Honeymoon Revisited

Today is my wedding anniversary. On July 15, 1972, my husband Warner and I said our vows in the church I attended as a child in West Virginia. Yes, 49 years ago.

Best man handing Warner the wedding ring

On July 24, we set out on our honeymoon, a four-week journey cross country. As an elementary reading specialist in Montgomery County, Maryland schools, I had the

Susan & Warner heading out

summer off. Working construction and deciding what to do with a history degree, my new husband also had the time free. We’d purchased a bare-bones, (standard shift & no back seat) white Volkswagen van we named Lurch, after the character in the TV show The Addams Family. Warner used his new carpentry skills and outfitted it for camping, but because he grew up sailing, the interior results resembled a boat cabin. I sewed the covers for the mattress and curtains. My aunt gave us a Coleman cooler, lantern, and camp stove as wedding gifts. We still have the cooler. We were on a budget, so we saw the West by visiting national and state parks rather than cities.

From Tacoma Park, Maryland, on July 24, armed with a Rand McNally Road Atlas and excitement, we headed west. We opted to take the southern route west and the northern back. I documented much of the expedition with my small Kodak film camera. Film meant we didn’t see our photos until after we returned home.

Today I’m sharing a few highlights. That first day, we made it to the Buckeye Lake KOA in Ohio in late afternoon under cloudy skies. In 1972, a campsite without electricity cost about $2 a night, plus quarters to deposit in a slot for a hot shower. A couple parked near our site were wrestling with a huge tent as we parked beside our picnic table and got out our stove.

Warner in Lurch

Raindrops soon plunked on the metal. We stuffed the stove and the meal ingredients (no idea now what) inside and went to help the couple, who we learned had bought their tent that very day. The downpour lasted all night, and instead of cooking our first camping meal on the Coleman stove, we ate cold chili out of cans.

Newlyweds in the cooler temps of the Rockies

Things went uphill from there. Literally, once we left Kansas.

After a couple of stops to visit friends, we arrived in Colorado. (July 30) I grew up in the Appalachians, so the Rockies were a whole different scene. We toured Estes Park Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park. Poor Lurch struggled up and over the Continental Divide, but didn’t overheat because of the air-cooled engine (in the rear, remember). We did stop several times to give it a rest.

 

Driving the Continental Divide, our VW van

From Colorado, we headed south through Utah. An acquaintance had given me a used portable “air conditioner.” The contraption sat on the floor. You filled its box with ice and plugged the cord into the cigarette lighter. And voilà, cool air. Except this device wasn’t equipped to handle the Utah desert heat. A mere half hour later, the ice melted and flooded the floor. At the next gas station, we dumped the beast.

In Arizona, we camped in the national park campground on the South Rim (Aug. 2) and hiked, but not down into the Grand Canyon.

Susan at campsite

On across the Mojave Desert to California and San Francisco, where we did stay at a hotel in the city to do some touring of the waterfront and Chinatown.

Moving north along the coast, we climbed dunes at a beach in Oregon and drove the loop in Olympic National Park. After Washington, we headed east to Montana’s Glacier National Park (Aug.17), where we saw more than one glacier and the first moose for both

Cow moose with young

of us. Glacier was our favorite of all the parks, with Yellowstone a close second. In Cody, Wyoming, we attended a rodeo. I wonder what the locals in their Western shirts and hats thought of this longhaired couple. Then through the Badlands and downhill the rest of the way. After a couple of days in West Virginia visiting my parents, we returned to our small apartment in Maryland with 15,600 miles on the VW van (Aug. 27). Lurch had needed a couple of repairs along the way, but never broke down.

Warner and I didn’t live together until we married, so this trip might’ve challenged our relationship. Maybe it did occasionally, but not enough that either of us remembers that part. Forty-nine years later, we’re still each other’s best friend, lover, and partner.

Thank you for letting me share my reminiscences.

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“Where Would You Put The Body” Contest Winners

Well, folks, this is has been very difficult for the judges. It appears that our readers, as a group, have very creative–AND DARK–imaginations. We could have had many more winners, but finally had to choose. So here goes:

First Place: Lydia Stevens who says this about her photograph

I would put the body under the lady slippers because they are endangered and in theory if I were criminal enough to do murder, harming an endangered species of flower wouldn’t phase me. LHowever, law enforcement might think twice before breaking the law and digging these beauties up!

This photo was taken in Lee, Maine at our family camp.

Second Place: Nancy McGinnis for this old cemetery. She says

Searching for a body? No one would ever think to look in the cemetery – that lead would obviously be considered a dead end!

I took this photograph — one of my all-time favorites — in Cutler, Maine.

We have a tie for third place between Grace Marsh‘s leaching field:

A replacement septic system leachfield soon to be forever covered with dirt. South Casco, Maine.

and Shelley Burbank‘s shot furnace at Ft. Knox:

Fort Knox State Park shot furnace.

Always thought Fort Knox a good place for a Maine mystery. It’s spooky and interesting.

So winners, please message your snail mail addresses to katefloraatgmaildotcom so we can send your prizes. Thanks to everyone who entered. To us, you are all winners and we wish we could give all of you prizes. Thanks for sharing your photos with us.

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Artificial Intelligence and the Crime Novel

I’ve been thinking lately about how future societal developments will impact both criminal activity and the crime novel. In my last blog I spoke about how the coming cashless monetary system will affect criminality and how crime authors will adapt to it.

Today I want discuss how artificial intelligence might change the way criminals subvert the law, and the way law enforcement will use it to maintain law and order. This subject is so vast that my blog post will not even begin to touch on the many issues of machine learning. For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to address the larger issues facing us. And it’s not just science fiction I’m talking about. In many ways the future has arrived and is present as I write this. Now we have cars without drivers, robotic workers and smart devices that do many of our tasks.

When we talk about AI we’re generally talking about machine learning. This could range from computers to robotic arms to lifelike robots who resemble humans. From there we venture to deep learning and applied intelligence, to mention just a few of the AI areas of interest. What about the development of a responsible AI? Or an AI that operates under a strict moral code? Is that even possible? What if in the future robots become so lifelike that humans enter into romantic relationships with them. If this happens, can robots be programmed to be kind and gentle lovers? Or not to be physically or emotionally abusive? Not to engage in violent crimes such as rape and kidnapping?

What about a robot as a detective or PI? Will there come a day when a private citizen will hire a humanoid robot to solve a violent crime? The investigative powers of a deep learning machine would be incredibly effective and efficient. Would it take away from the humanity of the PIs and detectives we’ve come to know and love in literature? There is no doubt it would. But then new issues would arise that would make writing about AI crime even more fascinating. So how do we tackle such questions as writers of crime fiction and deal with the future of AI? How do we tell stories that maintain the traditions of our humanity and while at the same time entertain?

The deep and applied learning applications configured in machine learning means that robots will become smarter over time, and most likely more intelligent than the humans who created them. Will they use their superior knowledge to help mankind or hurt them? Hal 9000 in 2001 Space Odyssey sought to do the moral thing because of an ambiguously written mission statement. Will it be a lack of linguistic specifics that creates the moral gray area where AIs operate. Maybe it’s the programmers who will need to adjust and prioritize their values when writing code for AI. And assuming the programmer writes lazy and ambiguous code, the AI will have to make certain judgement calls on its own that may be the least ethical decisions of all. Will that be where conflict and dramatic elements come in handy for us crime writers? It will be interesting to see where this all plays out. Maybe the robots will be able to repair themselves and overrule human error.

In the meanwhile, here are some of my favorite films and books to consider if you’re thinking about these important AI questions.

-2001 Space Odyssey, both novel and movie by Arthur C. Clarke

-The Perfect Wife, a great sci-fi domestic thriller novel by J.P. Delaney.

-Klara and the Sun, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

-Ex Machina, a great sci-if movie about humanoid robots

-Heartificial Intelligence by John C. Havens

-Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott

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Another Week Down East

John Clark sharing what transpired during our annual stay at Cobscook Bay Cottages in Perry. As best we can recall, this was our eighth time at the cottages. Once packed, we headed north to Bangor and then east on the Airline to Calais. We always stop at the IGA there to buy most of our groceries before heading south on Route One. Once checked in, Beth went out in her favorite yellow kayak while I munched on shad berries before settling down with a book.

 

Saturday night and most of Sunday brought rain and low scudding clouds, but the weather didn’t deter the good people of Eastport from having a 4th of July parade. The streets were lined with wet, but determined citizens, waving and hooting at the marchers, fire trucks, police cars, Kora Karts and floats. Beth and I were amazed at the amount of candy still lying on the ground after the parade passed. I wondered how many creatures in the harbor got a sugar high from the runoff.

Monday brought as perfect a day as one could want as we drove to Lubec. After exploring a new trail that took us to Carrying Place Cove where we took photos of waves, rocks, butterflies and flowers, we went back into Lubec for lunch, only to discover that our usual eating place, Frank’s Dockside Restaurant was no longer. Its replacement sold a limited choice of pre-made sandwiches along with crafts, but that was it. A new brew pub with outside seating had opened beside the library where we took advantage of their book sale, but skipped the beer. When we stopped to buy sandwiches at one of the stores outside of town, the lady who rang up our purchases said that Franks, like many other places along the coast, simply couldn’t hire enough help to stay afloat. We went back to West Quoddy State Park and hiked the Coast Guard trail going through the forest to an elevated wooden platform which gives you a nice view of Calais as well as the west side of Campobello Island.

Tuesday was spent exploring the Devil’s Head Conservation area off Route One south of Calais. There are several trails to hike there as well as steps down to the edge of the river. The small beach affords a nice view of St. Croix Island downstream as well as what appears to be a quarrying operation on the Canadian side of the river. We stopped several times to photograph various mushrooms. While looking for a place to eat in Calais, we met a very pleasant gentleman. He was a Korean War veteran, age 89 who had been active in establishing a drop in center for veterans. He gave us a suggestion for where to eat as well as directions to the walking trail that follows the western shore of the river, passing under the roadway leading to the border crossing, a spot, like the International Bridge in Lubec that looks more like a set for a zombie flick thanks to the pandemic.

Wednesday we drove to Cobscook Bay State Park for a picnic and a couple hikes. The trail leading to a scenic lookout was deceptive. At first it took us through the woods where we spent as much time avoiding exposed roots as anything, but then we made a sharp left turn and found ourselves scrambling up a steep jumble of broken granite. Not exactly the best terrain for a couple wobbly folks like us, but the view was worth it and we managed to retrace our route and then follow the Burnt Cove trail back to the main gravel drive. Once again, we took plenty of photos. From there, we drove along the access road to the nearby boat launching area that’s currently being repaved. Along with great photos of fishing vessels, the stop allowed us to snap pictures of a line of cormorants on a floating dock.

Thursday, we went south to Dennysville and found an unexplored section of the Sunrise Trail. We were about to turn back when it looked like the area ahead of us was opening up. Our decision to keep going was rewarded when we started walking through a large marsh. In addition to a beaver dam, the area afforded unlimited photo opportunities of kingfishers, tadpoles of all sizes, more bullfrogs that we’ve seen in years, and huge dragonflies. On the way back to camp, we explored several more roads winding past the ocean.

It poured most of the way home as we took the southern route through Machias, Ellsworth and back to Bangor. A fine and relaxing week away during which I read seven books, Beth kayaked several times and we added more hiking memories. PS-my Hyundai Ionic averaged 65 miles per gallon on our explorations.

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Weekend Update: July 10-11, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by John Clark (Monday), Joe Souza (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Thursday) and William Andrews (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:

 

 

 

 

 

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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Scaredy Cats and Dead Dogs

Not long ago, I was reading a “feel good” British rom-com/chick-lit novel that was filled with charm, sunshine, and sea breezes.

And then the dog died. Hit by a car in front of the hero and heroine while they were canoodling.

That’ll teach ’em to lock lips.

Needless to say, I nearly threw the book across the room with considerable violence. Except with my iffy aim, I thought I might kill my dog, who slept innocently in his hairy dog bed. In Maggie Robinson Fantasyland, dogs do not die in books. No cats, either, or, God absolutely forbid, kids. Certainly not in rom-com/chick-lit books, which are designed to transport you away from the vagaries of real life into pre-pandemic quaint English seaside villages with waterfront tearooms run by quirky-yet-wise grannies who help the hero and heroine find true love after a lot of secrets, lies, and misunderstandings.

Even though I write mysteries, they are not at all suspenseful or bloody or threatening to most fluffy creatures. I just can’t. I learned long ago my anxiety reaches absurd heights at the slightest provocation. There is not enough Lisinopril in the world to bring my blood pressure down. I’ve been to movies where my eyes were closed most of the time and I had to read the plot synopsis on IMDb. I once tried to read a medical procedural by a super-famous acclaimed author that began in a morgue and after three pages had to bail as the M.E. sliced into the corpse with much gusto and gore. I have never seen Clarice Starling in any incarnation. No Halloween franchise. Even this cute picture of my grandson as a zombie soccer player is unsettling.

So, I am a total wuss. I don’t mind killing off bad or inconsequential fictional characters—mostly off the page—but the thought of a child or animal in peril just slays me. There is too much horror in real life without inviting it into my Kindle for bedtime reading.

However, I’m aware readers expect some tension and excitement toward the end of a book, and I’ve forced myself to comply. So far, my heroine Lady Adelaide has dodged a bullet at teatime, driven around with a murderer in the rain with the top down, tumbled her Rolls Royce down an embankment, and…well, that’s a surprise for the last book in the series, Farewell Blues, out in September.

Are you a scaredy cat too? What movie or book freaked you out?

Maggie Robinson is a former teacher, library clerk, and mother of four who woke up in the middle of the night, absolutely compelled to create the perfect man and use as many adjectives and adverbs as possible doing so. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives with her not-quite perfect husband in Maine, where the cold winters are ideal for staying inside and writing historical mysteries and romances. A two-time Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice nominee, her books have been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Dutch, and Italian. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and Maine Romance Writers.

 

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Putting Food on the Page

When writing my own stories and reading those written by others, I’m always keen to know what the characters are eating. This has nothing to do with the fact that like many of us in the culinary paradise that is Maine, I’m something of a foodie. What you eat speaks volumes about who you are and where you come from, and that’s why I’m a big fan of food on the page.

A sad lunch for a harried lawyer.

At a lunch recess during a fictional murder trial, it tells me something when one lawyer heads to the local deli for chicken salad with tarragon and cranberries while the other snarfs a package of bright orange cheese crackers from the courthouse vending machine.

I’m intrigued when a world-weary PI—who lived most of his adult life surrounded by people who guzzled their coffee black with three sugars—now drinks only herbal tea.

We are what we eat, no?

Take Joe Gale, a man who loves smoked fish. In Cover Story, he’s delighted by the breakfast spread at the inn where he’s staying while covering a murder trial.

Hot smoked salmon is not traditional on a bagel, but Joe finds it makes for a stellar breakfast.

Keyed up and ready for action, I was showered and in the breakfast room the next morning at quarter to seven. Bagels of unknown provenance were flanked by local smoked salmon, not thin-sliced lox but moist hot-smoked chunks, which paired nicely with the traditional cream cheese, red onion and capers. I poured myself coffee and settled at a table in front of the window with the morning Bangor paper . .  There’s nothing like fish for breakfast. When I finished, I was so full of energy I felt like running around the block a few times on my way to the courthouse.

Neva Pierce, the protagonist in a new series I’m writing, never talks about her own family’s meals. Her silence is as illuminating as her voluble devotion to the traditional Italian food that was standard fare at the love-filled home of her childhood friend, Karen Pastorelli. Now thirty-something adults, they’re still best friends. Sunday dinner at Mama Pastorelli’s has been replaced by Monday night supper at either Karen’s condo or Neva’s place on Peaks Island, but the menu remains the same:

Sunday gravy as made by Mrs. Pastorelli.

She grabbed one of the matching tote bags Karen lugged up the hill off the 5:35 boat, the one with a loaf of bread sticking out of the top. The evening’s menu was Italian, as it was every week. Since her teenage days as a regular at the Pastorelli family’s table, Neva had sworn by the restorative properties of the exquisite sauce the family called gravy. In tribute to her late mother, Karen still made it regularly. A tight-lidded pot of it was nestled in the bag beneath the bread.

Both Neva and Joe (and food!) play central roles in a short story I wrote last winter called Means, Motive and Opportunity, recently chosen for inclusion in the forthcoming anthology to be published in November, Bloodroot, Best New England Crime Stories. In MM&O, Neva’s defending a woman charged with manslaughter and Joe’s covering the high-profile trial. At the end of a long difficult day they meet for a beer and some nosh. You’ll have to buy the anthology for the gustatory details, but you can be assured Portland’s craft brewing scene also gets a shout out.

Some of my favorite authors do such a good job with food it makes me hungry.

Fresh, briny and addictive.

MCWer emeritus Barbara Ross sets her newest Maine Clambake Mystery, Shucked Apart, on the Damariscotta River, where oyster farms are a thriving business. I especially love a scene when Julia and Chris have lunch at an oyster shack where Norembegas, Glidden Points and Pemaquids are on offer. Julia’s an oyster-eating rookie, but the shack’s owner walks her through it:

“‘Eat it from the wide end. Don’t swallow it whole. Chew once or twice to get all the flavors.’  He poured a tiny bit of the sauce on it. ‘This is a mignonette, a simple sauce of vinegar, shallots and pepper that’s meant to balance the briny, creaminess of the oyster. Now go.’”

So I did it. Call me adventurous, call it peer pressure. Whatever. I did exactly as instructed. The briny, fresh flavor of the oyster with a flash of sweetness at the finish flooded my mouth and flew across my tongue. It was delicious.”

Yum.

Examples of food illustrating character are everywhere you look in crime novels.

Kinsey Millhone’s comfort food. RIP, Sue Grafton.

Who can forget the peanut butter and pickle sandwiches made by Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone? Or the bad Hungarian food urged on her by bossy Rosie, the owner of a tavern down the street from Kinsey’s tiny apartment, not to mention the homemade bread turned out by her landlord Henry, a retired baker?

Take me away to the Three Pines Bistro.

 

Does anyone not want to go to Louise Penny’s magical Three Pines, where bistro owners Gabri and Olivier serve up bowls of beef stew and warm baguettes on cold winter evenings, and cafe au lait and fresh croissants every morning?

And how can we forget Spenser, the tough-with-a-side-of-tender PI in Robert B. Parker’s long-running series? He was forever making dinner for his love, Susan Silverman. If this scene from Taming a Sea-Horse doesn’t make your mouth water, nothing will:

The endive and avocado salad was ready to be tossed with dressing, and the cornmeal and onion fritters were formed and ready for the skillet. I was making the salad dressing out of lemon juice and olive oil and honey and mustard and raspberry vinegar when Susan unlocked my front door.

Is there room for another chair at that table?

RIP, Robert B. Parker, too. Didn’t he look tough for a man who prided himself on his ability to make a delicate vinaigrette?

BLOG READERS: What are your favorite food scenes in crime novels? Examples in the comments are welcome!

Brenda Buchanan is 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. She’s currently working on a series featuring criminal lawyer Neva Pierce, whose passionate defense of her clients leads her deep into the rough-and-tumble world of Downeast crime.

 

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Maine Crime Writers enter the Blogosphere

I do an autopsy with Lea Wait and Tess Gerritsen

Doing an “autopsy” with Lea Wait and Tess Gerritsen

Today, July 6th, we celebrate ten years of blogging as Maine Crime Writers. The cast of characters is ever changing but the mission remains the same: to make readers aware of the talents and diversity of crime writers in Maine, and to share our experiences of living and writing in Maine, the many different corners of the mystery genre that we occupy, and our thoughts on the craft of writing.

 

Welcome to Maine Crime Writers inaugural blog. I get the honor of writing it not because I’m the most stellar writer. Rather, it comes down to this: I’m the person so daunted by the task of mastering social media that I recruited a whole group of great writers to join me, hoping that, in the motto of my small home town of Union, Maine—In Union, there is strength. Individually, some of us would fly and others might flounder. Together, we’ll have the pleasure of each other’s company, the treat each day of reading thoughtful and entertaining posts by writers we already admire, and the opportunity to learn from each other.

Way back in 1993, when I sold my first Thea Kozak mystery, my wise husband said, “Congratulations. Now you have two jobs. You still have the job of writing the next good book. You now also have the job of publicizing and promoting your books.” Not long after that, I went to my first mystery conference out in Omaha, Nebraska. It was my first introduction to a lot of things. Among them was the excitement of being with a whole group of people who did what I was doing. I was thrilled when I heard another writer talking about the voices in her head demanding to be let out. It was comforting to know that in our profession having imaginary friends was okay. Other writers shared their frustration about those times when the story “wouldn’t write” or the editor wanted something near and dear changed. I also came back from Omaha clutching a little slip of paper on which someone had written: Join Sisters in Crime.

At NEBA with Julia Spencer-Fleming and Leslie Wheeler

I followed that advice and learned how valuable it could be to belong to a community of writers. Over the years, I’ve belonged to several communities—some official and some unofficial. And one community which has given me great pleasure and support has been the community of Maine mystery writers. I’ve met some of the writers in this group through Sisters in Crime. Some through the New England Crime Bake, a mystery conference featuring New England authors held each November. And I’ve met many, or gotten to know them better, through doing library events.

Camden Library with Gerry Boyle, Dorothy Cannell, Jenny Siler and Jim Hayman

Nearly two years ago, at an event at the Camden Public Library, Jim Hayman suggested that some of us get together and blog. It seemed like a great idea. Jim and Gerry Boyle and I were all writing books about Portland and cops. But I waited for Jim to organize it and it never seemed to happen. Then, earlier this year, with the constant admonitions of publicists that writers must master “social media” ringing in my ears, I was sitting in a bar in Brunswick with my friend Lea Wait. We were commiserating about all the ways that the necessity to publicize oneself nips away at the time we have for writing. And I floated the idea of doing it as a group. We’d have the advantage of many voices to draw readers to our site. Instead of struggling to think of clever things to blog about, we’d be able to write thoughtful blogs, to respond to each other’s ideas, and once a week, we could blog together on a topic of interest to the group.

I guess I wasn’t alone in thinking it might be fun to try, because now we are ten. (I try not to think about ten little Indians.) I’m excited to be part of this group. Looking forward to what Gerry will write tomorrow, what Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will write the following day, and then what Vicki Doudera will write. Then, on Sundays, we’ll be writing as group. This week’s topic is Research Stories, and there will be some good ones.

So, dear readers, I hope you’ll find our site congenial and want to come and visit with us often. And we don’t intend for this to be a one-way street. If you’ve got ideas about topics we should discuss, know characters we should interview, have questions about crime writing you’ve always wanted to ask, we’d love to hear from you. We also want to hear about special Maine places that our readers might not know about. Your favorite recipes for blueberries, or chowder, or New England baked beans. We’ll be talking about what we’re reading, and we hope you’ll talk back about what you’re reading.

Welcome…..

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Weekend Update: July 3-4, 2021

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Brenda Buchanan (Thursday) and Maggie Robinson (Friday). Tuesday, July 6 is our ten-year anniversary as a group blog. 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:

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: Clause & Effect and A Fatal Fiction will be discounted across all major e-book platforms from June 30-August 2 at $1.99 each.

This is in preparation for the release of the fourth book in the Deadly Edits series, Murder, She Edited, on July 27.

from Kate Flora:

If anyone is looking for an intensive, weeklong mystery writing course, I’ll be teaching one this October in beautiful Rockport, Maine. Check it out here:

Crime Fiction 101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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A Writer’s Lunch: Seven writing exercises you can do at lunch

 Kate Flora: Rerunning a slightly tweaked version of a post I ran a few years ago.

I really wanted to teach a writing class this summer. Alas, the kind of six week class I like to teach didn’t happen. Still, today I found myself rummaging through the files, looking at some of the exercises I’ve used, and I was reminded of how I like to send my class home at the end with some exercises to do at home to continue their writing practice.

With summer here, lunches again a possibility, and as we look forward to some of those leisurely summer lunches, maybe outside, maybe by the sea, maybe in a place that provides a rich collection of fellow lunchers to observe, here are ideas:

1. Pick a interesting couple you can easily observe and write the conversation you imagine they’re having.

Ex: I know the first thing she said was, “Why didn’t you call?” because I overheard that as I passed their table. What I didn’t expect was his reply. “They don’t let you make calls from jail, Kat.” She didn’t look like a Kat, and he didn’t look like a jailbird, so I hunched nosily over my coffee, waiting to hear what they’d say next.

2. A variation on the exercise above is to pick two people in the room who aren’t together, and imagine the conversation they’d have if they were. You can do this with two people you think would go well together; then try it a different time with two people who look like they’d ordinarily never meet.

Ex: You wouldn’t put them together in a million years. She was a saggy-baggy old hippie in Birkenstocks and a snarled Peruvian shawl. He was pimply, pierced and Mohawked.

Ex: It was sad, really. He was young and attractive and looked so miserably alone, bent over his lunch, while she was vibrant and pretty and also alone, and looked like she’d just lost her friend.

3. Pick a particular food scent out of the air and write what it makes you think of. (see my recent blog post about making your own scent museum) You can go so many places with this exercise, so you can do it many times. Pick soup. Fried food. Breakfast smells. Coffee. Ethnic foods.

Ex: Frying bacon on a winter morning flashes me back to Uncle Henry’s camp. A few deep, greasy breaths and this neighborhood diner melts away.

4. Using only one of your senses, describe what is going on in the room around you, keeping your observations isolated that that sense. Repeat the exercise, using a different sense. You may be surprised how hard this is.

5. You’re about to bite into your favorite sandwich. Before you bite, describe that sandwich in a way that make someone else want to eat it. Go overboard, be lavish and excessive.

6. Describe the same sandwich in only 20 words.

7. Find someone who is wearing an interesting piece of clothing, an unusual hat or tee shirt message, or carrying an interesting object—pack, purse, umbrella, walking stick—and write the story of how they got it.

Ex: the other day I was in the liquor store and the guy ahead of me was wearing one of those vibrant yellow-green “notice me” tee shirts. On the back, in huge letters, it read: CAN YOU SEE ME NOW??

Note: the idea behind these exercises is to get you thinking and observing like a writer, asking yourself “what is this about?” and practicing the skills of writing description, dialogue, and interior narration.

Have fun!

And speaking of teaching, I will be teaching this coming October for Maine Media Workshops. Here’s the link: https://www.mainemedia.edu/workshops/item/crime-fiction-101/

And the class description:

Got a story idea lurking in your head that you never seem to get down on paper? Are you a big mystery fan who has always wanted to write one but never gets to it? Maybe you want to write a book but don’t how to start and the mystery structure is the answer? We all know writers write, but sometimes it takes a nudge, or a class, or someone giving you an approach to get you started.

These daily sessions will focus on some of the elements that go into crafting a mystery novel. We’ll cover the basics of mystery plotting—that all important framework on which we hang our stories—and we’ll work on creating credible and distinctive characters, both good and bad. We’ll discuss point of view, the importance of setting and the role it plays, review some strategies for planting clues, and examine how mystery writers create tension page-by-page. There will be daily writing assignments, and wherever possible, if the student has a story idea in mind, his or her story will form the basis for the day’s exercises.

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