On Our Own In Maine–Part One

 

Given that everyone these days is more isolated than usual, those of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers thought we’d share how we’re doing with the whole self-isolation and social distancing thing. Of course, writers have an advantage — we regularly hole up and avoid other people in order to write our books. Even for most of us, though, this is isolation on an unprecedented scale. Some of us may have griped in the past about being in “book jail” to meet a deadline, but the situation we’re all experiencing right now is infinitely worse.

That said, we’re in a unique position to offer a few helpful survival tips. Today and tomorrow, you can read how some of us are coping. Please feel free to comment, share your own tips, and let us know how you’re doing.

Charene D’Avanzo: What do writers do when we are “on our own”? Besides writing books, we read them! In times of confinement and disquiet, books offer insight, diversion, and more. Here’s a few I recommend:

     For absolute escape I unapologetically turn to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. The classic exemplar of the British gentleman detective, Wimsey has “straw-colored hair, a beaked nose, and a vaguely foolish face”. His hobby is criminology, which he is brilliant at, and he’s an expert on food, wine, and classical music. Clouds of Witness, second in the series, is on my nightstand right now. Peter’s brother is on the hot seat for their sister’s fiancé’s murder.

Another of my favorites by the Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez has the currently unfortunate title of Love in the Time of Cholera. In Spanish, cholera can translate as passion, the essence of this story. Although young Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza are passionately in love, Fermina marries a wealthy doctor. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after Florentino first declared his love for Fermina, he does so again after the doctor dies. The term “cholera” in the title alludes to plagues that ravage the countryside.  

Inexplicably looking for another book about a epidemic? In a recent NY Times piece Roger Cohen recommends The Plague written by Albert Camus in the 40’s. About his book Camus said “there have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared. When they break out people say: ‘It won’t last, it’s too stupid.’” Kinda sounds familiar, no?

Susan Vaughan: Like some others here, my husband and I fall into the over 70 category, so social distancing and staying put are good ideas, although we’re both pretty healthy. No reason to tempt fate. Grocery shopping, a trip to the car body shop (don’t ask), and a walk with a neighbor–6 feet apart–have been my only outings. I don’t ever seem to find it difficult to keep busy here at home. But oddly–and I have just realized this–the pressure to have to stay home has led me to force myself to keep busy every minute. A false approach. I’m tempering those urges as of now. I am starting a new writing project, a novella, so lots of pondering and note taking, may look like fiddling around, but that’s how a story comes together anyway.

Zumba class

I do need to exercise and not just my fingers on the keyboard. Walking the dog isn’t that demanding because she stops to sniff every foot or so. Lots of animal tracks and scent in the new snowfall of course. My fitness class at the Y is on hold, but my Zumba instructor has created a video class on a site called Zoom, so three times a week, for an hour I’m dancing in my office in front of the computer screen. No, that’s not me in this photo.

Stay safe and take care.

John Clark. It seems like every day there’s another ‘I sure didn’t see that coming’ moment. The biggest for me thus far, is seeing the recovery community turned upside down. Many of our meetings are in churches, schools and community buildings. The closure of many,  coupled with the ten person meeting limit has cut available AA, NA and Alanon meetings to almost zero. For old times like me, that’s worrisome, but for those in early recovery, it’s almost life threatening. They’re encouraged to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, so what do they do? Granted there has been a scramble to create online resources, but what if you’re broke, living in a homeless shelter, or have no internet access. I worry we’re dealing with one health crisis at the expense of another.

Another gotcha happened after I had my last check-up visit after cataract surgery and got a new prescription for glasses. When I took them to Walmart, I was told they were unable to order glasses and were reduced to delivering those ordered before the moratorium, or adjusting glasses frames for existing customers.

Then, there are the logical disconnects that keep me amused. Shaw’s has signs everywhere limiting customers to two items of high demand like toilet paper. This week’s ad had a special on a certain brand of same with the caveat ‘Must buy three.” Wonder how that’s shaking out.

Meanwhile, I’m calling older people, mostly former library patrons in Hartland to see how they’re doing and letting them know I’m thinking about them.

Maureen Milliken. I’m afraid I’m not going to be a ton of help for people looking for ways to ease their discomfort with social distancing. As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ve been a social distancing hobbyist my entire adult life. While I sympathize with people who are freaking out at the thought of not having contact with other people, I have trouble empathizing. Does that make me a social-isolation-opath?

I worked in an office — OK, newsrooms — for more than three decades and they were (most of them) a lot of fun. But I longed for the days off when I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I still work full-time, but at home. That’s pre-corona at home. Ditto for my two part-time jobs and my writing. So I’m home a lot.

Milo, the poster cat for social distancing.

I have two feral cats. I’ve had them since Aug. 14 and one is still hiding, though sometimes we surprise each other in the living room when she thinks I’ve gone to bed (in other words, turned off the TV). The other one is friendly, but he’s the poster cat for social distancing. Won’t get within arm’s length.

While I love my large family, I spent the first 18 years of my life, then shorter periods, crammed in with them sharing bedrooms, a refrigerator, the couch, the bathroom, fighting for the last cupcake and fighting over what to watch on TV. That’s right, one TV, six kids, and a pair of pliers to turn the broken channel knob with.

I know everyone will recommend reading, writing, meditating, etc. All that stuff is good and you should do it. But here’s my take, for what it’s worth: Get used to yourself. And whoever you may be stuck with. What else can you do?

Andrew Cuomo. So angry!

And speaking of TV, I do have friends who I see every day and spend time with. Lately they’ve been my angry buddy Andrew Cuomo, who soothes my Italian DNA with bluntness, anger and oh-so-familiar hand gestures. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Dr. Nirav Shah, head of Maine’s CDC, whose daily briefings are calm but firm, judgment-free and end with a sincere admonimition for us to take care of ourselves. And Dr. Tony Fauci, a fellow Holy Cross alumn, who I root for daily.

Dr. Nirav Shah. So calm, so reassuring.

There’s also Rachel Maddow. So angry, so disappointed. I know Rachel, I know.  And Stephanie Gosk, from NBC, who’s not only an awesome journalist, but is also cohost of a true crime show. And Kelly O’Donnell, NBC White House correspondent, who looks like about a dozen girls I went to college with. And Joy Reid, who’s only on

on weekends, so I have to anxiously wait to see her. There’s also the soothing, yet often urgent,  voice of the Forensic Files narrator as well as the new Forensic Files II narrator. Yes! It IS a shocking twist! YES! No one DID know what the mud on the tire would reveal! We are of one mind!

Want to talk to someone? Do what I do. When the Property Brother on that ubiquitioius video doorbell commercial says, “FACT! Everyone LOVES video doorbells!” Yell, “THAT’S NOT A FACT!”

See? You can social distance and be just fine. So, my advice to those new to social distancing is this: Wherever you go, there you are. Get used to yourself and ride it out.  I’m not trying to trivialize anyone’s fear or trauma, but it could be a lot worse.

BTW, Forensic Files is on ALL THE TIME on HLN. Just in case you’re wondering.

 

Sandra Neily: Sharing out free audio books for kids … and more….

Free Audio Books for Kids.  Audible has curated a huge selection for kids, aged 0 and up. Bet the sound effects are good on the toddler ones. At stories.audible.com, you will find hundreds of kids’ titles available completely free. The collection has been handpicked by editors and is a mix of stories to entertain, engage, and inform young people, ages 0–18. The experience is completely free – no log-ins, credit cards, or passwords required. Just click, stream and listen. (As a big kid who drives a lot, I downloaded some Harry Potter. The award -winning reader of this serious is amazing. A very UP treat, except for Voldemort of course.) 

Kids Get Virus Questions Answered: The NYTimes Daily podcast recorded kids’ virus questions, plays their voices, and has a perfect person answer them. In fact, send this to any person you think needs an interesting, non-preachy, lesson. (Maybe the governors of Florida and Idaho.)  There’s an adorable girl, aged 4, who asked a great question. Kudos to her parents for opening the world to her. Fearlessly. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/podcasts/the-daily/kids-coronavirus.html

Ski Areas are Closed but Not For Us Walkers/Hikers. My social distance treat is a March snowshoe or hike up hill. Parks and trails are getting closed all over. There’s been way too many people using them for us to keep safe distances and also, restrooms are closed, so it’s just not a safe place. It’s worth a trip to your nearest ski area where there are either muddy trails that offer tons of room, or spring snow conditions. Snowshoeing or hiking on snowy trails is just soul-restoring. Doggies just love the space to run and roam. Find a list here:  https://skimaine.com/

See the Happy: Put a great, happy home-screen pic of loved ones on your computer so you see it first thing. (Mine.)

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Update: March 28-29, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a group posts on Monday and Tuesday, with  Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson posting on Thursday and Kate Flora on Friday.

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

Kate Flora is looking for some humor to get through these anxious days. In that spirit, here’s a new take on proof reader’s marks you might enjoy:

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 4.13.10 PM

 And something very Maine to entertain you:

In ‘Blow the Man Down,’ a Down East noir where women are tougher than men

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/03/18/arts/blow-man-down-down-east-noir-where-women-are-tougher-than-men/

Don’t miss our group post on March 30th in which we share how Maine Crime Writers are handling the quarantine.

 

 

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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The Mind is My Salvation

Guess who’s got Grandpa’s sense of the absurd

John Clark pondering in these absurd and scary times. Nothing like feeling as though you’re stuck in bastard love child movie birthed by Bergman and Fellini. Early morning grocery shopping had me imagining I was an actor in a revised Doors musical video of Strange Days. Hannaford in Waterville offered a 6-7 AM time slot to senior citizens and others at risk. However, the store was more crowded than at any time I’ve been in there in months, so I’m not sure it was any better. It was interesting to study other shoppers. Almost every woman was wearing some form of gloves and many had masks. The men slouched, had nothing on their hands (most were in their pockets) and had looks on their faces that were somewhere between annoyance and deer in the headlights. Thankfully, we’re currently well grocered, but the squirrels in our back yard better be on their toes if there’s a meat shortage. I don’t know about others, but this Covid-19 phenomenon seems like a summer sunset in that it creeps ever so slowly until you shake your head and realize it’s real, it’s gonna be here for a lot longer than anyone imagined even a few weeks ago and the fact is that government, even if we had competent leadership, is ill equipped to deal with something so pervasive.

Beth is committed to going to Belgrade 5 days a week to care for 5 month old Reid. With school closed, that means six year old Piper is home, while Sara is working from home and Russ, who’s a maintenance worker/carpenter at Colby, is working 20 hours a week. It took a week or so, but I’m in the ‘avoid as many people as possible’ choir now. While my mind never left my twenties, my body is 72 and could be a sitting duck for this virus. Staying at home all day is a foreign experience.

I had a number of civic commitments arranged and every one was canceled. I completed training so I could go into the Somerset County Jail once a month to talk to inmates about recovery, The annual Hartland-Saint Albans Lions Literacy fair, an event I love because more than 150 kids attend and go home with books, is off until 2021, Likewise the Jobs For Maine Graduates Career Development Conference, an event that hundreds of high school students bust their tails to prepare for. The Alfond Center in Waterville is closed until who knows when and that wiped out 5 mornings of swimming and several miles of walking on the track. I know I’m whining, but I don’t handle multiple changes well. Then there’s AA and NA meetings. After almost 40 years of going to them, all the face to face ones are on hold. I’ll survive, but those who are new in sobriety are going to have a very tough time staying that way.

Libraries are closed and I can tell you the stress of seeing patrons go without their needs is starting to surface in the Maine library community online. Fortunately, many of the folks who can’t go to work at their library are doing as much virtually as possible. I’m amazed at the hard work both members of the library and the education communities have done to identify and share online educational resources with patrons and students. In a time where we’re dismayed by stories of greed and hoarding, they, along with publishers and purveyors of online databases, have stripped fees and restrictions from many resources so those homebound by the virus can access stuff.

The weather is about to ameliorate things a bit. It will be warm enough to rake, prune and start seeds. While I’m worried about the Fedco tree sale being canceled (we want raspberries, grapes and a couple pear trees). Right now it’s still on (Friday & Saturday, May 8-9, 9:00am-3:00pm at 213 Hinckley Rd., Clinton, ME.) If it comes to mail ordering, so be it. I have a vast assortment of veggie and flower seeds. With our cellar now insulated, it’s warm enough to start a lot of things down there.

There’s also the fact that, while Bullmoose may have closed their stores, I can still order from them online, so book deprivation isn’t an issue. I’m also wading through another treasure trove of classical sheet music I picked up at a library book sale. That’s going on ebay and I’m learning about obscure composers while I’m at it.

Life will go on, we’ll all get through somehow and when you’re feeling those squirrels in your head getting too frisky, think about calling someone who might appreciate you getting in touch with them. I’m also curious about what’s surprised you during this pandemic…things you reacted to more strongly, or that you never realized.

I leave you with a link to a great song done here by Tom Rush that sums up life in times like this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgpcR6VPHVM

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The Covefe and Me

Not too much on the crime side to report this month, though I have to say I was seriously bummed by having to cancel my first-time attendance at Left Coast Crime this year. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of catching the COVID-19 virus (which we are calling the COVEFE virus in our house because the response of the adults who are supposed to be managing things like this, at least at the national level, has been something less than reassuring), but that I mistrusted the response by politicians, bureaucrats, and the airline industry if something untoward happened while we were there. And I was doubly bummed because it was in San Diego, and after this weird cloudy unsnowy winter, I could have used some unabridged sun. As it turns out, the conference was canceled after the first day—I feel bad for the folks who went all that way for that.

There’s an extra layer of fear in the air, unnecessary and exacerbated by a Federal government that’s less concerned with people’s lives than with making itself look good and staying rich. As Charles P. Pierce said so well on Twitter: “The biggest miscalculation I made in covering the Democratic primary campaign this year was underestimating the pure political power of how many people want a president and a government that they don’t have to think about every day.”

Yep. Just want to live our lives.

There’s been a small bit of local good news in the meantime, though. Encircle Publications had bought the fifth book in the Elder Darrow series, tentatively title Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow. It’s scheduled for publication in September or October. One hopes we’ll be comfortable gathering in groups by then, and can give it a party.

Back to the COVEFE, though—the whole affair, if I can call it that, is representative of some of our worst shortcomings as people. First, we react more than we plan—how difficult is it, for example, to maintain a couple weeks’ supplies against any kind of interruption? Say, a blizzard? Instead, like sheeple, we run to Hannaford’s and strip the shelves. How much toilet paper can a household use in two weeks? A lot, apparently.

And we’re alarmists—our news covers the numbers of ill and dying, the spread of the infection, the crash in the stock market, but little of the heroic work of medical professionals and other responders.

And we’re weak thinkers. Instead of applying some critical thinking to the mad blabbing of the pundits, we shift from voice to voice, looking for someone to tell us what we think. We’re out of the habit of applying rationality to what we hear and read.

But I don’t come to bury us over the COVEFE. I believe the most positive response to all of this is, as with most issues, at the local level. If you think we’re all being treated equally in this, you’re deluding yourself. How, for example, did the NBA locate 58 tests for the virus on an hour or two’s notice? When we haven’t yet tested the same number of people South Korea tests in a day?

In my house, at least, we will take care of ourselves, keep a close but not too close eye on our neighbors, and try to respond to problems with more care, thought, and compassion than any group of divorced-from-reality politicians can muster. Because we’re down here on the ground, dealing with the everyday, while our “representatives” brandish automatic rifles mounted on their walls (disabled from firing, which seems fitting), and mouth limp platitudes about how concerned they are. The spectacle of Ted Cruz loudly and publicly self-quarantining is all you need to know about them.

Which leads me back to the local. Our state government’s response has been quick, alert, and measured. I believe we are as prepared as we can be for a threat we can’t see or anticipate, and to a large extent, we’re going about our business. So I raise a glass of Mean Old Tom to a state and a people with some bedrock common sense and a predilection to think before they panic. Mostly.

Oh, yeah. Crime. To some extent, I’m afraid I’m losing interest. The grand-scale idiocies and crimes perpetrated in this country over the past three years: crimes against women, against gender, against people of color and immigrants, against the environment, have—temporarily, I hope—dwarfed my inclination to write about fictional crimes. My stories seem pale and paltry against what we’re living through, like skim milk in your coffee when you want cream. I can but hope we’re in for a change. Real Soon Now.

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That Writing Studio Vibe

Darcy Scott: It was during a very hot summer a good number of years back that I started drafting my first novel. I remember sweating profusely as I hunkered over our sailboat’s galley counter fighting to keep the tomatoes from rolling into my endless pile of plot notes as we lurched from one secluded Maine anchorage to another. When late fall rolled around, forcing us to suck it up and move ashore before the snow began to fly, I transferred everything to the crowded kitchen table of our winter habitation where literary pursuits shared space with laundry, bread dough on the rise, and a few of the kids’ favorite toys. This annual back and forth has been our pattern ever since.

Mark Twain, (nee Samuel Clemens), long a favorite of mine, was apparently of the same mind about this kind of spacial repurposing and was known to use his billiards room, among other locations, for research and organization purposes, pressing his honkin’ pool table into use. Those balls make terrific paperweights, don’t you know. But it was in his outdoor octagon study in Elmira, NY that he penned his most famous works including The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Mark Twain’s Studio in Emira, NY

By all appearances, Twain’s studio was far neater than mine, tending as I do toward the messy end of the spectrum—my cluttered writing space more along the lines of William F. Buckley or Will Self—a post-apocalyptic author (The Book of DaveUmbrellaHow the Dead Live) whose studio walls, like mine, are crammed with notes, post-its and assorted literary paraphernalia.

William F. Buckley’s Studio
Will Self’s Studio

The immortal Maya Angelou took another approach, keeping a hotel room in which to do her writing in every town in which she lived. She’d leave her home each morning at 6:00 and be working by 6:30—keeping at it until early afternoon when she’d head back for some rest, sustenance, and a review of the day’s work, before beginning again next morning.

My own first real studio, if you don’t count sailboats and kitchen tables, was the smallest of rooms at the back of an apartment my husband and I shared—a space the size of a walk-in closet with a commanding view of the dumpster. Barely room enough for a scarred wooden door-cum-table for my outlines and notes, a narrow bookcase housing research materials, and a small computer table for my laptop and the Lobster Lamp (we’ll get to that in a minute). The finishing touch was an eight- by five-foot stretch of fiberboard that my husband tacked to the wall as a storyboard—plenty of room for the character sketches and sprawling plot lines I tend to develop.

My Current Studio

I finished three novels in this first studio (the psychological thriller Hunter Huntress and the first two of my Maine Island Mysteries), before we moved up the street to a larger house with, oddly enough, an even smaller writing studio.

Back to that lamp. I’m a firm believer that things come into our lives when they’re meant to. I’m not talking big spiritual concepts here—that’s a subject for another post, perhaps, maybe several—but stuff. A funky lamp found during a visit to an old cottage, in this case—its body a ten-inch lobster claw. I kid you not. I initially thought it might be plastic or maybe fiberglass, until a lobsterman friend of mine assured me it is (or more accurately was) a claw belonging to a very large, very real, and very old crustacean. Close to a hundred years, he guessed, when it was, um, repurposed—kind of freaky when you consider that the characters in my novels tend to be lobstermen.  This was back in 2012 and considering the fact that the lamp had, according to the owner of the cottage, been sitting atop his fireplace for some 30 years before I ever saw it, means that when this lovely man gifted it to me, the claw was somewhere between 125 and 130 years old, which puts the birth of the lobster somewhere around 1885—some 20 years post-Civil War. Think about that. The fact that the lamp actually works is an added bonus. Not to mention it makes a honkin’ prop at book signings.

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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Calling the Cops on an Iguana

Kate Flora: My husband and I have gotten in the habit of spending the month of March away from New England to escape from a too long winter. This winter, of course, has not been so bad, but the plans were in place, so we are hunkered down on Sanibel Island, off the Gulf Coast of Florida. Still bent over our keyboards and stacks of notes every day, but instead of surrounded by the browns and grays of a snowless New England landscape, there are swaying palm trees and squawking moorhens and mewling osprey overhead.

When our work is done–my 1000+ words and Ken’s editing of his WIP, we go and walk on the beach, maintaining careful social distance, of course, and watch the birds. Or we bike out to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and look at birds while getting some exercise.

IMG_3390

One of the changes that comes with this month away is living in a very suburban neighborhood. At home, we live in the woods. Here, from the front we see a steady parade of dog walkers and bikes, and people coming back from the beach clutching bags of shells. In back, our rental has a deck overlooking a pond, and across the pond, we hear other people splashing in their pools, talking on the phone, and chatting. It makes me feel a bit like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.

I can tell you that the man next door believes that this coronavirus things is a big hoax and blown out of proportion, while a woman across the pond has come down for three weeks to spend her quarantine time here. I can tell you that the people on the other side from “hoax man” are Massachusetts folks who have just finalized their move to live here permanently. I can tell you that we have a pool girl, not a pool boy. That her name is Amber, and that in my notes of stories I might write someday, I’ve written: Davey and the Pool Girl.

But about those iguanas. It seems Florida is overrun with invasive creatures that destroy the native inhabitants. One such invasive in the green iguana. Several years ago, I was sitting on a different back porch on a different part of the island when my husband called for me to look in the backyard and there was a very large green iguana making its way through the yard. I learned then, from the Sanibel town website, that the creatures are unwanted and someone spotting one should call the police.

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Well. it was too late for that fellow. He (or she) went on into the jungle to continue depredations. Fast forward to the other day, when I was stuck trying to figure out what Joe Burgess was up to, and what had really happened to Dr. Ted Gabbro, geologist, and I went out with my camera to take a picture of a Great Egret. Something large and lizard-like was in a backyard across the pond. I grabbed my binoculars and there was a big, fast-moving iguana. Moments later, another, larger iguana appeared in the yard.

I called the cops.

It made me feel ridiculous, calling the cops on a lizard, but I did it. The dispatcher said the trapper was on the island and she would let him know.

I have no idea whether the critter got caught or escaped. But now, like Jimmy Stewart, I am out there several times a day, watching. Yesterday it was a swimming turtle and a pair of cormorants sunning themselves.

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Weekend Update: March 21-22, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Kate Flora (Monday), Darcy Scott (Tuesday), Dick Cass (Thursday) and John Clark (Friday).

 

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

 

 

 

 

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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