Steven Rowley’s Favorite Maine Place

The author and screenwriter got his start as a reader at the South Portland Public Library.

South Portland Public Library
Photo by Irvin Serrano
Steven Rowley
Rowley adopted Lily, the dachshund that inspired his first book, from a farm in Waldo.
Author, screenwriter, and playwright Byron Lane, who proposed to Rowley in 2020, by writing “Will you marry me?” in the acknowledgments of his own first novel.
Out May 30, The Celebrants (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $28) is a midlife-crisis tale of college friends reuniting 28 years after graduation.
By Bridget M. Burns
From our May 2023 issue

Author Steven Rowley lives in Palm Springs, California, where he loves his desert life but admits he sometimes longs for his home state. “Maine is beautiful in the exact months that Palm Springs is somewhat unbearable,” he says. “Am I the kind of person who would throw the dogs in the car and drive all the way across the country for three months every year? That could be in the future.”

Growing up in South Portland, Rowley was a theater kid — high-school drama, summer Shakespeare at Fort Williams. He graduated Emerson College with a film degree, then hit Los Angeles to try his hand at screenwriting, but he found the industry frustrating. “You’re always waiting on a financier, or a director, or a producer, or an actor,” he says. 

Then, in 2013, his pet dachshund died, and Rowley funneled his grief into a novel. “I wanted to have more control over being able to put something out into the world that I’d written myself,” he remembers. His 2016 book, Lily and the Octopus, was a hit, and Rowley has stuck with fiction ever since, while easing back into film. His fourth novel drops in May, and his three previous are all in various stages of film adaptation. Rowley’s penned two of the scripts himself. “It’s all storytelling,” he says. “I enjoy having one foot in each world.”

He credits his success to two aspects of his South Portland upbringing. “One is access to a well-funded public-school education,” he says. “Two, I had parents who encouraged me to have a library card.” When school was out, Rowley’s mom dropped him and his sister at the South Portland Public Library for the summer reading program. “It was a place where I just felt absolutely at home,” he remembers. “I can still smell it. I was that kid each week trying to check out a stack of books taller than I was.” A nice perk: permission to cross the street afterwards, to get a treat from Red’s Dairy Freeze

These days, Rowley still thinks of South Portland’s library whenever he walks into the one in Palm Springs. “I’ve hit the tipping point where I’ve now lived on the West Coast longer than I ever did on the East Coast,” he says, “but when I think of home, Maine is still what I think of first.”

Headshot by Byron Lane