Maine’s beauty and Maine’s menace inspire debut novel
By Robin Clifford Wood
When Katie Lattari’s debut thriller was released in September 2021, the book world took notice. The New York Times Book Review called “Dark Things I Adore” “stunning,” and it was Barnes and Noble’s Mystery and Thriller Pick of the Month in July of 2022. This creepy revenge tale found its path to success in the state of Maine, just like its author. Over slices of pie at Dysarts, Lattari shared the story of how she came to call Maine home for herself and for her novel.
Lattari was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved with her family to Maine at the age of 8, when the power of Maine’s quiet, remote spaces set her imagination wild. She attended the University of Maine at Orono, where she enjoyed helping out with the English department’s visiting writer series, then left Maine for graduate work in the midwest. She considered a return to New York, she said, but the allure of Maine’s landscapes and the self-sufficiency inherent in Maine’s people always drew her back.
“Dark Things I Adore” tells the story of a predatory professor who accompanies his student on a weekend away in the woods. Like Lattari herself, the book was first set in New York City, with its action taking place in the Catskills. Lattari then realized the setting wasn’t remote enough for the atmosphere she sought, so she moved everything north. The city setting for her book became Boston, and the isolated region where the story gets hot takes place in the Maine woods. Maine’s raw beauty, she observed, sits side by side with an undercurrent of menace in isolation.
“You go so quickly from populated areas to dropping off the cliff,” she said, which is exactly what happens to the characters in her novel.
The book’s parallel story involves a summer art colony, many years earlier, set in the same part of Maine.
“What happens if you put a group of eclectic creatives together in this landscape?” she asked.
The book explores that question, with that air of menace a constant, hovering presence. How the two stories intertwine is an elaborate feat of writing and a thrill to read.
“I like ecosystems as an organizing principle,” Lattari said.“Every part of Maine can shape a story differently.”
Right now Lattari said she is working on revisions for her next novel, set on Maine’s coast, and she has aspirations to write a multibook series one day. Which ecosystems might be featured next?
Lest you imagine Lattari’s success came easily, be assured that she has shown the kind of hard-working stick-to-it-iveness she admires in other Mainers.
Long before “Dark Things,” she published an experimental novel called “American Vaudeville” and worked extensively on other writing, without finding her stride.
Lattari hit some difficult times, considered teaching or entering a PhD program, and experienced a plague of self doubt. Then, in 2017, she had an epiphany in the form of a question: “Why am I not writing what I love to read?”
From her youthful days of reading “Goosebumps” to her current interest in works by Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Stephen King, Lattari has always loved suspense and thrillers. So she tried her hand at the genre she loved and found her niche. What a thrill it was for her, she said, to return to the University of Maine as a “visiting writer” in the very same program she had helped run as an undergrad.
“That was a real full-circle moment,” she said.
Lattari describes herself as a “tea kettle writer.” Sometimes she goes weeks or even months without writing, though ideas are perpetually percolating.
“I burble, burble, burble for a long time, then suddenly the steam shoots out, and I can get a lot done,” Lattari said.
The steam shot out with a vengeance for “Dark Things I Adore,” and all that percolating finally paid off.
To learn more about Lattari’s journey to getting published, visit katielattari.com.
Robin Clifford Wood is the award-winning author of “The Field House,” a biography-memoir hybrid about Maine author Rachel Field. For the last 20 years she has immersed herself in Maine’s writing world — as columnist, poet, blogger, essayist, teacher, student, and colleague. To learn more, visit her website: robincliffordwood.com.