Making a Living in Maine

We devoted the January issue of Down East to the theme of "Making a Living in Maine." As usual, we take the optimistic approach, but I tried not to pull any punches in my editor's note:

Like many young Mainers, I left the state to go to college, not sure if I would ever return. I wanted to explore the world, but I also worried that my career choices would be limited if I stayed. Even after I had returned to Maine for good, I continued to fret that I was giving up financial opportunities for the privilege of living in a naturally beautiful state populated by fantastic people — and that some day I would regret my choice.

Was I right to be concerned? Maybe. It’s no secret that many jobs in Maine pay less than the exact same positions in Boston or Seattle. And networking is certainly easier in places where energetic and ambitious people are concentrated in city blocks and not spread across a mid-size, rural state. Every week, I seem to meet Maine natives who worked out of state to build a nest egg or acquire professional credentials before they dared to even contemplate moving back to Maine; in their minds they needed to leave the state for a while before they could actually afford to live here. I understand and respect their thinking. Making a living in Maine...involves real trade-offs, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something.*

What I left unsaid in my column is that, for reasons hard to fathom, Maine is a fantastic place to be a young novelist. When you think of some the bestselling authors who rose to prominence while living here—Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, Richard Russo, Carolyn Chute, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Lily King, (even Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her first novel here)—you have to wonder if there's something in the water here that nourishes the imagination.