PORTLAND, Maine — Maine is regularly found to have one of America’s lowest crime rates.
So why are so many aspiring and accomplished crime novelists in the state?
“I think it’s easy for Maine to be used by not only novelists, but screenwriters and movie producers as a great place to set suspenseful stories,” said author Paul Doiron, one of Maine’s award-winning crime writers. “The reality doesn’t really have to matter; it just feels like a place where murders are secretly taking place and other bizarre occurrences.”
Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Executive Director Joshua Bodwell said the alliance saw such a rise in crime submissions for the group’s annual literary awards in recent years, the organization gave the genre its own category.
But despite the apparent groundswell of burgeoning writers of crime thrillers in the state — complementing a stable of well-known, published authors in the field, such as bestseller Tess Gerritsen, Kate Flora, Kaitlyn Dunnett and Doiron — Bodwell said not many turned out at the alliance’s regular writing retreats and conferences.
He and other organization leaders hope that changes with the alliance’s April 19 “Crime Wave” conference at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, where the focus will be the art of the thriller and the keynote speaker will be Gerritsen.
The event boasts theme-specific workshops, book signings, manuscript critiques, talks about the business end of writing and a panel discussion, in addition to Gerritsen’s headline address.
The books of Camden resident Gerritsen, a physician-turned-medical crime writer, have sold tens of millions of copies and spurred a popular cable television show — “Rizzoli & Isles” — based on two of her regular characters.
“We were looking at the membership and looking at demand, and said, ‘We should be doing this,’” Bodwell said of the event. “When you look at Tess Gerritsen purely by numbers, she’s selling books like John Grisham and Stephen King. People know the TV shows and maybe know the name, but I don’t know if people realize that she moves that number of books.”
Like many aspiring writers who may be attracted to the upcoming conference, Bodwell said, Gerritsen was once an up-and-comer attending Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance workshops and honing her skills.
“Tess has been a longtime supporter of the association,” Bodwell said. “She has that old bond. When she arrived in Maine, she took writing workshops with us. … This was a success story. We all have this belief that it just happens, not that these successful writers slaved away and worked for years at their craft before getting their big breaks. But it’s not easy.”
Might it be easier if these writers were living someplace where there was more crime to draw inspiration from? Crime authors who have chosen to live in one of the country’s safest states say Maine provides great fodder for the imagination, even without a high crime rate.
“I grew up in Union, which is a very small town, and when you grow up in a small town … you know everybody’s stories. You drive down the street and can say, ‘So-and-so had an affair with so-and-so’s wife, and so-and-so went away for a while and came back with a husband and baby, and the timing doesn’t add up,’” said Flora, one of the authors taking part in the upcoming conference. “Everything on the surface is really nice and neighborly, but underneath the surface there are grudges and secrets and rivalries that nobody wants known. Growing up knowing all of those things is a great background for crime writing.”
To register for the conference, visit www.mainewriters.org.