Hi All. Barb here. Slightly freaked out by the imminent arrival of Christmas
I am so happy to welcome back to the blog my friend and fellow Maine Crime Writer, Maureen Milliken. I love Maureen’s Bernie O’Day mysteries about a newspaper owner and editor in small town Maine.
Take it away, Maureen!
There’s a photo of a smiling guy holding a big fish in my town’s only year-round restaurant. I realized, shortly after moving here in 2011, that he’s the same guy who installed my kitchen and built my porch.
I’ve learned to tell people my house is “next to the old health center.” It’s easier than giving address.
At a recent party attended by most of the town’s population, I was introduced several times as The Writer. It was flattering, but very surreal.
It’s small-town living, straight out of a book.
I wrote Cold Hard News, the first book in my mystery series, while living in Manchester, N.H., a fair-sized city by New England standards. My familiarity with small-town life came from decades at daily newspapers — small towns are the bread and butter of northern New England newspapers, no matter how big the city they’re based in.
I now live in a village squeezed between two lakes. Victorian homes line Main Street. The country store, complete with two resident springer spaniels, sells groceries, booze, pizza, ice cream, books, bait, loon figurine salt and pepper shakers, fishing lures, maps, hunting decoys and fudge. In the summer people are as likely to get there by boat as by foot or car.
If a Currier and Ives postcard and a cozy mystery had a baby, it’d be my town.
I volunteered at the town’s tourist information booth this spring and summer, which is south of the village on a two-lane state highway. Many of those who stopped there were people who were afraid they were lost because they hadn’t seen much of anything but woods, lakes and wild turkeys since they got off the highway eight miles before.
Working there was not only an ideal gig for getting revisions done on Bad News Travels Fast, which was released in October, but as fodder for future books.
While I may have a great load of ideas, detail and more from three-plus decades in the newspaper business, living in central Maine has given me so much more.
Among other things, I’m a copy editor for a company that publishes 17 weekly free central and western Maine community newspapers. That means I rewrite emailed news releases. It’s exactly what you think — church suppers, tag sales, concerts at the gazebo.
It’s mystery writer nirvana.
Take the ubiquitous phrase “Light refreshments will be served.” What a great title for a cozy. So polite, yet with so many possibilities for menace. I picture a cover with a pretty lace tablecloth, and on it, mini-cheesecakes scattered around a large bloody knife.
Those lost (but not lost at all) people are a great illustration of one of the things that makes small towns great mystery settings — there’s menace in the mundane. It’s when you’re not on your guard — hey, there’s no danger here — that danger strikes.
The foundation for any genre is why characters do what they do and how they interact. In mysteries, someone did this awful thing. The who and why is so much more interesting with a limited population to draw from.
The town in my book, Redimere, is about 50 miles north of here, and people around here like to guess what town it “really is.” It’s not based on any specific town, I tell them. Few believe me.
It does exist to me — drawn from what I see, hear, read, feel, make up and often live. I take the fact people are so sure they know it must be based on a real place as validation I’m getting it right.
QUESTION: What’s a seemingly mundane phrase you often come across that would make a good title for a cozy mystery novel?
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series, set in Franklin County, Maine. She’s currently working on a stand-alone, also set in Maine. A longtime journalist, she’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and blogs with other Maine authors at Mainecrimewriters.com. She co-hosts a podcast, Crime & Stuff, with her sister, artist Rebecca Milliken. Her website is maureenmilliken.com.