Friday, October 9, 2015

Brenda Buchanan: Maine, winter, and COVER STORY

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Delighted to introduce novelist Brenda Buchanan, author of the Joe Gale Mystery series, talking about the approaching winter. (Cue the scary music!) She's from Maine, so she (like our Red Julia) certainly knows cold, snow, and ice. So, enjoy fall, maybe some apple cider, and the last of the warmth and colorful leaves and read her post on her newest Joe Gale mystery, COVER STORY....

BRENDA BUCHANAN: Have you noticed the signs?

That little eddy of cool air that lurks near the floor early in the morning? The chilly breeze that pushes through the screens at twilight? The swamp maples showing red?

Ready or not, here comes winter.   

It seems quick, no? Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago we dared to put the shovels away? After the record-setting (and not in a good way) winter of 2015, this year’s autumnal equinox is the equivalent of the ominous music that presages a scary scene in a movie. 

There’s a saying about Maine having only two seasons—winter and three months of poor sledding. Often, it’s only a slight exaggeration.

This year, after a hellacious winter, spring was an eyeblink, but summer was long and luxurious. We even had a post-Labor Day heat wave, allowing us to swim in the bracing North Atlantic well into September. Then poof! The warmth went away, and now it’s fleece season, soon to be replaced by heavy-duty fleece season, and, ultimately, wool and goose down season.

Most years, autumn is quite popular here at the very crown of rugged New England. We boast about the beauty of our foliage on our way to pick apples in our all-wheel drive vehicles, chuckling at the notion that winter is on the doorstep.

This year, nobody’s laughing. It doesn’t matter a whit that those in the know say we can look forward to an El Nino (mild) winter. Those who dread paralyzing snowfalls, brutal cold and tundra-like parking lots are freaking out.

I know we are not alone. The whole eastern seaboard was gobsmacked last winter. Boston’s statistics: Total snowfall, 110.6 inches, 94.4 of them during a 30-day period from late January to late February. Along with the incessant storms came bitter temperatures. Across southern New England, pipes broke, roofs collapsed and snow blower-owning neighbors became the most popular folks on the block.

During that same period, parts of Washington County, Maine got 122 inches of snow. I’m guessing there were fewer broken pipes and caved-in roofs, but that’s only because people who live in Downeast Maine bank their foundations with bales of hay (it’s cheap, effective insulation) and are old hands with the roof rake.

This is not Maine one-upwomanship. I’m simply setting the scene to talk about my just-released book Cover Story—the second in the Joe Gale Mystery Series.

The story takes place in January in Machias—the shire town of coastal Washington County and a mere 50 miles from the Canadian border. Joe Gale, a reporter at the imagined Portland Daily Chronicle, has journeyed five hours northeast of Portland to cover the trial of a man accused of killing the younger brother of Maine’s most high-profile politician.

In the local barbershop and the gritty townie bar, the prosecutor’s boast of an open-and-shut case doesn’t fly, especially after the defense lawyer starts picking at the state’s witnesses like a crow on carrion.  When Joe writes about the disconnect he finds himself in the crosshairs of somebody who doesn’t appreciate his diligent reporting. 
Then a nor’easter roars up the coast, and his shadowy nemesis schools him in the dangerous ways of winter in Downeast Maine.

On a warm, muggy night a couple of weeks ago I opened my pre-publication file of Cover Story to begin prepping for a round of post-launch readings. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The hair at the nape of my neck was damp with sweat. But the cover itself and the opening lines cooled me right down, better than the ice water at my elbow or the ceiling fan spinning overhead.

The evergreen boughs glittered in the setting sun, but I couldn’t afford to even flick my eyes at their beauty. A cold front had chased the morning’s freezing rain out to sea, and the following wind was brutal, scouring sand off the icy two-lane highway as fast as the road crews could spread it. Five miles south of Machias an oncoming Jeep slewed sideways through a curve, righting itself an instant before we scraped paint. 

Downeast Maine—dazzling and treacherous in equal measure. It would be a fitting slogan for the remote stretch of coastline that winds the hundred miles between Bar Harbor and Canada.

I hope Cover Story will serve as a creative way for readers to heal the lingering pain of last winter, especially those cursing the seven o’clock September darkness and the sudden need for a quilt on the bed.

Here’s my therapeutic advice: read a few chapters, then look out the window. Exult in the reality that the morning glories are still blooming, leaves have yet to fall, and it’ll be months before the  first snowfall.


So, Reds and lovely readers, how are you preparing for the season ahead? With dread or delight? What are your season-in-transition rituals? Let us know in the comments!

Brenda Buchanan is a former newspaper reporter with a deep reverence for small town journalism. Her Joe Gale Mystery Series features an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat.

Brenda holds a journalism degree from Northeastern University and a law degree from the University of Maine. She writes and practices law in Portland, where she lives with her spouse.

Brenda can be found on the web at and on Twitter at @buchananbrenda

Cover Story is available in digital format wherever fine ebooks are sold.

Here’s a plot summary: Maine newspaper reporter Joe Gale is at his best when covering the crime beat for the Portland Daily Chronicle. In the dead of winter he heads Downeast to cover the murder trial of fisherman Danny Boothby, charged with burying a filleting knife in the chest of politically well-connected social worker Frank O’Rourke.

O’Rourke held a thankless job in a hard place. Many locals found him arrogant, but say he didn’t deserve to die. Others whisper that O’Rourke got himself killed through his own rogue behavior.

After Joe’s hard-nosed reporting provokes someone to run him off an isolated road, he realizes his life depends on figuring out not only who committed the murder, but who’s stalking him—O’Rourke’s prominent brother, friends or enemies of the dead social worker or members of Boothby’s family. As he digs deeper, Joe uncovers enough secrets and lies to fill a cemetery. He'll have to solve this one fast, or his next headline may be his own obituary.


  1. "Cover Story" sounds quite interesting [even though I'm not at all ready to think about winter again]. Nevertheless, I shall be adding it to my teetering to-be-read pile.

    Actually, I'm dreading the morphing of fall into winter since snow and I are definitely not the best of friends. I like sweater weather; heavy coat and boots weather not so much. However, the pantry is stocked, the freezers are full, the wood is stacked for the fireplace [and I remembered to get firestarter candles], the heavy clothing is in the closets. The generator and the snow blower are ready, but we're hoping they'll be able to stay in the shed for the winter. After last year, perhaps we deserve a mild winter????

  2. In Cincinnati, the air conditioning is still on while the leaves are starting to fall. I suspect we'll be in shorts and tee shirts until it snows.

    Looking forward to reading your book.

  3. I'm not ready to deal with winter, even though ours in NYC are milder than Brenda's in Maine. But I grew up in Buffalo NY, so I have "snow creed"! A big part of making winter manageable is having the right gear -- if you're bundled up well, it's more tolerable...

    Looking forward to COVER STORY, Brenda! Congrats!

  4. Congratulations Brenda! This looks like a winner. Maine is so gorgeous and yet the weather so extreme--it sounds like you've made wonderful use of that!

    How was it for you writing the second book in the series, as compared with the first? I know lots of writers (including me:) suffered some with the sophomore slump...

  5. Joan, you are way ahead of me in terms of preparedness! If the winter of 2015-16 is anything like last year, I'm heading to your house. . .

    Margaret, I' m writing this from Bouchercon I Raleigh, where it still is summer like, too. Bliss!

  6. Hey Lucy! Thank you for your good wishes!

    Cover Story was actually the first book I wrote, and it was hiding under the bed when I sold Quick Pivot as part of a three-book deal. It needed a top-to-bottom overhaul (truly!) to make it worthy of publication. Hard work, but worthwhile, because Ioved the plot and setting so much.

  7. Thank you, Susan, for you support, and for the invite to post today on this wonderful blog!

  8. As a Mainer myself (I'm from the County) currently trapped in Florida, I find myself devouring Maine set books. Knowing this one is set in the winter just pushed it to the very top of my TBR list. Thanks for taking me home.

  9. Just reading your book's excerpts, Brenda, has broken the heat and humidity already developing here in Solana Beach (north San Diego county). No actual winter preparation here unless you count pulling out a few long-sleeved t-shirts and exchanging your sandals for your closed-toe water shoes.

    Congratulations on the second book. Off to look for the first in the series.


  10. Kait, if you're from the County, you'll relate to Cover Story's weather scenes!

    Tricia, I'm happy to help you beat the heat, and must say your description of a winter wardrobe sounds delightful!

    Thanks to each of you for your enthusiasm about my work.

  11. I just had the pleasure of meeting Brenda at a very funny 'Humor and Mystery' panel at Bouchercon. I look forward to reading Brenda's books when I return to Central New York. That's right after I get the boxes of winter clothes down from the shelf.

    1. It was a pleasure to meet you, Stephanie! Let's hope both of us enjoy an easy winter this year and Joe Gale is a comfort when the weather is stormy.

  12. It's funny you say that El Nino is supposed to give you a milder winter than normal. We are bracing for record setting (and much needed) rain here in Southern California. It will be the opposite of a mild winter for us.

    1. I know, Mark. El Niño means something far different for our West Coast friends. Enjoy the rain - I know you folks have been waiting a long time for some precip!

  13. Hope to see you at Bouchercon, Brenda! I'm here, too!

  14. It's funny--Margaret and I are both in Cincinnati, and my house is already freezing! This old house holds the chill or the heat for several days, as long as the windows stay shut, and it was chilly over the weekend. And I'm not ready yet!

    Brenda, thanks for sharing a taste of your new book with us--it sounds like a great series.

  15. Thanks, Karen! At least in the winter, a house that holds the heat is a darn good thing. We're having some weatherization work done this month so the Maine wind will stay outside this winter. Last year taught us where all the gaps in the insulation were. I appreciate your kind words about my Joe Gale series.

  16. Hi Brenda, Why have I not read this series??? No excuses. I'll head to Longfellow's to get started. (Love that indy book store.) I was in Portland today (I'm in the Waterville area)and got my latest Trader Joe's fix.

    I have to admit to turning on the heat today. I thought wearing socks was a big step to saying goodbye to summer. But with today's cold and rain I had to get the chill out of the house.

    You mentioned swimming in September. I haven't been swimming off the Maine coast since I was in high school. Brrrr

    Will you be doing any author events in Maine soon? Best of luck with this series.

  17. Hi Marianne,

    You can buy my books through Longfellow Bookstore but only through its website (Kobo) as the are only available as ebooks. I hope you will check them out!

    My website has an events calendar and while there is nothing on there now in the Waterville area, I 'm working on one so stay tuned!

    Best, Brenda