Location, location…

Sarah Graves

Heaven, my grandfather used to say, is a day just like today: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there’s a little breeze blowing so it’s not too hot.

And that’s exactly what Eastport, Maine was like on the day my husband and I first saw it, fifteen years ago. Downtown, the tiny shops were selling souvenirs and ice cream, and hot dogs from Rosie’s hot dog stand out on the breakwater added a delicious picnic-lunch perfume to air already tinctured with sea salt. In the neighborhoods uphill from the waterfront, people were busy painting clapboards and repairing shutters, putting up shingles and mending steps on the big, old houses.

Where's my putty knife?

In short, it was the kind of island-summer day that makes unwary innocents like us move to Eastport, and as fate would have it, one of those old houses was both empty – the rooms, through the wavery-glassed old windows, shimmeringly vacant – and for sale. Nearly two centuries old, the house had three full floors plus an attic, three red brick chimneys, and forty-eight double-hung windows, each with a pair of forest- green shutters.

Reader, we bought it. In a move that turned out to be the classic little-did-we-know plot twist, we got ourselves out of the I-95 corridor and onto Moose Island, three hours from Bangor and light-years, it felt like, from anywhere else…That was in August, and by December we were living in the house and had already begun buying tools.


Lots of tools: saws and hammers, screwdrivers (flathead and phillips), wrenches and prybars and putty knives and power drills and… Well, suffice it to say that I now have my own pair of steel-toed work boots, I know how to use plaster buttons, skimcoat a ceiling, and rehabilitate a 200-year-old window, and I can operate a belt sander without too much trauma (though I still cringe without apology at the metallic ker-whang! of a chopsaw).

As important as all we’ve done to the house, though, is what the house and its surroundings have done for me: Being here in Eastport and working pretty steadily on This Old Money-Pit have given me the material for fourteen books (and counting) in the Home Repair is Homicide series starring (of course!) old-house fix-up enthusiast Jake Tiptree (The newest in the series is KNOCKDOWN.).


Because for one thing, it turns out that fixing up an old house can inspire more murderous urges than anything else I’ve ever tried, and they had to go somewhere, didn’t they?


Also, much like our old house itself, Eastport is such a specific, nowhere-else-like-it sort of place: in its look and feel, its language and customs and food and history and geology, and in its individual (some very much so!) inhabitants. As Gertrude Stein might’ve said if she’d ever visited, ‘There is a there, there.’


It’s not quite heaven, and especially not in February. But Eastport – like just about everywhere in Maine, it seems – is a writer’s dream of a location, to write about and to write in.

Or anyway, it has been for me.


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8 Responses to Location, location…

  1. Pj Schott says:

    Love the before & after photos. Love your books too. Always the perfect gift for someone with an old house and those “murderous urges.”

  2. Sarah, I wish I could persuade you to come down to the other end of the state and give me a few lessons on home renovation! Our late-federal farmhouse is almost 200 years old, but Ross and I have no skills whatsoever. The most technical thing we can do is paint (and even then, I usually mess up cleaning the brushes and have to throw them away…)

    I’m convinced home renovation is a cross between a lifestyle and a religious discipline. I wish I had been converted.

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Yes–another old house here–well young compared to the rest of yours- 1879. It’s full of windows that can’t be opened, radiators that clang viciously to life and, like the Golden Gate Bridge, some part of it is always being painted. Bill and I have always been of the “call somebody” persuasion, but this house may force us to change our ways.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    My house (tune in Monday for more details) was built in 1774, and every generation has added their own details … there are still rooms with 19th century wallpaper and clam shell plaster, but as long as the walls are still standing (held up by that wallpaper in some cases,) they’re staying. Sarah — I agree with Julia. I can do some home repairs — but you’re our hero! Wallpaper, paint, a little carpentry .. OK. Electricity, plumbing, roofing …. NO WAY!
    Envy you the three full floors, though… sounds wonderful!!!

  5. lil Gluckstern says:

    Your house sounds wonderful, and the room is beautiful. I love New England in the summer. It’s just a wee bit harder in the winter. But still lovely.

  6. Gerry Boyle says:

    What is it about writers that draws them to old houses? Ours (1826) was a bit of a wreck 25 years ago. Many books and lots of projects (major, minor, and everything in between) later it’s a writerly home.
    Fun post, Sarah. Eastport is a fascinating place. Glad you found it.

  7. Sarah Graves says:

    Writers and old houses…is the sense of the continuing presence of other people’s lives in these old places that attracts us?

    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves in the tooting-Sarah’s-home-repair-horn department. Roofing is beyond me — heights! yikes! — and although I’ve done minor plumbing and electrical chores, I won’t be re-wiring whole houses anytime soon.

    As for those paintbrushes, one word: latex. Cleans up with good old h20!

  8. Tammy Wells says:

    Eastport is paradise-by-the-sea – with grit. Always loved it. Always will.

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