Cover Reveal: The Finder of Lost Things

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing as Kathy. You’d think, after having over sixty books traditionally published in various genres and under various names, that I’d have hit just about every genre there is. But no—my October 6th release from Level Best Books, The Finder of Lost Things, is a first for me in that it’s a standalone historical mystery. And here, for the first time, is a look at the gorgeous cover the folks at Level Best Books have provided for it.

I’ve written historical mystery series in the past, and standalones, but I’ve never before combined the two. That said, I’m back in familiar territory with this one, writing about England in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. The Finder of Lost Things is set in the winter of 1590/1 and the protagonist/heroine/sleuth, Blanche Wainfleet, is on a quest.

Blanche and her two older sisters recently learned that their youngest sibling, Alison, died under mysterious circumstances. Since there is reason to suspect foul play, Blanche, whose husband is conveniently traveling on the Continent, takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Alison. She contrives to have herself committed to the prison in Colchester Castle, where Alison died after being arrested during a raid on a Catholic household. It was illegal, you see, to hear Mass in England in the 1590s, and those who recused themselves from attending services of the Church of England (called recusants) were also heavily fined.

real stairs in Colchester Castle (they wouldn’t have had the railing in Tudor times)

Blanche has excellent powers of observation and she has always had an uncanny ability to find lost objects. When she infiltrates first the prison and then the household where her sister was employed as a gentlewoman’s companion, those traits don’t always work in her favor. Despite her careful planning, aided by her sisters and their husbands, Blanche ends up on her own, forced to live by her wits and call on strengths she didn’t know she had. If she isn’t careful, she’ll find out, first hand, how Alison ended up dead.

I was able to explore some interesting parts of Elizabethan life in The Finder of Lost Things, including various superstitions about witchcraft, possession by demons, and exorcism, and the religious divide that still existed decades after Henry VIII broke with Rome to found the Anglican church.

The Finder of Lost Things will be available for preorder shortly. The release date is October 6 and it will come out in two formats, trade paperback (priced at $16.95) and e-book ($5.99). I don’t have author copies yet, but keep watching this blog for opportunities to win a copy when I do. If you comment on this post, your name will automatically be entered in that future drawing.

With the publication of The Finder of Lost Things, Kathy Lynn Emerson has had sixty-three books traditionally published under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. In addition to writing under her own name, she currently she pens the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn Dunnett. She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

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It’s Really Ok to Call Something Stupid

Sandra Neily here: With apologies for crashing into this lovely fall weather with anything sobering (this is not about covid), but maybe after the hottest summer on record in Maine, we can shake loose our brains for something we can do something about.

clearcuts aren’t really forestry

I have been on a bit of a mission. Both my novels attempt to seduce readers into a compelling murder mystery, into the magic of woods, and also into what threatens to murder those woods. (One murder mystery inside another murder mystery.)

In Maine, this forest is the last temperate forest of its size and kind in the northern hemisphere. Rich in all kinds of plant and animal diversity and essential water resources, and the last of its kind: chunking it up with industrial development is, well, just stupid.

There, I’ve said it. Stupid.

And now if you’ll read on, I’ll make the case. (Or you can acquire a copy of Deadly Turn and get seduced into finding out what I will spell out more coldly in this post.

Deadly Turn is about wind power where it might not belong, but all the issues in it could also be about CMP’s proposed energy corridor where more energy has been spent putting millions into advertising it, than actually proving the case it will reduce our carbon footprint.

Here’s the best info on it.…and info on What You Can Do. (Natural Resources of Maine webinar). And if you like trout or just rivers and streams and ponds, listen to Trout Unlimited’s Jeff Reardon talk about how 300 industrial, wide-road stream crossings in undeveloped woods (many on public land bought with our tax dollars) is, well, pretty stupid.

First a quote from Deadly Turn to set up the Trees Beat Turbines issue.


Kate’s face brightened. “There’s tons of calculations in forestry. It’s not just boys with axes any more. Folks crunching numbers are all over the place analyzing the forest’s outputs and versatility. I’m headed toward the new stuff. My advisor teaches Climate and Carbon Dynamics and even though I’m not that far along in the program, he lets me audit that class.”

“Smarty-pants,” I said.

“Yup. I am. Your idea about how Maine should appreciate what it has—tons of trees rather than putting industrial energy in remote locations? Well, it didn’t look like you got beyond the public relations thing. It looked like you were working the spin part, but you never got to the math.” She grinned a very wide grin that quickly disappeared. “I’ve got the math. The proof. And most of my notes were in the pack that got stolen.”

“How far did you get?” I asked.

The damselflies were back, this time hooked up in mid-air to mate right in front of us. Kate ignored them. “The math might disappoint some environmental organizations who thought wind power was a climate-change answer for us here. It’s weird. I can run computer models based on real field research. I can show how growing Maine trees and leaving them longer on the land before they’re harvested pulls more carbon from the air than any other carbon reduction strategy we could go for.”

I attended a Wind and Wildlife Conference, and we often met under the turbines.

She looked at me, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Weird they don’t do their homework. The green groups. They claim that wind power closes down fossil fuel plants. No way. Those plants need to stay on-line to produce power when the turbines are down or when there’s too little or too much wind. Every time they say wind will power so many homes, it’s theoretical bullshit. Wind can’t power a home twenty-four hours a day. Impossible. Would be like brown-outs in third-world places that only have one crummy power source that goes down all the time.”

I was afraid that if I jumped up and hugged her, the moment where she’d gone far beyond anything I’d imagined would end badly.


(And here’s my plain vanilla mission statement that defines the Trees Beat Turbines case. All the carbon facts I use come from energy experts. After reading it, you might understand why I tiptoed in with a novel instead of …. plain vanilla anything.)



Consider Two Converging Facts:

A 1% change in carbon storage from our Maine forest (either up or down) equals 3 years of carbon output of the entire state of Maine.  (The Nature Conservancy)

The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change. A three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has “grim implications …”


What if Maine could create the largest carbon reduction program in the country? With over 17 million acres of trees, we are the most forested state, and we have more than enough forestry expertise to figure out how to increase our carbon storage.

Industrial wind development involves blasting wide roads up through previously unroaded forests found on high elevations.

We might create a “YES” moment that avoids the “NO” now defining many of our forest conservation efforts as we resist forest-destroying initiatives.

Why aren’t we talking about Maine forest assets that could really assist carbon reduction efforts? Why are we industrializing the woods? (Blowing up mountains for industrial wind that delivers power less than 32% of the time or building a CMP corridor in forests that should never host transforming development? 

At a 2007 carbon conference (when I worked for UMO’s “Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative”) Seven Islands Land Company’s manager said, “Why don’t you just pay us to keep trees longer on the land? That would do it.”

He was suggesting that we find a way to incentivize landowners to leave trees longer before harvest.

Since that time, the Appalachian Mountain Club and The Nature Conservancy (and other nonprofits) have successfully researched and executed carbon exchange programs based on Maine’s forest carbon reduction potential. Their research clarifies carbon sequestration and negotiation values for various tree species.

When I ask why this issue is not discussed, I hear there’s “no money” to incentivize land owners. That might be cart before the horse thinking. If Maine (and other forested states) can find a way to increase forest health and retain intact woodlands even as we make a carbon reduction contribution—money to fund that kind of innovation will follow.

DOING CARBON THE MAINE WAY could be a significant win-win effort. Currently both the CMP transmission corridor and industrial wind power create winners and losers and needless controversy.

What if we didn’t pit tourism communities that need intact resources to maintain their brand against those who plan to profit from industrializing Maine’s forests?

What if we didn’t need to pit one green goal (carbon reduction) against another green goal (forest conservation in the face of fragmentation threats)?

What if we could actually rejuvenate northern forest lands and wildlife habitat by leaving some trees on the land longer?

What a powerful way to grow Maine’s reputation and brand, nationally and internationally. We could make progress on the world’s two most serious environmental issues at the same time: climate change and loss of the natural world. (These crises are happening at the same time; they are connected.)

“The Rapid Decline of the Natural World Is A Crisis Bigger Than Climate Change.” A “three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has grim implications …”

It is true that many corporate-owned forests are now so heavily cut (barely 2% in mature growth here in Maine), that normal carbon exchange programs on these lands could not essentially be a total model at this time. But the research underpinning the work AMC and TNC have done on carbon storage of Maine trees should give us what we need to create a state-wide, carbon storage program.

To repeat: CMP’s energy corridor will cross forested streams with wide roads and transmission lines at least 300 times.

… a Maine program that will pull more carbon from the atmosphere than transmission lines to MA or the 300+ miles of industrial wind development authorized for our high elevation forests.

Developing high elevation lands and roading unfragmented forests to send power to New England states that have green portfolio laws requiring them to buy power anywhere they can find it, seems like a poor Maine solution when we have carbon-eating trees.

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.













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Weekend Update: September 12-13, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Thursday), and William Andrews (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

It’s Maine Crime Writers “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest – late summer/early fall edition. How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to: with “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will run through the middle of October.

Here’s a nice review of Dick Cass’s upcoming book:


What do you wonder about the writing process when you are reading a mystery? Is it how characters are created? Is it how a writer plots the story? Is it how writers do their research? Is it what the writer’s background is or what lead them to become a writer? Here at MCW, we welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora


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Down the Rabbit Hole without a Ladder

EDITED TO ANNOUNCE THAT TEMPEWYTCH IS MY WINNER! Please contact me at and tell me which Lady Adelaide Mystery you’d like me to send you.

Thanks to Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Flora for inviting me to join and blog with Maine Crime Writers! I’m thrilled and honored to be in such exalted company. As a recovering romance writer, I have discovered it’s so much more fun to have people kill each other than kiss, and at only three cozy mysteries in, I’ve lost count of the bodies I’ve strewn about.

I think anyone who ever knew me would be startled at my recent foray into crime—I was an earnest rule follower from my fist tentative baby steps, ever the good girl. An only child. A teacher’s pet. I skipped two grades and consequently missed the year they studied my home state’s history. I know nothing, and would have forgotten it by now anyway. And since you don’t know MY history, I thought I’d share a personal fact I’m not sure I’ve even told my kids.

In the fourth grade, my whole class collaborated on writing a play based on popular children’s books and fairy tales. (Probably a violation of copyright, but it’s a little late to prosecute; fourth grade was many, many decades ago.) I was cast as Alice in Wonderland. My mother made me a ruffled pinafore to wear, and my long blonde hair was held back in an Alice band. Someone got dressed up in a rabbit suit, and at my cue I obediently followed him off stage.

Foreshadowing! Who knew I was to obediently follow all the rabbits and be forever lost down the rabbit hole of research? Some years ago, I wrote an Edwardian-era romance. (It got a starred review in Library Journal, upon whose laurels I still rest.) My characters get on a train and go to Kent, a county in England. The year was 1903, and it really would have been perfectly fine for me to have them meet at the unnamed station and get on the unnamed train, right?

Oh, no, the rabbits whispered. Which railway station in London would have been used to travel to Kent back then? What was the name of the company that serviced that area? How long would the trip take? When did the train leave? Do you see where I’m going here? (Not to Kent.) I probably spent at least an hour Googling train schedules and rail lines.

And what did I find out? The Chatham Line, which was in perpetual economic difficulty, left from Victoria Station to go to Kent. And what lyrical, sparkly gems resulted from that lost hour in the actual text of the book?

“…he was grateful to sink into a somewhat tattered first-class compartment of the Chatham Line. The railroad company had the reputation of being a somewhat shaky enterprise, but at least its trains always arrived on time.”

Anyone who traveled on the defunct Chatham Line to Kent in 1903 is undoubtedly dead. My readers most likely wouldn’t know or care if I had my characters meet at Paddington instead of Victoria. But you’ll remember this Alice was a goody-goody, so here we are.

I’m beginning a new mystery set in the 1920s to follow the Lady Adelaide series (the fourth and final book is out next fall), and already I’ve got myself in trouble. I was looking for a historical event that might provide a reason for someone to be murdered many years afterward. I hit upon a battle in the Zulu Wars, where a company of about 150 British soldiers held off between 3,000-4,000 Zulu warriors. I’ve read numerous articles, but don’t quite feel I have a handle on it. Am I going to have to watch the 1964 movie Zulu? I think you know the answer.

Are you a stickler for historical accuracy in books and movies, or are you willing to let things slide for entertainment’s sake? What’s a weird historical fact you’ve picked up? I learned mouse skin was once cut and glued onto foreheads to provide lush eyebrows. Alice’s dormouse had better watch out.

By way of introducing myself, I’ll give away the Lady Adelaide Mystery of choice (Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, Who’s Sorry Now?, or Just Make Believe) to one random commenter!

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How’s Them Apples

I know it’s not autumn yet but it feels that way. The temperatures here in Maine are quickly dropping, especially at night. It’s noticeable because this past summer has been one of the hottest on record. So this Sunday after mowing the lawn and hitting the gym, my wife, my daughter and I headed to the country to get us some apples and blueberries. Having completed two manuscripts this summer, the rest of my day was clear and free. There would be no writing today. It would be all about the apples—and blueberries.

It was a beautiful day. We climbed in the car and drove the forty-five minutes out to the country. The smells of grass and cow manure filled the air. We arrived at the farm and immediately took in the rolling mountains and greenery. Come October, the colors would be more spectacular than they were now. But it was still quite beautiful. For once it was nice not to have to think about murder and deceit.

We climbed out of the car and got shuttled by golf cart to the main entrance. In the distance I could see rows upon rows of apple and blueberry groves. The day was festive and many people had already showed up. A two-man band played a Van Morrison song inside a tent-covered patio. Little kids danced in front of the two band members, along with their parents. The aroma of fresh beer, apple cider donuts and brick oven pizzas filled the air.

There were sweet varieties of blueberries and tangy blueberries, although we all agreed that the sweet blueberries were the tastiest. Three quarts tasty. Then we proceeded to the apple groves where we filled a large bag with Courtlands, Macs and Golden Delicious.

A great day of family fun. If only our son was home from college it would have been better. But we sent him the pics. Better hurry before they run out.

How you like them apples?

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Playing Virtual Detective/Absentee Makes the Vote Grow Stronger

John Clark on an extremely important issue right now. While Brenda stole a bit of my thunder on Friday, this issue is too important not to keep up the reminders. I’ve never missed voting in an election since I became eligible to do so. What transpired with the Vietnam War and student activism during my college years sold me solidly on the importance of doing so. Sometimes the candidates were as exciting as cold, greasy hamburger, but I held my nose and still cast my ballot.

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like every other aspect of life, it has kicked the election process in the butt big time. We’ve seen what happened in various primary elections: long lines, epic rhetoric and distrust about the process and a huge spike in requests for absentee ballots. If you follow Maine news outlets, or active in the political arena as a volunteer, you’re aware that larger municipalities like Portland are desperate to recruit enough poll workers for the November 3rd election.

That brings me to the theme of this post-absentee balloting and how to go about it in Maine. First, I realize many readers of the MCW blog are from other states, but what I lay out here can be extrapolated to whatever state you live in. If you’re active in a political party at this moment in history, sure as hell, you’ve been asked to get involved, whether it’s through donating money or time, it’s happened. I’m doing both (monthly contributions to and Emily’s List) and through various candidate campaigns in Maine (senate on both state and national levels, local mayor and city council in Waterville). I learned early on that I’m completely useless at phone banking. I got over my fear of knocking on doors when I ran for the legislature in 2018, but cold calling makes me freeze up (no pun intended) every time. I’ll deliver signs, display them on our lawn, put stickers on my car, help with mailings, write postcards and letters to the editor…And even pilot the blimp, or hang upside down waving a banner as it flies over the country.

Never take your right to vote for granted.

Most of my recent involvement has been through being on call with a voter hotline to field questions about the upcoming election in terms of where to register and vote, as well as in efforts to make sure that clear and accurate information about the absentee voting process is available. It’s worth noting that as of September 3rd, 120,000 Maine voters have requested an absentee ballot.

One thing I’m doing that’s pretty easy is evaluating town websites to see what they’ve got posted in terms of information for residents. I’m looking to see whether they have easily found information on how to request an absentee ballot, what the deadlines are for requesting one, when it needs to be completed and where to send/deposit it. Of the six towns assigned to me thus far, two-Bucksport and Milford, have no information about the November election. Warren has its act completely together and the other three hover between zip and comprehensive.

Requesting an absentee ballot if you’re a registered Maine voter is very easy, just go to this link and fill out the information. While the deadline for doing so is 10/29/20, the sooner you request, the less chance it doesn’t reach you. While the most common way to return them is by mail, many towns have a secure drop box where voters can deposit them and there’s even a way to absentee vote in person. This and other questions are answered at this link on the Secretary of State’s website.

Two more things of note. First be aware that in person voting in many Maine municipalities will involve waits of an hour or more because of limited poll workers and COVID-19 precautions. Second, if you want to help, AARP is encouraging people to ‘adopt’ a town clerk to help process and mail out requested ballots. If you’re interested, call your town clerk and see if they need help.

Stay safe, but please DO vote.

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Weekend Update: September 5-6, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Joe Souza (Tuesday), Maggie Robinson (Thursday), and Sandra Neily (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

For our friends out there who are music lovers, here’s The Ghost of Paul Revere singing Maine’s state ballad:

 We’re doing Zoom events at libraries these days. Contact us if you’d like to schedule one.

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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My Thoughts Are Like Sanderlings, Redux

In early April, when our awareness of the pandemic was still new, I wrote a post consisting of a series of random thoughts. I thought about that post last Sunday while walking the beach late in the afternoon, studying the little birds I used to illustrate the first sentence:

During this trying time, my brain frequently skitters from thought to thought in approximately the same manner as this flock of sanderlings feeding along the line of an incoming tide.

And here they are again, their busy antics deserving of a return performance here on the MCW blog.

Tide in and tide out, the tiny birds roam the wrack line, looking for nibbles and flitting around in formation. So entertaining. So calming.

I’m more focused than I was in April, when the tragedy that is coronavirus was only beginning to unfold. But once again my head is abuzz with short takes rather than full-blown ideas, so here’s another sanderling-like post.

►  I totally forgot about Wednesday’s group post featuring memorable photos from our respective summers, so I’m interspersing a few in this post to make up for that oversight.

I never tire of beach roses.

► Did anyone else get whiplash a week or so ago when the mugginess of the first half of August evaporated in a blink, ushering in a series of I-need-to-wear-socks days and pull-up-the-quilt nights? The transition seemed even more abrupt than usual this year. A couple of mornings there – brrrrr!

Evening fog

Evening mist at the shore promises foghorns that will sing us to sleep.

►  A flood of incredible crime novels released this summer (and more coming this fall) has me scrambling to keep up. Recently I’ve read Paul Doiron’s terrific One Last Lie, Cheryl Head’s Find Me When I’m Lost, the newest in her wonderful Charlie Mack series, Laura Lippman’s fine Lady In The Lake, Kristen Lepionka’s highly engaging The Last Place You Look, Irish writer Dervla McTiernan’s The Ruin (don’t miss it!) and S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which was everything the reviewers promised and more.

Fabulous sunset

Like Kate Flora, I love a good sunset. This one illuminates Allen Cove in Brooklin.

►  This fall I’m looking forward to more excellent reading, both crime and non-crime. Soon to be released and on my pre-order list: the incomparable Walter Mosley’s short story collection, The Awkward Black Man, Ann Cleeves’ new Vera Stanhope novel The Darkest Evening and Louise Penny’s All The Devils Are Here, which I understand is set not in Canada but Paris(!). I also plan to treat myself to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead books (Gilead, Home, Lila and the soon to be released Jack). The first three have been on my TBR list for some time, and I believe this fall will be the right time to immerse myself.

►  I was fortunate to be an early reader of Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow by our own Richard J. Cass, which is out next month. It’s his best book yet in the marvelous Elder Darrow series. You can pre-order it (and any other book you might like to buy) from any of the area’s local booksellers. Here are five of my faves:,,, and

This was my morning writing spot when we were on vacation. It is so perfect it almost looks fake, but it is a real and wonderful place, dear to my heart.

►  Is there anything more wonderful than a sandwich consisting of a ripe tomato—still sun-warm from your own garden—on nice bread of some sort? Maybe miche or rustica from Standard Baking, or three-seed from Big Sky? Add a little mayo (the good stuff) and if you feel fancy, some torn basil leaves. A bit of coarse salt and black pepper. Simplicity to be savored.

Labor Day weekend bounty

►  Are you registered to vote? Do you know the many ways you can vote this fall, and how to go about it? If not and you need to know how/where/when, here are some helpful links:

Happy Labor Day everyone! Keep your bookshelves full, your chins up and find some fun this weekend. Sorry to say, summer’s on the run!

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. She’s currently working on a new series featuring criminal lawyer Neva Pierce, whose passionate defense of her clients leads her deep into the rough-and-tumble world of Downeast crime.

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Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane

Kate Flora: It was one of those days–the days when a blog post is due and my brain feltp4Yh+jdqQveCJAIi6EQv9Q empty. I started a post. Trashed it. Started another and it was boring. I got up and prowled around my office, which is a tiny space crammed from floor to ceiling with books and filing carts, looking for inspiration. Instead, I found a notebook with my mother’s correspondence from fifty years ago, trying to sort out her family’s history. Nope, not inspired by that, but it was fascinating to see the process, long before there were genealogy programs for computers. Queries. Answers in the distinctive handwriting of dozens of people all over the country, answers in the distinctive voices of those letter writers. It reminded me that we’ve lost something in the transition from written communication to email.DDzt9lmtSOO1xjW+d%oaOg

In another file, labeled “Fan Mail,” I find cards and letters from my early writing years, sending praise and compliments on my books.

I left that behind and opened another filing drawer. It in were the manuscripts of the first mysteries I wrote, those books that live forever in a drawer. Two law student mysteries. A book about a disgruntled teacher who moved to Sanibel Island and became a dog groomer. The three Ross McIntyre mysteries. Along with those books were files of research done to create those books, and correspondence and hand-written notes from long-ago writing groups or beta readers.



I pulled out a file called “Ideas.” An weird, decades long collection of little things I’ve collected that might be used in a book someday, or inspire a book some day. This file doesn’t have have the two clippings that have lived on my refrigerator for years. One was a newspaper article about plague rats escaping from a lab. The second a pulmonary physician who died at home of an asthma attack. Definitely story ideas here. Along with those, I have those little pieces of paper we all keep. One of mine says: Poison in an airplane meal when a person always orders a special meal. Another is a snipped of character: “He saw himself as being like a man on a Unicycle balancing two others on his shoulders. He had to pedal frantically to keep from falling over. If he fell, they fell, too.”

Another tiny piece of paper records something a neighbor saw and called me about. She’d just been to the Fruitlands Museum and saw twelve motorcycles in the parking lot. In the noisy tea room, there were twelve leather-clad middle-aged women from a motorcycle club called “Moving Violations.”


I don’t know what I will do with all these discoveries, nor with a file on articles about writing from the late Globe columnist Donald Murray, who sent me my very first fan letter. I do know that I now have a lot to think about. Rewrite an early book? Read that fan mail and see what inspired people to write? Take some advice from Don Murray? Learn more about the history of my mother’s side of the family? I have learned this from prowling around my office and I pass it along to you: don’t throw those little pieces of paper away. Use the newspaper for story ideas. Listen to conversations around you and pay attention to the people you see. You may think you have nothing to write about but there may be the seeds of a novel lurking there.



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The Origins of American Noir Fiction


Vaughn C. Hardacker here: I’ve been told on several occasions that my novels tend to be noir. Have you ever wondered where the form of crime fiction labelled as noir came from? I have . . . but then I’m a bit on the compulsive side. When I become interested in something I want to know everything there is to know about it (sometimes to my detriment). In its modern form, noir has come to denote a marked darkness in theme and subject matter, generally featuring a disturbing mixture of sex and violence.[1]

While related to and frequently confused with hardboiled detective fiction—due to the regular adaptation of hardboiled detective stories in the film

The Killer Inside of Me by Jim Thompson example of a noir book cover

noir style—the two are not the same. Both regularly take place against a backdrop of systemic and institutional corruption. However, noir fiction (French for “black”) is centered on protagonists that are either victims, suspects, or perpetrators—often self-destructive. A typical protagonist of noir fiction is forced to deal with a corrupt legal, political or other system, through which the protagonist is either victimized and/or has to victimize others, leading to a lose-lose situation.

All that said, let’s look at two writers who are considered to be early proponents of the sub-genre:

Cornell Woolrich was born in New York City; his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother, Claire Attalie Woolrich. He attended Columbia University but left in 1926 without graduating when his first novel, Cover Charge, was published. Woolrich enrolled at New York’s Columbia University in 1921 where he spent a relatively undistinguished year until he was taken ill and was laid up for

Cornell Woolrich (1903 – 1968)

some weeks. It was during this illness (a Rear-Window-like confinement involving a gangrenous foot, according to one version of the story) that Woolrich started writing, producing Cover Charge, which was published in 1926.” Cover Charge was one of his Jazz Age novels inspired by the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A second short story, Children of the Ritz, won Woolrich the first prize of $10,000 the following year in a competition organized by College Humor and First National Pictures; this led to his working as screenwriter in Hollywood for First National Pictures. While in Hollywood,  he married Violet Virginia Blackton, the 21-year-old daughter of J. Stuart Blackton, one of the founders of the Vitagraph studio. Failing in both his attempt at marriage and at establishing a career as a screenwriter (the unconsummated marriage was annulled in 1933; Woolrich garnered no screen credits), Woolrich sought to resume his life as a novelist:

Although Woolrich had published six ‘jazz-age’ novels, concerned with the party-antics and romances of the beautiful young things on the fringes of American society, between 1926 and 1932, he was unable to establish himself as a serious writer. Perhaps because the ‘jazz-age’ novel was dead in the water by the 1930s when the depression had begun to take hold, Woolrich was unable to find a publisher for his seventh novel, I Love You, Paris, so he literally threw away the typescript, dumped it in a dustbin, and re-invented himself as a pulp writer.(Eddie Duggan (1999) ‘Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich’ CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126[)

When he turned to pulp and detective fiction, Woolrich’s output was so prolific his work was often published under one of his many pseudonyms. For example, “William Irish” was the byline in Dime Detective Magazine (February 1942) on his 1942 story “It Had to Be Murder”, source of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rear Window and itself based on H.G. Wells’ short story “Through a Window”. François Truffaut filmed Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black and Waltz into Darkness in 1968 and 1969, respectively, the latter as Mississippi Mermaid. Ownership of the copyright in Woolrich’s original story “It Had to Be Murder” and its use for Rear Window was litigated before the US Supreme Court in Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990).

Woolrich’s mother died in 1957, he [went] into a sharp physical and mental decline. Although he moved from Harlem’s decrepit Hotel Marseilles to a more upmarket residence in the Hotel Franconia near Central Park, and later to the Sheraton-Russell on Park Avenue, Woolrich was a virtual recluse. Now in his 60s, with his eyesight failing, lonely, psychologically wracked by guilt over his homosexuality, tortured by his alcoholism, self-doubt, and a diabetic to boot, Woolrich neglected himself to such a degree that he allowed a foot infection to become gangrenous which resulted, early in 1968, in the amputation of a leg.

After the amputation, and a conversion to Catholicism, Woolrich returned to the Sheraton-Russell, confined to a wheelchair. Some of the staff there would take Woolrich down to the lobby so he could look out on the passing traffic, thus making the wizened, wheelchair-bound Woolrich into a kind of darker, self-loathing version of the character played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

With the type of closure that is usually only encountered as a literary device, the Woolrich story turns full-circle around the Oedipally charged foot motif, the writing career that apparently began with a period of confinement attributed to a foot infection ends with an amputation, and the deep Freudian resonance that amputation induces

James M. Cain (1892 – 1977)

James M. Cain was an American author and journalist. Cain vehemently opposed labeling, but he is usually associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and is seen as one of the creators of the roman noir. Several of his crime novels inspired successful movies. He was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland. The son of an educator and a failed opera singer, he inherited a love of music from his mother, but his hopes of a career as a singer were thwarted when she told him that his voice was not good enough. The family moved to Chestertown, Maryland, in 1903. In 1910, Cain graduated from Washington College, where his father, James W. Cain, served as president. By 1914, Cain had decided to become a writer. He began working as a journalist for the Baltimore American and then the Baltimore Sun. Cain was drafted into the United States Army and spent the final year of World War I in France writing for an army magazine.

Upon returning to the United States, Cain continued working as a journalist, writing editorials for the New York World and a play, a short story, and satirical pieces for American Mercury. He briefly served as the managing editor of The New Yorker and later worked mainly on screenplays and novels.

His first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934. Two years later Double Indemnity was serialized in Liberty magazine.

Cain made use of his love of music, particularly the opera, in at least three of his novels: Serenade, about an American opera singer who loses his voice and, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the United States illegally with a Mexican prostitute; Mildred Pierce, in which, as part of the subplot, the surviving daughter of a successful businesswoman trains as an opera singer; and Career in C Major, a short semi-comic novel about the unhappy husband of an aspiring opera singer, who unexpectedly discovers that he has a better voice than she does. In his novel The Moth, music is important in the life of the main character. Cain’s fourth wife, Florence Macbeth, was a retired opera singer.

Cain spent many years in Hollywood working on screenplays, but his name appears as a screenwriter in the credits of only two films: Stand Up and Fight (1939) and Gypsy Wildcat (1944), for which he is one of three credited screenwriters. For Algiers (1938) Cain received a credit for “additional dialogue”, and he had story credits for other films. Cain continued writing up to his death, at the age of 85. He published many novels from the late 1940s onward, but none achieved the financial and popular success of his earlier books.


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