Dick Cass here and most grateful for the welcome and the chance to ramble on to the MCW blog audience. The recent thrill of joining the lively and vibrant community of crime writers in this state has been eclipsed only by my personal tail-wagging pleasure at holding the hardback of Solo Act, my first mystery novel, in my hot little hands.
This is the tale whereby an alcoholic buys a bucket-of-blood bar in the South End of Boston and tries to turn it into a respectable jazz club without losing his sobriety in the process. It would be churlish not to thank the many people who contributed to this happy event, particularly my agent, Paula Munier, and Tiffany Schofield, the acquiring editor at Five Star. (And it’s strictly a coincidence that Five Star decided to stop publishing mysteries after mine, leaving some very good mystery writers, er, twisting in the wind.) Book available in hardback and e-book all over. Etc. Etc.
With the commercial taken care of, I wanted to make a point of expressing my pleasure and wonder at the talented and committed community of crime writers that has sprung up since the last time I lived here. When I left Maine in 1978, I knew a couple of odd poets and an odd journalist or two (some of them very odd) but most of the state’s literary life seemed to be more in its heritage than current—local, folklorical, and historical. I read writers like Ben Ames Williams, Kenneth Roberts, Ruth Moore. Thoreau in the Maine Woods.
At the time, you didn’t hear too much about contemporary fiction in Maine, let alone crime fiction. Stephen King had just published The Stand (his fourth novel).
The only local crime fiction writer I knew of was Janwillem van de Wetering, a Dutch Zen practitioner who wrote police procedurals and lived in Surry. I’m sure if I’ve missed someone obvious, a kind reader will point it out. But most of the writers I hung around with wrote poetry and published small press broadsides and chapbooks.
In my peripatetics since, I’ve been lucky enough to find a literary community everywhere I’ve lived. A good community is serious, supportive, and acknowledges the joy and the difficulty of pulling your own stories out of yourself for the benefit of other people as well as for your own. What I did not find until I returned to Maine was a group of writers who’d been touched early, as I had, by the various creative geniuses of Alfred Hitchcock, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, and Ross MacDonald and who were listening to the gorgeous dialogue of George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard.
Your pantheon may vary, but listen to this:
Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb. (Freaky Deaky, Elmore Leonard, 1988)
Put that book down, if you can.
Writers are people who love what they read so much that against the odds, the aggravation, the need to steal time, the sneers or the indifference of family and friends (and the wider world), they spend their days and nights emulating the others who’ve created the stories they love. And so I consider it my extreme good fortune to have fallen in with this crowd, to be here in this place now, when so many fine writers are working at telling the kinds of stories I love to hear, with characters that could be walking our streets and our fields and sailing our oceans. Characters that bring order, on the page at least, out of the chaos that threatens us all. Every day seems to bring more good news about the people here writing and publishing crime fiction. I’m wicked glad to have ended up here. Again.
Richard Cass holds an MA in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied with Thomas Williams and Joseph Monninger. He’s published stories in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Potomac Review, and Best Short Stories of the American West. He’s also won prizes for his fiction from Redbook and Playboy magazines and the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference. He was a Fellow at the Fishtrap Summer Fishtrap Gathering – Writing in the West and he’s published a collection of stories called Gleam of Bone. His first mystery novel, Solo Act, was published in January 2016 by Five Star Publishing. He lives, writes, and teaches in Cape Elizabeth, ME.