It took a real estate class to teach Victoria Doudera how to write fiction.
Doudera moved from Boston to Camden, where she founded and ran the Blackberry Inn. While working at the inn, she began writing nonfiction. After several years, she sold the inn to focus on writing, and after five years, she missed the interaction with people — so she began studying to be a real estate agent and started a second career.
The classroom stories about selling real estate gave her the idea of combining real estate and mystery in addition to enabling her to obtain a real estate license.
“Final Settlement,” published earlier this month by Midnight Ink Books, is the fourth in Doudera’s series of Darby Farr real estate mysteries. It’s 325 pages in paperback, and priced at $14.95.
Q: I came in on the fourth of these books and have yet to read the first three. Do they all take place in Maine, or have some of the earlier ones been out in California where Darby actually lives?
A: The first book takes place in Maine. The second and third did take her away, one in Florida and the other took place in California. But they are all tied together, and the same characters are all mentioned in the books. I wanted to avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome of having too many murders in one little Maine town. The series deviates for the standard of having one setting, but it sustains the character and kind of lets her see the world. She is back in Maine for the fourth book, and the fifth takes place in Manhattan. I think that maybe for every third book, she will be back in Hurricane Harbor.
Q: I was thinking Islesboro for Hurricane Harbor, because it seems to be such a quick ferry ride, so it couldn’t be Vinalhaven. Is Hurricane Harbor based on a real Maine island?
A: It is pretty close to that. Islesboro with a bit of Camden, but with more of a year-round population. Manatuck is a lot like Rockland with the breakwater, but with how treacherous it looks on the cover, I’m not sure I would want to take a walk on that.
Q: How do you find time to write — and write fairly quickly — while maintaining your career as a real estate agent?
A: It’s a little bit of a juggle, to be sure. I don’t get much housework done, put it that way. But they are both things that I enjoy, employing two different types of energy. Real estate is for extroverted people, while writing is an introverted activity. After we sold the inn, I dedicated myself to writing, doing articles for Yankee and Down East, writing travel articles for (the Maine Sunday Telegram) and a book for Down East, but I missed going out and seeing people.
I took a real estate course, and (heard) the stories about things that happen when selling houses, with the greedy seller and lying neighbors. That’s when the idea for writing murder mysteries hit me. I had always wanted to write fiction, and I thought that would make a great series of books. I wasn’t looking to that when I took the course. I still find real estate stimulating, and I have the continuing gift of writing a series of fictional books.
Q: So you used to own an inn?
A: I moved here in 1986 and started the Blackberry Inn, which is still a going business and doing very well. At that time, I started writing for Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer’s Almanac, doing articles on gardening, food, history and travel.
Q: A lot of the really violent stuff in this book happens off scene, with readers finding out about the events at the same time the characters were told — like when the police chief is killed. What is the reason for that?
A: When doing that, part of me was very sad. At that time, a recreation director died and the whole community was sad. And when these things happen, it shows the flavor of a small Maine town, how close-knit and resilient they are and how they pull together and support each other, even when it’s someone like Bitsy who has just come back to town after a long time away. And having postponements and the funeral, and having to deal with all of that. It happens in cities too; just look at Boston. But all of that was something that Darby had to deal with and learn from.
In the scene near the end of the book when I have this woman drugged, I had killed her first and my editor said, “Can’t she not be dead too?” The bodies were really beginning to pile up.
Q: Have you ever thought of writing nonfiction or fiction that is not part of the Darby Farr series?
A: I actually love writing nonfiction. I was thinking of what to do that would be exciting. “Moving to Maine” (which she published in 2000, before the Darby Farr series started) was a joy to write. I was at a lunch recently and a woman asked if I would sign her book, and I said yes, and was surprised to see it was “Moving to Maine.” It has changed people’s lives.
In terms of doing a stand-alone book that is not part of the series, there is the time issue. I am doing one book a year, and that takes some time. But next year, the last child is going off to college, so that might free up some time to do another writing project.
Early on, I could get the organization of writing fiction. It was just different, and that is what Darby Farr did for me, so now I could write some fiction without using the houses and real estate.
Q: Anything you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered?
A: Just that it is so great to be here in Maine, that this is a very supportive place for writers. I have met a lot of other writers and mystery writers, and it is so great to be in a place that is appreciative of creative people. It is so stimulating to have the beauty of nature, and be able to go up Mount Battie and not just be bombarded with the need to check email.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: