Living in a Cozy World by Maureen Milliken

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.

“It’s the house next to the old health center.” (Maureen Milliken photo)

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.

The Belgrade Lakes Region information booth. (Maureen Milliken photo)

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.

Main Street, Belgrade Lakes. (Maureen Milliken photo)

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.

Main Street Kingfield — my fake town may be close to here, and have some similarities, but it’s not based on Kingfield. (Maureen Milliken photo)

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?

About Maureen

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.

16 Thoughts

  1. Good morning,
    I love the cover of your books!!! I also love to learn about the authors! Always so interesting to me.😊
    Thank you for always sharing about the books and authors!!!!

    1. Yes! That’s loaded with all sorts of possibilities. I like it! My town is great, though there are drawbacks to living in a small town that I’ll save for a future blog post — although if you read my books, you’ll know some of them. Or any small-town books, really.

    1. A relaxing place to visit, but… you know what they say about “living there.” Just kidding! Though next time, I’ll write about the issues with the light at the church parking lot, the guy cutting down trees on the land behind my house and the town battle over library hours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.