leaonwiscassettownpier          One of the basic rules for authors is to “write what you know.”

My eighteenth book (Dangling by a Thread) is being published this week, and I understand that rule. I often write about the State of Maine, which I know and love. In my Shadows Antique Print Mystery series my protagonist, Maggie Summer, is an antique dealer, as I was for more than thirty years. In last month’s latest in that series (Shadows on a Morning in Maine,), Maggie, a single adult, adopts an older child – something I did four times.

So – yes – I’ve written what I know.

But I’ve also written about a lot of things I wanted to know.

I asked myself … what if ….

Parents of a man who’d watched their son die of AIDS decided it would be a mercy to

kill others with that disease so they would avoid suffering? (Shadows at the Fair)

An elderly woman with Alzheimer’s started talking about the secrets she’d kept for the past eighty years? (Shadows on a Maine Christmas)

A family that has defined itself as descendants of a famous artist discovers an 1890 diary that tears that assumption apart? (Shadows of a Down East Summer)

A woman disappears when her daughter is ten, leaving the girl to believe she’s been deserted. And then, seventeen years later, the mother’s body is found? (Twisted Threads)

A traveling girl spiritualist draws crowds during the first two weeks of the Civil War, and then the two teenage boys who publish the local newspaper decide to prove she’s a fake? (Uncertain Glory)

A boy loses his leg in an 1819 farm accident, but refuses to accept that his life is over? (Wintering Well)

And, in my latest book, Dangling by a Thread, what if a man isolates himself on an island off the coast of Maine that has no water, electricity or heat … and refuses to leave?

For all these books, research and imagination were key ingredients to creating credible characters and plots.

The idea for Jesse Lockhart, the hermit in Dangling by a Thread, came from a man I’d seen when I was ten years old. Townspeople called him “The danglingbyathreadcomp300Character.” I didn’t know his real name until decades later. Like Jesse, he lived on an isolated island off the coast of Maine. Like Jesse, he rowed into town occasionally for food and other supplies. I never knew that man’s story – but, at ten years old, when I first saw him, I imagined what it might be.

And when I imaged Jesse Lockhart, I gave him reasons – reasons to choose to be alone, and reasons to isolate himself on an island.

Jesse is a fictional character and, no, I don’t know what it’s like to live alone without modern conveniences. But I knew people had done it … still do, I suspect. Imagination plus research created Jesse.

My readers will let me know whether I succeeded in bringing him to life.



shadowsonamorninginmaineMaine author Lea Wait writes the 8-book Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, the most recent of which is SHADOWS ON A MORNING IN MAINE, and the 4-book (so far) Mainely Needlepoint series, the most recent of which is DANGLING BY A THREAD. She also writes historical novels for ages 8 and up, and her LIVING AND WRITING ON THE COAST OF MAINE is a series of essays about her life as a new wife, new author, and full-time Mainer, and includes tips for other writers. She invites readers to friend her on Facebook and Goodreads, and to check her website (www.leawait.com) for links to free prequels of her recent books, and more information about all of them. To be on her postcard or email mailing list, write to Lea at leawait@roadrunner.com


6 thoughts on “WRITING WHAT YOU QUESTION By Lea Wait

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Thanks, PJ! Have linked on FB!


    Lea Wait http://www.leawait.com latest books: SHADOWS ON A MORNING IN MAINE & DANGLING BY A THREAD

  2. Wonderful post. Love exploring questions through the fictional characters I read and write.

  3. marilynm says:

    Great post–asking questions is what give writers new plot ideas.

  4. Exactly! I think most writers are frequent question-askers. Thanks for articulating it so well.

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Thank you – Nancy, Marilyn and Radine! Asking “what if” leads in so many directions!

  6. I often drive my husband nuts with questions, but I never really thought about how it impacts my fiction writing. Food for thought! Thanks for sharing this.

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