by Barb, in her last post from Key West, beginning the long trek back to Maine at the end of the month
Please welcome my guest, Sandra Neily. Sandra’s debut mystery, Deadly Trespass, is up on Kindle and will soon be released in paperback. Before it was published, Deadly Trespass won a National Mystery Writers of America award, was a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s “Rising Star” contest, and won honorable mention in Maine’s Joy of the Pen contest. Sandy’s blog ValueNature supports her novels’ themes.
Sandra is a Maine neighbor of mine, a certified native of East Boothbay, growing up behind the shipyard when endless woods stretched all the way up the Damariscotta River. She now divides her time between Westport Island and Greenville; between the Sheepscot River and Moosehead Lake.
Take it away, Sandra.
Kneeling On Deer Droppings: The Idea
You just never know when the light bulb will go off. Or the loud click in the ear. Or the moment you slap yourself up the side of the head.
Personally, I need to be outdoors to have that kind of moment.
The click and head slap that gave birth to my novel Deadly Trespass came after I asked my daughter to kneel in a deer yard. (It’s where deer gather under tall trees that shelter them from wind and deep snow—where they can move about to find food.)
“You want me to kneel on deer poop?” she whined.
“It’s frozen,” I said. “We need a deer’s point of view and you have the camera.” (She did. See tiny black dots on the snow.)
The day before, snowshoeing by the Kennebec River, I’d seen too much light filtered through too few trees and found the cut. Dragging my daughter back to document the remnants of the yard and the tree-harvesting behavior that had destroyed it, was our next day’s outing.
After her pictures made their way to the Bangor Daily News, I returned to the destroyed yard, this time with a BDN reporter and men who managed the cutting operations for a gigantic corporation that seemed to own more land than anyone else in the U.S.
A young photographer in fashion-y boots shivered in the deep snow and bitter wind. “Good point,” I said, probably too loudly. “Without trees, deer probably feel just like she does. Only later she gets a warm shower and hot tea. Deer just get weak and die.”
The cutting men glared at me, but they really weren’t happy when I unfolded two maps. The first map was a state agency map marking the site as important wildlife terrain. The second was a map from the cutting men’s real estate division that placed dozens and dozens of new condos in what has become a cleared lot. Two maps. Same place.
“So,” I asked, “if you eliminate the deer yards here, when the time comes to get a building permit for all these condos, it’s quite likely there won’t be any important wildlife habitat to stop those condos. Right? You’re getting rid of the yard and the deer so you can build without pesky animal problems. Right?”
Just the wind and the shivering woman stamping her feet.
At home over hot tea and feet too close to the wood stove, I thought about how that timber corporation bought many, many full-page BDN ads, and it was unlikely anyone would see what happened to the deer, or the woods next to the river, or just about anything far from the road or an electronic device. Far away from most eyes, close to nine million acres of Maine’s commercial forest was being stripped of anything that looked like a grown-up tree.
So why would anyone care if dying deer and disappearing forest were just another opinion piece in a paper or another on-line rant?
Why was the loss of a large chunk of Maine’s forest hidden? Such a mystery to most folks?
What if I embraced the mystery? Wrote a genuine, page-turner mystery? (Well, that was easier said than done. Understatement.) Millions of people read mysteries. And what if I flipped the script? Allowed wildlife to fight a fair fight against what made the woods not woods?
What would happen if dead bodies and wolves and Maine things tons of people cared about (whether they lived here or not), got all crowded together so a reckoning was guaranteed? If I could put readers into the woods, take them on a field trip while they remained warm at home?
Click. Slap. Write a murder mystery that kills both people and Maine’s woods—and maybe a wolf or two. Click. Slap. Deadly Trespass.
Hibernating in a cabin and covering mirrors to hide her face, Cassandra Patton Conover is about to become an outlaw. Searching for her wayward dog in Maine’s dense woods, she finds her best friend Shannon crushed under a tree, tracks larger than any animal she knows, and a mystery only wild animals can help her solve.
Readers: Has that lightning bolt of an idea ever struck you? Share your “click” and “slap” moments.