This interview first appeared as one of the weekly author interviews with Jen Blood on the BloodWrites Mystery Website. Darcy Scott is author of HUNTER HUNTRESS and the just-released Maine mystery MATINICUS: An Island Mystery, which has already received rave reviews and this past week was selected as an Awesome Indie. Here, Darcy talks a bit about the research that went into the novel, gives some insight into the “real” Matinicus, Maine, and explains her reasons for going Indie when a traditional publisher was already in line for the series.
Matinicus is one part ghost story and two parts murder mystery. A century-spanning double mystery, in fact— an intricate weaving of the early 19th century and the present day based loosely on the rumor and lore of the remote and notorious Maine out-island of the same name.
The detail in Matinicus is astounding – everything about the island and its inhabitants rings true. What was your research process like? Any good Matinicus anecdotes you’d like to share with readers?
The research took a while, I have to say. The island of Matinicus is not only the most remote, inhabited island along the eastern seaboard, it’s surrounded by the most crustacean-rich waters in the world. The lobstermen who live there and make their living fishing its waters are very territorial, and highly suspicious of any outsiders who express interest in the place. So when I decided to set the novel there, I knew it would be an uphill battle. I had to write to the island “historian” several times before she’d respond. Eventually, she provided me the necessary social entrée, and I spent three days on the island interviewing a number of people—most of whom were helpful, if reserved. I’d say one of the high points was touring the 1799 house, the oldest home on the island. There’s a back bedroom on the second floor that’s inhabited by a disembodied spirit I literally came face to face with. People laugh when I tell them this, but they weren’t there.
Anecdotes? God, there are so many. A small Cessna lands at the airstrip few times a day when the weather’s good, ferrying supplies, mail—things like that. I happened to be there one afternoon when the pilot was unloading cases of liquor. Two kids who couldn’t have been ten hefted a case of whiskey into a golf cart, climbed in and tore down the road doing at least forty. This could only happen on an island where there’s no police presence—no officialdom of any kind, in fact.
One of the things I love best about MATINICUS is how much is going on in the plot, between lobster wars and Gil’s own journey and, of course, this mysterious journal he’s found. Considering the number of threads you have going throughout the novel, did you use any kind of outline or other organizational system to keep things straight in your head?
That’s a great question and the answer is absolutely! Funny, though, with each of my books, this part of the process is a little different. I have a long corkboard on my writing room wall, and in the case of Matinicus used a six-foot long scroll where I kept track of exactly what was happening in each chapter regarding not only the two major plot lines but the other sub-plots threading their way through the story. Vertical columns represented the different chapters; horizontal rows the varying plot elements. As things got more complicated, I began color-coding everything. It was wild.
Because the structure of Reese’s Leap (the next book in my Island Mystery Series) is very different, I’ve been using a different technique. In this book, the action takes place over the course of eight days, each day having its own section in the book. So I’ve been using a single, very long sheet for each day, keeping the development of the different plots aligned horizontally from sheet to sheet.
I do a bit of the same sort of thing with my characters, actually. I’m a visual person and I need to find photos of each of them, even the minor ones, before I can begin to really flesh them out. So once I get a glimmer of a new character, I start flipping through mags. I’ve found J.Crew a great source. Time Magazine works well, too.
About how long did it take you to write the novel? You’ve included an excerpt from the second novel in the series – REESE’S LEAP – at the end of MATINICUS. How has it been writing this second installment versus writing the first? Are you finding it easier or more difficult? Any tricks you picked up while writing MATINICUS that are speeding things along now?
It took me about two years to write Matinicus, which is quite fast for me, actually. The first book I wrote, the one I call my autobio-novel (yet to be published), took eight years; my second book, Hunter Huntress (Snowbooks UK, 2010) took me four. Matinicus came next and seemed to flow so naturally, I figured the sequel would, too. That’s not been the case, though. The characters in Reese’s Leap have a more complicated inter-dynamic. But having Gil (the protagonist in Matinicus) along for the ride as a creative cohort has been very helpful. He’s made some great suggestions.
I absolutely love Gil, who’s something of an anti-hero in MATINICUS and subsequent books in the Island Mystery series. The fact that he’s a botanist definitely makes him unique among modern-day crime solvers out there; how did you decide on that as his profession?
I love Gil, too! He’s wry and self-deprecating, fully aware he drinks too much, fully aware he’s irresistibly drawn to women of a psychotic bent and is trying to mend his ways. Okay, not so much trying as kind of lurching his way in that direction.
As far as the botany tie-in goes, when I started my research I didn’t really have a plot or any characters in mind—other than the two kids, Ivan and Tiffany, whom you first meet in the Prologue. The only thing I knew for sure was that it would be loosely based on the island’s history and wild west-meets-beeper-generation lifestyle. But while I was doing research for the historical plotline (I read maybe 30 books on everything from Maine shipwrecks, the history of lobstering, island farming, the Maine slave trade, & the lives of early nineteenth century island women), I came across an amazing botanical treatise written in the 1920s detailing the almost 800 distinct species of plant life found on the island. I knew I wanted to make this part of the story and that’s when Gil’s character began to come together for me.
A bit of my own life made its way into Gil’s character, as well. At the time, I was selling off a large, baseball card collection on eBay and had to learn a lot about the teams and players from the 1950s in order to value them correctly. I decided to incorporate that information into his personal history.
For folks from “away,” how close to the true Matinicus is your novel? The place names, geography, turf wars, the death-defying plane ride in… If an outsider set foot on the island now, how similar would their experience be to Gil’s when he first arrived on Matinicus?
It would be remarkably similar. The size, topography and physical layout of the island are pretty much identical. I also took my characters’ surnames from the island’s 1830 census. And while the seeds of the modern-day storyline are taken from actual events, this is fiction, so everything has been supersized.
You have a wonderfully easy, confident writing style – MATINICUS is filled with great wit, evocative prose, and a wonderful sense of place. How long have you been writing? Who are your favorite writers? Any that you feel have been particularly influential in developing your own style?
The first time I remember writing anything of length was on a train ride from Washington D.C. to New York City when I was 12 and really into the Beatles. It was a romance of sorts—Paul McCartney as a man smitten and myself the object of his desire—and dragged on for some 40 pages. God, it was awful. I did some freelance magazine writing for a while, took a stab at a few short stories, but the length limitations frustrated me. When I moved to book-length fiction, I knew I’d found my creative niche.
I like different writers for different reasons. To my way of thinking, nobody beats Dennis Lehane for right-on dialogue, though I have to say I just finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and he absolutely nailed the whole teen dialogue thing. I also like the way Julia Glass and the British mystery writer, Sophie Hannah, put the bones of their novels together.
Aside from the writing side of your world, you have some very cool stories about sailing adventures you’ve had over the years – including getting struck by lightning in the Gulf Stream! The most obvious follow-up question to that tidbit is: are you planning on writing any kind of sailing memoir? When did you start sailing, and what about it continues to hold your interest today?
A sailing memoir? No, though I’ve been playing around with the idea of a mystery series whose protagonist is a female ocean sailor.
I started sailing when I met my husband, a man who’d been sailing all his life. And for those not familiar with the vernacular of boating, it’s like trying to learn a foreign language. Plus it took me forever to understand the concepts. All of this made for interesting personal dynamics those first few years. Trial by fire, so to speak. But I loved being on the water, loved the quiet when we’d drop the anchor for the night in some sleepy little harbor, the sound of the waves lapping the boat. It’s very contemplative, forces you to slow down and get comfortable with your own thoughts. I think we could all use more of that in our lives.
You’ve actually worked with a traditional publisher before, with your debut novel HUNTER HUNTRESS. What went into your decision to publish independently this time, and how are you finding the experience thus far?
I actually did have a traditional publisher lined up for Matinicus. The contract I signed called for both softcover and e-books formats, but about 6 months before the book was due to be released, the company decided to go to all e-books. I love e-books myself, but there are still tons of folks out there who like to feel of a physical book, the smell of ink on paper. Doing anything to decrease potential readership in today’s market made no sense to me so I walked away.
Going it on my own has been scary but very liberating. I’m lucky that I found a great match in Maine Authors Publishing out of Rockland—a company that has strict editorial standards, and offers its co-op of authors editing, publicity and e-conversion services.
Do you have any current or upcoming promotions, appearances, or releases you’d like readers to know about?
I’ll be at the 8th Annual “Books in Boothbay” festival in Boothbay, Maine on July 14th, the annual “Lobsterfest” in Rockland on August 4th, and the “Maine Boats Homes & Harbors Festival,” again in Rockland, on August 11th.
Where can we find you online?
My website, www.DarcyScott.net, contains lots of information, including audiofile excerpts and a link where readers can order personalized books.
My FB address is Facebook.com/Author.Darcy.Scott, and I tweet @Darcy_Scott.
Matinicus is available at select independent bookstores in Maine and New Hampshire, and online at Maine Authors Publishing
and Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/160797).
And the official BloodWrites parting question: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three non-essential things (or people) would you have to have with you to stay sane?
My husband, my mini-recorder, and lots of AAA batteries!
Jen Blood is a freelance writer and editor, and author of the Awesome Indies-selected mystery, All the Blue-Eyed Angels. Each week on her BloodWrites site, she does an in-depth interview with a different author of mysteries, suspense, or thrillers. Visit the website to read past interviews and sign up for the e-magazine premiering July 1st, and follow her on Twitter for the best deals on all the latest mysteries and thrillers.