The Big Clean Out

By Barb, writing happily away in her study in Portland, Maine

A slightly different version of this post appeared on along with a list of things to consider if you are hiring a company to clean out a house. But I thought this was such an amazing resource, Maine Crime Writers readers might want to know about it.

I mentioned here in this post that Bill and I are selling our house in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The decision was difficult, but the part that I thought would be the most agonizing, cleaning out a place that had been in his family for thirty-five years, wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought it would be.

I recently calculated that Bill and I, either solo or with other family members, have emptied eight houses in the last ten years. This has included helping elderly parents downsize from big old homes, emptying their vacation homes, and finally, emptying their downsized homes when they were gone. Honestly, we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

The spring/summer of 2017 was the trifecta. We cleaned out my mother-in-law’s chock-a-block full apartment following her death, helped our son and his family clear up, clean out, and move from Connecticut to Virginia, and moved ourselves from Somerville, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine.

One task remained. We bought the house Boothbay Harbor, Maine from my mother-in-law who was, to put it kindly, a “stuff” person. A true materialist, she imbued every item she possessed with an emotional memory. A chipped teacup reminded her of a trip to an antique store with a girlfriend, a stolen menu (or worse) brought back a special meal. Over the years we’ve owned the Boothbay house, my husband and I have tackled many projects: clearing out a bedroom and sitting room for our own use, making the other bedrooms and living spaces, “useable,” and removing twelve tons of stuff from the basement (according to the tipping fees). In a piecemeal fashion, we gave the stuff to charity auctions, hospital thrift shops, libraries, and antique booksellers.

Dining room looking into the living room before the clean-out

But since my mother-in-law still came to the Boothbay house every summer, we could only do so much. There was still a lot to do when we decided to put the house on the market. And after our travails of 2017, we were physically and emotionally exhausted from cleaning out. There had to be a better way.

Then I read an article on about services that would help prepare houses for moving, downsizing or sale. I decided to find out if there was such a service in Coastal Maine.

It turned out there were several, with different levels of service. There were antique dealers and auction houses that would come in and skim the good stuff. There were firms that would organize estate sales, and there were liquidation companies that would come in and pay by the pound.

We interviewed three, and chose Caring Transitions of Coastal Maine, because they offered a comprehensive service. They would start with the mess that we had and we would end up with a house that was broom clean and ready to put on the market.

Working with Helen and Bob Johnson, our local Caring Transitions franchise owners, we determined a process, a date for them to start work, dates for our estate sale, a total cost of the labor for them and their helpers to do the clean out and run the sale. The costs would be either partially or entirely offset by their 30% take from the estate sale. This told us our maximum financial exposure and we had deadlines–July 9, when Caring Transitions would start work, July 20 and 21, the dates for the estate sale, and July 25, the day the house would be left broom clean.

Dining room during the clean-out

Every weekend during June, my husband had a different group of his siblings, their spouses, and their children up to the house. They took what they wanted, and, because we knew the heavy lifting would be done by others, what would have been work weekends turned into times for nostalgia and saying good-bye. Our own kids and grandkid came for the long Fourth of July weekend, and as soon as they cleared out, Caring Transitions arrived.

The master bedroom set up for the sale

The service was exactly as advertised and it was amazing how efficiently the team went through all the stuff. Photos, documents, and other personal items were put aside for us to inspect. Everything else was priced and displayed for sale. The estate sale was well-advertised and crowded. As soon as it ended at 3:00 pm on that Saturday, the estate liquidators showed up as arranged by Helen and Bob. Charity shops came and picked up stuff on Monday and Tuesday, and the house was ready to put on the market by the end of that week. Our stair-climber, which got only a lowball bid at the estate sale, was later sold on Craigslist.

Dining room after the cleanout

In the end, we did better than breakeven. We were a few hundred dollars to the good. We were thrilled. If we had done the work ourselves, we would have paid for dumpsters, and trucks, people to carry heavy stuff from the third floor, and tipping fees. Even more important to us, our summer would have been miserable, I would have been hopelessly behind in my writing deadlines, and the house would have gone on the market even later in the year.

The attic after the cleanout

If you find yourself in circumstances similar to ours, I cannot recommend this route enough.

The house is still for sale by the way. In case you are interested the listing is here.

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Weekend Update: October 20-21, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will posts by Barb Ross (Monday), Susan Vaughan (Tuesday), Maureen Milliken (Wednesday), John Clark (Thursday), and Kate Flora (Friday).

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




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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Building Community

We don’t talk about it much, but we writers are all about building community. In this time of strife and struggle, that’s a valuable thing.

Last weekend I went to Books in the ‘Brook, a monthly salon for readers and writers in and around Westbrook. Modeled on a similar monthly event that takes place in Cape Elizabeth, Books in the ‘Brook showcases two writers, usually on the first Saturday of each month. The event runs from 4 – 5 p.m., that in-between hour on a Saturday when the chores are done and the evening plans have yet to unfold.

Poet extraordinare, Betsy Sholl

This month the featured writers were Betsy Sholl, Maine’s former poet laureate, and Joshua Bodwell, who in addition to running the amazing Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance is an essayist and and editor. There was a good crowd, liberally sprinkled with other writers, some well-established, some brand new.

Betsy read a number of moving, funny poems from a new collection House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems, which will be out next year.

Josh read a powerful essay about his youth in Kennebunkport and talked about his work editing the much-acclaimed three-book collection of Andre Dubus’s short stories, the third volume of which was published this month.

Joshua Bodwell reads from an essay recently published in Slice magazine

Two totally different writers, both of whom express big ideas on the page. It was magical. People hung around for quite a while once they finished reading, sharing the sweet sustenance of writer talk.

This evening I’ll get to enjoy another sort of writing community when I meet with a longtime book group in Portland called the Awesome Book Club.

The group is made up of eight or so women, most of whom have known each other for many years. They’ve read my first Joe Gale book, Quick Pivot, so that’s what we’ll be chatting about tonight. I know some of the members of the ABC and feel confident we’ll also be noshing on some fantastic food. I can’t wait.

I love meeting with book groups, especially in person, but also via Skype or Facetime. I learn a lot about my own writing from the wonderful, dedicated readers who participate in book groups. Sometimes they point out things I didn’t see, even though I wrote the book. Unconscious connections. Unintentional structural symmetry. But mostly it’s a blast to hang out in the host’s comfy living or dining room, eating, talking and laughing with other people who enjoy books and reading as much as I do. In that couple of hours, we build something together, a shared commitment to keeping the written word central in our busy lives.

The Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, decked out as a crime scene

At the end of this month a big gang of crime writers will be at Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor for the annual Murder by the Book conference. David Rosenfelt is the keynote speaker this year, and the supporting cast includes several current and past MCW members—Dick Cass, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Vaughn Hardaker, Bruce Coffin, Dorothy Cannell, Jim Hayman and me—along with Stephanie Gayle, Jane Sloven, James Ziskin, Lynne Raimondo and Nicole Seavey.

There’ll be Friday night readings and Saturday workshops, lots of great work shared and ideas sparked. Readers of this blog interested in joining the Murder By The Book community can find more info here:

Closer to home, on Sunday, November 18, a wild bunch of crime writers will be doing public readings in Biddeford at an event called Noir @ The Bar. Noir is a thing—an event crime writers put on in many cities. We each get three minutes at the mike to read from published stories or work in progress. Readers who exceed their time get the gong.

A picture of the group that read at a Noir @ The Bar in Portland last year.


I love that our little sub-community of Maine crime writers is part of this international phenomenon. Again, the date is November 18, a Sunday afternoon. From 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. we’ll be at Banded Brewing in the old Pepperell Mill at the foot of Main Street in Biddeford.  When I say “we” I mean, as of this writing, Barb Ross, Dick Cass, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Maureen Milliken, E.J. Fechenda, Bruce Coffin, Sandy Neily, Gayle Lynds, John Sheldon and me. There could be a few more.

In addition to the entertainment, Banded serves food and (of course) great beer. There’s plenty of parking. The event is free. It would be great to see some readers of this blog there. Everyone is welcome because we’re not a club, we’re a community.

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.  She is writing a new series that has as its protagonist a Portland criminal defense lawyer willing to take on cases others won’t touch in a town to which she swore she would never return.







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Exploring My Ancestors


Vaughn Hardacker here. In 2009 I was laid off by the high tech firm I worked for in Massachusetts (my seventh job in nine years–I left none of them voluntarily) and made the decision to leave New Hampshire and return to my home town in Maine’s Aroostook County. For years I had always believed that the only reason my family was not labeled trailer trash was that we didn’t own a trailer. That was before I met Jay Bullard. Jay is a genealogy enthusiast and during a conversation I told him that my wife’s mother was a Cote. He immediately got interested and told me that the Caribou Genealogy Society had a family tree tracing the Cote line back to France. I had come across an internet page (–no longer online) that included a family tree that went back to England in the eighteenth century. This motivated me to trace the family trees of both my wife and I.

Borden Condensed Milk

Everything seemed to prove my belief that the Hardackers had never achieved anything in the history of the world. Then I came across two ancestors on my father’s side: my great-grandmother, Ester Borden, on the Hardacker side and my Great-Great Grandmother, Tallie Thibodeau, on my grandmother’s side, the Browns.

I’ll talk about the Bordens first as they are the most interesting and have a link to the Thibodeaus. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Borden line included such luminaries as my fourth cousin four times removed Gail Borden the inventor of evaporated milk and founder of Borden Foods (he also surveyed the streets of Galveston, Texas and the town of Gail in Borden County Texas is named for him), Sir Winston Churchill (a ninth cousin), Marilyn Monroe (a seventh cousin), and Lizzie Andrew Borden (fifth cousin twice removed).

So how are the two women connected? They both are linked to Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia, Canada. How does the village connect them? After the British took Canada from the French in the Seven Years War (aka The French and Indian War) the British assigned Charles Lawrence as governor, for Nova Scotia. While previous British governors had been conciliatory towards the Acadians (who had expressed they would remain neutral in regard to the war between Great Britain and France, Lawrence was prepared to take drastic action. He saw the Acadian question as a strictly military matter. After Fort Beauséjour fell to the English forces in June 1755, Lawrence noted that there were some 270 Acadian militia among the fort’s inhabitants ‒ so much for their professed neutrality.

In meetings with Acadians in July 1755 in Halifax, Lawrence pressed the delegates to take an unqualified oath of allegiance to Britain. When they refused, he imprisoned them and gave the fateful order for deportation.

Lawrence had strong support in his Council from recent immigrants from New England, who coveted Acadian lands. Traders from Boston frequently expressed wonder that an “alien” people were allowed to possess such fine lands in a British colony. On Friday,

Charles Lawrence

September 5, 1755 Colonel John Winslow ordered that all males aged 10 years and up in the area were to gather in the Grand-Pré Church for an important message from His Excellency, Charles Lawrence, the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. The decree that was read to the assembled and stated in part: “That your Land & Tennements, Cattle of all Kinds and Livestocks of all Sorts are forfeited to the Crown with all other your effects Savings your money and Household Goods, and you yourselves to be removed from this Province.”

While most of the Acadians were deported, approximately 1500 escaped into the woods, some left Acadia for New France (now the Canadian provinces of Quebec and northwestern New Brunswick) settling around the current town of Edmondston, NB. Among these were the Thibodeaus who later crossed the Saint John River and took up residence in Maine.

Now back to the Bordens. After the expulsion, the King of England engaged the Bordens (then living in the English colony of Rhode Island) to survey the confiscated areas. He paid them in land, including much of Grand-Pré.

My great-grandfather Charles Hardacker married Ester Borden in Grand-Pré and in the early nineteen hundreds they emigrated to Maine, where my grand-father, Norman Hardacker, married Estelle Brown (Tallie Thibodeau’s grand-daughter).

So the king of England took land from the Thibodeaus (my grand-mother’s family) and gave it to the Bordens (my grand-father’s family). My grand parents later divorced–I can’t help but wonder if past history had anything to do with it…

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Thank you, Linda Bean

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today plugging Overkilt, the twelfth Liss MacCrimmon mystery, and revealing a bit about where the story idea came from.

A couple of years ago, around the time I was trying to come up with a plot for Liss #12, there was a campaign on social media to boycott one of Maine’s best known businesses, L. L. Bean. This came about because one member of the Bean family, Linda Bean, had contributed heavily to a particular political campaign. Politics aside, what struck me about this was that targeting L. L. Bean made no sense. Linda Bean has her own business interests. She’s only a minor cog in the company that employs many Mainers and sells products made by many more.

I don’t think the campaign did any serious damage. In fact, given the recent reports on Nike’s sales, attempts at blackballing a company on political grounds tend to backfire. But what if the same thing occurs on a smaller scale, and with bigger consequences?

Ten days ago, the hashtag #boycottMaine started to pop up on Facebook and Twitter in response to Susan Collins’s speech to explain why she was voting to approve Judge Kavenaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Excuse me? Does that make any sense at all?  There was plenty of opposition in Maine to his appointment. Not only that, but our other Senator, Angus King, an Independent, voted against Kavenaugh. We’re into “throw the baby out with the bath water” territory here.

the company Linda Bean does own–also not much damaged by the furor

A little research revealed that this hashtag originally appeared in 2016 in response to something Governor LePage said. Like the reaction to Linda Bean’s politics, that movement soon fizzled out, but dumb boycott ideas never seem to die. The only upside to this sad fact of life is that such things sometimes inspire those of us who write murder mysteries.

In Overkilt, Liss’s father-in-law, who owns Moosetookalook, Maine’s luxury hotel, The Spruces, offers a “Thanksgiving Special” aimed at childless couples who want to spend the holiday away from their families. This outrages a local troublemaker, Hadley Spinner, leader of a religious sect calling themselves the New Age Pilgrims. He sees the promotion as an affront to family values and vows to ruin not only Joe Ruskin’s hotel, but also the businesses of Joe’s sons and daughter-in-law.

Oh, yes. He’s over the top. At first no one takes him seriously. When the term overkill comes up, Liss changes it to overkilt, since her business is Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium, a shop selling Scottish-themed gift items. She can’t imagine the protest will amount to much, but boy is she wrong! Spinner’s campaign will end up causing all kinds of trouble in her quiet little town.

the one and only time I walked a picket line I was protesting the lack of a contract for librarians and others working at UMF

I didn’t have to look far to find real-life models for Spinner and his ilk. As the saying goes, the Devil can quote the Bible for his own ends. Some of Spinner’s goals are pretty nefarious. As for his followers, there has never been any shortage of people who will blindly follow a leader.

Overkilt is probably the most serious cozy I’ve written, but don’t despair. It is leavened with humor. After all, most human foibles have more than a hint of the absurd about them.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty 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 (Overkilt—November 2018) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) 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

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Weekend Update: October 13-14, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Joe Souza (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Wednesday), Brenda Buchanan (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:

 Maureen Milliken is pleased to announce that BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST, the third book in the Bernie O’Dea mystery series, is available on Amazon. The publisher’s official launch is October 31, and it will be available in bookstores (as well as out of the trunk in Maureen’s car), after that.

The traditional amateur sleuth mystery is set in Maine’s Franklin County and features weekly newspaper owner/editor Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea and Police Chief Pete Novotny.

In BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST, when Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Lydia Manzo becomes lost, then is found dead, it sets off a chain of events that upsets the fragile peace of Redimere, Maine. While investigators are sure Lydia killed herself, some in Redimere are just as sure someone killed her, including newspaper editor Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea and Police Chief Pete Novotny. But then Pete disappears into the woods, too.

Maine’s northwestern High Peaks Region can be a dark wilderness, but the mountains suddenly feel very crowded as Bernie searches for answers during another too-hot summer of deceit and death in Redimere.

A launch party for early November is planned, with books at a discount. Maureen’s publisher, S&H Publishing, is donating $1 to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for every Bernie O’Dea book bought at the party. Maybe to make up for some of the damage the book does. 🙂

Sandra Neily: Will be at the Curtis Memorial Library, October 16th, 7:00 PM, raffling off several Kindle copies and sharing excerpts from her award-winning novel Deadly Trespass. Reviewed as  “…an environmental murder mystery, where the stakes are high and a vanishing world inspires violence.” Mystery Writers of America, national Helen McCloy award

And More:  “… reminiscent of good contemporary American authors such as Joy Williams, Joanna Scott, and Cheryl Strayed”  SPR

“…will propel you across the wildest of Maine’s terrain and into its coldest waters—in search of whispered wolves, possible murderers, odd bedfellows, greedy sons of bitches, and reasons for it all.”  FAPA award winning author Meredith Marple

Sandy will also share a handout with quotes and reading suggestions from authors who’ve woven the outdoors into their themes, plots, and characters lives.   I

Can’t make the reading? Find her Outdoor Themed Fiction handout at




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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Fall in Maine Through Writers’ Eyes

While we’re all seizing the last gasps of good weather before we retreat to our desks for the winter, we thought we’d share some pictures of fall in Maine, and the things we see and celebrate.

At the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden:



from  Kathy/Kaitlyn: These three photos were taken in my back yard in the Western Maine mountains.











In this shot with all the blue sky, if you can pick out four little white dots, those are airplanes, heading for a fly-in somewhere to the north.






One of my favorite memories from fall happened when I was duck hunting in North Union. I took a break on a knoll overlooking Medomak River and spent half an hour watching milkweed silk lift off and rise into a pure blue sky. It was mesmerizing watching them until they became too faint to see. Below are three photos to celebrate fall-John Clark

South of Millinocket looking at Katahdin

Has there ever been a more prolific mushroom crop?

Part of our basil crop.

Susan Vaughan: One of my favorite places in Maine is the Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Year round, the displays and fountains are spectacular. But there’s nothing like visiting on a sunny October day.

In autumn, their botanical decorations are dramatic and colorful. Along with mums and other fall plantings, there are pumpkins galore of all sizes, colors, and shapes.


Maureen Milliken: I had to take a trip up to Carrabassett Valley on Oct. 6 for work. The thing I covered turned out to be a bust (maybe look for an account in a future book), but the scenery was fantastic and I saw a moose. Unfortunately, she freaked out when someone (from away, I think) started loudly Facetiming someone about it (his back to the moose, of course and the person on the other end of the phone kept saying “Yeah, I can’t see it,”) Whenever I go up there, I think, “I’m going to Redimere,” the town in my books. But of course, then I realize it doesn’t exist.

Check it out:

The Carrabassett River in Carrabassett Valley.

Another one of the Carrabassett River. Can’t get enough.

The moose. She took off before I could get a good shot.

View behind the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley.

It was “Sugarloaf Homecoming” weekend. Exactly what it sounds like.

Lea Wait:  And how can we forget the scarecrows that appear this time of year in many towns? 







Sandra Neily: In no particular order, but being grateful to savor the fall unhurried by a summer job that’s over … and one special memory: Enjoying the view of Moosehead Lake with my rescued friend, Raven. Amazing: flowers on my desk still going strong. Hiking with Raven during our Oct. bird season. Last wave of relatives and our cousin dogs: watching squirrel TV out the back door. (Flowers there, too.) And my parents, long ago in the fall: famous height of land overlooking Mooselookmeguntic Lake (Rangeley).

Brenda Buchanan: We are inveterate beach walkers, and very enjoy the stark beauty of the shore and the very visible weather systems that sweep through in the fall. Here’s a shot taken last year of the pond behind Scarborough Beach with nary a leaf on a deciduous tree:

They call this Massacre Pond, which is where MCW alum Paul Doiron found the inspiration for his book of the same name, though the book was set Downeast.


The zinnias and the ornamental grasses in our garden have been lovely this year. Here’s a Monarch butterfly enjoying some autumn nectar:

Soon it will be time to put the garden to bed, but not yet!

We also make an annual foliage drive through the Maine countryside. Here’s a cemetery in Buxton lit by a maple tree . . .

Foliage bright enough to wake the dead.

And another nice view of Height of Land, which is over in Kathy/Kaitlyn’s beautiful neck of the woods.


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