ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sarah Palin can take down the fence. Palin's neighbor of three months on Wasilla's Lake Lucille, author Joe McGinniss, is packing his bags and notebooks and leaving Sunday for his home in Massachusetts to write the book he has been researching on the former governor and GOP vice presidential candidate.
His arrival in May made headlines and drew an indignant reaction from Palin and a visit from her husband, Todd. The Palins even tacked an extension onto an 8-foot board fence between the homes, leaving only a part of their second-story home visible from McGinniss' driveway.
Peeping into windows or peering through knotholes was never part of his research, McGinniss said.
"I've been very busy but on Lake Lucille it's been very quiet," he said. "As I told Todd back in May – he came over to get in my face about moving in there – I said, 'You're not even going to know I'm there. A lot of the time, I'm not going to be here. And when I am, I mind my own business. I don't care what happens on your side of the fence. That's not why I'm here.'"
And that's how it has played out, McGinniss said.
A Palin spokesman didn't immediately respond to an e-mail Saturday seeking any comments from the governor on the author's departure.
McGinniss has written best-selling books, including "The Selling of the President," on the marketing of Richard Nixon, "Fatal Vision," an account of the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, and "Blind Faith," about a businessman's contract killing of his wife.
He's no newcomer to Alaska. Thirty-five years ago, McGinniss moved to the state to see how new oil money would affect Alaskans. He wrote a draft, returned for three months in 1977, and two years later completed "Going To Extremes." The book has recently been reissued.
McGinniss had been gone from Alaska for 28 years when he returned in 2008 to research a magazine article on Palin's natural gas pipeline initiative, which she had heralded in the presidential campaign. McGinniss' critical story in the now defunct Conde Nast publication Portfolio was titled "Pipe Dreams." He concluded that for all of Palin's posturing, her only accomplishment in two years of work on the pipeline project had been to award $500 million from Alaska's budget to a Canadian company and to leave Alaska again at the mercy of Big Oil.
"She said it was a hit piece," McGinniss said. "For a day she was upset. I said it was a hit piece: It hit the bulls-eye."
So when McGinniss moved next door in May, Palin may have suspected that his future book was not going to be flattering.
Up went the fence, along with a Facebook posting implying something sinister: "Here he is about 15 feet away on the neighbor's rented deck overlooking my children's play area and my kitchen window. We're sure to have a doozy to look forward to with this treasure he's penning. Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?"
McGinniss said he didn't seek out the rental home. During his search for a place to live, he said, the homeowner sought him out. The price was right and it was close to the people he wanted to talk to.
Anybody wanting to spy on the Palins, McGinniss said, would be better off in a boat.
"That's the funny thing," he said. "They live in a place where anybody who wants to look onto their property, all they have to do is get a boat and park 10 yards off shore and they can sit there all day and look at the Palin's yard, if that's what they want to do. But I don't know who would want to do that."
Throughout the summer, McGinniss said, he kept a chain across his driveway to keep tourists out.
"They want to take pictures of 'The Fence' or they want to try to come onto my land and climb up on a ladder and take a picture over the fence of Palin's. I'd say, you can't do that."
Two days before his departure, he did not want to be photographed with the fence, lest he unnecessarily antagonize his neighbors after a peaceful summer.
McGinniss would not reveal what his book will say about the former governor. But he did get a taste of the support Palin has inspired.
"It's just a peculiar thing, but she does, as I found out in May, she presses a button and what comes back is hate," he said. "The people who respond when she complains about something are just so filled with hate. I got some of the ugliest, most vile e-mails directed at me, my grandchildren, my children, my wife – just ugly, ugly stuff."
As for his interviews, most people he approached in Palin's hometown were willing to speak, but he said there was what he calls an "undercurrent of fear."
"People – I don't know if they're afraid of shadows or whether there's something real there – she's no longer in a position of governmental influence but there are people up there who are scared to death to talk because if Sarah ever found out they talked, oh, something terrible would happen to them," he said.
Once he settled in, McGinniss said, he didn't have a single unpleasant encounter with anybody in Wasilla. Some people objected to the welcome he had received.
"They started bringing me blueberry pie. I had many offers of handguns to borrow. I turned them all down. But for about two weeks there, I couldn't say hello to somebody without, they said, 'I've got a couple of guns for you in my truck.'"
He found people willing to talk, as he had in 1975.
"It was the greatest place because there were no closed doors. There was nobody who said, 'I don't want to talk to you. And that's pretty much the way it is today with the single exception of that least Alaskan of all Alaskans, Sarah Palin.'"
He is sure she will run for president.
"Everything she's doing is geared to that," he said. "And, she wants to be president. And God wants her to be president, so how can she say no?"
He's glad Palin is around, because it enabled him to return to a place he loves after nearly three decades.
"The only way back was Sarah Palin," McGinniss said. "That's my interest in her. If she was the governor of Nebraska, I wouldn't be writing about her, because I wanted a reason to come back to Alaska, and she was my key to the door."