Julia Spencer-Fleming here. I wish I had an amusing story about how I heard of Chris Holm, but to tell the honest truth, I can’t recall. It seemed as if I read a review here and a tweet there, all excited about this Maine author’s debut. Whoa, I thought. A Maine author I haven’t met? A Maine crime fiction author? There are a lot of us in the state, but soon or later, we all seem to bump into one another at the Boothbay Book Festival or the Portland Public Library Christmas book sale.
Then Chris’ publisher, the wonderfully-named Angry Robot Books, sent me a copy of Dead Harvest. The cover is itself a work of art–marked with “scratches” and “smudges” that make it look like a well-loved early-sixties pulp paperback.
Sam Thornton collects souls. The souls of the damned, to be precise. Once taken himself, he’s now doomed to ferry souls to hell for all eternity, in service of a debt he can never repay. But when he’s dispatched to retrieve the soul of a girl he believes is innocent of the horrific crime for which she’s been damned, Sam does something no Collector has ever done before: he refuses.
“Oo, it’s a paranormal,” I said. My husband, who snatched it from my hands, said, “No, it’s noir.” It kept disappearing off my bedside table. “Did you take that horror novel?” I asked Ross. “No, I took the pulp detective novel,” he said. Tomato, tomato… when I found out Chris was from Syracuse (like me!) and had had the good sense to marry a Mainer (like, ahem, me) I knew I had to have him on Maine Crime Writers.
Thanks, Julia, for taking pity on a fellow ex-pat upstate New Yorker, and allowing me to sully up the fine reputation of Maine Crime Writers.
That’s right, I admit: I’m From Away. Such a charming phrase, that one, and it’s a good thing I find it so, because if I live here fifty years, I’ll never shake it. But I’ll tell you this: though I may never truly be a Mainer, I’m a Maine writer through and through.
See, until I moved to Maine, I was on another path entirely. I’m from a practical, middle-class family one generation removed from the working class, and I was raised to believe success was finding a field of study in which you excelled (science, in my case, at least according to the aptitude test I took in fifth grade), and working hard to turn it into a career. So although I was never happier than when I was nose-deep in a book, it never occurred to me I might actually one day write one.
My first exposure to Maine – like many of my generation, I assume – was through the works of Stephen King. King’s Maine is a land of magic, of mystery, its rocky coast and arcane customs seemingly designed to deter outsiders from stumbling upon her many secrets. For me, they had the opposite effect; King’s Maine became my refuge from the dull practicality of my childhood.
My sophomore year in college – where I was studying biology – I met a girl, and fell in love. When she told me she grew up in the wilds of Maine, I smiled: as far as I was concerned, so had I. The first time I drove to Maine to visit her – during summer break, this was – I remember happening across a horrid stench, like rotten eggs, that stretched for many exits. A paper mill, I knew, though I had never experienced one before outside of fiction. On that trip, and those that followed – to Kingfield, to Kennebunk, to Portland – my affection for the Maine I held in my mind gave way to the real thing.
After college, I wound up in a PhD program in Virginia, studying infectious diseases. It’s what I thought I wanted to do with my life, but I was miserable. My wife realized it before I did, and suggested perhaps I find another path, another dream. It didn’t take long to realize where that path would take us.
I dropped out. We moved to Portland. And then the strangest thing happened: I started writing.
I suppose I’d always had ideas rattling ’round my head. Those what-ifs. Those roads not taken. I suspect I’d even busted out the old “One of these days, I’m gonna write a novel” saw a time or two before I moved here. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t mean it.
Up here, though, things are different. Maybe it’s the salt air. Maybe it’s something in the water. Either way, you couldn’t get me to ever leave. I’ve lived in Maine for going on eleven years now, and in that time, my muse ain’t stopped yammering once. So maybe King was onto something. If that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
Chris F. Holm was born in Syracuse, New York, the grandson of a cop who passed along his passion for crime fiction. His work has appeared in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. He’s been an Anthony Award nominee, a Derringer Award finalist, and a Spinetingler Award winner. His first novel, DEAD HARVEST (Angry Robot Books, February 2012), is a supernatural thriller that recasts the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. You can find out more at Chris’ website, friend him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.