Press Pause

Jessie: Happy to see patches of grass appearing in the yard!

blue-308748_1280Even though my favorite form of entertainment is reading, I confess that I do love television shows and movies too. And as much as I enjoy on-screen entertainment I ‘ve come to realize that I find a lot of it to be surprisingly stressful.

Over and over I’ll start watching a movie or even a series and then I reach a point that I have to hit the pause button. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stopped watching a series I really like at about episode three because I am overcome with worry about one or more of the characters. I find myself peeking through my fingers as someone is about to abuse a position of trust, lie to a loved one or embarass a colleague. I may be able to make myself come back to the episode in a few days time but then again, I may not. If I am working on a tight deadline or am feeling the least bit under the weather, there is even less likelihood I will make myself find out how the story ends.

I end up watching a far larger number of martial arts movies and action thrillers than others might expect given the sorts of books I write myself. I have a soft spot for strong, silent protagonists with a wealth of fighting skills and a narrow range of emotion. When my life is unusually stressful I love nothing more than a cheesy creature flick with bad special effects and lousy acting. There is something so soothing about watching an unlikelable character being squeezed to death by an  octopus-shark hybrid or being slowly nibbled on by some sort of  out-sized rodent.

What I really don’t understand is it that while there is nothing I enjoy more than thinking up troubles for characters I am delighted to spend months and years with in my own stories, why can’t I make it through 45 minutes in someone else’s on-screen world? Is there something so different about the stories coming through visually? Is it the fact that I have no control over what will happen when someone else does the creating? Does this sort of thing happen to anyone else?

Writers, do you find your own story worlds easier to inhabit than those created by another? Readers, do you find shows and films stressful too? Do you have any recommendations for creature shows or action movies?


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Night of a Thousand Bradys


Last fall, Beth and I were entering the Frito-Lay They Win You Score Super Bowl Sweepstakes with codes from Pepsi caps. Each code entered gave you a team in the coming week’s NFL games. Every time you had a winner, you got a prize. We were playing for several things we thought would be useful or that would make good gifts for our nieces and nephews.

min cool

Minnesota might be cold, but fans there are COOL.

When Beth received an email alerting her to the possibility she was a weekly grand prize winner of a trip to Super Bowl LII in early October, we were at first shocked, then excited. Most sports fans I know have a super bowl trip on their bucket list. At that point, we had no clue who might be playing, but hoped the Patriots would be there…We got lucky.


The aquarium has a wrap-around tank that’s wonderful

Caroline Southwick from GSE Live was responsible for planning our trip and did a stellar job. We had tickets from Bangor via Philadelphia to Minneapolis and back. (Little did we know who the Pats opponent was going to be) While we knew what was included in the trip, it wasn’t until we got the itinerary and event schedule, that the magnitude of what was about to happen hit us.

coin toss1

Coin toss before the game

It started when we changed planes in Philadelphia and green was everywhere. American Airlines embraced the Eagles, decorating the gates of planes heading to Minneapolis and handing out Eagles medallions and official NFL Eagles hand towels. Beth and I were the only Patriots fans on that plane and when I waved my Patriots gloves, we got a good natured razzing from everyone on the plane.


From the minute we arrived at the airport until we began our return home, both of us were impressed with two things. Everyone we met was amazingly outgoing and friendly, interested in us and eager to share information. The other was how well organized Super Bowl week was. Can you imagine ten thousand security personnel being unobtrusive? It happened in Minneapolis. There were also several thousand volunteers and everyone we encountered was committed to visitor safety and eager to show us where we needed to go.


A peek at the media frenzy

My only lament is that we should have rented a car because our hotel was northwest of the city and we spent a pretty penny on taxi rides. After arriving Thursday afternoon, we settled in our room on the top floor and figured where we wanted to go on Friday. Since The Mall of the Americas was on my semi-bucket list and had an aquarium, we decided to spend our first block of free time there. It was interesting and totally unlike what I had pictured when thinking about it. The aquarium was excellent and we must have taken several hundred photos. In addition, we scoped out the media area on the third floor and I now understand the full meaning of ‘media circus.’ We bought more reading material at Barnes & Noble as well as giving Legoland and the Nickelodeon theme park a quick look-see.


Some of the rides at Nickelodeon

Saturday included two events, a meet and greet with players running from mid-morning until the afternoon and what turned out to be a double-barreled experience, the Taste of the NFL in the evening. ( In its 25 year history, this evening of gourmet food and NFL stars has provided 200,000,000 meals for hungry Americans. 32 top chefs, one from each NFL city, were flown in to prepare and offer samples of their signature dishes. In addition, a current or former player from each team was there to sign autographs and pose with attendees for photo shoots. Every one we met was outgoing and enjoying things as much as we were. The highlight for me was meeting Curly Culp, former center for the Kansas City Chiefs. 50 years ago, I used to deliver pizza to him in when he lived in Best Hall at Arizona State University.


Patriots cheerleaders were in full force


Curly, your pizza’s getting cold

There was also a silent auction of pretty cool stuff, as well as a $100/ticket raffle for a diamond bracelet worn by Miss America who was there for the event.


Joe DeLamielleure, first round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 1973

Of course, the big event was Sunday afternoon. We, along with 36 other winners of Super Bowl trips offered by Pepsi, boarded buses where snacks and drinks were provided while we were transported to the stadium. Security was tight, but seamless and we were soon in our seats above the 20 yard line. The pregame was impressive with sixteen Medal of Honor recipients honored as part of the opening ceremonies. One of them flipped the coin to see who would choose to kick or receive. Everyone, regardless of their affiliation, was boisterous and enthusiastic. Each seat had a Bud Light glass with LED lights in the base. Every time a team scored, the glass lit up in Patriots blue or Eagles Green.

take the field

Pats hit the field

Half time was something to behold. Beth and I were impressed with the local youth involved with the pregame and halftime shows. Two seats to my right was a guy who had come from Windham for the game.


Part of the halftime extravaganza

You know the outcome, but the overall experience was everything anyone could want in a sporting event. Our seatmate on the return flight was in charge of coordinating the military flyover, made more challenging by doing so over a domed stadium. He said he used some of the same AI/VR technology used to guide smart bombs to keep the formation intact and did it from inside the stadium. Pretty impressive.

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Weekend Update: February 10-11, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Brendan Rielly (Tuesday) , Jessie Crockett (Wednesday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Thursday), and Maureen Milliken (Friday).

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

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: COVER REVEAL! Overkilt won’t be out until October 30, but the cover art has just been posted online and I’m loving it. This is the twelfth Liss MacCrimmon mystery and is set in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.


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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Souping Up February

Kate Flora: February seems to be a bit of a muddle for me. I’m working on lots of little IMG_5468projects, nursing an endless cold, and gearing up for more serious writing in March. I’ve also been a bit muddled about writing a blog post. I’ve started several versions and nothing seems to take off. So as I was hunched over a bowl of homemade soup, reading about forensic anthropology, I realized that maybe soup was the answer. Who among us does not find comfort in a steaming bowl of homemade soup when the world is icy and the words won’t come?

So here are a few of my favorites, both old and new.

The soup I was eating when inspiration hit was from this week’s New York Times by Jeff Gordinier:

Hearty Quinoa and White Bean Soup

1/4 c. light olive oil (I use a lot less)

2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 2 onions – finely chopped

Saute 5 mins. Add

1 can cannelloni or other white beans, drained (I used 1 can beans and 1 can chick peas) & 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped Stir 2 mins.

Stir in 1  14 oz. can tomatoes (I used Trader Joes Fire Roasted ) and 7 c. of vegetable stock (I used less) & simmer 20 minutes.

IMG_9325Add 1/3 c. quinoa, 1/4 c. chopped parsley and 1 T. oregano, thyme or rosemary, to taste, plus salt. (I added a couple handfuls of spinach) Cook 12-15 minutes. I served this sprinkled with shredded parmesan cheese.





This is my go-to soup when I need a starter in a hurry

Helgard‘s Curried Pea Soup
1 pkg. frozen peas
1 med. onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 med. potato
2 t. curry
2 c. chicken broth.
Toss onions, carrot, potato and celery in pot with curry & broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add peas and cook until tender, then run through blender (I use a hand blender) and add 1 c. light cream. Top with cilantro or chives.
In earlier years, I used to do a newsletter for my Thea Kozak series, featuring what I called Thea’s “Quick and Dirty” recipes. This is one of Thea’s soups:
Power Soup
Pour 1 c. warm water over 1/2 c. dried shiitake mushrooms. Set aside
In saucepan, combine:
1 can beef broth or chicken stock
1/2 pound chopped lean beef or a chopped chicken breast
1-2 T. sesame oil
1-2 T. Balsamic vinegar.
Simmer 30 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid, and chop.
Add liquid and mushrooms to soup. Simmer 20 minutes until mushrooms and meat are tender. Chop 1/2 bunch of kale, add, and simmer 15 minutes longer, or until kale is tender. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and additional vinegar and/or sesame oil to taste.
Why is this called Power Soup? Because Thea knows that the cop on the job often doesn’t eat very well, and so, like many women, works at sneaking healthy food into her guy’s life. This simple soup is an excellent way to use up left-over steak or chicken. Kale has been rated #1 among veggies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Shiitake mushrooms are considered by the Chinese to be a superior medicine.
For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock and tofu.

And here’s a super-fancy one for New Year’s Eve

Salamander Smoked Fish, Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder
2. T. canola oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. cracked coriander seed
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 4-0z can coconut milk
1 3/4 c. liquid–fish stock, clam juice, chicken stock or water
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen corn
2 c. diced, peeled sweet potatoes
3/4 pound smoked fish, such as haddock, bluefish or mussels
salt and pepper.
chopped cilantro and scallions for garnish
Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, ginger and garlic and sauté about 4 minutes. Stir in IMG_4953coriander, wine, coconut milk, and liquid. Cover and bring to a simmer. Stir in the corn and sweet potatoes, and cook about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
Add fish and cook until it is just heated through. salt and pepper to taste.


Posted in Kate's Posts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How I Really Spent My First Maine Winter

Hi. Barb here.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know Brenda Buchanan and I have been having a bit of a good-natured back and forth about the virtues of Maine in the winter time. She maintains it is bracing but beautiful. I maintain it is simply bracing.

But the truth of the matter is, I have run away. I was glad it snowed before we left in December because I would hate to miss the snow entirely. This year, I discovered the view of a snowstorm is quite breathtaking from our dining room table.

But after forty-plus years in New England, I know what it’s like to stay for the duration, which is why Bill and I are in Key West. I sincerely hope the snow is gone before we get home in early April. (Though I also know there’s no guarantee.)

Here are some of Bill’s Key West photos to keep everybody warm.

[All photos are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at and follow him on Instagram at billcarito and bill.carito.colorphotos.]

What say you all? Fight or flight?

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Eider Ducks and Me

Lea Wait, here. As many of you know, I was single most of my life, and in my early thirties I adopted four daughters.  I was thrilled to be able to adopt older children, especially girls, but being a single working parent was sometimes a lonely struggle. The process of adoption itself, and then adjusting to a new role (and helping my children adjust to a new country and family) was often frustrating, complicated, and exhausting.

Maine beach rock I found & imagined was an eider’s head

To ease that burden on myself and other single adoptive parents (ninety percent of whom are women,) their children, and prospective single adoptive parents, a friend and I founded a support organization that provided information on single parent adoption, connections to other families like ours, and social events so our children knew other families like theirs. During the years my girls were growing up that support network was very important to my family, and to many others.

Early 19th century hand colored print of eiders by Wilson

Somewhere along the line female eider ducks became my personal symbol. I hung antique and modern prints of eider ducks in my home, and, when I started writing fiction, I inserted the ducks into my stories.

Why eider ducks? I’d seen female eiders and their chicks off the shore of Maine since I’d been a child, and been fascinated by them.

Rarely had I seen a male eider. They lived at sea, and only came near shore in early spring: mating season. (I’ve since seen them – they’re the dramatically marked birds in the pictures. Females are a drab brown.)

After mating, male eiders head off shore. The females build their nests alone, often on islands. They pull feathers from their breasts to line their nests and cover their eggs — the  “eider-down” that in some places and historical periods has been harvested to fill human pillows and quilts. After their chicks are born the females join other new mothers, and raise (and protect) their chicks together.

c. 1840 hand colored English print of eiders

In July and August it’s common to see three or four female eiders corralling a couple of dozen chicks through waves along the Maine coast. A group is called a “raft” of eiders.

Raising my girls alone, but connecting with and having the support of other adoptive parents (most of us women,) I identified with the eider duck mothers who ensured their own survival, and that of their chicks, by creating a community.

My daughters are now grown. Three of them have children of their own. They don’t live in Maine, and I don’t see them often. When I miss them, which is often, I remind myself that, like female eiders, my goal was to raise my children safely, and equip them to live independently. I succeeded.

And every time I see a raft of eiders, I mentally raise a glass to the female eiders who value the support of others like themselves, and who, together, protect their chicks and teach them how to survive rough waters.

And eider ducks still appear in my books.

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Orts: OLLI, Sentences, and a Couple of Reviews

Lots of orts this month and no central theme, a reaction no doubt to the cold, then thaw, then cold again.

I’ve enjoyed the class I’m facilitating that introduces Maine Mystery Writers to students at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM. OLLI is the Maine equivalent of Senior College and I’ve had some great discussions with the thirty or so people who signed up to meet local mystery writers and talk about the various subgenres. Great group, very engaged readers, and we’ve had some lively discussions. Looking forward to doing the course again in the fall.

I’m reading a very fine book on writing by Harold Evans called Do I Make Myself Clear? Evans is the former editor of the Times of London and a journalistic treasure. What I came across that startled me was his account of research into how sentences have gained clarity over the centuries. An academic named Lucius Adelno Sherman spent his career counting the various linguistic elements—words, prepositions, clauses, etc.—in classical texts and documented how sentences sped up from pre-Elizabethan times to the twentieth century. The early sixteenth century average length of a sentence was fifty words; by the early twentieth century , the average was down to twenty-three. Strictly word-nerd stuff, but fascinating.

I read thirty-two books in January (no, I’m not going to bitch about that 10-day frozen spell again) and most of them were crime novels but I’m making a concerted effort to try new things and so I want to give you a short review of several books by non-US writers that you may not have come across.

Henry Chang’s Detective Jack Yu series is about as noir as they come and urban as all get out. The protagonist is a New York City Police Detective who’s been transferred back to his old Chinatown neighborhood. The kids he grew up with are now gangsters and the precinct is as crime-ridden as any in the city, with the added complication of community leaders and tong bosses who prefer to solve their own crimes. Yu uses his knowledge of the community he grew up in to catch killers, trying to stay ahead of the possibilities of vigilante Chinatown justice. I read Chinatown Beat but there are others in the series.

Inger Ash Wolfe’s protagonist Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef presides over the Port Dundas Police Department but only temporarily, until her former protégé returns to lord it over her as his boss. A Door in the River begins with a well-loved resident dead of what appears to be a bee sting outside the Canadian reservation’s smoke shop. The tale spins out into subterranean gambling and prostitution and corruption around police with a finish worthy of the Lethal Weapon movies.

Colin Cottrell’s Dr. Siri series (not the Siri we already know and love . . .) is set in the Indochina of the 1970’s during the oppressive Communist regime. Dr. Siri Paiboun is the country’s only coroner and despite the politics under which he operates, keeps finding murders to solve. The glimpse of the historical situations, as well as the raucously funny character of Dr. Siri, made The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die easily the most laugh-inducing read of the month. There are a dozen or so in the series but you don’t need to read them in order.

I’m always fighting my own tendency to read only the writers I already know and it’s difficult. There is so much good crime writing going on, locally, nationally, and internationally that I find  it hard to keep up with my favorites, let alone try something new. But there is a round ton of good stuff flying around out there that repays a little investigation.

Posted in Dick's Posts, Uncategorized | 6 Comments