By Peggy Morehouse Strack
Author Paul Doiron strolled into the upper level of Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs for his book reading and signing wearing a well-earned smile. On July 15, St. Martin’s Press released, The Bone Orchard, the fifth title in his Mike Bowditch crime novel series, and he’s on a forty day book tour that will take him from his home state of Maine to North Carolina. His boyhood dream of becoming a career author has been realized.
Paul was Editor in Chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine from 2005 to 2013 before stepping down to write full time. “It was something I always hoped for. I looked at my finances and said I can really do it now. The royalties are coming in. I have the contracts.”
Paul began his successful series with The Poacher’s Son, published in 2010. It won the Barry Award and the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel and was selected as “One of the ten top mysteries of the year” by Kirkus Reviews. All five of his novels feature protagonist, Mike Bowditch, who Paul describes as a, “Haunted young man who always has difficulty connecting with other people because of his fractured upbringing. He can be volatile and impulsive, but he’s deeply intelligent and has a strong moral center.” Bowditch, a game warden in the wild country of Maine, fervently tries to solve crimes even when he has to ignore his superiors’ orders and buck his employer’s regulations to do what he believes is right. Paul, who has published at least 1500 pages about this character, was asked how close he is to his fictional lead, “I’ve never been a game warden or law enforcement officer and very little in the book is autobiographical. On the other hand, I had a pretty wild decade in my twenties. It took me a long time to grow-up. I think I’m tapping into that for the Bowditch series.”
Although fiction, just about everything related to the Maine back country setting, natural environment, and crime issues in the Bowditch series is based on research. Paul is a Registered Maine Guide, which means that he is certified by the state in first aid, map and compass work, and basic woodcraft, to lead trips into the wilderness. “A lot of my research consisted of just spending time in the woods, talking with other guides and learning for example, how to call coyotes even though I’m not a coyote hunter myself.” The other type of research Paul delves into is, “shoe leather journalism.” He interviews game wardens, has an understanding of their institutional structure and culture, and knows how crimes are investigated in the state of Maine.
In The Bone Orchard, Mike Bowditch has resigned from his position as game warden following a family tragedy and is working as a fishing guide in the North Woods. When his mentor, Sgt. Kathy Frost is forced to kill a troubled war veteran in an apparent case of “suicide by cop,” he begins having second thoughts about his decision. Paul relayed that he often brings reality-based issues like, “suicide by cop” into his fiction. In his second novel, Massacre Pond, he addresses Maine’s conflicting environmental and economic interests when Game Warden Bowditch is called to the scene of a bizarre crime. The corpses of seven moose have been found senselessly butchered on the estate of Elizabeth Morse, a wealthy animal rights activist who is buying up huge parcels of timberland to create a new national park. In his sixth novel in the series, which Paul is currently writing, he is addressing crime on the Appalachian Trail.
Paul amiably took a few moments to answer questions about his writing career before his reading at Northshire Bookstore and had much to offer aspiring novelists:
Peggy: You’ve written five critically acclaimed novels in four years. How much time do you spend writing on most days?
Paul: I can write as long as ten hours every day if I’m really in the zone. On other days I write for two hours, maybe two thousand words, and that’s great. A lot depends where I am with the story. If I’m still fumbling my way into a novel, trying to figure out what it’s about, who the characters are, it’s a very slow process for me. I end up throwing a lot of stuff out. There’s a point in every book, sometimes it comes earlier and sometimes it comes later, where I know it’s going to work. Once I’ve reached that point, it’s very fast. It has all settled in and I can just see it.
Peggy: Do you ever find your own voice creeping into Mike Bowditch’s voice?
Paul: I have, and not just with the dialogue. Because the story is told in his voice, I use certain words and not others. I deliberately make him an eloquent narrator, and he’s becoming more so as he gets older. He’s turning into a storyteller as opposed to someone who is recounting his own life.
Peggy: How did you break into traditional publishing?
Paul: It took me a long, long time. For years I was writing to get published. I was overly concerned about having a writing career. A number of years ago, I got a really good job and moved in with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. Suddenly, no more excuses. My life was very stable and I could write. At that point, I made the crucial decision to write for myself. I said, I’m going to write a book that I want to read; that I can’t find any place else. I did that for a long time. There came a point where I looked at it and said, this is pretty good. Then I had to be conscious of having to shape it to become something that would be readable to a bigger audience.
Peggy: What did you do when your novel evolved into the story you wanted to publish?
Paul: The key for me was getting a good agent. The best way to do that is to research writers who you respect and are doing something similar to you. Find out who their agents are because that is who will respond to whatever it is you’re doing. Finding an agent is a job. It doesn’t just come to you. It’s something you really have to pursue if you’re going to make writing your career and if your aspiration is to publish with one of the New York houses.
Peggy: You have an M.F.A. from Emerson College. Do you feel this degree is necessary for a writer with career aspirations?
Paul: No, it’s not vital. I resisted it for a long time. I wanted to be a self-made writer. Then I realized that some of the self-made writers that I emulated effectively had MFAs. For example, Ernest Hemingway studied with Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway was taught in an informal setting. I do think MFAs can be useful. The difficulty is the degree doesn’t necessarily get you anything. What gets you something is working closely with other writers and coming to understand the craft really well. I always tell people who are going into an MFA program that there are going to be a lot of voices in your workshops. Tune out the ones that don’t understand what it is that you’re trying to do, but listen to the ones who do understand, especially when they’re critical. Overall, it was a good experience. I studied with some really good writers and it helped. It made me a better writer.
Peggy: What is involved with promoting a new novel?”
Paul: (Laughs) More and more! I think people assume you publish a book, and you might give a handful of readings, and that’s it. These days, especially for a writer who’s looking for a bigger audience, there’s a lot of work that goes into it. Even before The Bone Orchard came out I was doing a lot of interviews, wrote on a lot of blogs, including Buzzfeed; a lot of social media. It’s to build-up anticipation about the book and then once it comes out, the tour. I’m bouncing around. Last night I was in Portland, Maine and today I’m in Saratoga. Tomorrow night I’m outside of Boston then I fly to Raleigh, North Carolina. I have twenty events in about forty days.
Peggy: How does the tour help with publicity for the book?
Paul : One of the reasons that you do tours is to meet the booksellers; to have your books in the media; to have signed stock in the bookstores so that people come in and see your books that are autographed and are curious about them. It’s a selling thing and it’s about meeting readers.
Peggy: What is your process for writing a novel?
Paul: I write my first drafts quickly. I don’t labor over language. Occasionally, I’ll just get lucky with some passages and don’t want to change them later. I try to write those first drafts fast to have that sense of momentum; forward motion in the storytelling so I don’t get bogged down in description, and that sort of thing that I will add later. It’s hard for me to write the first draft because I know I’m writing poorly in places. I would never want to show it to anybody. There’s a side to me that says, I want to get the sentence right, but I know it’s more important that I just keep going.
Peggy: What’s your advice for aspiring authors?
Paul: Persevere. That’s really the key. I decided I wanted to be a novelist when I was thirteen years old, and I published my first novel when I was in my mid-forties. I wasn’t writing a novel all that time, but I was writing all the time. There was a period in my life, in my thirties, when I felt completely floored about it. Where I said, “Do I have the ability?” I had spent so much time in a room writing and typing . When I got an agent for The Poacher’s Son, it was great. When I got a publisher, I was stunned. Then I won all these awards. It was one of those overnight successes that took forever to arrive. If you really are serious, and you will figure out if you’re serious if you do persevere, something will happen. If you’re really not that interested, it’s a sign that you probably should do something else. The great thing these days is you don’t have to abandon writing. You can decide to put your stories online and sell them digitally. There are many options for stories that aren’t destined to be published by the big New York publishers. And that’s fine. Get your work out there.
Thank you Paul Doiron for your insight. We wish you continued success with your writing career!
You can purchase Paul Doiron’s novels at your local bookstore or through Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Bone-Orchard-Novel-Bowditch-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00HP1I78E/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405696650&sr=1-1&keywords=the+bone+orchard
Learn more about Paul Doiron by visiting his website at: http://www.pauldoiron.com/