Saying thank you

At the risk of sounding like the curmudgeon that I no doubt am, I want to raise an issue of etiquette.  Etiquette?  Yep.  But I don’t mean complicated Emily Post stuff like distinguishing between the salad fork and the fish fork or about the right direction to dip the soup bowl.  I’m talking real simple here:  saying thank you.  What could be more basic to interpersonal relationships than that?  Here’s my story:

Like most writers, I’ve had the honor and fun of promoting my mystery novels by talking to groups—libraries, historical societies (because my novels are set in one), churches, reading groups.  I’ve occasionally been paid (modestly), but in most cases I’ve done it to enlarge the audience for my work and to sell and sign copies.  In the dozen years I’ve been doing talks and signings, I’ve always received a kind thank-you afterwards, by post or usually by email.  Email might not meet the strictest standards of etiquette, but, curmudgeon though I am, I’m perfectly happy with that medium.

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I say always, but that changed in the last few months.  In June I was invited to do a talk and signing (with books on sale) at a public library in one of Maine’s scenic cities that for obvious reasons will go unnamed.  I was told in advance that the library didn’t pay a fee or expenses, which I readily consented to since the trip of several hours offered the chance for my wife and me to take a mini-vacation in a beautiful part of the state.  We had a lovely time.  Afterwards, I expected a simple thank-you from the person who arranged the event.  Three months later I’m still waiting.

Then a few weeks ago I did a talk at an historical society in an also unnamed city.  To my surprise, I was presented a check for a small sum meant to cover expenses.  I’m still waiting for a thank-you from the organizer.  I intended to tear up the check in recognition of the small group’s obviously limited finances, but in the absence of a follow-up I’ve decided to cash it.

One explanation for the lack of thank-yous may be that I bombed, that the talks that I thought went well and inspired good questions and lively discussions were received differently.  Possible, of course, but in candor I don’t think that was the case.  In both instances I did sign and sell some books, and it could be that the organizers felt that was thanks enough.  But I’m still troubled by the lack of a simple thank-you.  Are we in a new era of social interactions when the please-and-thank-you admonitions of our childhood are no longer valid?  Are the mere invitations (and subsequent sales) considered enough?  Am I an old fart for even raising the question?  I’d love to hear from other writers about their experiences.  Thank you for your response!

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The Heirloom Nutmeg

Kate Flora: This past weekend we were visiting friends in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. IMG_1754As we were eating a delicious breakfast coffee cake, the hostess said she thought she could taste a bit of nutmeg. That led me to tell her the story of my jar of heirloom nutmegs.

I was named after my father’s father’s sister, Kate Burke, who used to operate a general store in Bingham, Maine. When I was a child, Great Aunt Kate was long gone, but we had one remnant of that store up in our attic–a large black antique metal time of nutmegs. When my mother would cook using nutmeg, she would get a nut from the big black tin and grate it on an old metal grater. Eventually, the big tin was sold as an antique and the nutmegs moved into a large Ball canning jar. That jar, with nutmegs that must by now be over a hundred years old, resides in my kitchen cupboard. When grated, those nutmegs are as good as the tin you’d buy at the store.

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 9.39.42 AMAs is probably the case in many old Maine families, I have little bits of family history tucked away around the house. In my kitchen drawer, I have an old towel wrapped in plastic, with this on the label:

In a file in my office, I have a copy of Kate M. Burke’s application to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, with the details of her genealogical right to become a member Captain Solomon Walker, the ancestor who “assisted in establishing American Independence, while acting in the capacity of Captain,” and this description of Walker’s service:

Solomon Walker was commissioned as Capt. the Revolution army July 5, 1776. Company part of Lincoln Co. Regiment. Capt. Solomon Walker was also a soldier in the French and Indian War. In September 18, 1738, was a member of Capt. Hills Co. of Volunteers , Berwick, Me. Capt. Walker settled in Woolwich, mow Wiscasset in 1750, as per records in Boston Mass. Genealogical Society Rooms.

Capt. Walker raised a company of 72 men in Woolwich and Pownalboro, which was a part of the Lincoln Co. Regiment. Lieut Drummer Sewall of Bath commanding. He was at the battle of Fishkill on the Hudson, June 17, 1778, when he and his men did valiant service. His services for his country were many, among which the retaking of the ship Mast Head in Sheepscott River near his own home, being one of importance. He served thro the entire war. 

Read more about the retaking of the ship carrying masts here: https://www.wiscassetnewspaper.com/article/wiscasset-american-revolution/99511

Along with running the store, Kate Burke was an amateur painter, and four of her paintings, including one of my grandfather, Arthur H. Clark, fishing, hang on our walls today. It’s fun to have some remnants of that family history here in the house. Also fun to bake with nutmegs that once dwelled in a general store in Bingham.

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The Impossible Transition

This blog was originally written as “Giving Up The Badge” for the Murder-Books Blog, another site to which I contribute. Given the huge response from readers I’ve decided to repost in order to share with the Maine Crime Writer audience. Thanks for reading.

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Retiring from police work was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Quite a statement, right? But it’s true. Ask any cop who has left the job after twenty or thirty years in search of a “normal” life and they will likely tell you that it was much harder than they ever imagined.

Most departments try to prepare officers for the financial realities of retirement by holding briefings with retired cops who have moved into non-law enforcement careers, and training sessions put on by state retirement employees. And the financial reality is this, unless you worked a ridiculous amount of overtime, ie spent the last several decades away from your family, you’re going to need a job, most likely one that includes benefits like health care coverage. But financial realities aside, the real challenge in retiring from law enforcement is psychological, and on that point, in my opinion, we do a pretty poor job preparing officers.
I have discussed this very issue with enough retired cops to know that it is a real problem. They all wish they had been better prepared for the mental adjustment.

I had never had any issues with depression, suddenly I found myself floundering, on the outside looking in. Retirement wasn’t what I had envisioned. Oh, I had plenty of free time. That wasn’t a problem. The problem was that I felt obsolete, unneeded. No longer was my phone ringing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with calls from someone who needed me to supervise a case, put out a fire, give advice or guidance. No longer did have to crawl out of bed each night and drive to Portland half-awake to start a new investigation. No one was calling. Those things I retired to get away from were the very things I missed. I began to wonder if maybe I’d made a grave mistake.

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My life became a roller coaster of emotion. The good days were full of all the things I enjoyed, spending time with my wife and family, hiking, fishing, writing, woodworking. The bad days, usually accompanied by foul weather, I often found it hard to even get out of bed. At first I told myself that I was just catching up on lost sleep. It was okay to sleep-in, I’d earned it. But the reality was I felt like I no longer mattered. My police family had moved on without me. I was no longer sure who I was. My purpose in life, once so clear, had become a mystery. And to think I retired of my own volition. What about those who don’t? Imagine being forced out of your police family due to a mental or physical impediment.

I am lucky that I had the support of friends and family to get me through the most difficult time, which in my case was the first twelve to eighteen months. I try and reach out to fellow officers as they enter into their own retirement, giving them a heads-up about the feelings they may experience as they transition from their former life to the new. My purpose in reaching out is to lend an ear, and to validate what they may end up feeling. I tell them that there is life after police work, they just have to keep busy until the transition occurs.

As cops, we tend to be our own worst enemies. So programmed to provide help to those in need, we are often the last to seek help from others. Most departments have employee assistance programs and peer support groups for active members. Perhaps the time has come for police departments to focus on those preparing to retire too. I am one of the lucky ones who found something I love to do after leaving the law enforcement profession. Sadly, there are many still searching.

Have you experienced something similar? Do you know someone who has?

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YA Fiction Continues to Blur That Line Called Reality

John Clark reviewing two new young adult titles that reflect events in the real world very strikingly. The first, Someone I Used To Know by Patty Blount, continues her very moving and insightful books on touchy issues. Starting with Send in 2012, which dealt with a boy trying to rebuild his like after his bullying behavior went horribly wrong, she wrote TMI about the disastrous results of posting things online. Then came Some Boys about a girl trying to learn trust after not being believed when she accuses a star athlete at her school of rape. Nothing Left To Burn combines the difficulty of being loyal and wanting to belong with the harm an overbearing and unfeeling parent can inflict. The Way It Hurts came out last year and combined romance and the stress of trying to care for a handicapped sibling while building a musical career and the fallout when an online post is misinterpreted and goes viral.

Patty’s latest, Someone I Used to Know, took me longer to read than the others. That is far from a bad thing. It was because of how she alternated the story, not only between different time periods, but different family members, not to mention the detail she added to make the story seem so realistic. Two years ago, when she was a freshman, Ashley was raped under the bleachers at a football game by a senior. The assault was a direct result of a scavenger hunt that had become a tradition among football team members. Players got points for things like ‘sex with an ex’ and ‘sex with a virgin’. Following the assault, things got worse…much worse. Ashley’s older brother, Derek, was a participant in the scavenger hunt and when confronted by his parents, turned his guilt into blaming his sister by telling everyone she would have been fine if she’d just stayed home. In addition, his testimony at the trial contributed to the perpetrator being convicted of sexual assault instead of rape, the difference between two years and ten in prison.

Now, Ashley’s trying to rejoin life, but it’s a nearly impossible battle as she was seen as the reason for football being eliminated from the school sports offerings and now it’s being reinstated, creating yet another trigger. Her parents’ relationship took a major hit after the attack, her older brother acts strange and doesn’t know how to act around her, Derek escaped to a college some distance away and alternates between anger at his sister and self-loathing because he knows he totally messed things up. There’s also Sebastian, the only boy who refused to participate in the scavenger hunt. He’s about the only guy Ashley can tolerate coming near her, but letting him in remains scary.

The story goes back and forth from then to now, carefully uncovering more and more about the assault, the trial and how the family began disintegrating while letting readers follow Ashley’s struggle to regain her life. What’s even more interesting is how that same process unfolds with Derek while away at school. As he, with the help of his pretty awesome girlfriend, Brittany (who came from the same town and knows his history), begins working through guilt and denial, he begins to see a completely different picture. His realizations hurt like the devil, even leading to panic attacks when he finally understands the impact his behavior had on Ashley.

Following the gradual and very uneven rebuilding of their family isn’t easy to read, but is more realistic than in any other book on this topic I’ve read. I wish we could tie down every elected senator and representative in Washington while someone read this cover to cover.

The other book just came out last week. Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is dystopian reality coming soon to parts of your country. We’ve all followed the gradual water woes in the west, especially California. When Beth and I were in Vancouver two years ago, they had banned watering lawns and such in the city. Everything had a drought-like look. The wildfires in California seem to be getting worse every year. Cape Town, South Africa even created a potential Day Zero, when the city water supply would go dry.

This book imagines that Arizona and Nevada stop sharing the water from the Colorado River a couple years after the large farming areas in central California have turned into a dust bowl. Local, state and national governments have been paying lip service to the impending crisis for ages, but when Tap-Out, as the day the water stops flowing comes to be called, nobody, save a few survivalists, are equipped to deal with the way civilization crumbles.

Alyssa and her younger brother Garrett are at the center of this story. When their parents fail to return from trying to get water from the hastily set up portable desalinization units several miles away, they’re forced to deal on their own. Then their geeky neighbor Kelton, whose parents have been anticipating some sort of crisis for years, joins them, mostly because he’s had a crush on Alyssa for years. When his parents’ plans and supposedly impregnable house is overrun and something horrible happens during the invasion, the three teens flee, hoping to make it to the remote back up hideout Kelton’s parents built in a state forest.

Getting there requires navigating crazed crowds, martial law gone awry, not to mention the tension when they pick up two other mysterious teens. This is not only a fictional heads-up about where we could be heading, it’s one heck of a read.

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Weekend Update: October 6-7, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will posts by John Clark (Monday), Bruce Coffin (Tuesday), Kate Flora (Wednesday), William Andrews (Thursday), and on Friday a group post on Fall in Maine.

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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It’s Too Soon to Tell

by Barb, writing away in Portland, Maine

I love writing to prompts. There are many kinds of prompts: a word or phrase, a physical object, a photo or other image, or even a piece of music. Typically, when you write to prompts in a group setting with other writers, you get a limited amount of time, say 10 or 15 minutes, to write.

Over the years, my production in these situations has been equal parts memoir, essay, and fiction. I’ve completed a couple of pieces I started writing to prompts, but mostly it’s a limbering up exercise and an opportunity for collegiality that keeps me fresh. I have a tendency to think too much and the focus provided by the prompt, along with the time limit, gets me out of my own way.

Here is a piece that I wrote in 2007 in response to the prompt, “Finish the phrase, ‘It’s too soon to tell.'” It may have special meaning for me today as I await the birth of my second grandchild.

It’s Too Soon To Tell

It’s too soon to tell
Will he have his mother’s fine skin,
His father’s auburn hair,
His Uncle Charlie’s protuberant ears?

It’s too soon to tell
Will he have his grandmother’s gift for music
His grandfather’s way with words,
Cousin Violet’s wonderful laugh?

Will he run races like his Uncle Pearce?
Build great cities like his Cousin Neville?
Or write software like Rita’s daughter Lil?

It’s too soon to tell
Will he have Aunt Clea’s love of the bottle,
Uncle Henry’s black depressions,
Cousin Mortimer’s passion for unsuitable women
Or Cousin Jasper’s for unsuitable men?

Will he know great love?
Will he go to war?
Will he know want, or will his pockets always be full?

This much we do know
He smells like heaven
His smile lights up the sky
His cry breaks your heart
And he holds each of us in the palm of his hand

Because we can’t wait to discover
The oh, so many things
It’s too soon to tell

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Life – Extended?

Last June 17 — about fourteen weeks ago — I was dizzy, and visited the emergency room of a local hospital here in Maine. Twenty-four hours later I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, metastasized The doctor who gave me the news said I might have a year to live, if I was lucky.

I had no idea I was ill. I’d spent the past several years caring for my husband, who’d died April 9. Since his death I’d updated my legal documents and taken care of my husband’s estate. I’d planned to spend the rest of 2018 catching up with writing deadlines and settling into a new normal.

Now everything had changed.

During the following three weeks I had three biopsies, many blood tests, two MRIs, and my first chemo treatments. When all those results were in, my oncologist told me that my condition was worse than he’d first thought. The lesions on my liver were close to blocking bile ducts; when that happened (which would be in either hours or days) I’d develop a serious infection which would kill me. I didn’t have “maybe a year”. I had, at best, “two-three months.”

I wrote about my situation on Facebook and on this blog and was overwhelmed with notes, calls, flowers, angels, prayers and thoughts. (Thank you, all!)

My priorities changed. I decided to self-publish two historical novels that hadn’t sold, but that I wanted to be out in the world. I contacted libraries and schools where I’d agreed to speak, and warned them I might not be able to be there as I’d promised. I met with the friend who’d agreed to be my literary and personal executor, and went over what I’d want him to do after I died. My four daughters all visited Maine to be with me. On August 9, with just the immediate family present, my youngest daughter, who’d been engaged for more than fifteen years, got married on the front lawn of our home. I still felt well — and went for regular chemo treatments and took heavy doses of antibiotics. Every week I had blood tests to see how my body was reacting.

A week after Liz’ wedding my blood tests came back with “atypical” results. The lesions on my liver had shrunk dramatically, and my white blood count was way down.

My oncologist shook his head. “This doesn’t happen,” he explained. “You might have months to live instead of weeks.”

Again, my priorities changed. The two historical novels I wanted to publish are now on Amazon. In the past six weeks I’ve bought a wig and spoken at two libraries and one school. My agent is encouraging me to get back to writing, and is looking at an historical mystery I’ve finished.

Yes — I still have stage four cancer. I’m tired a lot of the time. One or more of my daughters are with me, and take me to chemo treatments, run errands, bring me juice to drink and nag me when they don’t think I’m eating enough.

I’m trying to get back to writing, but it is hard. How much time do I have?

I don’t know. But, then, do any of us?

In the meantime, I’m still here. I still thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. And, on good days, I can write a little.

No, this isn’t fun. I’m frustrated by being unable to plan very far ahead. I’m so glad I was able to take care of my husband when he needed me, and that my daughters are trying to take care of me now.

But death is a part of life  — and I’m still here, planning for the release of my next mystery October 30 (THREAD HERRINGS). And thanking all of you for supporting me and understanding in this difficult year.

Posted in Lea's Posts, Uncategorized | 59 Comments