Lincolnville author Elizabeth Hand writes in a small cottage on Coleman Pond, at a desk under a window that faces the woods and water. In the wooden frame of another window that arches above the dining table are carved the following words from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”:

“It’s my world and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! The times we’ve had together!”

Hand teaches in the master’s of fine arts program at the University of Southern Maine’s Stone Coast, one of the top 10 low-residency MFA programs in the U.S., and has written a total of 12 novels, many for the young adult market.

Q: What is your primary inspiration?

A: Landscapes. I start writing with a strong sense of landscape and the characters tend to evolve out of that.

Q: You often write in the first person. Do you find yourself becoming inhabited by your characters?

A: I had some early stories in first person, but it wasn’t until my fourth novel that I realized this works well for me. But I don’t want to get in too familiar of a groove. Cass [Neary, the protagonist of 2007’s “Generation Loss” and “Available Dark”] can do all the bad things I would never do.

Q: How did you start writing?

A: I knew when I was very young, probably before I could read. I saw a bad movie called “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” and the way they depicted it, [the main character] was told he had to become a lawyer or accountant. But he became ill and all these little figures from his fairy tales started showing up in the window of his garret. He brought them to life. I thought, “That’s cool. If you’re a writer, you can do this and all these characters will come to life.”

But first I had to learn to read and write.

In first grade I wrote a scientific book about life under the sea with facts about anemones. It was very badly spelled.

Q: How do you balance writing with children, travel and any other parts of your life? What is your discipline?

A: I’m writing novels and I’m doing a teaching gig, so I’m reading student manuscripts. I’ve been a regular reviewer for the Washington Post for 28 years.

I also have a life. I’m involved with some community committees in town. In theory, I’m here at the cottage writing every day.

I only have dial-up here, so the distractions of the Internet are easy to avoid. What car would a character be driving in 1932? I can spend an hour researching that.

A lot of my travel is for work. It is fun. I never got to travel until I was about 39. I spend a lot of time now in London. I’d actually like just to be here for a while, but that will come.

Q: Is there something you’re trying to say that is coming out over time?

A: It’s something I wrote about recently. A lot of my work, for maybe the last 10 years or so, has dealt with artists. I’m kind of fascinated or obsessed with artistic creation. I’m particularly interested in outsider artists, people who are untrained or don’t have traditional artistic training. Maybe they’re mentally ill, in prison or very solitary. What fuels people to do it? How do you become an actor and embody a great character on stage.

In the case of [19th-century French symbolist poet Jean Nicolas Arthur] Rimbaud, how do you have a poet who writes some of the greatest words in literature when he’s 16 years old and stops writing before he’s 20? He became a gunrunner, went to jail, worked in a circus and died around the age of 30, probably of bone cancer.

He had a remarkable life.

The book I’m writing now is about young actors. It’s inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.”

Q: What is different about “Available Dark?”

A: It’s a much more commercial and accessible book. It’s very dark. It’s set mostly in Iceland.

It’s short. People can read it through in one sitting. I wanted to write an airport novel. All my other books are more lyrical.

Q: How do you feel about digital books?

A: They are books. The phrase publishers now use to describe writers is “content providers.” Digital media is just another way of reading.

We’re in the Wild West, in terms of the individual figuring out how anybody will make money out of this. Writers have been working about that for a long time.

It’s possible for a writer to completely control dissemination of her or his work. If a work is not under contract, there’s nothing to stop me from self-publishing it. I have students who are doing electronic publishing as experiments or graduate projects. I think electronic publishing is the way the world is turning.

What I think is going to happen is old fashioned paper publishing will be more of a niche medium — beautiful books and dedicated readers. E Books are going to replace mass market publishing. I think that’s already here.

People younger than my kids are growing up in a world where they don’t have a bias toward print, toward a book made of atoms.

For the moment, people want stories. We’re hard-wired for narrative. That’s part of our DNA.

The method of telling the story — that’s been changing for thousands of years.


Elizabeth Hand’s “Available Dark” was released in mid-February. Her next book, “Radiant Days,” will be out in April and her fourth collection of short stories is slated for release in the fall. A revised edition of “Glimmering,” a novel about climate change and terrorism originally published in 1997, is also in the works.

The VillageSoup Gazette reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at

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