William D. Andrews is the author of the Julie Williamson Mysteries of which there are three to date, the most recent being Mapping Murder (2017, Islandport Press). The stories are set in the fictional Western Maine town of Ryland where Julie is the new director of the Ryland Historical Society. They are “cozy mysteries” and I highly recommend them as such. Let’s get to know their author a little better!
Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
William D. Andrews: I grew up in Pennsylvania, did my undergraduate degree (English) at the University of Pittsburgh and graduate (Ph.D., American Civilization) at the University of Pennsylvania. In a tough period for academic employment, my wife and I were both lucky to get faculty positions at Ohio State University, but neither the Midwest nor academia appealed to me and so I decided to return East and change professions. We moved to Philadelphia, and I did an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. We were by then happily settled into life with a young son and a good job for my wife and so instead of heading to Wall Street, I took an academic administrative job in Philadelphia that drew on both my scholarly and business education. That was fun, but we had been coming to Maine for long stretches of time for many years and wanted ultimately to live there, and so I took a job as president of Westbrook College in Portland. That was also great fun, but I eventually helped to merge the college with the University of New England and so finally became free to do what had been a long term goal: write mysteries. I did some interim executive positions at different institutions over the next few years but kept time available to write.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
WDA: I read both fiction, including mysteries, and nonfiction but really can’t point to any particular books that influenced me to want to write mysteries. I had some super teachers at undergraduate and graduate levels but again can’t identify any that especially motivated me to write.
MR: Let’s talk about the Julie Williamson Mystery Series, which is up to book three, Mapping Murder. I would describe these as “cozy mysteries”, but do you even like that term for the genre, or do you see them fitting in better with another genre?
WDA: Indeed they’re cozies, as opposed to the hard-boiled sort that I really don’t care for. To me, the difference between the two is that the cozy privileges character and setting over plot, and I’m interested in people and the environments that influence them.
MR: Where and when did the idea for this series begin? Is it based on any personal experiences or people you know? Did you ever consider a setting other than Maine?
WDA: I got the idea for the first book, Stealing History when I was a trustee of the Bethel (Maine) Historical Society and we discussed the problem of thefts from small historical societies and what we needed to do to secure our collections. Julie Williamson is the director of a historical society in a small town in rural Maine that I call Ryland. As my friends here readily notice, Ryland is quite like Bethel. I never considered a different setting because small towns and small historical societies provide a rich canvas of eccentric characters. None of the actions in any of the three mysteries is based on actual incidents, and none of the characters are anything close to one-on-one representations of real people but rather an amalgam of folks I’ve come to know and work with. The only feature of the books that grows out of personal experience is the commuting relationship of Julie and her boyfriend Rich. After we moved to Maine my wife commuted (by plane) to Delaware where she was until her recent retirement a professor of English and director of the Center for Material Culture at the University of Delaware. So I know something about commuting relationships. And Julie earned her PhD in museum studies at Delaware.
MR: Why did you choose to write your novels from a female POV instead of a male?
WDA: James–That’s a tough but good one. While I certainly consider myself a feminist, putting Julie front and center in the mystery wasn’t really an ideological decision but rather a part of building an interesting character. I wanted to trace her development as a young professional facing challenges on that front while at the same time working out her personal life and relationship with Rich. She really has
five strikes against her in the new job: she’s young, a woman, pretty inexperienced, from away, and (from the Maine point of view) over-educated. I wanted to watch her face and overcome these, developing confidence in herself and pushing back against the old boys on the board. I think that with each of the mysteries she grows along those lines to the point where she really commands the job in Mapping Murder. So, in the cozy tradition, her gender is a part of the character development that the genre–as I see it– depends on.
MR: Tell us what you love about the state of Maine. Have you ever visited Canada?
WDA: The physical beauty of Maine dazzled me from my very first visit in 1969, and I have never tired of that. Physically, there are many distinct Maines, all gorgeous. I love the mountains around my home in Newry, and we have a condo in Portland so we can cruise Casco Bay in our small boat. My family and I all ski and snowshoe but also love the ocean. Indeed my son is a commercial lobsterman and his wife is an experienced sailor. After living in the warm and humid climate of Philadelphia, the cool temperatures and long winters of Maine are special delights.
Although I’ve dipped some into the Maritimes I’m sorry to say I haven’t spent a lot of time there but hope to remedy that. Over the years we’ve visited Toronto, Ottawa, and especially Montreal, which is a 3-hour drive from our home and which we admire for its multicultural environment—and food! Especially in the current political climate in the States, Canada’s social and political values are appealing. I always feel a lump in my throat when I hear the Canadian national anthem.
MR: If they were to make a movie based on the books who do you envision playing the main characters? (Julie, Rich, Mrs. Detwieller, etc.)
WDA: I’ll have to pass on this because I see only a few movies a year and really have no knowledge of actors. I’m one of those who always choose reading books over seeing movies. But of course, I’d be delighted if someone wanted to film any of the series.
MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
WDA: I re-read Thoreau’s Walden every year and usually select one or two writers to re-read extensively. This past year it was Roth, Updike, McEwan, and Russo. I rarely re-read mysteries but sometimes binge on P.D. James.
MR: If you could write a biography of (or spend an evening with) any person, living or dead, who would that be?
WDA: I’d give my eyeteeth to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with Benjamin Franklin but am not arrogant enough to think I could write his biography. There are some good ones, but his own writing is better.
MR: What are you working on now? I assume there are more Ryland Historical Society mysteries to come, I hope?
WDA: I’m not planning a fourth in the series, though I never say never. I’m now working on a very different mystery. It’s set in southern Maine and doesn’t have Julie Williamson or anyone like her. It’s a change of pace for me and an opportunity to see if I can do something different. I’m only a third through it and so not ready to judge if it’ll succeed, but I’m having fun trying something new.
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MR: Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing?
WDA: I read obsessively, as I think anyone trying to write has to. I always have two books going at a time, one fiction and one nonfiction, usually early American history or biography. I love outdoor activities, especially skiing, snowshoeing, and biking. Boating is more passive but has its own pleasures. In the last year and a half, my major diversion is being with our granddaughter. Because our son married late we never expected to have a grandchild, but her appearance and continuing presence made up for the long wait. It’s fair to describe me as a doting grandfather. Actually, I’m ga-ga, and given a choice between writing and spending a day with her . . . well, that’s not a choice at all!