From Away II

Hi. Barb here.

Recently, Kaitlyn Dunnett wrote about whether you can write a Maine cozy mystery without ever visiting Maine. The answer is, apparently you can, but…

On the Maine Crime Writers blog, we’ve all come to Maine in different ways. Some of us were born here. Others were brought seasonally in childhood. Some of us “married Maine.” Others chose to come here as young adults and build their lives, and still others chose to come here for their second acts.

I’m very much of the last category. I accept, no, I embrace, the fact that I’ll always be “from away.” I’ve written about it before. Bottom line, for me, being the outsider is very much the writer’s place to be–the observer. The secret agents of the arts, as Stephen King says.

But I wrote that blog post about being from away before I was writing a Maine-based mystery series. Now, sometimes I wonder, where do I get the nerve?

On the one hand, that’s a question you can ask any author. And every author asks herself. Where do you get the nerve to write stuff down and expect it’s interesting enough that other people will want to read it? That’s the critic in your head who has to be banished in order to write (or paint or film or act or do anything else creative).

But then there’s the specific thing I worry about all the time. Am I getting Maine right? Not really dead-eye accurate, since cozies are generally accepted as having fantasy elements. If anyone in real life stumbled over that many dead bodies, let’s face it, they’d be in jail. But have I got its spirit right? Have a captured the people? Am I right on the facts?

I love village mysteries and have since as a young teenager I read my way through Miss Marple at my grandparents’ summer house on rainy afternoons. But as with all books, there are good cozies and bad ones. And the ones I particularly dislike are the ones that go–generic character moves to generic small town and meets generic whacky small-town stereotypes. Witnesses capital crime. Feels no emotion. Solves crime while managing to achieve zero personal growth or transformation.

Yuck. Part of what’s appealing about cozies is the comfort they offer in their familiarity. Vanilla pudding’s comfortable and familiar, but I wouldn’t want to take a bath in it.

So it’s important to me that I portray a very particular town, in a specific place and time, populated by specific people. And that’s why I worry about getting it right.

The good news is, Maine is fascinating. I’ve loved reading about it’s history, it’s geography, and it’s current events. People have been so nice to me and answered so many questions. From the police chief in my harbor town to the real family that runs a real Maine clambake operation on their private island.

But I’m sure, despite all that, there’s stuff I’ve gotten wrong–and it will happen again. I just hope I’ve created a believable place that can find room in my readers’ imaginations.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries and the Jane Darrowfield Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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4 Responses to From Away II

  1. Sherry Harris says:

    Very interesting, Barb. First of all I want to go to the Maine you write about in Clammed Up. But it also intrigued me that you wrote about getting it right. I was driving home from the post office this morning, thinking about Massachusetts and if I’m getting the natives right.

  2. Patrick Gomes says:

    Had this conversation with a friend of mine that wasn’t born in our small town. She’ll always be from away. That doesn’t mean those from away won’t “get” small town life or their adopted state.

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