Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here. The first thing you have to know about me is that I’m a chicken. The second thing is that I’m a worrier. Combine these two and you get a certain reluctance to try new things, especially on my own. I don’t think this is particularly uncommon, especially among women whose husbands are obliging enough to offer to drive when a trip of any distance is in the offing. I’m happy to have company and he sees better at night than I do. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly ever driven myself farther from home than the post office or the grocery store.
Then two events coincided. The first was the scheduling of my fiftieth high school reunion for September 25-27 in Liberty, New York, about an eight-hour drive from where I now live if you take all the high-speed roads available. The second was the dawning of an idea for a new contemporary mystery series, one in which a woman of my years is starting over on her own, making a major move as well as a career change. The next step seemed inevitable—I would have to get myself to that reunion. On my own. By myself.
Did I mention that I always go to full service gas stations and let someone else pump the gas? Or that I have a terrible track record when it comes to successfully swiping credit cards? Or that I have some physical challenges thanks to arthritis in my hands, knees, neck, and ankles? Never mind. I decided that if my protagonist could be my age and manage on her own, so could I. Any fumbles along the way would just have to become fodder for comic relief.
Because the new setting will be a small town, but this time not in Maine, I opted to take the scenic route through New Hampshire and Vermont and avoid the Thruway once I hit New York. This, of course, added time, if not miles, to the trip. Since I can’t do anything about that bad night vision, that meant taking two days for the drive with stops to explore along the way and look for details that may become part of my fictional setting. I expected this to be full-blown leaf-peeper season. Not this year. Still, it was a pretty drive.
It was also a long haul: five and a half hours the first day and nearly five the second.
Both Liberty, New York and Wilton, Maine are in the foothills of the mountains. In fact, the land looks remarkably similar, except that New York allows billboards and Maine does not. But there is one area where there are some distinct differences—how a murder investigation is handled. In Maine, the State Police step in at once, except in Portland and Bangor. In New York, it depends. Fortunately, one of my high school classmates has a son who is a Sullivan County Deputy Sheriff and he agreed to be my local law enforcement expert. We met the first afternoon I was in town and talked shop over McNuggets, fries, and a very large coffee to keep me going through the evening ahead. Yes, of course, my new sleuth will be an amateur, but there’s nothing worse than getting the details wrong and every state handles criminal investigations just a little bit differently.
Aside from reunion activities, there was one other addition to my personal schedule. I wanted to donate some of my books to the local library. To be honest, I was trying to clear some space for the boxes of new ones that have already begun arriving—the paperback of Ho-Ho-Homicide, the hardcover of The Scottie Barked at Midnight, the trade paperback of Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, and the hardcover of Murder in the Merchant’s Hall. However, when the librarian responded by asking me to do a talk and signing while I was in town, I didn’t exactly run the other way. I set out with a very full car trunk—two boxes of books for the library, four boxes of books to offer for sale (two oldies set in Liberty and the two most recent titles), and four more boxes filled with extra copies of a few of my older books to offer as freebies to classmates. I still had room left for a suitcase and a cooler for snacks and a tote with necessities: folder with information and maps, (I do not and will not use GPS!), change for the book signing, and the one thing I can no longer live without—my iPad. When my character makes the trip, she’ll also have to find space for a litter pan and feline necessities since she’ll be traveling with at least one cat.
So, how did it go, you ask? Just great. When I couldn’t find gas stations with full service pumps, I managed to con other people into pumping gas for me (dithery females of a certain age can get away with a lot!). I renewed old friendships, visited familiar places, took note of changes the last fifty years have wrought, and generally enjoyed myself. The library talk was well attended, both by classmates and others. The two gatherings of the class, a Friday night icebreaker and a Saturday night banquet, were both fun. Thank goodness, though, for name tags!
If you’re looking for me in the above photo, here’s a hint: only my nose is showing.
Back home again, I’m slowly catching up and getting back into my normal routine. I was fine as long as I kept going. It’s stopping that’s the killer. I still feel as if I could sleep for a week, but no rest for the wicked. Less than a week from now, I’m off to Bouchercon, another reunion of sorts, this one with fellow mystery writers and readers.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall). The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com