The Professor Who Changed My Life

Lea Wait, here, and remembering. As a high school student, I was one of the nerds. Shy, desperate to have friends, but unsure of how to do that, I was self-conscious about my appearance, my clothes, and my intelligence. I ended up being the editor of the high school’s newspaper, and the others on the staff (all boys and all nerds, like me) became my friends. We didn’t go to the prom, but we did win a Scholastic Press Association Award for publishing the best high school newspaper in New Jersey.

I looked forward to leaving New Jersey. I chose a women’s college – Chatham, a small academically strong school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But, arriving there, I was still shy, easily intimidated, self-conscious, and unsure of myself.

Dr. Jack Neeson

But academics weren’t a problem for me, and in the second semester of my freshman year my advisor suggested I take an advanced course, designed for juniors and seniors. I’d worked at a summer theatre in Maine for four summers, and thought a course in drama would be interesting. I was signed up for Philosophy of Drama, and it changed my life.

The professor, Dr. Jack Neeson, had two doctorates (one in theatre) and also taught acting and directing, courses I hadn’t taken. On the second or third day of our class I sat on the floor of the college’s green room with seven or eight women who were drama majors and who’d taken other courses from Dr. Neeson.

I don’t remember what the topic of the day’s discussion was when he turned to me, pointed, and said “Act ‘to overcome.’”

I froze. I had no idea what he meant. I sat, frozen, as he repeated his order, time after time. Within a few minutes I was in tears, frustrated, and still totally ignorant of what he was asking me to do.

Lea, in a college production of The Boyfriend

Finally, he turned to another girl in the class and said, “Help Lea.”

The girl got up, came over to me, and said quietly, “Stand up.”

I did.

Dr. Neeson nodded in approval.  “Good. You’ve overcome your fear.”

Relieved, I sat down again, still unsure of what I’d done, but glad I was no longer the center of attention.

Later I spoke with him, and eventually I took his courses in acting. He believed in dividing scenes into motivations. Every character wanted something in every scene. That overarching motivation might stay the same through an act, or even through an entire play, but there were secondary goals, too, which changed often. All of them were defined by action verbs.

In his acting classes I first learned to have the courage to get up in front of others and to act out the motivation I was assigned.

After a few weeks, Dr. Neeson pointed out something I’d never known about myself. “Lea, every feeling and goal can be acted out, or acted in. You always act in.” He was right. I realized I did that not only in class, but in life. If I was angry, I clenched my fists and jaw and tightened my body. Others yelled or threw things. If I was sad, I looked down, ignored others, and walked into a corner alone. Others cried or screamed.

Understanding the different dynamics of actions encouraged me to try different ways of expressing emotions, and become more comfortable with them.

After college I went on to take improvisational theatre classes in New York City, produced and was on-camera for a daily closed circuit corporate television show for two years, and spoke to large audiences in person and on national television as an advocate for adoption of older children. Today I speak about writing at schools, libraries, and conferences.

And I write characters who have goals and motivations.

Thanks to Dr. Neeson, who taught me “to overcome.”

And changed my life.

 

 

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Unbombing the F-Word

John Clark here: Some time ago, I think I shared a most vivid memory from a time when Kate and I discovered the shocking power of F-Bombs (keep in mind we’re talking late 1950s-early 1960s). There was an episode in the kitchen at Sennebec Hill Farm where one of us was absolutely outraged at Mom’s not allowing us to use that word. Mom was pretty sharp and tossed us the following challenge: “Use kitchen sink, or a variety thereof instead of the F-word for a week and we’ll discuss your being able to use it again.”

fbomb

(Paging Buck Henry, paging Buck Henry)

Kate and I had a grand time ‘getting away’ with our coded profanity. I can’t imagine how many times we’d look across the table and one of us would say, “go kitchen-sink your self,” or “Mrs. (fill in an evil teacher’s name) is a kitchen-sinking witch.” Of course, it was way too good to keep to ourselves, so we shared the code with kids at school and watched as perplexed teachers, staff and administrators scratched their heads while trying to figure out why kitchen sinks had become such a popular buzz word. By the time we were to revisit the original discussion, I think both of us realized that our mother was right and that we could come up with far more creative pseudo-epithets to confuse and insult the great unwashed. Looking back, it was one of many times Mom nudged us into better use of language.

Sadly, times have devolved. Profanity has become so common, you can’t go anywhere (well, maybe to a funeral) without someone trying to impress others with their four letter vocabulary skills. For example, I really like the guys at the Hartland dump, but if I had a buck for every F-bomb I hear in the hour or so I’m there, I could be eating top of the line steak several nights a week. Supermarkets, walking down the street, you name the place and the cluster bombers are nearby.

fbomb1

(Kiss my arsenal)

It’s time to fight back, dear friends. Sister Kate and I have played around with the concept of a new type of pulp fiction we call the ‘Bodice Repair’ genre. After all someone has to undo all the damage inflicted by those churlish men who defile innocent ladies on covers of dime (well $7.99) novels. In the interim while we figure out how to re-hook all those literary corsets, here’s another way to strike back.

Mom was dead right about the richness of the English language when it comes to sounding like you’re swearing up a storm. Below are some examples. A few have been around for ages, but Beth and I sat down one evening after supper and created more. I encourage anyone reading this to post their own creations. Who knows, they might well appear in a stunning literary work one day.

1-He’s been observed openly masticating in front of underage females.

2-He and his unsavory cohorts were observed flagrantly philatelating after dark with the shades up.

3-Your sister’s been engaging in thespian activity after school in the auditorium.

4-(one of Kate’s creations) Fudge You, you anthole.

5-He has a most disgusting bumbershoot fetish. In fact I saw him waving his over a young mother’s perambulator at the local park yesterday.

6-You’re nothing more than a bombastic squeak.

7-Unable to discern the difference between his olecranon process and his callipygian cleft.

8-His personal aura rivals Rumford on a very humid day.

9-She’s guilty of unrepentant dandling.

10-Completely incapable of proper piehole cleansing to the anguish of all well bred people who have the misfortune to encounter him.

fbomb2

(I liked things a lot better when Mom just washed my mouth out)

Your turn.

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Murder in an English Village-Giveaway

Jessie: Looking at patches of snow in the shady parts of the backyard.

MURDER IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGEOn Halloween, in addition to handing out a wide variety of sugary treats, it was my very great pleasure to celebrate the release of my latest mystery, Murder in an English Village. It was exactly the sort of book I have always enjoyed reading. I think the title says it all. It features a pair of amateur sleuths, an American adventuress named Beryl and an English proper spinster named Edwina.  There is even a little dog named Crumpet to keep them both company.

In it I was able to create just the sort of village I enjoy reading about in the works of Agatha Christie, M. C. Beaton or even our own delightful Dorothy Cannell. I had the pleasure of  dreaming up a fabulous motorcar, a beautiful but shabby garden and even a tea room. The entire process was enormous fun. It was a lot like taking a time traveling vacation.

Fortunately for me, the book is the first in a series. I recently turned in the second one and have now started in on planning the third. For those of you who enjoy lighthearted romps through the English countryside and placid villages with sinister doings lurking just beneath the surface, I invite you to leave a comment telling me about your favorite sort of mystery novel, or your favorite historical time period. I will give away a hardcover copy of the book to a randomly chosen commenter.

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Weekend Update: November 11-12, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Brendan Rielly (Monday), Jessie Crockett (Tuesday), John Clark (Wednesday), Lea Wait (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:

This weekend, November 10-12, several of us who blog at Maine Crime Writers will be at the Crime Bake mystery conference in Massachusetts. Look for Barbara Ross, Maureeen Milliken, Lea Wait, and   (others?) and say hello!

Lea Wait and her books will be at Studio 53, 53 Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor, for the annual Gifts For Giving art and crafts show on Thursday, November 16 (11-4 pm), Friday, November 17 (11-5 pm and then a gala reception from 5 until 8 pm), Saturday, November 18, Early Bird Saturday in Boothbay Harbor, from 7 am until 4 pm, and Sunday, November 19, from 11 until 4 pm. A great place to do your Christmas shopping! Boothbay’s Botanical Garden’s Christmas light display, Gardens Aglow, will be open then, too.

 

 

 

 

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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Veteran’s Day

November 10th and 11th, have always been special to me for a couple of reasons. First, on this day in 1775 my beloved U. S. Marine Corps was founded at Tun’s Tavern in Philadelphia (somehow or another the Corps being born in a

Vaughn

tavern seems appropriate) and November 11 is a day when we remember our veterans. Memorial day is a day when we remember (or at least we should) those who gave their lives for our country. November 11 on the other hand is a day for all veterans to be remembered. For many years I ignored Veterans Day. I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the way those of us who served in the Vietnam War were treated upon our return. I recently watched Ken Burns hopelessly inaccurate depiction of what the war was about and how we who fought it conducted ourselves (well, that’s a subject for another day.) which opened a number of emotions I thought I’d buried long ago.

I recently came across a poem that really struck a cord with me. It hit right at the central issue. We veterans go off to defend our country (or so we believed in our youthful ignorant bliss) and return home altered in a deep way that only those of us who experienced it will ever understand. Deep inside we remember friends and comrades lost way too soon and struggle to deal with or not deal with a burning anger deep in our souls. We left our youth on some foreign rice paddy, desert road, or jungle and returned bewildered and cynical. Most of us put the war behind us (or so we thought) and get on getting on (although there will come a day of reckoning when everything seems to fall apart and no matter how hard we try we can’t figure out why.
I, for one, have long harbored a dislike of politicians. They are the people who create wars and send other people’s sons and daughters off to fight them. The Marine, soldier, airman, or sailor comes home damaged goods and the people who caused it seem to do nothing but prosper from it. The poem, A Veteran Died Today, hits right at the heart of the matter. Here it is:

A VETERAN DIED TODAY
Anonymous

He was getting old and paunchy, and his health was failing fast.
And he sat around the Legion, telling of his past.
Of the war that he had fought in. Of the deeds he had done.
Of the exploits with his buddies. They were heroes, every one.

Though,sometimes to his neighbors,his tales became a joke.
All his buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer, for old Bill has passed away.
And the world’s a little poorer, for a Veteran died today.

No,he wasn’t mourned by many, just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary, very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family, quietly going on his way.
And the world won’t note his passing’ though a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state.
While thousands note their passing, proclaiming they were great.
The papers tell their life stories, from the time that they were young.
But the passing of a Veteran, goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of this land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise,and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow, who in time of war and strife,
Goes off to serve country. And offers up his life.

The politician’s stipend, and the style in which they live.
Are sometimes disproportionate, to the service that they give.
While the ordinary Veteran, who offered up his all
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps a pension small

Its so easy to forget, for it was so long ago.
That our Bobs and Jims went to battle, but we know.
It was not the politician, with his compromise and ploy,
Who won for us this freedom that our citizens enjoy.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand.
Would you really want some cop-out, with his ever waffling hand.
Or would you want a veteran, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and his country and fight until the end?

He’s just a common veteran and his ranks are growing thin.
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, we find the Veteran’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor, while he’s alive to hear the praise.
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days
Perhaps a simple headline in the paper that might say
“Pay honor to this hero, for a Veteran died today”.

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Merry Christmas–in Books

by Barb, who voted in Maine for the first time on Tuesday. Even after all these years of voting, it was kind of thrilling

No, I’m not rushing the holiday. I promise. It’s just that Christmas books typically come out between the end of September and the beginning of November so retailers have time to get them on their shelves.

If you like holiday reads, you are in for a treat this year.

On October 31, Kensington released the mass market paperback of Eggnog Murder, the collection of three Maine-based, holiday novels written by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and me.

I was overjoyed when Kensington asked me to write this holiday novella, which takes place in time between Fogged Inn and Iced Under. I had been sitting on a delicious eggnog anecdote for more than thirty years!

Here’s what others had to say about it.

“…a creepily convincing tale of tinsel-decked, cookie-scented psychopathology.” Publishers Weekly, (Starred Review)

“VERDICT…a great introduction to these authors’ series for new readers or…a bite-sized delicacy to tide established fans over until the next book.” Library Journal

In an embarrassment of riches, three of my author friends have fabulous new mysteries set at Christmastime.

Regular Maine Crime readers all know Lea Wait. As Kathy Lynn mentioned yesterday, this holiday season Lea brings us Thread the Halls, the sixth in her Maine Needlepoint mystery series.

Not long after celebrity celebrants invade Haven Harbor, Maine, an unscripted tragedy occurs. Before Santa arrives at the town pier on a lobster boat, Angie Curtis and the Needlepointers need to trim down the naughty list, catch a cold-hearted killer, and wrap up the case . . .

 

In A Christmas Peril, fellow Wicked Cozy Author J.A. (Julie) Hennrikus offers up at tale set around a production of Dicken’s famous play.

When ex-cop and current theater manager Sully Sullivan’s childhood friend is suspected of killing his father, no one is looking for another culprit. So, in between keeping A Christmas Carol on budget and Scrooge sober, Sully dusts off her investigative skills to find a murderer.

 

Another Wicked Cozy, Liz Mugavero, has released Purring Around the Christmas Tree, the sixth book in her Pawsitively Organic Pet Food mystery series.

In the New England town of Frog’s Ledge, the Holiday Light Festival is a Christmas tradition. Killing Santa is not. To bring joy back to the season, organic pet patisserie owner Kristan “Stan” Connor will have to find another Santa before it’s too late.

So, for those of you who love a little murder while you dunk your candy cane into your hot chocolate and finally put your feet up after a long day of holiday preparations, have at it!

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X MARKS THE SCOT

You’re probably wondering where Lea Wait is, since she was originally scheduled to blog today. As of Monday, she was still without Internet or cable at her home in Lincoln County. You know—from that little windstorm we had here in Maine a week earlier. This was very bad timing all around, since Lea had a new book out last Tuesday, one day into the power outage. We only went twenty-four hours without power here in Western Maine, which gave me the time to read THREAD THE HALLS. Go out and buy it. It’s a great read.

Anyway, instead of Lea being here today, you get me, Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson, and Lea will be blogging next Thursday. As it happens, I have a new book coming out, too, although not until the end of the month. What I’d like to share with you is some background on the writing of that book, the eleventh Liss MacCrimmon Mystery, X MARKS THE SCOT. Lea actually had a hand in its gestation, as did fellow Maine Crime Writers Kate Flora and Barb Ross.

Back in June of 2016, the working title for the book was KILT, CLOAK, AND DAGGER. I’d started work on it but hadn’t gotten very far when the four of us got together for a writing retreat in a peaceful cottage on the coast of Maine. During the day, we each went off to our own little corner and wrote. In the evenings we talked shop, traded war stories, read bits and pieces of works in progress, and brainstormed ideas. In four days, I wrote over 10,000 words. That’s almost twice what I normally produce, and the best part is that they were pretty darned good words, too. And the setting? Let’s just say that when I needed to set one scene somewhere other than Moosetookalook, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

There was a lot more work to be done on my book, of course. In July, my editor suggested a new title, X MARKS THE SCOT. Later that month, I stopped at chapter fifteen (58,829 words) to reconsider the book’s ending and other plot points. As I usually do after making notes for changes, I took a little break from the project before going back to chapter one, but by mid-August the manuscript had hit 75,743 words (268 pages) in seventeen chapters. 75,000 words is the minimum required by my contract so I always breathe a sigh of relief when I hit that mark, even though I know there’s lots more to do. In fact, when I started revising after a month-long break, taken to give me some perspective on the writing, there were pages where every other word was changed to something else, sometimes several times.

That draft came in at 77,293 words in eighteen chapters. After some minor changes, I passed the manuscript on to my reader/husband for his input. I’ve had to rewrite large sections of previous books at this stage, so I don’t worry about him being biased in my favor. If something doesn’t make sense, he’s definitely going to tell me.

Once past the reader test with, thank goodness, only minor suggestions for changes, I started what I hoped would be the final read through/revision on November 2, 2016. Since the book was due on my new editor’s desk on the first of December, I was hoping I wouldn’t find anything major to fix and at the same time I was trying very hard to catch ALL those typos and spelling errors. Copy editors are great, and necessary, but if they find too many things I missed, it’s just plain embarrassing.

So, off it went attached to an email on the due date, and the long wait began. First the wait for approval. Then the wait for copy edits. Then the wait for page proofs. And then, finally, the wait for the book itself. To my pleased surprise, I was sent the cover art in mid January. That always makes a book seem more real.

Copy edits came in February, page proofs in late March, and in May I was sent a few Advance Reading Copies (made from page proofs before I corrected them). Now, in November, I’m almost at the point where I start looking for that box of author copies to land on my porch. This will be the fifty-seventh time I’ve experienced that first look at a freshly published book with my name on the cover, but it never gets old. My newest baby goes out into the big wide world on November twenty-eighth.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty traditionally published books written 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. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime and Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. New in 2017 is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com

 

 

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