What is it about Lewiston that so engages the fiction writer? Stephen King goes there all the time. Local lawyer Jim Howaniec set his debut novel right there on Lisbon Street. And now there’s R.J. Keller, a rising author who couldn’t resist dropping her characters into the sometimes mean, sometimes charming town of Westville, a place that starts to feel awfully familiar if your own home is the Twin Cities. If you haven’t heard of Keller yet, you’re probably going to sooner or later. The author of “Waiting for Spring,” we caught her in between paragraphs and grilled her about this Westville business and other matters.
Word on the street is that your fictional town of Westville is based on Lewiston. True or vicious lie? It is the vicious truth.
Why Lewiston? I was living in Winthrop at the time I began writing “Waiting For Spring,” and I went into Lewiston to shop (“shop” being my code word for “heading out to have a few beers at Gritty’s”) several times a month. It struck me as a city of stark opposites. There’s a theater on one side of the street and a boarded up, falling down, old building on the other. Closed, empty mills over here and brand new small businesses over there. The city felt defeatist and hopeful at the same time, at least it did to me, which not only inspired me to create its fictional — yet smaller — double, but contributed to the general tone of the book as well.
Is there a handsome and charming newspaper reporter in your version of Westville? No.
Why not? I wanted to make Westville as close to its real-life inspiration as possible, and . . .well. There it is.
What is “Waiting for Spring” about? “Waiting For Spring” tells the story of Tess Dyer, a troubled, recently divorced woman who hopes to start her life over in a new town. Instead she brings her troubles with her, of course, and finds herself entangled in the problems of her new townspeople: addiction, poverty, domestic abuse. She even has to deal with an obnoxious Yankee fan. But ultimately it’s a story of hope, about finding the strength inside ourselves to overcome those obstacles. Also there’s a fair amount of sex.
What are you up to now, authorially speaking? I’m working on the sequel to “Waiting For Spring,” which is tentatively called “The Wendy House.” It follows a man during the course of one day as he prepares to kill the man who killed his daughter, all while having semi-drunken, hallucinatory conversations with his long-dead wife.
Is “authorially” even a word? I’m not sure. I’ll try using it in my next turn at Words With Friends and let you know how it goes.
Is there something about Maine that drives so many of us to write and/or drink? The snow, the mosquitoes, the Red Sox. The snow. Writing and booze is pretty much the only way to get through it all.