The Case of the Bygone Brother, and The Case of the Meddling Mama.

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