What Makes A Book “Good”??

One of the things I miss most in pandemic-time is my weekly visit to the local (Yarmouth) library. It’s a pilgrimage to a venerable 1908 brick building in the center of town where I climb stairs to a hushed second floor. The new fiction books display always captures my attention first. There I circle the wooden table, pick up/ examine/replace a dozen or so books—then carry a select few to my favorite overstuffed chair in the corner.

The memory brings me to the theme of today’s piece. By what criteria do I find the “select few”?  More broadly, what makes a book good or even great?

Exceptional books share key elements. I’ll focus on just two:

        • A Memorable Opening: The first lines of a terrific story create intrigue and grab your attention. George Orwell’s 1984 is one example: “It was a bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  Reading that you ask “what clocks” and why thirteen rather than the usual twelve chimes?  You’re hooked.

The opening of Walter Mosley’s Devil In A Blue Dress is my all-time favorite: “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.”  With just a dozen words Mosley nails the speaker, Easy Rollins, an African-American hard-boiled detective and WWII veteran living in L.A. post WWII.

Louise Penny crafted another terrific opening for Still Life: “Chief inspector Armand Gamache … knelt down; his knees cracking like the report of a hunter’s rifle, his large expressive hands hover over the tiny circle of blood marring her fluffy cardigan, as though like a magician he could remove the wound and restore the woman. … The scent of mothballs, his grandmother’s perfume, met him halfway. Jane’s gentle and kindly eyes stared as though surprised to see him.

He was surprised to see her. That was his little secret … that in his mid-fifties, at the height of a long and now apparently stalled career, violent death still surprised him.”

            With these fifty-odd words we have Gamache—an “unlikely chief inspector” still surprised by brutal death, reminded of his grandmother’s perfume, whose hands pause over the shot wound as if he could remove it. Learning that his long career is “apparently stalled”, readers are sympathetic. 

I’ll borrow the limelight of esteemed company and talk about my own writing. I rather like the opening line of the first book in my Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi series, Cold Blood, Hot Sea:

            “My father once said, ‘When you step aboard a ship, you leave solid behind for that vast unseen’”. Here I intend readers to anticipate the extraordinary experience of journeying out to sea aboard a three hundred foot oceanographic research vessel and at the same time wonder who is speaking and who is her father?

            • Remarkable characters: Returning to Gamache, Penny’s Canadian Three Pines series have been called “character-driven” mysteries that deeply explore relationships. The author describes Gamache this way: “He always held unfashionable beliefs … that light would banish the shadows, kindness was more powerful than cruelty, that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places, and that evil had its limits”.In many of the books from Still Life onwards Gamache tells new detectives joining his team four sayings that can lead to wisdom: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help”.

            Through that remarkably short list we the essence of Gamache: a detective who regularly witnesses evil but believes in goodness, and who is wise, humble, unafraid to ask for support when he needs it. 

            Picking only one outstanding female character was a challenge, of course, but I finally settled on Harper Lee’s Scout Finch. Exceptionally bright (reading before she begins school), confident, and thoughtful (she worries about the goodness and evil of mankind), Scout is the narrator and protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird.

A few Scout Finch quotes say everything about her:

            • “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

• “I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.”

         • “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

            Readers, relish words on the page until we can actually toss them back and forth once more.

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The Very Mysterious Reason I Moved to Maine

jenny-milchman-square-webHi Maine Crime readers! My name is Jenny Milchman and I write suspense novels in which women face overwhelming odds…and triumph. My first four books take place in the fictional Adirondack town of Wedeskyull. They are standalones in one sense, except that you could think of the setting as the series “character”. You might encounter the woman who helps the heroine of one book as a store clerk in another.

In The Second Mother, which just came out, I moved to Maine.

The heroine, Julie Weathers, is the niece of the police chief from my debut novel.

When I wrote my debut, I didn’t even know the police chief had a niece! Such are the pleasures of writing this kind of series.

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But back to Maine.

Physically moving to Maine has been a long held dream of mine—I think it is for many people from “away”. Maine lives in my mind and my soul because I traveled there for several childhood summers, and one of the places where we spent time produced the seed for The Second Mother.

The summer I graduated college, a teacher was needed on Monhegan Island.

In some ways, I was more settled that summer than I’d ever been in my life, having just gotten engaged. But in other ways, I was deeply at sixes and sevens.

I’d wanted to be a writer all my life, but with college graduation looming, my parents sat me down and gently questioned my plan of being a poet and living in the woods in a log cabin. Of my own making.

They may’ve gotten a little less gentle when they had to point out that I’d never actually wielded a hammer.

So I came up with a Plan B and applied to graduate school in psychology.

One school accepted me, and I was set to start in September when my fiancé and I traveled to a house my parents had rented in Cushing. It was there that we saw the Monhegan post about the teacher, I think at the Thomaston Café, which made the best fish cakes I’d ever eaten.

“We could do that,” I remarked tentatively. My fiancé didn’t have any firm plans for the fall at all. “I’ve taught for my major and I love kids. And wouldn’t it be cool to live on an island?”

(Like moving to Maine from away, I think a lot of people have this fantasy too).

My fiancé had never been to Monhegan, though I’d spent a month or two there over the course of several childhood summers. So we planned a day trip.

We hiked the cliffs and roamed the woods for hours. The one-room schoolhouse set across from a bowl of land that flooded for ice-skating in winter—at least according to Marjorie of Monhegan by Sidney Baldwin—and it charmed us both. Maybe we could really do this!

This would be a better story if a) we’d actually done it and b) it’d gone in some super dramatic way or even if c) I could recall why we did not apply to be teachers on the island in the end.

But if any of those were true then I wouldn’t have written The Second Mother.

It’s the story of Julie Weathers, a woman who has suffered a monstrous loss and needs a fresh start. Who among us doesn’t need that at some point? She applies to be a—you can probably guess this part—teacher in a one-room schoolhouse on fictional Mercy Island, a place that relies less on tourism than Monhegan, and more on a still robust—if changing—lobster industry.

Things don’t go as Julie hopes. She grows deeply connected to one particular student, a troubled eleven year old boy named Peter. He’s part of a legacy, an island family, whose reach and practices Julie could never have fathomed. It will take a total outsider—somebody from away—to try and topple this entrenched dynasty so she can save Peter.

Julie also finds love on the island, and meets a new best friend. Mercy is a place that I hope will charm readers as much as Monhegan did me—even as it frightens them too.

Thank you for letting me share this journey with you. I am so glad I moved to Maine.

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Recommendations

            How often do you recommend a book, mystery or otherwise, to a friend?  How often are you asked to make a recommendation?  Because people know I write mysteries, I’m asked from time to time to recommend a good one.  And because friends know I like to learn about new writers, I’m often on the receiving end of advice. 

            The latter was the case recently when I got two recommendations.  The first came from a high school classmate with whom I’ve have been in contact only by email.  He got in touch with me out of the blue after reading my mysteries, which he had learned about through a questionnaire I had submitted for a high school reunion that I didn’t attend.  He liked my books and asked if I had read any mysteries by Kathleen George.  As it happens, she attended the same high school, though two years ahead of me.  I was surprised I hadn’t read her or even heard of her since we came from the same town in western Pennsylvania and attended the same university, where she ultimately did a Ph.D. and is now a full professor.  In the event, my friend was right that she does great work.  I immediately got the first two of her books (Taken, 2002; Fallen, 2004) and enjoyed them thoroughly, perhaps especially because they’re set in Pittsburgh, familiar territory, although quite different from my own mysteries.  When my local bookstore reopens I’ll be ordering more of hers. 

            So that was a great recommendation.  The second recent instance was different.  A good friend who has written academic books and articles about mysteries and has read mine and taught several in one of his courses recommended a writer also unknown to me.  (I’m not going to identify her here.)  He recommended two of her many mysteries because both concerned thefts and murders at historic house museums, a natural fit with my own writing.  I got halfway through the first, fighting my mounting frustration as I reluctantly turned yet another page.  Terrible, I said:  too many characters to keep straight, too little development of major characters, preposterous coincidences, cliché piled on cliché.  I reluctantly reported my reaction to my friend, who agreed that the book did have some problems (what an understatement!) but that I should try the second one because he considered it much better.  I read it with great pleasure, wondering how the writer of the first one could have improved so much.  Then I got to the final twenty or so pages when two murders were “solved” by authorial fiat, without earlier clues and with shocking speed.  I thought of Twain’s remark that if you can’t find a good way to end a story you can always throw someone down a well.

            When I reported my view of the second one, my friend apologized for recommending the writer.  She has published extensively, won multiple national awards, and makes a very good living from her work, all of which I gladly stipulated.  But I assured my friend that he need not apologize for the recommendations because I thought I learned some things from reading what I saw as flawed books:  the nature and timing of planted clues, the need to surprise the reader without making her feel stupid or misled, the reasonableness of the wrap-up, etc.

            But as to recommendations, given or received, what do I, as it were, recommend? 

            *First and most important when making a recommendation, that old advice:  know your audience.  Make sure you understand what the person asking for a recommendation really wants and what he likes and dislikes.  I’m always a bit reluctant to make an out-and-out recommendation and often hedge by probing for details about the requester’s interests:  prefer cozies to police procedurals?  like action more or less than character?  is setting important?  And so on.  When I get more clarity about those matters I generally go ahead and make a recommendation, but always with caveats and conditions.

            *Second, don’t oversell.  When someone tells me “this book will change your life,” I generally decide I like my life as it is.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that changed my life.   

            *Third, be humble.  Qualify your recommendation even if you don’t think it needs to be qualified.  I usually say, “I liked this when I read it, but I might feel differently today, and you may not have the same response I did.  Give it a try and see what you think.”  And if you don’t like something recommended to you, employ humility again. Say “I probably was in the wrong mood when I read it” or “I can see why you liked it, but I had some trouble getting traction; I’ll give it a try again later.”

            *Finally, be grateful.  I’m so pleased my old classmate recommended Kathleen George’s mysteries.  I should have known them, and now I do—what a gift!

            How do you make and receive recommendations? 

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Election Season Crazies

If you’re hoping for an escape from the campaigns, this isn’t it. But my column isn’t about 2020, but a look at past—distant past—election seasons and nasty campaigns with false accusations and sensational claims. I posted this four years ago, and it bears repeating. Never fear. This won’t be an historical treatise, thick with party platforms and wide-ranging political details. We’re going way back in U.S. history, to take a look at nineteenth-century mudslinging.

Forbes.com claims 1800 gave us the first, pitting President John Adams against Vice-President Thomas Jefferson. As in many contemporary elections, a lot of the insults were left to surrogates. An Adams supporter, the president of Yale University publicly said that if Jefferson were to become the president, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.” And a partisan Connecticut newspaper warned that electing Jefferson would create a nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.” Does that sound familiar?

Jefferson’s partisans fought back by hiring a writer to sling insults and make wild claims. Their shill was James Callender, an influential journalist of the time who had been imprisoned by the Adams administration for violating the Sedition Act (a 1798 bill criminalizing making false statements critical of the federal government). Callender wrote that Adams was warmongering, a “repulsive pedant,” and a “gross hypocrite” who “possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.” Jefferson won. What would his opponents think if they could see his likeness on Mount Rushmore?

After such a nasty election, Congress passed the Twelfth Amendment, which no longer permitted the nominee with the second-highest number of votes to be elected vice president.

Almost thirty years later came the next dirty campaign, between President John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. J.Q. Adams must have learned a bit about harsh campaigning from his father. Adams had begun his career in diplomacy, eventually becoming America’s ambassador to Russia. The Jackson side spread the rumor that Adams had sold his wife’s maid to the czar for sexual services. Adams, they claimed, owed his success in Russia to his pimping prowess. He was further accused of having a pool table in the White House paid for with government money.

As the mud flew back and forth, Adams attacked Jackson’s military successes and campaigns. When this fell somewhat flat, Jackson’s marriage became another weapon. [Andrew Jackson] Jackson’s wife Rachel was a divorcee, having married him after escaping an abusive marriage. Jackson was accused of adultery and living in sin, no small accusation in 1828. In fact, they married when Rachel’s husband declared he’d divorce her, but it wasn’t until two years later he sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Andrew and Rachel then married a second time.

A pamphlet called Rachel Jackson a “convicted adulteress” and said she was prone to “open and notorious lewdness.” Andrew Jackson won the election, but sadly, the mud-slinging campaign took its toll on his wife. Shortly after her husband’s election, she died of a heart attack.  Jackson was devastated and blamed her death on the attacks by the Adams camp. He refused to make the traditional visit to the outgoing president.

The final contest I’ll address features U.S. Senator James Gillespie Blaine of Maine against Governor Grover Cleveland of New York. Mainers know Blaine’s distinguished career—journalist and the owner of the Kennebec Journal, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, twice U. S. Secretary of State, and U.S. Representative, serving as the twenty-seventh Speaker of the House.

Just as an aside, I’ll add that in 1862 Blaine purchased a large Augusta home as a present for his wife. Given to the state by their daughter after World War I, the house was established as the official residence of the governor of Maine.

Blaine’s was such a distinguished career that many may not know about the scandals bandied about in the Blaine/Cleveland campaign. Rather than on party platforms, the campaign focused on the candidates’ morality and personalities. Cleveland’s supporters raised an old scandal against Blaine, of shady dealings with the Union Pacific Railroad. Letters surfaced that confirmed he knew he was involved in corrupt business. On one of the most damaging, he had written, “Burn this letter,” giving his opponents the rallying cry “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine. ‘Burn this letter!’” Blaine described these attacks as “stale slander,” but the letters made his denials implausible.

To turn the tables, Blaine’s backers found reports that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child. He fully supported the child, although another man, his law partner, was also involved with the woman. The rallying cry this time was “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa?” After Cleveland was elected, they added, “Gone to the White House. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Harsh words, wild accusations, outright lies, and nastiness, yes, in all three of those elections, and in others I didn’t address. Nineteenth-century attacks and ugly cartoons were printed in newspapers and pamphlets and circulated daily or weekly to the reading public.

This year’s accusations and nastiness are shared 24/7 in a constant barrage of print, social media, misinformation trolling, and television coverage. Who can say which is worse or more damaging? Partisan fights are harsher than ever and have divided us as citizens more than ever. In the past, the nation has recovered from election and partisan nastiness and moved ahead.

Let us hope we will achieve that this time as well.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DARK RULES, Kindle version, is free today through 10/21 on Amazon, here: http://getBook.at/DarkRules.

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Weekend Update: October 17-18, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Susan Vaughan (Monday), William Andrews (Tuesday), Charlene D’Avanzo (Thursday), and Darcy Scott (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: My A Who’s Who of Tudor Women is finally available as an ebook, with over 2300 mini-biographies of women who lived between 1485 and 1603. Here’s a link to buy at the bargain price of only $7.99.  https://books2read.com/u/mBGDWR

From Vaughn C. Hardacker: The Jesup Library will be conducting having a virtual author event: https://www.jesuplibrary.org/events/arsenault

ONLINE–Author Talk with Kerri Arsenault “Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains”

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Body Contest deadline extended – there’s still time to get out there with your camera:

It’s Maine Crime Writers “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest – late summer/early fall edition. How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to: WritingAboutCrime@gmail.com with “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will run through the end of October.

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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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Can You Tell a Book by Its Cover?

Kate Flora: As I am on the cusp of publication for my tenth Thea Kozak mystery, Death9781644570395 Comes Knocking, I’ve been reflecting on the challenge of author vs. publisher in the matter of what cover goes on my books. A quarter of a century ago, when my first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, came out, I didn’t know what the cover would look like until the book arrived on my doorstep. I liked the cover but my publisher decided it looked too much like a true crime, and redesigned the cover for the paperback. The paperback cover was/is so awful, I’ve never been able to look at it.

Things got for better with the next few books, even though I often despaired because the covers didn’t do much to reflect the contents of the books. Death at the Wheel does reflect the fact that the book involves those weekend warriors trips to the race track, but the prominently featured woman doesn’t look much like Thea. When And Educated Death arrived, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but the double image effect was popular in school pictures then, and the book takes place at a private school.

Scan 6

Then along came Death in Paradise. Definitely has a dark-haired woman on the cover, but the story takes place at a conference on single-sex education in Hawaii, and Thea’s challenge throughout the book is to get a moment to get outside in her bathing suit. At least it happens on the cover, right?

On the other hand, my stand-alone suspense novel, written as Katharine Clark, is an all-time favorite, capturing that moment when the boy riding home from school on his bike is snatched and disappears.

By the time my publisher was giving me some input, the book was Liberty or Death. Since the plot involves the day Thea and Andre are to get married, and he doesn’t appear, I wanted a wedding cake on the cover without the groom on top. What I got was a blurry photo of a man and a woman. I got luckier with a subsequent publisher for the paperback.

I also got lucky with the cover for my co-written true crime, Finding Amy. The publisher used an actual police photo of the night of the search for Amy’s body that I had photoshopped. It captures some of the drama of that night.

On the other hand, the original design for the cover of my first Joe Burgess police procedural, Playing God, was dreadful. I didn’t love what I got after pushback, but at least it showed the book was about police. Again, I got lucky with the cover of the second Burgess, The Angel of Knowlton Park. For that, the publisher was willing to use a photo my friend Joe Loughlin had taken. It may be my all-time favorite cover.

AngelOfKnowltonPark_cover

Another downer, and some pushback, on the original cover for the next Burgess, Redemption. In the end, the color schedule reflected Reggie the Can Man’s military service and suggested a man on the street, so I think it worked. And I am very happy that my publisher got a great cover designer for And Grant You Peace.

And God Grant

As I have ventured into indy publishing, I’ve been able to work more closely with my publishers to design covers that I think suit the stories. It doesn’t always work. I don’t love the cover for the paperback of Stalking Death or Death Warmed Over but I am very happy with the cover for my crime story collection, Careful What You Wish For, and it was fun to work with a designer to match the cover of my mother’s first mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder, with the cover of the unpublished book she left behind when she died, The Corpse in the Compost.

Sometimes book covers are just plain fun, so different that browsers just have to pick them up to see what they’re about. That is very true of the two anthologies from Three Rooms Press I have stories in, The Obama Inheritance and The Faking of the President.

Readers, I’m curious. What makes you pick up a book and look more closely?

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If At First You Don’t Succeed . . .

Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about the circuitous route my new book took to publication. I’m also giving away a print copy to one lucky person who comments on this blog. See the end of the post for details.

Most of my story ideas have a long and twisted history, and the new single title historical, The Finder of Lost Things, is no exception. What came to fruition just over a week ago began as the germ of an idea back on May 18, 2012. I know the exact date, because I was at that year’s Maine Romance Writers’ retreat as a presenter on a panel with my agent, Meg Ruley. It was Meg who suggested that I might try writing what she called a “forensic sixteenth-century standalone.”

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. I’m still not certain, but what popped into my head was as close as I’ve been able to come. In Elizabethan times, if you thought someone was stealing from you, you’d be more likely to consult the village wise woman than the local constable. Also called cunning women, blessing witches, and finders of lost things, they were often herbalists, and sometimes con artists, but they were almost always shrewd judges of character, good at figuring out where an absentminded neighbor might have left her sewing and which serving maid was most likely to have run off with her master’s silver. I had an idea when and where I would set it: in the 1580s in Bermondsey, across the Thames from London, where a contemporary artist just happened to have painted this scene.

By mid-October I had written ninety-eight pages of The Blessing Witch, told from the first person viewpoint of the granddaughter of one of those cunning women. Since I had been writing non-mystery historical novels as Kate Emerson, we showed the opening pages to the editor I’d been working with. Her feedback was that the entire novel needed to be bigger in scope and that writing in third person pov would help with that.

Stymied, I temporarily abandoned the project. I had other things I wanted to write, including what turned into my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, but I didn’t forget The Blessing Witch. Since I couldn’t figure out how to make it work as a novel, and since I’m a champion recycler, I pulled two short stories about Old Mother Malyn and her granddaughter Joan—”The Cunning Woman” and “The Blessing Witch”—out of the proposal for the novel. Both were published. “The Blessing Witch” went on to become a finalist for the Agatha Award.

popular concept of a witch

That still left lots of unused material. A few years later. when it came time to submit a proposal for the third book in the Mistress Jaffrey series, I decided to incorporate some of it into a story about the death in prison of one my of series protagonist’s acquaintances, a death for which she felt partially responsible. I sent in the proposal and had written about 16,000 words when my publisher informed me that they’d rather have the book I’d intended as book four, one I’d described in a throwaway paragraph at the end of the proposal for what I’d now titled Murder in Colchester Gaol. I’m pretty agreeable when someone’s offering me an advance. Once again, I put the idea aside and got to work on Murder in a Cornish Alehouse.

In September 2016, I began “recycling” again. I added material from The Blessing Witch (now switched to third person) to what I’d started with for Colchester Gaol and ended up with a respectable 130 pages, or about 1/3 of a novel. In between working on the “Deadly Edits” series I’d started writing as Kaitlyn Dunnett, I completed a very rough draft of 306 pages (80,399 words) by mid-February 2017. I don’t know why I went ahead and wrote the whole book instead of just resubmitting the proposal, but sometimes I just have to do it that way. Unfortunately, when my agent submitted the revised proposal, the publisher still wasn’t enthusiastic. The Mistress Jaffrey series ended at three books. I was okay with that. The third one ends at a good place for all the major characters.

By the spring of 2017, I had a new game plan: change the novel back into a single title. After all, that’s what it had been to begin with. Instead of using Rosamond Jaffrey as the protagonist, or even the blessing witch’s granddaughter, my idea was to create an entirely new set of characters and find a different motivation for my protagonist to get involved in solving the crime, but keep the settings in Colchester gaol and an Essex manor house, the circumstances of the murder itself, and the details on prisons, murder, witchcraft, exorcisms, and religious intolerance in Tudor England pretty much the same.

When I finished revising my chapter outline (the one I make after I write the chapters) and went through the pages I’d written with Rosamond, making changes with a heavy hand, I still had lots of reuseable material: 69,715 words in 266 pages.

Obviously, there was a lot of work left to be done, but by now this had become a “book of the heart” and a “labor of love”—in other words, I couldn’t not write it. I moved my new sleuth’s home from Bermondsey to an area north of London, shifted the year to about a decade later, and changed the victim to the youngest of my protagonist’s three sisters. By the spring of 2018, I had written and polished a 316 page novel of  85,443 words. The new title was The Finder of Lost Things.

The submission process is always a crap shoot. Acquiring editors didn’t love my new baby as much as I did, although at least one passed on it “regretfully.” It took over a year for the manuscript to find a home, but when it did, it was the right one. Level Best Books bought The Finder of Lost Things for their Historia imprint and has now launched it into the world in trade paperback and e-book formats.

GIVEAWAY DIRECTIONS: For a chance be entered in a drawing to win a copy of the trade paperback edition of The Finder of Lost Things, simply leave a comment about this post below, or on Facebook, and Shadow will pick a winner on Tuesday, October 20. If you would like to buy a copy, here the links for Amazon and B&N. You can also ask your local independent bookstore or your local library (or both!) to order a copy. As of today, I don’t yet have my author copies, so I’m not sure how long it will take for the winner to receive his or her copy, but it will be sent as soon as possible.

With the October 6, 2020 publication of The Finder of Lost Things, 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 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

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Introducing Claire Ackroyd

Screen Shot 2020-10-09 at 12.32.27 PMFriends, today it our pleasure to introduce you to a new Maine writer who has recently debuted her first crime novel. We hope you enjoy meeting her and going on a journey to a less-visited part of our state.

 

 

 

 

Claire Ackroyd: I am new here, so Hello to all blog readers.cover photo

I am also new to book publishing of any kind, but to my enormous satisfaction have written a book that is already finding readers – and I am unashamedly looking for more.

So I have written a mystery set in the remote woods that extend up the border with Canada from Jackman.  I have worked up there as an organic certification inspector, and the place fascinates me.  So few people who think they know Maine know that those woods produce more maple syrup, as a block,  than anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, the producers are mostly francophone Quebecois and don’t even live in Maine.  It seemed like a great place for a murder.  Between the lack of access, the language barrier, the demographics, economics, ecology and politics of the place, there had to be a story.

Too many people think that Maine begins and ends with lobsters and a rocky shoreline. Those who know the more remote woods, rivers and lakes mostly don’t know that a multi-million dollar industry is hidden along the border. I got tired of explaining this to people who see fishing and hunting as the only activities that the woods support, and I tired also of justifying the organic certification of syrup to people who scoffed at the idea that it has any meaning in maple syrup production.

I came to Maine over 40 years ago and still find the existence of deep, un-inhabited woods a marvel.  I grew up in southern England, and only knew wilderness from books.  To find myself working where roads are barely passable in winter, communication beyond the camps a challenge, and law enforcement a strangely patched together mix of game wardens and state troopers,  delighted me years ago and still does.

So I offer my story, hoping to find readers, fellow writers and lovers of the Maine woods. I had no wish to write a real mystery, with convoluted plot twists and hidden clues, but hoped to present an authentic portrayal of an interesting way of life that few people ever encounter.

I live in Orono –  have done since 1976 (i think – memory dims!) – having come here for graduate school on a circuitous route from my home in England. My background and education are all Horticulture – and I had a business in Orono called The Growing Concern, a garden center and landscape company combined. When business owning wasn’t really fun anymore I did all kinds of odd jobs until a really weird confluence of circumstances landed me a job in Guyana as a mangrove restoration consultant – and later as a teacher in the remote interior of the country, which was just about my dream job.

Anyway – eventually I had to find reliable work in Maine, so I became an inspector for Organic Certification for MOFGA and have been doing that steadily for somewhere around 30 years – making me the – or one of the – veteran independent inspectors in Maine. It is a great job – gets me all over the state and into the homes and farms of all kinds of fascinating people- including the almost unknown maple syrup producers up along the border north of Jackman. Most of these people are francophone Canadians, and with a reasonable ability to speak French I have been able to conduct inspections with producers who speak no English. This brings me to my book. I fantasized about writing a murder mystery set in those remote woods, in which I could introduce readers to the place, people and processes involved in maple syrup production and its organic certification. So I have done that. I have a book out (with Maine Author’s Publishing) which is doing quite well. Picky readers are loving it and I am its proud creator

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New Season. Same Pandemic. But New Get-Out-There Strategies

https://www.theoutbound.com/maine/snowshoeing/snowshoe-the-northern-loop-trail-at-bradbury-mountain

Sandra Neily here: Here comes a new season so I’ve got two new goals to get more use out of things I’ve taken for granted.

Goal One: Get out on the first snow, even if it’s only a few inches, and then get more use out of my snowshoes and skis than ever before.

https://q1065.fm/maines-8-most-popular-state-parks-in-the-winter/

Goal Two: Change up my blog posts so they get a better workout too. Find a way to reuse them, re-tweak them, and repurpose them to reach more people interested in their content.

First: The snow. On only a few inches of lawn, field, or golf course, we can snowshoe. (Long before terrain gets skiable.) Today I’ll share some visual encouragement and some links to find snowshoe places. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. “Just widen your stride a bit, kind of like you’re wearing diapers,” I say. Don’t laugh. That’s all it takes.

https://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/8-blue-blazed-snowshoe-hikes-off-the-appalachian-trail

Now for my indoor goal. I’m going to write shorter blog posts and then work to get more use out of them. Find more ways to rework or tweak them. Find more publishing and sharing pathways.

A few days ago I treated myself to a Jane Friedman webinar, “Blogging Strategies That Work in 2020.” It was worth every cent of the $25.  She has an amazing free newsletter and her classes are very affordable. Jane’s an expert on the business of writing.

So, for anyone who’s thinking about blogging or for my fellow Maine Crime Writers authors, here ya go: some of Jane Friedman’s blogging advice.

***********

Less than 30% of text gets read. Think I should repeat that. Less than 30% of text gets read.

So……”Online readers are task-oriented. Give them a “call to action” of some kind. (A sign-up or other interactive task.) One-sentence paragraphs are great.

Use headlines: Be literal, specific, clear. Avoid click-bait, cute headlines. Clearly advertise what you plan to say. Use language recognized by your audience. (Ask: what will resonate?) Use numbers and lists (for example: 10 ways to … whatever).

Blogging is good for building greater visibility in a community, building relationships or network; engaging readers & fans and long-term marketing of your books, products and services.

Blogging is good for “Lead Generation.” Lead generation has two important elements:  1. You “get” or understand your reader or target (you’re probably one of them). 2. You can present yourself to that target in a memorable way (persona / voice)

I added this picture because my daughter and dog are always telling me to get off the keyboard and get out there and this is literally out my back door, so,…..no excuses.

Blogging is often preferred by writers. It’s writing! Fun! (Right?)  It can be more easily repurposed or reused for later publication.

For fiction authors:  Use a literary citizenship approach to blogging content: write a lot about other books or authors in your genre. Do roundups of books that your readers would enjoy (Top 10 Thrillers That Take Place in Prague). Write posts that take advantage of any expertise that informs your work (e.g., forensic scientist writes about interesting cases and research).

Blog content vs Email Content. Blogs: more discoverable, likely to be shared, for anyone, could attract new readership, more timeless/evergreen. Email content: for existing fans (more personal), for the invested, not typically search friendly, timely. There is crossover—and some duplication is OK! “

If you only have time for only one thing? Jane says choose the email newsletter.

*****

https://www.untamedmainer.com/maines-nordic-ski-areas-snowshoe-areas/

ps: Here’s a good article on snowshoeing with kids or people with less stamina for snow or cold. My tips: plan a short loop so you will know you’re always near the indoors or the car, even if your crew does not. Bring thermoses of cocoa, and easy to eat snacks, and something to sit on. (Heavy duty garbage bags are light. With holes made for head and arms, they’re great for extra warmth.) Handle any snow outing like a surprise scavenger hunt. Take pictures of tracks and look them up later. Bring a baggie and collect cool stuff: pine cone debris from squirrels, shelf fungus off trees, bits of fluff from tall plant stalks. Great for indoor art projects!

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest.. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info here.

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The Times They Are A-Changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again (Bob Dylan)

This blog is not about the upcoming election, or Daylight Savings Time, or Columbus Day now designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. No more Pinta, Nina, and Santa Maria, and rightly so. Disaster of a different kind has struck.

No, nobody’s sick. The house hasn’t burned down. I still have most of my teeth, though I lost a crown eating Sugar Babies. They look so innocent and delicious, but they are chewy little devils, so fair warning. Fortunately, I did not swallow the tooth with the candy, and it sits on my desk in a baggie rebuking me as I type. I have explained we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it will have to wait to be reinserted.

I know in the wake of Hideous Current Events, this is a mere trifle, but…my yard guy is talking about leaving town and moving out west. Mike has been with us fourteen years through four houses. When we left Farmington, he followed us all the way to Belgrade in 2010 and then back to Farmington again in 2019. We have very little lawn in our new (to us—it was built in 1880) house, so he adjusted his fee accordingly. He has raked up millions of leaves and planted at least 1,000 bulbs between our last two houses. He and his wife came to our son’s outdoor lakeside wedding, for which he took such pains preparing the property. Despite the meticulous landscaping, the marriage didn’t last, but Mike is faithful, showing up every two weeks or so from early spring through late fall. He arrives with treats for our dog Fitz who loves him unabashedly and a political opinion we usually agree with.

We have given away our mower, string-trimmer, and wheelbarrow because Mike has all these things. During the course of our marriage (still lasting…50 years in January), both my husband and I have taken turns cutting the grass. Years ago, we conned our kids into doing the job with a riding mower “that was almost like driving,” but they have licenses and lawns of their own now.

I have discovered I don’t really like change, which is too bad, since publishing, like life, is moving at warp speed. I can’t seem to keep up with the various promotional schemes, trends, and brouhahas (I have always wanted to use that word somewhere). I don’t want an Instagram or TikTok account—Facebook and Twitter are tortuous enough.

Ten years ago, when I was first published, I had an active personal blog and contributed to several other group blogs on a weekly basis. My morning routine consisted of checking on favorite sites (around a dozen) daily. Most of the blogs I used to follow are no more. Today, I’m here (and very happy to be), but rarely post on my own website. Maybe I’m worried about running out of words, or staying relevant.

If you’re reading this, I thank you! Is there a Mike in your life you depend on? Do you have a special Internet site you don’t want to miss that’s gotten you through these odd times? Where do you go for book news? I visit Word Wenches and Crime Reads, and belong to the Crime Thru Time mailing list to get news on free historical mysteries. What else should I be doing, besides pricing lawn mowers?

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