Romance in Mysteries, Yes or No?

Happy Valentine’s Day! We thought this would be the perfect time for a discussion of the place of romance in our mysteries, and we welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Kate Flora: I have to start by admitting that my husband doesn’t like all the image001“relationship” stuff in my mysteries and wishes they were a bit more streamlined. I, being of a more romantic bent, and also believing that relationships, romantic, co-worker, and with others who people Thea and Joe’s worlds serve an important role in developing characters, deepening them, challenging them, and often in creating tension between the job that must be done, and a partner or family’s concerns about risk and whether they’re getting a fair share of the protagonist’s time. Earlier in my Thea Kozak series, she finally marries Andre, after disliking him intensely when they first met. As for Joe Burgess? He proposed and Chris accepted, but she won’t marry him. A nice way to create some on-going suspense for readers. Will Book 7 finally be the one where they get married?

In May, the one and only romantic suspense novel I’ve written, Wedding Bell Rusewill be published. There, the balance between romance and suspense is far more heavily toward “will they get married” than “who made those poison cookies?”

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett: I don’t have much in the way of romance in the mysteries I’m currently writing, since one features a woman who’s been married for over ten years and the other has a protagonist who is a recent widow, but when I was writing the Face Down Mysteries as Kathy Lynn Emerson there was almost always a romance subplot. In the early books in the series, my sleuth, Lady Appleton, was unhappily married and then a widow. She wasn’t in the market for a love interest. I did, however, include romance by adding a young couple, often star-crossed, to each story. I blatantly stole this technique from Ellis Peters, whose Brother Cadfael was not a candidate for romantic love, either. If you read her historical mysteries, almost all of them have a romance subplot. Romance as a subplot strikes me as a good compromise—the love story isn’t such a major part of the book that it takes away from the focus of solving the crime, but it does serve to lighten the otherwise dark atmosphere produced by writing about murder and its aftermath.

Susan Vaughan: As a writer of romantic suspense, I’m in favor of romance in almost all genres. Whether it’s romance or family connection or friendship, relationships enrich a story. They can create resting moments or tension or outright conflict. They help develop characters. In my books, often the hero and heroine begin in conflict, but later find they’re drawn to each other as they must work together to solve a crime or stop a villain or prevent a disaster of some kind. Characters should have secrets and inner conflicts that the romantic connection can amplify and eventually resolve. I found when writing Hidden Obsession that Justin was only a detective solving a crime, without someone in the story he cared about. Rather than develop family issues, I connected him with Sheri, who helps him solve the crime and is also in danger. Their relationship adds to the tension of the story. As Kathy says above, romance serves to lighten the atmosphere. Especially in romantic suspense, the reader knows that not only will the bad guy be stopped, but the couple will be together, happy for now or happily ever after.

Maureen Millken: What is romance? It’s emotional interaction between adults. We can have characters who are cardboard cutouts, or we can have ones who interact with each other. A review of my most recent book, BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST, said it was fine if you could get past all the “soap opera.” Even my publisher, when I submitted the manuscript, griped about the “romance” — the word was actually used — and said, “Some people just want a mystery.” That’s true, some people do. But I’ve always been more into books that have characters who I can care about, and it helps if other people in the book care about them, too. People who like my books usually make a point to say they like the characters. I wonder how much they’d like them if there was no “romance.”

Romance? Soap opera? Yes, it’s all been flung my way. Readers who like my books just call it good characters.

And what’s a mystery plot, really, but human interaction based on feelings and decisions people make. Are we to leave out a huge chunk of the emotional and mental life of the humans who are at the heart of our books?

They can all sit down and play cards once a week, or be like goldfish in a bowl forgetting abou the person as soon as he or she is out of sight, or they can behave like grownups and have relationships. I do try, despite, what the cranky reviewer and others may think, to have the “romance” have some intertwining with the plot instead of intruding on it.

One of the great things about the mystery genre is that there are so many different kinds of books. Rules about what should or shouldn’t be in a mystery are kind of silly. Writers make choices about what to put in their books and, if they have any sense, write the kinds of books they want to read. Readers get to choose what to read based on what they like (unless they’re in some really awful book group) and can avoid the stuff they don’t like.

Charlene D’Avanzo: Romance in a mystery? Sure, but what/why/ how depends on how

you define the term. “Romance” can mean adventure, a quest that requires bravery and pluck (think Moby Dick or the Adventures of Huck Finn). A mystery absent a character who overcomes some kind of struggle would be pretty dull reading. While “romance” novels could center on affairs of the heart, more broadly they are stories in which people conquer fear, doubt, panic, etc. and grow as a result. That covers an awful lot of territory.

John Clark commenting more as a reader and reviewer. One of my secret delights is the attraction between characters, especially in YA fiction. More recently, it’s expanded to cover every point on the gender identity spectrum and I’m all for that because it offers teens who aren’t certain, or comfortable with their sexual orientation yet, a story that might help them figure something out, or become more confident. Having said that, I’ll confess that some of my favorite romantic moments this past year have come in YA mysteries written in earlier settings. Here is an example.

Sandra Neily  I’ve taken my author romance cues from a group of women sitting around a campfire talking about romantic scenes we wish potential partners (or current ones) would watch. For hints. Scenes that sweep us into a place of intense caring.  Except for the scene where Kevin Costner sweeps everything off the table to pursue Susan Sarandon in “Bull Durham” (oh, my), no one mentioned sex as essential.  

Hidden Figures

The top votes went to the hair washing scene from Out of Africa and the dinner served on a lovely table after a long day at work as an after-work surprise. From Hidden Figures. Look at the eyes. Oh my.

Extra credit: unexpected caring and. the eyes.

In this scene from my upcoming novel Deadly Trespass (out soon, I hope) I was after a Leave-It-Hanging romantic moment filled with unexpected caring … and surprise. (I like surprises; even small ones keep readers turning pages late into the night.)

***************************

  Deadly Turn excerpt: After catching some trout, the narrator, Patton, is sitting on the ground in woods frequented by wildlife and what they leave behind. Moz, game warden, ex-husband’s best friend, and now, perhaps something more … is sitting next to her. Pock, the wayward Lab, is swimming nearby.

Moz reached behind me, put his arm around my waist, and pulled me closer. It didn’t look like there was going to be much discussion. I thought about all the lady-like things I could do with a blow dryer, eyebrow pencil, and other strategies to offset, dark eye circles and hair that had to be mad at me for its permanent pony tail. I’d covered the camp’s mirrors when I’d moved in full time. Personal grooming was limited to soap in the shower.

“I know no easy way to say this,” Moz said, pulling me closer, “but I believe you sit on something an animal left behind, and it is now melting under you.”

I tried jerking my arms away. ”You mean I smell?”

Moz tightened his grip, turned, and leaned down to my neck. I think I went limp, probably just like birds do when you’ve got a good grip on their body and wings at the same time.

He laughed low into my neck. I think more of my small skin hairs floated free. “Yes and no. The part of you at my nose smells like pine and trout and clean water.”

I was a great believer in sniffing one’s way toward shared intimacy even if my daughter rebelled against the practice. It never crossed my mind I’d be on the sniffed end of such a moment. I stayed limp but whispered, “Not having a problem with the part that’s furthest from your nose?”

His chuckle pressed teeth against my neck, but I felt their pressure all the way to my toes. “Pretty sure whatever it is, the owner ate only grass,” he said.

I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and found a not unpleasant horse barn odor. I could feel a Moz smile spread wide on my skin. It seemed like we were suspended, breathing each other. He also smelled like pine, trout, and clean water.

Am very partial to wet doggies.

Even Pock smelled that way when he landed on us, fish head in his mouth and stream pouring off his body. Moz rolled away and leaped to his feet. Pock dropped the fish head in my lap.

“Oh, many thanks, Pock,” I said. Drenched, we all stared at each other. My dog wagged his tail and laid a protective paw on the fish.

 

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Zero Waste Strategies for the Earth-Friendly Home

Hi all! I thought this month I’d take a few minutes to share some of the things I’ve been doing lately to reduce waste in our home. First off, here are a few stats on why reducing waste is such an important thing. You’ve no doubt heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where 1.2 trillion pieces of plastic have accumulated over an area three times the size of France, or the fact that by 2050 it’s estimated that there will be more plastic in the oceans than living creatures… “But I don’t throw my plastic into the ocean,” you insist. Which is totally valid and, also, good for you. That’s just bad form, man.

However, trash in the ocean is only part of the problem. Our landfills have limited capacity, and adding to the problem is the fact that organic matter creates methane (one of the key greenhouse gases contributing to climate change) when it decomposes inside plastic trash bags… Which means every time we throw our food waste (or dog poop or cat litter, for that matter) into the garbage, it becomes a problem. Recycling is an issue in and of itself, since it creates a considerable carbon footprint to ship our recyclable crap overseas to process, and the communities where that recycling takes place are kind of cesspools. Check out the documentary “Plastic China” to learn more about this.

My lovely partner Ben – who is awesome and very conscientious about these things – insists that I make too much of all these things, and that one individual’s role in what’s happening to the planet is slight compared to what giant corporations are doing – and, in effect, I’m being manipulated by those giant corporations, who would much prefer we all freak out about recycling than hold them accountable for the hideous things they do to the environment every day.

My counter argument is that we can do both: we can recycle, consume less, make less trash, AND hold corporations accountable, at least to the best of our abilities. Adding to that is the fact that we as consumers drive trends within those corporations; if enough of us demand less packaging, less packaging comes out of those big companies. If we as consumers demand that the companies we invest in support green policies or divest in companies supporting fossil fuel, those companies start to get the message. Consumer responsibility doesn’t mean we absolve those higher in the food chain of their role in the mess we’re in right now; it means we hold them to as high a standard as we hold ourselves.

Anyway, that’s my take on the matter. Now, back to the whole garbage conundrum. The bottom line is that Americans generate a whole lot of trash, and a lot of it is completely unnecessary. So, in the past year or so I’ve worked to make less. Obviously, I bring my own bags when I go to the grocery store. A lot of these bags I’ve made myself, out of scrap fabric I have on hand or secondhand fabric I buy at Goodwill. This is one I made out of a pillowcase I got at Goodwill, and the straps are made from a pair of Ben’s old blue jeans:

I also make bulk bags for purchasing bulk dry goods like rice, beans, or nuts. This means I’m not purchasing a container along with the food, and it’s often less expensive to do things this way (especially if buying organic foodstuffs) than to buy a pre-packaged option. These bags are made, again, out of scrap fabric, with the tie made from bamboo cord I had on hand. It takes about twenty minutes to make one; I usually set a little time aside, and make a bunch of them at once. They’re also fun conversation pieces when I go to the market, and they make great gifts.

For things like herbs, spices, flour, etc., I use glass jars. This was something that took me a while to get used to, because I have to go up front to the counter to ask for a TARE weight before filling the jar. I’m kind of shy, and I always used to feel like I was putting people out or being weird by making them take this extra step. That may have been the case before (though it probably wasn’t), but at this point enough people are aware of the zero waste movement and the need to reduce trash that they’re more than happy to take that extra six seconds out to weigh my container. Just a note, however: most mainstream grocery stores I’ve gone to have no idea what I’m talking about when I do this, and some – Whole Foods included – will not allow you to bring your own containers for things like nut butters or oils, which you can buy from a dispenser onsite. Food co-ops and natural food stores, however, are totally cool with you bringing your own containers in.

If you do this enough, you can put together a collection of jars that already have the TARE weights written on them. I do this with glass jars from products I’ve purchased, thus reusing rather than recycling them, and at this point have a slew of them on hand that I can just grab when it’s time to go to the store.

For fresh produce, my mom got me these mesh bags, which I love. I had others before that ended up getting worn out fairly quickly, but these seem to be standing up to use and abuse much better. If you don’t want to purchase mesh bags and would rather use your own, just look for a breathable, loose or mesh fabric. I made a bunch from old lace curtains I got at Goodwill, but have given them all away by now, so I have no pictures. They held up great, though, and – again – only took a little bit of time to make.

I swapped out kitchen sponges for these dishcloths that I knit myself following this YouTube tutorial.

I traded in cotton balls and cotton rounds for these re-usable, crocheted cotton rounds that take about twenty minutes to make. As with so many of these things, they also make a great gift.

So… These are just a few of the changes I’ve made in our lives to reduce the amount of trash we generate. We also compost, which is a huge boon for the environment and your wallet. Here’s an awesome article on composting, if you’re not sold. If I can’t buy something without packaging, I try to buy packaging that’s either glass, metal, or paper, since plastic is of course oil-based and we’re doing what we can to reduce reliance on fossil fuel wherever we can (not an easy task in Maine, for sure).

I’m hoping to get Ben on board for a full Zero Waste, month-long challenge to see how we do (though he doesn’t know that yet), but I’m not sure I can persuade him to go quite that far. For now, however, we do something. And if everyone would do just that much – just be aware of the impact we have with the money we spend and the items we consume and the waste that we generate – while simultaneously holding corporations to that same standard, I think change for the better would begin. What about you? What changes have you made, or what changes would you like to make, in your own life to benefit the planet?

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. Learn more about her at http://www.jenblood.com. 

 

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Staying Healthy To Be A Better Writer

How’s your health?

Its winter and we’re in the midst of the serious blahs. The cold weather causes us to eat too much and stay indoors, and read, write and watch movies. Or maybe listening to true crime podcasts, which I’ve been doing a lot more of lately. The winter definitely affects how we feel and how we choose to nourish ourselves and move our bodies. So let’s talk a little about health for writers.

I recently had a physical. The thought of seeing the doctor, and dentist, typically causes me much anxiety. As one gets older, the body begins to break down, and the news is not what it should be. So I was pleasantly surprised this time around to get a good report from my doc. And a good lab result, as well. It put me in a very good mood and I celebrated by ordering a pizza. Bad move.

Writing and reading are serious first world problems. As a novelist, I feel somewhat like an athlete. Maybe a long distance runner. If my mental and physical well-being are not at top level, I’m unable to either task. Writing requires severe mental clarity, as well as being in good physical shape. Sitting in a chair for hours on end can hurt the body and damage one’s sanity. Without either of these two being where they should be, I’m unable to write the way I feel I’m supposed to. So how is that achieved?

Diet. Yes, I really try to watch my diet. Like everyone else, I need to lose my fair share of weight. But I’m finding that as I get older, my level of concentration is very much related to what I put in my body. And what really gives me brain fog is overeating, especially overeating carbs such as wheat and sugar. So I’m trying to severely limit bad carbs and stick with vegetables and other unprocessed foods. Also, I’ve continued a regimen of daily fish oil and vitamin D, which helps keep the mind and body healthy during the cold winter months. It’s also important for writers to limit their alcohol intake, as that will negatively effect your ability to write come morning. Writing with a buzz is not wise, either. These days, I limit myself to one healthy cup of coffee when I sit down to write. Too much caffeine can make you jumpy and irritable, and cause me to make bad writing decisions. Another thing I’ve tried with some success is intermittent fasting. Surprisingly, I find that fasting clears my mind and gives me an amazing sensation of mental clarity.

Exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind. A daily exercise routine has helped me build up my stamina. Feeling good about my body has helped me become more confidante about my writing. An added benefit of exercising is that it is an idea incubator. I often find that plot ideas come to me while I’m on the elliptical machine or lifting weights. Then I can’t wait to get home and jot my idea down. Daily exercise should be in every writer’s repertoire. And  it’s a proven fact that mental well-being is a benefit of daily exercise.

Sleep. I used to be able to get by on five or six hour sleep. These days, I find I do better with seven or more. On the weekends, I’ll even sleep in  more than usual. A good nights rest has helped me immensely as a writer. Nothing like feeling rejuvenated and refreshed in the morning as you sit down in front of your computer to write. That means limited alcohol and caffeine before bed. Sometimes, I’ll even pop a Melatonin and that helps me close my eyes.

Whether you’re a reader or writer, be good to yourself. Exercise, eat well, and get a great night of sleep. I want you to be alert for all the twists and turns in my new novel, THE PERFECT DAUGHTER (Kensington), which comes out 4/28/2020.CC9C208A-6FC1-4601-913F-1F350671B019

 

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Put That Body in the Right Spot, Boy

This series of waterfalls drops 400 feet, good body dropping spot.

John Clark discussing three very handy references if you want to write real Maine fiction. Way back in the 1990s when I taught Information Technology at Central Maine Community College, one of the things I tried to get my students to understand is that print resources aren’t obsolete. That still holds true twenty plus years later. There are three print resources I use often, not only when writing fiction, but when doing research for friends or when I was a librarian, for patrons.

Caught this ghostly scene in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Hartland.

The First is The dictionary of Maine place-names, by Phillip R. Rutherford, Bond Wheelwright Co. [1971, c1970]. It’s not cheap to buy when you can find a copy, but fortunately there are 66 copies in Maine libraries. If you wanted to dress up a fictional location (or use a real one) in a story, this is a good resource for it. Arranged by county, it covers town names, bodies of water, semi-towns (like Martinsville in Knox County, mountains, points, coves, heads, etc. There are many places whose etiology is listed as unknown, so you as a writer, can come up with your own.

Can you spot the body?

Next is The Maine Register (For The Year). Published by various entities, starting in the early 1800s by Black & Carter in Portland. It continues to be published annually by Tower Publishing. Most Maine libraries have some years available and places like The Maine State Library, Bangor Public Library, Portland Public Library and the varied university libraries have runs going way back.

In addition to listing legislative information (who’s representing where and how to get in touch with them), every municipality is listed, its population, valuation, size, municipal officials and location of the town/city office, what businesses are in that municipality, etc. One of the more fascinating sections for me, is a list of social, civic and special interest groups in the state and where to find them. Perusing this can be a real eye opener. Perhaps the greatest value of this resource is in terms of wanting to know whether a particular business existed in a given town in a particular year. If you were writing a historical mystery, or a contemporary one that referred to a given town a hundred years or more in the past, here’s where you’d find it.

Plenty of territory in Somerset and Penobscot counties for corpse stashing.

Since the older editions are no longer copyrighted, Google Books has scanned some of them and you can download the entire volume to various gadgets. To see an example, here’s a link. https://books.google.com/books?id=65MoAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

The last resource is one you’ll likely find behind the seat of 75% of the pickup trucks north of Waterville. Now owned and published by Rand McNally, The Delorme Maine Atlas & Gazetteer is pretty much indispensable for anyone heading out hunting or fishing, but it has a lot more. In addition to city and town maps of larger municipalities, it lists where to find towns in the 70 quadrangle maps in my copy as well as listing all minor civil divisions. Those are the fun ones for me. For example if you offed someone and wanted to lead the police on a merry chase, you could leave various body parts in the following locations.

The torso in talmadge, Trout Brook, Turbats Creek, or Temple Intervale
The head in Haynesville, Harfords Point Twp., Hobbstown Twp., or Hopkins Academy Grant
The legs in Lakeville, Lynchtown Twp., Linneus, Lower Cupsuptic Twp., or Labby
The arms in Aurora, Alexander, Argyle Twp., Amity, or Albany Twp.
The hands in Hammond, Harrington, Harmony, Hacket Mills, or Hurd
The feet in Freeman Twp., Forest City twp., Frenchtown Twp., Felch Corner, Flagstaff Twp., or Flat Landing.

If you’re just interested in dumping it in one piece, I suggest Misery Gore as an appropriate spot.

Need a park, hiking trail, boat landing, the distance between two Maine towns, or where to find a stretch of road that’s gates, they’re all here in various sections. Ask any rural Mainer and they’ll tell you this, “MyDelorme don’t go obsolete, it just plain wears out.

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Weekend Update: February 8-9, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by John Clark (Monday), Joe Souza (Tuesday), and Jen Blood (Thursday), with a special group post on romance in our mysteries on Friday.

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

On Saturday, February 8 at 1:30 p.m., MCW bloggers Dick Cass, Maureen Milliken and Brenda Buchanan will be Making A Mystery at the Waldoboro Public Library, 958 Main Street, Waldoboro. This is an interactive event where the audience dreams up the characters and supplies the writers with a motive, a weapon and a setting for a story we write together.  The public is welcome.

On Monday, February 10 at 6:30 p.m. (reception) and 7:00 p.m. (performance), actors from Portland Stage Company will bring to life characters created by Maine crime writers Gerry Boyle, Brenda Buchanan, Richard Cass, Paul Doiron and Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is the fourth annual staged reading of work by Maine crime writers and this year it’s a premiere night featuring new work by the authors. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Here’s the link: https://portlandstage.secure.force.com/ticket/#/events/a0S3Z000006goQIUAY

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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Hacking Winter

Life Hack (noun) : Definition of life hack
informal
: a usually simple and clever tip or technique for accomplishing some familiar task more easily and efficiently – Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

We didn’t use the term “life hack” when I was a kid, but that’s what we were doing when we realized waxing our shovels made short work of a tedious task.

Old school ski wax. Blue was for dry conditions, yellow for wet, sticky snow

Using the same paraffin-based stuff we rubbed on the bottom of our skis, we slicked those shovels up whenever heavy, wet snow buried the walkways. We didn’t need it with the dry, light stuff, but it was a brilliant workaround with gloppy snow that stuck to our shovels like peanut butter to a spoon.

I’ve written on this blog before about my absolute favorite childhood life hack—wearing bread bags inside our winter boots. After pulling my older brother’s nearly-worn-through wool socks over our shoes for insulation, we slipped used bread bags over the socks to create a waterproof membrane inside our leaky rubber boots. Gore-Tex™, Schmoor-Tex.  Fancy wasn’t necessary to keep our feet warm and dry.

I was thinking about these youthful life hacks last weekend when we crossed winter’s midpoint. Simply surviving winter is the main task I seek to accomplish more easily and efficiently these days, so what are my 2020 winter hacks?

Number #1 is grippers.

When I was a child, elderly women at my church wore clear plastic booties over their shoes with short, sharp metal spikes embedded in the sole. My mother referred to them as “creepers.” Watching those devout old ladies hobble across the churchyard in a February sleet storm, I never imagined I’d own several pair myself.

Grippers: Don’t leave home without ’em.

The modern equivalent of creepers come in a variety of colors, cover only the bottom of the shoe and are said to be used by Olympic bobsled athletes. I don’t do a lot of bobsledding these days, but grippers make walking on the Old Port’s brick sidewalks less of an orthopedic crapshoot, and that’s good enough for me.

Hack Number #2 comes from Denmark (the country, not the town in Oxford County). One weekend in January we decided to embrace winter by adopting the Danish tradition of hygge (say it with me, hoo-ga). From this Country Living article https://www.countryliving.com/life/a41187/what-is-hygge-things-to-know-about-the-danish-lifestyle-trend/ I learned that America took to hygge in a big way in 2017. While I’m a little late to the party, it’s still going on.

My favorite line from this informative article? “Do sweatpants count as hygge? Yes. There’s even a word in Danish for them! Hyggebukser are that pair of pants you’d never be caught dead wearing in public, but practically live in when you’re at home on the weekends binging on Netflix.”

I have just the pair, but they’re so intensely hyggebukser I don’t dare post a picture of them on this family-friendly blog. On our recent hygge weekend we dressed in fleece from head to toe, drank a lot of hot tea and cocoa and made homemade macaroni and cheese in honor of our Danish role models.

mac and cheese

My mac and cheese hack is to shred my own cheese, and use at least two kinds.

As winter hacks go, it was a huge success.

Hack #3 involves a good binge-watch.

Like the Danes, Netflix (or Acorn TV, or Britbox) gets us through many a long winter night. New episodes of Vera have been airing on Fridays and reruns of The Great British Baking Show are cheering on the even grayest of days. Hot tip: if you haven’t seen Keeping Faith on Acorn, check it out. Three seasons. Great actors. Set in Wales. Binge-watching this show is a perfect winter hack.

Hack #4 ? Get outside.

I’ve  written here in the past about my love for walking the winter beach. This may seem the opposite of hygge—the icy wind, the frozen fingers—but after every ocean storm intrepid surfers flock like hungry gulls to several nearby strands.

My parka never feels warmer than when I watch the winter surfers.

Watching the action is a highly effective winter hack in that you feel toasty warm compared to the fearless dry-suited surfers who hurl themselves into the icy sea in hope of catching a wave that will leave them momentarily sitting on top of the world.

Hack #5? Take yourself to the theatre.

There’s nothing like a live stage performance to ease one through the dark season. On February 10—this coming Monday night—10 talented actors from Portland Stage Company will be performing staged readings of new work by five Maine crime writers, all current or one-time MCW bloggers: Gerry Boyle, Dick Cass, Paul Doiron, Julia Spencer-Fleming and moi.

During a pre-performance reception at 6:30 pm, the fabulous Barbara Kelly will be selling books to bring home to read in front of the hygge fire.

The show starts at 7:00 sharp. The actors will read ten-minute scenes of new work by each of us. Tickets are $10 in advance, available here: https://portlandstage.secure.force.com/ticket/#/events/a0S3Z000006goQIUAY

The coming weekend’s wintry weather (mixed precipitation, wax up those shovels, kids) will be over and done with by Monday. So turn off Netflix, shed your hyggebukser and join us at Portland Stage Company where we can hack winter together.

READERS:  What are your favorite winter hacks? Please share in the comments.

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. These days she’s hard at work on new projects.

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Beating The Winter Blues

Vaughn

Vaughn C. Hardacker here. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or, to most of us, Seasonal Depression. The definition of the disorder is: a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in winter. Common symptoms include sleeping too much, having little to no energy, and overeating. Basically, you feel like crap–and that’s on a good day. This year I have realized that my SAD is not as severe as it has been in the past. This has led me to look at what I’m doing differently this year when compared to others.

The first thing is that I finally got the pity pot off my behind and made a resolution to do something of value to some one other than myself. In November my Marine Corps League detachment sponsored a concert featuring country music star Billy Dean. Proceeds from the concert were slated to be sent to the Toys-For-Tots program run by the U. S. Marine Corps League. Far northern Maine, to wit Aroostook County, is an economically dressed area. Therefore we were amazed when the turnout for the concert was terrific, we netted over  $7,000.00 (and that’s after we paid &8,000.00 for Mr.  Dean).

Billy Dean Concert Poster

What absolutely blew us away was that all of the feed back we got from the attendees was that while Billy Dean was okay, the opening act, a local group called The Good Ole Boys and Girls were terrific! What is also amazing is they performed gratis, the PR from appearing with a major recording star was enough. The work involved in putting on the show kept me too busy to worry about SAD. At this time, we are doing another concert, this one featuring The Good Ole Boys and Girls.  The proceeds will be used to assist veterans in need. Unfortunately, we too often hear of local vets who can’t afford heating oil, food, or clothing for their families. This money will be used by The Aroostook Veteran’s Advocacy Committee (a group that I founded three years ago) to provide a temporary solution for whatever their need may be.

How has this helped me? I have found that the more I sit stagnant the more I want to sleep; I don’t need any energy so I become less energetic. It also gets me out and forces ole hermetic me to spend time working with people (It doesn’t hurt that the people I’m working with are all positive people–I’ve learned over the years that anyone can be negative; it takes energy and work to be positive.).

I am not deluding myself. I know it will be mid-May or early June before I don’t have to deal with SAD. However, it sure as hell doesn’t hurt either. So, if you find yourself in northern Aroostook County of February 29 with nothing to do, how about attending a concert?

 

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