Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musing on Maine

By Deborah Sharp

I'm vacationing in Maine, which I know to some of you would mean drumming up business at every book store in the state and pounding out a chapter each morning before dawn .... but I'm a slacker. Scribbling postcards is the most taxing writing I've done:

''Honey, which sounds better? I'm freezing my Florida ass off, but the lobster is luscious?

Or, I had to gain weight for insulation, so I've slurped enough clam chowder to float a schooner? ''

If I were inclined to work while on vacation, though, Maine offers incredible inspiration. Think of all the mystery talent that's sprung from this rocky land: from the fictional Jessica Fletcher to the Master of the Macabre, Stephen King. Maine is chock-a-block with authors, and with mysteries that use the state as a setting. Midnight Ink's Karen MacInerney set her B&B series here; the decidedly darker thrillers of the Irish novelist John Connolly also have a Maine backdrop.

Maybe I'll take a shot at moving my funny, Southern series to the Pine Tree State: Mama Utters Ayuh.

If I lived here, I think my work would be a lot darker. The lonely, windswept shores. The brutal winters. The widow walks and haunted harbors. It's kind of creepy. With apologies to writers of cozies set in Maine, it just doesn't feel like a lighthearted spot to me. My Fort Lauderdale hometown is all about pleasure-seeking. Taking it easy. Another day in paradise. (Is that why I'm a slacker?) Life up here seems unendurably hard. And we're visiting during their alleged spring, despite a temperature hovering in the low 30s each morning. Yikes!

We're staying in York Beach, a short walk from the famous Nubble Lighthouse. It stands atop Savage Rock, which claimed the lives of untold mariners, like so many other spots along this forbidding coast. We're too early in the season for the amusement parks, the fudge shoppes, the souvenir stands. And maybe that's skewed my view of Maine. But I see the murderous rocks, the ghostly graveyards, the isolation that could drive a person insane over a long winter. If I were to move the series here, I'd be writing Mama's Gone Mad.

Before I wrap myself in my zillion layers of warm clothes this morning to go out and enjoy ''spring,'' I'll pose a question: Do you think the place you're from determines what you write? Could you write a sunny series in a cold, dark climate ... or vice-versa?


G.M. Malliet said...

Deb - to answer your question: yes, definitely. When it's sweltering where I happen to be, that's when writing about rocky, wind-swept shores not only appeals but probably is a lifesaver.

Karen will be able to tell us more about this!

Chris said...

How funny you find it unendurably hard here! I'm from upstate New York, a place with more overcast days than Seattle, and more snow than damn near anyplace on earth. In my 21 years living there, I never once seriously considered writing a novel.

Then I moved to Virginia. Beautiful, rolling countryside. Zero inspiration (for me, at least.)

Now, I live in Maine, and I don't know why, but moving here was like flipping a switch. Are the winters hard? Sometimes, but they're far better than those of my youth. I confess, I think it's the beauty -- and the fact that it's a stark beauty -- that I find inspiring here. Then again, nobody's accused my stories of being cheery.

Keith Raffel said...

Deb, I, too, love Maine.

I think it's interesting to get behind the visible, altrusitic, and innocent crust of a place to the greed, ambition, and hate that bubble underneath. So where does that work best? For me so far, Silicon Valley. In my WIP in Jerusalem. Could be most anywhere I reckon.

Jess Lourey said...

Maine is a gorgeous state! And I absolutely think our environment drives our writing. Minnesota, where I live, is a land of extremes, and I write humor in the summer and dark stuff in the winter.

I think you could write humor anywhere, Deb. Great post!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I used to live in Maine, and must confess that I ingested more booze during my few winters there then all my winters anywhere else combined. But I loved the summers and falls in Maine. Incredible beauty.

In book 5 of my Odelia series I moved it from the coast of Southern California to rural Massachusetts. The book definitely took on a different feel, but more because she was out of her element and dealing with personal issues. But it was fun to remove the character from her usual support system and see what happens.

I think it would be a hoot for you to try putting Mama on vacation somewhere. Why not Maine? Her sherbert pantsuits would be easy to spot if she ever got lost in a snow drift.

Alan Orloff said...


I've heard the summers in Maine are very nice. What is that, the first three days of August?

Ha, just kidding. Everyone knows the summers in Maine last a whole week!

(Actually, the summers in Maine are nice. And, Chris, the summer I spent in Syracuse was one of my best summers ever. Warm with low humidity, if I remember correctly. Perfect for plenty of golf.)

Chris said...

Actually, summers in upstate NY are quite nice. Any other time, though...

And we here in Maine manage to eke out a solid ten days of summer, from when the spring mud firms up until the leaves change.

L M Gonzalez said...

Hi, I truly enjoy your blog. I found out about it through Candy Calvert, who has gone on another journey, but I've stayed on. Usually, I leave with a smile, even a laugh!

And usually, I lurk, but I had to comment today because:

Maine summers sound like South Texas winters. I think winter lasts about a day where I live. LOL

I love Maine and I've never been there, but I'd like to, preferably during the summer time (?) primarily because I love Cabot Cove, Maine. :) I also enjoyed Karen's books.

For me, it's easier to set my stories in places I know. But, with a little research (like taking a trip, right?) a writer can write about anything.



Deborah Sharp said...

thanks for all the great comments, guys (and gals). it's amazing how much where we live does influence what we write.

barbara silkstone said...

Deb, I love Maine for its passion and isolation. Many years ago I rented a cabin perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. There was an ancient Smith Corona living there. Aha! I would write the perfect mystery alone in this ratty cabin with no hot water. The night sounds were scarey, the days so peaceful, I got zip written.
Barbara Silkstone