Archive for Authors
Peaks Island Press doesn’t review books written by fellow islanders because the pretentiousness of that offends me. Instead, I like to feature the authors themselves and their writing process, sometimes even my own writer’s journey. What inspires us to write? How does writing fit into – or spill out of – our lives? So, although this entry may look like a book review, it’s not really. I have just finished reading a book, pressing it against my chest and holding it there as though its wisdom would slip between my ribs. It left me struggling to take my next breath and inspired me to pick up a pen.
You know those e-profiles on Facebook and Linked In, the ones that ask you to list your favorites of this, favorites of that – music, movies, and so on? My finger always taps at the blank prompt for “favorite books.” Favorite is a demanding adjective, one that I only deploy when that something makes me gush. The Help (Kathryn Stockett), Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and Chocolat (Joanne Harris) have achieved favorite status for me because they transported me to extraordinary, authentic emotional landscapes. Now that I’ve turned its last page and intend to read it again right away, I list The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey as one of my rare “favorites.”
Ivey is neither Mainer nor islander, but rather an Alaskan writer; however, the ragged, furred-and-clawed setting that she conjures should feel familiar to those of us who maneuver deep snows, burning cold, chronically-shrinking woodpiles, and the pursuit of wringing our blink-like summer of all that it promises. The Snow Child offers a brave, lancing portrait of love and pain and empathy. An aged couple homesteading in Alaska realize that their anguished loneliness may have breathed life into a simple snowman – a snowgirl, really; they then wrestle with fear, chase their hope, and tentatively learn to embrace a more expansive understanding of family and life itself.
Like most people, I have lost loved ones – some unborn and unnamed, others present, yet bent and vacant with illness. Like the main characters of The Snow Child, Jack and Mabel, I dread the fierce love that can make the simple passage of a child out the door turn into an unexpected moment of raw and crippling fear too big to comprehend. But it isn’t the book, it’s Eowyn Ivey, who inspires me as a writer; she beckons her readers into the bitter, toothed Alaskan wilderness to witness the beauty in the sheen of a swan’s feathers and she holds our hand as she shows us the courage it takes to live a fairy tale life whose ending is already known. Reading The Snow Child made it difficult for me to pull in my next breath; it is that moment, that moment of breathless wonder and desperation in life that leaves me no choice but to write.
If you’re intrigued by this book, I point you to the video trailer and an interview with Eowyn Ivey below.
A year and a half ago, Peaks Island Press caught up with Twain Braden when he and his family migrated back to “the Rock,” back to living on Peaks Island like so many other families who have left and then returned, including my own. The 2011 post talked about his Ghosts of the Pioneers and hinted that his next book was in production. Now, “The Complete Guide to Sailing & Seamanship” (Skyhorse Publishing 2013) is hitting the market just in time for the intended audience – beginner and expert sailors alike – to grab a copy before they give up leisurely reading for hauling sails. Although Twain practices law, he’s also known to be the kind of guy who clings to a bowsprit in 30 knot winds, if that’s what the situation demands. Suffice it to say, Twain is not your average island author. A Complete Guide to Sailing & Seamanship joins a long list of Twain’s maritime publications – Wooden Boat and Ocean Navigator articles, The Handbook of Sailing Techniques: Professional Tips, Expert Advice, Essential Skills (2003) and the non-fiction thriller In Peril: A Daring Decision, a Captain’s Resolve, and the Salvage that Made History written with Skip Strong (2003.
Unlike most encyclopedic manuals, The Complete Guide to Sailing & Seamanship animates instructional methods with stories of maritime adventures and beautiful illustrations. Everything from knots and lines to sailboat anatomy to anchoring, mooring, and berthing has its own chapter. By interweaving stories from his experience as a mariner with hands-on techniques, Twain makes clear the critical importance of good seamanship.
Readers of this newest book will be delighted to see that Twain has partnered with world-renowned marine illustrator Sam Manning who Mainers know from his over 30 years of illustration for Wooden Boat Magazine. Over 100 black and white illustrations enhance this guidebook.
Looking over the page proofs of the book, Twain pointed out one of Manning sketches that illustrates the story of a particular journey by the schooner, Bagheera, from Maryland to its new home in Maine. Twain has described the experience of the Bagheera losing its propeller and getting hammered by a storm front.
Navigator, Jan./Feb. 2003, “
“At some point on that cold, miserable night, I made the choice to turn back for Gloucester. Twenty to 25 knots and a few breaking waves was one thing. Thirty to 40 knots and green water washing down the decks of an old boat that deserved better – and a seasick crew – was no one’s idea of a good time…We ultimately limped into Portland, Maine, feeling more like whipped dogs than conquering heroes (see Ocean Navigator “It’s hard to go home again”).
You’ll have to grab a copy of The Complete Guide to hear more of these stories. And with the renovation of a 20 foot Small Point One Design yacht under way (see above) with Lawrence Mott, more adventures are sure to follow.
Stories build understanding.
Understanding builds neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods build a strong city.
Support the sharing of stories of Maine’s “new arrivals” and the cultural fabric of the City of Portland.
Peaks Island children’s book author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien has made an important contribution to the upcoming city-wide read of books supported by the Maine Humanities Council called “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” When she’s not crossing the globe by plane to visit fans, crossing the harbor by ferry or the island by bicycle to go home, she’s adding to her impressive list of children’s book publications.
Mostly recently, Anne has authored “A Path of Stars” (Charlesbridge Publishing), the story of a Cambodian immigrant grandmother, Lok Yeay, who tells her granddaughter about her homeland and how her family would sit in their yard and watch the stars that glowed like fireflies. To write a picture book that captured the Cambodian American experience here in Maine, Anne explains,
“I started by reading every survivor memoir I could find, until the outline of life in Cambodia before 1975, the Killing Fields, the escape, and life in a new land became familiar. I talked with several scholars about trauma survival and the sociology of Cambodian Americans. Most significantly, I listened to my friends Veasna and Peng Kem, who spent hours sharing their own memories with me. Many of the details in this story come from their accounts, or were inspired by them.”
A Path of Stars has been named a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013 by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC); it has also been named an Honor Picture Book of the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature 2013 based upon its literary and artistic merit, as selected by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.
Anne illustrated another one of the nine books chosen for this city-wide read: Moon Watchers, an inside view of daily life in a modern Muslim family during Ramadan. A launch event for the city-wide read of books set in Maine’s new arrival communities will occur on May 25th from 3-6 p.m. at the Portland Public Library.
An open discussion and book signing will follow the actors’ readings.
April 8th 7 p.m. at Portland Stage Co., Forest Avenue, Portland.
November 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm · Filed under Authors and tagged: books, Catherynne Valente, fiction, Maine, Peaks Island, Scott Nash, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate
A little over a month ago, I crowed that two island authors launched books in the same week – Scott Nash with his High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate and Catherynne Valente with her The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Now, to my amazement (and yet, why should I be surprised?), both of them have soared to Amazon’s top 2012 Best Books of the Year list for Children’s Middle Grade readers.
With much love and awe, I applaud them both and invite you to do the same. I already have my copies, do you?
October 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm · Filed under Authors, Events and tagged: book, books, Catherynne Valente, fiction, Maine, Peaks Island, Scott Nash, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate, writer, writers, writing
Islanders seem to be launching books as often as they launch boats these days. It’s a phenomenal literary week here on Peaks Island as both Scott Nash and Catherynne Valente celebrate and hold events for their respective new books. Catherynne has just released her next YA novel, a sequel to the New York Times Bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Her new book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, has led Cat off on a month-long book tour of 19 different cities across the country – an epic journey she’s hashtagged #halloweentour. Good luck trying to keep up with her on her twitter stream @catvalente. Fair winds and following seas to you, Cat!
Scott’s epic launch party will occur tomorrow, Friday, at 7:00 p.m. at Portland’s beloved indie bookstore, Longfellow Books, where a three-dimensional window installation teases us to rush for the shelf and buy his new book. He’s also treating islanders to a reading on Saturday, October 6th from 1-3 p.m. at the Seaside Shop. Come help celebrate the publication of his middle-grade graphic novel, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate.
August 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm · Filed under Authors, Events and tagged: books, fiction, High Skies Adventure of Blue Jay the Pirate, Maine, Peaks Island, Scott Nash, writer, writers, writing, young adult novel
If you knew that my bookshelves harbored a large selection of pirate-related fiction and non-fiction, you could imagine how excited I was to sit down with neighbor and author-illustrator Scott Nash to discuss the imminent release of his first young adult novel, “The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate.“
This week, the library’s annual meeting provides island residents and visitors with the opportunity to hear Scott speak about his swashbuckling bird-pirates who navigate air ships through their old-growth forest as they evade predators and the strictures of a 17th century colonial government.
Scott lives on Peaks Island with his talented wife, Nancy Gibson Nash, and their rascally dog, Zephyr. As a neighbor who has lingered over fondue dinners with Scott and Nancy during long winter evenings, I know that Scott is a Renaissance man – he’s as comfortable listening to Mendelssohn while he writes as he is playing Johnny Cash on his mandolin or transfixing neighbors of all ages with performance art installations. Scott is known as an illustrator of more than 40 children’s books (Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp is my personal favorite), but his talents extend more broadly. He assumes the Head of the Illustration Program at Maine College of Art this year and continues to lead Nashbox, a graphic design and creative studio based in Portland that focuses upon children’s media and brands.
It is the newest chapter of his career, however, that fascinates me most: becoming the author of a young adult novel. When I asked Scott what lured him from illustrating picture books to writing a chapter book, I discovered my own misconception that his writing and drawing would be separate processes. Scott said, “When I create a character in a sketchbook, it has a consciousness and I often find myself wanting to spend time with her, him or it. I draw to inform my writing and I write to inform my drawing. It is my peculiar way of realizing a story.”
Scott handed me the advance copy of his book as though he was handing over a newborn for the first time. The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirateis beautiful; I was struck by the classic look of its cover, font, and illustrations. Scott described how the classic chapter books of his childhood inspired him, “I loved how you would read the narrative and then you were rewarded with a picture. Then your imagination took over again with the narrative.” What inspired him to create this particular story? “Birds have always been important to me, but not the way they’re depicted in children’s media as just fluffy and cheerful. I see freedom, resilience, and a hardscrabble life when I look at them. And I’ve always loved pirates, of course. So, in this story, a 17th century colonial government [primarily an off-stage character] bans birds from migrating and condemns them to serfdom. The theme of migration allows me to explore what it means to be cultured, to be “civilized.”
Like most books, this one had a long gestation period and a lot of hard labor behind it. “It was initially three times larger. I loved where the research took me. It makes the fantasy more real to touch down into the history of pirates.” Scott credits his editor for helping him to hone the book to its current form. “Mary Lee Donovan, senior editor at Candlewick Press, and I have worked together for many years. She helps to drive the creative process; there just aren’t many author-editor relationships like that these days.”
And where does Scott like to write? “I’m nomadic. I don’t like to write in just one place. I like to find the place with the right energy.” That means you might catch sight of Scott writing in his car, on the Eastern Promenade, in coffee shops, or in his hammock or studio wearing headphones. Wherever it is, he’s chasing that good energy that fuels amazing work. Take time out to hear him this Wednesday.
Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Peaks Island Library on Wednesday, August 16, 2012 7:00 pm
MacVane Community Room, Peaks Island
April 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm · Filed under Authors and tagged: book, books, fiction, Laima Vince, Lenin's Head on a Platter, Maine, Peaks Island, The Ghost in Hannah's Parlor, writer, writers, writing, YA fiction
Islands pull on people. Ferociously sometimes. People are compelled to live on them; sometimes they convince themselves that they can leave, yet the island draws them back again. I know this because it’s happened to me. Fellow writers Michael Steinberg and Twain Braden have also experienced the ensnaring quality of the island, leaving “the Rock” in their wake, only to have it reel them back. Of all those who have felt the island’s gravitational pull, Laima Vince’s orbit has the longest radius; after living on Peaks Island for ten years with her three children, she returned to Lithuania as a Fulbright lecturer to Vilnius University, where she had studied and translated poetry years earlier as a student.
Vince brought her own award-winning skills as a poet and translator to her scholarship in war-torn Lithuania, publishing several books, including “Lenin’s Head on a Platter” in 2008 with the Lithuanian Writers’ Union Press. But it was Laima’s tie to Peaks Island that led her to write “The Ghost in Hannah’s Parlor.” This YA novel starts one night in November on Captains Island when a nine-year-old named Hannah goes downstairs for a glass of water. The adventure begins when Hannah meets the ghost of Hilda De Witt Rose, a turn-of-the-century opera star who lives in a rose in Hannah’s parlor wallpaper along with an entire ghost cast of the opera Carmen.
Laima still spends as many months of the year as possible on Peaks Island and I caught up with her one day where all islanders do – on the ferry. “I call it Captains Island, but it’s inspired by Peaks – the neighborhood, the history of opera on the island, the path to the school. Islanders will recognize all of these things.”
Opera? On Peaks Island? Didn’t she mean the history of opera in Portland? When Vince’s characters go back to 1910 with the help of their ghost, they move through an island world difficult to imagine when walking the streets today, an island peppered with more than a dozen hotels, several grocery stores, and notably, multiple theaters and ferry landings, and an amusement park. “Writing this book made me interested in learning more of the history of the island. It’s so fascinating.”
As the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and former Director of the Stonecoast Summer Writers’ Conference at the University of Southern Maine, it’s clear that Laima’s accomplishments have astonishing breadth. From poetry to the oral history of holocaust survivors to YA novels, Vince has demonstrated her love for writing and that Peaks Island still has a hold on her.
Here’s some footage of Laima reading from some of her Lithuanian work “Lenin’s Head on a Platter.”
Chatting with Julie Fisher Melton is like taking a virtual round-the-world tour, so don’t do it unless you’re ready to either go where her professional travels have taken her or strap on your best walking shoes and keep up with her as she hikes around Peaks Island. Either way, you’re likely to see the world through her eyes, something that international organizations have sought for years. Julie – a Pomona College alum and doctoral graduate of John Hopkins University – has shared her extensive experience with and research about NGOs (non-government organizations) in two books: The Road from Rio: Sustainable Development and the Nongovernmental Movement in the Third World, Praeger, 1993; and Nongovernments: NGOs and the Political Development of the Third World, Kumarian, 1998. A third book is under contract with her former employer, Kettering Foundation.
Julie’s passion centers on empowering people, collectively, to address problems affecting their lives, their community, and their nation. We’re talking about poverty, unemployment, and every manner of exploitation – not issues for the faint of heart, but then a woman whose career began researching how civil organizations worked in Latin American squatter neighborhoods doesn’t shirk from challenges.
In “Road from Rio” Julie wrote, “Poverty, population, and environmental degradation ride roughshod over the aspirations and hopes of people everywhere…Third World NGOs will be essential contributors to this process [of survival], provided their remarkable creativity is understood and supported.” As a former consultant for Save the Children, she knows a great deal about the challenges facing a large proportion of the world’s population. When I asked her more about her work, Julie articulated the broad gulf between typical forms of international aid interventions and the local facilitation and empowerment from the grassroots level upward. After researching in Latin America, Argentina, South Africa, and Tajikistan, she’s quite certain that the latter model promises the best potential for sustainable change and improvement in people’s lives.
If you’re looking for inspiration on how to make the world a better place, be thankful that Julie keeps writing.
When it comes to journeys, Twain Braden knows how to take them – and how to write about them. Professional mariner, lawyer, camp director, and writer, this renaissance man has returned to Peaks Island with his wife, Leah, and their four children after “living “away” since 2003. He returns with several published books and articles to his name with more in the queue.
A graduate of Hobart College and Charleston School of Law, Twain braves not only legal tomes but the unexpected adventures that wilderness trips and sailing the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea can throw at him. I got to know Twain and Leah as near-neighbors who had a son the same age as my daughter. Our shared stories broadened when my husband helped Twain (then co-owner of Portland Schooner Co with Scott Reischmann), sail the historic schooner Bagheera from Delaware up to its new home in Portland. These days, when he’s not sailing or writing, he’s directing Camp Glen Brook in Marlborough, NH.
Twain has published articles with Wooden Boat, Northern New England Journey, and Ocean Navigator. He also authored The Handbook of Sailing Techniques: Professional Tips, Expert Advice, Essential Skills (2003) and the non-fiction thriller In Peril: A Daring Decision, a Captain’s Resolve, and the Salvage that Made History written with Skip Strong (2003 – both published with The Lyons Press.
The summer before Twain graduated from law school in the spring of 2007, he and his family embarked upon a cross-country journey that led to the publication of Ghosts of the Pioneers: A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844. Twain blogged as they camped from Charleston to Independence, Miss. and then followed the Oregon Trail. In places, such as along a stretch of Rte 80 in Nebraska, major roads overlay the historic trail’s path. In other more rural areas, wagon wheel ruts remained visible. Twain’s first-person narrative juxtaposes the story of the Independent Oregon Colony’s arduous journey westward with his family’s own modern-day trip. None other than documentary film director/producer Ken Burns said of Ghost of the Pioneers “This is a wonderful, close-to-the-earth book about the West, that magical place where the best of us met the worst of us and nothing was ever the same.”
Welcome back to The Rock, Twain, where writers are always welcome! We’re looking forward to the news of your next book, already in the hands of a publisher.