Author Bill Roorbach on the exploration of Maine's Temple Stream

Real places in Maine that inspire literary fiction

Western Maine's rivers and streams are their own characters in his books
Mon, 07/08/2013 - 6:00pm

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

    Bill Roorbach is a Maine author, whose latest novel, Life Among Giants (Algonquin), which just won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for fiction. This funny, exuberant novel captures the reader with the grand sweep of 7-foot-tall David "Lizard" Hochmeyer's larger-than-life quest to unravel the mystery surrounding his parents' deaths.

    Since Life Among Giants takes place primarily in Westport, Conn., where Roorbach grew up nearby, and in Miami, Fla., we focus on Roorbach's 2005 memoir, Temple Stream, (a real stream in western Maine that runs 12 miles from the highlands of Avon, through the village of Temple and into Farmington, where it meets the Sandy River). Roorbach lives just over the Temple line in Farmington with his wife, Juliet, and daughter, Elysia, and a lot of animals. Temple — as a place — is apparently sublime. It has been described on Wikipedia as a "a sanctuary for writers, poets, artists and crafters, and the setting for several novels, biographies, and memoirs."

    Q: Your book makes Temple Stream its own character, among other quirky, rural folks in the book. What is the magnetic appeal of this stream to you and so many writers/artists?

    Yes, the stream, which flows through fields below my house, is the focal point of the book, which is structured three ways. One, it's an uphill exploration from mouth to headwaters. Two, it traces the arc of the year of my daughter's birth. Three, it uses the old nature-writing staple of proceeding by seasons. In the course of my very real exploration of the stream, I met all kinds of people, but often brought people with me, too — scientists of various kinds, philosophers, historians, poets, loggers, etc. — all to look at the hundreds or even thousands of facets any stream presents. I wanted to get to know it even better than I already did, and set about learning as much as I could about the natural history, the human history and the science of the place. I don't know how many others have written about the stream itself, though it's true many writers have lived in Temple. One was Denise Levertov, who does have a very sexy poem about making love in the stream. This I include in my book. The well-known nature writer Bob Kimber lives on the stream, and he and I wrote a book together with Wesley McNair (current poet laureate of Maine) about a pond we all love in Temple: A Place on Water, which was published by Maine publisher Tilbury House. George Dennison was a truly great writer and lived up above the stream in high Temple. I know all of his kids and admire them, call them my friends. As for why Temple, the town, has attracted so many writers and artists, well, it's beautiful. Also, it's situated, as the poet Ted Enslin famously wrote, at the end of the road, has a feeling of privacy and separation from the world. But of course a lot of other kinds of people live there, too, and you meet a cross-section in my book.

    Q: We're curious when writers use real names of real places and how the residents of Temple have reacted to your writing about the town and surrounding areas?

    So many are friends, and so many talked to me as I made the book, that I think the reaction is mostly very positive, even grateful. Where it's not, so be it. I tried to write as honestly and accurately as I could, and the history in the book is well accepted, as is the science — many neighbors were excited to learn so much and get so much depth about our familiar backyard. The main story is my family's story, and I think our neighbors have been delighted to get to know us better. The more important reaction to me, and one that people forget, is the national reaction. Temple Stream was reviewed in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country. The original concept, in fact, came from an essay I published in Harper's.

    Q: In the book you describe putting messages in 10 bottles and flinging them into the stream to see where (and in whose hands) they'd end up. What were you hoping to learn about the people who answered your message in a bottle and did you?

    I just thought it was romantic to send notes out like that. I really didn't expect to get any back. But in the end, five out of 10 did! Amazing. One was from just downstream, found by a neighbor kid who was out fiddleheading (and who, now grown up, works at Longfellow Books, as it happens). Others were found at various spots all the way down the Kennebec River, with the last coming from Popham Beach. Wow. I had no agenda, just curiosity. I'm still hoping one will turn up in West Africa someplace having ridden the Gulf Stream.

    Q: Where is your favorite place to be in Maine in the summer on a gorgeous day, where there are no obligations and no worries?

    I love so many places in Maine. Popham Beach is one. Fore Street, the restaurant in Portland, is another. The Mahoosucs, that's pretty wonderful, too. And any of about 75 lakes and rivers. Don't get me started!

    • Roorbach is traveling all over the United States on his current book tour for Life Among Giants. To find out more information on his new book visit Life Among Giants. Also read reviews on Temple Stream here.

    • For archives of Real places in Maine that inspire literary fiction, visit Penobscot Bay Pilot's Pinterest page.


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