Pretty in Pink
Saturday, December 17,2005
Reporter Mark LaFlamme has his first novel published, "The Pink Room."
LEWISTON - Writer Mark LaFlamme sat on the couch of his home office and fidgeted beneath a poster of "Night of the Living Dead."
"You're going to out me, aren't you?" he asked, perched on the edge of his seat.
The veteran Sun Journal reporter wants people to know about his first published novel, a horror story titled "The Pink Room." That's why he agreed to the interview.
He doesn't want people to know his age.
"I've been lying about my age since I was 27," he said. His knees bounced in place. His eyes scanned the familiar room, as if searching for a place to hide.
"I didn't realize how hard this was," LaFlamme said of his first interview as subject rather than writer.
It's likely to be the first of many.
LaFlamme's novel is scheduled to arrive in local stores this week. Several Internet booksellers have begun peddling the story, and the author is already scheduling signings.
"The Pink Room" tells the story of a world-class physicist who retreats to Aroostook County where he builds a house in the woods. There, he hopes to bring his daughter back to life using a theoretical arm of quantum physics known as string theory.
The result is a bit of Stephen Hawking and a lot of Stephen King.
"I don't think I could avoid reminding people of King," said LaFlamme, a lifelong fan. However, he figures he owes more to Edgar Allen Poe.
"Everything he loved died," LaFlamme said. "I think what appealed to me was his rejection of the finality of death."
He was 6 or 7 years old when he discovered the author of "The Raven."
"I was a normal kid, but I had a creepy side," said LaFlamme, who grew up in Waterville. When his mom gave him a record album of Poe readings titled "Ghost Stories," he was hooked.
"I'd go in my room, turn out the lights and listen over and over," he said.
Soon he was writing his own short stories. By the time he was 12 or 13, he was composing long horror tales on a battered electric typewriter.
He sent a few off to magazines as he grew older. Some were published, but he cared little whether anyone read them.
"They were for me," he said. "I showed them to my mom or friends."
But the fiction never quite took. When he finished high school, he worked lots of different jobs, eventually landing at the Sun Journal. He was 27.
His job: covering the sometimes graphic crimes of Lewiston-Auburn.
It somehow meshed with his interest in horror.
"Mark's got a sick mind," said Dave Griffiths, a former Sun Journal editor. "It's a good kind of sick, though."
Both his home office and his newsroom desk are decorated with assorted haunted-house paraphernalia: fake rats, severed heads and limbs, witches and photos of Poe.
None of it is mean-spirited, though.
"It's how he handles the pressure of daily journalism," Griffiths said.
LaFlamme has done a lot of it.
A search of the newspaper's archives finds 3,800 stories by LaFlamme. Of those, "murder" is mentioned 200 times and "fire" shows up 777 times. He also writes a regular column and hosts a blog on the newspaper's Web site.
All of that experience informs the mayhem of LaFlamme's fiction.
Griffiths, who was one of the first people to read "The Pink Room," said the reporting has given LaFlamme's work enormous discipline
"Journalism is a great training ground for any kind of writing," he said. "You can't ramble on and on."
It has helped the content, too. LaFlamme has been to plenty of crime scenes, knows lots of cops and has interviewed FBI agents.
All appear in "The Pink Room."
He wrote it over six or eight weeks, pounding out 2,000 words a night after returning home from his beat. He finished the book one morning this spring at 4 a.m.
"I wanted to have a party and celebrate," he said. His wife, Corey, was sleeping. So were his neighbors.
"Instead, I went to bed," he said.
Perhaps middle age has set in.