When Karen Wood was shot and killed by a hunter in 1988, the event impacted Mainers in different ways.
Meg Wilson, who lived not far from the Wood family, and was a young wife herself, said she was among those who struggled to understand the event itself, and fought to come to terms with the reaction of a divided public, both before and after a local hunter was acquitted at trial.
“I did not know [Karen Wood]. But I lived in a very similar subdivision, built by the same developers,” Wilson said. “And my land abutted hunters’ generational territory, just like the Woods’ neighborhood did. When she was shot, I realized it just as easily could have been me that day. My brand new house had a deer stand on the property still.”
Karen Wood was shot in a wooded area 134 feet away from her own home, game wardens said during the trial. Speculation at the time was that the hunter may have thought her white mittens were the tails of deer. That hunter swore he saw a deer and shot at it.
In letters to the editor and conversations on the street at the time, some people placed at least partial blame on the victim, because she was not wearing blaze orange clothing near woods during hunting season. That fact weighed heavily on Wilson, and eventually spurred her into action.
“If I had heard something in the woods I never would have thought twice about what I was wearing before I went out into my backyard,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who now lives in Yarmouth, said she heard news of the “not guilty” verdict while driving home from her job as a substitute teacher.
“I knew that I had to do something to myself, cathartic, to help me deal with [the incident and the verdict],” Wilson said. “I just didn’t see it happening that way and I wanted to change the way it happened. And I’m a writer. [Writing] is what writers do.”
The result of Wilson’s cathartic quest: “Mourning Dove,” a novel that starts off in the woods of Maine, with an incident that is similar to the Woods shooting.
But the book isn’t a rehash of that case from 25 years ago. Instead, it looks at what could have happened to the two families after a tragedy. And in the process, Wilson tells a poignant tale that includes love and loss, anger and despair … and eventually, the possibility of redemption.
Wilson said she started writing “Mourning Dove” in 2001, but the finished novel is vastly different from her first draft. In that initial effort, the book was a first-person story told from the point of view of a teen-aged boy, the brother of the victim.
“I was intending on a young adult audience. I was intending [the book] for my reluctant readers that I was teaching at the time,” Wilson said. “Then I realized it wasn’t working because there were a lot of adult themes I needed to explore, a lot of irony I need to explore, a lot of grief, forgiveness, all of it.”
Wilson rewrote the book entirely in 2010, while she was laid up with a severe foot injury.
And after entering the new novel in a national contest, she learned that she’d finished in the top 50 of more than 5,000 entrants.
Readers from outside Maine will enjoy “Mourning Dove,” but will likely have a different reaction than those who lived here in the aftermath of Karen Wood’s shooting.
For us, the incident was a turning point in hunting-related laws, and a watershed moment that made many of us step back and ask important questions. And for many Mainers, “Mourning Dove” will resonate in a more personal way, even though the actual incident serves as only a rough template that Wilson uses to engage in the writer’s classic game of “what if?”
“I thought of a series of what-if questions,” Wilson said. “What if the hunter had showed a different reaction to his acquittal? What if the hunter had left Maine and came back 14 years later? What if these two families have to collide again because of some circumstances? What if those circumstances are that their children have found each other and are now falling for each other?”
Wilson said the first person she sent a copy of the book was Kevin Wood, Karen Wood’s husband. She said his reaction was better than she could have hoped.
“He emailed and said,’I read your book. Thank you for writing it in honor of Karen. She would have really appreciated that,'” Wilson said.
For more information on Wilson’s work, and on her upcoming book, “Wander Women, What Ten Thru-Hikers Taught One Angel about Pleasure, Pain and Pink-Blazing,” go to megwilsonauthor.com