When Paul Doiron graduated from college, he looked to the west and saw a land of opportunity for a guy who knew his way around the written word (and who, by the way, had just earned an Ivy League degree from Yale).
It didn’t take him long to discover how much he had left to learn.
“After I graduated, I went to Hollywood. My goal was to become a screenwriter,” Doiron said. “I spent a really miserable year in Hollywood and came back with my tail between my legs, and sort of fell back in love with the state of Maine at that point.”
Still, Doiron, who grew up in Scarborough and graduated from Cheverus High in Portland, wasn’t sure he was going to stay in his home state.
“I think I thought I was going to leave, but a couple of things happened. One was, I was struck by lightning while I was camping with some friends Memorial Day weekend, 1988,” Doiron said.
That episode was terrifying, Doiron said. He and two friends were camping (illegally, he admits) in western Maine’s Grafton Notch State Park. A tree was struck. Doiron was burned. And one of his pals was seriously injured.
“But when I survived it, and my friend survived it, thank God, people told me, ‘Well, you want to be a writer. Finally you have something to write about.’” Doiron said.
Doiron submitted a non-fiction piece to Down East magazine, his first published work. And he kept on writing.
Now, more than 20 years later, Doiron is the editor and chief of Down East. And in recent years, he’s also been introduced as “author Paul Doiron,” since the 2010 release of his first novel, “The Poacher’s Son,” and subsequent novels called “Trespasser” and “Bad Little Falls.”
All three novels are part of the Mike Bowditch series of mysteries, and all focus on the adventures of a Bowditch, a Maine game warden. The first, “The Poacher’s Son,” was nominated for an Edgar Award as best first novel, has sold more than 20,000 print copies, and has been translated into nine languages. “Trespasser” sold even better and spent a week on the American Bookseller’s Association best-seller list. “Bad Little Falls” hit bookstores in August.
Doiron said when he headed to Hollywood as a fresh college graduate, he figured things were going pretty well. He landed a few meetings, including a memorable one with a major player in the film industry. Then he learned how the game worked.
“I had an interview with Disney and the moment that I sat down on the couch, it seemed like it was going to be great,” Doiron said. “They offered me 20 different kinds of bottled water out in the reception area, which was very posh and expensive.
“And then you go and you sit down at a couch and you’re instantly being grilled about stuff that you’ve written and you realize that the people that are interviewing you … never even read the things you had submitted,” he said. “They’re just somebody in some chain.”
In Hollywood, Doiron worked in a bookstore. He did temp jobs. He moved furniture. Then, humbled, he came home.
“But I think living out of state was a good thing for me, because when i did come back to Maine — and I’ve lived in Boston as well — it helped remind me what it is about this place that’s so special. I don’t think I could do my current job at Down East if I didn’t really believe that Maine is one of the best places in the world to live.”
And Doiron said running a magazine that serves as the state’s top cheerleader (as well as a chronicler of some of the seedier sides of Maine) fits in perfectly with his new career.
“I’m in love with Maine, and the interesting thing about my life is I get to celebrate the state i one regard with the magazine, and everything that I know about Maine that doesn’t really belong in Down East goes into my books,” Doiron said.
Doiron admits that dreaming up “The Poacher’s Son” and the Mike Bowditch series wasn’t an easy process. For years, he spent too much time trying to cater his writing to an ideal that he thought readers would latch onto. That approach failed.
“Like a lot of aspiring writers, you have your eye on the best-seller list and you dream of being — of course, any Mainer, any Maine kid growing up thinks of Stephen King, right? — but that wasn’t working for me,” Doiron said. “I wasn’t writing horror, but I was writing things that I thought would be commercial, and not getting anywhere with that.”
Then Doiron decided to change his approach.
“Finally one day I said to myself, ‘I’m going to sit down and write the book that I want to read, but I can’t find it anywhere else. And I don’t care if this book ever gets published. I’m just going to do it for myself,’” Doiron said.
Armed with that new mindset, Doiron started working. An item that appeared in Down East — a rogue bear was eating midcoast pigs, until a game warden ended the bear’s reign of terror — served as a seed. Mornings and weekends, he wrote. And eventually, “The Poacher’s Son” had taken shape.
“[The bear incident] got me sort of thinking about Maine game wardens and I became more and more interested in their work,” Doiron said. “I had this idea of sort of writing that incident from the perspective of a young warden. And that’s kind of how it started.”
In his books, Doiron explores the various Maines — there are far more than two — and has set one novel in the western mountains, one along the midcoast, and one in Washington County. Each book takes place during a different month, which means that if Doiron keeps on churning out a book a year, he’ll finish the series after 12 books, in 2022.
“At least 12,” Doiron clarifies with a laugh.
His readers have faith that the series will keep intriguing them, and his publishers have shown faith as well: He recently signed a new two-book deal with Minotaur, a division of MacMillan, and Doiron said Minotaur has expended a lot of money and effort selling him as an author, and his books.
“[They] just promoted me to the ends of the earth. It was really fantastic,” he said.
Doiron also said that he’s keeping an eye on the big screen, and is confident that “The Poacher’s Son” will eventually end up being made as a movie. He and his film agent are being cautious as they field offers, however.
“We’ve gotten approached about movie offers, but we’re waiting for the right deal for that,” Doiron said. “We want to have a filmmaker, a producer, who has a commitment to making the movie, because a lot of books get optioned and then nothing ever happens to them. We really want to see this become an excellent movie. So I think that will eventually happen.”
And of the character who has intrigued and exasperated readers (and, likely, the author himself):
“Mike, when you meet him in the first book, he is very reckless, he’s self-destructive, he’s a loner, he’s very intelligent, but he’s a little arrogant and self-righteous as well,” Doirion explained. “I think he has a very big heart. I think that’s his redeeming quality, is that he wants to be a good man, and understands that he’s not, yet, and that he’s troubled.”
And does that remind the author of anyone? No. Not really. But it does remind the author’s wife of someone close to her.
“I’ve always thought he represents aspects of my personality but is not in any way similar to me,” Doiron said. “However, once I was trying to describe the character — my wife was there — to some people over dinner. I was going on and saying, ‘he’s self-righteous and this sort of thing, and my wife got exasperated and said, ‘He’s like Paul, if [Paul] was 24 years old and a game warden.’”
Doirion said he was shocked, because he never saw himself that way. But he admitted his wife had a point.
Over the coming years, Doiron expects Mike Bowditch to continue to lurch forward toward becoming the man he can become. Sometimes he’ll make great leaps. Other times, he’ll struggle and step backward.
And eventually, the author knows that somewhere in the Maine woods, lightning will strike again.
That’s how he started this journey, you see.
“I don’t think [Mike] will get struck by lightning, but I think sooner or later, I have to write about the experience of getting struck by lightning,” Doiron said. “Whether it’s a non-fiction book or somehow becomes part of this series, I don’t know. But it changed my life.”