Martha Tod Dudman lives in Maine and is the author of Dawn, Expecting to Fly, Black Olives, and Augusta, Gone, which was adapted as an award-winning film. Her new book is Sunrise and the Real World.
Here, we ask her some questions about her new novel, her writing routine, and where she gets her inspiration.
You are now the author of five books, what’s your writing routine like? Does your routine differ between fiction and nonfiction?
I work in the morning, starting early, and am usually done by noon, unless I’m on a roll. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. I turn off the phone, go to my desk, and work until I’ve finished a certain number of pages. My first drafts are a mess; everything goes on the page. The important thing is momentum. Later, I can go back and clean it up.
Sunrise and the Real World is a twisty, character-driven mystery partially set at a camp
for troubled teenagers in the 1980s. What inspired you to place the story there?
Sunrise Academy is loosely based on a residential treatment program where I worked in the 1980s. The people, events, and circumstances are all invented, but I tried to capture the feel of the place: teenage desperation, quickly erupting violence, the sense of ongoing emergency and, occasionally, shards of love.
Nature is a large theme in your book. What is your own relationship with the outdoors?
I do my best thinking when I am walking, and I take a walk early every morning – a habit I started when my children were little and it was my only chance to be alone. I always carry a little notebook in case I get an idea – and it’s amazing how many good ideas arrive when you’re not actively searching for them, just walking alone in the woods.
Your memoir, Augusta, Gone, was turned into a movie. What was that experience like?
It was great – though the movie is very different from the book. My daughter and I were flown to Vancouver Island, Canada, to participate in the filming, and we both appear in the movie. What an adventure! Being in Victoria, staying at a fancy hotel with my daughter, talking to movie stars and directors – it was a thrill. I felt very close to her, and I’m happy we experienced that adventure together.
What do you hope readers take away from your new novel?
I hope they come away feeling satisfied, and maybe a little off-kilter. I’m not one for happy endings. It’s more interesting, I think, to end on a minor note. I hope they have some compassion and even affection for Lorraine – as I do. She’s not a comfortable character, but she’s very human, just trying to find her way through a difficult world.
When Lorraine, a recent college graduate, starts work at a residential treatment center for troubled teens, she quickly finds herself absorbed into a world very distant from the idyllic lobsters-and-lighthouses fairy tale she had always associated with Maine. Instead, she discovers a landscape of abused and angry teenagers, illicit romance, and danger. Still, she grows to love the place and its people until events shatter her confidence in the world and her own morality. Years later, disheartened and battered by life, Lorraine is unexpectedly drawn back to that world to confront the person she was, the choices she made, and the bitter ghosts that still haunt her. In Sunrise and the Real World, Martha Tod Dudman has penned a taut and spellbinding coming-of-age novel that will stay with you long into the night.