The thing about water is that it will follow you, sometimes without you even knowing it.
My first two years in the world were defined by a tiny attic bedroom window looking out on Swan Lake and Mount Waldo on the far shore.
Later, my parents moved into town. Belfast, Maine was a deep-water harbor town in the end days of an environmentally catastrophic poultry processing era. The ocean stretched along the land to the east. The Little River picked its way through the woods near our house. And the Penobscot River, a constant presence, stretched from the bay up through the outlying small towns in which my aunts and uncles and grandparents lived.
I still live in Maine, the place that has always fed the landscape of my imagination, with an attic window that looks out on a different lake and different mountains. And turning through the catalogue of all the places I've lived, I find that every apartment, cabin, and house has been within a short walk of a river, stream, pond, lake, or sea.
I set most of my fiction in a fictionalized version of the Penobscot River watershed, where my family has lived and worked for nearly four centuries. As a kid, it seemed we'd always just kind of been there. We seemed stuck. I resented it, really. I was much older before I realized how preposterous and special it was to be able to stake that much permanence, that much known geographic history, to one’s past. I came to see that a deep sense of rootedness is a privilege. It’s not a reality known to all American lives and families.
My work often starts with place. It could be the little yellow house on top of a hill where my great aunt has lived for years and where a freight train once lumbered through the woods. The clearing nestled in a pine grove where a half-finished and fully forgotten wooden boat sits on stocks and has become a kind of feral jungle gym for kids. An old cedar fence where the light comes falling through the knotholes in the afternoon and creates a tapestry of strange and surreal shapes on an otherwise normal small town street. And while fiction is primarily an act of imagination, it can hold echoes: of all the people I’ve known in these small towns and perhaps some I carry with me but have never met—genetic memory, after all, is a fascinating thing for a writer to consider.