Today we have a special treat, a post from special guest Elizabeth Penney, who has a new Maine-set mystery in stores now. Welcome, Liz.
Thank you to Maine Crime Writers for including me as a guest! Although I now live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, my new cozy mystery series is set in fictional Blueberry Cove, Maine. I also grew up in Maine, after moving to Readfield at age seven.
As might be expected, the Apron Shop Series includes well-known aspects of life in Maine: lobster, lighthouses, and a charming coastal village. But those of us who have lived in the state know that Maine is so much more than a tourist destination. It’s a place of many stark contrasts, with an often quirky history and reputation for eccentricity. Maine’s remoteness and sparse settlement has long been a lure to those who want to forge their own paths.
Hems and Homicide, book one in the series, includes two murders. One is a cold case, a young woman who disappeared in the 1970s. Iris Buckley, my sleuth, tracks the young woman’s footsteps to a former commune in Liberty, Maine. My family still lives near Liberty, and when I learned there used to be several communes in the area, I invented one for my story.
In the 1970s, Maine experienced an influx of new residents seeking to “get back to the land,” a movement inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing’s book, The Good Life. They dreamed of self-sufficiency, growing their own food and heating with wood while rejecting the so-called “rat race.” Many settled on old farms, abandoned when agricultural production boomed in the Midwest. Farming was never easy in Maine, with its short growing season and rocky soil.
In my younger days, I spent quite a bit of time with homesteaders, as they were also called. My friends built their own houses (mostly with hand tools) and lived without electricity or running water. One of them built a big dome, which looked cool but always had problems with leaks. They planted gardens—some illicit—and raised chickens and livestock. One homesteader even used a horse to cut hay and skid logs out of the woods.
I loved visiting those hand-hewn homes. Nothing is more peaceful than the absence of electrical hum or warmer than wood heat, which seems to penetrate the bones. The lifestyle itself forces a slower pace, a savoring of everyday tasks. Like washing dishes, for example, which requires heating water on the stove first. There’s something about this simplicity that beckons, as if life is stripped to the beautiful and essential.
Now, decades later, Maine is seeing a second wave of small-scale farming, with Downeast Magazine calling the trend, Back to the Land 2.0. The demand for fresh and local food has created opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs in Maine and elsewhere. Unfortunately, new laws—like the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act—often burden small producers. But in a characteristic move, Maine has struck a blow for independence. Over forty towns have now adopted food sovereignty ordinances, which means residents don’t need state licenses or inspections to sell their products from home or farm. Communities have the power to create local rules regulating locally produced food.
I love Maine. And writing about Maine too.
To learn more about Maine’s original back to the land movement, I recommend The Good Life, a Bangor Daily News feature. http://external.bangordailynews.com/projects/2014/04/goodlife/index.html
Elizabeth Penney lives in New Hampshire’s frozen north where she pens mysteries and tries to grow things. She’s the author of the Apron Shop Series, with book one, Hems and Homicide, available now, as well as numerous titles for Annie’s Fiction and Guideposts.