When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Virtual

Maine’s crime writers are blessed to be part of a resilient, resourceful community. The particular obstacle doesn’t matter – a sluggish economy, an endless winter, upheaval in the publishing industry – we find a way to survive, buoyed by readers whose support sustains us.

Dick Cass reading to a rapt crowd

When the going gets tough the tough get creative, and creative is exactly what our community has been since the middle of March, spinning out imaginative ways to maintain the bond among and between writers and readers despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 health crisis.

Maine crime writers who have released new books recently and those who will be soon  – including MCWers Kate Flora (Wedding Bell Ruse), Charlene D’Avanzo (Glass Eeels, Shattered Sea), Joseph Souza (The Perfect Daughter) and Kathy Lynn Emerson (A Fatal Fiction) as well as former blogmate Julia Spencer-Fleming (Hid From Our Eyes) – have found innovative ways to engage readers despite the suspension of in-person bookstore signings and library readings. They’ve done Zoom chats and group readings, online Q & As and FaceTime book clubs. Local independent bookstores can hook you up with their books, as well as those by other Maine crime writers.

That prompts a well-deserved shout out to our ingenious, hardworking Southern Maine bookselling friends: Barbara at https://kellysbookstogo.com/, Josh and Emily at https://www.printbookstore.com/, Paula and Ann at https://mainelymurders.com/, Ari, Meg, Matt, Sarah and Lucinda at https://www.longfellowbooks.com/, and Katherine, John and Karen at https://www.letterpress-books.com/ and so many others who run wonderful bookstores across the state. Somehow they have found ways to feed our reading habits throughout the pandemic and are now figuring out how to safely welcome in-store customers back to their shops.  Many thanks to all of them.


Many of us at MCW are members of Sisters in Crime New England, which is doing its annual Member Reads via Zoom on Thursday, June 18 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  This means you can participate or watch from the comfort of your own couch (or deck, if it’s a nice night).

I’ll be reading, as will Gayle Lynds, Kirsten Reed, Dick Cass, Bruce Coffin, Charlene D’Avanzo, Barbara Ross and perhaps a few others. (If you’re an SinCNE member—published or unpublished—and you haven’t signed up yet, email me!) Each of us will read a brief selection from our work and then we’ll chat with each other and the audience. Pre-registration is required for this event – for the audience as well as the readers. If you’re keen to tune in, drop me a note at brenda@brendabuchananwrites.com and I’ll put your name on the list.


Maine Crime Wave 2020, originally teed up for June 19-20, had to be cancelled as a live event. But there will be a virtual gathering called Maine Crime Online from ­7:00 p.m. to 8:30 on Thursday, June 25.   Maine crime writers reading from their work include recent Maine Literary Award winners and finalists Gerry Boyle, Richard Cass, Kate Flora, Vaughn Hardacker, Bruce Coffin and Joseph Souza as well as flash fiction judge and NYT bestseller Julia Spencer-Fleming.

My favorite Crime Wave tradition, Two Minutes in the Slammer, has been re-named this year Two Minutes in Quarantine. It involves a bunch of terrific writers you may not have heard of yet doing dynamic two minute readings.  There also will be online book selling by Barbara Kelly of the aforesaid Kelly’s Books to Go.  For more info about Maine Crime Online and a link to the Zoom registration: https://www.mainewriters.org/calendar/maine-crime-online


The first Noir @ the Bar took place about a dozen years ago in Philadelphia, and is now a worldwide (really!) phenomenon. It is what is sounds like: a group of crime writers meet at a bar and entertain the crowd with brief readings of their darkest prose. A pub atmosphere + lovers of crime fiction = lots of fun for writers and readers.

The readers at a Portland Noir at the Bar, in the pre-Covid-19 days. Left to right, Maureen Milliken, Bruce Coffin, Barbara Ross, Jessie Crockett, Dick Cass, Brenda Buchanan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, E.J. Fechenda, Gayle Lynds, Jen Blood, John Sheldon and Brendan Rielly.

We weren’t able to hold our traditional early spring Noir in Southern Maine, but the Covid-19 crisis has given rise to plenty of virtual Noirs @ The Bar. During the past few months, online Noirs have been hosted by writers based in Boston, New York, Washington DC and Edinburgh, Scotland, among other places. Most are recorded, so you can watch them at your leisure. If you google “Virtual Noir at the Bar,” you’ll easily find a good sample.  These events benefit a variety of worthy causes, so if you can afford to pitch in a little bit, all the better.

If you’d like to “attend” such an event live, on Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m. I’ll be reading at a Noir at the Bar celebrating Pride Month. Ten LGBTQ+ crime writers will be reading from our work via Crowdcast.

There also will be music and a special Pride-themed cocktail (a professional bartender will instruct on how to put it together.) The event will raise money for Lambda Literary, which works to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature through programs that encourage development of emerging writers. Because of the COVID19 crisis, Lambda had to cancel all programs and events for 2020 on which it relies for funding, so join us to show your support. The link to register for this event is here: https://bit.ly/2XyyNtd


Bottom line: writers love to connect with their readers, probably even more than readers enjoy meeting writers. We’re all grateful there’s so been much interest in keeping the writer-reader bond alive when our local libraries, bookstores and pubs are closed to in-person gatherings.  No one will argue Zoom and Crowdcast events are as intimate as live readings. But they’ll do for now.

Trust me, when it’s safe to do so, writers will be eager to resume in-person events where we don’t have to worry about the dreaded screen freeze and can exchange hugs with each other and our readers, without whom none of this would be possible.

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.  These days she’s hard at work on new projects.





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3 Responses to When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Virtual

  1. Nicely done and the opportunities mentioned will be well received by those in a literary drought due to the quarantine.

  2. Richard Cass says:

    Thanks for reminding me of what a great community we have, Brenda: both the writers and the readers! Like a lot of people, I suspect, I’m feeling discoupled from normal and the reminder we are in this together was timely . . . Cheers

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