Posts Tagged ‘coastal maine’

I find tastings in wine and beer to be a lot like reading the first few lines of a book. When you know you will only be sampling something, you tend to savor the flavor more, tend to really pay attention to the details, perhaps more so than when you are handed a whole glass or a whole book and told to enjoy.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the tenth or twentieth sip of a wine any less than the first–or that a book doesn’t become more palatable the further into it you get–but I do find there is a special kind of savoring that goes on with the first. I suspect that’s why we love excerpts–knowing we aren’t settling in for a whole book but just a sampling, a taste of a novel…

My husband and I did a recent tasting of our own of three Maine beers. All good, all in different ways.  As you’ll see, we didn’t have any of those sexy little tasting glasses where we were staying so we had to use full-size glasses and felt obliged to, well, fill them.

Up first,  Atlantic Brewing Company‘s Coal Porter.  Very mellow, even-flavored. Ian said it would make a great session beer.

Next, Sebago Brewing Company‘s Lake Trout Stout.  The smell alone was worth a linger–rich coffee! The stout has a delicious subtle flavor that grows smooth, with a strong, chocolate-malty finish.

Lastly, was Marshall Wharf Brewing Company‘s Wrecking Ball Porter. Full taste up front with a sweet malt finish at the end.

Three yummy beers, with three very distinct tastes.

Now…who’s up for a book tasting? And who wants to pick the samples?

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So you’ve decided on the perfect setting for your next book. The only problem: it’s a place you’ve never been. So off you go to the web and within a few searches, you have an impressive collection of resources. You have photos of neighborhoods and regional architecture, essays on town history and climate trends. You sit down at your computer with your links and your notes, ready to be immersed…but something’s missing.

Say your character is standing in the doorway of his new coastal home and facing the sea…what does he smell? The salt air? Sure, but is the tide in or out, and does one smell different from the other? Maybe he doesn’t smell the sea at all, maybe he smells a spray of rugosa roses? Or maybe a line of spruce trees? Maybe diesel fumes from a passing fishing boat?

What is this flower? I don't know, but my character sure should.

And when he walks down to the water for the first time, what exactly are those hedges that line the coast? Were the rocks wet or dry? Were they covered in seaweed or bare? Did the water drop off gradually or quickly at the edge?

See what I mean? So much for saying “He saw the coast.”

Growing in Maine, I visited many lighthouses, spent a gazillion hours on the coast, and yet, when it came time to stage the setting for my WIP (which, not surprisingly, takes place in a lighthouse on the Maine coast), I realized that for all my experience, there were fundamental elements of my environment that I had missed along the way, elements that would be key to creating an accurate and inviting place for readers to visit and stay on a while, a place I thought I knew like the back of my hand.

So I went back home to Maine and tried to see the coast from the eyes of my character, and I tried to fill in the gaps. I photographed lighthouses and shorelines, fishing villages and seaside cottages. I took broad panoramas of harbors and details of lobster traps. I snapped shots of rooflines and shots of window casings. Shots of weeds and shots of shingles. Because you never know what your character will see or smell or taste or feel.
Now your turn…

Any tricks for researching your settings?
What about the settings you choose? Do you stick with familiar places you’ve lived or visited, or do you like to set your stories in uncharted territories?

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There’s a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Camden, Maine called Blue Sky Cantina. The owner Ron and his wife Jennifer make authentic Mexican dishes with a regional twist, adding local seafood to some of their dishes, such as fish tacos made with haddock that are out of this world. They own a second restaurant down the road in Rockland called Big Fish Cafe and that menu includes even more seafood-based temptations, such as Scallop-Sweet Potato Chowder and Lobster Nachos. Having written a novel about a Creole woman who opens up an authentic New Orleans cafe on an island in Maine, I appreciated hearing Ron’s story of how he and his wife came to bring authentic Mexican food from the West Coast to Maine.

If you’re ever in Midcoast Maine, stop in and feast.

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In the world of Maine-made sweets, there is quite nothing like a genuine Whoopie Pie. Those sticky chocolate cake sandwiches. That layer of thick frosting. That very first bite and you feel the fudgey concrete form across the roof of your mouth, feel the crumbs wedge between your teeth and gums. Looking down you peel one finger from the mighty discs and see your print is now in chocolate.

So now, without further ado…
Behold, the glorious Whoopie Pie:

This gorgeous specimen came from the Megunticook Market in Camden, Maine, and no, you needn’t adjust your screen–it really is that big. Now I happen to like mine with a porter (you can never have enough chocolate) like the one above from Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast, but of course, milk goes well too.

Keywords: Whoopie Pies Maine Camden Megunticook Market Marshall Wharf Brewing Company

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When I decided to set the majority of my novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO in Maine, it was more than because I felt the Maine landscape would make a poignant contrast to the Bergeron women’s world of New Orleans. Maine is where I am from, and, like a lot of writers, I feel compelled to write of places and people I know.

Things like:

The heady scent of rugosa roses that line the sandy paths to the beach, the smell of the tide and the veil of morning mist…

Needhams, Dilly Beans and a handful of warm, tiny, just-picked blueberries…

The smell of snow under a steel sky…

The first custard of the summer…


Digging sea glass from the sand…

Hot summer days and nights cold enough for a blanket…

Steamers. Piles and piles of steamers…

This is just the beginning of a long list. So to those Mainers out there, those who live there (in body or in mind), then or now, or those who have visited and never forgotten, feel free to share the pieces of Maine that you think no novel set in Maine could be without.

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