Real places in Maine that inspire literary fiction

Author Darcy Scott on the mystique of her Maine 'Island Mystery Series'

Matinicus and other private Penobscot Bay islands
Thu, 06/13/2013 - 12:15pm

This summer we're starting a literary series with local authors titled "Real places in Maine that inspire literary fiction."

Mystery writer Darcy Scott is bobbing and weaving down the literary whitewater channel that comprises today's tumultuous publishing industry... and unlike a lot of writers who get chopped up in the process, she's not only surviving — she's thriving.

Matinicus, the first book in her well-known "Island Mystery Series," was published last year, receiving excellent reviews and multiple awards, including this past month, the "Bronze Award for Northeast Regional Fiction" from the 2013 IPPY Awards (Independent Publisher Book Awards), one of the most prestigious awards an independent or self-published author can receive.

"Whenever you enter a literary contest, you never know if the cost is worth it, but back last fall, I entered about seven or eight contests and as a result, Matinicus won four awards, including the IPPY and 'Best Mystery' from the 2013 Indie Book Awards," she said. "When you do win one, it really does attract attention to the book on a national level, increases sales and gives you a foothold as far as being taken seriously in an absolute sea of publications."

In recent years it has become a trend for a once traditionally published author like Scott to make the leap back over to the self-published model. In 2010, her first novel, Hunter, Huntress, was traditionally published overseas. After a series of frustrations with her traditional American publisher over her next novel (Matinicus), Scott signed with Rockland-based Maine Authors Publishing, a hybrid publishing model that allows writers to self-publish under a cooperative that works to professionally market the book.

"I'm a control freak when it comes to my books and I want artistic control," she said.

Combining that with the financial incentive of owning the entire royalty to her own book (rather than the typical 6 - 15 percent), it's a move that made sense to her and has paid off.

In her Island Mystery Series, she adopts a male protagonist point of view (another rarity for female authors) with her lead character Gil Hodges, a botanist who seems to find trouble the second he steps onto every Maine island he encounters. Her characters are sarcastic and scrappy and her lush descriptions of Maine islands are spot on. Matinicus has gotten a good deal of local attention, both for its tight, haunting plotline and for its association with one of Maine's most private (and notorious) islands. Scott, an avid sailor who has spent the last 20 years sailing around the Maine coast, particularly in and around Penobscot Bay, acknowledges that it was "very hard" for someone from away to gain access to members of the Matinicus community to gather research.

"I wrote a letter to the island's historian and it took probably six months for her to answer me," she said. "I told her what I wanted to do and she finally agreed to introduce me to some people. I stayed there for three days, interviewing people and then I was invited to tour this old house built in 1799.  When I walked in, I was absorbing all the details inside, like door latches and trammel hooks. But when I went upstairs to one room in particular, as soon as I walked in, the temperature dropped 20 degrees, and this was in the middle of summer. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. When I turned around, the home owners were grinning at me. They didn't want to tell me beforehand that they had a ghost in the house. That's when they admitted they see this floaty little spectre from time to time. So, that became the house my character Gil stays in on the island, and that ghost became a major character in the book."

Even with ample praise for Matinicus, that doesn't mean everyone liked that she was writing about a Maine island that has made national headlines in recent years.

"The thing is, what happens on an island, stays on an island, and people don't like you writing about it," she said. "But I was so interested in Matinicus's history going back hundreds of years and I had to tell people over and over, as well as in the book's acknowledgements, that this is fiction. This is not real and not about someone's present history. I took the flavor of the lifestyle of the island and developed my characters from there."

People who live on Matinicus have had mixed reactions she said. Some have really enjoyed it. Some are still wary of it.

"I was at the Lobster Festival last year when a woman came up to my table and identified herself as being from Matinicus," said Scott. "She was angry and demanded, 'What is this book about? Why did you write this?' The book had come out three months after the lobster shootings and she somehow thought that a book could be published that fast and that was what it was about. I told her the book was written six years ago, that it had nothing to do with current events, and I gave her a copy to take with her. She then gave me a big hug. A couple months later, when I visited the island again, she drove by and saw me and waved at me, so I guess she liked it."

Scott further explains: "I know people are fascinated with Matinicus and in my book, there is a bit of a voyeuristic peek into that lifestyle. But lots of writers write about places they didn't grow up in. You just have to know your subject and be real careful not to use real names or real incidents."

Scott's most recently released book, and second in the "Island Mystery Series," is called Reese's Leap, a continuation of the protagonist Gil Hodges's earnest misadventures on a remote island. She got the idea after participating in an all-female island retreat and portrays five women having an annual retreat on a private island. With Scott's characters, it's refreshing to see strong female personalities who can fend for themselves (a blessed departure from the typical soft focus Chick Lit 'let's all sit on a beach drink wine and talk about our unhappy lives' trope.) This mystery zigs and zags, deliberately throwing the reader off the scent with tight crackling dialogue and eerie, claustrophobic tension.

Scott is working on a third title coming out soon, titled Ragged Isle, which brings Gil Hodges back to the island of Matinicus to resolve some past issues brought up in the first novel.

I'm sure her fans and critics alike will be intrigued to find out what's in this one as well.

For more information on Darcy Scott's novels and where she'll be for book signings this summer visit: darcyscott.net

Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com