The first thing you should probably know about me, assuming you haven't yet read my crime novels, The Poacher's Son and Trespasser, is that I am from Maine.
I went to high school in Portland the other one. It might not be widely known out west, but Mainers nurture a keen resentment toward your beautiful city which was named after ours by the turncoat Mainer Francis W. Pettygrove because you have outstripped us in almost every conceivable way. Any time we travel outside New England, we must explain that, no, we come from the smaller, eastern Portland the one with the lobsters.
This distinction is an area of special interest to me. In my day job, when I am not writing my novels, I am the editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine. The magazine was founded in 1954, which makes us roughly the same age as Playboy, but none of our attractions are airbrushed or enhanced with silicone. In the jargon of the magazine trade, Down East is what's called a "regional" publication, meaning we are devoted to all things Maine: travel, arts, politics, etc. Our 404,000 readers are crazy about everything having to do with my home state, because people are frankly obsessed with it. There's a mystique to Maine.
Unfortunately, the mystique is based on lots of myths. Yes, we are the nation's preeminent exporters of lobsters (93 million pounds of them in 2010), and we have our fair share of lighthouses (63 by most counts). We are home to a stunning national park, Acadia, that draws millions of visitors (yes, you must visit). And there are indeed plenty of moose here (although I know native Mainers who have never seen one).
But here are some things about Maine you might not know: Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation. It is also the most sparsely settled state east of the Mississippi. We are the nation's second-home capital, with more seasonal camps and cottages per capita than any other state. Our population is the oldest in the country and getting older, which might surprise Floridians.
Lastly, we are a remarkably safe place to live. Maine consistently has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Now, this probably comes as news to you, if you have ever encountered a book by a little-known author named Stephen King. In the popular imagination Maine is a place of pet "semataries," telekinetic prom queens, rabid St. Bernards, vampire children who float outside windows, and killer clowns who hang out in sewers. Given Mr. King's world-wide popularity, it's a wonder the Maine Department of Tourism manages to attract anyone to this blood-soaked, supernatural wilderness.
I suspect, actually, that the opposite phenomenon applies: Travelers come to Maine for its dark and fog-bound allure. As a relatively new crime novelist who sets his books in Maine, I therefore owe Stephen King and the many other great writers of suspense and mystery here a profound debt of thanks. The myth they helped create is the bedrock upon which I am constructing my series of Mike Bowditch novels.
Thank you to Powell's for hosting me here this week. I hope you'll come back tomorrow so I can share with you the story of my first encounter with a game warden and how it changed my life, both as a writer and a man. Here's a hint: It involved 100 million volts of electricity.