by Katie Lattari
In my debut thriller, Dark Things I Adore, an eclectic group of young artists forge deep and impactful connections with each other during the summer of 1988 at the Lupine Valley Arts Collective, a cloistered and prestigious arts camp in King City, a remote (and fictitious) town in Maine. Coral, Moss, Juniper, Mantis, and Zephyr (who all go by their camp nicknames), spend a dream-like summer together before one of them suffers an unspeakable cruelty at the hands of another in the group that transforms their collective dream into a nightmare.
Thirty years later, gifted painting student Audra Colfax lures predatory professor Max Durant to her home in (fictitious) Rockveil, Maine. Though Max believes he’s there to consummate the long-simmering sexual tension he senses between them, Audra has much darker, much more devious plans in mind for their weekend away. Because Audra knows a terrible secret from Max’s past, and now she has engineered every detail of their weekend away together with one aim in mind – to make him pay.
It’s no secret that Maine is a place of great interest and inspiration to authors of thrillers, horror, and mysteries (you may have heard of a certain hometown boy named Stephen King). There’s something about the dramatic landscapes – from rocky coastline to soaring ski mountains to lake-filled valleys to thousands of acres of untouched, unorganized territory that seems to call out to creatives of all types. Then there are also Mainers themselves – known, in broad strokes, for being independent, self-sufficient, and taciturn. A population seemingly hand-crafted for secrets.
I was born and spent the first eight years of my life in Brooklyn, New York. My family moved to Maine the summer before my third-grade year, and I’ve lived here – with just a few brief stints away for school – since then. My maternal grandparents had retired from Brooklyn to the Catskills in upstate New York when I was young, and when I first started writing this book, I had set the action there, feeling intimately familiar with that landscape. But something just wasn’t clicking for whatever reason. So, I changed the location from the Catskills to rural Maine, and that’s when the book really started to take shape. In the original version, the predatory professor was lured from New York City to the Catskills; in the final version of the book, he’s lured from Boston to Moosehead Lake – quite similar tracks. And yet.
I think there are a couple of reasons why rural Maine became the right place for Dark Things I Adore. To begin with, by the time I started writing the book, I had spent much more time in Maine than I had in New York, and so the vibe and landscape in Maine were much more known and available to me. I am inside of it, which, of course, is not necessary to writing a place, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
The second reason I think Maine became the natural place for me to set this book is that though the Catskills were rural and very different from Brooklyn, my grandparents’ house, their land, the town, were all intimately known to me since I was a baby. It was a place of safety, comfort, familiarity.
But darkness and quiet and solitude can take on less peaceful overtones when you’re somewhere totally foreign. When we moved to Maine, we settled for the first several years in Exeter, Maine, a farming town of about 1,000, where the general store sold shirts proclaiming that Exeter was a town where the cows outnumbered the people. The house was new. The people were new. The culture was new. Suddenly the quiet, darkness, and solitude of night felt eerie. Suddenly, every car that drove along our road in the wee hours of the morning, to me, must be a killer come to off us in the middle of the night, every sound that broke from the gaping silence a threat.
Who is that? What was that?
I remember being a very anxious eight-year-old in those first months, particularly at night when I could hear a lone car coming our way from a mile off. The growing noise of it against the silence felt like a countdown to something catastrophic.
In rural Maine, sprawling and separated, you realized how alone you really were. How on your own you would be if something ever went wrong.
Which is exactly the fear Audra wants to instill in Max in Dark Things I Adore.
You are alone. You are separated. You are mine.
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