Jessie: In New Hampshire where the snow has melted sufficiently to expose cheerful clumps of daffodils.

social-media-3313867_1920I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about technology and social media. With all that has been on the news about privacy violations and data scraping I have been finding myself looking at my usual social media haunts with a jaundiced eye.

I find that I am taking more note of  how many times in a day I feel tempted to check for new posts by friends and people whose photos or whose lenses on the world interest me. I feel hesitant to follow through on that urge and I have to wonder if that is an unexpected bonus to come out of all the mess unfolding on the public stage.

At first I felt a little fidgety perhaps from the lack of dopamine hits flooding my brain mulitple times each day. Then, as I got more accustomed to leaving those social media sites well enough alone I found a whole lot of quiet in my own mind. I was hearing myself think very clearly and it felt rather marvelous.

I also started using those spare moments of time waiting in the car to pick up my son or while in the orthodontist’s office for something other than checking my Instagram feed. I tucked a book of short stories by Agatha Christie into a pocket in my purse and have been enjoying it in those short chunks of time ever since.

In a world full of clamor and so much to navigate I have been inordinately soothed by returning to my roots. I feel a bit like I have discovered my own fountain of youth. When I was a child I was never without a book in a pocket or a bag available to sneak out and devour whenever given the smallest of chances.

So, my unsolicited recommendation is this: if you are finding the world loud, rotten or overwhelming turn to the solace a book of short stories can provide. They have the benefit of fitting into spare moments of time but rather than leaving you feeling like you have wasted your day they transport you to another time or place. Like me you might just feel richer for the experience.

Readers, do you love short stories? Have you felt the need at any point to reduce the amount of time you spend on social media platforms?

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Scratch That…Or Your trash, My Treasure


If you have read many of my MCW posts, you know I like to create the modern equivalent of alchemy, things like ditch mining for returnables and donating the proceeds to the Hartland Children’s Christmas Fund (turned in $10.60 worth today), or getting magazine subscriptions for the library with Coke points.

A couple years ago, My sweepstaking friend Rhonda Martin told me about entering the 12 digit codes from non-winning instant lottery tickets online and using the accumulated points to get stuff. Foolishly, I didn’t pay immediate attention to her suggestion. In fact, it wasn’t until I was ditch mining by a bridge in Harmony last summer and noticed how many tickets were lying along the road, that I remembered what she’d told me. I picked up what was discarded in a 200 foot stretch and set up an account on the Maine lottery website. Not long after, I realized that people were leaving quite a number of non-winners in the wastebasket at a local store. Since I have no pride when it comes to scavenging, I started retrieving them and entering them online.


When my point total started climbing, I looked at what was available. At about the same time, the fourth grade teacher in Hartland created a request on the Donor’s Choose website, a place where teachers all over the country can post a need that the local school budget can’t cover. Our daughter Lisa introduced us to it when she started using it to fund projects at her school in the Bronx. Here in Hartland, the fourth grade had one computer for 20 kids. The teacher was asking for enough funding to add three more. I noticed that I could get a Craig Netbook for just over 14,000 points.


Beth and I helped fund the Donor’s Choose project, while I went ahead and used my points to get the netbook. I wish I had a picture of those kids’ faces when the teacher and I walked into the classroom with the box. They were thrilled.


Two weeks ago, I delivered a second netbook to that classroom. Combined with the three they got from Donor’s Choose, these kids now have six netbooks for twenty students, a much better ratio if they’re going to become computer proficient. I’m already working on getting enough points for another one, possibly for one of the other classes at Somerset Middle School. The whole experience has been the ultimate example of turning someone else’s trash into treasure.


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A Cozy Gathering in Portland, Maine

by Barb, who is finally back home in Portland

Last night, Kensington Publishing and Print: A Bookstore combined to host a Cozy Mystery mini-con in Portland, with support from Thorndike Press, the Maine-based publisher of large print books. Maine Crime Writers Kaitlyn Dunnett, Jessica Ellicott and I were there. A host of Portland-area Maine Crime Writers, including Brenda Buchanan, Bruce Coffin, Dick Cass, and Joe Souza, as well as alum Chris Holm and his wife mystery reviewer Katrina Niidas Holm came out to support us. Gayle Lynds, unable to attend, even sent best wishes and bought some signed books.

The party was at the Rising Tide Brewery. They were very welcoming and accommodating, and the beer was great!

Here’s a glimpse of the action.

A good turnout. Thank you to the Maine writers who attended.

Writers prepare to read. From left, J.D. Griffo, Carlene O’Connor, Leslie Meier, Barbara Ross, Jessica Ellicott, Kaitlyn Dunnett

Jessica Ellicott at the podium

Barbara Ross and Leslie Meier, authors (with Lee Hollis) of the forthcoming Yule Log Murder

The authors, from left: Sally Goldenbaum, Devon Delaney, Maddie Day, Peggy Ehrhart, Emily Russo, Print owner, Carlene O’Connor, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Jessica Ellicott, J.D. Griffo, Leslie Meier, Barbara Ross

Thanks to all who came out! For those who missed it, hope these photos give you a sense of the event.

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Those Chimney Closets … What Were They For?

Lea Wait here. For as long as I remember, I’ve known about chimney closets. We have four in our home — 2 in the bedrooms with fireplaces in the original part of the house, built in 1774, and two in what became the “new kitchen” in the ell added in 1832 or 1833.

Chimney closet in guest bedroom — note it is above the fireplace, and has a door

When my mother owned this house, she collected nineteenth century original miniatures — often designed for doll houses. She decorated the shelves in the chimney closets (also called cupboards like miniature rooms: a dining rooms set with dishes and vases and flowers, sideboards, wine glasses, clocks, and oil paintings for the walls; a kitchen completely furnished with cooking utensils and pots and pans, and a butter churn. Tiny decks  of cards were on the living room table. The bedroom included a child’s rocking chair, toys, a canopied bed, and a complete set of fireplace tools and a fire screen.

Mother also hid some of her liquor supply in one of the ell chimney closets when she left the house for any length of time.

Those miniatures, from the portraits to the Toby mug, were inherited by one of my nieces, and I don’t leave the house for long periods of time, so those chimney closets now hold a variety of decorative and non-decorative objects. Books about Maine (in the guest room;) decorative plates and art glass baskets. Family photographs. Cat food, out of reach, above the hearth where our cat takes her meals.

Close up of another chimney closet holding medications, plates — and cat food!

But — what is a chimney closet? And what were they used for when they were built in to eighteenth and early nineteenth century homes?

I thought I knew. Or, at least, I knew some historians’ ideas about them. But when researching this blog, and Googling “chimney closets” or “chimney cupboards,” I found a lot of pictures of tall, narrow cupboards of various sorts, made to stand near fireplaces. I saw nothing like the cupboards  in my home, and in other homes of the same period near mine.

In the pictures here you can see that our cabinets (another term) are high above the mantel, if there is one. (One in the ell kitchen reaches the ceiling.) They are built into the wall, and at least one side is next to the chimney, keeping the contents of the cupboard warm. They have doors, to keep the warmth in or to protect the contents, or to hide them. Those in the bedrooms are well made — the ones in the old kitchen in the ell are rougher, but serve the same purpose. All have two or three shelves inside.

So — what were the built for?

High, closed, chimney closet in old kitchen in ell

One historian told me that they were a warm spot to keep nightshirts or gowns. But on cold winter days during the period these closets were built, men and women might remove their outside clothes before getting into a shared (for warmth) bed. But, except in movies, or in the homes of the very wealthy who had servants to sleep by the hearth and keep the fires burning  all night, people in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century did not have special night clothing. Fabric was too dear; and underclothing was often kept on for all or most of the winter.

So — what else would the cupboards have been used for? Upstairs rooms were cold in winter, even those rooms lucky enough to have fireplaces, as two in my house were. When I was a child a friend of my mother’s once remarked that she couldn’t sleep well at night if the water in the glass on her bedside table wasn’t frozen in the morning. That’s cold! (Her home had no furnace; as many Maine homes, it was heated by a woodstove in the kitchen.)

Master bedroom showing wardrobe, fireplace – and chimney closet above fireplace

So what would go into those cupboards/cabinets/closets? What would need to be kept warm? Medicine? But in that period medicines were mostly alcohol, but so they wouldn’t have frozen easily. Perhaps food or drinks for the elderly, or ill, or children, who might need food during the night, or nearby a bed. Clouts (diapers) for a baby, so the child  was spared the shock of a frigid cloth. Special personal items, from jewelry or watches to precious mementoes, are possibilities for placement in the cupboards. Remember: during this period no rooms had closets They either had hooks on the wall, to hand the few items of clothing one person would own, or, later in the nineteenth century, they had wardrobes, and bureaus.

Closed chimney closet in guest bedroom

Perhaps candles were kept in the cupboards, available for light when needed. Candles  would break easily if too cold; in the cupboards the  warmth from the fireplace in the cupboard kept them more useable.

Or, perhaps, the cupboards were built in as decorative parts of a room, and individuals and families used them differently.

Have any of you seen chimney closets (or cupboards) What do you think they were used for?

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So You’re Doing a Library Event?

Kate Flora: A few years ago, we offered an updated version here in honor of National nancydrew (160x300)Library Week. Following on our post yesterday, with pictures of some of us at library events, those suggestions appears below.

It’s a happy part of every author’s life to get to speak at libraries and connect with readers who like our books and new readers who haven’t discovered us yet. But sometimes, we travel long distances for disappointedly small audiences. For library week, we’ve been having a discussion among ourselves about two issues: What libraries can do to make library visits successful for writers and readers; and what authors can do to help.

Years ago, when I was chapter liaison for the international board of Sisters in Crime, I surveyed librarians and compiled a list for authors and librarians of strategies for drawing audiences and working to create a successful event for all involved. Among those suggestions:

Make it an event:

FullSizeRender-19Give the author presentation a title.

Invite more than one author.

Create a library display with Maine crime writer’s books, some spooky props, some crime scene tape.

Serve food. Better yet, get the library friends or patrons involved in serving food. That Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 8.33.59 AMsuggestion evolved into two very special events: A Mystery Dessert Party, often titled “Death and Desserts” or “Death and Chocolate,” and a lunch time or evening event where the library serves soup and homemade bread, titled “Soup and Suspense,” where the soup is often served in library mugs the patrons purchase.

Hand out flyers or bookmarks in advance, with the title and date of the event.

Invite your local cable station to broadcast the program.

IMG_6120Post information about the event on the library web page, and on facebook if the library has a presence there. Send an announcement to the local papers.

I asked some of our Maine crime writers for their suggestions. Here are some of their ideas:


Barbara Ross: Several years now of library visits have taught me there are two kinds of libraries. There’s the kind where you show up. The librarians or a delegate from the library friend’s committee greets you enthusiastically. The room is set up and there are cheerful flyers advertising your talk by the circulation desk. You can tell as you look around the library is not just a place to borrow books, but a thriving community center. Your talk has been on the library’s online calendar for at least a month and there have been notices in the local papers both print and online.  The room is crowded and there are snacks. The patrons are cheerful and you can tell from their interactions with the staff that many of them are “regulars.” This library is a delight.

Your job, as an author, is to make things as easy for the events person as possible. Have a bio, photo, book description and cover and a description of the topic of your talk available on your website. Send them along early and respond in a timely way to any requests you get. Let your own social network know you’ll be there to help build the audience. If your book is new and you have one, send along an Advance Reader Copy for the librarians so they can read it and talk up the book. I’ll address the second kind, where the event isn’t being promoted, in my tips for authors.

Lea Wait: Among my tips for the library is one about scheduling. Think about what day of the week, what time, will work best to attract people to your event. What else is happening in town? Will it draw a crowd to the event or compete with it? Don’t schedule on a holiday week or a school vacation week, when a lot of people will be out of town.

Local Author Fairat Nevins Library(1)Consider what strategies might be employed to build an audience? If possible, try to work with a local book group that will read an author’s book, or a writers’s group, or a group interested in the topic of the author’s book (an historical association?)  Make sure the announcement of the event is in the “coming up” section of the newspaper at least a month in advance — and the official news release is in the paper two weeks in advance, with a reminder right before the event — as well as in library newsletters, and on posters, etc., at the library, community hall, senior citizens center, Y, any other place people gather in the community.  Don’t forget to include surrounding community libraries and newspapers — people will drive a town or two away to hear an author whose books they enjoy. (And advertise their events in turn, too.)

Put information on your Facebook page; your website. Consider handing out bookmarks or flyers to patrons as they check out books. If it’s a mystery book and they’re checking out a mystery, they are your, and our, natural audience.

Provide water for your visiting author to sip during his or her talk. If she or he is selling books, ask if they would like someone else to add up the totals and take in the money. (The author should bring their own change.)

Provide an honorarium if you can. Gas is expensive, and only Stephen King and Tess Gerritsen are getting rich in this business.

If there is limited parking near your library, reserve a space for the author, especially if the author is bringing books or other materials for the presentation.

Kate Flora, again. Consider inviting high school students or school classes. Students are sometimes given credit for attending author events. If you have a large potential audience of seniors, consider whether a weekend afternoon might be better for those who don’t like to drive at night. Think about creating an annual event, so your patrons look forward to meeting new authors each year.

Consider inviting two or three authors, to create an “event” and treat your patrons to the different viewpoints, writing styles, and areas of the genre they represent.

Just as important, we writers find, are tips for the authors who want to build connections with libraries. Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, offers this tip—make a gift to the library while you’re there. It can be a copy of the newest book, or an older one in large print, or just the one you have lots of extra copies of. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is to spread good will and get one of your titles into the collection. And it’s fairly easy to check online first to see what titles (if any) they already have so you don’t duplicate. You’re probably going to take a look at the library website anyway, to get driving directions and a visual of the building, so do it while you’re there.

John Clark: Speaking as a librarian, I tell authors to make connections OR friends with as many librarians as possible. You have no idea how much influence they have when it comes to introducing new readers to authors (that’s why members of MCW’s books are in the collection but seldom found on the shelves at the Hartland Public Library)

If you’re out an about and have a few minutes when passing a library, stop and say hello. The chances a patron might be interested in your books and meeting you is a high. Also, word of mouth still works like a charm here in Maine.

Kate Flora: We’d love to hear from our librarians–is this true? Would you really like us to stop in?

Lea Wait says: I agree with Kathy – donate a book to the library – especially an audio or large print if you have one. Libraries are always looking for those! Contact the library ahead of time and ask what you can do to help promote the event. For example — sending your author photo, book cover(s) and author bio are basic. I’ve found that sending them not only digitally but physically helps some libraries. I’ve also volunteered to write the entire press release for libraries that seemed a bit nervous about the event. I also volunteer to send posters of my book covers (I have a large printer and can send 13 x 19 inch or 8 1/2 x 11 inch posters) that they can post in the library or on bulletin boards around town. Sending bookmarks ahead of time that they can hand to people coming into the library also seems to work.

Get there early enough to meet all the librarians, not just those involved with your talk. Set your books (the ones you hope to sell) up so people can see them before you talk.  Have a pad where people can sign up to be on your mailing or email list to hear about future books. Be gracious and thank everyone, no matter how many people do (or don’t) show up.

We have more thoughts, and more tips, but we don’t want to wear you all out. But librarians, what suggestions do you have for us? And what questions? Because we’re all on the same page here–we want readers to be excited about what we’re writing and they’re reading.

Have we been to your library yet?


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Crime Writers in the Library

Today, to celebrate National Library Week, Maine crime writers are sharing photos of ourselves in libraries all over the state. Proof, we hope, of what we often say: That as writers, we LOVE Maine libraries and are grateful for the many opportunities they provide us to share our work with their patrons.

Some of us at the Jesup Library Murder by the Book event, from 2015, 2016 and 2017:


At the Guilford Library Maine Authors Day, June 2016:


At Patten Library’s Bath Literary Festival October, 2017:



Sandra Neily at the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library:

SN Boothbay Library 1.2018

Brenda Buchanan reading at Popham Beach Library

Bruce Robert Coffin, Kate Flora at the Kennebunk Free Library with Paula Keene and Ann Whetstone from the Mainely Murders Bookstore.


Kate Flora, Maureen Milliken and more at Sandwich, Mass. library, 2016.

Kate Flora: My goal (at which I am failing, I fear) is to be in every library in the state. Here are some photos of my visits to Maine libraries.


A few of Lea Wait:

Lea Wait, Rumford Library

Lea Wait, Jesup Library, Bar Harbor

Lea Wait, speaking, Wiscasset




Lea Wait, on Cape Cod at a Library Mystery evening


Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson, Lea Wait, and Jen Blood at the New Gloucester library:

Kathy/Kaitlyn “working” as part of a Sisters in Crime/library event at Treat Memorial Library in Livermore Falls:


From Hartland: Not exactly a library event, but both the Hartland Public Library and our Friends group were part of the 2018 Lions Club literacy fair this morning and it was a roaring success. Bette Stevens read two of her books and we gave away 8 copies. There were animals, planting, environmental literacy, Literacy Volunteers, a State trooper, a Maine game warden, free lunch and popcorn, plus an unbelievably popular readers theater that ran nonstop for two hours. Photos below.


Harder to say whether the bunnies or the baby goats were more popular


Beth had fun with the computer assisted microscope…so did the kids.


Every child went home with an armful of books, most of them brand new.



Maureen Milliken: If it weren’t for my childhood library, Lithgow, in Augusta, I wouldn’t be a mystery writer. I love libraries! Here are a few of my many many many library appearances over the past few years:

At the Newport Cultural Center library, with the librarian. A great library and great crowd!

With Brenda Buchanan at Thompson Library in Dover-Foxcroft.

At Hudson, N.H., library with Coralee Jensen

Albert Church Brown Library in China Village

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Weekend Update: April 7-8, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will posts by Kate Flora (Monday) Lea Wait (Tuesday), Barb Ross (Wednesday), John Clark (Thursday), and Jessie Crockett (Friday).

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

Coming up on April 10 from 7-8 PM in Portland, Maine, the Kensington Cozy Author-palooza, a group signing co-sponsored by Print: A Bookstore that includes Maine Crime Writers Jessica Ellicott (Jessie Crockett), Kaitlyn Dunnett, Barbara Ross, and Lea Wait. For more information, including the location of the event, go to

Kaitlyn Dunnett’s first in a new series, Crime & Punctuation, which won’t be available to purchase until the end of May, is featured in a Goodreads giveaway sponsored by the publisher and running until April 9. Here’s the link:

Kate Flora has a busy week this week.

Author Event: Kate Flora

Wednesday, April 11th, 7:00pm
Kate Flora is the author of 14 mystery and true crime books including Finding Amy, a 2007 Edgar nominee co-written with a Portland, Maine deputy police chief. Her other titles include the Thea Kozak mysteries and the starred-review Joe Burgess police series, the third of which, Redemption, won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. A former assistant attorney general for the state of Maine, Kate is a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Conference. She has served as editor and publisher of Level Best Books and as international president of Sisters in Crime.

Sisters in Crime poster 


 Lea Wait will be speaking to third and fourth grade students at the South Bristol School at 9:30 on Wednesday, April 11, about her historical novel Wintering Well.





 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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