Monday, September 11, 2006

Looking for Inspiration in All the Wrong Places (or Maybe Not)

by Mike Crawmer

Summer was coming to an end, the perfect time for my partner and me to leave town for an eight-day driving tour of Maine and New Hampshire. (Look in future posts for stories from my day job, where I edit the clumsy creations of writers for whom English is a Gumby toy to be twisted to fit their own inscrutable needs.)

Ah, Maine! As predicted, the rocky coastline and lighthouses were postcard perfect…its towns, quaint and charming…its rivers and mountains pulled from a painting…its people, friendly and easygoing. Taking advantage of a stay in Bar Harbor, I looked for inspiration at the site of the former home of our chapter’s namesake. The house was destroyed in a 1947 fire that ravaged Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. But Mary Roberts Rinehart was a formidable woman--maybe, just maybe, I could pick up some vibes from the grand dame while taking in the vista from where her house once stood. Alas, the view of Bar Harbor and the islands beyond was just too beautiful to conjure up thoughts of nefarious deeds and heinous crimes. Stories of Nature’s beauty and wonder, yes, but murder and mayhem, no. Obviously, I’d have to look elsewhere for inspiration.

It wasn’t going to be in our next stop, the Androscoggin River area, where the litany of “quaint,” “charming,” “beautiful,” and “enchanting” continued unabated. The rare dark thought faded quickly, overwhelmed by the warm glow emanating from the historic towns, babbling streams, covered bridges and dreamy white birch forests. We were trapped in a postcard vacation. There was no escape until our flight back to Pittsburgh.

As it happened, we were in the midst of all the inspiration a mystery writer would need (for at least the next book). A couple days after returning home, news reports out of Maine told of an inexplicable murder spree. The victims: the owner of a Sunday River area B&B, the owner’s daughter, a friend of the daughter, a male guest at the inn--and three dogs! The suspect: A young cook at a Bethel B&B, who, according to police, dismembered some of his victims, leaving the women at the inn and dumping the male victim in a nearby state park.

OMIGOD! I squealed as I read about the crime. We ate at the Bethel B&B where the suspect worked. Did he make my pizza? My partner’s sandwich? We drove past the B&B where the women’s bodies lay. And we picnicked and hiked in the park were the male victim was dumped. Just how close were we to that poor man’s scattered remains?

This suspect is now in custody, and I hope the people of the area do not for long carry the scars of this horrific, grisly, unexpected crime.

But, deep inside, I couldn’t help thinking: Inspiration at last!


Joyce said...

Great post, Mike! Shows you that crime can happen anywhere--the setting doesn't matter, except when you're writing about it. I think the beautiful setting makes the crime seem all the more grisly.

I loved your description of the writers you work with! Or should that be the writers with whom you work...

Working Stiffs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't think there's anything more chilling than when the idyllic become horrific. It seems this thread of darkness is woven into everyday life and us crime writer-types are just more prone to yank on it and unravel the tale.


Devon Ellington said...

It always gives a jolt, doesn't it? A few years ago, I saw on television that a handyman had been arrested for killing several prostitutes and I recognized him as someone who'd done work in my boss-at-the-time's home -- and I'd been there in the house with him -- alone. Gave me the creeps, let me tell you.

And DID inspire a story.

If you go back through Maine and go to Boothbay Harbor, two friends of mine chucked their lives here in NY and run the Townsend Avenue Coffee and Wine Bar. Check it out!

Anonymous said...

I read about that case, Mike! How creepy that you were there.

I agree with Joyce--an idyllic setting just heightens the fear factor.

Anonymous said...

I read about that case, Mike! How creepy that you were there.

I agree with Joyce--an idyllic setting just heightens the fear factor.

Anonymous said...

You can tell it's not a cozy:
the dogs got it!


Anonymous said...

Very creepy, Mike.

I'll never forget a case almost twenty years ago of a woman who was dumped on the side of a back country road in Florida near where my aunt lives. It was a road I had traveled many times when I visited her only weeks before, thinking in the back of my mind how the old road would be the perfect backdrop for a crime. Boy, was I right.

Anonymous said...

Devon--Thanks for the tip. The suggestions on where to eat, sleep and visit in Maine keep coming in; we'll have to make another trip up that way someday.

As a firm believer in the six-degrees-of-separation theory (more like 2 or 3 degrees in Pgh!), I'm sure this wasn't my first near brush with some awful crime. This is just one I know about.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me? I'm wondering what was on your pizza, Mike. And in that sandwich your partner ate. I mean---well, I'm just saying.

Annette said...


Eeooou! Have you been watching Fried Green Tomatoes, too???

Mike, that is definitely creepy.

I wonder, does writing about crime make us more paranoid? I mean, we're always looking for some evil lurking every rock for the sake of a story.

Joyce said...

I don't know if it makes us more paranoid, but it definitely makes us more observant. I think writers are able to make up a story from just a tiny bit of information. We're always wondering what if...

Annette H said...

Michael, I came to checkout the blog and I received more than I bargained for.

So where are the pictures of the crime scenes? When you look at them now you might realize that you have some clues to the crime?

Your description made me feel like I was riding along (hint-hint)

Anonymous said...

M ... y
A ... dventures with Crawmer usually end up
I ... n some
N ... ever dull never boring
E ... xcursion.