Susan Vaughan here. Because it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, you probably expect a post about the semi-holiday. Some of this will feature “green” things, but not shamrocks. I’m writing in honor of Maine’s 200th birthday. Maine Public radio is featuring oral essays by Mainers by birth and by choice about what Maine means to them. This is about my Maine and why people like to write and read about Maine.
I’ve set six and part of a seventh of my published novels in Maine. Why Maine, I asked myself. Of course, part of the reason is that I live and work here. When I moved to the state many years ago, the motivation was the beauty of the landscape and ocean, but once I settled in, I wanted to write about the interesting people who welcomed this girl “from away.” People who work hard, getting by with more than one job. People who create with paints and wood and words and music. People who find love and fulfillment and, yes, tragedy. And I wanted to include the odd bits of history and culture—along with the landscape of woods and waters and ocean.
I investigated the lure of Maine on Amazon.com. My search yielded 36,221 results, both fiction and nonfiction, of books set in Maine or with Maine in the title. Next a Google search of Maine authors yielded 2308 results. That lengthy list included writers who lived in the state as well as those who’d set a book in Maine. The Maine Crime Writers blog is popular because of our wonderful writers, but another draw is, I suspect, the state of Maine itself. I can’t count how many times I’ve told someone I live in Maine, and they say something like, “Oh, Maine, I’ve always wanted to go there.”
Or maybe the mystique and image of Maine as a setting for all kinds of fiction lures both
writers and readers, but I’m thinking mostly of mystery fiction. Maine has more than a bit of twisted history. For instance, the state’s rugged coastline provided harbors for rum smugglers during Prohibition. Even today, rural peninsulas and small fishing villages are sites for secrets. More than one kind of mischief and mayhem occurs in out-of-the-way coves and harbors. The quiet and isolation of the coast are fuel for the writer’s imagination. Mine included. My TASK FORCE EAGLE series involves stopping drugs and weapons smuggling along the Maine coast.
Maine offers more isolation on land, in huge swaths of forested land that’s largely unpopulated. All kinds of mischief and secrets can take place undetected. Headlines in the local news reinforce this notion every day. A man disappears while snowmobiling. His sled is found, wrecked, but there’s no sign of him. A young woman disappears never to be found, or her bones are spotted ten years later when a lumber company is cutting trees.
People in remote spots live a simpler way of life, independent, and in many ways disconnected from the modern world. Imagine an isolated lake cabin, where people are trapped together because the only way in or out is by boat, and someone has stolen the boat. Someone is stalking… Here’s an instance when I let my imagination run wild and ended up with PRIMAL OBSESSION.
Then there are the wonderful old houses. And I don’t mean purposefully spooky like Stephen King’s turreted house with bats on the gate. Old houses mean deep family roots with secrets and scandals—including hidden spaces or diaries secreted beneath floorboards or behind fireplaces. Small towns where people have long memories and hold grudges. Another obsession comes to mind, one I expanded on in HIDDEN OBSESSION. Old Colonial and Victorian houses make romantic and evocative settings.
If anyone has ideas of why people like to read and write about Maine, or why you love the state, I’d love you to share.