Boothbay Harbor may have been the inspiration for Knott’s Harbor, the setting of Emily Henry’s “Happy Place.”

Harriet walks through the fictional town of Knott’s Harbor, past a shop that sells buoys turned into yard ornaments, and pauses to let a Subaru pass. She enters a pottery studio on Easy Lane, which she notes seems to be named in deliberate avoidance of the cutesy alternative Easy Street.

“All these Mainers,” says Harriet, “trying their damnedest not to make their towns too adorable.”

Knott’s Harbor is the setting for “Happy Place” by Emily Henry, the rom-com read that spent 15 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list after it was published in April. Henry has written other popular romance novels (“Beach Read,” “People We Meet on Vacation” and “Book Lovers”), but “Happy Place” was her first to take place in Maine.

Henry grew up in Cincinnati and lives near there now. Her associate publicist said the author has “always been a fan of the Pine Tree State” and promised that readers would “be transported to the beautiful sights, smells, and tastes and Maine while reading ‘Happy Place.'” Henry’s publicist said the author was unavailable this summer to answer questions about her experiences with the state and the inspiration for Knott’s Harbor. (Henry has posted on Instagram about her progress on her next book, which will be titled “Funny Story” and is set in Michigan.) But any astute reader familiar with the Midcoast will notice that Knott’s Harbor seems to borrow from locations such as Boothbay Harbor and its surrounding communities.

Maine, both real and imagined, has long been a backdrop for fiction. Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Empire Falls” is a combination of places such as Waterville and Skowhegan. Stephen King’s “Carrie” is set in the real town of Chamberlain, near Boothbay Harbor, and E.B. White wrote “Charlotte’s Web” after seeing a spider in his barn in Brooklin. Christina Baker Kline set “Orphan Train” in a fictional town called Spruce Harbor on the real Mount Desert Island; she wrote that she wanted to write about the island because much of her family lives there now, “but I realized I would have a lot more freedom if I created a fictional town.”

So how does a writer build a fictional town in Maine, where readers and residents value authenticity?


Carla Neggers, a crime writer who lives in Vermont and is working on the next book in a series set in Maine, said she often takes pictures during her visits to the state that help her remember the little details, such as which flowers should be blooming at that time of year. Adam White set his debut novel “The Midcoast” in the real town of Damariscotta but reimagined local landmarks under new names. Tess Gerritsen, who has lived in Camden since the early 1990s and has a forthcoming thriller set in the fictional town of Purity, said she drew on her experiences as a resident to craft a realistic setting.

“Occasionally, I will write about a place where I’ve never been, but that’s not usual,” said Gerritsen. “I like to at least know what it smells like.”


On her website, Henry has said that her other books are not based on one specific location. North Bear Shores, the setting of “Beach Read,” is “very much an amalgam of my favorite western Michigan beach towns,” she writes on her FAQ page. Her characters, as in “Happy Place,” are usually visitors to the story’s setting.

“The places I’m writing about I’m only familiar with as a guest and it’s a different experience,” she told the New York Times in a 2022 Q&A. “It’s a really magical experience, but it’s not the same things that a local would pick out about their town.”

Author Martha Waters Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Martha Waters is a Portland author who writes romance novels set in Regency-era England; the fifth and final book in her series is called “To Woo and to Wed” and will be out in February. She and Henry share an agent, and she has read all of Henry’s books. She was particularly interested in the last two because they are set in states where she has lived (“Book Lovers” in North Carolina and “Happy Place” in Maine). Waters noted that all of Henry’s novels for adults are set in vacation destinations where the characters don’t live and called that decision “a smart approach.”


“If you have the characters vacationing there, I don’t have as high of an expectation,” said Waters. “I expect the characters to view the setting with the eyes of an outsider, instead of the eyes of a local. I find it totally believable that these characters have visited. She’s not trying to make it read as if the characters live there.”

Kate Norton, however, is a Boothbay Harbor local. She grew up there and now works as a bookseller at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop. Norton, 28, loves fantasy and romance novels, and read “Happy Place” in one sitting.

A footbridge, like the one in Boothbay Harbor, is featured in a scene in “Happy Place.” Hanscom

The novel begins as six friends convene in Knott’s Harbor for an annual summer visit at a ritzy seaside home owned by one’s family. Most met in college, but their lives have diverged in the years since. The central couple is Harriet and Wyn, ex-fiancés who have not spoken in months but also have not told their friends about their breakup. The book plays out over their favorite locations in Knott’s Harbor, and many of those spots were familiar to Norton as she read. In one scene, the characters walk across a skinny footbridge and past a taffy and fudge factory. Norton immediately recognized the scene near Downeast Candies.

“I totally knew what they were talking about,” she said.

“I feel like there were places in towns that I’ve been in that felt very similar to the places that she was describing,” Norton added. “Even the descriptions of the ocean when they were near the water felt like what it feels like to be near the water in Maine.”

She listed other real places that could have easily been the inspiration for the fictional ones. The friends browse a bookstore called Murder, She Read (perhaps a nod to another fictional Maine town, Cabot Cove, from the crime drama television series “Murder, She Wrote”). Norton, of course, thought of Sherman’s. The Warm Cup is the coffee shop where the characters get iced lattes, and Norton said its walk-up window is exactly like the Red Cup Coffeehouse in Boothbay Harbor. She pictured Mama D’s when the friends ate a hangover breakfast at a fictional waterfront spot called Bernadette’s and The Harbor Theater when they spent a rainy day watching a Stephen King double feature at The Roxy. The only setting that felt too distant from her own experience of Maine was the giant house (plus a pool, guesthouse, and wine cellar) where the friends spent their week. (Norton pictured her grandmother’s cottage when she read the blurb and was surprised to find a mansion instead.)


Norton said she liked the book on its own merits, and she enjoyed reading a story that was as much about friendship as it was about romance. But the setting in Maine was a bonus that she said also attracts buyers in Sherman’s.

“I always mention that it’s set in Maine and that it’s partially inspired by Boothbay,” she said. “People like finding books that are set in Maine or are about Maine. Even though Emily Henry is not a Maine author, the fact that she wrote a book that is partially based on the town they are visiting makes them excited to read it.”


Authors who have published recent books set in Maine or are working on one now said their own experiences in the state were critical to developing an authentic setting.

Author Tess Gerritsen Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Gerritsen has written 30 novels, including multiple bestsellers and a mystery series that inspired the long-running TV show “Rizzoli & Isles.” (She couldn’t set that series in Maine, she said, because “we don’t have enough murders here.”) She was inspired to write “The Spy Coast” because she had run into multiple people who had retired to the Midcoast after careers in the CIA. The story will follow a former agent who is trying to live a quiet life on a chicken farm in Maine. Rockport Harbor is the basis for Purity Harbor, while inland Camden inspires the farm scenes.

“I just look out the window and say, I can make it look like that,” she said.


One important detail that can be the difference between a setting that feels real and one that feels wrong is the weather, she said. “The Spy Coast,” which comes out in November, is set in winter and draws details from her son’s chicken farm.

“I know what it’s like to try and fill their water trough and then it freezes within an hour, trying to gather eggs when you pick them up and they’re going to freeze,” she said. “There are so many details in the winter that are sensual, like what it feels like to breathe in air that’s so cold it hurts your nose, what it feels like to walk on snow that is covered in ice, even to get dressed in all the layers.”

“Maine is a mythical place for a lot of people,” she added. “People who live in Maine get it right.”

Main Street in Damariscotta, the real Maine town where Adam White’s “The Midcoast” was set. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Readers of White’s novel “The Midcoast” will recognize locations such as Damariscotta’s Hannaford store, Bates College in Lewiston, and Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. The author said in an email that South Bristol Fisherman’s Co-Op was the site of a summer job while he was in high school and became the fictionalized Thatcher Lobster Pound in the earliest scenes of the novel, which came out last year.

“I wanted to use real locations (including the town of Damariscotta) to make the story feel as authentic as possible,” he said. “But sometimes a devotion to the details can get in the way of good, efficient storytelling. In an earlier draft, I was still calling Lincoln Academy by its proper name, and I spent a full paragraph explaining why it was an ‘academy,’ even though in many ways the school looks more like a traditional public school. Not very riveting prose, as it turns out. So that paragraph got cut, and Lincoln Academy became Lincoln High School.”

Kennebunkport is the inspiration for Heron’s Cove, the setting of Carla Negger’s books. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Neggers has written more than 75 books and set at least a dozen in Maine, including her Sharpe & Donovan series about two FBI agents who both have roots in the state. She received this year’s Crime Master Award from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The central location in her fictional Maine is Heron’s Cove, which Neggers said is modeled after Kennebunkport because it is a favorite destination. (The coastal fog is also a good tool for suspense.) During her visits, she likes to make notes and take photos of the environment so she can make sure to get it right in her books.


“It helps me get the atmosphere of it to be able to describe in more detail and precision,” she said. “Sometimes it can be as simple as remembering what flowers are blooming, the telling details of the story, the little bits and pieces that come alive for the reader.”

The characters sometimes visit real places (like the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin or Acadia National Park in Maine), but she prefers to fictionalize small towns like Heron’s Cove because she has more creative freedom that way. She can make up the names of streets or the police chief, and she can create a local restaurant based on a now-shuttered favorite spot in a completely different part of the state.

Neggers said she likes to hear from readers who connect with the setting, whether they recognize a street in Kennebunkport or want to find it on a future visit.

“I got a comment not long ago from a reader who put Maine on the list of their places to visit because of the descriptions,” she said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this story.

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