BAR HARBOR — Like a number of successful Mainers, Linda Greenlaw planned to become a lawyer but got sidetracked along the way.
She worked on commercial fishing vessels through college at Colby and, by graduation, had become first mate on the Walter Leeman, fishing for swordfish on the Grand Banks under captain Alden Leeman. “Promising my parents I would postpone law school for just one year, I became a full-time fisherman,” she wrote in her first book, “The Hungry Ocean,” which was published in 1999.
Now she’s a bestselling author of 11 books, two of them co-authored with her mother, Martha Greenlaw. Four of them are detective fiction, featuring the spunky marine insurance inspector and sheriff’s deputy Jane Bunker.
The Jane Bunker books are the focus of Greenlaw’s next public appearance in Bar Harbor, set for Oct. 18-19 at the Jesup Memorial Library’s annual Murder by the Book festival, a gathering of writers and fans of murder mysteries. Her keynote address is scheduled for noon on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the library.
Greenlaw has given several book talks at the Jesup over the years, but this will be her first appearance at Murder by the Book.
“I’m not a big conference person,” she told the Islander. “I usually run the other way when someone says ‘conference.’ [But] in Bar Harbor I feel really at home. I love the people at Sherman’s [Books] and at the library; they’ve always been very good to me.”
“Writing in general is not something I chomp at the bit to do,” Greenlaw said. The opportunity to write “The Hungry Ocean” came after what she calls “my very generous portrayal” in Sebastian Junger’s 1997 book “The Perfect Storm,” which was also made into a movie.
A publisher came to her and asked if she’d be interested in writing a book about her experience as a swordboat captain. “I resisted at first because I was very happy with my fishing life and never dreamed of doing anything [different],” she said, adding that she knows many others who would love the opportunity to get a book published.
Her first three books are about fishing and fishing communities. After “The Hungry Ocean,” she wrote “The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island” (2002) and “All Fishermen are Liars: True Tales from the Dry Dock Bar” (2004).
“All three books did really well, and the publishers were happy,” she said. They asked about a fourth.
“Readers knew every thought I ever had,” she joked, since her first three books were in the style of memoirs. So “publishers suggested that I try my hand at fiction.”
They suggested murder mysteries. She signed a contract to write three of them, and again, things didn’t go quite according to plan. “I wrote two, changed publishers, went back to nonfiction and down the road changed publishers again,” she said.
Now there are four books in the Jane Bunker series, all named for knots: “Slipknot” (2007), “Fisherman’s Bend” (2008), “Shiver Hitch” (2017) and “Bimini Twist” (2018).
Greenlaw counts Sue Grafton among the writers of murder mysteries she enjoys reading. “I liked her books because I could read one aboard a boat and it didn’t haunt me,” she said. “I could read a book on the way to the fishing grounds. Her stuff fit my fishing schedule really well.”
Living in a small community and writing about one — Jane Bunker lives in a fictional Hancock County, Maine fishing community called Green Haven that has a lot in common with Stonington — means people speculate about who her characters are based on, Greenlaw said. But no one is an exact match, of course.
“Everyone I know is a good character!” she said. “Anyone you ever meet makes a good character in a book.”
In her nonfiction work, she usually uses the real names of the people she writes about. So far, she said, “the only people who are upset with me are the people I haven’t named in a book.”
These days, she’s still fishing for lobster out of Isle au Haut. And between hauling traps, writing and book tours, she helps run the small brokerage arm of the boatbuilding company owned by her husband Steve Wessel, Wesmac Custom Boats. The brokerage job is pretty limited, she said, because “used Wesmacs don’t come up for sale very often.”
To haul her own traps, she said, “I had a 35 foot Duffy, but I sold because I’d really love to have a Wesmac.” It’s only appropriate, she and Steve thought, since she’s married to the owner of a company that builds fishing boats, that she should be fishing from one of them.
Then they ran into a common problem. “He started building a boat, but it got sold. He started building another boat, and it got sold.”
So in the interim, she’s been fishing from a wooden boat called Earnest. It was built in 1998 on Chebeague Island. Earnest is “a little slow,” she said, lacks a generator and is not set up to go offshore. She wants her next boat to be big enough so she can rig it for tuna fishing, too.
Murder by the Book
2019 event schedule
BAR HARBOR — Murder by the Book will be held at the Jesup Memorial Library Oct. 18-19, with a dozen mystery and thriller authors on hand, along with a keynote talk with bestselling Maine author Linda Greenlaw.
On Friday, Oct. 18 from 6-8 p.m. there will be a special ticketed reception the meet the authors and hear their stories. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the Jesup.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, Greenlaw will speak at noon, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. there will be talks about what makes mysteries so intriguing, how authors keep series fresh, what topics are off limits and a chance to collaborate with the authors on a mystery. Saturday’s event is free and open to the public.
This year’s authors are Brenda Buchanan, Anne Canadeo, Richard Cass, Bruce Coffin, Linda Greenlaw, Sherry Harris, Vaughn Hardacker, Lynne Raimondo, Barbara Ross, Darcy Scott, Nicole Seavey and Julia Spencer-Fleming.
Books will be on sale during this event courtesy of co-sponsor Sherman’s Books. This event is also co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America-New England Chapter, Anne’s White Columns Inn, Bar Harbor Motel, Bluenose Inn, Canterbury Cottage, Cas Ole Catering and Holbrook House.