I loved him, you know. Steve. Even with his arrogance, he was still the best dreamer, especially in his stocking feet. So today, his unbirthday, I’ll dream in his honor. And you?
“Reese’s Leap is the second book in my Maine Island Mystery Series (and sequel to Matinicus), which features the hard-drinking, womanizing Gil.”
Darcy, it’s wonderful to have you back talk about your spectacular new book, REESE’S LEAP, starring that loveably besotted dendrologist, Gil Hodges. I drank in the book, couldn’t put it down. Then I re-read the prologue. Haunting, lyrical, scary, profound. The courage you took to write it will impact my own career—you broke lots of rules and came up with your own.
Thank you! The prologue actually grew out of a conversation I had with one of my early readers about an infamous time in Maine’s history. I can’t really elaborate without giving a lot of things away, but it proved to be a wonderful tie-in to one of the central conflicts of the story. It’s told from the point of view of a young child going through a terrifying experience. I could see the scene perfectly in my head, but it took a while to get it down on paper the way I wanted it.
Reese’s Leap is the second book in my Maine Island Mystery Series (and sequel to Matinicus), which features the hard-drinking, womanizing Gil. In this story, five complicated, high-powered women arrive for their annual all-female retreat on the rugged, 200-acre enclave of Mistake Island, Maine—only to find themselves reluctantly putting the partying put on hold when Gil and his novelist buddy, David Duggan, end up stranded there in the fog. Gil is secretly pleased at the layover, of course—all those women, after all—but things begin to change when a ruthless stranger appears out of nowhere, insinuating himself into the fold and bent on a twisted kind of revenge. Ultimately, it falls to Gil to keep the women safe, despite their dawning awareness that not everyone will make it off the island alive.
The setting of REESE’S LEAP is magnificent. I read that there are over 4,600 islands off the coast of Maine. Is Mistake Island one of them?—Gil Hodges waxes poetic when he speaks of its wilderness.
The island does indeed exist, but “Mistake” is not its real name. Other than that, everything depicted in the book—from its deeply forested interior and sheer 40-foot drop-offs, to the total lack of amenities—is true to the real thing. It’s an amazing place; you can sense the power, both physical and spiritual, as soon as you step on the island. The fact I’ve spent considerable time there myself helped me tremendously in writing about it.
I caught the first glimmers of the story while I was on one of those all-female retreats I describe in the book. Take a bunch of women itching to raise some hell, put them in a rambling, hundred-year-old lodge with no electricity, phone service or other connection to the outside world, throw in a three-day fog, and the imagination can’t help but run a little wild.
When I was finally ready to begin the project, it took about three years to do all the research, get through a few drafts, send it out to my early readers and then incorporate their excellent feedback into the final version.
Gil is a force of nature and I absolutely love him. Although sometimes exasperating in MATINICUS, I found him, if anything, more lovable in REESE’S LEAP. I LOVE that he swills beer and eats pie at the same time. I’m crazy about his syntax, his yearning, his sense of hopelessness and best of all, he never, ever gives up. Back in the day, we used to call that existential. Without giving any of the story away, tell us how he grows from the Gil in MATINICUS to the Gil in REESE’S LEAP.
You’re right. Gil has changed since Matinicus. When we first meet him in that story, which takes place three years prior to the start of Reese’s Leap, he’s cocky and cavalier about just about everything. But what happens there leave him deeply shaken, filled with a deep sense of guilt he can’t get rid of. When we meet him in Reese’s Leap, it’s clear the experience scarred him, but at the same time it helps him get through what happens in the new book. Somehow, his optimism and joie de vivre remain intact.
This is an island mystery and although comedic, is also dark and tragic. Again, without giving the story away, whose tragedy is it?
Good question. Each of the characters has a lot invested; those that survive the experience lose much, though in different ways. I better leave it at that.
A phenomenal narrative voice, Gil tells the story in first person, present tense, and this works so well. Had you tried writing it in past tense?
I’ve always felt that telling a story in the present tense gives it a real feeling of immediacy—something that’s all-important in Gil’s adventures. I’ve written books in the past tense before (my first novel Hunter Huntress, for example) but I knew as soon as Gil blasted his way onto the scene at the start of Matinicus, that present tense was the only way to go. The first person felt right, as well. When I’m writing Gil, it’s if we’re one and the same person. He’s a kind of male alter-ego, I guess. To write him any other way wouldn’t feel authentic.
Believe it or not, when I first began Reese’s Leap, it wasn’t going to be a “Gil Hodges” story at all; in fact, I thought his story began and ended with Matinicus. Instead, I envisioned this book as a murder mystery set on an island where a group of women friends were holding an annual retreat. But I found I missed Gil. He kept intruding in my thoughts; I kept thinking about how he might deal with particular situations. Then I realized that, given his womanizing tendencies, this book was the perfect vehicle for him. The problem was how to get him on the island, considering men weren’t allowed—an element of the story I wanted to keep because it added tension. Once I figured out how to do that, the book came alive for me, and the Island Mystery Series was born.
All the other characters are integral parts of the story, most of them complex, many with a dark side. They tell their story using an indirect third person. It lends texture and complexity to the novel and the voice of the whole is so rich. But this must have been difficult to write at first. Tell us about the experience of writing Reese’s Leap.
My problem here was that the Island Women (as they call themselves) are all very strong characters, and I had to figure a way to keep the focus on Gil for a number of reasons. That’s when I came up with the idea of using the third person for the women’s voices, which set Gil apart. It was a bit of a tip-toe at first, but I got used to it.
Tell us more about the women on Mistake Island.
Well, they’re smart, complicated, and quite a mix: the fiery red-head Brit, subdued Nora, Margot the exercise addict, the very spiritual Lily—all of whom there at the invitation of their hostess and defacto leader, Adria Jackman, whose family owns the island. The same group vacations together there every summer, always the same week in July. They’re a tight bunch, which isn’t to say they don’t have their conflicts.
You have a lot of threads going all through the novel; did you use any kind of outline to keep things straight?
Yes—an eight foot scroll tacked to my wall which proved invaluable when I began moving plot elements around. And I did a lot of that in this book.
Most of it, yes. My afternoons are devoted to writing, my husband’s off at work, and the quiet of being alone on the boat and the meditative sound of waves lapping the hull makes for very productive creative time.
When did you first realize you had a gift for writing?
I started writing short stories when I was a teenager, but then life got complicated (as it has a way of doing), and I didn’t write anything again until I was in my thirties—which was also when I finally got around to going to college. I won a writing contest my second year, and it was then I started playing with the idea of making writing my career. Still, it took a while. I didn’t start my first novel until I was 40.
Who are your favorite authors?
Right now? Tana French, Dennis Lehane, John Green, and I just discovered Lou Berney’s novel Gutshot Straight which was a hoot. I also have a real thing for the Brit mystery writer, Sophie Hannah.
Do you have any current or upcoming promotions, appearances, or releases you’d like readers to know about?
The Reese’s Leap Book Launch was held just last night at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH and was a real blast! Here’s the line-up through the next few weeks: tomorrow night, April 6, I’ll be reading and signing books alongside fellow novelist Jen Blood as part of the monthly “Lit: Readings and Libations” program at the Slainte Wine Bar & Lounge in Portland ME (http://www.slaintewinebar.com/). On Monday evening, April 8, I’ll be on the Literary New England Radio Show on Blog Talk radio (http://www.litnewengland.com/).
Where can we find you online?
My website, www.DarcyScott.net, contains all kinds of information, including audiofile excerpts and a link where readers can order personalized books. My FB address is www.Facebook.com/Author.Darcy.Scott, and I tweet @Darcy_Scott.
And where can readers buy your books?
At select independent bookstores in Maine and New Hampshire, and online at Amazon in both softcover and Kindle. It’s also available in Nook, and all the other e-formats.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DARCY SCOTT is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser who’s sailed to Grenada and back on a whim, island-hopped through the Caribbean, and been struck by lightning in the middle of the Gulf Stream. Her favorite cruising ground remains the coast of Maine, however, and her appreciation of the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serves as inspiration for her Maine Island Mystery Series, which includes 2012’s award-winning Matinicus and the newly released Reese’s Leap. Book three, Ragged Island, is currently in the works. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in June, 2010 by Snowbooks, Ltd., UK.
Here’s a video about Serafina, the main character of my books. I talk about who she is and what she does and where she lives—other than inside my head.
If you’d rather read it—here’s the transcript:
Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about Serafina, the main character of my mystery series.
She lives in Sicily in the nineteenth century. She’s a widow. She’s a midwife. She raises seven children. And she’s a sleuth with the mind of a wizard.
Her first mystery begins in 1866, and I chose to start her stories that year because Serafina was at a point of no return in her life.
In 1865 the year before DEATH OF A SERPENT begins, she loses her mother, her aunts and uncles, her sisters, her cousins, in a devastating epidemic of cholera that swept her town killing half the population in a day. Two months later, her husband dies suddenly. (While Serafina’s town is fictitious, it reflects Sicily in the nineteenth century and there were several waves of cholera in the 1860s.)
She says of her state of mind then, “I entered that flat, dead landscape we call grief.”
After her pain lifts somewhat, she has a choice—she can either sit back or fight. And in the end, she chooses to fight.
It’s her hallmark—she never gives up. She remains committed to supporting her children, committed to her quest for justice.
That doesn’t mean she’s perfect, not by a long chalk. She doesn’t want me to use the word ‘faults,’ says it’s too judgmental. But she does have her peccadillos and unique mannerisms. For instance,
- she eats olives and cookies at the same time, stuffing her mouth with them
- and her curls frizz the moment there’s a hint of rain.
- Her toes are usually cold, even in a climate that’s hot enough to fry snakes on the streets.
- As far as peccadillos go, many times her first response during the conversation around the table is to try to control, especially if she doesn’t like or understand the general drift of the tide, but that’s because she’s afraid of being left behind.
- And she’s got a healthy jealous streak, although most of the time she doesn’t admit it. At one point she calls Inspector Colonna, “a no nothing lout.”
Life wasn’t easy for Serafina. In Sicily, the times were horrendous. It was a society barely functioning
So, in DEATH OF A SERPENT in addition to dealing with the mystery of who killed three women, Serafina deals with a lot of external conflict going on around her.
But beyond this external conflict, Serafina has a gnawing inner conflict. It’s her core conflict—she’s got that gender thingy going on. Is a woman more than a wife and mother? Does a woman deserve to enjoy the fullness of humanity the same as a man? In the end, this internal to-ing and fro-ing informs all of her decisions and revisions and accounts for much of the tumult in her head.
Excerpt from Death of a Serpent
Lola sailed into the room. Sapphires sparkled on her fingers—and pearls, she dripped pearls. They wound around her neck in long ropes, dangled from her ears, reflecting opalescent light from tiered bracelets. Her gown of watered silk was cut low in the front with a lace surround, pleated in the French manner. She seemed somehow different from the last time Serafina had seen her, that day in the conservatory, almost a different person—more, how to say it, more mature. But no, that wasn’t it at all, not at all: harder. Over her bodice she wore a fitted mauve jacket of boiled wool, a feathered boa draped around her shoulders. Her golden hair was trussed with tortoise combs, around which curls were carefully coiled, and wedged into her cleavage was her ivory cigarette holder.
She sat. “Rosa told me you wanted to see me.” Her voice was
expensive. Reaching for her cigarettes, she stuck one into the holder, and swung a leg over the arm of the chair, revealing a taffeta underskirt, lace petticoats, and black crocheted stockings. On her feet were satin shoes.
“My first customer is in the parlor now. Impatient.” Lola blew smoke from rouged lips. “A dignitary.” Inhaled. Exhaled. “Can’t spare much time, but I want to help.” One propped-up leg arced back and forth.
Photo: Flower Pots in Sicily
Helen Ludlow is a character that’s been floating in my head for twenty years or so and every once in a while she creeps up on me when least expected, reminding me that as yet she has not told her story.
There are several real Helen Ludlows, I checked, and judging by their photos when you Google “Helen Ludlow,” they each have a sure presence. They all look like women of stature, full of longing and beauty and surprise. But I don’t know any of these real Helen Ludlows and I hope they don’t mind if one day I borrow their name. I mean no harm, but I need it because it’s so perfect for what happens to my character.
Here’s how my character came to be. Not saying it’s a good way to create characters, or the way I usually create them, just Helen.
- One day I was walking the streets of the Lower East Side, a favorite haunt, when I found myself at the corner of Hester and Ludlow Streets, the location of “the pig market” in one of Manhattan’s immigrant neighborhoods back in the day.
- I listened for ghosts, tried to imagine what it was like to wait for work in 1900 in the cold dawn with hundreds of hungry others, a sewing machine tucked under one arm, while the streets teemed with push carts and pedestrians shoved one another and jobbers shouted barely understood invectives and the American dream dimmed.
- I looked up at the street sign and thought, Ludlow, Ludlow, what a perfect name for my character.
- With the yoking together of name and character, I knew instantly what her fate would be and that it had nothing to do with Hester Street or the pig market or the twentieth century.
- No, my Ms. Ludlow had a different story.
But she needed a first name, and as I stood there, the name, Helen, came to mind. Helen, of course, perfect: Helen Ludlow. Because of what happens to her, because of who she is and who she will become or try to become.
And another thing. Notice when you speak of characters, it’s best to use the present tense because, at least for me, they are timeless.
Photo and background: itKuPiLLi Imagenarium at DeviantScrap.com