News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, December 19, 2013
Authors Among Us
Joan MacCracken creates lives—and messages—on the page

Joan McCraken, author

Author, publisher and retired pediatrician Joan MacCracken comes from a long line of writers whose books line her shelves. Her most recent book is The Winter House, published by Tiffin Press of Maine, which she founded after writing her first book in 1996.

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by Anne Berleant

“I remember in second grade, a teacher used to post a picture on the wall…and we would write what story that picture made us envision…I loved creating those stories.”

Deep in a career as a pediatric endocrinologist, Brooksville resident Joan MacCracken returned to her young love of writing, marrying it to her medical work.

MacCracken worked with children who had diabetes and helped found a family retreat in Stockton Springs.

“The experience was so significant and impressive,” she said, that the families who came there said she should write about it.

So she did.

The Sun, The Rain and The Insulin was published in 1996 by the Tiffin Press of Maine, which MacCracken founded to print and distribute the book. The book, filled with information on growing up with diabetes but using composites of the families who visited the retreat, sold out of its 4,000 copies.

MacCracken’s latest book, The Winter House, also reads like a novel—and is one—but like her first book, it carries a message.

“I’m using it as a platform to talk about what women are going to do in their older age,” she said.

The idea grew out of MacCracken’s work with At Home Downeast, a program run by the Washington Hancock Community Agency that provides services and support for the local, aging population who want to remain living in their homes. MacCracken helped start At Home Downeast four years ago and still serves on its steering committee.

People over 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the population, she said, and “three quarters of [those] will be women.”

Add that to the fact that one-third of people over 65 live alone, and that’s a lot of houses or apartments.

The Winter House describes the experience of four older single women who move in together for the winter.

“I’ve had some women read it and say, ‘It’s really got me thinking,’” said MacCracken.

The premise of The Winter House is also growing conversation through the country, with the idea and experience of older people living communally profiled on The Today Show and NPR.

“I had no idea how well The Winter House would sell,” MacCracken said. “There’s no sex, there’s no violence, there’s no race cars…The one thing to take away from the book [is] to think outside the box.”

MacCracken self-published the novel through her Tiffin Press, which she had continued since her first book, publishing a children’s bilingual picture book, Trisba and Sula: A Miskitu Folktale from Nicaragua, illustrated by Nicaraguan artist Augusto Silva, in 2005.

“I’ve visited Nicaragua many times,” she said. “I realized [the schoolchildren] didn’t have papers, books, pencils.”

MacCracken used the profits from her first book to finance the second one, and then donated the profits of Trisba and Sula for Spanish books for Nicaraguan children.

“I loved the publishing part,” she said of that experience. She continued with Cracked Marbles, fictionalized stories by retired Bangor surgeon Dr. Tom Palmer, but decided against turning Tiffin Press into a vehicle for other authors.

“After I did his book, I got a lot of people contacting me to publish books. I realized it is a long process…and you have to have a passion for it. I decided I would rather be a writer than a publisher.”

MacCracken retired 13 years ago from her medical practice, based in the Bangor area. She has been coming to Maine since 1977.

She and her husband Bob lived in Orono but purchased land in Brooksville and built a small cabin in 1995 as a “getaway place.”

They built their current home around it in 2005 and MacCracken moved in the following year and soon founded and became editor of The Brooksville Breeze, a free newsletter distributed to town residents and by email. Now in its seventh year, it “allows me to keep writing,” she said. “I love it.”

Bob MacCracken retired last year and joined MacCracken full-time in their Brooksville home.

“I had a lot of long winter afternoons and evenings,” she said, to devote to writing The Winter House.

While she knew she had “a few issues I wanted to address,” she let the story itself take control.

“I love the way the muses talk to you,” she said. “You really don’t know where it’s going. You let the characters tell the story.”

The conversations among the four women of The Winter House are placed in the forefront of the novel, rather than lengthy descriptions.

“I like writing dialog,” MacCracken said. “I finally figured out why. I was a physician. My entire life was talking to people.”