November 12, 2009

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Welcoming New Baby With Joy and Concern Posted by Kate Flora Quarry, the seventh anthology in our yearly collection of crime stories by New England writers, arrived on my front porch last week, box after box of strong, beautiful, new-born books. Although it is the seventh book in the collection, the process never gets old. I'm as excited about the arrival of this new book as I was so many Novembers ago, awaiting the arrival of Undertow, our first anthology. I'm curious to see how the stories will strike me on a third or fourth reading. How well they'll work together. Whether we've successfully put them into the right order, into a balance which will please and intrigue the readers who pick it up and send them forward, curious, to read the next story. The invitation to participate in this project as an editor came from Susan Oleksiw, a writer whose work, vision, and drive I greatly esteem, eight years ago. Would I like to participate as an editor in assembling a collection of crime stories that would take a snapshot of the New England writer's mind? It was an intriguing idea--to sit on the editorial side--and I accepted the invitation. We thought it was a one-time project, but our delight in the book, and our pleasure had getting to introduce readers to fine stories, and in discovering talented unpublished writers, made us want to do it again. And again. Along the way, our third editor, Skye Alexander, left the region for Texas, and was replaced by a fine local writer, Ruth McCarty, who had been one of our own early discoveries. They have been a rich and wonderful eight years. I couldn't imagine, on that cold winter day when we sat and looked at our first set of submissions, what a joy it would be nine months later to watch a signing line of our authors--several of them first timers--holding the physical book that had their work in print. It was that pleasure and excitement--theirs at being published, mine at getting to share their work with readers--that has led to six more collections. I've just come from a launch event at River Run books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the newest collection. Three of our authors read from their stories, and each one had such distinct voice, such an inviting sense of mystery, and each was different. It's always fun to watch an audience being read to. People love to hear writers read their stories. I can see it in their faces and in the sighs of pleasure when the author finishes. Tonight it was Norma Burrow's "Confessions of a Telemarketer," which begins: "No one in their right mind would give a postal worker a hard time. Their tendency to go "postal" is well documented. However, it is socially acceptable to harass and be rude to telemarketers over the phone. I am here as a telemarketer to ask you, Do you have a death wish?" With a start like that, who wouldn't need to finish the story? Norma will be reading again next week at Water Street in Exeter, New Hampshire. Our authors even get creative about marketing the book. Vincent O'Neil, a Malice Domestic award-winning author who has a delightful caper story in the collection, even sent us prospective posters. Up in Farmington, Maine, attorney Woody Hanstein, who has had stories in most of our collections, is putting out the word about the collection in his homegrown internet newspaper, the Daily Bulldog. Maine Librarian John Clark is spreading the word in the library community. Next week, John and Woody will be talking about Quarry at the Farmington Library. And there are more events in the works. So, with the excitement of a new book and all this lively activity, why am I concerned? Because it has been a hard year for booksellers and for publishers. I'm a natural born worrier, and I'm worried that despite a big push and a wonderful product, I may not be able to sell enough books. And if I can't sell the book--good as it is--then next November, the happy little Level Best Family won't be welcoming another new baby. Sure, seven children is enough. They're beautiful, talented, entertaining, thoughtful, inspiring, and unique. But there is a whole world of stories out there, established writers to celebrate and new writers to discover. Life won't be the same if I--and my partners Ruth and Susan--aren't spending many hours reading them and shaping another rich collection. And, by the way, you can order your copy of Quarry here.
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Thanks for the Memories ... Of Really Old Stuff posted by Leann Sweeney My grandfather used to have stories, so many neat stories about his life, and as kid I always thought that was great. The good memory gene pool was on my side. But I was operating under a serious misconception. The misconception of youth. And these days, when I can't remember where my phone is or if I took my thyroid medicine, I understand that nature is a trickster. Yesterday's news just doesn't get stored, but twenty-year-old news is right there to grab and enjoy ... or dislike, depending on the memory. Lately, I've been thinking about the early days in my nurse's training career. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because some of what I lived through back then was so darn funny. Not all of it. Working in hospitals isn't really all that fun but I do remember my stint in the psych hospital outside NYC. Now that was an eye-opening experience. This was years ago, and about the time the government made the decision to "set them free." The psych patients. Just let them go. It's not pleasant how that turned out. The city streets have become home to the types of people I worked with at that hospital. But I don't want to go there right now. I'm remembering many of my favorite friends and don't want to spoil it with too many bad thoughts. The first problem we confronted when we arrived at this Catholic psychiatric hospital (picture old scary six story brick building) was the news that a patient had escaped--but inside the building. That patient? A nun with a serious case of schizophrenia. Yeah, they get it, too. As nursing students, we were given her description and told to be on the look out, but without real knowledge of the building, we weren't much help. She'd been missing a week and I guess I should have wondered why no one was all that concerned. They found her the next day exactly where you'd expect to find a nun--in the sanctuary. Only she was living in the rafters. Had a real nice set-up, too. Later I found out this woman had "escaped" more than twenty times and no one really looked too hard for the first week. She needed her "time off" from being crazy in front of people. Many of the patients had been in the hospital for years, some as long as forty years. One huge, old woman--and by huge, I mean broad shouldered and big boned-- had been committed there as a young girl after she tried to push her rich parents off a boat they were paddling around in on some lake. Anger issues. Nothing new, right? Only she got put away for her whole life. Anyway, nursing students are an optimistic bunch, and we decided that these patients needed a "fun day." We set up a fair on the hospital grounds, with games and food and extra visiting hours. Nice huh? And I brought huge old woman out in her wheelchair to enjoy the sunshine. There was a bean bag game--the kind where you toss a bean bag toward a hole in a wooden board and if you make it through, you win a prize. Like a cute little stuffed bunny. So I demonstrated for huge old woman and then handed her a bean bag. Let me tell you, murderous rage cannot be contained in the sunshine. Huge old woman heaved that bean bag so hard she could have toppled the Leaning Tower. She shut down that bean bag game with one throw. Um, we went back to the hospital for a little more Thorazine. No cute little bunny for her. And speaking of Thorazine, it was the drug of choice at St. Blankety-Blank Hospital. What I didn't know, however, is HOW it was administered. Each evening, before the patients went to bed, they had a little "social gathering" in the corridor. (Picture big wide corridors.) Cookies and punch. Sweet huh? I sure thought so. Until we'd put the patients to bed on my first evening shift and started my charting. And realized I could hardly keep my eyes open. When I commented to the charge nurse that I was so, so tired, she smiled this knowing smile and said, "You didn't drink the punch, did you?" You can guess what was in that punch and you can also guess that it was not an accident that no one told the student nurse that was ME about said punch. Someone had to help me back to the dorm and I was groggy for three days. I can smile now. Yes, I think as we age, our mind reminds us to smile by resurrecting these memories. I got a million of these. Stay tuned in the future!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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