Noted mystery author Bruce Robert Coffin met with an enthusiastic group of about 30 guests who gathered on the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library lawn on Saturday, Sept. 18 to hear Coffin discuss his work and respond to questions.
A 27-year veteran of law enforcement and a Maine resident, Coffin is the author of four novels and some short stories. He shared his experiences creating the novels and the twists and turns along the way.
Coffin explained that as a third-grader he was captivated by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and its descriptions. “The story is so visual,” he told the group, “and it involves the senses.” From that point on, he said, he was fascinated with the idea of telling a story.
After reading Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” as a young man, Coffin decided that he “Wanted to do stories that people can’t put down.” He wrote stories throughout high school and won a scholarship to University of Southern Maine as a result, but a disagreement with a creative writing professor forced him to choose a different career path.
His uncle had been with Gorham’s police department for 36 years and in 1985 Coffin was hired by Portland police. That began a 27-year career which eventually saw Coffin supervising homicide and other violent crimes and spending four years as a counter-terrorism investigator for the FBI. As a result of this work, he received the FBI’s Director’s Award.
Coffin never abandoned his love of writing and spent two and a half years writing what he referred to as his “drawer novel.” The manuscript was read by author Kate Flora who became his mentor and coach. Flora invited him to the New England Crime Bake Mystery Conference where he was introduced to agents and other authors and Coffin learned what worked and didn’t work for an author.
He returned home from the conference and began a different novel incorporating the new information, which resulted in “Among the Shadows,” published in 2016. Three more novels featuring Detective John Byron followed: “Beneath the Depths,” “Beyond the Truth” and “Within Plain Sight”; a fifth novel is underway. In an ironic career twist, after 27 years of working to solve crimes, the detective-turned-novelist now knows who committed the crime from the outset.
Winner of multiple awards, Coffin said he doesn’t write “true crime” stories, but does draw from his many years of experience. Telling his audience an author needs to experience the traumatic things in life to be convincing as a writer, Coffin said, “My work was the best thing I could do to inform my writing.”