Reading and Watching


Most everybody who is anybody was at Malice Domestic the last weekend of April. This year I missed the fun.

It would have been great to hang out with my MCW colleagues Lea Wait, Barb Ross, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Maureen Milliken and Bruce Coffin, not to mention the hundreds of other mystery writers who converge on unsuspecting Bethesda, Maryland every spring. They’re my peeps, and I enjoy spending time with them, but the truth is I would have spent the weekend stalking Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn.

If you don’t know, Ann Cleeves is a British writer who has written more than thirty novels—most of which I have read, many more than once—and Brenda Blethyn is an English actress most recently famous for her role as Vera in the BBC television series of the same name, based on Ann Cleeves’ books about brilliant, intrepid Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope.

I am a huge fan of both women. I’ve met Ann twice before, once at Malice and again at Bouchercon last fall, and both times had to work hard not to come across as a total fangirl.

Here I am with Ann Cleeves last fall, trying not to gush.

I admire her intricately-plotted novels, which are peopled by fascinating characters. (Her Shetland series, featuring Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, is as good as the Vera series, and also has inspired a BBC television series called Shetland, featuring Douglas Henshall.) On the performance side of the slate, the casting of Brenda Blethyn to play the role of Vera was absolutely inspired.

If any readers of this blog haven’t read Ann’s work, or haven’t seen Brenda become her characters, you owe it to yourself to binge-read the Vera books, then binge-watch the Vera series. It’s available on Acorn and BritBox, perhaps can also be found elsewhere on your entertainment dial. When you get done with the Vera series, dig into the Shetland books, then treat yourself to the Shetland TV series. If you’re like me, the books and the dramatic interpretation of them will have you dreaming of making a journey to that remote archipelago on the edge of the North Sea.

Now I have some some questions for you, dear readers.

If an author’s work has been dramatized on TV or in film, do you prefer to read the book first, or watch the show/movie first? Why?

For those of you who write crime fiction, do you read in the genre while you are writing, or no? Why or why not?

If you don’t read crime fiction while writing, do you watch mystery/crime shows on TV?

If so, what are your favorites?

My answers:

I read the book first, without fail.

I always have book going when I’m writing, and 90% of the time it’s crime fiction. I find it inspiring to read others’ work, don’t fear that I’ll unconsciously appropriate their style or voice.

Similarly, I come away both motivated and entertained when I watch well-written crime fiction shows on TV.

In addition to Vera and Shetland, I loved Foyle’s War, became totally absorbed in Broadchurch and some Friday nights want nothing more to kick back with my pal Sheriff Walt Longmire.

I’m always looking for new ideas, so please let me know your thoughts.

This post first appeared on the Maine Crime Writers blog on May 2, 2018.

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Spring In My Step

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s finally here!

It was a long, damn winter, wasn’t it? The pre-Christmas snow. The post-Christmas cold snap that went on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. The ice and the slush and those three annoying nor’easters in the month of March. About two weeks ago everybody but the skiers screamed “enough, already,” and my voice was among them. But now there’s spring in my step.

It’s a season of milestones, and four big ones happened in the past week.

First things first, I took the ice grippers out of my car. For months they’ve been either on my feet or on the floor of the back seat, at the ready to get me from car to work without taking a flip, which is soooo easy to do on the brick skating rinks otherwise known as Old Port sidewalks.

Goldfinches at our feeder.

Second, we’re leaving a window open at night, welcoming the breeze and the morning birdsong. So far we’re hearing chickadees, titmice, cardinals and goldfinches. There’s music in the air at other times of the day as well. One afternoon last week I heard my first red-winged blackbird of the season. Before we know it, the warblers—the handsome virtuosos who fill Maine’s yards and woods with intricate tunes—will be back.

Flowers are showing up as well. Our snowdrops and crocus bloomed one short week after the snow melted. Daffodil and tulip shoots are in evidence, and soon the front yard will be a riot of color.

They were just hiding under all that snow!

Last but certainly not least, baseball season has begun. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday, when my Red Sox have just won their third game of the season after an unfortunate loss the first day out of the gate. It’s such a pleasure to hear the crack of the bat, not to mention the radio broadcast of Joe Castiglione and Tim Neverett.  Someday soon we’ll make a pilgrimage to the little jewel box in Boston, where the home season starts tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the Fenway Park opener.

The joys of spring are many and vary from person to person. Besides the wonders of last week noted above, I look forward to:

Raking out the raised beds and seeding some greens. We usually do this on Patriot’s Day. Because we have a cold frame, we’ll be eating our own greens in May.

Our raised beds, one with cold frame. This is last spring, but soon!

Giving the car—especially the mud-encrusted mats—a good scrub and driving with the sunroof open, especially on a Sunday afternoon when the destination involves ice cream.

Getting out the deck furniture and holding the first cookout of the season. I’m already grilling on a regular basis, but I look forward to the day when I can lounge on the deck sans fleece while grilling fish, or pizza or kebabs, and eating supper outside.

Hearing the rising trill of peepers, the amphibious chorus that echoes around the vernal pools and marshland. Drive with your windows down in a week or two and there they’ll be, calling their little hearts out.

Can’t you just taste the wonderful balance of strawberries and rhubarb?

Getting ahead of myself a bit, I can’t wait for warm weather food. Local strawberries tarted up with rhubarb. Sauteed fiddleheads. Lobster rolls at a picnic table with a view.

This post was originally posted on the Maine Crime Writers blog on 

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On Watching My Characters Take The Stage

Last week Barbara Ross posted some wonderful photos from the Portland Stage Company event on March 5th, where actors performed staged readings of work by Lea Wait, Dick Cass, Chris Holm, Barb and me.

As Barb said, it was a joy to have our work read by such skilled actors and to take the stage together for the post-performance audience discussion led by the terrific Bess Welden. Unfortunately, Lea was unable to be there in person. Her scene from Twisted Threads was the final piece of the night, and the audience ate it up.

Narrator Bess Welden introduces the scene from Cover Story.

This is the second year I’ve had the opportunity to participate in this Portland Stage collaboration, and both times I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of the characters I write. You might wonder how that could be. After all, I birthed Joe Gale and all my other literary babies. How could watching a bunch of actors read the words I put in my characters’ mouths give me greater insight into their hearts and minds? Because seeing other people interpret my work pries it from my strong fingers, and gives my imaginary friends an existence independent of me.

Like a mother watching her six-year-old get on the school bus, it’s a good thing.

The challenge inherent in the exercise is to identify a scene capable of standing alone, a ten-minute excerpt with a coherent beginning, middle and end, a narrative arc and an emotional one, too.

My scene was from Cover Story, the second book in my Joe Gale series, in which Joe goes to Machias in the dead of winter to cover a high-profile murder trial.

Actor Rob Cameron made a fabulous Joe Gale.

Rob Cameron took on the role of shaggy-haired Joe, who submits himself to a haircut at the barbershop operated by ex-Marine Claude LeClair. Three lines in, I nearly jumped out of my seat.

I’ve long held an image in my mind of my main character, not just his build and face, but his attitude as well. In Rob Cameron’s gestures and tone of voice, Joe Gale came alive—a bulldog reporter with a kind heart, protected by the sarcastic sense of humor that is a journalist’s armor.

Claude LeClair, the mad barber of Machias, was read by Andrew Harris.

As for mad barber Claude LeClair, actor Andrew Harris hit all the marks in his portrayal of the angry, opinionated father-in-law of the man on trial for murdering a DHHS caseworker.

A side benefit of re-tooling a scene from a book to be read on stage is the chance to add and subtract from the written page in order to make a performance fly. Last year the adapting process was a bit intimidating. This year it felt like freedom.

Starting from the assumption that many in the audience hadn’t read Cover Story, I transformed a low-key character from the book’s barbershop scene —Claude’s brother-in-law Lenny, a man of few words—into his sharp-tongued sister-in-law, Mary Lou.

Moira Driscoll took a revamped character and ran with the part.

Actor Moira Driscoll got what I was going for when I gave Lenny a literary sex change and attitude adjustment.

In fact, Moira did such a good job reading her part as Claude’s needling antagonist I wish I could go back in time and put Mary Lou in the book.

I hope the partnership between Portland Stage Company and Maine’s crime writers continues for a long time to come.

Huge props go to Director Eileen Phelan, who chooses the scenes, casts the parts and works with the writers and the actors to achieve collaborative success.

Eileen Phelan, the marvelous director of the staged readings, with yours truly after the show.

Creative and community-minded, she is the engine behind this effort. Thank you, Eileen, for your support and inspiration.

 

Readers of this blog should take note that every winter season, PSC stages a mystery, and these staged readings featuring the work of Maine crime writers grew out of that annual tradition. This year the crime-themed play is Red Herring, which runs through March 25.

Here’s the storyline: Maggie’s a tough, Boston cop, trying to get her finger on the one man who gave her the slip: a sly crime boss who worked his way into her heart. As she deals with murder, mystery, and intrigue in Boston Harbor, she also has to deal with Frank, an FBI gumshoe with a proposal more dangerous than commie spies, murderous mobs, and McCarthyism combined: marriage.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? There are twelve days left in its run. Here’s the link for tickets: https://portlandstage.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0Sj00000051DQvEAM

Originally Posted on the Maine Crime Writers blog on

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The Winter Beach Between Two Storms

On this first day of Daylight Savings Time, we in coastal Maine find ourselves between two significant snowstorms. Last week we got a foot of dense, heavy snow, obliterating the brave crocus and tulips that poked their noses out of the front flowerbeds. (No worries, they are hardy and will survive. We just won’t see them again for a while.)

Two days from now, another big snow is forecast, 12″ to 18″, some say, 10″ – 16″ say others. It doesn’t matter. When you’re ready for spring, predictions of frozen precipitation are not welcome.

But what can you do, right? Today we went to the beach, as we do most Sundays, but this time we had reason to be up on the Midcoast so we enjoyed the treat of a long stroll at Reid State Park in Georgetown, where the sky and the dunes and the beach were gorgeous. Weather systems were blowing past in the blink of an eye, at one point loosing a squall of flurries on us.

Take a look:

It was a changeable weather day over the sea

It was a changeable weather day over the sea

My iPhone caught the snowflakes as they eddied past.

My iPhone caught the snowflakes as they eddied past.

There weren't many people about.

There weren’t many people about.

Look what I found! Talk about a nice garden centerpiece. If I only had a truck . . .

Look what I found! Talk about a nice garden centerpiece. If I only had a truck . . .

Now that is a wonderful hunk o’ driftwood.

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On comes the New Year

It is our custom to walk the beach on New Year’s Day no matter the weather, to inspect the sea and the detritus the waves have carried to shore.

A lost trap

A lost trap

The first day of 2017 was sunny and warm with a light breeze, making for an especially pleasant visit to Scarborough Beach. Temps have been up and down in recent weeks, so there were no skaters on the ponds that flank the path.

tracks-across-the-marsh

 

The tracks of an intrepid skier—no doubt left on a recent cold day—were the only marks across the now-thinned ice.

lost-glove

A lone glove was marooned above the high tide line. I photographed it to add to my collection of images of solo mitts found on the beach.
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Sunday Beach Photos – October 30, 2016

The much-needed rain finally came to an end late yesterday, and today dawned warm and sweet.  Scarborough Beach was beautiful, but I’ll let you see for yourself.

The clouds were still breaking up, which allowed for gorgeous light on the water

The clouds were still breaking up, which allowed for gorgeous light on the water.

The storms that blew through this past week left interesting detritus behind

The storms that blew through this past week left interesting detritus behind.

There wasn't a lot of surf, but this trio was enthusiastic about what little there was

There wasn’t a lot of surf, but this trio was enthusiastic about what little there was.

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Long Days, Wonderful Library Visits

And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days. – James Russell Lowell

 

Beach Roses, Swan's Island

Beach Roses, Swan’s Island

The long days last week on either side of the summer solstice were truly stunning, each one more beautiful than the day before. It was my good fortune to have made plans for a couple of late-June library visits Downeast to read from Cover Story, my second Joe Gale mystery, which is set in that beautiful part of the state.

Am I lucky, or what?
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It’s spring, and I’m on the road again

Gardiner Public Library is a welcoming place

Gardiner Public Library is a welcoming place

Now that winter is behind us (the optimist writes on a day when the morning’s rain washed away the previous night’s annoyance snow, and the wind still howls outside the window) I’m out and about again, talking up Truth Beat in particular and my Joe Gale mysteries in general.

On March 21 I had a wonderful visit with a book group in Springvale at the home of my longtime friend Madge Baker, where we talked about Quick Pivot, the first in the Joe Gale series, among other things. Many thanks to Madge, as well as Ann, Yoli, Tess, Carol, Renee and Martha for a wonderful evening.

On March 29 I welcomed the coming spring with a reading at the beautiful Gardiner Memorial Library where librarian Anne Davis made me feel right at home as did a very engaged audience of old friends and new.  Special thanks to Mayor Thom Harnett for talking up my reading on social media.
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The Joy of January Beach Walks

We’ve enjoyed several spectacular Sunday beach walks this month. It occurs to me on this last day of January that it’s time for a little show and tell. Compared to last year, the footing has been good, but the height of the tide always informs the walk, a truth borne out in spectacular fashion this week and last.

On Sunday, January 24, thanks to Winter Storm Jonas, much of the eastern seaboard was buried under a couple of feet of snow. Not a flake of snow had fallen in our part of Maine because Jonas blew out to sea before it reached us. The sun was shining and the roads were dry as we drove out the Black Point Road in Scarborough. The pathway that cuts through Massacre Pond was nicely packed and there was some wind, but the air wasn’t too nippy. We heard the surf long before we reached the little rise that leads to Scarborough Beach.

The surf was up at Scarborough Beach after Jonas shot past Maine, just far enough offshore to spare us the blizzard it brought to the rest of the Eastern Seaboard

The surf was up at Scarborough Beach after Jonas shot past Maine, just far enough offshore to spare us the blizzard it brought to the rest of the Eastern Seaboard


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You’re Going to Sue the Church?

If you haven’t seen Spotlight, you really must.

The recently-released film starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo is the based-on-fact story of how a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe peeled away decades of lies and denial to expose how the hierarchy of the Catholic Church covered up decades of sexual abuse inflicted upon children by parish priests. It is an important film, both for the story it tells and the way the story is told.

That question – you’re going to sue the church? – is uttered repeatedly in the first hour of the film. People inside and outside the newspaper were stunned by the notion that the Catholic Church could successfully be called to account in a court of law. At the outset, even those on the Globe’s vaunted Spotlight Team a small group of investigative  reporters who’ve won accolades over the years for their hard-nosed journalism – were amazed enough to ask the question.

We’re going to sue the church?

In famously parochial Boston, the idea of petitioning a court to unseal records that the Catholic Church wished to keep private was unfathomable. The church wasn’t just plugged-in to the power structure, it was a load-bearing wall of the power-structure. Like certain banks and other financial institutions deemed too big to fail, the church seemed too big to sue. What petitioner would dare to try to expose not only the names of abusers, but the pattern of lies and favors and looks the other way that allowed the abuse and the cover-up to continue? What judge would ever grant such a motion?

You’re going to sue the church?
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