Here's the extended version of my interview with Linda Greenlaw, which appears in this week's Phoenix:
Fishing-boat captain Linda Greenlaw, who immortalized lobster boats and fisherman’s tales in her previous non-fiction books such as The Hungry Ocean and The Lobster Chronicles, has changed course in her most recent work. Slipknot is a mystery novel set in the fictional port town of Green Haven, Maine, where a lively former detective finds herself mixed up in wind-farm politics, small-town grudges, and the murder of an infamous local.
We sat down with her for a chat and crab sandwiches at the Dry Dock on Commercial St. (where her last non-fiction book, All Fishermen Are Liars, was set). Read an extended version of this interview online at www.thephoenix.com/abouttown.
How was writing fiction different from, or more challenging than, writing non-fiction?
This is book number five for me; and after the conclusion each of them I’ve said, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ This was no exception. With my other books, I never needed an outline. I was writing about myself, my life, and I know how that goes, I know that story. So that was tough, thinking, ‘I do need to outline this thing.’ It was tough making plot decisions. But fun creating the characters. In the past, I’ve written about real people – my crew members, my friends, my parents – and this was just as much fun. You don’t place characters out of nowhere. They’re kind of like composites – everyone you know has some kind of quirk or interesting attribute.
At least two additional Green Haven mysteries are on tap. Do you have any ideas for the rest of the series?
I have some ideas. I know that I’m going to start with an outline for book number two. It’s going to be the same core of characters. My editors told me that anyone who was a suspect shouldn’t be in the next book, but I’m wondering about that. In Slipknot, the main bone of contention, as far as Maine issues, was these fishing regulations and the wind farm. I think in book number two I’d like to talk about lobster fishing and aquaculture, because there’s a lot of interesting things going on right now in those two industries, and there is some conflict, not always, but there is some.
How much of Slipknot’s main character, Jane Bunker, is based on you?
Before I even started writing Slipknot, my editor warned me that I had to be very careful to make sure Jane Bunker does not become Linda Greenlaw. But what I learned is, no matter what you’re writing, on some level, it’s very personal. It’s still you on the page. And I’ve met already, early in the book tour, people who say, ‘Come on, Jane Bunker is you.’ And I keep denying it. I tried to make her not me as much as I could. I would have loved to have made Jane Bunker a lot smarter than me, but that’s impossible!
Have you ever solved a real-life mystery?
No more than anyone else in their average, work-a-day life. I mean there’s always a little intrigue, that’s what keeps life interesting. If you’ve got everything figured out when you wake up in the morning, that’s really not much fun. But I’m not Nancy Drew. I’m sort of torn between thinking, ‘You know, this is really difficult for me because I don’t think along these lines,’ and then on the other hand I read Slipknot and I think, ‘Gosh, this is so good, I’m very devious – how do I come up with this stuff?’ That’s kind of fun.
What’s your writing process like?
I’m definitely a morning writer. When I’m writing a book; I sit down every single day. I have to, because I don’t enjoy the process. So any distraction is so welcome – anything, I’m dropping it. So I have to be disciplined about it, to the point of asking my mother not to call until after 10 o’clock in the morning. I write long-hand in a notebook, and make all my corrections on the page.
How often do you fish now?
Very part-time. I started setting lobster traps early in May, and knowing that I was going on a two-month book tour, and if I’m not on book tour I need to be writing book number two, I only put about 150 traps in the water – which is very, very, very much part-timing it. My father will haul the traps while I’m on tour. When I’m off tour, I can decide whether to put more traps in the water or not.
Between Wednesday, June 27, and Saturday, June 30, Greenlaw will be appearing at bookstores in Boothbay Harbor, Brunswick, Belfast, Bangor, and Blue Hill. (She appears in places that don’t start with the letter ‘B’ too, just not this week.) After that, she’ll head into the rest of New England and beyond. Check www.fishingwithlinda.net for more details.