Tree Stands. Rotting Donuts. Lynx Poop. Environmental Grief.  

After two major surgeries in less than a year (a new heart valve and knee replacement) I was surprised to realize how much I missed the characters and dog I’d created.

Next to my daughter and her grandgirls of course. I missed them most of all.

How to return to my third writing effort with so much time off recovering and feeling … to be honest … depressed?

Immersion seemed like a good idea. I reread my last novel, Deadly Turn, and took notes like it was a class. A class in the novel’s Voice. In my unique characters. In plotting that could carry the novel and each page. In desires, big and little and huge. (Each page should have something someone wants, even a glass of water.)

my plot map

I pulled out my plot map of highs and lows and tweaked what I thought might be a different climax.

Map of Deadly Assault terrain

I updated the map of the novel’s territory I’d created months before.

I made a list of possible perpetrators as, like before, I have several characters audition during the novel to be the ‘bad guy.’

screen saver picture for Deadly Trespass

I remembered that I needed an animal on my screen to draw me back to the essence of the story. For each novel I’ve had a picture that opens in-my-face, telling me to get It DONE! Wolves were the reminder on Deadly Trespass, my first novel.

The eagle (piercing eyes) was for Deadly Turn.


And now for Deadly Assault, I’ve put up an otter but some days there’s a salamander.


I’d written six chapters before my last surgery. And these words I now share are where I picked up the story.

First, a flashback to introduce the tree stand built by her old wildlife biologist boss, Ken. Then Chapter Six finds Patton alone at the tree, hiding out with her dog, Pock.

[Note: When I am writing and have an idea or something I want to fix, I put it in bold and keep going.]


After I’d crawled onto a small porch and sent the harness back down, I stood and stared. It wasn’t the usual tree stand thrown together with wood scraps or bought from a catalogue that offered a tiny, flimsy place to sit. It was a real tree house—an impregnable fort of wide floor boards surrounded by a rugged railing, topped by a metal roof and equipped with a bunk bed nailed into the trunk, two small folding chairs, and a contraption for collecting rain water. Glassed in hole to see below???

The bucket in the corner had to be the toilet. I decided I was going to get to know Ken very well.

He panted as he arrived and turned to hoist up my dog. “I like to stay up here for days. Everyone shows up if I’m quiet.” Everyone meant every animal.

Usually, tree stands overlook game trails used by generations of deer or bear hunters hoping for regular animal habits. Bear hunters, however, didn’t trust bears to just show up so they left buckets of ageing donuts and pastries weeks before the season and then waited to see who’d developed a sugar habit.

Ken’s tree house was only for wildlife voyeurism. Spotting scope tripods were nailed to each railing and after I screwed on a scope, I liked Ken even more. His tree house surveyed all the forest we could see and all homes and haunts different animals favored.

Dense groves of spruce and fir offered up sanctuary and hidden travel routes. Patches of regrowing, tasty brush meant tender twigs in winter and yummy buds in spring and lots of snowshoe hare. Lots of hare meant a lynx probably hunted within Ken’s view. A few grass clearings sloped toward a cedar swamp fed by a clear stream of green pools. Private trout I thought.

“As high as the Eiffel Tower is,” Ken said “that’s how far we can … “

I interrupted. “That how far you can see as animals go about their food and shelter business. I get it.”

Ken’s smile meant I’d passed an important test.

Chapter Six

Without Ken and weak from months lying around, I didn’t know if I could pass the hoist-the dog-sitting-in-the-lap test. It was almost dark so I rummaged through my pack for my headlamp to study the cable system. Pulley systems are designed to distribute weight so someone can pull more weight than they had any right to lift.

Multiple pullies zigzagging back and forth like a giant Z in a barn loft had once saved my life when I felt wolf breath hot on my ankles. I hoped I hadn’t used up my Z-drag karma. I strapped myself into the harness.

“This is your one shot,” I said to Pock, sticking a dog biscuit behind each ear.  “Either you climb into my lap now, or you’re down here for the night where you’ll get freaked out. I have a sleeping bag and will share it. Just eat the biscuits on your way up.”

It’s a miracle neither of us died tangled in the rigging as after Pock ate the biscuits, he decided he was done with the entire process and made a massive leap from my lap onto the bit of deck that was a porch. Before I could strip off the harness, he was back behind my legs in a crouch. I played my headlight into branches above us and found eyes.


And here are the end-of-day notes for this session, left to help me get started … next time.

Lynx poop on deck. It’s black, tubular tapered and smelly, same as bobcat. Lynx conversation? Calls in Barred Owl.

Crowded with dog on bunk in sleeping bag. What does she hear? Smell? Too dark to see so she mentally inventories everything that will end when the road and condos replace this place. (Fossil rock. Moose bog. Moss empire.) No animal boundaries in woods. Not like No Trespassing signs to come that slice up it artificially.

BRING THE PAIN; GRIEF FOR WHAT’S LOST.  How to live with environmental grief? With what’s lost or about to be.


Well, maybe that’s a question many, many of us are asking. I intend to tackle it in this novel, Deadly Assault.

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2023. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s 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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4 Responses to Tree Stands. Rotting Donuts. Lynx Poop. Environmental Grief.  

  1. Brenda Buchanan says:

    I’m glad to know you are healed up and back writing, Sandy. These passages have your trademark detail about the natural world and sneaky suspense. I am applauding and wanting more!

  2. Sharing your thoughts about the writing/composing process is so valuable. In the past, I’ve often given a particular book a playlist to help me get into and stay with my characters. But either I’ve gotten careless or it is just the way process changes book to book. This time, I feel like I am watching to see what evolves. I am the writer in the tree stand, observing. I always look forward to your posts because they are so thought-provoking and I like to be provoked. Good luck digging back in after such a challenging year.


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