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Collaborating with professional photographers: Alban Maino

Alban Maino shooting at the Seashore Trolley Museum

Alban Maino shooting at the Seashore Trolley Museum (courtesy of Phil Morse)

Writers are not always the “lead partner” when they work with photographers, but if you are the point person for a project, you should ready yourself to collaborate successfully so that another joint project will follow.

Because the Summer Guide issue of Portland Monthly Magazine published my “A Streetcar Named Narcissus” — an article named after a vintage, interurban electric coach at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, I’ll use my collaboration with photographer and filmmaker Alban Maino as an example.

The Narcissus–once a high-speed engineering marvel–bears the distinction of having transported Theodore Roosevelt Jr. between Lewiston and Portland, Maine on August 18, 1914. Ken Burns’ newest documentary series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History has turned the grand lady Narcissus into a bit of a celebrity, prompting me to ask my friend, Alban Maino of Dreamland Medias, to help me document her painstaking restoration. Here are some takeaway tips from that project.

Tip #1: Plan for the unique conditions of your site. I shouldn’t say “this was an unusual shoot,” because the fact is, every photo shoot is unique. For a writer to lead a successful collaboration, they need to learn as much as possible about the conditions under which the photographer must work and PLAN AHEAD. The idiosyncracies of the location might require particular accommodations of footwear, clothing, photo equipment, or even mental preparation. The more the photographer knows, the more prepared he or she can be.

Photographer Alban Maino captures the "Narcissus."

Founded in 1939 and spanning a 330 acre-campus straddling the Kennebunkport/Arundel town line, the Seashore Trolley Museum has grown into the largest electric railway museum in the world. Its comprehensive collection of vintage public transportation vehicles includes electric streetcars, buses, omnibuses, trackless trolleys and subway cars; one of these electric railroad coaches “the Narcissus” – once a high-speed, engineering marvel – bears the patina of having transported Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. between Lewiston and Portland on August 18, 1914. Less than a month after the Portland-Lewiston Interurban line (PLI) opened to acclaim as Maine’s fastest and finest electric railway, Teddy stepped up to the glossy green coach, climbed through an elegantly arched doorway, and took one of the plush, green seats, most likely avoiding the smoking compartment where his traveling companions puffed on cigars. (Copyright Alban Maino)

Tip #2: Do not underestimate time. In order to photograph the Narcissus in natural light, I worked with Narcissus Project Manager Phil Morse to have the Narcissus untarped so that it was exposed to natural light. A team of volunteers labored for hours to uncover the vintage interurban vehicle; consequently, our photoshoot needed to coordinate precisely with the volunteers’ efforts, as well as align with good weather.

Tip #3: Be a safety nut. The physical conditions of photographing the Narcissus were demanding physically and slowed the project down. In order to get the frames that he wanted, Alban scampered more than twenty feet up onto the salvage “trucks” or undercarriages of trolleys nearby. The dramatic photo of him above – dubbed “the crouching tiger” by Phil Morse – illustrates how conditions must be navigated carefully and safely.  While the photographer is looking through his lens, you can help make sure that he doesn’t step into harm’s way.

Tip #4: Advocate for your partner. Photographers like to receive pay and credit just as much as you do. If a job pays only by the word or a flat fee and doesn’t remunerate for the photos (which is annoying, at best), then share the fee fairly. Also, particularly in our digital age, photos are more easily published on the web without adequate credit or without any at all. This was a problem on this particular assignment. The photo credits on the printed version of the magazine were tiny and missing altogether from some of the content published online. Despite aggressive advocacy on my part, the outcome was disappointing and unacceptable to both of us. This is not necessarily unusual. Be prepared to voice strongly your concerns. In the meantime, enjoy some select photos of this project that Alban has posted in an online album at http://www.espritvoyageur.net/trolley/

Portland Magazine article on Seashore Trolley Museum

Portland Magazine article on Seashore Trolley Museum

 

Restoration of stained glass window of "Narcissus" interurban car (copyright Alban Maino)

Former President Theodore Roosevelt would have gazed at the passing Maine landscape through the Narcissus’ stained glass windows – framed by mahogany paneling with gilded striping and inlaid with holly and ebony – now under restoration (copyright Alban Maino).

 

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Death by Dissolution: Mark Green and Ocean Acidification of Casco Bay, Maine and everywhere else

mark-green2Although Mark Green, Ph.D. has authored nearly two dozen peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, we might refer to him as a sci-fi horror author of something called “Death by Dissolution.” Except, sadly, it’s not sci-fi and the National Science Foundation-funded research and oyster farming experience of this Peaks Island resident and St. Joseph’s College professor have shown that what he writes is the awful truth. The ocean – here in Casco Bay, Maine and everywhere else – is becoming acidic at an unprecedented rate, unprecedented in the last 20 million years, or so.

Mark Green presents on ocean acidification on Peaks Island

Mark Green presents on ocean acidification on Peaks Island

Last night, the Peaks Environmental Action Team (PEAT) sponsored Dr. Mark Green’s presentation of “The Health of Casco Bay.” Green explained, “What I want to talk about is a global issue, something new on the radar screen of science – ocean acidification – also known as ‘climate change’s evil twin’ or ‘the other CO2 problem.’ This is a global phenomenon that will impact Maine as much as it will everywhere else.”

You’re probably already familiar with the effects of combustion of fossil fuels and the destruction of rainforest that, collectively, result in loading the atmosphere with billions of tons of carbon every year. Can we deny that this is driving global climate change? Green says no, that “by every conceivable measure, we are changing the climate. The CO2 is now higher than at any time in the last 20 million years and increasing at a rate greater than 100X anything that occurred during that period of time.”

St. Joseph’s College magazine described Green as “the first scientist to prove tiny juvenile clams were dying primarily because their shells were dissolving in less alkaline conditions.” The National Science Foundation has encouraged his pioneering science by awarding him with multiple grants to continue his research related to the effects of ocean acidification on sea life.

So, as a society, do we care about this acidification? Green compared news coverage of the Kardashians and of ocean acidification from 2011 to 2012 – the result? A 46:1 ratio of what received coverage in the media. That estimate is no doubt wildly conservative, given that it doesn’t count social media. So even if most of us aren’t paying attention, why should we care? If I understood Green correctly, a quarter of the carbon dioxide load that we are “dumping” into the atmosphere is “absorbed” by the ocean. As the CO2 in the atmosphere increases, so, too, does the amount absorbed by the ocean. In turn, as the carbon load of the ocean increases, the pH of seawater must go down, thus becoming more acidic.

Green projects that, if we proceed with “business as usual” energy usage and lifeways, by the year 2100 the ocean will reach a pH of 7.8 and “everything in the ocean that we know right now would not exist, with the exception of some jellyfish. No corals, shells, or phytoplankton (the base of the food chain). What we have already done is irreversible, at least, not reversible in less than tens of thousands of years. One publication predicts that coral will be unable to grow anywhere even by 2050.”

Green’s message is confident and straightforward, “There is no mitigation, no bioengineering to fix this. This is a global issue and there’s nothing we can do except turn off the CO2 pump, stop putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere. You cannot refuse this science. To refute this science would be, literally, like arguing there is no gravity.”

Sooo, if you’re feeling a “fatalistic stupor” or suffering from “environmental fatalism,” then check out this article in a sustainability newsletter or this one in The Atlantic . Then when you’re bolstered, you can read more about the impacts of shellfish harvesting in the Maine economy in the Bangor Daily News  and about Maine’s commission that has formed to study this problem in the Press Herald. For pictures of Mark Green oyster farming, see Basket Island Oyster Co.’s facebook page. If you missed his talk, you can watch a video on St. Joseph’s College YouTube channel below.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

American Idol mania brings film crew to Umbrella Cover Museum

American Idol visits Umbrella Cover Museum

American Idol visits Umbrella Cover Museum

Nancy 3. Hoffman — singer, accordionist, pianist, musical director, Curator/Director of the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum, and author of “Uncovered and Exposed” hosted a film crew from American Idol today.

Visiting our fair city of Portland for the American Idol bus tour auditions, a film crew sought out Nancy here on Peaks Island to film a quirky, local attraction.

American Idol bus on Maine State Pier

American Idol bus on Maine State Pier

Nancy said, “They Came!! American Idol has filmed me and the Umbrella Cover Museum!! It was crazy – they arrived at 4:50 PM; I greeted them playing my accordion at the ferry. We jogged up the hill; they filmed, I blabbed, I sang the theme song, and played. We jogged back down the hill and they made the 5:00 boat. Whew. If it does not get cut it will be on [American Idol] in January or February! Do not hold your breath.

So keep an eye out for Portland and Peaks Island as we may show up on this season’s popular show, or, come and visit the Umbrella Cover Museum in person or ready Nancy’s book.

Here is some nice footage of Nancy in her museum on Peaks.

 

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

“So you want to be an islander?”: Tom Bergh writes on Casco Bay

Tom Bergh with student kayaking expedition

Tom Bergh (far right) with student kayaking expedition

Whatever you do, “do NOT ask us – as in never ask us – what time the 2:15 boat leaves.”

So says Tom Bergh to those who yearn to become islanders. In hosting the hundreds of thousands of tourists who migrate to Maine, especially in summer and fall, we earn our license plate moniker “Vacationland.” Tourism is the largest industry in Maine’s economy, measured in billions of dollars. With its shoreline road, beaches, favored wedding locations, restaurants, cottage rentals, and shops, Peaks Island hosts a significant share of Maine’s tourist traffic. Island residents react to tourism in varying ways – from refusing to leave their property for three months (well amost) to rolling up their sleeves and making tourism a cornerstone of their business.

So you want to be an islander?

So you want to be an islander?

Tom Bergh, outdoorsman and owner of Maine Island Kayak, is one of the islanders who has spent years coaxing tourists into kayaks and introducing them to Maine, to Peaks Island, and to the allure of Casco Bay’s marine life and ocean currents. Tom once told Canoe & Kayak that “The sea strips you down so quickly. It shows you how people relate to themselves and their environment and that it’s all about taking total responsibility for every aspect of your actions.” Having led countless families and school or corporate groups on excursions, Tom was ideally suited to pen his first book, “So you want to be an islander?: A Field Guide to Life in Casco Bay.”

This self-published guidebook covers everything from ferry etiquette (including what not to ask) to island rules of the road and from a history of lighthouses to a look at local sea life inhabiting tide pools.

A New Field Guide to Life on Peaks Island, Casco Bay, Maine is available at amazon.com, at our beloved, local Longfellow Books, or by contacting tom@maineislandkayak.com, 207-232-6733.

For a glimpse of Peaks Island kayaking – on the aggressive side – watch this video, if you dare.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc visits Stone Boat Poetry on Peaks Island

Writer, teacher, and former Director of the Telling Room

"Pete" from Dryhead Ranch in Montana

“Pete” from Dryhead Ranch in Montana

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc visited Peaks Island’s Stone Boat Poetry gathering this week. Although I was not fortunate enough to join the group and hear him read, I took a moment to read a few of his poems. Having devoted years of my life to all things equestrian, I found “Rider Unhorsed” captivating. Preparing this post gave me the excuse to revisit the photos I took on a ranch in Montana. This looming horse muzzle seemed appropriate.

After you enjoy it, keep in mind that Stone Boat Poetry meets the first Wednesday evening of every month to celebrate a featured poet and host an open read.

Rider Unhorsed

First reeds at the pathside became vocal
then the dunes’ curve met the curvature
inside my eye. I saw Polaris become

five-pointed, and red pines closed the sky
as bluebells opened it. This is vision country.

As to where my horse is, my steed of good
deeds and satchel of bad lemons, or how

my head became a tuning fork in a thicket,
I’m too busy to answer. The alder’s summer

is speckled and short-stalked; the blackbird
parades its reds; nuthatches dangle down.

Linger with me; step out of your swivet.
Be mind-muddied a while, and temple-robbed.
Be lullabied by the music of far-off bells.

Copyright © 2006 Gibson Fay-LeBlanc All rights reserved
from Backwards City Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Can we understand the past? Tip #5 of writing historical novels

sheets“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
― L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Barring the invention of a time machine, we can never truly inhabit the past, perhaps never truly understand it. Tip #5 of the 5 Tips for writing a historical novel considers: how can we presume to write about it? Do we seek to understand the past as a “foreign country,” understanding it for its own sake and on its own terms? Or, do we wish to view history through the lens of the present, as though it is still with us, still informing and informed by our present point of view?

I would say that both are true. On some level, we must accept and respect that the past is a foreign country. Unless we’re working in a fantasy genre, we can’t write tomatoes onto the table of an early Roman banquet, nor can James Cameron get away with a reference in the movie Titanic to a man-made reservoir that did not yet exist. The past really was different. People spoke differently, experienced life differently, and had different resources available to them.

On the other hand, repercussions from the past continue to shape our world. An author can find, with great care, analogy in the present that can inform writing about the past. In writing about soldiers’ experiences in World War One, Peaks Island author Nicole d’Entremont reflected upon the war veterans who attended her Sudden Fiction* classes in Albuquerque. A story shared by one veteran from the first Iraq war found itself come alive in a scene about WWI. Nicole explained:

I remember a vet from the 1990 Gulf  War who wrote a reflection drawn from a Sudden Fiction prompt. He remembered the dust, heat, and hot wind of the desert.  Then, one day back home in New Mexico, he saw his mother’s freshly washed sheets hanging on the line, flapping and drying in the sun, catching the breeze.  He buried his face in those sheets for their clean smell, their coolness and freshness– burying his face in all of it. Reflecting on his writing now, I remember thinking that his feeling was almost like a cleansing, some kind of baptism. I had my character, Elzear, (back from the WWI trenches in 1919 having survived the war) do this same thing in A Generation of Leaves.  I thank that student whose name I have forgotten for such a lasting image.

While language, technology, and national boundaries change from the past to the present, there are aspects of our humanity that endure across generations. As long as we respect that the past is a foreign country, we can still cross the border and find common ground.

If you would like to meet Nicole, then come to her book launch event for A Generation of Leaves this week, Tuesday, February 25th at 7 PM in the Doug MacVane Community Center on Peaks Island.

*Here, Sudden Fiction refers to workshops, facilitated by Nicole and others, that encourage writers to respond to a prompt by writing for one unbroken hour and then reading aloud to share with the group.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

When carpal tunnel strikes a writer: Cat Valente shares her pain

Catherynne Valente. Photo courtesy Chi-Fi.

Catherynne Valente. Photo courtesy Chi-Fi.

As someone who writes extensively on a keyboard and who has experienced the numbness, buzzing, and pain of early phases of carpal tunnel syndrome, I still can’t imagine how advanced stages feel. Islander and New York Times bestselling author Cat Valente is experiencing CTS; she shares her pain with readers and talks about the relative silence of her keyboard recently. On her blog, she writes:

Carpal tunnel is, if your work involves keyboards, more a question of when and how bad rather than if. Of course I’ve had aching wrists before at the end of marathon writing sessions, banging toward a deadline with my usual barrel-girl over Niagara Falls habits. And yes, my hands had been going numb during those last weeks of the book. I woke up in the night completely fuzzed out from the forearms down. But I didn’t think much about it, because I don’t think about much else when I’m pushing my body to finish a project. And then, some combination of finishing Radiance and immediately sitting down at my spinning wheel for hours on end to make Christmas presents pushed me over a line I didn’t know was there. I woke up, not numb, but in agony, with a burning ache in my wrists and forearms and hands. I was trying to cut up fennel for dinner and couldn’t keep a grip on the knife; I dropped it, my hands shaking.

And that’s how I became the Armless Maiden, the Girl Without Hands.

Read Catherynne’s full post here and join me in wishing her a full and speedy recovery. And before you feel symptoms of the early phase of this condition, learn as much as you can about how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome – proper working position (office ergonomics), proper keyboard habits, frequent stretching, and many more factors.

Stay well and stay in touch.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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