DIFFERENT STROKES …
By Lea Wait
I’m Lea Wait, and I’ve written five historical novels for middle grades, all set at least partially in the small town of Wiscasset, Maine during the nineteenth century. My publishers say they aren’t a series: a series, they tell me, is several books about the same people.
My books are not. Although a few characters appear in more than one book, my books are about different people (some fictional; some real) who lived in different years. So far the books have been set in 1806, 1804-07, 1819-1820, 1838, and 1861. My major character is, of course, the town itself, a small deep tidal river town typical of many in New England. My goal is to show how the geography and structure of the town stayed the same over decades, but the people who lived there, their occupations and daily lives, changed as years went by. In Stopping to Home (1806,) people cook over fireplaces and call a midwife when a woman is about to give birth. By 1861 (Uncertain Glory), everyone in Wiscasset cooks on a wood stove, the telegraph brings the world to their doors, and midwives are a distant memory.
Uncertain Glory is set during the first two weeks of the Civil War. It’s about two boys who actually did publish Wiscasset’s newspaper then. They have personal issues to resolve, a mysterious girl spiritualist comes to town … and what happens in the book really did happen in Wiscasset in 1861. But the story could also have taken place in thousands of other small northern towns faced with the conflict in the south.
Wiscasset is the backdrop for my stories about young people between the ages of 11 and 15 faced with major changes in their lives who must make lasting decisions about how they will support themselves, where they will live, and who they will live with; questions many people today struggle with in their twenties. For that reason, not only have my books been on student choice award lists in fourteen states, but they’ve also been put on recommended reading lists by the International Social Studies Association and other organizations. (I might add: they are historically accurate.)
So when I speak to groups of young people, I wear my historical novelist hat. I bring 19th century cooking utensils and pieces of money and school books and contemporary (to the 19th century) engravings with me, and we talk about the past.
And then I go home and study books of poisons and forensics.
Because, in addition to writing historical novels, I also write two mystery series for adults: the 7- book (so far) Shadows Antique Print mystery series, in which Maggie Summer, an antique print dealer and college professor, is my protagonist, and the 2-book (third to be published in December) Mainely Needlepoint series, starring 27-year-old Angie Curtis, who graduated from high school, but took off for Arizona, where she worked for a private investigator for ten years. She’s now back in her Maine harbor home town helping run her grandmother’s custom needlepoint business, which also identifies and restores antique needlepoint.
Although traces of the past run through both series, the mysteries are set in the 21st century. My mysteries have been finalists for Agatha awards, and I was thrilled when Twisted Threads made the USA Today best seller list in August.
So, the hat many people think I wear is that of “mystery writer.”
Whenever I speak at a conference or bookstore or library, I try to talk about both genres.
I’ve been delighted to sell children’s historicals to adults who want to read about the past, and mysteries to high school students who’ve “graduated” from my historicals.
I’ve found audiences, whether they’re fans of one genre or another, ask many of the same questions. (“What is it like to live in Maine in the winter? Where do you get your ideas? What is it like to be a writer married to an artist? What’s it like working with an editor?”) So recently I collected an assortment of blogs and essays I’ve written, added to them, and the result was Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine, a collection of short, often wryly humorous, essays about living in Maine, and making a living as an author. I included essays on writing and publishing, from ideas to editing to writing conferences to how to sign a book, in hopes my experiences would help those beginning to publish.
So, now I have a nonfiction writing credit.
Why write in three genres?
A simple question, actually. I enjoy reading many genres. I enjoy research. I enjoy the challenges of writing in different fields for different audiences. I don’t get bored or find myself repeating myself when I’m writing one book, researching another, and perhaps planning a third. Right now I’m writing the fourth in the Mainely Needlepoint series, but also have works in progress that include suspense for adults and a picture book biography for children. And why not?
My major challenges are finding enough time to write (and meet deadlines) for several different publishers, and marketing to different audiences.
I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America as well as the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators and the Historical Novel Society. I try to keep up-to-date on publishing and marketing trends in several major genres. I have Facebook friends who are thirteen, and those who collect Social Security, so I post about reading, writing, and living in Maine. Period. (No politics or religion or breakfast.)
I’m on Goodreads, too, but I have yet to tweet. I am a regular blogger at http://www.mainecrimewriters.com, and I try to keep in touch with websites and blogs that focus on books for children. My website (http://www.leawait.com) is divided: the children’s books section includes notes for teachers, and the mystery section has questions for book groups. I visit both classrooms and book groups either in person or via Skype. I love talking with people of all ages who’ve read my books.
My goal with all my books is the same: to entertain, and to sneak in a little new information along the way. Often the information is historical; sometimes it isn’t.
One thing is certain: I only write books I’d want to read. And I hope others will want to, too.
Maine author Lea Wait lives on the coast of Maine with her husband, artist Bob Thomas. While she was raising the four daughters she adopted when she was a single parent she worked for AT&T; now her daughters are grown, and she writes full-time. For more information about Lea and her books, see her website, http://www.leawait.com, friend her on Goodreads and Facebook, and check out the blog she writes, http://www.mainecrimewriters.com with other mystery writers in the sometimes mysterious state of Maine.
Publishers: Islandport Press, Kensington Publishing, Perseverance Press