Darcy Scott: Interview

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Matinicus by Darcy ScottDarcy, I’m a big fan of yours. I love MATINICUS—the writing, your voice, the mystery, your characters, the underlying themes and the great care you’ve obviously taken researching the island and seafaring off the coast of Maine in the nineteenth century.

What moved you to write this story?

The island of Matinicus itself, actually, because its culture is so unique.  I knew I had to write a novel about it the first time I visited the place, and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became.  This was maybe ten years ago.  I was sailing off the coast of Maine and pulled into the harbor on a whim.  The first thing I saw when I went walking was a couple of grinning kids drag-racing along the dusty road paralleling the harbor—no doors on either car, one of the hoods tied down with a length of lobster warp.  And I mean kids—not more than ten years old. I started getting glimmers of a plot almost immediately.

Matinicus has a reputation for harboring some rather lawless types.  Did you find this to be true?

Well, first you have to understand about the island.  It’s not only the most remote, inhabited island along the eastern seaboard, it’s surrounded by some of the most crustacean-rich waters in the world.  The lobstermen who live there and make their living fishing its waters are very territorial, and protect their fishing rights in whatever manner they deem appropriate.  There are no police out there (no officialdom of any kind, in fact), no banks, stores, restaurants, doctors or hospitals—though there are a couple of EMTs.

There also aren’t many people willing to talk to strangers, and it wasn’t until I’d gone back a few times that I found some folks willing to help me with historical info and a few of their favorite island stories.  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.

 

How closely does the physical setting of Matinicus the novel resemble the real thing?

Actually, the size, topography and physical layout 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, it’s important to remember that this is fiction, so everything has been supersized.

 

Can you tell us a little about the book itself, maybe give us a quick synopsis?

Sure.  Matinicus is really one part ghost story and two parts murder mystery—an intricate weaving of the early 19th century (told via a diary) and the modern day that follows some pretty gritty characters through two centuries of island life, vigilante justice, and personal desire.

Here’s a synopsis:

Steeped in Maine island lore, this century-spanning double mystery pits a renegade fishing community against an unhappy child-bride of the 1820s, a defiant twenty-first-century teen, and a hard-drinking botanist—Dr. Gil Hodges—who escapes to the island of Matinicus to avoid a crazed ex-lover and verify a rumored 22 species of wild orchid, only to find himself hounded by the ghost of a child some two-hundred years dead.

If Gil’s hoping for peace and quiet, he’s clearly come to the wrong place.  Generations of infighting among loose-knit lobstering clans have left them openly hostile to outsiders.  When a beautiful, bed-hopping stranger sails into the harbor, old resentments re-ignite and people begin to die—murders linked, through centuries of violence, to a diary whose secrets threaten to tear the island apart.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?  You have a lot of threads going all through the novel; did you use any kind of outline to keep things straight?  

Oh, absolutely! Funny, though, this part of the process is always a little different with each book. In the case of Matinicus, I used a six-foot horizontal scroll to keep track of exactly what was happening in each chapter, not only with the historical versus modern-day 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 sequel to Matinicus and second book in my Island Mystery Series) is very different—with the action taking place over the course of eight days, each day having its own section in the book rather than using chapters—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. Since I’m a very visual person, I need to find photos of each of them, sometimes 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 magazines, clothes catalogues—whatever—till I find the right face. I’ve found J.Crew to be a great source.  Time Magazine works well, too.  Matinicus was a lot of fun to “people” because it’s full of quirky, irreverent characters.

You live on a sailboat in the summer. Do you do your writing there?Darcy Scott, author Rich Beauchesne photo 2009

Yes, and it’s perfect for it, too. I love sailing and being on the water, love the quiet when we drop the anchor for the night in some sleepy little harbor, the sound of the waves lapping the boat. It’s very contemplative, and that feeds creativity. It also forces me to slow down and get comfortable with my thoughts. I think we could all use more of that in our lives.

About how long did it take you to write the novel?

About two years for Matinicus, which is pretty quick 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 I figured the sequel, Reese’s Leap, would go quickly, as well, which hasn’t been the case at all. The characters in this one have a more complicated inter-dynamic and it’s been a great challenge to get it right.

I love the cover of your book.  Tell us about it.

I love it too!  It’s very in your face—just like the story.  I actually found the shot of the lobster pots on a stock photo site and knew as soon as I saw it that it was the look I wanted.  I have this wonderful and very patient designer, Anna Torborg, who played with it, added the blood spatter, etc.  She’s totally responsible for the great back cover, which I find a very creative use of space.  She’ll be doing the cover for Reese’s Leap, as well.

Your protagonist, Gil Hodges, makes a very different and reluctant sleuth, being a bachelor professor of botany. How did you zero in on him and are there any parts of yourself that you’ve incorporated into his character? 

I’m crazy about Gil, so much so I had to continue his story—thus the three-book series. He’s wry and self-deprecating and very aware of his faults—that he drinks too much, that he’s attracted to some pretty disturbed women (in fact he’s running from one of these disastrous hook-ups when he lands on the island)—and he’s constantly determined to change. Women readers really love him.

As far as the botany tie-in goes, that came about while I was doing research for the historical plotline—reading books on everything from Maine shipwrecks and the history of lobstering and island farming, to the Maine slave trade and the lives of early nineteenth century island women. During this process, 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 began to come into focus for me.

And, yes, a bit of my own life made its way into his character.  At the same time I was getting a handle on just who this guy was,  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; this gave him something in common with one of the islanders and ultimately his “in” on the island.

 

When did you first realize you had a gift for writing?

When I was 12, I was really into the Beatles and I wrote a 40-page romance starring Paul McCartney and me.  God, it was awful.  But I do remember feeling completely drawn into the writing of the story, fell in love with creating little worlds that hadn’t existed before I put pen to paper, which is literally what we did back then, of course.  Later I won a writing contest in college; I guess that’s when I started playing with the idea of making writing my career, but it took a while.  I didn’t start my first novel until I was about 40.

 

Who are your favorite authors?  What are you reading now?

I tend to read mysteries and I like different writers for different reasons. Dennis Lehane for right-on dialogue (though I have to say I just finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars—not mystery—and he absolutely nailed the whole teen dialogue thing), and I love Gillian Flynn’s work. Her first two novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, absolutely blew me away with their originality. I just finished her third, Gone Girl, which I also loved. I admit to a guilty addiction to Patricia Cornwall, as well, and am reading her Red Mist right now.

 

I’m interested in how or why you chose to be an independently published author instead of going the more traditional route?

I love it when people ask me that, because my first novel, Hunter Huntress, was published “traditionally” through a small, well-respected press in Britain. And I originally signed with another small traditional publisher for Matinicus—one who really loved the book. Our contract 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. That was a deal breaker for me. There are just too many folks out there who still like the feel of a physical book, the smell of ink on paper, and doing anything to decrease potential readership in today’s market makes absolutely no sense to me. It was a scary decision for sure—one of those things you spend more than a couple sleepless nights on—but well worth it in the end.

After I cancelled that contract, I figured I could either spend the next few years trying to find another publisher or go the independent route. And when you think about it, most authors these days (even those with “traditional” publishers) end up doing most of their own marketing, arranging their own signings, etc., anyway. I figured if I was going to do all the work, I deserved all the profits. And having control of your rights is invaluable.

The company I decided to go with, Maine Authors Publishing, is a kind of hybrid—an author co-op staffed by terrific, knowledgeable people providing the same services any good traditional publisher provides. I’ve been very happy with them.

 

Do you have any current or upcoming promotions, appearances, or releases you’d like readers to know about?

I’ll be at 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.

Finally, where can readers buy your books?

At select independent bookstores in Maine and New Hampshire, and online at Amazon in both softcover and Kindle(http://www.amazon.com/Matinicus-Island-Mystery-Series-ebook/dp/B0082C3XBQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338983299&sr=1-1).

It’s also available in all the other e-formats.

Read an excerpt of MATINICUS here.

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