A Book A Year – My Rhythm

As many of you know, my goal is to publish “a book a year” in my Oceanographer Mara Tusconi mystery series. I’m writing #3, Honor the Lobster’s Sea, now.

Like most authors, I’ve developed a writing rhythm. Ideas for the next book bubble up about year in advance. Twenty-nineteen’s book #4 will likely take Mara to a Costa Rican jungle by the sea I’ve visited. A turtle nesting beach there is endangered by rising seas and more storms – both caused by climate change.

Since one of my key goals is to take readers literally into and onto the ocean, I must to write about places where I’ve done just that. For instance, I never could’ve written Demon Spirit, Devil Sea without sea kayaking the Haida Gwaii archipelago off British Columbia.

Honor the Lobster’s Sea is partly set on a small lobster-community island 20 miles off the Maine coast Mainers will recognize as Matinicus (I call it Macomek Island). I’m trying hard to get the island’s culture right – family, tradition and history, fishing, suspicion of outsiders, home rule – by talking to lobstermen and others and reading a ton about Maine’s lobster community. In a couple of weeks, I’ll fly out to Matinicus for a couple of days. (I rent a cottage on the water because there’s no hotels or B&Bs, restaurants, or campgrounds.)

Like a painter or musician, I’ll drink in the light, sounds, smells, land and waterscape, seabird calls, people’s mannerisms and takes – all that – and report back on my Facebook, which you can access here.

Summer Adventures

Maine was in a bit of a fog, literally, for much of June. As usual, I drove northeast along the coast (“Down East”) the third week for the annual Stonington sea kayaking get-together. I call the place “kayak heaven” because there are so many little islands we land on within an easy paddle. The weather was off and on rainy so a couple of us drove off the peninsula up to Acadia National Park for a day of hiking in the clouds. It was great.

Stonington is a terrific little town that embodies Maine history and culture. “Little” because its 40 square miles is 75% water. The harbor is packed with lobster boats. At early light, the chug of the boat motors drifts into our bedroom windows (the house we’ve rented for decades is right on the water). During a day’s paddle we watch hard-working lobstermen circle their colorful buoys (each is unique and registered) and “haul traps”. In a day, an ambitious lobstermen might pull 800 traps up onto his boat. For each one he and his sternman (who might be female) will yank out “keepers”, throw back ones too small or too big or “berried” (females with eggs), add new bait, and slide the trap off the stern into the water.

Lobstering has been part of Stonington’s fabric for a very long time, but recently it’s become the industry’s “sweet spot” partly because of coastal warming. Last year about 17 million pounds of lobster were hauled up onto its docks.

Readers might recall that last June three paddlers – I was one – were caught in a horrendous “gale”. The thing blew up in a instant and it took every bit of skill we had to stay in our boats. With five-foot plus waves close together and howling wind, rescue would’ve been impossible. Of course, we were wearing wetsuits which would have protected us from the frigid water if we did go over. Off Acadia, two other paddlers weren’t so lucky. Caught in the same gale, they flipped and died of hypothermia. They weren’t wearing wetsuits.

As I write this in July, the water has warmed up. I’ve even gone swimming off Little John Island in Yarmouth where I live. It’s, as they say, “bracing”. Tonight when its fully dark, John and I will paddle out a bit, splash the water, and be amazed by the bioluminescence. Tiny dinoflagellates light up when disturbed like that – and nobody really knows why. Truly amazing.

Spring 2017

Demon Spirit, Devil Sea is speeding along though the review and early printing process. I’ll actually hold the book in my hands soon (review copy) and expect it to come out in early May. Maine Authors Publishing is now my publisher and it’s been terrific working with them.

Since the story takes place in a remote place few know exists, I include a map of Haida Gwaii and its location. As you can see, it’s way out there in the Pacific Ocean!

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As in all my books, the outdoor environment plays a major role. Haida Gwaii literally drips with nature because it’s one of the few temperate rainforests left on Earth. The moody, wet, spooky rainforest is a great backdrop for a murder mystery. Besides that, the cold, deep, and sometimes fierce Pacific Ocean is always right there waiting to claim the unprepared or unlucky.

I won’t give away too much, but Mara ends up cold, wet, and desperately in need of rescue.

Haida Gwaii is also an active earthquake zone because it’s on the convergence of two major plates. This geology produces hot springs which attract tourists and are important sacred places for the Haida Nation. The hot springs also play a key role in “Demon Spirit”.

For more information on Demon Spirit, Devil Sea, click here.

It’s been an up and down year for environmentalists. Globally, 2016 was the warmest in the 36-year satellite record (Earth System Science Center press release, Jan 30, 2016). The incoming administration denies warming is a problem and supports the big oil.

On the other hand, the historic Paris Agreement signaled that the world is finally taking this crisis very seriously. More than 300 mayors who attended the meeting returned home committed to address warming in their cities. Some have already been hard at work. Miami, for instance, is spending $400 million to raise streets, install pumps, and elevate sea walls to combat sea level rise.

I’m on track to publish “a book a year” in the Mara Tusconi Mystery Series. Demon Spirit, Devil Sea, book #2, now has a cover. I hope it conveys the stunning beauty and mystery of the archipelago 50 miles off British Columbia where most of the story takes place. To learn more about the book and read an excerpt, click here.

As I write, Demon Spirit is undergoing the final edit. I’ll review suggestions page by page and return the manuscript by the end of January to Maine Authors Publishing, my new publisher. I’m excited to have a publishing house up the road in Thomaston, which I can visit in person. Also, I desperately want local writers as colleagues, and MAP workshops and online forum offer that opportunity.

MAP founder Jane Karker is a terrific person and her son Dan went to Hampshire College where I used to teach!

There’s no rest for the weary writer though. I’m already in the middle of research for book #3. We’re back in Maine for this story, which focuses on lobstering and lobsters. I don’t know a whole lot about the subject so the research is a great deal of fun. I’ll keep on reading books and research articles for at least another month before I start crafting the story.

I can say that Mara finds a dead lobsterman in the first chapter or so. As in most amateur sleuth mysteries, the rest of the story centers on her quest to find out what happened.

First Day of Fall

I live on the coast in southern Maine where ocean waters still warm from summer have a big impact the weather. As New England boaters know too well, the Maine coast is notorious for fog in late August and in September. When cooler fall air meets warm water, you’ve got fog.

There are some terrific literary quotes about fog. Here are a few:

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make a whole trip that way. (EL Doctorow)

The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on. (Carl Sandburg)

Exploratory research is really like working in a fog. You don’t know where you’re going. You’re just groping. Then people learn about it afterward and think how straightforward it was. (Francis Crick)

The coldest summer I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco. (Mark Twain)

Fog engulfs Mara in Demon Spirit, Devil Sea as it did in Cold Blood, Hot Sea. Chapter One of Demon Spirit begins with Mara desperately trying to keep her run-away, rudderless kayak from sweeping her into the cold, deep Pacific Ocean off the Haida Gwaii archipelago. As if fighting the riptide were not enough, fog overtakes her:

Back at the Maine Oceanographic Institute, I’d studied Haida Gwaii’s currents. Longer than wide, Augustine Island protected Kinuk’s inner bay from the Pacific’s ravages. The outer bay was a very different story. A paddler dumb enough to venture out there’d be trapped in current that raced past the island’s tip.

If dumb paddler me zipped past Augustine, the jig would be up. The big ocean’s crashing waves twice the length of my boat, icy water, sharks—I’d be at the mercy of all of it.

What suddenly lay ahead erased all thoughts of currents and sharks. I squinted, squeezed my eyes shut, popped them open. The Maine kayaker’s nightmare.

Fog.

The clammy murk smothered me in an instant. Splashing waves, sky, light. Vanished. Replaced by a wet, woolly gray. My heart beat fast against layers of fleece, paddling jacket, and life vest. Breathing fast and hard, I swiveled and squinted in every direction. The vapor was so dense there was no telling where miasma ended and sea began. Waves booming against rocks said the island was tantalizingly close, but dead blind in fog, I couldn’t see a thing.

The scientist in me kicked in. Water and air warmed by July’s sun met frigid open-ocean. That meant fog. But for once, science couldn’t help me at all.

The kayak raced on through the gloom. Too soon, the booms were muted. I’d just slipped past my refuge. My fate was certain—I would drift out onto vast ocean in a seventeen by two foot boat.

Besides fog, in Demon Spirit Mara deals—among other things—with vanishing visions, hot pools that inexplicably drain, the Haida people’s claim that Raven’s spirit watches over them, a bear attack, and a (genuine) dispute between the U.N. and the Haida Nation. The book will be published in spring/early summer in time for summer reading.

Safety First!

The third week in June, as we’ve done for the last 20-odd years, my kayak buddies and I rented the same next-door houses on the water in Stonington, Maine. At the end of a long peninsula, Stonington is a seakayaker’s mecca. A dozen or so islands not far from shore offer us refuge from the open ocean and delightful spots for picnics and hikes. We can see the hills of Acadia National Park from the house and water.

This year, a sudden squall scared the heck out of a couple of us, including me. I wrote about what happened on my Facebook page (link). Essentially, it was terrifying and truly took all my skill to not flip over. If I had, my pals couldn’t have reached me because they were fighting the same conditions. We made it to shore, but a few hours later we learned that two kayakers were not so lucky and died as a result of the decision not to wear wetsuits. There’s a scene in COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA in which readers learn how and why paddlers practice rescues. What happened to those kayakers is why.

Since the event, I’ve been asked for details on how to safely kayak in marine waters. I’ll use Mara as an example of Kayaking 101.

Mara's Kayaking Gear

Mara’s kayak, like her buddies’, is specifically designed for rough ocean waters – very long and narrow (hers is 17′ long and cockpit narrower than most – just big enough to squeeze into). In high winds she might drop her skeg a bit into the water so the boat doesn’t turn into the wind. Other boats have rudders, some nothing. Basically these boats are designed to go straight and fast (river kayaks turn quickly). Mara’s kayak is light – less than 50 lbs – so she can lift it easily.

Mara always wears a wetsuit when she paddles off the Maine coast, even in midsummer, and of course her PFD (life jacket). She would never go out without her sprayskirt, which wraps around the cockpit and keeps waves from swamping the boat. If the water is really cold, as in early spring, she wears a drysuit. It’s a total pain to put on but keeps her dry if she rolls the kayak.
As I show in the book, Mara and her pals practice self and buddy rescues. Using a paddle float, she can get back into her kayak in about a minute if she flips the boat and can’t roll back up (although it’s never happened to her).
Mara has years of experience dealing with super tall waves, breaking waves, wind events, currents, and motor-boaters who can’t see kayakers (so low in the water) or don’t look for them. She loves to surf waves with her kayak even though that’s a tricky maneuver.

Finally, Mara carries these on her trips: weather radio, compass mounted on the deck, chart, extra paddle, emergency kit, emergency food, extra water, extra clothes in dry bag in the hatch, cell phone, bilge pump, tow rope, and whistle attached to her PFD. No wonder it takes her so long to get ready for a trip!

The event was another sobering reminder of how everything can change in an instant. As Mark Twain said, “Life is short, break the rules … Never regret anything that makes you smile.”

Maine in June

Summer has definitely arrived in Southern Maine – lilacs are in full bloom and best of all, the water has warmed up to safer temperatures. I paddle alone quite a bit (close to shore) and the dangers of Maine’s cold water are very real. Readers of COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA will see what I mean!

Finally, the first in the Mara Tusconi Mystery series will be published this month on June 7th. Reviews have been very positive. I especially liked the one in Foreward Reviews, the independent press magazine:

Pacing is spot-on, making for a page-turner that allows time for reflection on larger issues … of note is the friendship between [Mara and Harvey]; their relationship is warm, believable, and modernly feminist without being preachy. Cold Blood, Hot Sea will make for great beach reading, but it also has met on its bones, with rich characterization and an intriguing mystery at its core.

I have a three-book contract with Torrey House Press—a book a year. The editors will soon give me feedback about book number two (Deadly Spirit of the Sea) in which Mara, Harvey and Ted travel to Haida Gwaii. It’s an archipelago of islands and national park off British Columbia where there’s a temperate rain forest and lots of sea kayaking, of course. The native Haida’s mysticism and intimacy with nature is the basis for another “cli-fi” mystery.

Now that it’s June, I’ve started on the third book. Lobster Trapped (working title) takes Mara and her friends back to Maine. There, lobstermen wars, Maine islands, secrets, and Mara’s lobstering cousin Gordy are the foundation for the story.

It’ll be a busy, busy summer. I’ll do Cold Blood, Hot Sea readings and signings, rework the second book, and write the first draft of the third one. I’m doing what I love and consider myself extraordinarily lucky.

Speaking of luck, I want to thank the many friends and colleagues who’ve helped me with book promotion. These days, it’s up to authors to do most of that (Facebook, setting up readings, etc.). For a first-time author like me, it’s a lot to learn. I’ve had a ton of help for which I am so very grateful.

New Release Date!

For those of you who have been wondering, Cold Blood, Hot Sea has it’s new release date. You will be able to purchase the book come June 7th. It’s not that far off, so naturally I’m incredibly excited!

In the meantime, keep an eye on my News and Events Page. Some cool events are coming up, so don’t miss out!

A Cloud and a Silver Lining

Due to an unfortunate printing error, the back of my book was barely readable and Torrey House had to have the book reprinted. As a result, the publication date has been pushed back to June, the exact date to be determined. So you’ll have to wait another month to find out what’s in store for Mara. It’s a bummer but what can you do?

On a brighter note, because of the reprint the book got a new cover!

What do you all think? Let me know!

You can email me your thoughts or leave them in a comment on my Facebook or Goodreads page, found under the contact section.

There’s No Place Like Maine

I’ve returned to Maine! Half the year I live in the Midwest with my husband, John Briggs (he’s Director of the Konza Prairie Preserve, a Nature Conservancy site). From April-November I’m in Maine and we travel back and forth.

I’m drinking up Maine. How I missed the slosh of waves on rocks and air perfumed with the odor of salt and seaweed! And – of course – sea kayaking. First warmish day, I’ll roll my 17 foot kayak down the driveway and launch it in the saltmarsh across the street. Huge grin on my face, I’ll paddle into the wind, play on the waves, and absolutely love it. I do have to be careful to get back before low tide, though, or I’ll be stuck in the mud!

Cold Blood, Hot Sea will be published in May. Now that I’m back, I’ll visit bookstores to set up readings plus chats about climate-fiction (“cli-fi”) and environmental impacts of warming on Maine’s coast. I’d love to do some with environmental organizations. Those will take place over the summer and I’ll post information on this website. I do have readings already schedule with several book groups, but those are private events.

Several friends have asked about cli-fi since they’ve never heard the term. My friend and colleague, Dan Bloom, coined the term a while back. In a nutshell, this is fiction in which climate change is a major theme (or the theme). Most cli-fi takes place in the future and is dystopian, scary, and depressing. Of course, that approach serves a purpose.

Cold Blood, Hot Sea is very different. It’s a contemporary story in which readers get an idea what climate scientists actually do and about they type of harassment they have to deal with. But it’s not gloomy by any means. It’s funny (like when Mara….oh, can’t let the cat out of the bag), fast paced, and immerses readers in the mysterious above and underwater ocean domain. And, of course, it’s a mystery so readers can try to figure out “who done it” along with Mara.