Growing up in Rumford, CB Anderson loved to read, but she didn’t know she wanted to write. She majored in math in college, worked in computer programming. She tried a few other things, but she wasn’t really suited to them.
It turned out she was suited to writing.
Today, Anderson is a writing professor, freelance journalist and fiction writer. Her new book, “River Talk,” was released in April and has already gotten some acclaim. (In a starred review, Kirkus called it “a triumphant, probing debut that promises both literary and mass appeal.”)
Oh, and it’s about life in western Maine.
Name: CB Anderson
What was it like growing up in the Rumford area? Pretty great. It was the ’70s, the mill was booming and sports teams were thriving. Rumford High School basketball was ’76 New England champs! My family lived in a village outside Rumford, so as I got older I loved to hang out with the downtown kids. After gymnastics practice at the community center we’d go to Milligan’s for pizza or to try on clothes at Dee-R’s.
Tell me about your new book: “River Talk” is a story collection that explores the outer world of western Maine and the inner worlds of its inhabitants — teachers, mill workers, shopkeepers, bartenders, etc. A reviewer described the book as ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
Does Lewiston-Auburn play a role in “River Talk”? Several of the stories allude to a city like Lewiston. “Two Falls,” about a Somali refugee and her family, is set in a place much like Lewiston.
How much did your life in Maine inform “River Talk”? Hugely, not just in terms of the characters, but also the setting. The physicality of the book — rivers and foothills, the gem-lined cave in “Tourmaline” — originates in what I knew or imagined growing up.
What’s your favorite story in “River Talk”? That’s a little like naming your favorite child . . . I guess I’m drawn to the few short pieces that serve as metaphor. Readers seem to like the longer stories that are more plot-driven.
The book’s characters include a love-sick taxidermist, a struggling veteran, a Somali refugee working at a local mill and a woman reconsidering her polygamist marriage. Diverse group! How do you make such different characters realistic? I hope they come across as realistic. To the extent that they do, I think it’s because to me they’re people first, trying to connect, to do right by their loved ones. Ranya, the woman from the polygamous Christian compound, lives a life unfamiliar to most of us, but her concern for her daughter’s safety is a common human one.
Which is easier, journalism or fiction? They’re hard to compare. When I write journalism, I’m out in the world, observing, interviewing. Writing fiction is an interior process, sometimes maddeningly so. But the two complement each other. The necessity of inhabiting a fictional character for hours at time may make me a more tuned-in journalist. And I often begin to imagine a fictional character in a particular context as I’m reporting a piece of journalism.
What’s your most memorable story as a journalist? I did piece on poaching a few years ago, and the wardens I was shadowing went into the woods with a mechanical deer named Bucky. Only, that day he wasn’t wearing his antlers, so he was a doe. It was rifle season, and the idea was that an unscrupulous hunter might take a shot even though does were off-limits. No one did, but I spent quite a bit of time buried in the bushes worrying they might!
What is it about Maine that makes it so attractive to writers? My mother-in-law once gave me a New Yorker cartoon that showed people at a cocktail party. One was saying to another, “Oh, you’re from Maine? What an authentic place to be from!” I guess it was meant to be funny, but really, Maine is authentic, and textured. That draws writers — and everyone else who chooses to live here, too.
Best Maine river ever: Androscoggin, Allagash or Kennebec? As someone who enjoys kayaking, I love many Maine rivers. But since I grew up on the Androscoggin, I guess I don’t risk name-your-favorite peril by claiming it as my favorite.