Today, we’re sharing some of the ways that living in Maine influences our writing. Weather? Agriculture? Farmer’s markets? The people, their stories and their character? Small town gossip that may know a family’s stories for generations? Those cell phone black holes that urbanites don’t believe in? Getting stuck behind a tractor when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere? If you are a Maine writer, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and experiences of being a Maine writer.
Kate Flora: This is a fascinating topic, and I’m glad we’re discussing it. It’s hard to single out individual aspects of Maine and my writing, as they are so intertwined, but I think, hoping this isn’t too much of a cliche, I’d start with the weather. Years ago, when I did my first panel at a national conference, I was assigned to a panel on weather. It seemed like it was going to be a very boring topic, until we all dug in. Then I realized that Maine has WEATHER and that weather has significant effects on the characters and the story. Obviously snow, which slows things down, and presents real physical obstacles to my characters. There is also fog, which is a wonder thing to play with it–the way it obscures places, allows people to hide, distorts voices and vision, and can serve as a way to echo the darkness and danger of my plots. Weather influences what we carry in our cars, and how we dress, and can be a very effective tactic for creating tension.
John Clark: Having lived here for most of my 73 years and been able to visit most of it, I’ve developed a sense of how Maine is divided into more than the Two Maines we commonly hear about. One aspect that gets missed is how wealth and poverty can exist a mile from each other, but not be seen by many. I use the tern hardscrabble a lot because it describes so many decent Maine families. When Kate and I were kids, summer jobs were easy to find and the American dream was still alive. Neither of those are true for many Maine kids/families today.
There are intriguing names of town, roads, physical features (Who wouldn’t like to write about a place named Devil’s Head?), the economy is shifting, hopefully to become more equitable and every day there’s something interesting about a person in the obituary notices. Maine’s big in terms of geography, but small in terms of connections and people are very willing to chat, often about things which make terrific fodder for a mystery.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: When I started my Liss MacCrimmon mystery series with Kilt Dead, I was, quite frankly, looking to make things easy on myself. One of the ways I did that was to set the novels in, literally, my own back yard, the foothills of the mountains of Western Maine, close to ski areas but nowhere near the ocean. No lobsters need apply. For thirteen books, I was able to explore small town rural Maine life in “the other Maine” and I’ve loved doing it. I’ve taken readers to a Christmas tree farm, a town meeting, and countless local celebrations, some based on real ones and others entirely figments of my imagination. From Highland Games to March Madness Mud Season festivities in Moosetookalook, I’ve had a great time, and I hope readers have, too. Sadly, the series came to an end with last year’s A View to a Kilt, and I moved back to my childhood stomping grounds in rural New York State for a setting in a new series, but Western Maine is likely to crop up again, at least in a short story or two, in the future. How can it not? I still live in the same place.
Susan Vaughan: I have always made up stories. The first came about because as a child I couldn’t go to sleep. When I learned to read, I wrote some down, but didn’t pursue writing seriously. I went to college and then grad school to have a “real” job as a teacher. When we moved to Maine some forty years ago, among the first people I got to know socially were a couple of novelists and a sculptor. It seemed that creative people were thick on the ground here. What was it, I wondered. Then one summer when walking the dog in the woods, I got an idea for a young adult novel. My husband, who’d heard me muttering about writing for years, bought me an electric typewriter and said go for it. That first effort was published as Pentangle by a now defunct online press. But it was a start. I like to think I would’ve found my way to writing fiction anyway, but who knows. Maybe it is Maine itself–the natural beauty, the people, the je ne sais quoi in the atmosphere that fosters creativity.
Maggie Robinson: I’ve lived in Maine longer than anywhere else (New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Connecticut), but I don’t think I’ll ever be considered a true Mainer. And that’s fine. I’ve had two of my four kids here, but I’m reminded of the saying “Just because the cat had kittens in the oven, it doesn’t make them biscuits.”
Most of my books take place in Great Britain, but I began writing them in Maine. It was the quiet and the charm and the green that helped me see comparable English villages in my mind’s eye. I like to think I have an English cottage garden with roses, foxgloves, lilacs, and peonies in profusion, plants that banish all thoughts of winter for a brief spell. The garden is a respite and responsibility. It connects me with life itself, even if I’m killing off a couple of worthy victims as I write and weed.