PAUL: The protagonists of so many mystery series are already mature and hardboiled people when we meet them. Philip Marlowe is already Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, for example. With the Mike Bowditch series, I was interested in exploring how a young man (especially one as haunted and self-sabotaging as Mike) becomes a hero. What ordeals does he have to go through? How does he learn the lessons he needs to learn? My aspiration is to follow Mike as he matures into the man he’s destined to become. Each new book takes place a year after the preceding one, and they’re all set in Maine.
When we meet Mike in The Poacher’s Son, he’s a twenty-four-old rookie game warden whose girlfriend has just left him and he’s trying to pursue his “solitary and morbid profession” without distractions. Wardens in Maine have all the powers (and duties) of traditional police officers, but they also investigate hunting accidents, search for lost Alzheimer patients, hunt backwoods pot growers, solve mysterious drownings and snowmobile crashes, etc. And mostly these brave men and women operate alone in the wild without any possible backup.
JULIA: What is The Poacher’s Son all about?
PAUL: The Poacher’s Son begins with Mike returning home one night to find that his estranged father, Jack — the hard-drinking, womanizing poacher of the title — has been accused of killing two men (one a cop). When Jack escapes into the wilderness, Mike finds himself drawn into the manhunt, convinced that his father is actually innocent. “He was a bar brawler, not a terrorist,” Mike insists, trying to convince himself as well as the detectives on his trail. To keep his dad from being shot to death by the police, Mike finds himself joining forces with a retired game warden pilot who might or might not be the charming old coot he seems. The book’s epigraph comes from Turgenev: “The heart of another is a dark forest.” I really like that metaphor and think it describes both the North Woods setting of The Poacher’s Son and the question at its heart. How well can we ever truly know another human being?
JULIA: What’s your writing process? Outline or organic?
PAUL: Definitely organic. I subscribe to my friend Tess Gerritsen’s approach. When she begins, she knows a few details about the arc of her story, but she likes to remain open to twists and turns. Like Tess, I want my characters to surprise me and to discover things about myself as I go. It’s in the second, third, and fourth drafts that I try to go back and impose order on the chaos. By then, I know how and why the inciting crime was committed, and my goal is to give the story some structure and create a feeling of inevitably for the reader. With all the great novels, you close the book and say to yourself, “That was the only way the story could have ended.” Those are the kinds of conclusions to which I aspire.
PAUL: In my other life, I am the editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine. It’s one of the oldest and most successful regional magazines in the country; it was founded in 1954, and we have something like 100,000 subscribers and newsstand buyers around the world. As the editor in chief, I am supposed to be the expert on all things Maine — politics, nature, history, the arts. It’s really the best journalism job in the state. We also publish about twenty-five books a year, and I run the editorial department for those too. And then there’s DownEast.com, which is also part of my little empire.
JULIA: Who are some new, or not so new, voices you enjoy in crime fiction?
PAUL: I still feel like I’m completing my education in crime fiction — there’s just so much great stuff to read. And now we have all the damned Scandinavians, too. In terms of new voices, I found Bryan Gruley’s Starvation Lake to be a compelling debut novel, and I think my publisher, Minotaur, has some real talents in Stephanie Pintoff and Sophie Littlefield.
JULIA: I didn’t grow up considering myself a writer. When and how did you discover your inner muse?
PAUL: I’ve always had two real passions — books and the Maine outdoors. I think it was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that first planted the idea in me of telling stories for a living. (Maybe someday, I’ll actually do it.) I wrote my first “novel” when I was sixteen on a electric typewriter that’s still probably stashed in my parents attic. But when I wasn’t writing, I was out in the woods flushing partridges or fishing for striped bass in the tidal creeks not far from my house.
JULIA: Who were your literary influences growing up?
PAUL: Oh, God, there were so many. Hemingway first and foremost. But the list would include authors as varied as Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Norman Mailer, Raymond Carver, Tim O’Brien, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, James Joyce (especially Dubliners), Tolstoy, Dostoevsky.
And then there are so many of the great contemporary crime writers: P.D. James (my favorite, believe it or not), the late Tony Hillerman, Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Henning Mankell, Michael Connolly, Elizabeth George, Dennis Lehane. Not a comprehensive list, by the way! I could easily name twenty more.
I often describe The Poacher’s Son as a bastard combination of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, crossed with Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee novels, with maybe a little of Flannery O’Connor’s dark humor tossed in.
JULIA: How has living in the Pine Tree State affected your writing?
PAUL: I’m a Registered Maine Guide, which means I’m licensed by the state to lead trips into the wilderness. The Maine Woods are immensely important to me. One of my goals in writing the Mike Bowditch series has been to describe this incredibly wild and beautiful place as vividly as possible. In each of my books, Maine itself is a kind of character, sometimes transcendently beautiful, other times unimaginably cruel. I compare its role to the moors in Wuthering Heights. Without that haunting setting, the whole novel falls apart.
I write a lot about the Maine Woods — and crime fiction — at my Website www.pauldoiron.com. I’m also pretty good at responding to reader email if anyone would like to continue this discussion one on one.