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Years on Chebeague Island inspire writer's debut novel

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Years on Chebeague Island inspire writer's debut novel

CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — When Linda Watkins decided to act on her dream of penning a novel, she took to heart that age-old adage: write what you know.

At the time, she was living in a 100-year-old house on a hill on Chebeague Island, a place she'd been visiting since her childhood.

"It started out as one of those house novels," said Watkins, 66, a retired clinical financial analyst who spent much of her career on the West Coast. "There's something evil in the house that takes over and yadda, yadda, yadda. Over time, it evolved. I started doing research on the Abenaki, and it took off from there."

After three months of writing and nearly two years of editing, "Mateguas Island" was published in the spring by Argon Press, a co-op of independent novelists that also serves as a writing group. The book follows Karen and Bill Andersen, a young couple with a dissolving marriage, and their twin daughters, Terri and Sophie, as they move to Mateguas, an island off the coast of Maine that's steeped in sex, secrets, and more than a little American Indian magic.

"I look at the book as the story of a woman's journey in finding out what's really important in life," Watkins said.

It's that, too. But before long, sinister spirits start popping off all over the place, and Bill and Karen plunge headlong into a couple of juicy affairs. It's the combo of horror and soap-opera melodrama that makes the book fun.

Watkins denies that any of her principal characters are based on actual island residents – and in a place as small as Chebeague, you know it's been suggested – but concedes that Pete and Louise McKinney, an elderly couple who befriend the Andersens, come closest.

"I kind of used a conglomeration of people" to create them, Watkins said. "I wanted them to be a symbol of the hard-working, good-hearted people of Maine's islands. Not everybody in my book is good, but they are."

After seven years on Chebeague, Watkins, moved back to her native Michigan in 2013. The ferry – the place where she wrote much of her novel – was becoming too much for her dogs in their old age. But she's still feeling the island's influence.

Her next book, "Return to Mateguas Island," which continues the exploits of the Andersen family, is due out before Christmas.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.