Growing up in Maine gave me an affinity for the Atlantic Coast. Although I lived inland, a solid 45 minute ride to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, the Downeast aura pervaded my everyday life. The connection to the sea, even in Bangor, showed itself in the bevy of trinket shop gifts adorned with images of lighthouses, lobsters, and buoys. I loved visiting the ocean in the summer, swimming the icy waters of Sand Beach, climbing the rocks, and looking under kelp beds for crabs. Because I didn't live in an actual coastal town, the small seaside communities that peppered mid-coast Maine took on an almost mythical, dreamy quality in my young mind.
It's a strange place to be--a kid who is not a natural-born Mainer, but one who lived her formative years near the coast, absorbing all of its traits, steeped in its salty history--and yet not a part of it. I don't feel like I have the pedigree to call myself a Mainer, but I think I know Maine. I feel like a tourist who was a native in a previous life.
Ethan Fortier Under Water
I've now lived more years out of Maine than in it, but I am aware of its impact on my writing. The personality of coastal Maine colored the characters, setting, and themes of The Orbiter.
Ethan Fortier remembered everything. Since his very first breath, even before. The warm, soft buoyancy of his mother's womb. The muffled thump of her heartbeat and soft vibration of her laugh. The gentle rocking of her movements and the stillness while she slept.
When Ethan feels overwhelmed by the painful turbulent memories, he craves the quiet sanctity of a mother's womb, and discovers he can replicate the feeling by submersing himself underwater. I thought about the times as a child when I would take a bath and submerge my head, the sensory deprivation, the quiet, softened sounds. Then my lungs would burn and I would have to surface. Ethan's "addiction" to submersion began in this way. Be it a bathtub, pool, pond, or ocean, Ethan needed to be near water just as much as he needed to be near Carrie, the source of The Pull. This need led me to an obvious conclusion: Ethan would have to live near the coast, what better place than the coast of Maine?
As I wrote the scene where Carrie slips and falls on the rocks into the ocean and Ethan saves her from drowning, I imagined Schoodic Point. I have been there several times as a child, an adult, and later with my own children. Drawing from actual locations and tweaking them to fit the story is a fun part of world-building. There are no rules but that of the natural world, unless you are writing fantasy.
When it comes to creating fictional Maine towns, of course I must mention one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. I look to his writing for inspiration often, drawing on his conversational prose and incredibly authentic descriptions of Maine people and towns. The towns in his stories are characters in themselves and the people who inhabit those towns are inextricably linked.
The small town to where Ethan relocates after high school, Cutter's Cove, is an amalgam of several coastal towns from my memory; Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockport, and Belfast to name a few.
Climax on the Cliffs
The scene at the end of Part I, where Ethan stands on the stormy cliffs, calls to mind the boulders at Acadia National Park surrounding Thunder Hole and nearby Otter Cliffs. Ethan stands above the churning waters, the moon rising between the clouds, the wind whipping and pelting rain onto his skin, the deafening crash of the waves drowning out Carrie's voice. His final plunge into the perilous waters is a desperate attempt to escape the torment and echoes the chaos of his surroundings. Beautiful, commanding, and powerful is the rocky coast of Maine.
I have yet to revisit these locations for any satisfactory amount of time since writing The Orbiter. I look forward to a future trip when I can take the time to sit at each location and ponder Ethan's journey again. I wonder how it will feel?
I write novels and poetry and this blog.