Interview with Paul Doiron 2015
Paul Doiron’s The Bone Orchard (Constable) is the fifth outing for his Cop-turned- Game Warden Mike Bowditch and is undoubtedly one of the finest, most descriptive Crime novels of the year. Here he talks to Chris High about the novel, what made him want to write and who he’d like to trapped with.
How young were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Reading The Hobbit at age twelve made me know I wanted to become a writer. I put Tolkien's book down with the realization that I wanted to make other people feel the same thrill I was feeling. Figuring out how to accomplish that goal has been a lifelong process.
Mike Bowditch is a character filled with principles that are not always “best” for his own well being. How well do you need to “know” your characters before setting their particular stories down?
For readers unfamiliar with Mike Bowditch, I would describe him as an intelligent and big-hearted young man who was deeply damaged by his abusive childhood. His father was the biggest, baddest man in every room he ever entered. Mike grew up craving his father's love, and in fact, he became a game warden to gain his respect (unsuccessfully, it turns out). Now, that’s a horrible reason to become a police officer. So the series has been about whether Mike really does belong in the Maine Warden Service. Do his good qualities outweigh his self-destructive ones? How does a troubled young person become a heroic adult? Is it even possible? In writing the books I have found that you find answers to questions like these by looking inside yourself, rather than by doing interviews. For many of the other characters, I try to keep my eyes and ears open as I got about my days. Observation and empathy are essential qualities in a good novelist.
With all of your books, place becomes a peripheral character and the amount of detail you provide really gives an extra depth. How much has your work with the Down East: The Magazine of Maine and being a Maine Guide helped develop your descriptive prose?
For me, the greatest challenge in becoming a writer was in discovering what it was that I had to say and then deciding whether it was worth saying. Spending so much time in the Maine woods as an outdoorsman, and then traveling around the state as a journalist talking with all kinds of people (both the high and the low), made me realize that bringing this place to life was a worthwhile goal. I have always admired writers like Raymond Chandler who can “do" description in a way that feels essential to their stories. As a game warden, Mike Bowditch lives outdoors, he observes everything, and so it became important to his character that he bring those descriptive faculties to his narration of the books.
Do you keep a journal and does this help with your writing?
I have never been a successful diarist, but I am an excellent jotter. I take notes all the time. I’ll overhear some dialogue that I know I need to save. Or I will see something outdoors — the way wind can move across a lake like breath upon a mirror — that I desperately want to remember.
How much more do you think can be done at a governmental level for injured veterans returning home from Afghanistan, such as Jimmy Gammon, and how much research did you have to undertake to get the scenario accurate with regards to his parents’ reaction?
There has been a real scandal in the US with the way our government has treated the wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They remain a hidden population in much of America, these people with traumatic brain injuries and prosthetic limbs. I have many friends from childhood who served in the wars, and they have been important sources for me. I also got to know a military policeman who worked in the same prison as Jimmy Gammon. He was immensely helpful. Occasionally, I will have a reader tell me now that The Bone Orchard touched them because they have a child who was injured in the fighting, and returned a different, unrecognizable person, just as happens in the book. It breaks my heart, and yet it was my hope for how the novel would be read.
Maine is “famous” for being the home of another world renowned author. Have your paths ever crossed?
Strangely enough, despite Maine being a small state, I have never met Stephen King. I have heard that he is fairly accessible. I know him to be a voracious reader so it wouldn’t surprise me if he has read one or more of my books. I have a policy, though, of never asking anyone what they thought of a novel of mine. If their opinion was good, they will let you know. Otherwise, it’s better not to ask.
Which part of the writing process do you like least and how do you deal with it?
The part I like best and the part I like least are the same. Composition. I can struggle with putting words down on paper, and I deal with it by imaginarily chaining myself to my chair. And yet nothing gives me greater pleasure than getting into a zone where the words are just flowing. I always enjoy editing, especially when I read a passage and say to myself, “Where the hell did that come from?"
Which author past or present would you like to be trapped in an elevator with and what would you like to ask them about their work?
Probably Flannery O’Connor because I struggle with my Catholic upbringing — faith is a problem for me, as it is with Mike Bowditch — and I’d want her reassurance. I also know that she would make me laugh at our predicament.
What makes a successful author?
I attended Yale University during the last wave of the Deconstructionist movement in literature, which emphasized that texts outlive their authors, and placed greater value on the reading (or misreading) of texts than on authorial intent. At the time, I was resistant to what sounded to me high-minded bullshit. But over the years I have come to think that readers are the ultimate arbiters of whether a novel succeeds or not. This puts me at odds with writers who think, for instance, that EL James is crap because she writes lousy sentences. Clearly her millions of readers are finding some kind of meaning in her books beyond titillation. Don’t get me wrong: popularity doesn’t necessarily equate with excellence. But any author who can write a novel that grabs a reader by the heart has my respect.
What’s next and when can we expect to see Paul Doiron in the UK?
My sixth novel, The Precipice, has just appeared in the US and represents a real turning point for the series. Mike Bowditch is maturing as a man and as a law enforcement officer, and now he finds himself with a girlfriend — the daughter of his longtime mentor no less — who is even more headstrong and reckless than he ever was. It’s a moment readers have told me they have waited a long time to see.
|If you would like to comment on this interview with Paul Doiron in 2015, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK|
Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit. - Chris High 2003.
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