Back when he was a young man preparing to embark on a career in the Maine Warden Service, John Ford received a valuable piece of advice from his stepfather, Vernon Walker.
Walker was a game warden, you see, and he knew his stepson would encounter all kinds of critters and have hundreds of interesting days afield.
“He was the one who told me, ‘You really want to keep a diary and keep track of the things that you really love about the job,’” Ford said. “Thank God he did, because I can’t remember what the hell I did yesterday.”
For the past several years, those diary entries have been entertaining readers, first in columns published in the Republican Journal in Belfast, then in a pair of popular books, “Suddenly, the Cider Didn’t Taste So Good” and “This Cider Still Tastes Funny.”
Here’s some good news for Ford fans: In late September, North Country Press released his third book, “Deer Diaries: Tales of a Maine Game Warden.”
The 274-page book, including nearly 50 stories from the woods, is classic Ford: unpolished, unapologetic and gut-bustingly funny.
Whether tracking “dastardly” night hunters or trying, with some missteps, to keep his bosses happy, Ford takes readers through a joyride — sometimes literally, when pursuing suspects at high rates of speed — and does exactly what his readers have come to expect: He informs and entertains at the same time.
Ford said his first book has sold 22,000 copies and said demand for “Deer Diaries” has been brisk. Readers can find the book in several small stores near his home in Unity, as well as at Barnes & Noble in Augusta and Books-A-Million in Bangor.
And Ford said he’ll continue touring the state with his old buddy, retired state trooper Mark Nickerson, as both sign their books during speaking engagements.
“We did over 100 [speaking stops] last year, and I’m booking right into June of next year already,” Ford said. “I never would have dreamed that it would have worked out like that.”
As it turns out, even some of the “characters” he describes in his books have started to become moderately famous.
Longtime Ford readers will remember the character of “Grover,” whose real name was used with the reputed poacher’s permission.
“Grover was probably one of the most notorious night hunters that central Maine had. I only got him once for night hunting. But we kind of had a rapport,” Ford said.
Grover was excited when he learned Ford was going to tell some of those stories and told the author to “tell it like it was.”
Ford said he has and recently learned Grover has his own followers.
“I got a call last month from a guy in Waterville,” Ford said. “He said, ‘John, I bought your first two books. Grover’s already signed ’em. Can I get you to sign ’em?’”
So what’s next for Ford? Well, don’t be surprised if you see another volume of warden stories show up on shelves in a year or two.
Remember those diaries he kept for years? They’re not tapped out quite yet. And Ford, who describes himself as the “worst student to ever walk through the doors of Sanford High School,” might not be finished quite yet.
“I could probably write two more [books] easily,” Ford said. “I don’t know if I will or not. But if my high school English teacher even knew I was a published author on one [book], it would have killed her on the spot.”