Suspense. Ice Tea. Duck Babies. Swimming Bears.

Sandra Neily here: This past week, we took our small trailer even further north of Moosehead Lake to camp up on the Penobscot Corridor.

This corridor is part of Maine’s amazing suite of public lands, many with well-cared-for remote campgrounds. No water. No electric hookup. No dump station. And no large rigs with generators that sound like burping-farting monsters that make it hard to concentrate on one’s reading or encouraging wildlife to appear.

First the wildlife: armadas of baby Merganser ducks with a few adult minders (more of that below); all kinds of loons (juveniles without parents gang up together and flap their wings across the water, getting ready to fly; other pairs cry out to discourage great blue herons from coves they favor.) A huge swoop of small, white gulls sipping hatching caddis flies from the air as the insects hatch off water below. A young bear swimming to the far shore turning to stare at us as we talked softly. (Bear hearing is amazing and yes, never ever try to outswim a bear. Fast, very fast.) A deer spinning away and blowing and snorting its way over shore grasslands as we kayak up river. At dusk, a massive tree trunk snagged on a shallow sand bar—forty or more ducks roosting tightly together on its bare branches. Grazing moose in the marsh across the river, heads under water seeking water plants, grazing unhurried in their own quiet coves. Waves of geese dropping onto dewatered grasslands, arguing and shoving each other back and forth before darkness quiets most of them. (Most, but not all. We think there’s always competition to have the last word.)

I cannot remember the last time I just sat in a chair and let the natural world just be … natural.

Our ice lasted for an entire week; ice tea in chair drink holders. Very special, that.

My reading. I dipped into at least three Elizabeth Peters mysteries. Could Egypt in the late 1880’s be any further than Maine’s north woods? Her determined voice amidst the immense, delightful personality of her famous excavating husband and a world unused to seeing pants-wearing women all dusty and sandy and sweaty … is great fun.

And I savored all of Jane K. Cleland’s Mastering Suspense Structure & Plot   How to Write Gripping Stories That Keep Readers On the Edge of Their Seats

(I do look forward to reading Jane’s fiction. She is the author of the very successful Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries.)

Louse Penny raves about Jane’s nonfiction book. Do we need more proof of its value?

“Masterful!  I love this book. Oh, how I wish I’d had it when I was struggling with my first crime novel. This is a gold mine of information, of insight on how to structure and pace the novel. Brilliant. And even as I write my current book I find myself reflecting on her insights, and using them. This isn’t about being formulaic. It’s about first understanding the structure, and then making it your own. Mastering Suspense, Structure, & Plot is an absolutely extraordinary resource for anyone serious about writing not just a crime novel, but any book. —Louise Penny, #1 New York Times best-selling author

Jane Cleland reminds us that, “Suspense is the heart and soul of storytelling.”

I did play with the idea of suspense in addition to filling the margin of Jane’s book with scrawled notes.

What will happen when my dog Raven actually digs her dirt tunnel all the way from Maine to China? (She’s a Lab and likes any and all food, so cuisine will not be a problem.)

Why did thirty-eight young geese show up without their adult minders at the end of our week? (We think the exhausted adults were at a bar. See below for info on duck baby sitters.)

What scared the bear off the road into a long swim across the river?

If we could translate geese chatter and bickering, could it be anything but mindless gossip? Are they having deep geese thoughts?


The mystery of too many duck babies, explained:

In a crèche, females leave their ducklings in the care of one female — often an older female who is experienced at raising babies, said David Rave, an area wildlife manager who oversees the Bemidji region for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The females lay eggs that hatch around the same time. Afterward, the adult ducks go off to molt their feathers, leaving their broods in the care of a matriarchal female.

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest.. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website.




About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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1 Response to Suspense. Ice Tea. Duck Babies. Swimming Bears.

  1. John Clark says:

    Great post. It took me back to the days when I spent time at a friend’s camp not far from the Sawtelle Deadwater.

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