A fluffy white dog with a wiggly tail yapped his hello for me at the door of Joan MacCracken’s log home in Brooksville.
“It’s OK, Quig,” said Joan, reaching down to scoop him up.
“Quigley? Like the dog in your book?” I asked.
“Yup,” said Joan, giving Quigley a scratch. “He’s the only real character.”
Ostensibly I came to see Joan because of her new book, “The Winter House,” but my deeper motivation was my prior acquaintance with Joan’s affirmative outlook on life.
There’s something both heartwarming and invigorating about MacCracken. Even on the tennis court, where we met about 11 years ago, her personality shines through — that contagious zest for tackling challenges, an instantly caring demeanor, and a crinkly-eyed smile that’s always ready for fun. It’s no wonder that she loved being a pediatric endocrinologist for 23 years, caring for children and their families. It’s also no wonder that her boundless drive to be doing, nurturing and creating has not let up since she retired. And perhaps it should come as no surprise that Joan found her heart’s home here in Maine.
Part of the appeal of Joan’s new book is her personality on the page. “The Winter House” is a fictional account of four older, single women who decide to try moving in together for the winter in their small coastal town in Maine. Their paths are not all easy by any stretch — I even welled up with tears once or twice — but the overarching atmosphere of “The Winter House” is a life-affirming, optimistic view of growing older.
Despite some of her readers’ speculations, Joan is not a character in her book. Her husband, Bob Holmberg, is alive and well, and she has no plans to move in with her women friends (at least not for now). But there are bits of Joan throughout the story — in the retired doctor still inclined to care for people, the dog lover, the practitioners of yoga, the loving grandmother and the women who love to have someone else do the cooking (Bob is the cook in Joan’s house). There is even a cherished old mahogany lamp, which came from Joan’s real life. The other very real part of the book is a love of Maine that calls people to stay right here.
Joan grew up in New Jersey and has lived in many parts of the country, but once she encountered Maine she didn’t want to settle anywhere else.
“I absolutely love Maine,” she told me. “I always felt I was born on the wrong doorstep. … I loved the outdoors, I was a tomboy.” She also loved the small community feel of Maine, where you find not only opportunities for solitude and independence, but also the opportunity to have an idea and carry it through.
“I learned that you can have an effect in Maine,” she said.
One of Joan’s effects on Brooksville has been producing The Brooksville Breeze, a quarterly publication about local people and happenings. Writing for that free publication has been great fun for Joan, a lifetime writing enthusiast, and it also serves as a connector for her cherished coastal community.
Another focus of Joan’s attention in recent years has been the At Home Downeast project, part of a national trend to support seniors who want to remain at home rather than move to retirement communities. Going through the aging and death of her parents and inlaws had a profound effect on Joan, making her keen to explore creative and healthy options for older Americans. That’s what led her to write “The Winter House.”
In keeping with her do-it-yourself nature, Joan turned to self-publishing after writing her first book in 1996 (“The Sun, The Rain, and the Insulin”). Her publishing company, Tiffin Press of Maine, also published “The Winter House.” Her sense of personal achievement is particularly keen since she was intimately involved in every aspect of design, print and marketing for her creation. She expresses it with characteristic hyperbole:
“I had a blast creating this book from beginning to end. It’s like having a baby!”
Like a proud mother, Joan will be showing off her new baby during a series of talks in the area over the next month or so. She is driven, however, by a lot more than trying to sell books. More than that, Joan will be selling an uplifting, inspired attitude about growing older with panache. The example of Joan’s own life may be her finest marketing tool.
Joan MacCracken will be give author talks and book signings at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19, at Orono Public Library and Sept. 25, at Bangor Public Library.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.