In our weekly summer series, Chatting with Authors, Maine Authors Publishing intern Amelia Metcalfe will be interviewing our authors to get to know them better as writers and as people. This week's interview features Robert W. Spencer, a resident of Waterford, Maine. Spencer is the author of
The Spinster's Hope Chest
Both novels chronicle the life of the fictional young dressmaker, Lizzie Millett in mid-1800s Oxford County, Maine.
What is the most important message in your book?
We can learn from history. I write historical fiction because I have always learned from reading stories about what happened in the past. It’s a great way to become aware of what not to repeat and to study human nature.
What’s your favorite feedback you’ve ever gotten about your writing?
I get a lot of good feedback, thankfully. Something that I’m told all the time is that my female characters are really strong. A reader told me that my character, Lizzie Millett is a good role model for younger women, which I thought was wonderful. My first book about Lizzie was titled
The Spinster’s Hope Chest.
I got some pushback about the title because
has a negative connotation today. In the mid-1800s, when the book was set, the word pertained to a woman who made her contribution to her family and community by spinning thread for making essential cloth. So it was actually a positive title at the time.
What advice would you give someone publishing for the first time?
Find a good publisher. It took me a year to find Maine Authors Publishing. I wasn’t looking for a major contract with a big publisher, so I decided to go the small publisher route. I chose M.A.P. because they had the best package of services.
What does your perfect summer day look like?
A long day with sun shining through clouds. I would write in the morning for a couple hours and spend the afternoon in my gardens. I am working most mornings in my screened porch on a third novel in the Lizzie Millett Series
Have you ever been mining for tourmaline yourself?
Yes. In my book I describe different kinds of miners, and I’m the miner who carries a bucket and shovel into the woods and digs around at an old mining dump site. I may not be that serious a prospector, but I have a bookcase shelf with fifty pieces of stone on it that I’ve found.
I used to have two businesses, a landscaping practice and a stone importing business. My wife and I imported stone from mines in Ireland. We spent many hours in the quarries. One of the most memorable moments was when we were in a County Galway limestone quarry. We rode in a Toyota pickup down into the 200-foot-deep quarry, essentially a muddy pit. As the quarrymen cut 20-ton blocks from the walls, I was able to pull out from the joints between the stone beds fish fossils that were 350 million years old.
You describe many beautiful Maine landscapes in your book, what’s your favorite Maine view?
My favorite view is local, Hawk Mountain. It has beautiful prospects to Mt. Washington, Pleasant Mountain and lakes and ponds.
One of your characters, Aphia Stevens, is described as a witch. Why do think some women in the nineteenth century were labeled like that?
In my first book, Aphia is 13 years old and a bit empty headed. She’s not focused and makes poor choices, which leads to her parents disowning her. Her husband marries her in order to possess the family farm, something that actually happened occasionally here in Maine. She becomes an herbalist to help support herself and, after her husband dies from poison coming from her garden, she carries a lot of guilt about it. A powerful and dark woman like Aphia might have been considered a witch because she was thought to have evil powers.