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Q&A | Scot Lehigh: Boston Globe Columnist


Scot Lehigh, who graduated from Shead High School in Eastport, earned degrees at Colby College and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Lehigh is a long-time reporter and columnist for The Boston Globe. He has also worked as a reporter at The Boston Phoenix, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He now splits his time between Cape Elizabeth and Boston.


Just East of Nowhere is a poignant, coming-of-age novel that grapples with doubt, damnation, and discovery. It explores the small corner of a Downeast coastal town while also offering an internal exploration of the cast of characters' troubled pasts.


Author Scot Lehigh (Photo by Kim Case)


With the recent release of Just East of Nowhere, Scot Lehigh answers some questions about his debut novel!

 

You went to Shead High School, one of the smallest in Maine, with only about forty students in each graduating class. What were some of the pros and cons of attending such a small school? How is this reflected in your novel?

When I was there, the school was a little bigger, but not by much. I think we had sixty in our graduating class. It was very hard to get lost in the crowd, if one was so inclined. There weren’t a lot of choices when it came to finding or choosing friends or girlfriends or boyfriends. Nothing stayed secret for very long. Because the town was small and without a lot to do, high school students probably started drinking as a regular weekend activity earlier and more often than seems to me to be the case in larger, more affluent communities. As you contemplated your future, the question of where to go and what to do was made more difficult by how far away and intimidating places like Boston and even Portland seemed.


What about Maine, and specifically Eastport, inspires you as a writer?

Eastport is a little world unto itself in lots of aspects. It’s very remote. The nearest American city of any size is Bangor, 115 miles away, which is basically a 2.5 hour drive, given that trip is all on two-lane roads. You quite literally have to drive to Calais—almost thirty miles away from Eastport—before you encounter a traffic light.


I think many kids find it hard to leave the small town where they were born and raised or at least to move very far away. That’s true everywhere. I’ve observed that up in coal country in West Virginia and in upstate New York, where I once lived, and in Iowa, where I’ve been with some frequency in campaign years. If you are a kid from a small town, there’s something intimidating about the larger world. It’s particularly true, I think, for places as remote as Eastport. Growing up there was, at least to my mind, somewhat claustrophobic, with not enough to do. In circumstances like that, teenagers tend to get into trouble in ways people wouldn’t necessarily expect. So it makes for a rich setting for a novel.


This book grapples with sexual assault, bullying, youth violence, and poverty as an aspect of so-called “normal” life growing up in a small town—was it hard to write given the current sensitivities toward these topics?

Each of these is, at least to some degree, a fraught topic when you are presenting them in an imagined work. But I don’t think matters like those should be off-limits for fiction. Sexual assault does have a devastating effect on people and sometimes inter-generationally on families. Just East of Nowhere is about searching for identity and in the case of Dan, the sexual assault his mother experienced has determined the circumstance of his life. And his shame and worry about his paternity pushes him to make the terrible and unfair choice to reject his mother because he doesn’t want to believe he is the son of a rapist. The same is true of bullying. The effect it has on kids and teenagers can make those years near-complete misery and push them into a lonely and isolated existence, as has happened to Griff.


What is the major difference for you between writing fiction and nonfiction?

News reporting, properly, has a factual standard that must be adhered to. That can make it hard to ferret out the truth of something. Look, for example, at the elements of loathsome behavior we only finally learned about with the advent of the #MeToo movement. Fiction is a different realm, one whose rules aren’t sources and factuality, but rather plausibility: Would this character behave this way? Are his or her responses believable? Do the characters change in a way the reader can believe in? Does the story resonate?


You have worked as a journalist in New England for more than forty years. What is the most significant change you have seen in the profession?

Partisanship has not only increased, it has come to infuse more and more aspects of everyday life. When I began in journalism, people didn’t necessarily define themselves by their party identity. It wasn’t really a factor in one’s choice of friends or life partners. Now, as politics and culture wars have moved to the fore, it can be hard even to maintain friendships with people because of political differences. That is a huge change.


Also, we have seen an explosion of internet-enabled conspiracy theories to an extent that a significant proportion of the country believes things that are manifestly false. That’s dangerous for democracy, but they don’t seem particularly amenable to abandoning those beliefs in the face of the facts.


Is there anything that we have not asked about you, or your book, that you would like to add?

Just East of Nowhere includes homages to two well-known American cultural icons. One appears early in the book, one quite late. It’s a little bit of a mystery I’m hoping readers will try to figure out.


 


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