Al Lamanda: I’m a born and raised New York City boy used to tall buildings and cement backyard gardens. The great outdoors meant a walk through Central Park. So naturally it came as quite an adjustment when my wife and I moved to a secluded area in Maine during the summer of ninety-seven. Oh sure, I had seen trees before, Central Park is full of them, but who knew they shed in November and you’re supposed to pick up their litter and haul it away? Or, as a few of my neighbors did, pile the leaves up and burn them in the yard in some sort of ceremonial ritual involving gasoline and beer. Up to that point, I’d never owned a rake, or a shovel, an ax or a hose and as I found out a few months later out of necessity, a snow shovel.
However, one thing my new home provided me that the city did not was a peaceful, very serene setting, the ideal environment in which to write my first novel. For years I had wrestled with the burning desire to write a novel and now I was going to do it. All I needed was a plot, compelling characters, exotic settings and 75,000 words or so. I had yet to buy a home computer, but I did have a nifty Brother typewriter and a six-pack of white-out. And a ream of blank paper. That stayed blank for months. Devising a plot with compelling characters in exotic locations and 75,000 words is a bit more difficult than you might think.
So my first winter in Maine rolled in and my ream of paper sat untouched. It snowed. A lot. My two front teeth weren’t on my Christmas list, but a snowplow for my 300 foot long, up hill driveway that doubled as snow tube theme park was. Then it did something funny. It quit snowing and started icing. Ice is supposed to be something you put in your glass and not on your windshield, but I guess Mother Nature didn’t get that memo. The ice storm lasted seven full days and nights. By the third day my driveway was a sheet of ice. I needed ice cleats and a long walking stick to check my mailbox, resembling Moses in cleats as I hiked up to driveway. Power went out and the secluded little area was thrust into total darkness. Fortunately for me my wife is a country girl and knew how to make a fire in the black iron thing in the corner that she called a wood stove. We put our food outside on the deck (note: use a cooler as I quickly discovered that small animals are lurking about and they like to eat what I like to eat) so it wouldn’t spoil and I cooked on the wood stove. Leaving the house was out of the question as my car wouldn’t make it up the long, ice covered driveway and it was a ten mile walk to the nearest store.
Then, on the fourth day of the ice storm, trees started to fall. I mean honestly, who knew that trees could just fall without the benefit of an ax, and a burly guy in a red shirt wielding it, but fall they did and on a regular basis for days on end. When that first tree fell, it made a sound like a baseball hitting a bat. A loud crack, followed by a loud crash. I ran to the window. A birch tree in the yard just missed the house. Then another and another came down and a news report on my portable radio said it was because the ice caused the trees to become brittle and the weight of the ice caused them to snap and fall. So the snapping and falling went on for a few more days and my yard resembled a giant box of Lincoln Logs tossed about.
On the morning of the sixth day of the ice storm, I looked out my window after another snap and crash and I spotted my elderly neighbor walking, or should I say slip-sliding into my yard. A tree had just missed his house. To protect himself from falling trees and branches he had a giant spaghetti pot on his head. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry at the sight of this man and his spaghetti pot and when I went outside to greet him he said, “This storm is a killer. We’re trapped here,” and an entire novel flashed before my eyes. Ice. Storm. Trapped. Trees. Danger. Seclusion. Killer.
And I sat down and wrote my first ever published novel, Dunston Falls. And if it weren’t for the ice storm of ninety-eight and a giant spaghetti pot I may never have written my Edgar nominated mystery novel Sunset, years later.
So when people ask me what inspires me to write, I usually tell them life. That, plus a big damn spaghetti pot.