The Real Moose Massacre Part 1

I recently spoke with Maureen Milliken, news editor of the Kennebec Journal, about the real-life inspirations for Massacre Pond, specifically about the scene that opens the book. It's an incident I mention in the Author's Note: the so-called "Soldiertown Moose Massacre."

In 1999 someone slaughtered nine moose in the unpeopled townships northwest of Moosehead Lake. No one was ever convicted of these killings — the worst wildlife crime in Maine history — although there is now significant evidence pointing to two individuals. (That will be the subject of Part 2 of this post.) The case has preoccupied me since the day I first read about it in the paper. But taking an interest in an event and deciding to use it as fodder for a work of fiction are different things.

Milliken asked me how and why I decided to weave aspects of what happened in Soldiertown into the Mike Bowditch saga: 

Doiron, whose previous mysteries had some decidedly non-Warden Service crimes, said the moose massacre “gave me the chance to examine some of the special forensic challenges that are unique to wardens’ jobs.”

As fascinating as Soldiertown is to Mainers, Doiron’s editors — from away, naturally — wanted “something bigger.”

He also had an idea formed around Roxanne Quimby’s proposal for a national park in the North Woods. Put the two together? Presto, a gripping mystery about a moose massacre and a woman trying to carve a park out of a flinty Maine culture that is not interested.

Next to “where do you get your ideas?” the question fiction writers hear the most is “who is that character supposed to be?”

Doiron is quick to point out, in fact frequently points out, that Betty Morse in “Massacre Pond” bears little resemblance to Quimby.

Writers, good ones at least, may get sparked by people and events, but the biggest inspiration comes from feelings and themes. Their books aren’t about something, they’re ABOUT something.

So Doiron took Soldiertown’s details and, as he says, made them “the inciting incident in a series of escalating episodes that ultimately lead to murder.”

What the book is really about is what happens when someone inspires such a level of hatred among people that someone wants her, or the people in her life, dead.

In fact, the Soldiertown incident is worthy of a nonfiction book of its own. It almost became one. An investigative journalist named Roberta Scruggs was my source for most the details concerning the moose massacre in the novel. Her search for answers to the Soldiertown mystery is an interesting story in its own right — and one I will pick up in my next post.