Not Crime, Not Writing, But Really Maine

Neither crime nor writing this month, but something definitely Maine that I believe deserves your attention. Full disclosure—my wife Anne is on the Board of the organization I’m describing below, and takes an active part in awarding these scholarships to Maine High School Seniors. And we support the organization financially.

Mainely Character ( is an organization formed in 2001 to award college scholarships to Maine High School students based solely on character. The scholarship process does not consider a student’s academic achievement, athletic prowess, musical ability, artistic talent or financial need. Character, demonstrated through personal action, is the sole criterion the board uses to decide who receives scholarships.

Character is defined as:

  • Courage—taking appropriate risks and following one’s conscience
  • Integrity—being truthful and trustworthy
  • Responsibility—conveying commitment and conviction
  • Concern—demonstrating compassion and care toward others

I’m particularly taken with the notion that the usual marks by which we rank high school students are explicitly thrown out of the mix here. So often, some of the strongest kids we have are the quiet ones, not the athletes or high-achieving academic students, the socially ept. So I’m pleased to see that there is an effort here to seek out the students who maybe don’t get the accolades or attention they might deserve, simply for modeling good citizenship and humanity.

Students awarded Mainely Character scholarships come from all over the state. This year, the awardees came from seven of Maine’s sixteen counties: Hancock, Lincoln, Kennebec, Washington, Cumberland, Penobscot, and York.

Here are a couple of their stories, names and details redacted to preserve their privacy.

A young woman from Midcoast Maine, diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, pushed through that challenge to organize activities at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital while she was receiving treatment. Even with the impact on her academic life, she made it to graduation and will attend the University of Maine in the fall.

A remarkable young man from southern Maine with muscular dystrophy turned his own challenges into helping other young people with the disease adjust to summer camp, many of these kids away from home for the first time. He led fundraising efforts for research and for scholarships to send kids to camp. He will attend the University of Southern Maine.

Another young woman from Downeast, who works summers on her brother’s lobster boat, respectfully and successfully challenged her high school’s administration to ease the way for transgender students and expand athletic possibilities for young women. Her peers voted her “Voice of the Students” at her high school. She will attend the University of Maine.

Other stories of these remarkable young people are here.

In 2022, seven other Maine young people were awarded scholarships by Mainely Character. These are often students with other challenges, for whom a scholarship might make the difference between  college education and none. I’m proud to have met some of these kids and proud of the way they are emblematic of the state of Maine’s character.

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Should you read a mystery series in order? The answer is…

a double rainbow over green mounttains, with a body of water reflecting both in the foreground

This double rainbow over South Branch Pond at Baxter State Park has nothing to do with today’s post, but I thought you’d enjoy it. I took it while camping last month. We love Maine!

Hi all!

In true Maine Crime Writers fashion I’m reprising a relevant column since it’s July, and as much as I’d love to say I’m on vacation, I’m actually scrambling to get a ton of work on so I can go on vacation in a few weeks.

I was reminded of this September 2020 column recently at an author talk, where a reader asked if they should read my Bernie O’Dea mystery series in order.


So, I somehow just binge-read a 23-book series over the last two months. I’m not sure  how — or even why — and don’t want to delve too deeply into that part of my psyche right now, so this post isn’t about that.

You’re welcome.

The books take place in a period of time quite a while back. Though they were written over the past two decades, each book is set about a month apart — until you get to number 20, which takes place five years before the first book in the series. There’s a big cataclysmic event that precedes the first book, and the 20th takes place right before that event and as the event unfolds.

[This series is not by a Maine Crime Writer, or even a New England one, in case you’re wondering.]

You know I’m usually not coy, but I’m not going into the details of the books, who wrote them or what they’re about, because this blog post isn’t specifically about these books and I don’t to distract from the point.

And the point? I came across a post on the internet, long before I got to Book 20, that suggests readers read Book 20 before they start the series, since it takes place five years before the first book.

The post was not by the author, but by a fan. Or maybe just a blogger who hadn’t even read the books. I don’t know. But it bothered me when I read it, and I had that in mind as I plowed through the series.

I admit, I’m a linear person. The first book I read in this series, without realizing it was as series before I bought the book, was actually number 19. I liked it. The next one I read was number 1. Didn’t even have to think about that. I always do that when I find out that a book I’ve just read and liked is part of a series.

When people ask me whether they should read my three-book Bernie O’Dea series in order, I tell them each book is written so it can be read on its own, but I always suggest people start with the first book.

Most series have a character arc that expands and evolves through the books. If you hadn’t read earlier books in a series — any series — it’s hard to get the same satisfaction as a reader out of the later books that you’d get if you had.

When I read Book 20 in the series I binged this summer — the one the blogger suggested be read first — it underscored my belief that books should be read in the order they were written. Even though Book 20 is a “prequel,” there’s no way readers new to the series would read it the same way as those who’d read the previous 19.  Knowing what’s going to happen to the characters later adds layers for a reader. What the characters say and do, and their innocence given the horror that awaits adds a heft to Book 20 that someone reading it without reading the previous 19 won’t enjoy. I have to believe the writer intended this — while books in a series can usually stand alone, there is an arc intended by the author.

I tried this, in a way, with my second book, No News is Bad News. I felt the urge to do a prequel, but instead of a full-blown prequel, I interspersed scenes from before the series started with what was happening in “real time” in the book.

As I wrote those prequel scenes, I couldn’t help but write them with a foundation of what I already knew about the characters. Not that readers have to read the first book, Cold Hard News, to understand the scenes, but if they have, they’ll have knowledge that makes the scenes more powerful.

Most of us who write a series try to manage the tightrope of referring to things in previous books without spoiling them or being too distracting for new readers.

On the other hand, you have to mention previous book stuff. I mean, most of our protagonists, or other major characters, go through things that would cause major physical and emotional trauma to people in real life. While the books are fiction, that element of being affected by past events is still necessary.

When I did those prequel scenes in No News is Bad News, I didn’t think at all about this issue. But looking back, and knowing what I wrote, it’s obvious to me now that those scenes likely would’ve been very different if they were the first thing I’d ever written with those characters in them.

If a writer travels back in time, she’s doing it with the acquired knowledge she has of her characters as she’s grown to know them by writing about them. As much as a writer may try to make later books in a series OK to read as a standalone, they can’t help but write them in a way that’s informed by what came before.

If it has an impact on the writing, it also will have an impact on how the books are read. Reading books in order makes each subsequent one better than it would be on its own.

You’re going to do things your way. I know that. Don’t even get me started on people who read the last page before they start the book (with mine that won’t tell you who the murderer is, it’ll just spoil the emotional payoff #sorrynotsorry).

But if you’re wondering whether to read a series in order, the answer is don’t wonder, just read them in order.

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Moosehead. The Kennebec. And An Endless Steps Workout

OH MY! Wildlife delivers $1.4 billion to Maine’s economy; $1.9 billion w multipliers. Begs the question, is the Moosehead Region ready to secure this and other nature-based economic assets against inappropriate development or over-use? Do all of Maine’s ‘gateway’ communities have the support they need to harness conservation for long-term economic health?

On August 16th, I will be a guest of a Natural Resources of Maine webinar to discuss recreation tourism in the Moosehead Lake region. The panel will share our ideas on the issue as well as tips of how to explore the region. (Info and registration here.)

Explore Moosehead Tips:

Suggest you access land sites around 6 AM (or on September weekdays) as hiking and fishing sites have gotten very popular. (Pandemic discovery has not waned.)

Paddling on Indian Pond

Paddling: Moosehead Lake often has big water, pushed by its forty-mile length. My favorite paddle is the north end of Indian Pond (fed by the Kennebec River’s two headwaters leaving the lake). It has protected shores, campsites, hidden coves and a very wild marsh.  Paddle up toward East Outlet to find current and rapids that dump into the pond or find wild marshlands and wild coves where West Outlet joins the pond. (Accessed on a dirt road the leaves 6 & 15 as you head north.)

Further up the east side of the lake, Spencer Bay is surrounded by public land and it’s often a more protected paddle as well. Put in at the public campsite at the east end. (Use your Delorme Atlas.) I like to paddle into pebble beaches on the north side, plunk a folding chair in the water, and read and swim all day.

Fly Fishing: Try the Moose River below the dam, the Roach River or East Outlet around 6 AM or seek out smaller streams and remote ponds. Although the Maine Guide Fly Shop is no more, its old site has all you need to know to find a remote pond.

Treat yourself by renting a drift boat with guide. (And if the fishing does get tough, guides pull out every trick they know and you’ll walk away with tons of strategies.)

My favorite dog walking off leash: the ski area (at least until it gets developed.) Best wildflowers ever, late June until late July. (Stay away from raspberry areas in late summer. Bears.)

Fav workout: I used to hike up into the Squaw Mt Trail (find the info kiosk off rt 6 and 15 north of town) to the seemingly endless rock steps built by the Youth Conservation Corps. Try and do them up and back without stopping and then sit in the cool stream. (At the top of the stairs is a fine lookout off to the left.)

Biking: There’s off road biking on endless dirt roads. Look at your Delorme Atlas and imagine biking anywhere ‘dirt” from the Prong Pond public access just past Beaver Cove Marina. (Take a page from the Atlas with you.) The main roads are not safe.

Kid stuff;  Catch-something easy places: Prong Pond and Mt View Ponds have good parking and boat ramps for motor or carry in (and are stocked). Drop a canoe in the ponds below the West Outlet dam. Kid hikes: Lily Bay State Park has some lovely woods trails. The Moose Ponds areas has several options. The first pond you get to is an easy, fun hike and there’s a small beach for swimming. Great loons. For adults or older kids, the whole loop is lovely and the upper pond is quieter. (Find the public lands info kiosk north of town.)

The Natural Resource Education Center partners with AMC to offer week youth long summer camps that are rich in experiential outdoor fun.

Best views.  Eagle Rock: locals know the best and shortest way … about an hour … to get there is the old trail access further down the road past the turn-off to the Indian Pond launch area. Almost 360 views of Katahdin over to the Whites. Some wonderful souls continue to mark the old trail. (The new trail is over 12 miles round trip. Not going to do that.)

A trip for all abilities. A short shuttle to Kineo and its trails runs every hour from Rockwood docks. Some folks can just stroll the trail at the lake’s edge. Others can climb up to the restored fire tower. There’s something for everyone. (This shuttle and trail are very popular in the summer, but again, go early. It’s worth it.)

X-Ski or Snowshoe. The volunteers at the ski area flat-groom a great 5-mile loop. Lily Bay state park maintains some trails. I like to ski out to park campground areas on the lake and then explore the nearby islands. I also drive up to the AMC’s wonderful maintained trails and while it’s almost an hour or more, it’s worth it. Thank you, AMC! (Ski from West Branch Pond camps down toward Lyford camps and back. Just lovely.)


Economic issues find their way into the plots of my murder mysteries, because I care about the forest’s future. (And at Maine Audubon, I researched and shared the economic value of our woods, waters, and wildlife.)

“Deadly Turn” Here the narrator is hiking out of the woods with a 15-year-old who’s just trapped and then released her dog.

If trapping was his survival issue, I needed to watch my words.

Wildlife, how it got managed and how money got made off it, was the second hottest issue in Maine. Second only to anything to do with sex. Money from people pursuing any kind of wildlife recreation—trapping, fishing, hunting and even just watching animals—sent over a billion dollars to us each year. I was sure any benefits from sexual activity weren’t as carefully tallied.

Chan turned to face me, one hand clenched white on his shotgun.

“OK. OK. Down there around water is where most all the animals need to come and go from where they live, eat, hide, hunt. Me too, so I’ve met most of them.” He smiled a soft smile that didn’t make it to his eyes. “I’ve killed ducks, partridge, deer, bear, otter, mink, coyote, fox, beaver, muskrat, bobcat, raccoon, and squirrel. Add marten. And one fisher. And skunks under our house. If I won a permit in the moose lottery, I’d kill a moose, too.” He tipped his chin into the air and looked down his long regal nose at me.


On Amazon, find “Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies” and “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities” (last one is my fav book to re-shape local planning perspective).

$$$$  About Recreational Tourism: Recreational Tourism is Big Business. For example:

Boothbay Harbor, Maine: A land trust survey on trail use spending: visitors $73.77 per day and seasonal residents an average of $57.94 per day. The annual economic impact from visitors to land trust preserves was $3.9 million in revenue, generating 39 full-time and part-time jobs and $1.1 million in related labor income.

Skowhegan is investigating the creation of a whitewater activity park. Research from other towns hosting this kind of site suggest $6 million a year in its first year and up to $19 million by its 10th year. In year one, 43 Jobs in Skowhegan and 54 in Maine total. By year 10, 136 local jobs, 171 statewide. (In addition to the boaters or tubers, thousands of people visit just to watch the fun.)

The 60-mile Mt. Agamentius conservation area in southern coastal Maine delivers between $5.3 -$6.4 million in goods and services and economic value.

Wildlife delivers $1.4 billion to Maine’s economy; $1.9 billion w multipliers.  (For perspective, snowmobiling, a significant economic contributor, is about $459 million.)

For every $1 spent to acquire a Land for Maine’s Future conservation site, $11 is returned in goods and services. (Moosehead Lake’s Mt Kineo and its trails were its first acquisition. Think how much economic activity Kineo generates because it has no, No Trespassing signs.)

Maine’s Great Ponds generate $6.7 billion per year.

Acadia National Park generates $3,400 per acre in goods and services. ((Actively managed forest land’s economic contribution is about $368 an acre. How much per acre do Moosehead’s outdoor assets deliver? What if we lose hundreds of economically productive acres to sprawl and inappropriate development?)

Maine outdoor recreation delivers $2.3 billion and 4.7% of the state’s employment. (How much does outdoor recreation deliver to the Moosehead region? How many jobs?)


  1. Well, general ignorance about how our woods, waters, and wildlife habitat is a multibillion-dollar asset that will deliver forever if we manage mindless sprawl, inventory a region’s prize assets, and use conservation strategies.

    The BEST book to help legislators and especially local rural planners realize that conservation works to secure a rural economy. “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities”

2. We lack any state agency that combines conservation with the recreation economy. The Maine Office of Tourism does marketing and analysis. The Office of Outdoor Recreation has no conservation organizations on its partner list and says it “leverages Maine’s assets and outdoor recreation heritage to grow the outdoor recreation economy.” Hmmn……thinking that ‘leveraging’ is a financial transaction, not a strategy to preserve the goose that lays the golden recreational economy’s eggs.

Please join us for the webinar.

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.




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Weekend Update: July 23-24, 2022

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Sandra Neily (Monday), Maureen Milliken (Tuesday), Dick Cass (Thursday), and Matt Cost (Friday).

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

Matt Cost here: I will be doing a book signing July 30th from 1-3 PM at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop at the Topsham Fair Mall in Topsham, ME.

Mainely Money is a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award of Best Attendee Mystery (or BAM as I like to call it). The winner will be announced at the banquet at Killer Nashville on August 20th.

Mind Trap is a finalist for best mystery/thriller of InD’tale Magazine’s RONE award. The winner will be announced on October 8th.

John Clark sharing two events from last weekend  On Saturday, the Union Historical Society celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, Our mother, A. Carman Clark, also a mystery writer, was one of the sixteen founding members. Five remain. Frank Cassidy, who, with wife Linda, bought Sennebec Hill Farm, used a piece of the original flooring to back the bronze plaque honoring the founders. I am extremely impressed with what they have done to preserve town history.

Here’s their website:

The other event was a presentation by Arizona mystery writer Karen Odden, talking about her latest book Down A Dark River. I had the privilege of being included in a pre-program gathering which was fun and lively. I was particularly impressed with how Karen involves an audience in her description of the social and political atmosphere in the Victorian era where her books take place. By the end of the program, I could visualize much of the aura and geography of that time, something that really makes a book (or books in her case) come alive.

Here is her website:


 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, along with the very popular “Making a Mystery” with audience participation, and “Casting Call: How We Staff Our Mysteries.” We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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So We Bought the Books a House

Kate Flora: Twenty-two years ago, after a very long search, we bought a little cottage by the sea. Partly it was because my husband, who worked too hard, said a place by the sea was the only thing he really wanted. Partly–and not entirely a joke–we bought it because we had too many books and no place left to put them. So, here we are, years later, with a cottage full of books.

When we first bought the cottage, though our house was overflowing with books, we didn’t have enough. I solved the problem, in those early years, by going to the Orrs Island Library Book Sale, a fabulous event from which I always returned with several grocery bags full of books. The idea, whether with the books from our shelves at home, or books we acquired to add to the collection, was that there should be a wide range of books. This way, if there was a rainy weekend, everyone, whatever their taste, would have something to read.

To these books were added the books I got at mystery conferences, books by my friends, many of whom are writers, the research books I use for my writing, including some great forensics books from the library sale, and books my husband has used for his WIP on the Supreme Court during the New Deal. This is definitely a good place to be marooned. If you cannot find something to read here, you are simply to picky for words.

Of course, this is a summer house, so there is a stack of cookbooks, including Dishing Up Maine from Karen Baldacci, and the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbooka gift from Governor Mills.



In the upstairs sitting room, there are few shelves of antique books from my mother’s house in Union.

In the upstairs hall, three tall shelves of books hold a miscellany of mostly paperbacks, including a row that runs right above the closet door.

Every bedroom has a bookshelf. White for the blue room, an antique pyrography shelf with an art nouveau design in the green room, and a red bookshelf in the red room. (My husband says he thinks it is silly that these rooms have names. Maybe I should call them Billy, Joe, and Stevie?)



For years, I have spent too much of my summer time writing at my desk in the office at the top of the house. This year, I plan to slow down a bit, and pluck some of the books I’ve collected off the shelves, sprawl out on the old iron loveseat on the deck, and read. It’s just hard to figure out where to begin. And it is likely I’ll get distracted by the gardening books, and then drift out into the yard to tend the plants.

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Monarchs & Kingsolver

It’s Monarch time again! The glorious orange and black butterflies have been sighted in Maine, New Hampshire, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I’ve seen them on our lilacs and milkweeds here in Yarmouth, Maine.

Monarchs are truly amazing creatures. They carry out one of the most incredible cross-continental journeys in the animal kingdom, traveling upwards of 3000 miles from Canada and the northern U.S. down to sacred fir forests in the mountains of Mexico.

The summer breeding range of monarchs is defined by the northern limit of milkweed. We can all help them by planting milkweed. There are over 100 milkweed species native to North America, many of which are used by monarchs. Sadly, monarch migration is declining and the butterflies need protection. Loss of milkweed habitat, drought in California and elsewhere, insecticides and herbicides, and habitat loss in overwintering sites in Mexico from illegal logging contribute to their decline.

Lincoln Brower, professor at Amherst College, led a team of researchers studying the overwintering grounds of monarchs in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. I knew Brower when I was at Hampshire College, also in Amherst MA. In the last decades of his life, Brower recorded sharp decline in North American monarchs by 80% attributed to herbicides, logging, and weather events.

Brower advised novelist Barbara Kingsolver on butterfly migration for her 2012 book Flight Behavior, a terrific read I strongly recommend. The story features Dellarobia Turnbow, a young discontented housewife living with her poor family on a farm in Appalachia. Dellarobia’s life suddenly changes when she finds millions of monarch butterflies in the valley behind her home.

For monarchs to overwinter far from the heat of the south is unprecedented. Locals view their arrival as a message from God. Entomologist Ovid Byron, a gifted African-American researcher who comes to investigate, puts the blame on a very different agent: climate change. Byron hires Dellarobia to help him to make sense of the strange apparition on her land. In the process, she acquires a self-confidence she had been denied by her lack of education and begins a new life as an environmental scientist.

I am very impressed with Kingsolver’s skill incorporating details of this insect’s life history into fiction. That’s a real challenge (which, as an ecologist, I can certainly relate to) and Kingsolver is the master.

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Why Do I Write About Dysfunctional People?

Vaughn C. Hardacker

On June 4th of this year, I received a phone call from a friend of my younger brother, Dana, informing me that Dana had died at 1:30 a.m. that morning. Four years younger than I am, Dana had been battling kidney disease for the past year and had been undergoing dialysis treatments.

I was the second of my father’s three sons and the first of my mother’s. My father was a merchant seaman and had been married to Agnes Wallace Hardacker.  While my father was away, she gave birth to a child. She named him, Norman, after my father’s father. It was the beginning of a very dysfunctional life. Norman’s mother suffered from tuberculosis and her disease had advanced to the point where after Norman was taken from the delivery room, she would never again be allowed to hold her son.

Norman was then sent to live with our grandmother. In 1945, my father’s ship docked in Cardiff, Wales, UK and he met a young woman named Lorraine Virgin. Two weeks later they married. A decision would later be made to allow my grandparents to adopt Norman. The rationale was that he would serve as a replacement for my namesake, Vaughn, who was killed in the fighting for the hedgerows in France in August 1944. It was a decision that would have long-term repercussions.

My father took his new bride to the United States and left her with his family. He then went back to sea. I was born in Caribou, Maine on July 20, 1947. My

Vaughn C. Hardacker

mother took me to Wales when I was one year old and stayed there for a year. She then returned to the United States. My father, still in the merchant marine, was shipping out of New York and she settled in nearby Jersey City, New Jersey. She was a young woman alone in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the U. S. and found a circle of friends with whom she spent much of her time. The problem was not so much who she spent time with as much as where they spent it. A the corner of the block was Bea and Steve’s Bar. I have no idea how much time she and her toddler son spent there, but I have no memory of the apartment in which we lived. However, to this day seventy-three years later, I can still draw a floor plan of Bea and Steve’s.

Dana Michael Hardacker

The year 1951 was traumatic for me. I had thus far lived my life as an only child. In Jersey City on June 21, 1951, Dana Michael Hardacker came into the world. I was struggling to adjust to the new arrival when my father returned from sea. Before leaving on that voyage, he had promised my mother that it would be his last. I later learned that when he announced he was shipping out again in a few days, a great argument took place. He had a collection of paperweights that he’d collected from numerous places he’d visited and she knocked him out with one. He had made his last voyage.

I now had two strangers in my life. One I was told was my brother and the other was my father (heretofore I had no idea who he was. I was once told that when my mother and I would walk down the street, I’d ask men we’d pass if they were my father, At this age, I had no knowledge of Norman.

When I was seven, in 1954, we left New Jersey and returned to Maine. It was my first experience with how dysfunctional my family was. I was introduced to my Uncle Norman. I still wonder how Norman felt when he learned that his father was now his brother, his uncles were also brothers, his grandparents were his parents, and his brothers were his nephews. To say the least, my relationship with Norman was very strained and would remain so for the rest of Norman’s life (Norman died a few days before Christmas 2006–three months after I lost my wife of thirty-six years).

The four years difference between Dana and me didn’t seem to be a big deal. When I was in high school he was still in grammar school and we started to drift apart. My high school years were spent in a state of constant warfare with my mother, who was a full-blown alcoholic by this time. I was seventeen when I graduated high school and within days left home. The situation there was so bad that I left Caribou in the passenger seat of a truck headed for Boston to pick up a load of beer–now ain’t that a coincidence? I had one small suitcase with two shirts, two days’ worth of underwear and socks, and the grand sum of $5.00. I hung around the Boston area from June to September working as a laborer for a construction crew. In September the owner offered me the opportunity to stay on and he would teach me the masonry trade. Instead, I left and went to New London, Connecticut.

I ended up in a boarding house where Norman, now out of the navy, was living and working at Electric Boat.  I don’t know which of us was more relieved when in November I decided I wanted no part of submarines and departed from New Jersey.

Over the years, I separated myself from my brothers. I very seldom spoke or visited Norman in Connecticut and Dana who became a career soldier was in Oklahoma (he also suffered from the effects of our mother’s alcoholism and PTSD. This may explain why he was married five times to four different women.) Over the years Dana and I would speak over the phone two or three times a year, I visited him and wife #3 in Oklahoma and quickly realized that he and I had little in common and again, don’t know who was happier when the visit ended.

The week before he died, I spoke with Dana on the phone and when I learned that he was not doing well, I said, “Dana, we need to talk to each other every week. He passed away one week later to the day.

Today, six weeks after his death, I can’t help but wonder if the thought of having to talk to me weekly helped him along. I think about our lives. As stated I don’t know much about Norman’s life, only that the only time his father/brother paid attention to him was when my grandmother called saying that Norman was acting up. Then the old man would play Dad and correct him, usually with a physical reminder. I’ve come to realize that my father’s decision to marry my mother had devastating consequences for Norman. I have no doubt that she influenced my father (who had little if any contact with his oldest son) because she was not about to raise another woman’s kid.

Of the three, I was the wildest and most rebellious. My reputation in Caribou, a small town, was so bad that I had been gone from there for more than five years when I met the woman who would have to deal with me for thirty-six years. The first thing she said when we were introduced was, “I’ve heard about you.” I once met an old girlfriend at her father’s funeral and she saw me in my Marine uniform and asked: Of all branches, the Marines are the last I thought you would join. My reply was, “I guess something inside of me knew that if I was going to get straightened out I needed to get my butt kicked.” She smiled and said, “My father said that about you when we were seeing each other in our junior year.”

I mentioned earlier about my stormy relationship with my mother, it never got better. At her funeral, a childhood friend said, “I’m surprised to see you here.” My reply: “I wanted to make sure they weren’t lying to me.” I hope those of you who have known me for a while may get a better idea of why at times I can be cold, aloof, and unapproachable. It’s nothing you’ve done it’s just my battered self-esteem hiding behind the wall I’ve built around my feelings.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog all I can say is this, I know more about dysfunction than anything else. And, ain’t we always told, “Write what you know“?


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Weekend Update: July 16-17, 2022

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Vaughn Hardacker (Monday), Charlene D’Avanzo (Tuesday), Kate Flora (Thursday), and a special guest (Friday).

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

Many of us had a wonderful time last weekend at Books in Boothbay:

Sandra Neily here: I so enjoyed Books in Boothbay this year (reorganized into AM and PM sessions). It’s not often we get to have in-person sales with browsing readers. (I have found that saying my female narrator has hot flashes and arthritis issues as she tap dances through murders in the Maine woods … helps women reach for “Deadly Trespass. “).

Fellow author (and mastermind of this blog) Kate Flora suggested I share this amazing Getting Published chart with you. After library appearances, I often send it out to those who want to understand various publishing paths.  Do sign up for Jane Friedman’s newsletter if you are any kind of writer or would-be writer. She’s been my guide for many, many years.


Matt Cost here: I had a great time connecting with fellow Maine authors and readers at Books in Boothbay last Saturday. What a fantastic writing community Maine is!

On Saturday, July 16th, I will be doing a talk comparing the latest books in my two mystery series at the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library at 1:00 PM. The focus will be on Mainely Angst, the fourth book in my Mainely Mystery series set in Brunswick, and Mouse Trap, the third book in my Port Essex/Clay Wolfe series based loosely on Boothbay Harbor.

On Wednesday, July 20,, I will be doing a talk comparing the latest books in my two mystery series at the Readfield Community Library at 6:30 PM. The focus will be on Mainely Angst, the fourth book in my Mainely Mystery series set in Brunswick, and Mouse Trap, the third book in my Port Essex/Clay Wolfe series based loosely on Boothbay Harbor.

I am excited to announce the re-release of my historical, At Every Hazard; Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War, by Encircle Publications on August 10th. Here is the brand spanking new cover.

The Biddeford Library is hosting a craft talk with author Karen Odden on Monday, July 18th. Check out the details on the library website.

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, along with the very popular “Making a Mystery” with audience participation, and “Casting Call: How We Staff Our Mysteries.” We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora



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Some of my Favorite Quotes to do with Writers and Writing

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. This time around I was drawing a blank for a blog topic until it occurred to me that it has been a while since I offered anything in the way of writing advice. I thought about that for a bit. Sadly, nothing relevant came to  mind, but I did remember one or two comments related to writers and writing that I’ve heard over the way too many years I’ve been in this crazy business. I share them here, together with a few I hunted up to go with the theme of this essay.

“Talent never pays.”
Carolyn Marino, editor, c. 1988, when I naïvely offered to pay for my own lunch. Sadly, I’m not sure this is still true. Certainly fewer editors take their midlist authors out for meals these days.

“I made it up.”
Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, in answer to a question about where she found “all that information about vampires.”

“[The author is] just churning them out for the money.”
Way too many anonymous reviewers, none of whom, obviously, understand that most writers are barely paid enough of an advance for their work to keep them in office supplies.

“A ‘nice’ deal is $1000 to $49.000.”
Sisters in Crime clarifies this in their regular listing of deals signed by members. The amount is what the publisher agreed to pay the writer as an advance. Very few writers ever get to the next level (“very nice” is $50,000 to $99,000; a “major” deal is $500,000 and up). I speak from experience. The largest advance I ever received was $30,000. The majority of my advances were between $4000 and $8000 per book. Things have not improved much for most writers since the 1990s.

“Keep your butt in the chair, and your hands on the keyboard.” (and variations of the same advice)
Almost any successful author to newbie writers looking for shortcuts.

“Never start a book with the weather.”
Elmore Leonard, but he added qualifiers to that statement.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)—the first paragraph of this novel is so melodramatic and wordy that the opening sentence has become a cliché. That said, it has also been successfully used for effect, most notably as the first sentence in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) and by Charles Schulz in It Was A Dark And Stormy Night, Snoopy (1971).

“The night was . . . moist.”
Billy Crystal’s character in Throw Momma from the Train as he tries desperately to come up with an opening for his novel.

“It was March and drizzling.”
Kathy Lynn Emerson, opening line of The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle (1985)


That’s it. That’s all I’ve got this time around. Feel free to share any quotes you like about writers or writing in the comments section. You never know what may prove inspiring!

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. 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. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and


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Into the Wilderness… Sort of

1972 Camping at the Grand Canyon

On our honeymoon, starting 50 years ago this month (yes, 50!), my husband and I camped in our VW van named Lurch across the country for six weeks. Climbing the Rockies, our VW did indeed lurch and complain, but made it. For this major anniversary, we decided to do something more than our usual dinner out, to recreate the honeymoon in an “old people” and shorter way.

We live in the Midcoast area of Maine, on a tidal river and near the ocean. It’s hilly but has no real mountains. For this gal who grew up in West Virginia, that occasionally makes me homesick. When we were still teaching, for Columbus Day weekend we used to go Lurch camping with previous dogs to various mountainous parts of western and northern Maine, a foliage trip. After the VW rusted out, we continued the outings, but rented cabins instead. But we never had time then to go as far north as Mount Katahdin.

So last weekend, we rented a cabin at Mount Chase Lodge on Upper Shin Pond. (Thanks to Mike and Lindsay for a great stay and delicious dinners overlooking the pond.) Except for a few small towns and businesses catering to hikers, ATV riders, and boaters, Katahdin Woods & Waters and the adjacent Baxter State Park are wilderness.

Our cabin at Mt. Chase Lodge. Grill is there to keep the dog on the deck.

So we explored parts of the recently designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument next to Baxter State Park, location of Mount Katahdin. We’d be near the mountain, but at this stage of our lives, including senior dog Sasha, we weren’t about to climb any part of it. My husband and some buddies did so years ago, and his tale of the rugged ascent—and descent (in the rain)—made me vow the extent of my hiking would be something like Beech Hill in Rockport. The almost four-hour drive, partly on I-95, took us into the mountains of northern Maine.

Map of Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in dark green

We parked on Ash Hill in Patten to eat our packed lunch and take photos of Mount Katahdin in the distance. Brief commercial for Mount Katahdin: The name is derived from an Abenaki Indian word meaning “main mountain.” This, the highest point in Maine at 5,268 feet, consists of various rugged summits, and marks the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Main mountain indeed, its impressive height and breadth dominate the landscape.

Mt. Katahdin in distance

Then we visited the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum. The friendly manager showed us a

Patten Lumbermen’s Museum

video of the way logging northern Maine was done as recently as 1976—without machinery. In the winters, men lived in logging camps and felled and sawed trees with hand saws. Logs were hauled by teams of draft horses and then floated down the Penobscot River when the ice thawed. A harsh life for cents a day, paid at the end of the season. You can imagine how some of these men released from the harshness of a Maine winter in the woods spent their wages. Telling the story of logging were several buildings containing horse-drawn logging sleds and tools for cutting and hauling lumber. My husband was fascinated by the tools, primitive tractors, and the Lombard log hauler, a giant machine powered by steam and later gasoline. Alas, I failed to photograph the various tools and machinery. But here are more of the lumbermen themselves.

Maine logging camp

Loggers on the river

But on to our cabin in the woods and KW&W. On Saturday and Sunday, we drove to trailheads and walked some trails. I can’t say it was actual hiking because it was mostly flat

Easy hike with Sasha

or easy hills. But my Fitbit told me it was worthwhile steps! Sasha would’ve kept going  despite her age, but we saw her flagging that first day and left her at the cabin the second. She’s sweet but too heavy to carry. The views were lovely, as were those at the pond and the lodge. We picnicked along one of the many streams. Back at Mount Chase Lodge, we launched one of their several canoes and paddled Upper Shin Pond.


I’ll leave you with more photos. They tell the story better than words.

Duck and 4 ducklings on Upper Shin Pond

Pic from our canoe ride on Upper Shin Pond

Mount Chase Lodge taken from the pond













Hiking with mountain view







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