Hello, there. Sandy Emerson here. I’m Kathy/Kaitlyn’s husband and this is my first-ever attempt at writing a blog; so years from now, when you talk of this—and you will—be kind.
“Are you sure?” Kathy asked, looking at me with a raised eyebrow as I sat nervously next to her on the edge of a kitchen chair that I’d hauled into her office. Shadow the cat peered at us around the corner of a nearby filing cabinet.
“OK,” I said, as my stomach did a flipflop and my mind took an imaginary swan dive off one of those jeezley high cliffs way down in Mexico that we used to see on Wide World of Sports. “Do it.”
Shadow padded from the room, shaking her head in disgust.
With a knowing grin on her face my darling wife of fifty-three years clicked the button on her computer mouse and launched into the world the result of seven years’ work, for once not her own but, believe it or not, mine. Well, Hell—The Yarns of Constable Bobby Wing of Skedaddle Gore, Maine was finally loosed upon an unsuspecting and no doubt largely indifferent reading world.
I looked at Kathy and said, with a sigh, “Is it always this exhausting?”
She smiled knowingly. “Yup.”
On March 13, 2015, the redoubtable John Clark posted to this blog: On to a challenge I hope some of you will accept. One of my down the road fantasies is to write a book with sixteen short crime stories, each one set in a different Maine county. One of the really cool things about our state is the number of unusual place names that are real. Ever been to Pripet? How about Wonderland, Pumpkin Valley, Sabino or Slab City (there are three of them). Given such a richness, one could spend hours just coming up with names for each story that would spur a reader’s imagination before they even start reading. Here are a few that I pulled off the top of my Head. The Revenge of the Roque Bluffs Rogue, A Plague of Poison Ployes in Plaisted, The Cardinal Sinner of Sabbathday Lake, Night of Nastiness in Norridgewock and The Twisted Temptress of T9, R7…. So, good readers, Below are the sixteen county names. Grab your handy Delorme Atlas or similar tool and come up with the best story titles for each one. Post them here or email them to me the list I think is most creative with a worthwhile prize mailed to the winner after being announced in my next post here at MCW.”
Brenda Buchanan immediately posted sixteen titles, one for each county. She’s wicked smart, for a lawyer. I posted one—”Deceitful Doings in Dallas (Plantation).”
We were the only takers and John never chose a winner, which is just as well as Brenda should have won for sheer volume—and imagination!
The next morning I woke up with a first sentence running through my head.
“Frenchy Plourde had a reputation as a wicked dink, so it was no real surprise that he had a nasty, pissed-off expression on what was left of his face that January morning when I found him frozen to the floor of his cabin.”
During the next six days Bobby Wing and his world were born. A native Mainer and Coast Guard veteran, Bobby retires to a tiny western Maine mountain town, where, after gaining the friendship and trust of the locals, he is appointed Constable, Fence Viewer, Deputy Fire Warden and Animal Control Officer. The hitch is, because of the Maine state law on police training, which is very expensive and time consuming, Bobby is not granted any police powers to go with his titles. He must, therefore, handle the “stuff” that comes up in town—some of which can get pretty weird—using only his local knowledge and understanding of his neighbors, his senses of humor, whimsy and empathy and his gift of gab. The stories are presented in Bobby’s voice and point of view, as if they are being told directly to the reader over a beer at Sally’s Motel and Bar and Live Bait and Convenience Store. Bobby’s humorous stories of murder, romance, mystery, redemption, adventure, reluctant derring-do and the wages of sin often tend to go on some and staying on topic isn’t always his strong suit, especially if he’s had a couple.
The 4350 word first draft of what came to be titled “Devious Doings in Dallas” was complete six days later on March19. Since I have been her first beta reader over fifty times, Kathy returned the favor. Her first comment was “This is actually pretty funny,” which was encouraging. She suggested that I might consider submitting it to the yearly anthology Best New England Crime Stories. After a bit of tweaking here and there I submitted the final draft of 4400 words on April 2, 2015.
To my amazement I received an email on July 6, from the then editors of the anthology—which included alumna of this blog Barb Ross—accepting “Devious Doings in Dallas” for Red Dawn, the 2015 installment. Upon signing the publication contract I received a check for the magnificent sum of $25.00—signed by Barb, by the way! It also survived the first round of judging for the yearly Al Blanchard award. Amazing! With some revision it has become the second yarn “Devious Doings” in Well, Hell.
Four more “Bobby Wing” stories were to follow between March 13, 2015, and April 15, 2017. All were submitted to Best New England Crime Stories anthologies. Two of them were not taken and appear in print, with significant improvement, for the first time in Well, Hell. “Daybreak Dismay in Dallas” appeared in Windward in 2016. It appears in Well, Hell as a yarn entitled “Wicked Lust and Dismay.” “Deadly Discovery in Dallas” was written and submitted to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in September of 2015 and sat there for 11 months before being rejected. It was accepted for Busted in 2016 and appeared in the 2017 anthology. It has become “Deadly Discoveries,” the third of Bobby’s yarns.
There was a hiatus in my writing between 2016 and 2019 but from then to date I have written five more stories in the series. According to my records I decided on July 25, 2021 to rewrite all my “Bobby Wing” yarns and change the locale to the fictional town of Skedaddle Gore, which was named after a local story of Civil War draft dodgers who “skedaddled” from New York to a spot on the shore of remote Kennebago Lake in Davis Township north of Rangeley which became known locally as Skedaddle Cove.
Four of the five most recently written yarns erupted from my keyboard in a six-month burst I still have a problem believing, from late 2021 to July of this year. At that point I realized that I probably should do something about getting them into print, otherwise what was the point? After watching Kathy/Kaitlyn deal with the writing process in the traditional manner for almost forty years, I decided that at my age I just wasn’t patient enough to go through the rigmarole of getting an agent, signing a representation contract and then sitting around, maybe for years, waiting for said agent to do something.
With modest success Kathy has been republishing several of her earlier books through Draft2Digital, an online self-publishing service which charges the writer a fee—which is far less than most agents charge—only upon sales, which they arrange through a whole raft of platforms such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and many others. She offered to help me through the process and I hired her as my copy editor and publisher on the spot. What the heck, she works cheap!
I had not counted on the possibility that there might be a downside to this arrangement but over the next two months my lovely and talented spouse suddenly became a professional tyrant, putting me through every agonizing bit of the editing process. Microsoft Spellcheck was, I soon learned, woefully insufficient for our purpose and my seventh-grade punctuation and sentence structure training was totally inadequate—Oxford comma, anyone? I also learned that “stet” only works if your editor is not making dinner.
I truly believe that I have now read and reread Well, Hell so many times that I could probably recite it from memory. Despite some “interesting” discussions and a crushing ego deflation or two, my manuscript and our marriage appear to have survived, and . . . it’s out! It’s even selling! Break out the bubbly! Oh, wait . . . I don’t drink. Right. I forgot. Diet Mountain Dew will have to suffice.
Just for giggles I checked the Microsoft Word meta data on all the files that eventually made up Well, Hell and learned a few interesting things. The final draft contained 69,328 words and was, over the years, actively being written or edited for a total of 452 hours, which works out to 56.5 eight-hour days or 2.8 working months. I also apparently made a total of 9502 edits while producing this book. No wonder I felt exhausted when Kathy hit “send.” At the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. I should therefore realize an income, before taxes of course, of at least $3,277.00, right? Maine’s minimum wage is $12.75 so I actually should get the “Maine bonus” of $5,763.00, or about eight cents a word. Now I just have to sell 1213 e-copies to achieve that goal. Piece of cake!
UPDATE: AUTHOR COPIES HAVE ARRIVED!
The trade paperback edition is now available, too. To be entered to win a print copy of Well, Hell, simply leave a comment on this post. The winner will be drawn on Friday the 21st and announced in the Weekend Update for October 22-23.
Sanford Emerson is a native Maine-iac and “boomer” who came of age in the 1960’s and still remembers most of it. Retired after a thirty-five year law enforcement career, he owns a woodworking business and writes humorous mystery stories set in the western Maine mountains. He is married and his wife is still alive. To buy a copy of Well, Hell, follow this link