Peaks Island Press

News on Peaks Island Authors

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.

Somewhat Annual Valentine Poetry Reading

As the moon waxes toward full, the somewhat annual Valentine Poetry Reading coalesces with Stone Boat Poetry’s February meeting for a Wednesday, February 12th event. ValentinePoster

Thanks to Suzanne Parrott, Jesse Mantsch, and sponsor Peaks Island Branch of the Portland Public Library, islanders will enjoy the opportunity to share poetry, decadent desserts, and the holiday of love. Bring a poem and something yummy and come to the Community Room at 7 PM.

valentinetypewriterPeaks 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.

Archive diving: Third of five tips for writing a historical novel

Inspired by an interview with Nicole d’ Entremont about her WWI novel “A Generation of Leaves,” Peaks Island Press is offering five tips to get you writing your historical novel. The first three of five tips are:
Tip #1 listen to family stories for inspiration;
Tip #2: visit historic sites;
Tip #3: dare yourself to go archive diving.

IMG_5426

Nicole points to her uncle’s signature on his attestation papers

First, let’s start with what archives are not. They are not “containers of brute facts” (as anthropologist Renato Renaldo would say). If they were passive containers of information, then I might not recommend them. Instead, archives are like spiders, spinning webs between remains of the past and those of us who inhabit the present. Beware of archive diving, though, because a faded document or a tattered photograph could seize your muse and lure you and your story somewhere you wouldn’t expect. That is precisely the point. Historical resources shape our perception of the past. Just be prepared for that adventure.

For Nicole d’ Entremont, archival research included exploring the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa to gain access to military records. Among the treasures she uncovered were her Uncle Leo’s attestation papers that he signed upon volunteering to go to war (pictured above).

To be able to touch his signature–it drew me into that precise moment when he committed himself to something that led to his death at a very young age. The young men going off to war in 1914 thought the war would be over in 6 months.

Nicole also located her uncle’s university transcript and could see his grades. It helped her appreciate the life he left behind, the life he lost.

The grades affected me more deeply than I thought they would.  Here was a young man from a poor French- Acadian fishing village–going to a University from 1909-1911.  Here were his grades in my hands (and good ones at that) inscribed in the whispery ink scratchings of  a long dead professor. What dreams did that young man have?  Why did he leave school in 1911?  All of that took me on another quest.

Nicole and I agree that our perception of the past is shaped much more intimately when we do our own “archive diving.” Some of my favorite archives are listed below. Dive in.

American Memory Project, Library of Congress

Maine Folklife Center

Maine Memory Network

Maine State Archives

New York Times

University of Southern Maine Archives

Stay tuned for the next in the five tips for writing a historical novel — Tip #4: Sort through secondary sources.

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.

Tip #4 on writing a historical novel: Sort through secondary sources

secondarysource

Some of Nicole’s favorite WWI sources

The first three of five tips on writing a historical novel focused on primary sources – Tip #1 family stories (oral history), Tip #2 historic sites,  and Tip #3 archives. This article encourages you to sort through and mine valuable secondary sources. If you write a historical novel using secondary sources alone, recognize that you’re reading through the lens of how another author has selected, organized, and interpreted primary sources. You would be a step removed from rich, authentic sources. However, secondary sources still have great value. As a cultural historian, I offer this distinction between the two:

Primary source -A surviving record of past events created during the time period under study by someone who participated in, witnessed, or commented upon the historic events, such as photographs, diaries, artifacts, or oral history.

Secondary source -Books, articles, essays, and lectures, often created using primary sources, that describe and interpret a time period after events have taken place.

In the case of island author Nicole d’Entremont, secondary sources – particularly Peter Englund‘s “The Beauty and the Sorrow: An intimate history of WWI”- complemented her use of primary sources in writing “A Generation of Leaves.” 

Swedish historian and journalist Englund describes his book as “a work of anti-history,” in other words, not a book that strings together noteworthy events, but “a book about what it was like.” Nicole explained to me how it influenced her:

“The Beauty and the Sorrow” features 20 people of several nationalities who were caught up in World War I. A young German girl. A Scottish woman. An Italian trooper. Forget the dates. It’s the people. This is their story. It’s not about the generals. I read this book twice. As a “non-historian,” I had doubts about how I was approaching the subject, but Englund, a noted historian himself and university teacher of WWI history, gave me confidence that I could follow my novelist’s inclination without fearing the wrath of historical rectitude.

I wrap up the 5 tips on writing a historical novel with the next article: Tip #5: Can we understand the past?

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.

Jim Hayman: Looking back at the island

fullmoonferry

Full moon hovers over ferry and loading ramp

What makes an island community gasp, collectively? When an islander sells their dream house or cottage and becomes — cough — a mainlander. Author Jim Hayman has made that plunge (pardon the pun), but, in his parting, he shares what it’s like to weed some 1000 books out of his family’s library and transport them across the harbor by ferry. Read his post, “A Moving Experience,” published on the Maine Crime Writers site, one of the author resources listed here at Peaks Island Press.

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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