Blogging Hiatus

Hi all. I’ve asked our glorious leader, Kate, to take me off the blogging schedule for now. I hope to carve back some writing time in 2018. I have greatly enjoyed blogging with all of you and will continue to read and enjoy your posts. As always, I am deeply honored to count myself among all of you incredibly talented Maine writers.

Even though I’m not blogging, rest assured that I will remain as snarky as ever. Until we blog together again, May the Snark Be With You.



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Another Look Back

Bruce Robert Coffin here waxing nostalgic. I was seated at my writing desk this past weekend trying to decide what I wanted to blog about this month on Maine Crime Writers when Facebook shared a memory with me. After reading said memory, which was a blog I posted two years ago, I realized I couldn’t say it any better than I had in 2016. So, without further ado, may I present another look back at how it all started.



I’m sitting in my attic writing nook reflecting on the past year. What a ride! January 1st, 2015 found me with the usual resolutions, eat better, lose a few pounds, workout more, you know the ones. But last year I added a goal. Get published! It didn’t matter what it was; short story, grocery list, thank you note, fortune cookie advice, I wasn’t particularly choosy. I’d even entertained the thought of contacting Salada to see if they’d allow me to write a bit of tea bag advice. Hey, I was desperate.

Of course, what I really longed for was to see my first novel in print. The loftiest of all writing goals. Truly unattainable stuff. Friend and fellow Maine writer Chris Holm gave me some great advice. He said: “If you’re gonna step up to the plate, you’ve gotta swing for the fence, every single time.” He was right, of course. But that didn’t stop me from checking my in bin to see if Salada had responded. Nope. Damn.

Last April I attended my second Maine Crime Wave, this time as a wannabe published writer (the first had been as a guest panelist). The cool thing about events like this is getting the chance to chat with successful authors, both in formal and informal settings. I’ve found them all to be very gracious and approachable. And they always say encouraging things like: “Remember, we all began as unpublished authors, too.” In my heart of hearts I knew this was true, but it all sounded a bit too far-fetched. The kind of thing an art teacher might say if you turned in a blank canvas because you couldn’t think of a single thing to paint.

“Oh, I love what you’ve done here. So minimalist. So abstract. So bold.”


Like Jim Hayman, Kate Flora, and Gerry Boyle weren’t born already published!

The evening before the Crime Wave, I attended the Friday night reading dubbed “Two Minutes in the Slammer.” A cool moniker for what was really a chance to stand up in front of a room full of accomplished writers and wannabes (like me), knees knocking, and read something you’d written. The literary equivalent of grabbing the listener by the ear and not letting go. Knock their socks off, I was told. Sure, I said, until I realized we only had two minutes in which to accomplish this. Talk about nerve-racking.

After deciding upon a passage from my one of short stories, titled Bygones, I spent the afternoon practicing my delivery in my kitchen, to a audience of a half dozen empty dining room chairs. Timed by my microwave, trying not to sound like Peter Brady (Remember the episode where his voice kept changing as he hit puberty?), I honed the abridged version of my story until it was precisely two minutes in length. It was okay, I thought. I looked at the dining room chairs. Not a naysayer among them. I took their silence as a sign of agreement.
Hours later I found myself in the lower level of the Portland Public Library. Pacing as I stared at the stage. What the hell? No one had said anything about getting up on a stage. Please, God, I thought. Don’t make me read first. Or even worse, last!

As the seats slowly filled up, I continued to wear out the floor at the back of the room. Until I saw a familiar face, Paul Doiron. You know, author of the acclaimed Mike Bowditch mystery novels, about the coolest outdoorsman since Grizzly Adams. A fan of his books, I approached Paul hoping the pass the time with a little banter about what he was up to, wanting badly to take my mind off that stupid stage. As usual, Paul was very engaging and down to earth. If he noticed my frequent nervous over the shoulder glances at the stage, he never mentioned it. Paul told me about a book he was writing, The Precipice, set in the middle of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wildness along the famed Appalachian Trail. A fan of the AT myself, I mumbled something incoherent about a mystery novel that I’d been working on, titled “Trail Magic”, about a female FBI agent trying to convince others of the existence of a serial killer stalking victims along the entire AT. Always the gentleman, Paul said he thought it sounded “cool.” Somehow, given his stature in the mystery writing community, and me being an unpublished author, it didn’t feel very cool. In all honesty, I felt more like a tool.

Again, I glanced at the stage. Any word from Salada?

Everyone took their seats as the rules were explained. Each of the thirteen readers would be given a moment to either tell the audience a bit about themselves or explain the passage from which they’d be reading. Following the intro the two minutes would begin. The two minute limit would be strictly enforced, they said. They even had a timer! Alarmed, I wondered if the timer on my microwave had ever been calibrated…

The order of the readers was announce. I wasn’t first! Yay. Tucked safely in the middle, I figured if I sucked royally no one would remember. I listened enthusiastically as the others spewed forth great prose. Some was humorous, some action-oriented, and some just plain old good writing. When it was over, each of us congratulated the others on our delivery and our prose while we awaited word from the judges.

A number of people approached me and praised my reading, among them were Jim Hayman and Chris Holm. They seemed genuinely impressed with what I had read. But I remained doubtful. What if Jim and Chris were just really good at improvisational praise? My dining room chairs hadn’t instilled a lot of confidence.

Several minutes later the results were finally tallied. The judges announced two winners, and I was one of them! I was elated. Not only had I survived my Two Minutes in the Slammer, I’d won my freedom!
Winning Two Minutes in the Slammer hadn’t been on my list of New Year resolutions, but the way I was feeling, it shoulda been.
Screw you Salada!

Let’s just say that the remainder of the year exceeded my wildest hopes and expectations. In November my very first short story, “Fool Proof”, was published in the Best New England Crime Stories 2016 anthology, Red Dawn. I obtained an honest-to-god literary agent, Paula Munier of the Talcott Notch Agency. And with Paula’s help I’ve just recently managed to fulfill my lifelong dream of having a novel published. In fact, not just one novel but three! I’m happy to announce that HarperCollins will be publishing my John Byron Mystery Series under their Witness Impulse imprint. The debut novel will be released in early fall.

And finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, the genie popped out of the lamp one more time in February (Yeah, I know it’s a different year, but this is my blog.), handing me an email from Mr. Mystery himself, world renown publisher, editor and New York bookstore owner Otto Penzler, informing me that “Fool Proof” had been picked as one of the twenty best mystery stories published in North America during the 2015 calendar year! Holy moly! My story will now appear in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Mystery Stories, 2016.

In retrospect, my diet may not have improved much, my appearances at the gym are somewhat sporadic, I’ve actually gained a few pounds (muscle I imagine), but as far as my writing goals are concerned, I somehow managed to put one over the fence.

Grab that would you, Chris? I’d like to keep it as a momento.

I’m not sure if Clarence was right about there being some correlation between bells and angels getting their wings (trust me, I’m no angel), but I can now say with certainty, if you want something bad enough, and you’re willing to work hard to get it, really hard, dreams really do come true.


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Weekend Update: March 3-4, 2018

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Bruce Coffin (Monday), Brenda Buchanan (Tuesday), Dick Cass (Wednesday), Lea Wait (Thursday), and Barb Ross (Friday).

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

Four Maine Crime Writers, Brenda Buchanan, Richard J. Cass, Barbara Ross, and Lea Wait, along with alum Chris Holm, will have a staged reading of their work by actors at the Portland Stage on Monday, March 5. Tickets are $10.00 if purchased before and $15.00 at the door.



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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Arguing with My Mother

Kate Flora: As regular readers of this blog know, my mother, A. Carman Clark, is dead–Kate Flora - Maine Mulch Murder- Cover1agone now for twelve years. But my mother was a writer, an editor, and a keen observer of country living and the natural world, and I often have questions I wish she could answer. When she was in her eighties, she published her first mystery, the tale of Amy Creighton, a sixty-something single book editor and avid gardener, who finds a body in the sawdust shed at the local sawmill when she goes to get sawdust to mulch her strawberries, and has to solve the mystery of the young man’s death. The book was called The Maine Mulch Murder, and it was published when she was eighty-three.

When she died, after suffering a stroke at eighty-five, she left behind the manuscript for her second Amy Creighton mystery, The Corpse in the Compost. Last summer, after hearing from Ann and Paula at Mainely Murder in Kennebunkport that mom’s book is still very popular with their customers, I decided to dig out her manuscript, do whatever editing was needed, and publish it. That’s when I started arguing with my mother.

I was barely off page one when I first stared skyward and said, “Mom, you have to establish some details about your characters. If you’re going to have three children in distress appear during Amy’s morning swim, you have to tell us how old they are, so we can draw a mental picture of them as they tell her what they’ve found.” And so it went. She’d written, I edited and added in essential details, either from the first book or from my knowledge of her, or from knowing about her gardens.

And then came the issue of the tapestry bag. The children have found a mysterious old bag under an abandoned shed. Inside the bag is a tapestry bag, and inside that bag are some jewels. Shortly after that, Amy and the New York editor she works for are at a swank dinner party and she meets a man who is thinking of writing a book about antique tapestry fabric. She invited him to look at the bag the children found. And then? No information about tapestry or the bag. I look heavenward and shake my fist. Mom? Mom? What is the point of this scene if you don’t tell the reader anything?

18449640_10156151398733082_480439399386806272_oTell me what John Jones looks like, I say. Tell me why you have barely mentioned Dort Adams with respect to his budding romance with Amy, which was central to the last book and Amy’s character. Why are you taking so long to tell us what the Ingraham girls (a pair of seventy-something sisters) know?

All the questions I would ask a writer who consulted me about a manuscript come to mind as I work my way through my mother’s book. Can we talk a bit about pacing? Do you have a plan for whether Amy’s friend Jane is going to become interested or involved with John Jones? Don’t you think you ought to develop Jane more fully if she’s going to be present for so much of the book? Look, Mom, I say to my sadly absent parent, could we sit down and talk about compost, so what has happened is clearer to your reader? You do know you have to explain it to them, don’t you?

Right now, this manuscript looks like an early draft of one of my own. I have scribbled all IMG_1410over the pages, and on the back of the pages. There are circles and arrows indicating where sentences need to be moved. There are lots of questions in the margins still to be answered. I also have tiny bits of paper on which her best friend, Marilys, has made her comments, red pen marks where her friend Noreen had edited, and many typed pages of my comments from when I read the book perhaps fourteen years ago.

“Mom,” I ask, “how do you want me to handle cell phones?”
“Amy is always feeding people. When do we see her cook? Go to the store? Did you mean to include recipes in the book?

I thought it was going to be a quick edit. Instead, now that I’ve done an initial edit on the book, I have to retype the whole thing  because her old files won’t open on my computer. It is slow going. It is also a wonderful way to get to spend time with my mother, even if we are arguing a lot.


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Books Looking for Good Homes

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing as Kathy.

Over the long President’s Day weekend, I tackled a job I’d been putting off for far too long—weeding my reference book shelves. Over many years of writing historical novels set in sixteenth-century England, I’ve accumulated hundreds of books to use in my research. With the advent of online used bookstores, it was very easy to locate older titles. made it equally easy to find new biographies and works of social history. Best of all, I was able to take a tax deduction for the legitimate business expense of buying books for research. I bought a lot of books.

The downside is that the shelves in my office are weighed down with hefty tomes. Yes, they still are, but I was able to identify eighty titles I no longer have a use for. A few were just bad decisions on my part—they didn’t contain the information I hoped they would. Some were useful, but since I’ve already used the nuggets I found in them, there’s no reason to hold onto them. Others were purchased when I was working on one particular novel and I know I won’t be revisiting that aspect of sixteenth-century life again. I bought several books on sixteenth-century Russia, for example, as part of my research for Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, and I no longer need to keep them.

So, there I was with eighty books, many of them fairly specialized. They aren’t the kind of thing the local library, or even the local college library wants as donations. Ditto nursing homes, prisons, and so forth, that might work for novels. now charges sellers a monthly fee to list books on Amazon Marketplace. (Add your own expletives here!). I tried plugging ISBNs into a couple of buy-back bookstores (ABE Books and Cash4Books) and they both responded by saying they weren’t buying that title at this time. Other older books don’t even have ISBNs.

Hmm, I thought. What now? I’m not about to take these books, many of them like new if you don’t count the sections I highlighted, to the dump. There are Maine libraries that might want them, and I know I can count on fellow Maine Crime Writer and retired librarian John Clark to help me reach out to them, but for right now I’m trying out a solution that could find homes for them with individuals who share my somewhat odd interests.

To start with, I made a list of titles, alphabetical by author, added the condition of each one, and saved the doc file as a webpage. After tinkering a bit to make it look better in that format, I uploaded it as What this offers is to give away these books. All I ask in return is to be reimbursed for postage and (if necessary) any box or mailer I might have to buy to accommodate an oddly sized book.

Step two was to post that link on my Kaitlyn Dunnett Facebook page, and especially to the “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women” page that’s attached to it. I haven’t yet publicized it at the Who’s Who website ( ) but that’s probably the next step . . . right after writing about it here. I’m a little slow at following through on all the things I could be doing, but so far I’m absolutely delighted with the response I got from just the Facebook post. In the first seven days, twenty-three of the eighty titles were adopted. In addition to finding homes for some of the books, I’ve also made some new friends. We obviously have interests in common. The only snag so far has been discovering that it would cost around $100 to ship a box of books to England. The interested party decided against adopting those titles, but we went on to chat by email about the book she’s writing about a sixteenth-century ancestor. Fascinating subject!

Over to you, dear readers. Do you know any individual or institution with an interest in books like these? If so I’d appreciate it if you’d let them know about the giveaway. And if you have ideas of your own for finding good homes for gently used reference books on any topic, please share in the comments section. And of course, if there’s a book on my list that you’d like for yourself, you have only to let me know.

Depending on how this experiment goes, I may do some more weeding in the not too distant future, in biographies of sixteenth-century people in particular. Those currently fill two six-foot long shelves in my office to capacity.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. 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. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.


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It All Started With . . .

Dorothy Cannell: I came home from school one afternoon when I was six and told my Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 12.41.28 PMmother our class was having a play.  It was Red Riding Hood and I had been chosen to play her.  The result was delightful, she was thrilled.  When father came home from work she told him the exciting news and I basked in the lovely glow of their approval.  But not for long.  There was no play, and had there been, it was highly unlikely I would have been chosen for the lead.

I was mousy quiet and the teacher couldn’t have thought I’d have the confidence to carry it off.  Unfortunately the school did frequently put on plays; the performances held on the gym stage before an audience of parents.  During the coming days my mother continued in her delight, wanting to know when it would happen and if she should make my costume.  Sickening panic set in.  I was terrified that she might meet my teacher on the street, the school was very close to where we lived, and bring up the subject.  I would wake in the night with my heart pounding.  It never occurred to me to confess.  I wasn’t afraid that parents would be angry with me; what I couldn’t bear was their disappointment.

I can’t blame my need to draw attention to myself and to feel important, on being a middle child lost in the mix of four.  I got every bit as much love as the others.  Eventually my mother talked less about my starring role, and finally when she did bring it up I told her the play had been cancelled.  My long nightmare was over in the sense that the threat of exposure was lifted, but the memory of my dreadful lie haunted me throughout my childhood.  Obviously it didn’t stop me from telling others of the more mundane sort – no, I wasn’t the one who’d taken a slice of cake in the cupboard, started the argument with my sisters, or knocked the coats off the hall tree.  But never again did I tell a lie for the reason of making myself important.

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 12.43.01 PMThe need, however, to reinvent myself into someone more interesting, exciting and enviable, remained rather than the nonentity I was at school.  And so I concocted an inner life, one where I was possessed of fabulous talents – the ability to do sixteen perfect cartwheels in a circle and ride bareback on a horse were favorites.  In real life I was horrible at anything athletic; but in one of my alternative worlds I had been brought up in a circus and made to leave it because my parents wanted me to have a normal upbringing.  In another I was a budding ballerina forced to practice in secret because my father couldn’t bear to see me dance.  This was because my mother, a great dancer, had died from a fall (something slippery on the stage) when I was a baby and he was still wracked by grief and unable to deal with my having inherited her gift.  I was also the head of the school diving team, able to leap from the high diving board and enter arched gracefully into the water without causing a ripple and win a trophy long held by a rival school.

None of the inventions were fully mine.  They were culled from books I read.  What I did was enlarge upon them, weave them into other events, because I never wanted to leave any of my secret worlds behind.  Gradually, it wasn’t all about the invented ‘me’.  The other people who’d made their way in grew in interest, and without knowing it was happening dialogue was there and plots formed.

People often ask me, as they do others in fields, what made me a writer?  There are many reasons.  My father was an avid reader and my mother a story teller, but as I think about it now I’m sure that the Red Riding Hood lie was a huge impetus.  Make it up, but don’t pretend it’s real.  Any yet, isn’t fiction a form of truth when written from the deepest part of who we are?

Happy reading,


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Just the Ticket For Cabin Fever

John Clark sharing bits from the wayback machine and my experience helping GMLA (Great Moose Lake Association) last weekend. Last week at our monthly Hartland Couples Club meeting, I overheard two members discussing the limited number of GMLA members available to work the weigh-in for the annual fishing derby, so I offered to help out.m and dad

Mikeala (a student at MCI) and her dad helped out with prizes and the drawings

I have many memories of going ice fishing, the first when our neighbor, Henry Hills, took me out on Sennebec Lake. I was seven or eight and I couldn’t tell you what we caught, but I had fun. After returning from college at Arizona State, I got back into fishing, both open water and ice in a big way. My friend Jon Marks and my neighbor Sam Morrison often ice fished twice a week, hitting Lake St. George in Liberty, Maranacook Lake in Winthrop, Parker Pond in Mount Vernon, Sennebec, Sheepscot Lake in Palermo, Wyman Lake in Moscow and Embden Pond, as well as several smaller pickerel holes. Some days we’d sit for hours and catch nothing, other times, we could barely keep up when the flags went up.

all ages

Some of the derby participants waiting to hear whether they won.

When I operated the patient education program at the state hospital, I often took some of the boys on the adolescent unit ice fishing. I remember one late February trip to Embden when the ice was over two feet thick. We were using a hand auger and it was so difficult to drill below a certain depth that the kids lost their footing and the auger spun them in circles. I ended up drilling through more than 40 feet of ice that day.

We made up games like pickerel bowling. After we caught one and it froze solid, we’d stand 75 or so feet apart and see if we could skim the frozen fish across the ice and through the other person’s legs. On Sennebec one winter, we had as many as seven eagles swoop down to grab fish we’d caught. They made a regular circuit from Megundicook to Chickawaukee outside Rockland, then on to Alford in Hope and Seven Tree in Union before hitting Sennebec. It was quite an impressive sight.


One of the many bass entered in the derby

Perhaps the highlight of my ice fishing career came when we were fishing on Sheepscot. It was the same day as the derby sponsored by the local fish and game association, so we’d bought tickets. Sam hooked something really big and after ten minutes or so, hauled out a nine pound togue. It took first prize in that category and I bet it was weeks before he stopped grinning.


The weigh station and two of the bigger door prizes

Jon moved to Florida and Sam died. Those events, coupled with an increasing discomfort in really cold weather, led to my finding warmer winter activities.

It was great fun to watch the participants in this year’s derby bring in their fish. We held the weigh-in on Saturday and Sunday from four to six at the Irving Tanning Community Center. Several things stood out. First, while skill can be a factor, luck is a bigger one and it’s an activity anyone in the family can enjoy. That was clearly demonstrated by the number of youngsters who won prizes. In fact, two brothers, both younger than ten, swept the cusk category as well as placing second in the most yellow perch caught contest.ticket

Lots of fun to be had for a couple bucks.

The folks involved in getting prizes and selling tickets do one heck of a job. In fact, so many tickets were sold, that they had to sell what remained from last year’s ticket supply (this years tickets were blue, last year’s orange, so there wasn’t any confusion.) In addition to three cash prizes in each category, there were more than 30 door prizes. The money raised goes toward buying brook trout to stock Great Moose Lake—800 last year and another 800 this year. Three years ago, the funds went to buy a huge number of smelts to enhance the food supply for all game fish.

Here are the biggest fish in each category: White perch 1 pound, 11 ounces, crappie 2 pounds 2 ounces, small mouth bass 3 pounds six ounces, large mouth bass 7 pounds 2 ounces, brook trout, 1 pound 10 ounces, brown trout 1 pound 7 ounces, cusk 1 pound 4 ounces and pickerel 2 pounds 11 ounces.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm and good fellowship among those waiting to see who won. It was clear that many knew each other and plenty of ribbing went back and forth. If you’re looking for something new to combat ‘cabin fever’ this is a great way to do so. Fishing derbies are held almost every weekend from mid-January through early March all over Maine.

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