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An Interview with Kieran Shields

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Writing a book is difficult. Writing a good book is even more so. So when a first-time novelist gets it right, it is certainly worthy of note. When that novel turns out to be a historical mystery about Portland and the author is a Maine native, wellthe hits just keep on coming.

Kieran Shields, a Portland native who still lives in southern Maine, is the author of 'The Truth of All Things,' a detective novel set in Portland at the turn of the 20th Century. It's a marvelous debut effort; Mr. Shields was kind enough to take a few moments to speak to us.

'The idea grew out of an earlier work I had done that was just sitting in a drawer,' said Shields. 'It was non-fiction dealing with colonial Maine in the late 1600s. While doing research for that book, I found lots of interesting connections between Portland and the Salem Witch Trials. A lot of the major players in Salem had connections to Maine.'

Shields also discussed the Native American connection to those trials.

'People came [from Maine] with horrific frontier stories,' he said. 'The Puritans of the time correlated Native American actions with service to the devil. They lumped native behavior together with witchcraft.'

So when it came to writing this particular book?

'I wanted to do something with a bit more of a broad appeal,' Shields said. 'I'm a history buff and a big Sherlock Holmes fan. [So] I thought I'd go with a mystery. That little historical kernel was the seed of the story.'

One of Shields's protagonists is Perceval Grey, a brilliant detective who just happens to be one-half Abanaki.

'There was longstanding prejudice against Native Americans at that time,' he said. 'Natives were treated as second-class citizens. It was interesting to have the juxtaposition of this brilliant man against the grain of expectations of how natives were viewed.'

The City of Portland plays an important role as well, and Shields worked hard to appropriately realize the place.

'It was fun to wander around the city,' he said. 'It was a nice excuse for some long research walks. I enjoyed getting the street level feel; it's [all in] the nitty gritty details.'

Of course, writing a book especially one so steeped in history doesn't happen overnight.

'I started the book in the summer of 2006 and worked on it for about three years,' said Shields. 'I had a regular day job, so I did the bulk of my writing late at night. When it was finished, I narrowed down the list of potential literary agents. I was lucky enough to only send one letter. I got the call, had a mild heart attack.

'A few weeks later, I met the agents. A few months after that, they suggested some revisions. It was sold to Crown about two years ago it usually takes about a year-and-a-half to get a book out. It was originally scheduled for last fall, but the release was moved to this spring.'

Kieran Shields has made quite a splash with his debut, and if 'The Truth of All Things' is any indication, we'll be hearing good things from him for a long time to come.

Kieran Shields will be reading from 'The Truth of All Things' on March 28 at the USM Bookstore on the Portland campus and on April 5 at Longfellow Books in Portland.

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