I was born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up in the shadow of New York City was like having a ringside seat to history in the making. From ticker tape parades honoring astronauts to mounting the endless swirl of steps to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty, my dad made sure I missed nothing. He also made me study for each event and pass a test before I could attend. Cruelty? No. It gave me a thirst to know the backstory and understand the why. Not bad lessons for a future mystery writer.
The skills taught to a child flowed over into the adult. In 2005, my husband and I moved from the steamy, tropical, hurricane prone east coast of Florida to the Crown of Maine. He’d been a rocket scientist and his involvement with various missile programs had brought him to Limestone from time to time. He loved the area and wanted to return. I’d been to Maine as a nine-year-old camper. Don’t remember the name of the camp, but I remember the rocky shores and cold, cold water. I was also ready to leave my paralegal career behind and try my hand at becoming a full-time writer. If only it were that easy.
I set my first books in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Write what you know. It wasn’t until last year that I became comfortable setting anything more than a short story in the County. Short stories, by their very nature, require pinpoint precision. They are a moment in time, not an epic procession. Novels are a very different breed of cat. One that I’m not comfortable writing unless I can crawl into the story, pull it over my head, and experience it through the eyes of my protagonist. In short, a novel requires knee jerk knowledge. Part of that comes from a sense of history.
When we first moved to Aroostook County, the sign at the edge of Soldier Pond commemorating the bloodless Aroostook War of 1838-1839 intrigued me. Despite a history degree, the terms war and bloodless rarely went together. When I decided to write a novel set in The County, I knew I needed to know more. Not because I planned to feature the war, or even Soldier Pond, but because I set the story in the Allagash and the Maine/Canada border is a major player. Border wars, even bloodless ones, shape both an area and its population. Good natured teasing between residents on both sides of the border is commonplace. Most locals have relatives in both countries. Sometimes it seems the border is still in dispute.
The problems that gave rise to the Aroostook War began with the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. The treaty failed to determine the boundary between British North America and the United States. When Massachusetts began handing out land grants in what was then the District of Maine, boundary disputes followed. The Americans built a system of blockhouses along the disputed border. Of these, the one remaining original stands in Fort Kent. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty settled the dispute in 1842. The term bloodless is a misnomer. The War claimed thirty-eight non-combatant lives, most by accident or disease. Local lore holds that two of these casualties resulted from bear mauling.
Today the border runs along various rivers. In wooded areas, it’s determined by The Slash. A twenty-foot-wide clear-cut area between the two countries. The modern-day Slash figures in my latest work in progress, the Aroostook War does not. The book is contemporary, not historical. Knowing the history gave me background to understand the subtilties of the setting and my protagonist.
Reader and writers, do you find a touch of history adds to your enjoyment of a setting and a story?
 Which as a Jersey girl I know is located in New Jersey.