Tuesday, July 8, 2014

10 Questions for Paul Doiron, author of Game Warden Mike Bowditch mystery series

Paul Doiron is the author of the Mike Bowditch series of crime novels, including The Poacher's Son, which won the Barry Award and the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and a Thriller Award for Best First Novel, and the Maine Literary Award for "Best Fiction of 2010." PopMatters named it to its Best Fiction of 2010 list. His second book, Trespasser, won the Maine Literary Award, was an American Booksellers Association Indie Bestseller, and has been called a "masterpiece of high-octane narrative" by Booklist. The third novel, Bad Little Falls, was a BookScan Bestseller and a nominee for the RT Reviewers Choice Award and the Maine Literary Award. Massacre Pond, the fourth in the series, was an Indie Next pick and an Indie Favorite, as well as BookScan Bestseller. The Bone Orchard will be published on July 15, 2014.

Paul is Editor Emeritus of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, having served as Editor in Chief from 2005 to 2013, before stepping down to write full time. A native of Maine, he attended Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in English, and he holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. He is a former member of the Maine Arts Commission and a current member of the Maine Humanities Council. He is also a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine.

Clinton Greaves: Tell me about THE BONE ORCHARD, the fifth book in your excellent Mike Bowditch series.

Doiron: Thank you for the compliment and for the chance to talk about THE BONE ORCHARD. Readers of the previous Mike Bowditch books will know that he is a young Maine game warden who is struggling to come to terms with his job and his relationships. Over the course of the series we have watched him repeatedly get in hot water with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the start of THE BONE ORCHARD, Mike has reluctantly decided that they are right. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide in the North Woods. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both an expansive lakeside estate and the family of an incarcerated friend (both of which were introduced in my previous book, MASSACRE POND). The problem is that the past won’t leave him alone. After his mentor and former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for quitting on her, claiming that if he’d been her back-up that night, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the police investigation and second-guessing his decision to leave the service. Inevitably, he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter and starts to demonstrate a newfound maturity. He’s been on a hero’s journey since THE POACHER’S SON, and this book is the end of one stage of his life and the beginning of another.

Clinton Greaves: I was fortunate to discover the series right at the start with THE POACHER’S SON. I was intrigued by the prospect of a crime novel featuring a game warden in Maine as the main protagonist. I’m wondering if writing such an original protagonist aided in your effort to be published or whether Bowditch’s profession made it difficult for you to find a publisher.

Doiron: I think a combination of factors helped me. First was that C.J. Box had already had considerable success with his series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett (his first book came out while I was writing THE POACHER’S SON and punctured any illusions I had about originality). Second was a word I hate to use but which definitely exists in the publishing world today: I had a “platform.” I was, at the time, the editor-in-chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, which has a paid readership of 90,000 and is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year. I also happened to be a Registered Maine Guide, certified by the state to lead fishing and canoeing trips in the wilderness. So I had some credibility as an expert on both Maine and the outdoors that my publisher thought would help in the marketing of the book.

Clinton Greaves: Each year I make it a point to mark up a desk calendar with books I’m eager to read over the course of twelve months. THE BONE ORCHARD and Ace Atkins’s THE FORSAKEN were my marked selections for July ’14. I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of your novel and I’m pleased to say the series remains fresh and progressive. Mike Bowditch continues to grow and discover surprising truths about himself that have kept me on the edge of my seat. Do you have a full story arch in mind for Bowditch? A set number of books you would like to complete with this character?

Doiron: Originally, I had a plan for twelve books with each one taking place in a different month. Game wardens’ jobs change from season to season so I thought it would be fun to show the various things they deal with over the course of a year. In my original plan, Mike would get a year older from book to book, but I have abandoned that concept because it meant leaving a hole I had to fill with each new novel, catching the reader up on what has happened since the last one. Whether I get to twelve books — or beyond — will depend on whether readers stick with me, I suppose.

Clinton Greaves: My reading interests certainly slant toward crime fiction. Reading your biography, I see that you graduated from Yale University with a degree in English. Did you ever consider writing something the literati would consider more highbrow? What drew you to crime fiction, or are you an accidental crime novelist like Ian Rankin?

Doiron: You caught me. Yes, I came out of Yale as a literary snob. My favorite author is Hemingway, and for a long time, I tried to write in the minimalist style that Raymond Carver had popularized in the ‘80s. But I have always had a deep affection for plot. As a reader I’ve been drawn to stories where something happens. About fifteen years ago, my girlfriend — now wife — gave me a stack of books by contemporary crime and suspense authors: P.D. James, John LeCarre, James Lee Burke, Walter Mosley. I read them and said to myself, “This is literature.” And I realized that I had been fighting my own interests and talents as a writer. I really only found my voice when I stopped trying to please highbrow literary journal editors.

Clinton Greaves: In a previous interview with Owen Laukkanen, I asked him if he ever considered writing a standalone novel outside of his Windermere and Stevens world. Dennis Lehane’s career spiked once he moved from his PI series and wrote MYSTIC RIVER. How far ahead have you thought about your own career? Any standalone novels in your plans?

Doiron: I have been filing away ideas for standalones for years, but I have recognized over the past year that, at the moment, my readers really want more of Mike Bowditch. And since my readership is growing, it makes sense to focus with the series for the time being. My hope is that my career won’t require a standalone to move to the next level. My role models in this regard are people like the late Tony Hillerman, James Lee Burke, and Craig Johnson.

Clinton Greaves: So far I’ve mentioned Ace Atkins, Owen Laukkanen, and Dennis Lehane. I think it’s quite obvious that I cannot get enough of well-crafted crime fiction. Do you have much time for reading yourself? What are some books that you think should be on everyone’s bookshelf (or Kindle, Nook, etc.)?

Doiron: One of the things I have found is that it’s hard for me to read crime fiction when I’m writing the first draft of a novel. I’m something of a mimic, and I’ll find myself unconsciously picking up the voice of an author I really admire. (It’s pretty comic when Mike Bowditch begins talking a little like Easy Rawlins.) Recommendations are always so difficult. I’ll throw one out that might seem odd and try to explain it. THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Lewis Stevenson. The story is so familiar that even people who haven’t read it think they know it. I guarantee that they don’t. The novella is one of the best mysteries ever written (and that’s not even getting into the subject of what the book has to say about our divided souls). The way Stevenson spoons out the story, little by little, is just masterful. Everyone who aspires to write a story with a mystery at its center needs to read DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.

Clinton Greaves: Going into a book do you let the story come to you? Or are you a careful plotter with file cards and charts and an extensive story “bible”?

Doiron: I tend to start with a general idea for a story. I’ll know it will be set in February and have to do with men lost in a blizzard, for instance. And I’ll know what the murder is and who did it. After that I try to write organically, letting myself be surprised by the twists and turns that come to me along the way. The analogy I always use is deciding you’re going to drive to some distant destination, but you have the time and freedom to explore various side roads. You know where you will end up, but you don’t know how exactly you’ll get there.

Clinton Greaves: Certainly publishing is changing, as we see more indie works coming to light because of the ease of publishing for Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. How do you feel about the publishing industry these days? Encouraged or discouraged?

Doiron: That’s a good question. I tend to think publishing is starting to follow a similar (but not identical) course as the music industry has been going through for the past twenty years. Technology has made it possible for anyone to get their creative work out into the marketplace, but it has changed the way consumers decide how much value to place on a book, an album, or a movie. The pie is being divided up differently. It seems that in publishing the midlist has been hit the hardest by these trends. Digital publishing is great if you don’t expect to make a living from your writing, and blockbuster authors are continuing to do fine, but you see the middle being squeezed out. The challenge for someone like me is to build a growing base of loyal readers who do what you do and pen the date of my release on their calendars.

Clinton Greaves: What’s one question you wish an interviewer would ask? And go ahead and answer it.

Doiron: Which author has been an unacknowledged influence on my work? Flannery O’Connor, definitely. I grew up in an observant Catholic household and attended an all-boys Jesuit high school. I remember discovering O’Connor and just burning through her stories and novels and letters. She’s one of the few authors where I can say I’ve read every word she published during her lifetime. Most reviewers have missed how Christ-haunted my books are. I thought the title TRESPASSER would be a dead giveaway as to Mike’s unacknowledged and unresolved issues with his faith. He’s really struggling in the novels with whether he believes there is a divine order in the universe. Sin, penance, forgiveness: they’re all ideas he’s struggling with. I should add that O’Connor is also responsible for whatever dark comedy there is in my books.

Clinton Greaves: Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Any last thoughts?

Doiron: Thanks again for this opportunity. I’d just add that people always ask if they need to read the books in order. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. The novels stand on their own. But I think you’ll find THE BONE ORCHARD more interesting and entertaining if you start with THE POACHER’S SON and follow Mike on his journey to this new place in his life.

Order Paul Doiron's Latest Thrilling Mike Bowditch Novel!
Amazon: The Bone Orchard
Barnes & Noble: The Bone Orchard

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