Find Your Way Home

Home is where it all starts for us. From the moment we come into this world, we’re thrust into a situation not of our own choosing. It’s the place where people feel sheltered from the harsh realities of life. But home is also a place of tension and struggle. It’s where relationships prosper or die in close proximity, and where conflict is consciously avoided or met head on. Those beautiful homes you see are uniquely designed to keep secrets hidden, and to present the illusion of a loving, caring family. Sure, there’s much happiness to be found at home. But there’s also dysfunction, abuse, infidelity and addiction.

This is why I wrote The Neighbor. If many crimes are borne from the heart, then the home is where criminal behavior is initially formed. Suburban sprawl and the expansion of the middle class have given rise to isolation and despair. McMansion-like developments facilitate even more privacy, allowing families to effectively hide their secrets from the community at large. Moral ambiguity obfuscates the choices family members must make.

Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside your neighbor’s home? Or on occasion heard strange sounds emanating from behind their walls? Seen odd people coming and going? Maybe an unfamiliar man or woman sneaking inside when a spouse is at work? Observed the neighbors’ kids partying by the pool when their parents are away? We’re only human; we can’t help but be curious about the lives of the people around us.

Leah and Clay Daniels, the main characters in THE NEIGHBOR, are curious as well. Maybe even more so than the average neighbors. As parents of two children, they are experiencing the same pressures facing most families. Like all marriages, the Daniels relationship is fraught with pitfalls and temptations. Their American Dream is the dream shared by most families. It’s so close at hand, and yet at the same time just out of reach. And although dreams differ from family to family, the essence of this dream involves owning a nice home, security, and a caring network of family, friends and neighbors. But when the dream begins to disintegrate, it can often start to look like a nightmare.

Of all the jobs I’ve held, being a social worker has allowed me a window into the heart of domestic darkness. I’ve seen the worst that humanity has to offer and witnessed the evil that some families try desperately to hide. The pain is real and it cycles through generations. The problems that arise from such dysfunction ripples out like waves until it negatively affects society at large.

I’ve been married over twenty years. Kids, dogs, the nice house in the suburbs. I grew up near Boston in a loud, chaotic household of six boys. There was the authoritarian father and Irish Catholic mother who made us go to Mass each Sunday. And repenting for our sins, behind closed doors, was an important part of the Catholic ritual. For this reason, family life has always intrigued me, which is why I was drawn to authors such as Cheever, Updike and John Irving.

As a boy, I loved crime novels and mysteries, and grew up reading The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators. Like Nancy Drew, all of these sleuths were clean cut kids solving crimes in the heart of an ever growing suburbia. Then, like most mature readers, I transitioned to reading mysteries and crime novels.

As a writer, I sought to combine my literary interests, drawing upon the insights and observations that I’ve experienced in life.

My career has followed a trajectory that’s led me to writing about familial strife. These psychological thrillers examine the household dynamic in microscopic detail and highlight their struggles in the modern age. In this genre, however, the dynamic is made even more combustible by the introduction of a crime. It’s why I so love writing and reading these types of books; because most families can relate to domestic conflict. It’s a struggle all of us have at one time experienced.

Then add in the pressures facing people today: social media, video games, increased mental illness, violent movies, high expectations, school shootings, economic hardships, drugs and alcohol. It’s no wonder so many families today are under siege. Unfortunately, law enforcement and the social welfare system can barely keep pace with the growing demand for services, and thus families in need of help are often left to their own devices.

It’s given authors like me plenty of fodder for our novels.

The job of a successful writer is to raise profound questions about society while at the same time entertain. To this degree, the family structure provides the foundation to being a good citizen. Every single one of us has been shaped and formed by the people that raised us. Domestic intrigue started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, progressed to Cain murdering his brother Abel, and has continued to interest readers to this day.

Hopefully, when you find your way home, you’ll be embraced by those who nurtured and loved you. It will be a comforting place where your heart resides. But for a few unfortunate souls, home life will always be fraught with peril. If only such crimes could exist in the pages of fiction, the world would be a better place. In the meantime, I’ll still be here on the home front, typing away.


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What We’re Reading

Since all writers are also readers, we at Maine Crime Writers are pausing today to share some of our most recent reading experiences. We hope you’ll chime in with comments about the books you’ve been reading.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Back around Christmas, I read a post on Facebook about a movement to reread Susan Cooper’s YA fantasy, The Dark is Rising in the winter time frame in which it takes place. That sounded like a fine idea to me, but since there are actually five books in the series, starting with what appears on the surface to be a middle-grades mystery (Over Sea, Under Stone) but turns out to be much more, I decided to reread all of them. I finished the final volume, Silver on the Tree, in early March. Another writer in this genre, Madeleine L’Engle, once said that when she had something serious and complex to convey in fiction, she wrote that book for children. This is true of Cooper’s books as well and I heartily recommend them for both kids and grown ups.

John Clark: Confession time. I got a romance paperback from Paperbackswap a couple months ago and read it in a couple hours. It was smart, snarky and fun, so I borrowed another by the same author. that was 9 books ago and I’m working my way through everything she’s written. The author is Rachel Gibson and one thing I particularly like is how she weaves characters from one book/series into others. Sure, the plots are similar, but so are ice cream sundaes. Both are delicious, guilt laden and so much fun.

Bruce Robert Coffin: As I have previously admitted, my prior profession did not allow me sufficient free time to indulge my passion for novels, at least not beyond my addiction to the horrors penned by Mr. King. As such, I hadn’t read much in the way of mystery novels. However, now that I am writing mysteries, I’m like a kid in a candy store devouring everything in sight. My most recent reads have been the works of Tess Garritsen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Kate Flora, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, James Hayman, Karen Slaughter, Paul Doiron, Gayle Lynds, Harlan Coben, Ed McBain, Roger Johns, and Brian Thiem. If you’re seeking good reading, I’d recommend any or all of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for another treat!

Maureen Milliken: As a  journalist, I’ve been involved in having to ask this question of people for decades. Want to know something? People never answer “I’m binge-reading everything by Jackie Collins, or “the latest People magazine.” But I really AM reading War & Peace. In Russian. The annotated edition. The notes are in Russian, too. Okay, you got me. I’m not. Usually I’m a voracious mystery reader, but when I’m in the midst of trying to pound out a book, like I am now, I can’t touch mystery fiction. It’s not a choice, I just can’t read it. All I can think about is the writing. The author’s. Mine. Ugh. But what I do find myself drawn to are true crime books. I can’t get enough of them. I recently tried reading every true crime book with the word “Cruel” in the title. It didn’t go well. But one I can recommend, is “The Death of Innocents: A True Story of Murder, Medicine and High Stakes Science,” by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. What I thought was a true crime book about Munchausen by proxy (latest obsession) is actually an incredibly in-depth study about how Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was misinterpreted for decades and became a medical money game. I know that sounds dull, but it’s anything but. The thread goes back to a doctor, desperate to make a name for himself. A prosecutor who wouldn’t let go of something everyone told him was bull, even though it wasn’t in his county. And on and on. First published 20 years ago, it makes you realize that some of those misconceptions are still in play. Oh yeah, and it’s a kick-butt true crime mystery. Now if I could just find an annotated Russian edition… 

Susan Vaughan: I’m reading The Janus Stone, the second book in  British author Elly Griffiths’s mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The Janus Stone is a gripping follow-up to the first book in the series, Crossing Places. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties and lives alone with her cat in a remote area near Norfolk, where Iron Age peoples once lived. In The Janus Stone, Ruth’s expertise is needed when a child’s skeleton–minus its skull–is uncovered during a house demolition. Suspicion falls on many people, and Ruth’s personal connection to Detective Harry Nelson further complicates a complex case. The author’s style is very readable and touches of humor, especially wry British humor, add color and ease the tension of the emotional story. I cannot put this one down, and I’ve already purchased book 3.

Kate Flora: I’m in the midst of editing my 9th Thea Kozak mystery, so most of my reading stays far away from the mystery genre. I’ve just finished a book about a man walking across Afghanistan after 9/11 called The Places in Between by Rory Stewart. Currently breaking my rule about reading mysteries by reading Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. Interesting use of language, descriptions, and multiple points of view., not all of which move the mystery along. Next up is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which my husband is reading and enjoying very much. (It’s a nice thing about the kindle–we can easily share books.) Unfair as it is, in March while snows ravage New England, I am doing this reading while sitting by a pool. Hate me?

hit litBarb Ross: I just finished Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall’s engaging analysis of what makes a mega-bestseller from Gone with the Wind (1936) to The Da Vinci Code (2003). I’m not sure I’m buying all his arguments but it’s a fun, thought-provoking read. Now I’ve moved on to Alexander McCall Smith’s A Time of Love and Tartan, the eleventh book in the 44 Scotland Street series.

Brenda Buchanan:  Unlike some of my peers, I not only enjoy reading crime fiction when I’m writing, I find it essential. Different strokes, I guess. On the cozier side of the bookstack, I just finished Barb Ross’ latest, Stowed Away, and loved it. I have grown so fond of Julia, Chris, Gus and the rest of the Busman’s Harbor gang.  Well done, Barb. Can’t wait for the next one.

This week I’m reading Sarah Graves’ newest, Death By Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake, which features longtime fave characters Jacobia Tiptree and Ellie White, now co-owners of a bakery that I wish was in my town. As is their habit, Jake and Ellie find themselves neck-deep in Eastport shenanigans, and Graves’ marvelous sense of humor is present on every page.

Since the holidays I have inhaled two books with newspaper reporter protagonists, vocational cousins to my own Joe Gale.  I thoroughly enjoyed both Brad Parks’ Eyes of the Innocent, featuring wise-cracking reporter Carter Ross, and Gwen Florio’s Montana, which is the first in her very fine Lola Wicks series.

I also enjoyed Deborah Crombie’s To Dwell in Darkness (if you haven’t read her Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series, you are missing something special) and bestseller-for-good reason Little Fires Everywhere by the magnificent Celeste Ng.  Between novels I’ve been absorbed in a set of essays about crime fiction before Stonewall called Murder in the Closet. Edited by Curtis Evans, it is a brilliant collection.

On tap this St. Patrick’s Day weekend?  News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I’ll Stay by Karen Day, Smoke by Catherine McKenzie and Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke.  I’m so glad the days are getting longer .  . .

Lea Wait:  My most recent read was William Shaw’s THE BIRDWATCHER. Set in a bleak part of the U.K., Sergeant William South is a loner, the result of a troubled past. As a child he found serious bird watching an escape from the realities of his day-to-day life, and, as an adult, he’s continued pursuing his quiet passion, which he shares with a similarly isolated man who lives close by. They talk weather. They talk birds. They don’t talk about their lives before they met. And then his friend is found brutally murdered, and South’s own quiet life is disrupted by not only the death, but also its investigation. Sergeant South’s own secrets begin to be revealed –as well as those of his friend.  I loved the atmosphere, the non-traditional characters …. definitely recommended.

Sandra Neily: Lately I am reading for Voice (capital V) where the sound and whole being of a character is so unique that readers know it anywhere. I’ve been reading Craig Johnson (of Netflix Longmire fame). Most recently, Junkyard Dogs, Dry Bones, and Cold Dish.

Using Flesch-Kincaid analysis for Johnson’s first novel, Cold Dish, I found Longmire’s voice already strong and clear, the craft subtle but impressive. Walt Longmire’s narration generally uses four to six characters per word (very simple), but the complex concepts and sentence constructs are at Ph.D comprehension level.

That explains a lot. Johnson gives us a complicated but plain-spoken, sensitive man whose dusty, violent days are full of his flaws as well as his glorious appreciation of a world that often betrays him but simply surprises us.

Living in an unfinished shack of a cabin he’s too depressed to supply with comforts, Longmire just sings it out, fabulous metaphor and all. “I don’t know what the exact physical dynamics are that cause a shower curtain to attach itself to your body when you turn on the water but, since my shower was surrounded on all sides by curtains, I turned on the water and became a vinyl, vacuum-sealed sheriff burrito.”

Here’s how the physical world comes to us when it’s been indelibly filtered through a character’s Voice:  “There were clouds at the mountains, and the snow pack reflected the sour-lemon sun into one of the most beautiful and perverse sunsets I had ever seen. The clouds were dappled like the hindquarters of an Appaloosa colt, and the beauty kicked just as hard.”

I am grateful to Longmire and Johnson not only for page-turning reads, but also for a Voice that stays strong in my ears even when the book is closed. And I can’t get this line out of my head: “Seeing her again was like unearthing an emotional library card with a lot of overdues.” Oh my.

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Weekend Update: March 17-18, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will a group blog on Monday and posts by Joe Cass (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Wednesday), Lea Wait (Thursday), and Jen Blood (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/Kaitlyn Dunnett: Once again I have been doing some weeding on my reference shelves. I’ve just added nearly 100 titles of biographies of 16th century people to the “books looking for a good home” list at I’m not selling these. I’m giving them to any individual or library willing to reimburse me for postage. I know some folks have had trouble with the email link. If you do, please try typing my email address into your email or leave a comment here. Some of these titles are like new. Others are ex library, were bought used, or have highlighting or underlining. This time around I’ve only specified the condition of the paperbacks that are so old that they are in “poor” shape. I’ve included them despite the wear and tear because they still have value as reference books. Ask me if you have questions. Also, as soon as someone requests a book, I take it off the list. If more than one person is interested in the same title, it’s first come, first served.

In other news, the Kensington Cozy Authors/B&N sale is still going on. Buy three titles off the endcap and get one free.


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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Everything you wanted to know about your town but were afraid to ask

Coming up Monday we have a great group post on what the Maine Crime Writers are reading. I don’t want to spoil it. And won’t.

But there’s something that probably won’t be mentioned that I’m reading, that I read every year, and maybe you’re reading, too: your town report.

There are 486 municipal reports published in Maine every year. Every municipality is required to publish one. Chances are, if you live in a community that doesn’t have an annual town meeting, you don’t see yours or care.

But maybe you should take a look — if your town is like mine, a copy is mailed to your home and there are extras around town.

Town reports are a goldmine of information. Not only do they have the town budget — which if you’re lucky enough to have a town meeting you get to vote on, and argue about, line by line — but they also have the kind of tidbits that are the stuff writers love.

My town, Belgrade, has tributes to every resident who died over the past year; a list of how many calls, and what type, the fire department made; the ever-popular delinquent tax list, which runs seven pages and adds up to more than $79,000.

It has how many dog licenses were issued (179). How many building permits, and what type — 11 single family homes, for instance, up from 6 the year before. But only 22 garages and sheds — there were 40 in 2016. Three commercial structures. Hmm. Wonder what they were?

According to the animal control report, there were 14 animal welfare issues, 72 dogs at large, 10 livestock out reports, 18 missing dogs, 21 stray cats, 13 wildlife concerns and 29 barking dogs. The animal control officer reports that dogs at large “continue to be an issue” and reminds residents to “be mindful of your neighbors when your dogs are out.”

I’m also told my town has 27,917 acres of land, 9.638 acres of water, 1,158 acres of bog or swamp. And the report does the math for me — that’s 38,713 total acres.

It not only has reports from the superintendent of schools, town manager, planning board, and other expected people who would make reports, but also the Belgrade Draggin’ Masters Snowmobile Club. Club Vice President Ernie Rice’s report is a full page — twice as long as the planning board’s.

This isn’t one of those “isn’t Maine quaint and cute” pieces. What it is is a reminder that even if Main Street is Cabot Cove cute and the bean hole supper is the town’s biggest social event (it IS in my town), we live in real places that are working, breathing, living machines made up of a lot of pieces.

As a mystery writer, the town report is a delight of little details that I can work into my books.

It’s always fun to try to guess what items on the town budget are going to cause the most “debate.”

As a resident, it gives me a look at my town, who is in it and what those tax dollars that we’ll be haggling over at Saturday’s town meeting are paying for.

Every once in a while, you hear someone say that the town meeting form of government is clunky and obsolete and should be done away with. But I gotta say, it’s kind of neat to see where every single cent is going, and listen to what people think about it.

I’m also — don’t laugh — an infrastructure nerd. There can be a lot of talk about road construction and winter pavement treatment and things like that. I eat it up.

You never know what people are going to argue over. A fellow reporter recently said to me she doesn’t go to her own town meeting because she’s had to cover too many over the years. As someone who worked for daily newspapers in northern New England for 33 years, I feel her pain. My first town meeting as a reporter was in Limington in 1983 and I believe it lasted about six hours.

But as a resident, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s not someone else’s town, it’s mine. I don’t have to figure out how to wring a story out of it,  I have a stake in it. It’s not like being a reporter at all. (Though I do take extensive notes — some habits never die.)

According to my town report, there are 2,612 registered voters in Belgrade. My guess is about 100 will show up Saturday to vote on the 50 articles that make up our $9 million-plus town budget.

But that won’t keep many of the other 2,512 from complaining about their tax bill. Too bad, they had their chance to have their say. They can’t say they didn’t know — it’s all there in the town report.


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Clearing Away the Clutter, or How I Spend My Day

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. A few years ago, a reader of this blog asked for suggestions about ways to clear the mind in order to begin writing. I made a note at the time that this would be a good subject for a blog. Then I filed the note away and forgot about it until the other day when I was wondering what to write about in my next post. I’d barely begun to jot down ideas when a related topic popped into my head. Every once in a while, a teacher will contact me to ask if a student interested in writing as a career can job shadow me. I always say no. I can’t think of anything more boring than watching someone write, assuming I could write with someone staring at me! I offer a one-on-one interview in my home office instead.

But back to the alleged subject of this blog. I’m not sure what follows is exactly what that reader had in mind, but rediscovering her question prompted me to reflect on my typical writing day and how some aspects have changed over the years. I can’t help but notice that it takes me a lot longer to get started than it once did, but I’m not certain that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m just mellowing. Anyway, here’s what my days have been like, seven days a week for the last month or so. I do take days off now and again, but I really like to work at least a little each day just to keep the momentum going.

I tend to wake up fairly early, sometime between six-thirty and eight and usually around seven. I do not set an alarm clock. If my body needs the extra sleep, it gets it . . . unless the cat has other ideas. On a typical day, I roll out of bed, disconnect from my CPAP machine, pull on a set of sweats, run a comb through my hair, and stagger downstairs. I swing into my office long enough to turn the thermostat from 60 to 70, flip to the new day’s page in my day book, insert my hearing aids, and grab the binder that contains the current printout of my WIP. I leave the binder on the sofa on my way through the living room and head for the kitchen, stopping, despite loud complaints from the cat, to pull back curtains and turn up the thermostat that controls everything but my office. Once in the kitchen, I turn on the Keurig, put away the dishes left on the drain board from the previous day, and give the cat her pills, her treat, and her breakfast. Next up is cleaning the litter box and a stop in the bathroom, followed by a return to the kitchen to make toast and coffee and collect my pills. Doing all that takes close to half an hour. Longer if I’m really groggy.

At this point, once upon a time, I headed straight for my office and got to work. Not anymore. These days I settle in on the living room sofa to check email, blogs, and Facebook while I have breakfast. Sometimes I spend a lot longer than I should on this. It isn’t uncommon for another hour to pass before I finally pick up that looseleaf and open it.

after read thru #1

Right now I’m revising two manuscripts of mystery novels, one contemporary and one historical. No, not at the same time. One, then the other, then back to the first to proofread a clean printout. I work on a paper copy using a red felt-tip pen to make changes. When I’m working on a new project and there isn’t anything to revise, I work directly on the computer in my office. I don’t reread the previous day’s work first. I plan a couple of chapters ahead at at time, so I just go on to the next one and see what develops. When I come to the end of my notes, I devote a little thinking time to what happens next and move ahead as soon as I figure out where I’m headed.

after read thru #2 (but I’m coming up on the third pass any day now)

With new writing, I try to write a scene a day. In some of my books a scene is the same thing as a chapter. In others, I write longer chapters consisting of three scenes in each. Either way, that amounts to between five and ten pages and most often ends up being around 1500 words. When I’m doing what I call a read-thru/revision, as I have been lately, my goal is to revise at least ten pages a day and I usually manage more than that. Some pages end up with arrows, asterisks, inserts, and a lot of cross outs in red ink. Others have minimal changes, usually in word choices or to eliminate repetitious or unnecessary words.

Whatever stage the WIP is at, I rarely work more than one and a half to two hours a morning. When I get to the end of the scene or scenes, I take a break. A real break. This is when I drive into town (seven miles each way) for the mail and sometimes drive farther to do the grocery shopping. If I have appointments—doctor, dentist, accountant, etc.—this is the time of day when I schedule them. And I have lunch.

In the afternoon, when I work by hand in the morning, I put the changes I’ve made into the appropriate .doc file. This needs to be done while I can still read my own handwriting. I make more corrections, additions, and changes as I go along, so this amounts to an extra revision of the same material. If I finish early, or if I have been writing new material in the morning, the first part of the afternoon might instead be devoted to promotion, research, answering email, and so on.

I break in mid-afternoon to exercise. My regular routine includes time on a stationary bike and assorted stretches, followed by the apple a day that keeps the doctor away and one piece of dark chocolate. What? I need a reason for the chocolate? Ok. It has antioxidants. Also, chocolate is a vegetable. Honest.

I read for pleasure while I’m peddling and while munching the apple. Sometimes I keep reading. Other days I go back to work to finish putting in changes or writing a blog or researching some detail I need for the next writing session. By four in the afternoon, I’m pretty much brain dead. This is good timing, as it’s also time to start supper. My husband and I both come from families who served the evening meal as soon as everyone was home from school and work, so five o’clock is the normal hour to eat at our house. Usually we have the local news on in the background.

Occasionally, I get a second wind, especially if I’m really into the story I’m creating, but nine times out of ten I just veg out in the evenings. I read other people’s books. I do jigsaw puzzles. And I watch (or re-watch) movies on cable, DVD, or On Demand. Nothing heavy. There’s enough of that in real life.

And so to bed, as the old novels used to say. That’s my typical day. It’s not very exciting, but by the end of the year I will have written at least two and probably three new novels . . . and a minimum of twenty-four of these blogs.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. 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 (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

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Could Be Worse!

Jessie: Feeling a bit of cabin fever

I don’t know about all of you but I’m beginning to feel a bit done with the snow. Just last week most of my backyard was clear of the white stuff. Since then we’ve picked up an additional 24 inches.

Mostly I’m just grateful that we have a new furnace, that I work from home  and that my yarn stash is big enough to weather the whole rest of the winter without the need for a trip to the yarn store. Still, even with those sorts of Pollyanna thoughts, I confess the weather is getting me a little down.

When it gets to be this late in the winter and the snow is still coming down there’s only one thing left to do. Somehow there’s just something so satisfying about reading books and watching shows set in places even colder than northern New England. It does the heart good to know some places have even less light and even deeper snow drifts than we do in my village. I find it even more engaging if I watch these foreign shows while working out on my treadmill.  I love working up a sweat while focusing on subtitles.

It makes me feel like there’s even more of a temperature discrepancy than there really is.

These are the things that have gotten me through this winter:

Trapped-This police drama is set in small-town Iceland during a terrible storm.  Arson,  a mangled corpse and an avalanche keep the plot moving despite the weather.

Bordertown-This Finnish police procedural is set on the Russian border and follows the adventures of a quirky detective who has relocated from the big city to his wife’s small hometown.

Fortitude-There’s nothing like background shots of the Arctic to make you feel grateful for the length of your own winter. With a population of just over 700 people the police force in this isolated town are poorly equipped to solve a murder clumsily disguised as a polar bear attack.

Cardinal-This starkly shot police drama features an appealing protagonist and unrelenting swaths of the white stuff.

Readers, how do you get through the winter when the forecast is unrelenting? 

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On Watching My Characters Take The Stage

Last week Barbara Ross posted some wonderful photos from the Portland Stage Company event on March 5th, where actors performed staged readings of work by Lea Wait, Dick Cass, Chris Holm, Barb and me.

As Barb said, it was a joy to have our work read by such skilled actors and to take the stage together for the post-performance audience discussion led by the terrific Bess Welden. Unfortunately, Lea was unable to be there in person. Her scene from Twisted Threads was the final piece of the night, and the audience ate it up.

Narrator Bess Welden introduces the scene from Cover Story.

This is the second year I’ve had the opportunity to participate in this Portland Stage collaboration, and both times I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of the characters I write. You might wonder how that could be. After all, I birthed Joe Gale and all my other literary babies. How could watching a bunch of actors read the words I put in my characters’ mouths give me greater insight into their hearts and minds? Because seeing other people interpret my work pries it from my strong fingers, and gives my imaginary friends an existence independent of me.

Like a mother watching her six-year-old get on the school bus, it’s a good thing.

The challenge inherent in the exercise is to identify a scene capable of standing alone, a ten-minute excerpt with a coherent beginning, middle and end, a narrative arc and an emotional one, too.

My scene was from Cover Story, the second book in my Joe Gale series, in which Joe goes to Machias in the dead of winter to cover a high-profile murder trial.

Actor Rob Cameron made a fabulous Joe Gale.

Rob Cameron took on the role of shaggy-haired Joe, who submits himself to a haircut at the barbershop operated by ex-Marine Claude LeClair. Three lines in, I nearly jumped out of my seat.

I’ve long held an image in my mind of my main character, not just his build and face, but his attitude as well. In Rob Cameron’s gestures and tone of voice, Joe Gale came alive—a bulldog reporter with a kind heart, protected by the sarcastic sense of humor that is a journalist’s armor.

Claude LeClair, the mad barber of Machias, was read by Andrew Harris.

As for mad barber Claude LeClair, actor Andrew Harris hit all the marks in his portrayal of the angry, opinionated father-in-law of the man on trial for murdering a DHHS caseworker.

A side benefit of re-tooling a scene from a book to be read on stage is the chance to add and subtract from the written page in order to make a performance fly. Last year the adapting process was a bit intimidating. This year it felt like freedom.

Starting from the assumption that many in the audience hadn’t read Cover Story, I transformed a low-key character from the book’s barbershop scene —Claude’s brother-in-law Lenny, a man of few words—into his sharp-tongued sister-in-law, Mary Lou.

Moira Driscoll took a revamped character and ran with the part.

Actor Moira Driscoll got what I was going for when I gave Lenny a literary sex change and attitude adjustment.

In fact, Moira did such a good job reading her part as Claude’s needling antagonist I wish I could go back in time and put Mary Lou in the book.

I hope the partnership between Portland Stage Company and Maine’s crime writers continues for a long time to come.

Huge props go to Director Eileen Phelan, who chooses the scenes, casts the parts and works with the writers and the actors to achieve collaborative success.

Eileen Phelan, the marvelous director of the staged readings, with yours truly after the show.

Creative and community-minded, she is the engine behind this effort. Thank you, Eileen, for your support and inspiration.


Readers of this blog should take note that every winter season, PSC stages a mystery, and these staged readings featuring the work of Maine crime writers grew out of that annual tradition. This year the crime-themed play is Red Herring, which runs through March 25.

Here’s the storyline: Maggie’s a tough, Boston cop, trying to get her finger on the one man who gave her the slip: a sly crime boss who worked his way into her heart. As she deals with murder, mystery, and intrigue in Boston Harbor, she also has to deal with Frank, an FBI gumshoe with a proposal more dangerous than commie spies, murderous mobs, and McCarthyism combined: marriage.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? There are twelve days left in its run. Here’s the link for tickets:

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.

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