Going Back to Calcasset? Bestselling Author Linda Holmes Didn’t Think So

In Flying Solo, the follow-up to her debut novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, Holmes returns to her make-believe midcoast hamlet — and to themes of independence, acceptance, and belonging.

Photo by Cassidy Duhon
By Brian Kevin
From our June 2022 issue
Flying Solo is out now, from Ballantine Books. thisislindaholmes.com

Linda Holmes never thought she’d revisit Calcasset, the close-knit, made-up Maine harbor town where she set her smash of a 2019 first novel Evvie Drake Starts Over. Then, the pandemic happened. It was damn hard to write while cooped up and isolated in her DC home, explains Holmes, a longtime pop-culture critic for National Public Radio. A familiar setting was a comfort, a place where she knew the lay of the imaginary land. So her new book, Flying Solo, finds its protagonist, Laurie Sassalyn, returning to breezy, briny Calcasset, on a break from a mildly glamorous journalism career in mildly glamorous Seattle. As Laurie probes a mystery surrounding a handsome old duck decoy hidden among the effects of a late aunt — a beloved, unmarried role model — she also works through some thorny feelings about a recently broken engagement, an old flame rekindled, and her charmingly insular Maine hometown. We asked Holmes about her sophomore novel and the possibility of a Calcasset Extended Universe.

When did your fondness for Maine originate?
When I was a kid, probably from about age 10 to 14, my family lived in the Philadelphia area, but we rented a place from people we knew on Spruce Head Island, near Rockland. This would have been in the early 1980s, but many years later, when my sister and I were adults and my sister had kids, my whole family went back and stayed a couple summers and sort of rekindled that appreciation.

What did those childhood summers look like?
Very laid back. We went out on a fishing boat, deep-sea fishing, mostly for cod. My sister and I would spend a lot of time just walking around on the rocks, picking them up and looking under. We’d go into Rockland or to [South Thomaston’s] Lobster Lane Bookshop. Just kind of kicking around, you know?

I feel like I had Calcasset pegged for Rockland before I was too deep into your first book.
If you know the town, I think it is very easy to identify that it’s either Rockland or right next to it. It is to some degree a tourist’s eye view, but it’s a very loving and affectionate one.

Will you keep setting stories there? Is this your Avonlea or Lake Wobegon?
I think it will probably be just these two — I don’t have plans to write any more set there. But I have had those moments where I’ve been like, should I be doing that? Is that a thing that would be fun to do? Probably it would, but you know, if you write about one town, you’re kind of stuck with what the demographics of that town are, the size of it, its history, the kinds of people who live there. For me, I think I would love to write those books over and over again, but I just have other books I want to write more.

Evvie Drake, in your first book, has spent her whole life in Calcasset, while Laurie, in Flying Solo, has moved away. How much is this small-town coastal Maine setting integral to who those characters are?
There’s something about places where people know each other and feel connected to each other — as opposed to a place like New York or Chicago — where, if you’re talking about staying or going, it’s almost like leaving a university setting, where you really feel like you are very tightly woven into that fabric. So these are two books about two women who feel really differently about this same town, with the same lovely qualities. For Evvie, it’s a place that she wants to be at peace with because she loves it, and she wants to feel like her relationships with people there are honest and like they know her, because she does love it there. Laurie, on the other hand, is someone who left, wanting different things.

There can be a tension here in Maine between those two types of people.
I thought a lot about that — staying versus going. And in this second book, I think one of the things Laurie is trying to do, in a couple of her close relationships with people who have stayed, is be at peace with the fact that either of those decisions can be a good decision, depending on who you are and what you want.

Any particular spots here that inspired these books?
In Flying Solo, there’s a scene that takes place at the Calcasset Library. In my head, the bottom floor is the library at my high school, but the top floor is the reading room at the Camden Public Library, which is extremely beautiful, and I wrote a big chunk of the second draft of Evvie there, during a week that I spent in Camden. It’s on this hill, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous.

Scandalous, though, plunking the Camden library into a stand-in for Rockland, given old rivalries.
I know! It’s funny, because Rockland is different vibe-wise, but I definitely remixed elements of those two towns a bit into Calcasset. This is one of the nice things about dramatic license.