On June 29 of last year, Elaine Ford learned that Islandport Press had accepted her manuscript and would publish her collection of short stories. The next day, Ford entered hospice care to face the final stages of brain cancer. Two months later, on Aug. 27, she died at age 78.

Maine’s literary community will celebrate the posthumous publication of “This Time Might Be Different: Stories of Maine” with a book launch at 2 p.m. March 25, at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. The event will include readings from the short-story collection and a discussion about Ford and her writing.

Ford’s husband, Arthur Boatin, said his wife was pleased to receive the news about her book, despite her failing health. “It was very bittersweet timing,” said Boatin, of Topsham.

Ford wrote novels and taught others to write with creativity, clarity and conviction. Her writing was incisive and sharp, and she told hard truths about Maine, resisting cliches and sentimentality. Her subjects were believable, sympathetic characters struggling with the consequences of their bad decisions.

The new book includes short stories about Maine that she tells with humor, irony and great respect for the truth, however difficult the truth might be to process. Most of the stories are set in Washington and Hancock counties. They tell of a woman who is thinking about leaving and never coming back, a man who is debating robbing the laundromat and other characters who face various life-changing dilemmas. She writes about mud season and late-winter snow, always telling her stories from the perspective of the people who have to shovel it.

The stories contain hallmarks of her writing: lean, unpretentious, funny, evocative of place and populated with people who live complicated lives and who wish to improve them, against hope.


Ford wasn’t from Maine – she moved here in 1985 – but she understood Maine and Mainers, said longtime friend and former Maine poet laureate Baron Wormser.

“If you are from Maine, whether you are born in Maine or not, there is a dilemma or a challenge when you are writing about Maine,” he said. “Maine is a very particular place, and a lot of people go back many generations. You move there and you want to write about it because you live there, but there’s a great question: What the hell do you really know about it?”

Ford managed to write authentically about Maine because she was perspicacious about the human condition, Wormser said. She was perceptive and understanding.

Elaine Ford died last year, just two months after learning that her “This Time Might Be Different: Stories of Maine” would be published by Islandport Press.

“As a writer, Elaine always kept her eye on the human condition. She wasn’t lulled by the facade that Maine can present, and that stood her in good stead in terms of writing fiction that is set in Maine. She didn’t try too hard, so to speak. If you come from somewhere and are excited about being there, you can think you know more than you really know. That would not have been Elaine. She understood and respected boundaries, her own and other peoples.’ ”

As a teacher at the University of Maine, Ford respected other writers’ work and helped her students develop their own voices and become strong writers, said Naomi Jacobs, her colleague at the college. In one instance, that involved helping a student sign with a literary agent. Ford believed so strongly in the student’s writing, she worked with her to be sure she was positioned for success, Jacobs said.

She treated every student with professional respect, said Jacobs. “The students loved her, but they joked about being put through the ringer by Elaine,” she said. “She had an impact on so many people. She took her work very seriously. She was kind, but she knew that kindness involved being honest.”


Ford had an accomplished career. She won a Guggenheim fellowship and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She published five novels, four of them in 10 years, beginning with “The Playhouse” in 1980 when she was 41, and all with big New York publishing houses.

She had less success publishing her books in the decades that followed but never slowed in her writing, Boatin said. When Ford died, he said, she left five completed book-length manuscripts. In 2015, when she was 76, she also expanded her repertoire, moving into playwriting. She adapted existing short stories into one-act plays. “Original Brasses, Fine Patina” was produced in New York in 2016, and “Elwood’s Last Job” got a production in Portland last year. Both stories are in the new book.

This spring, the Maine Playwrights Festival will be dedicated to Ford for the example of her successful, late-in-life venture into playwriting. The festival begins April 26 in the studio theater at Portland Stage.

Ford and Boatin lived in Millbridge for 16 years, moving to Harpswell in 2001. They moved to Topsham in 2015 when her illness worsened.

While Ford received good reviews and was widely respected as a wordsmith – she had such national stature that The New York Times wrote about her death – her books didn’t achieve best-selling status, and her stories became darker with time. “Elaine was never a smiles-and-happy-endings type of writer, but beginning with ‘Monkey Bay’ (in 1989), her visions seemed to darken,” Boatin said. Her stories were about the bad choices that people made, leading to longlasting and inescapable disappointment. Some publishers may have felt those stories would be harder to sell to readers, he theorized.

Ford just kept on writing, and Boatin kept on encouraging and supporting her. It was her husband’s love and dedication to her that led to the publication of “This Time Might Be Different.”


He arranged the meeting at Islandport to discuss the book, and he didn’t tell his wife about it. He didn’t want to build up her hopes. He only shared the news after Islandport committed to the project. By then, she was too sick to celebrate, but she was pleased, Boatin said.

And he is confident that his wife would be happy that her friends will gather to celebrate her new book – and hopeful that people find it authentic.

“She will, wherever she is, have her fingers crossed that people who know Maine will find it’s true to Maine,” Boatin said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


Twitter: pphbkeyes

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.