Weekend Update: November 13-14, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be  posts by Kate Flora (Monday), Charlene D’Avanzo (Tuesday), Sandra Neily (Thursday), and Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Friday). Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

The winner of last Win a Book Wednesday’s giveaway, a download of The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, is Ann Hough. Thanks to all who entered.

 

 

 

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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Haunted or History

I once lived in a haunted house. No, this isn’t a Halloween post, but a history one. It’s partly my history and that of the farmhouse where I lived for a year as a child.

My husband and I recently took a road trip from Maine to rural, southern West Virginia to visit my dearest childhood friend. I won’t share how many years that is, but it’s a lot! I hadn’t seen her in about fifteen years, we’re both getting on in years, and it was time to go.

We had a wonderful visit which included a stop at the old farmhouse that is my focus here. A little of my personal history first. My father had been teaching in Greenbrier County, a beautiful valley of green field, hills, and small towns and named for the river that flows through it. While completing his doctoral program in education at the University of Virginia, he took the job of principal, grades 1-12, in the farming community of Smoot. It was there I started first grade and met my forever friend the first day of school. But that’s another tale.

While our small house was being built near the school, my parents and I boarded with Lillie Deitz in her 1840 brick farmhouse a few miles away. The house sits on a high knoll with gently rolling pastures and nearby woodlands.

Mrs. Deitz’s son and daughter-in-law also lived there and worked the farm. My little family occupied two rooms on the second floor.

A door on the other side of the central staircase led to rooms that were unoccupied… by anyone living. I was told that during the Civil War (Civil War was meaningless to me at age five and a half) that side of the upstairs had been a hospital. I was to stay out of there because ghosts of soldiers haunted the rooms. One day the door stood slightly ajar. I gathered my courage and nudged the door inward. Cold air and the odors of dust and something dank raised goosebumps on my arms. The glimpse of faded and stained canvas and wood cots and a table with dusty metal implements was enough to back me out and close the door. Looking back now, I think the parental warning was because the medical instruments would be dangerous to inquisitive little fingers.

I don’t know why all that was kept. Maybe the Deitz family knew it was important to preserve it, although the heirs didn’t pursue having the house designated an historic site until much later. It was designated a National Historic Place in 1992.

On my previous visit to the house, also with my friend as guide, I had been appalled to see the deterioration of the house. A fallen oak had crushed part of the roof. Vandals had broken windows, damaged fireplaces, and sprayed graffiti. The porch was gone.

So why beyond being a hospital does this farm deserve to be in the National Register of Historic Places? Because it was way more than I knew until this visit. Between 1861 and 1865, the farm served as a headquarters and military hospital by both sides of the war. General Robert E. Lee occupied it twice in 1861. In 1862 and again in 1864, Union troops commanded by General George Crook used it as headquarters and hospital. During part of this time, this was western Virginia. West Virginia became a state in 1863.

On two knolls are the earthwork remains of Confederate fortifications. In a depression between them lie military trenches and unmarked graves said to be of Confederate soldiers who died in the hospital. On some inside walls are about two dozen soldiers’ names and regimental inscriptions by members of both Union and Confederate troops.

Rear of house. Depressions in hillside hard to see.

At some point the owner returned, and in the early 1900’s Lillie Deitz’s father bought the property. The current Deitz heirs eventually raised money to restore the house and applied to the state and federal government for recognition. Today the structure has been repaired and restored to its original design, except the windows are still boarded up, for vandalism prevention, I imagine.

The Deitz House, according to the National Register, is a fine red brick Greek Revival, two-story gabled-roof home, built by a wealthy captain in 1840. The restored wooden porch across the front is supported by four columns. The interior is divided by a central staircase and has long wide windows on both floors. At the back is a brick kitchen. Hardwood floors and four brick-and-stone fireplaces, two on each floor, add elegance. And heat.

Barbed wire and security alarms on the surrounding fencing prevented us from getting close enough to peek inside. I don’t know if the interior is restored or if there are plans for visitation. If that happens, I’ll be the first to sign up.

You must agree there are good reasons ghosts might linger inside and outside. Have you ever lived in a “haunted” or historic house?

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Many of Us Didn’t Almost Serve

Sgt Vaughn C. Hardacker
USMC Iwakuni, Japan 1973

Vaughn C. Hardacker here:  What is it about veterans that make non-vets say:  “I almost joined…”?  I can’t count the times people have said this to me.  When my daughter’s first father-in-law learned that I was a Marine vet and had served in Vietnam, he said that.  The only comment I could think of at that time was:  “Well, you didn’t miss anything.”

I was wrong.  He did miss a lot.  For most of my generation, the military was where our childhood and naive way of viewing life came to an end.  I recall my first night at Parris Island (Talk about culture shock!).  I sat in a barber chair and told the barber “Just take a little off the top.”  He didn’t say a word as he ran the clippers along the center of my hair.   Thirty seconds later I sat on the floor (or the deck as I was soon to learn) in a sport coat, shirt, and tie with a bald head.  The first thought that entered my mind was “These people don’t care what you think.”

Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps, I was a mouthy, wiseass (probably haven’t changed all that much either) and in the next three months, (eight weeks at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by four at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) I learned a valuable lesson, although I haven’t always adhered to it: It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If nothing else the Marine Corps impressed two things on me.  (1) To be responsible for my actions and (2) nothing in this world is free–not even freedom.

This blog will post on November 11, 2021.  It was on this date in 1919 the armistice ending WWI was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  It remained Armistice Day until 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.  Many people seem to misunderstand the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  The latter is to commemorate the sacrifice American Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen made when they gave their lives for this country and for us.  Veterans Day is for everyone who served.

I have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou on Veterans Day.  I usually try to ad-lib my way through this sort of thing, but I thought about it and realized this was an honor and not a chore.   I spoke with Roger Felix, Post commander at the Caribou VFW, who had asked me to speak and asked what should I speak about?  He said:  “What about freedom isn’t free?”  I immediately realized that was a very appro pro topic.

You may think that the phrase has been used so much that it has become a cliche (and we authors know that they should be viewed as lazy writing and be avoided), yet it is the truth.  I believe that we have lost sight of the basic fact that everything has to be earned.  Look at where our society is today.  The current generation seems to feel they are entitled to everything they want.  Even our government uses the word entitlement freely. They consider social security and medicare to be government entitlements–wait a minute!  Our generation (the baby boomers) is the first to have paid into social security for our entire working lives–we paid for it and earned it, not entitled to it.  Veterans hear this too.  Military retirement is an entitlement,  even though you worked for salaries lower than the private sector, endured separations from your family, and either stood ready to go to war or did go.  VA pensions are an entitlement, even though you only received compensation for illnesses and injuries that are directly linked to your service.  I believe that even these so-called entitlements have a price.  That price is freedom.  The message being sent is simple:  “Give me the power to control you and I will give you…  I believe that not even $600.oo dollars on top of unemployment and more food stamps than your family can use in a month is too high a price.  It is also apparent to me that the people who make freedom-restricting rules also make themselves exempt from them.

So, you may ask what is an entitlement?  How about a government handout that makes it financially stupid for you to return to work for less money than unemployment pays?  How about demanding the government pay for your college?  What about the generations of people who paid back their student loans for years?  Aren’t they entitled to some or all of that money back?

Are we entitled to freedom?  I would argue no, we are not.  We have to earn it.  Our country exists because our forefathers paid for freedom from a tyrannical king with their blood and lives.  The people of Europe are not universally speaking German because two times men stood up and paid the price for freedom from tyranny.  This is by no means a new struggle.  It has gone on since men decided to be different from one another.  Different countries (tribes), different languages, how about different skin color?  So long as there are people on Earth who want to dominate, control, and enslave other people we will need people who didn’t almost join.  The next time you pass a cemetery and see all those flags on veteran graves pause for a moment and say:  Thank you for joining.  The next time you pass a veteran and say:  Thank you for your service, mean it…don’t just be saying another platitude.  Maybe you might say:  Thank you for not almost joining.

 

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Win a Book Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Today’s offering for “Win a Book Wednesday” is a chance to win a Kindle download of my just released The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, a collection of three short stories and a novella featuring a traveling calendar photographer as the amateur detective. Val previously appeared in The Scottie Barked at Midnight (Liss MacCrimmon #9) and in Clause & Effect (Deadly Edits #2).

In order to win, leave a comment below. The winner will be notified by email and announced in this coming Saturday’s Weekend Update. Your e-book will be delivered as a Kindle “gift” from “S. Emerson.”

For those interested in the print edition, I don’t yet have author copies, but here’s a link to the best deal so far: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-valentine-veilleux-mysteries-kathy-lynn-emerson/1140405094?ean=9798201743017 It should be available elsewhere at the same price shortly, although those “supply chain delays” may come into play. Amazon currently has only the more expensive Book Depository listed in sellers but you can pre-order with Prime. Your local independent bookseller and your local library can also order copies. The e-book edition, at $5.99, is currently available in Kindle, iBook, Nook, Kobo, and other formats.

Reviews are much appreciated as they help how books are positioned online.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books, three works of nonfiction, and a collection of short fiction. 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. Her most recent books are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, written as Kaitlyn, and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.

 

 

“Win a Book Wednesday” is a semi-regular feature at Maine Crime Writers, offering giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by every week at mid-week to see what’s new.

 

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We Got Outta Dodge

 

A different look at Mt. Rushmore

John Clark sharing tales and photos from our recent jaunt through six western states. When the dip in COVID cases came back in May, Beth and I decided it was time to take a vacation outside Maine. I was leaning toward a river cruise in Europe, but she was hesitant to leave the US, so we decided to book a tour through YMT Vacations, a company we had used a couple times in the past.

Snow on mountains west of Estes Park

We flew from Bangor to Charlotte, NC and then on to Denver. We were extremely fortunate to have an excellent bus driver in Mitch, and a terrific tour director in Cassandra Ashley. She had a collection of background and historical DVDs relating to almost every place we visited, showing them as we traveled.

Ze Plane, Boss, Ze Plane

Day one took us to the Colorado state capitol where we passed through security screening and got to see the art, décor, and a cultural exhibit. From there, we headed to Estes Park where five elk were dozing under the welcome sign. We were treated to our first view of snowy mountains, a remnant of the 18” dropped by a storm three days before. That snow limited our time in Rocky Mountain National Park as the high road we were to take was blocked. It was on to Wyoming, but we had an unexpected treat on the way. It started with smoke on the horizon, followed shortly by a thundering roar overhead as the Blue Angels flew past. We learned when Cassandra looked online that they were practicing for a weekend air show. They were visible for close to fifteen minutes, soaring and swooping in varied formations. Perhaps the most impressive for me was watching one fly sideways at fifty feet above the ground.

Abandoned hospital at Fort Laramie.

Wyoming is flat, the kind of flat I associate with Kansas and Illinois. There were places where we could see for at least fifty miles. We also saw several coal trains that were close to two miles in length, making me realize just how difficult getting people who live there to accept how change in their lives and economy will be if we’re going to stop global warming from carbon emissions.

View of the ongoing mammoth excavation.

Over the next couple days, we saw Fort Laramie, a major stop on the wagon trail west, saw the state capitol in Cheyenne, toured a mammoth excavation site that has been slowly unearthing numerous mammoth skeletons since it was discovered fifty years ago, and had our picture taken while standing on the disc marking the geographic center of the United States, something that had to move about 500 miles after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union.

Crazy Horse

Our next stops were in South Dakota where we got up close to the four faces on Mount Rushmore as well as visiting the still in process sculpture of Crazy Horse. It’s mind boggling to realize that was begun the year I was born (1948), and may take another 40 years to complete. NO government funds have ever been used in its creation. In fact, when it was first proposed, the federal government refused to release the land where it sits. The sculptor whose second and third generation family members continue work on the project, got around the refusal by staking a mining claim on the mountain. In addition to the sculpture, there’s a beautiful outdoor gallery of copper images of birds, animals, plants and dinosaurs, plus a not-to-be-missed Native American museum inside. Another stop in South Dakota was in Deadwood where Wild Bill Hickock was shot while playing poker. He was holding aces and eights, hence its description as a dead man’s hand. Rude t-shirts, chainsaw art and more slot machines than residents, complete the town’s attractions. I tripled my money on one of them, inserting two one dollar bills and walking out with $6.51 fifteen minutes later.

Copper art in the Black Hills Nature Gate

We paid a bit extra for an open jeep ride through Custer State Park. It was well worth it. The driver was a local rancher who was well versed in the park’s history and inhabitants. We saw how much damage remains from a huge fire in 1987. The random pattern left behind of live trees adjacent to scorched land is intriguing. During the ride, we saw mountain goats, close to a thousand bison, pronghorns, and a couple colonies of prairie dogs. Afterward, we stopped for lunch and I sampled buffalo chili.

Meet Fred

We went up through the Big Horn National Forest on a steep and curving road. Clouds limited the view and everything was covered with snow. We spent that night in Cody, WY after a tour of the Buffalo Bill Cody museum which has another terrific Native American collection, as well as a firearm collection that’s as extensive as any I’ve seen. I was particularly impressed by the 26 pound monster used by the King of France in the 17th century.

I forgot to mention Devil’s Monument which we walked all the way around.

You can see all the pictures and videos in the world and still not be prepared for Yellowstone. We were able to explore four different areas where hot springs abound, perhaps the most intriguing being Mammoth Hot Springs which looks like a huge waterfall of solidified minerals. Across the road at least ten elk were snoozing on someone’s front lawn. Yellowstone also has two waterfalls on the Yellowstone River that lead to a very deep canyon. After staying overnight in West Yellowstone, Montana, we headed south.

Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River.

Our next to the last stop was in Jackson, Wyoming where 8,000 elk winter on a preserve. The town square features arches made from elk antlers on all four corners, as well as views of the Grand Tetons which frequently wear a crown of clouds even on a sunny day. We went west through part of Idaho, going under an even bigger 75 foot wide arch of elk antlers, up into more high country to enjoy the view of a lake rumored to have its own monster. The final tour stop was in Salt Lake City to see their state capitol building. When we entered, instead of security screening, a very relaxed guard waved from his desk, saying “Come on in.”

Mammoth Hot Springs

Great trip, worth every penny, but spending eight days at altitudes between 5,200 and 9,000 feet above sea level had me short of breath more often that I’d like.

This is what Chill looks like

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The Long Goodbye

This is going to be a short post. The reason is my father died yesterday. He was eighty-four and finally succumbed from an illness that had been plaguing him for the last two years. He had a long and interesting life, and his last month had been difficult, to say the least, so his passing is a good thing. He’s not in pain any more.

I loved my father but he was a complex man. Far from soft and cuddly, he was disciplinarian who had mellowed somewhat in his later years. He lived by his own rules and didn’t care what others thought of him.

He was a contradiction in terms. He was both brilliant and ignorant, strong and weak, a family man and often the antithesis of what constituted family values. Growing up on the rough-and-tumble streets of Boston, he rooted for the Yankees and Montreal Canadians. His own father made him quit high school in order to go to work and yet he was smarter than many MBAs. He was a Navy man who spent time in the brink. He saved every penny he made and lived like a miser. He wanted me to go to college but gave me not a dime for tuition. He always claimed to be a teetotaler and looked down upon those who drank. ‘Allegedly’ he hadn’t had a drink in over forty years, and yet the first thing he asked for after coming home from the hospital was a gin martini with two olives. Go figure.

I’d come to terms with my father’s personality years ago and had forgiven him his many transgressions. He had many good sides to him and could be charismatic and warm when he wanted to. It made life easier for me to forgive and move on, especially during his last years. One thing that made him proud was to see his son become a published author. My mother, who passed away many years ago, was a big reader. Later in his life, my father had become a voracious reader of fiction, as well. He was proud that I was a writer, but always asking about the money end of it. “You make any money on that book?” he would always ask. In many ways, he equated literary success with monetary gains.

I hope he’s in a better place. Never a religious man, he allowed a chaplain to visit him in his final days. He prayed with his girlfriend, who was there with him to the very end.

My father died yesterday and that’s all I got for this blog. No need for condolences, as I know many of you are kind and caring people. Rather, if you’re so inclined, please say a quick prayer for the complex man who raised me.

Thanks.

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Weekend Update: November 6-7, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be  posts by Joe Souza (Monday), John Clark (Tuesday), Vaughn Hardacker (Thursday), and Susan Vaughan (Friday). Some Wednesdays from now on will be “Win a Book Wednesday” with giveaways, drawings, and announcements of winners. Be sure to stop by at mid-week to see what’s new.

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

Kaitlyn Dunnett’s new title, The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, a collection of three short stories and a novella will be released on November 9. Here is a link to some online stores where it will be available as an e-book and in trade paperback format: https://books2read.com/u/bpaPlz You can also ask your independent bookseller and/or your local library to order a copy.

 

 

 

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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Pick Your Poison

I’ve been writing books set in the 1920s, and reading books written in the 1920s. Do you know that Anita Loos’ book Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was considered the definitive description of the Flapper and the tempestuous Twenties? Something got lost in the Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell movie translation. Apparently adhering to the dubious and decadent mores of the Jazz Age did not fly in strict 1950s Hollywood, and they swept most of the naughtiness under the rug.

Edith Wharton called GPB “the great American novel.” I love Edith, though I really can’t say I agree. I found it too silly, and I generally like silly. But more people read it than The Great Gatsby. It was wildly popular, even syndicated as a cartoon in newspapers for a couple of years. All sorts of serious people praised it, including Faulkner, Huxley, and Joyce, which makes me scratch my head.

Most writers who made their names in the 20s leave me somewhat perplexed anyway. Fitzgerald and Hemingway are probably the most famous, and deeply flawed as human beings, if not as writers. I know, who am I to judge? The nerve! No one will ever teach a course on my books/write doctoral dissertations/make film adaptations not only of my novels but my LIFE, LOL.

But I don’t plan to follow their footsteps and day-drink. I am in absolute awe that some authors can write more or less coherently with alcohol at hand to get the creativity flowing. I’d have to nap before I finished typing a page.

The 20s are particularly known for new cocktails, and the excessive drinking thereof. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was bubbling with champagne on every page. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald had careless bad-boy Tom Buchanan serve his guests Gin Rickeys, easy enough for the Buchanan butler to make. He’d take a highball glass filled with ice, 2 ounces gin, ½ ounce lime juice, and top it off with club soda and a couple of lime slices. Sounds refreshing but tart, in which case a smidge of simple syrup can be added.

As a writer, the Last Word cocktail intrigues me: take 2 oz. gin, 1 oz. green chartreuse, 1 oz. maraschino liqueur, 1 oz lime juice, shake together with ice, then pour into a coupe glass. Drop in a brandied cherry. I might not speak for a while.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I have none of these ingredients, or a butler, and you remember my nap situation. What does keep me going? It’s not coffee. I usually have one cup when I wake up, and that’s it. There is a lovely tea station in the kitchen, currently with six kinds of caffeinated and decaffeinated tea bags and loose tea. But most of the time I forget it’s there, which is sad, since I can see the counter from my desk chair. (Look at that cute pink teapot!) I go through several bottles of cold water during the day, and sometimes indulge in a real Coke at lunchtime. Coca Cola is probably my favorite beverage. No wonder they’re not making a movie about me. B-O-R-I-N-G.

So, it’s Coke and bottled water for me. Tea, coffee, or do you need something else to power your day?

Maggie Robinson’s latest mystery is Farewell Blues, named as a BookBub reader favorite for October.

For more information, please visit her website.

 

 

 

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Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021

During my teenage years I went through a long period when I immersed myself in the short stories of great writers such as Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin and John Steinbeck. I read their full-length books as well, devoured novels like The Haunting of Hill House, Another Country and The Grapes of Wrath. But their short work provided an opportunity to analyze how to craft a complete, satisfying story in, say, five thousand carefully chosen words.

The lessons I took from my youthful short-story obsession? Each sentence has to do a lot of work in a short story, each scene needs to be tight. The story arc must be sharp, but not precipitous. Above all, from word one, the writer needs to know her destination.

Like many would-be novelists I started my career as a journalist, but after working as a newspaper reporter for the better part of a decade, I became a lawyer. Since circling my way back to fiction I’ve focused almost all of my creative writing energy on novels. I have three to my credit, yet until now I’ve never published a short story.

Happily, my tale of a criminal defense attorney contending with a very high-maintenance client is included in this year’s anthology Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021. Called Means, Motive and Opportunity, it introduces Portland criminal defense lawyer Neva Pierce, who, coincidentally enough, turns out to be a friend and colleague of Joe Gale, the protagonist in my first series.

Bloodroot is the nineteenth annual collection of stories by New England writers, Crime Spell Books having taken the baton this year from longtime publisher Level Best Books. Editors Susan Oleksiw, Ang Pompano and Leslie Wheeler, all fine writers themselves, have selected twenty-four stories to feature this year and one-quarter(!) of us have Maine connections.

In addition to my story, the anthology includes short works by Bruce Robert Coffin (Murphy’s Law), Kate Flora (Best Served Cold), Judith Green (Virtue Is Its Own Reward), Vaughn Hardacker (Just Like Jesse James) and Sarah Smith (Jane Austen’s House).

We’ll be signing copies at New England Crime Bake in Dedham, Massachusetts, November 12-14.  Not going to the “Bake? Here’s a link to order as many copies as you like: https://www.amazon.com/Bloodroot-Best-England-Crime-Stories/dp/0997352051/

As my friend Dick Cass so often points out, books make wonderful gifts. Bloodroot fits that bill, offering stories in every genre under the crime fiction umbrella.

Get ahead of the predicted holiday supply chain woes and order your copies today!

 

Brenda Buchanan is a lawyer and 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.  Her story MEANS, MOTIVE AND OPPORTUNITY is included in Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Colorful Crescendo Before The Dark

Kate Flora: A thousand years ago, when I was in elementary school, we learned this poem by Nancy Byrd Turner for Halloween.

Black And Gold

Everything is black and gold,
Black and gold, to-night:
Yellow pumpkins, yellow moon
Yellow candlelight;

Jet-black cats with golden eyes
Shadows black as ink,
Firelight blinking in the dark
With a yellow blink

Black and gold, black and gold
Nothing in between-
When the world turns black and gold
Then it’s Halloween!

The last stanza has stayed in my head ever since.

I was looking back at last Halloween, and realized that it had snowed and everything was blanketed with white.

My owl statue covered with Halloween snow

This year, we were luckier, and that luck has carried on into November. Fall is a very busy season and I expect many of you are like me and have to force yourselves to slow down and take in the beauty of the last of the leaves, the gold of salt marshes, and the last garden flowers that refuse to quit. I may be writing this just to encourage you to do that. Slow down on your walks, look around, and see the colors around you.

Amsonia turns a rich gold

Outside my window there is a gingko tree that was a leggy juvenile when we bought our house forty years ago. I have read that it has a long adolescence. Now it is a majestic giant. The tree has a particular quirk—on the day of the first frost, all of the leaves fall off. When the boys were young, it happened earlier, and we used to gather those fan-shaped golden leaves, stuff an old shirt and pants, pose them in a lawn chair with a pumpkin for a head and bean boots on its feet. Stick a hat on the pumpkins and voila! Pumpkin man. Great for a scary display on Halloween.

This year, the leaves are still clinging, slowly turning from green to pale gold to deep gold. I am waiting for the shower as they fall.

I don’t like November’s brown and gray, so I am trying to savor every day that it holds off. In the meantime, I am appreciating those plants that are still blooming in the garden. The anemones put on a fine show from mid-September to mid-October, as did the asters. Now, without any competition, masses of pale pink chrysanthemums are blooming. The hydrangea leaves and blooms are turning purple and pink. The tassels on the grasses are waving against the blue fall sky.

Chrysanthemums are the last to bloom

It’s true that I’m supposed to be inside. I have many books to read and I plan to try and do NaNoWriMo this month to finish my long-overdue Thea Kozak mystery. It’s hard to stay inside, though.

We writers have to pay attention to the seasons. In Chosen for Death, I set the story in the fall but wrote it in the spring, and was lucky to catch the problem of blooming azaleas in time to change them to chrysanthemums. I began my third Joe Burgess mystery, Redemption, in the fall, and watched Burgess stand on a hill on the Portland’s East End and gaze out over the stunning blue of a fall ocean. A plan for a picnic at Popham Beach was derailed by a body in the harbor. But I had to go to the beach for research, to see what he might have seen. The last sailboats of the season, white sails like blown tissues escaping from a box.

I may not like November, or December, and I particularly dislike February, but they are easier months to write in. I think. Maybe I should force myself outside more, and see what they have to offer.

 

 

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