Do you do research for your books/stories? Since I spent many years doing scientific research, I found it natural to see a need for at least some research in my writing. Writing a mystery book with a completely imaginary setting somehow didn’t resonate; I needed some real places to ground it. Previously I have spent time with a lobsterman, pulling traps on his boat, and interviewed a famous sail maker. Last week, in order to check out some details in my second book, my husband and I once again set out for Maine, in the midst of one of the worst winters ever. Maybe we needed to have our head examined, but setting a book in Maine in the winter needs some real life experience and mine only extended to Massachusetts.
We drove from Boston to Caribou the first day, admiring the change from hardwoods and firs to stands of white birch scattered among the green of the firs. The vast spaces covered with untrodden snow were stunning and often tested our perspective. Snow blown high against the sides of barns and the thickness of snow on roofs, some
curling over the eaves, was testimony to the harsh weather. We were lucky to take our trip in between snow storms, but it wasn’t warm: in the teens during the day and single digits overnight. Still, we missed the worst of it, because it’s -16 there today.
The next day I had a wonderful Irish lunch with the John Dennis, the Cultural Director of the Aroostook band of the MicMaks. He grew up in Cape Breton, where apparently a boiled dinner (corned beef with boiled potatoes, cabbage, and root vegetables), a staple of New England, became one of his favorites. And there is an Irish restaurant in Caribou that serves this. Since I consulted with Mr. Dennis as an elder of his tribe, I brought him a gift of tobacco to be used in MicMac ceremonies. Mr. Dennis is a deep well of information about the history of the MicMacs, their spiritual beliefs and customs, their problems and needs – our time together went by in the blink of an eye.
We then drove from Caribou to Bar Harbor, in order to be near Bass Harbor for the next day’s adventure. That was a ferry trip to one of Maine’s Islands, Swan Island. We got to Bass Harbor early and that was lucky, because the line of cars waiting to drive onto the ferry grew. You travel to Swan Island in your car; there is no saloon on this ferry. As the car grew colder and icy salt spray coated the windows, we wrapped ourselves in our coats and watched the islands slip by, surrounded by white caps, car gently rocking with the big ferry. Once on Swan Island, we drove around, noting the neat
stacks of lobster traps on virtually every front lawn of the mostly white or gray houses. Houses there range from normal, one or two story New England boxes to multimillion dollar mansions, where the owners only live for a few weeks a year. Small coves were iced up with some of the ice piled up by the tides. And it was really windy and really cold! We visited the small store on the
island, where stocks were clearly depleted by the winter, and learned that with the small winter population, everyone knows everything about everyone, and the gossip is rampant. I left some bookmarks with information about my first book at the store and figured by that night, everyone on the island would know a writer had visited!
After Swan Island, we had to head south, in order to overnight within driving distance of Boston. Along the way, we visited an independent bookstore in Bangor and another in Bath. I’ve come to believe that Independent bookstore owners are characters. The owner of the Bath Book Shop was running around in a tall red and white striped hat, in celebration of Dr. Suess’s birthday.
We arrived home after another long day of travel. For those of you who know Boston, the Callahan Tunnel is closed and that required some re-routing in order to get to Logan Airport. Thank heaven we brought our Garmin and left plenty of time to get there. So research this time was a bit of an adventure. Hope you have as much fun doing yours!