Inspired by Stephen King Country – Maine

Stephen King and Maine inspired me when visiting two weeks ago, but probably not the way that you think. It’s the perfect state for King to live in and produce books. A certain kind of books. Horror. Sometimes vacations aren’t at all what we expect.

Our first stop on the tour of Maine.

After flying into Bangor for our 30th wedding anniversary, Danny and I rented a car and drove right to his house. Okay. That sounds super creepy and stalkerish, but it’s a town landmark. Go ahead. Google, Bangor Landmarks. It’s on the list along with Paul Bunyan’s statue, (Dang, missed that one), and the Bangor Historical Society, with Chipotle Mexican Grill at the top of the list. Bangor has a population of 32,000.

As I drove up West Broadway, there were several cars parked along the wide avenue. Some voyeurs took pictures through the glass of their vehicles. Not us. We walked up to King’s gate. The wrought iron contained a spider and web, a dragon, and a capital K, just in case you weren’t sure if you had the right address. Exposed to the street, the home seemed to invite onlookers, as opposed to the house next door which hid behind a thicket of bushes and trees. The weather was perfect. Drizzling with a touch of fog.

Stephen King's House

Then we ate lunch in downtown Bangor. An advertisement for a play at the Penobscot Theater hung in the window. My favorite of all of Stephen King’s work, MISERY would open on Thursday night! We bought tickets for a mere twenty-seven dollars. I wondered if The Man himself would be in the audience.

In the meantime, we explored Bar Harbor, Bucksport, Camden, and Rockland and found a few bookstores. Each had a section set aside for Stephen King’s books. Some were like shrines.

A storefront in Bangor advertising Stephen King Tours.

IT displayed in Bangor store window

“He’s prolific,” said a young waiter. “He writes every day and sticks to a routine.”

Curious, I looked it up. According to an article written for Open Culture, King ritualizes writing time like some prepare for bedtime.

He’s quoted as saying in Lisa Rogak’s Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King:

“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

Maine is a summer vacation destination.

We arrived in October! Somehow, we didn’t get the memo.

Some shops and restaurants had already shuttered. We stayed at the gorgeous West Street Hotel in Bar Harbor and discovered nearly the entire island including the hotel would close in another week or two.

Until then, cruise ships deposited eight to ten thousand people on shore EVERY DAY! Older people filled the sidewalks, gift shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown. Sometimes I led Danny into the street to pass them.

Because of the older median age of the tourists, warning signs lined the trail in Acadia National Park.

What steep grade and sharp curve?

Quaint meaning super dinky.

After leaving Acadia, I looked up towns to visit. A blog post with Prettiest Towns in Maine came up at the top of the feed. I perused the list. Portland was too far away and so was Kennebunkport. Blue Hill was sort of on our way back to Bangor. We arrived and drove past a gas station, a co-op, a gift shop, cafe, and beautiful harbor surrounded by nicely tended homes and yards. We drove back and asked a customer coming out of the store with a bag of groceries. “Where’s the downtown?” I asked.

“This is it,” he said.

Most of the towns were like that. We rarely saw fishermen on the lakes or active boats in the harbor. I had always dreamed of going to Maine to embody Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote and ride my bike. We only saw one biker since the hills were killer.

Every town seemed to hold its collective breath.

I thought fall color would be at its peak.

Because of warm and dry weather, most leaves were still green and many had already dropped. That happened in the Colorado mountains last fall. We arrived on their first rainy day.

We found colorful landscapes in Acadia.

Fall in Acadia

We encountered more cemeteries than people.

We could drive for miles and never see another vehicle or police car. The entire population of the state is around 1.3 million.

One of many cemeteries in Maine

Between the ghostly quiet towns and the huge expanse of undeveloped forested areas, goosebumps rose on my arms more than once.

I described the isolation to my son who said, “Maybe it will inspire you to write a book. It sounds like a great place for serial killers.” Right after his comment, I noticed Patterson’s new book, HAUNTED, about this particular variety of killer set in Maine. He must have traveled there in October.

 

Winters are tough. The state depends on summer tourism. We ran into an enthusiastic local in Acadia National Park who raved about wintering among the shuttered towns. “We sled and cross country ski. It’s beautiful in the winter.” The Mainers were very friendly, positive people reminiscent of the Midwesterners I grew up with. We really enjoyed meeting them.

MISERY in Bangor.

On Thursday night, the Penobscot Theater filled and the lights dimmed. After the first few lines, the words, “I’m your biggest fan,” were uttered by the character, Annie Wilkes played by AJ Moonie while grateful and drugged out Paul Sheldon, played by James Konicek, groaned in pain. Moonie nailed Kathy Bates’ portrayal of the deranged nurse and I could almost see James Caan in Konicek’s pained expressions as the crippled victim.

Here’s what surprised me.

In the super intense parts of the play where Annie became brutally violent, the crowd tittered, giggled, and a couple guffawed. Every time someone made a bodily sound it woke me from MISERY’s spell.

When I mentioned it to my son, he remarked that sometimes people react inappropriately when fearful. The scenes were super realistic. I cringed several times, so that could be true.

I’ve been to children’s productions where the audience showed more respect to a cast by not talking. Maybe Mainers don’t get to the theaters very often where we are all instructed to sit quietly. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

It didn’t throw off the actors. They never missed a beat. Maybe they’ve witnessed this many times before. The small ensemble cast of three would make Stephen King proud.

We scanned the audience but King didn’t make it to that night’s performance. I’m sure he will take a stroll to the theater sometime between now and November 5th. I bet he’ll love it. We did!

Inspired by vacationing.

The irony of the setting hit me afterward. King chose Colorado for MISERY, even though I found Maine a better location in many ways. I could imagine super fan, Annie Wilkes, lurking in a clapboard house under the canopy of gnarled oaks just waiting for her chance. Both places endure winters with lots of snow.

Stephen King and I almost physically ran into each other many years ago in a fitness club. We both said, “Oops, sorry,” and kept walking. At the time, he consulted on the mini-series, THE SHINING which took place at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. THE STAND took place in Boulder. He must have been inspired by his trips to Colorado. His latest release, SLEEPING BEAUTIES, co-written with his son, Owen, takes place in a poor Appalachian town. Perfect.

Danny and I almost left Maine a day early. Instead, we drove to Camden, one of the highlights of our trip. I took this photo as we headed out of town.

The harbor in Camden, Maine

Life being ironic, as usual, we got stuck at the airport due to thunderstorms in Chicago and a stubborn baggage door. We had to stay an extra day!

Instead of flying through Chicago that Sunday, we traveled through New York. I remembered my son’s words when starting the four-hour trip home from JFK. “Maybe Maine will inspire you…”

I pulled out my cell phone and began to write.

Maine highway

~~~

Have you ever gone on vacation with completely different expectations? What’s your favorite King novel? Have you seen IT in the theater?

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Haunted at the Stanley Hotel

 

Please, Don’t Send Clowns to My House on Halloween Night

Clowns on parade. Don't come to my house Halloween nightOur local newspaper is holding an outdoor Halloween decoration contest. I had a photo ready to post on their Facebook page even though my dead guys and pumpkins weren’t displayed that early in October. In a month’s time in Colorado, decorations could blow to Kansas. I figured the dramatic lighting would make up for some of the missing details. I had the photo teed up and ready to upload when I hesitated. They required an address. It would post on their page so others could vote. Did I really want my house advertised this year? I would be opening up my door to a lot of strangers. Have you heard about evil clowns?

I always think of Judy Collins’ rendition of Send in the Clowns. She asked for them. But don’t send clowns to my house, please.

Clowns have never scared me, but I’ve never liked them either. Ridiculous in their little funny cars chasing each other and honking horns – as if they needed any more attention – they circuitously made their way down the street in parades. I remember cringing. Even as a kid I knew they were grown men. I wondered why they chose to dress up and wear face paint. Too gaudy and with predictably silly behavior, I would yawn and look forward to the next group to march down the street.

clownsIs it the garish face paint, the oversized and bright-colored costume, their humongous feet, or the crazed hair? Maybe our wee brains went into sensory overload as children. Maybe I could see the smile painted on some, which didn’t match up with their glum expression underneath or vice versa when a frown decorated their face. I just know that they creeped me out.

According to Wikipedia, the clown’s exaggerated appearance is for viewing from a distance. That explains some of the revulsion, but not all of it. Remember when circus clowns would fight each other and kick with oversized shoes? Sometimes one of them would squirt water from a flower into another’s eye. I never liked that either. Maybe I’m a sensitive soul.

I remember a new kid in my class who bragged about being a guest on The Bozo the Clown Show. Bozo asked him his name and the new kid supposedly said, “Cram it, clown.” The rumor spread like a grassfire. I stayed away from that kid. It seemed pretty aggressive for a third-grader. Now some of the clowns have become the aggressors.

When Stephen King’s book IT came out in 1986, I was super stoked. After the first few chapters, I set it down. I couldn’t sleep with those frightening images in my head. A maniacal clown, so evil and nasty, who stalks and kills little children? Ughh. After that, clowns really repelled me.it_1990_promotional_poster

For one of my daughter’s birthdays, I made the mistake of hiring a clown. I thought it was just me who wasn’t enthralled. In the video, one of the little girls cried while the rest of the kids squirmed and fidgeted. “That was a bust,” Danny said after watching it recently. We shared a giggle. I guess, I wasn’t alone.

I love dressing up and have a room full of costumes bought at garage sales along with my own castoffs from trends that never set. I’ve also made some for my kids. But I don’t own one clown costume. The thought of being a clown for Halloween never crossed my mind.

Although the clown originated from the “rustic fool” in ancient Greek and Roman Theater, it’s the modern circus clown developed in the 19th century that captures our nightmarish imagination. We can thank the traveling circus for each and every one of them.

With news of the worldwide clown attack epidemic, I wondered how much of IT had to do with the evil clown persona. So did Stephen King.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-00-25-am

Local law enforcement agencies in more than twenty states are prohibiting clown costumes this year. Some clowns, like the one we hired for Courtney’s birthday, may be out of a job, at least until this quiets down.

super creepy clownAll I know is on All Hallow’s Eve, Danny will be up at 0’dark thirty and will be yawning when the last of the trick-or-treaters ring our bell. I usually keep the lights on for high school kids and answer the door for the last of them, alone. Our neighborhood has aged out and the amount of kids who call is waaaay down. But I’m relieved I didn’t enter the contest. I won’t run out of candy at 7:00 nor will people come from miles around to see my house and ring my bell. Most of all, I won’t be a beacon for some crazy clown who comes to call on Halloween night.

But there’s no guarantee.

IT may find our house anyway…

 

You may have missed this ironic photo essay about the Halloween Circus we found. It was a super cool and entertaining party. Don’t worry. Not one clown attended.

What would you do if a clown knocked on your front door Halloween night?

If you enjoyed this, click for more Wild Adventures!

It Was A-Maizing!

corn maze

My obsession with mazes began as a child. I remember trying to find my way through them on paper and having a difficult time. I’ve always been directionally challenged.

maze

When I discovered a great corn maze was located down the road from our house, my husband, Danny, and I had to go. Continue reading

Lurking in Darkness – 150 Word Flash Fiction

He had watched her for days.

Sheila crouched over her rose garden and snipped dead blossoms. She stood and stretched while running her hands along her lower back.

He slipped behind a tree as she crossed the yard.

After laying the shears on the garage workbench, she stepped inside the house.

He followed. Continue reading