The Poisoned Pen, to see author Paul Doiron instead. Having read some of his Mike Bowditch mysteries, I was looking forward to finding out more, and he was in town to talk about his latest, Stay Hidden.
Before the event officially started, we were all treated to ice cream, and since it was a typical summer day in the Phoenix metropolitan area (i.e., hot), I don't think there was even one drip of ice cream left when Paul came out to talk with us. In fact, he came out a bit early to talk to fans and to enjoy some ice cream, too.
|Paul Doiron, ice cream in hand, talking with a fan.|
Host Barbara Peters asked C.J. Box if Wyoming has game wardens who are also homicide investigators, and he said no. "Is Maine the only state that does this?" Barbara asked.
"Good question!" Paul replied. "But I do know that they also investigate boating accidents which can be suspicious. Lake boating accidents, that is, not offshore boating accidents which are handled by the Coast Guard.
"All conservation officers investigate hunting homicides, which is the technical term for a hunting accident, the idea being that there's no such thing as a pure accident. That somebody has made a mistake, and they don't want to let you off the hook by just shrugging their shoulders and saying, 'Oh well...look...you know...'"
"Didn't we have one of those on a national level?" Barbara asked.
"Oh yeah, Dick Cheney!" Doiron responded.
"We had our own version over here," Barbara said. "Do any of you remember the honeymooning couple at the Grand Canyon where the husband had a camera and kept telling his wife to back up, back up, until she fell off the edge and died? They actually prosecuted him because there was a witness who said that it was deliberate. So you can disguise a homicide as an accident..."
"I don't think Mike can successfully do one in the Grand Canyon," Barbara said.
"We have pretty steep cliffs in Acadia National Park," Paul replied.
"I've been to Acadia several times. I love it," Barbara said. "Next time you're here, I'll bring some of our photos to share. By the way, is it Mount Desert, or Mount Dessert?" (Talking about the proper pronunciation of Mount Desert Island.)
"Actually, it's pronounced 'dessert,'" Paul replied. So...when you're in Maine and visiting Mount Desert Island, remember-- cake, pie, and ice cream-- so you pronounce it correctly!
"It's been an interesting career arc for Mike Bowditch," Barbara observed. "He always seems to get in trouble."
"Yeah, it all flowed from the very first book, The Poacher's Son, which I had not conceived of as being the first in a series. So when I was writing that book, I made him this insubordinate, independent-minded, troublemaking kind of person. And then when I was trying to sell it, trying to get an agent, my agent-to-be said, 'Is this the only book you're ever going to write? If so, that's fine, but I only represent people who want to do this as a career, so what I need to know from you is...is this book the first in a series?' And I said, 'Funny you should ask, of course, yes, this is the first book in the series!' But I was stuck with this troublemaking game warden and I was wondering who's going to stick around with this guy!
"I've never asked you," Barbara said, "is it Bowditch ["o" as in "ouch"] or Bowditch [long "o" as in the name "Beau"]?"
"Everyone with the name pronounces it Bowditch [ouch], but I named him for a sign along Route 1 that's by a graveyard. I used to pass it every day. I'd never heard it pronounced before, so I was pronouncing it Bowditch [beau]-- still do-- and the way that I excuse this to the Bowditches of the world is to say You wouldn't want to be related to this guy anyway!"
"Troublemaker that he is," Barbara said. "He's also had a very rocky romantic road. The woman that he's so attracted to has gone away, and he finds himself single again. Is that a sort of strategy in a long-term series, that you create havoc?"
"I don't think it was that deliberate on my part. I gave him this girlfriend, Stacy the daughter of his mentor, and Stacy was more trouble than Mike was. He was getting his act together faster than she was, and the idea came to me... what if the person you think is your soulmate isn't really your soulmate? What do you do? Do you stay together because you thought the two of you should be together? I don't know. I didn't get married until my late thirties so this may be a reflection of..."
"Almost twenty-eight years, dear!" Rob replied.
"Be that as it may, hormones play a much larger part in things when you're younger," Barbara said. "Also, Stacy hasn't really settled into a calling in the same way that Mike... Mike is a game warden for the long haul, but she hasn't quite figured it out."
"And she's not really gone at this point, she's just offstage," Paul said.
"In this book, Mike winds up going to an island, and-- have any of you read Martin Walker?" Barbara asked. "He wrote of a similar situation in France. What if you wind up with a population of animals in an area that can't support it? What happens?"
"Well, in the case of a number of islands in Maine and elsewhere on the East Coast especially..."
"...and in France!" Barbara interjected.
"Several islands have tried to deal with the problem in different ways. Monhegan Island, which is off the coast of Maine, ended up having to hire a sharpshooter to eliminate all the deer. It sounds really cruel, but the reason why they did that was because there was an epidemic of Lyme disease on the island. Something like a quarter of the population had Lyme. Now we have ticks that make you allergic to eating meat, which is one of my personal nightmares. I wake up screaming...
"Fire Island off the coast of New York suggested bringing in cougars. Yeah, try to imagine that! So it's a real problem."
"There's a proposal to cull the grizzly bears at Yellowstone because there may be more of them than the area can support," Barbara said. "You haven't mentioned the genetic problems that occur when a population is so inbred."
"Yes," Paul said. "There are people who say why don't you just bring in hunters to take care of the problem, and sure, there are people who would be willing to do that, but these are very skinny deer with genetic abnormalities. These are not trophy animals or animals whose meat you would want to eat."
"There's a very powerful scene in the book that won't spoil the plot for you," Barbara said. "It's a scene in which a man has a deer hanging up and he's butchering it... and he's watching all the ticks fall off the carcass. So this is meat that you definitely don't want to eat."
"That's a scene that I personally witnessed," Paul added.
Paul nodded. "In Maine, the laws for shooting somebody accidentally during hunting season are incredibly lax. One of my sources for this book was a couple whose daughter was shot and killed in their own backyard, fifty feet from the house. The guy who did it got thirty days in jail.
"Her father said to me, 'If I ever want to kill someone, I'm taking them out in the woods hunting.'
"The foggiest place on the entire Eastern seaboard is an island off the coast of Maine called-- and I'm not making this up-- Mistake Island. I couldn't use Mistake Island in my book, so I made up a fictitious one that's the foggiest place on the entire East Coast. The theme of fog, of not being able to see clearly, is carried throughout the book.
"One of the things I try to do in the books is to move Mike Bowditch around the state of Maine," Paul continued. "Because, like in any place, there are subcultures. Northernmost Maine, which I haven't really dealt with in the books yet, the people up there have Midwestern accents. The area was primarily settled by Scandinavians. It's very flat, farming country..."
"And it's border country," Barbara said.
"Yes," Paul agreed. "As much as I've wanted to do a border book, I've stayed away from it because everything's always changing."
"And now we're engaged in some sort of weird trade war with Canada, for goodness' sake!" Barbara said. "The longest undefended border in the world, perfectly peaceful for however long it's been, and now here we go. So you may have a whole new thing to explore!"
"Mud season!" a fan exclaimed.
"Yes, mud season. A game warden's job changes from month to month, so I've been trying to mix it up. Another reason for moving Mike around is to show these different subcultures I mentioned.
"The Maine accent as you know it is basically reserved for a narrow strip along the coast. Roughly from where I live in Camden to Freeport."
"You've got a chance for a lobster war coming up," Barbara commented. "You should be grateful to this administration for plots! But it does turn out that your choice of a game warden was brilliant because it gives you a chance to do so many things."
"I thought it was brilliant! When I started writing The Poacher's Son in 2000, I thought I'd struck gold," Doiron said. "I told myself that I'd read all these mysteries and nobody had made a game warden a sleuth. I was just so proud of myself. You probably know the date better than I do, Barbara, but one day I opened the New York Times and read this review of a book called Open Season written by someone named C.J. Box who's made his main character a game warden in Wyoming. I tried to console myself. Yes, this book is getting excellent reviews, but a year from now no one will remember his name. Then he turns around and writes, what, twenty-two books and becomes a New York Times bestselling author.
"But Chuck is a great guy. We're friends, and he's been incredibly supportive of me. And our parts of the country are so, so different."
"They really are," Barbara said. "A law enforcement professional who has some mobility or jurisdiction is much more interesting to write about."
|From Barbara's trip|
For years, Craig and Judy Johnson and C.J. Box had invited Barbara and Rob to visit them, and when this two-week period at the end of May turned out to be a dead spot in the world of publishing, the two headed north. (They also visited with Lee Child and Tasha Alexander while they were traveling.)
I'm only going to show one of the photos. Know what that structure is to the left? It's a two-story outhouse. You use the bottom one until the snow gets too high, and then you start using the one on the second floor. Since I'm allergic to snow, I'm glad I've never had to use one.
This was an hour filled with information and laughter. Yes, another good time at The Poisoned Pen. I hope you enjoyed it!