Please welcome Maureen Milliken to Maine Crime Writers. Maureen is a newspaper editor and columnist who also posts regularly at Pen, Ink, and Crimes (http://sincne.wordpress.com/). She’s generously agreed to share her Maine crime writing experiences with us.
Moving back to Maine changed my life, and my book
by Maureen Milliken
I’d known almost from the time that I realized I was going to write mystery novels that they would take place in Maine. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I didn’t consider other places, it just was.
That realization was decades ago, when I was a kid growing up in Augusta. The problem was, when I finally got around to writing my mystery novel for real a few years ago, I hadn’t lived in Maine for more than 20 years. Confident I knew the state from my youth and frequent visits, it didn’t occur to me I’d get it wrong. OK, not really wrong. Just not right.
Around the time I started writing the book, I also realized I needed to move back to Maine. Not for the book’s sake, for my own. I was tired of not being here.
While I was working on the book and plotting a way to move back to Maine, a friend with a camp on Unity Pond offered me some summer rental weeks. I’d already picked the east end of Waldo County as the location for my book, because I’d had a Belfast fixation since I was a kid and I needed somewhere for the book to take place. Staying on Unity Pond, at the other end of Waldo County, seemed to make it fate that that part of the state was where my town should be.
Confident in my “knowledge” of the area, I wrote my book. My fake town settled right into the county, close enough to the coast for a quick jaunt, not so far inland to be . . . To be what? I wasn’t sure.
By the time I moved back to Maine in May 2011, my book was “finished.”
My new job was in Augusta and I bought a house in Belgrade Lakes. Determined to familiarize myself with the circulation area of the two newspapers I work for, Augusta’s Kennebec Journal and Waterville’s Morning Sentinel, I took road trips to the far corners of the coverage area whenever I could.
That’s when I started hearing the little voice telling me my town was in the wrong place. The farther north and west I went into Franklin County on Route 27, the louder it got.
At first I ignored the voice – after all, the book was done. It was a long haul and I’d already started the second one. I didn’t want to go back and start rewriting the first book.
But I kept noticing little things that I’d wished I’d put in the book, the kind of things you only notice if you’re here day in and day out. It also occurred to me as I kept driving up to Kingfield and Phillips for no good reason, that they seemed a lot like the town in my book, all I needed to do was add some of those setting things. Oh yeah, and move the town to where it should be.
The voice got louder.
Aside from those little things I’d started to notice, I also developed a fascination with Franklin County. Maybe an obsession. I started stalking it, taking drives just to see it, taking pictures.
But the first book was done. I was working on the second one. And I couldn’t have my whole cast of characters move halfway across the state, could I? Scenarios in which the town was blown up, or bought by a mining company and moved, were quickly imagined, then rejected. It would be a lot less work, I started thinking, just to go back and revise the first book.
Then I read a Gerry Boyle book.
I’d read several of Gerry’s books years ago, but hadn’t in a while. It shouldn’t have been, but it was a shock to me that Gerry’s town was in Waldo County too. His earliest books were in the Rumford area, and that’s what I remembered.
But here it was. Not only in the same county, but in the exact same spot mine was. So close that our characters would be neighbors, would see each other at the post office and gas station.
Gerry was there first and his flag was firmly planted. It was the final sign I needed to get out.
Writing is a funny thing.
It’s hard work, but if you’re like me it’s like a drug. I have to do it. If I don’t write, I’m jonesing for it. I have trouble writing in the morning, because I hate to give it up to leave for my paying job.
Once I start doing it, even if it’s a revision, I forget how hard it is and sink right in. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
In the dark days of 2008 and 2009, when it looked like newspapers would never hire again and maybe not even exist in a couple years, I knew I had to quit my relatively stable newspaper job in New Hampshire and find something, anything, in Maine. It seemed like a crazy move, given the situation, but I told people it was a physical longing. It wasn’t some whim, it was something I had to do. I was helpless not to. Similar to writing. I don’t believe in divine providence, but I believe in things working out once in a while. I got a great job on not one newspaper, but two. I’m living in a great little town with woods out the window and the sound of loons at night.
One of the best things? Moving to Maine took my book to a whole new level. It took a while for the voice to get through to me, but maybe it also took that long to get immersed enough in the area to know it well enough to write about it.
I thought I knew Maine, but until I was back realized how little I knew.
Now the book that was “finished” two years ago is finally finished.
Welcome back, Maureen! A great blog … because anyone whoeber said that setting or place wasn’t a character, or wasn’t important … was wrong. Just plain wrong.
Welcome, Maureen. it is so great to see you here!
So glad that you have found your place, both physically and fictionally.
Welcome. Franklin County does grow on you. My late grandfather was possibly the last circuit-riding dentist, having offices in Bingham, his house in West New Portland, Kingfield and Rangeley. I spent many happy monents in that West New Portland house just a mile from the wire bridge. I’ve used Farmington and the country to the north as settings i my fantasy series. Sometimes you can’t argue with what your feelings tell you.
The setting in any book is a character, so if it’s not well-defined or seems off, it makes a difference. I’m glad you were able to move back to Maine–too bad it coincided with my moving to South Portland!
Sorry I missed this post yesterday. Am looking forward to seeing your book with the new venue.