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Island Middle School Book Club Celebrates One Year

Langlais sculpture hangs from library ceiling

Bernard Langlais sculpture hangs over the book stacks of the Peaks Island Branch Library.

More delightful than discovering a new book for myself at the library this evening was finding a group of middle school students scrambling to pick out new books to read for their Middle School Book Club. For the record, they started their book club long before Mark Zuckerberg. It could have been the club’s one-year anniversary celebratory cupcakes that fueled the students’ giddy rush to the book shelves. More likely, it seems that book club leader and Peaks Island Branch librarian Roseanne Walsh has hit upon a popular formula for this book club; rather than come together to discuss a book that they have read in common, students gather socially to share with the group a book that they have read individually.

“Everyone contributed titles of books that they thoughts others would enjoy reading. These titles were mixed together and everyone randomly chose a title that they wouldn’t necessarily read,” Roseanne wrote in the Peaks Island Star. From what the students told me, titles from Sharon Creech, Sarah Dessen, and Alyson Noel remain popular.

Imagine: a book club that doesn’t revolve around everyone obtaining a copy of the same book? A social gathering devoted to discussing books, even though you’ve all read different books? Hats off to these young adults for sharing their love of books with each other and may they inspire other libraries to do the same.

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

Happy New Year!


Hats off to Catherine Ryan Howard for saying what needs to be said (at least in my world) — “Finish Your Damn Book!”

Originally posted on CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD:

Happy New Year! I wish you everything you wish for in 2015.

Today have posted a blog of mine, Finish Your Damn Book. It’s what I needed to read this time last year, so I’m sharing it with you now.

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Are you writing a book? Been meaning to start? Been “finishing” a novel, whatever that means, for longer that you’re comfortable admitting? Maybe you’re like Badger in Breaking Bad, well able to lead anyone who cares to listen through every plot point of your tale – a Star Trek spec script, in his case – only to end with “I gotta write it down, is all…” If so, then read on.

One afternoon in August 2008 a much anticipated e-mail landed in my inbox. I’d sold my laptop back in Orlando to fund my subsequent adventure in Central America, so I had to check it on…

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Writing on Basement Walls: What inscription will you leave in 2015?

Portland High School, courtesy of Wikipedia

Portland High School, courtesy of Wikipedia

Imagine that you are descending stone stairs down to the basement in a 150-year-old high school to a room known as the Graffiti Room. Does this sound like a writing prompt or perhaps jacket copy for a mystery novel? Mention of this Graffiti Room popped up in my daughter’s college application essay recently. In her words, “the floor, ceiling, and all four walls are covered with students’ names and graduating years. Layers and layers of signatures blanket the historic walls…in a few months I will sign my name in this room, leave my mark on history, and become a part of the tradition.” I realized that when my daughter inscribes her name on the wall, she will share space with her grandmother who would have written her name nearly seventy years earlier.

I don’t generally advocate for writing on walls, furniture, trees or rock outcrops either, but, the layering-of-names tradition hit me. I have never been bitten by the “I was here” bug that would prompt me to write my name on a wall, but isn’t striving to write similar? When writers write, aren’t they grasping at truths, inscribing them, and leaving them behind like names scrawled on a wall? Think inscription, trace, epigraph, literary footprints.

I used to struggle with cynicism towards academic publishing; I still harbor frustration with the jargon-ridden, inaccessible nature of the genre. My prejudice shifted when, after delivering a presentation at a conference in Arizona, a few undergraduate and graduate students asked me to sign their copy of my book “Voices of a Thousand People.” This wasn’t a book tour, far from it. I don’t think my presentation even mentioned the book, but, to my surprise, they eagerly shared their excitement to meet me and how much they loved “Voices.”

Despite my reservations about academia, my work had spoken to these students, fired their imagination, and fueled their passion for learning. Even though writing often feels like a selfish endeavor — the journey toward flawless craft and research, the search for inspiration, and the quest for publication — it remains similar to writing on walls. Writing leaves a trace, a literary pathway for making and sharing insights with people the writer may never meet.

So if you’re struggling with your writing (as I have been this past year), embrace the notion of writing on walls. Writing is not just a solitary endeavor. The act of writing reaches out and touches others, makes connections and shared meaning that we all crave. Keep writing. As you face 2015, ask yourself: what delightful discovery do you want to leave for others to discover in a basement room?

Here are the Peaks Island Press entries that readers most visited in 2014:

Most Read Article about a Peaks Island Writer
Eleanor Morse: Coming Home to Writing

Most Read Article on the Writing Process
Nicole d’Entremont: on family stories and 5 tips for writing an historical novel

Most Read Article on Peaks Island Literary Life
Book Love: An island tradition welcomes babies

Maine Snow Days

SnowBikeDeliciously naughty. Forbidden. That’s how it feels, burrowing under the covers after hearing the news – “it’s a snow day!” Billowing snowflakes muffle the outside world, even the thudding of snowplow blades. Then freezing rain clatters against the windowpane and glams up every twig and bough in sight. And the day ahead yawns – empty – like a cave that’s never been found. I concern myself with finding slippers, stoking the wood stove, boiling cups of tea, and considering whether the power will stay on – or not. Snow days. Those days – when the calendar stands still and the world transforms itself in white – bind my loyalty to life as a Northerner.

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

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 at

Robert Greenfield and the Rolling Stones

If you’re very lucky, perhaps you’ve seen The Rolling Stones in concert or, maybe you harbor some collectable vinyl albums. It’s unlikely, however, that you’ve gone on tour with the Stones, spent dozens of hours interviewing members of the band, or even spent days living at Mick Jagger’s villa. Award-winning author and summer Peaks Island resident Robert Greenfield has done those things; it’s fair to say that our understanding of music in 20th century society is better for it.

Author Robert Greenfield

Author Robert Greenfield

In a quick telephone interview with me, Greenfield conceded that he has had some extraordinary opportunities to write about several “rather megahuman” individuals. Greenfield was referring to Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, six-time Grammy Award winner Burt Bacharach, and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. That’s the short list. Greenfield said, “Writing about extraordinary people you can learn something about life that is different than writing about people with quiet lives.” In part, Greenfield attributes the success of his career — writing about icons of the music industry — to “feeling passionate about the work and remaining absolutely trustworthy in trying to capture the humanity of people who can really be very difficult.”

When I asked Greenfield if he considered himself a journalist, a narrative non-fiction writer, or a classic rock documentarian, he said, “I’m a writer. I don’t like to be categorized.” Fair enough considering that he’s also a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright who served as Associate Editor of the London bureau of Rolling Stone Magazine.

"Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye" book cover

“Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye” book cover

This Thursday evening, you’ll have the opportunity to meet Greenfield and hear him read from his newly-published “Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile (Da Capo Press/Perseus Books 2014), one of the twelve books that he has authored. The Peaks Island Branch of the Portland Public Library will host the event this Thursday, August 14th from 7-9:00 PM.

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

Port City Poets on Peaks Island

Stone Boat Poetry presents PORT CITY POETS: Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine on Thursday, August 7 at 7pm at 5th Maine Memorial Hall on Peaks Island.

Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read original poems!

Featured: Linda Aldrich, Marcia F. Brown, Dennis Camire, Claire Hersom, Mihku Paul-Anderson, Jesse Mantsch, Pam Burr Smith, Bruce Spang, Martin Steingesser, Jim Glenn Thatcher, George VanDeventer, Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel.

Readings begin at 7 pm

Books by individual contributing poets, and the recent anthology will be available. Support the writers!

Light refreshments will be served. ****volunteers most welcome to bring some refreshments.****

Free and Open to the Public<Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read .

<Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read poetry event yet.


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