I grew up along the coast of Maine, and I have lived in New York City for many years. I love New York, but I think I am always living with a low-grade fever of homesickness, and that’s why so much of my work goes back to New England. Writing Olive Kitteridge was a real trip home, in the sense that I went to places in my mind that I hadn’t been for years. It’s a kind of love song, in a way, because the more I wrote about this woman the more I understood her; that happens with writing. I understood that she is a person of the land, a barnacle in a sea that is now really changing, as all things eventually change.
Olive is fierce in her passions, unkind in her needs, large-hearted at the most unexpected times, and intuitive while being blind to her own actions. Writing about her was freeing – I thought, I will not protect this character, I will let her be herself on the page, and she was. There is sometimes an unconscious tendency to be careful, and as the person writing her I realized that she is not careful, and so I could not be either.
Some of the stories had been written earlier, but all of the new ones were written one summer in a cottage on the beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The little bedroom of the cottage was facing the beach and the ocean, and lobster traps, and every morning there was a lobster fisherman who came to work on his traps and he brought his German shepherd with him. It was stunningly similar to the scenes of my childhood – every morning I thought that. I think it was very good for my work, as though I had slipped through time and was inside that coastal world again.
There was no television or radio in this cottage, and each day I wrote intently for as long as I could. Then I would ride my bike like mad, all around the trails and through the woods. I would swim in the ocean, then get back on my bike and pedal like crazy again, as I had when I was a child. I returned to New York a few weeks earlier than I had planned because I was so strung out from the intensity of working like that. But it was great.