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Out of the Fog and Toward Manuscript Submission

House Island, suspended in fog

Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

As writers, we need guides to help us through and out of the fog just as surely as a seaman needs foghorn and compass. In my Jimmy Brackett manuscript, Jimmy must row from Peaks Island to House Island and onward across Portland Harbor to reach the shop where he works. He must use all of his skills and senses to pick his way from island to island and then reach the Portland waterfront, bustling with Civil War-era activity.

Like Jimmy, we all need stepping stones to find the way, reassuring strategies that help us see as far as our headlights can reach during our journey.

The reassuring stepping stone for me right now is hearing my mentor, Rachel Harper of the Spalding MFA program, tell me that it’s time to prepare the agent query letter and submit my manuscript. “This is what you’ve been training for. You’re ready to come out in front of someone. It’s a journey that’s not easy, but you’ve got to go on it,” Rachel said. I’m at that moment where it’s time to stop editing, time to let go of it. It’s time to find the bravery to take that next step.

So expect to hear more from me soon about one-sentence synopses and query letters. I’m grabbing the oars. If I want Jimmy Brackett to reach the mainland, I have to start the long row across the foggy harbor.

Find Your Retreat: Your secret hiding sense and place

retreat2An experience this weekend reminded me of the necessity for finding my “retreat,” that muse-infused space where magic happens. I don’t mean a formal “writing retreat,” complete with workshops and lectures. Although, those are nice, too. Find your retreat in a place that inspires you, connects you to a sense of wonder.

A shadowy porch, a flower-ringed garden bench, or a gloomy forest might offer what Robert Duncan called a widening of the world:

“…part out of longing,   part     daring my self,
part to see that
widening of the world,   part
to find my own, my secret
hiding sense and place, where from afar
all voices and scenes come back…”retreat3
I craved this place “where from afar, all voices and scenes come back” so I ran away this weekend to edit my Jimmy Brackett manuscript. Dear friends offered me respite for a precious 24 hours. I feel rejuvenated, renewed, re-energized.
I share photos from the weekend to encourage you to find your retreat. It doesn’t have to cost money. Go out and find that place, that corner, that view that brushes aside cobwebs and sets your writing free.

 

retreatWritten by Patricia Erikson, 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.

Author/Illustrator Jamie Hogan Exhibits at Portland Public Library

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Jamie Hogan signing a book

Peaks Islander Jamie Hogan – illustrator of ten books and author of Seven Days of Daisy – presented at the Portland Public Library this evening with Matinicus Island author Eva Murray, with whom Jamie collaborated on a new release, Island Birthday. What an extraordinary event, the coming together of two island talents, one who came by ferry, the other who came by plane!

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Jamie Hogan’s original artworks on display

If you missed this event, the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library in the Portland Public Library is exhibiting several of Jamie’s beautiful, original colored pencil and pastel book illustrations until September 25th. The exhibit, titled The Storybook Waters of Illustrator Jamie Hogan, features those artworks that treat the theme of water in Jamie’s book illustrations.

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Original of illustration in Seven Days of Daisy

Written by Patricia Erikson, 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.

Streetcar named “Narcissus” has a new chapter

StreetcarNarcissusarticleIt feels good to write another chapter of a story, especially when the plot is headed toward a climax. Last year, I published an article in Portland Magazine about a historic Maine gem on the National Register, the “Narcissus,” a luxury, high-speed, interurban rail car on which Teddy Roosevelt rode in 1914. The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine curates this vintage vehicle and is renovating it in its steampunkish Townhouse Restoration Shop. This summer, Teddy Roosevelt Days – a July 31-August 2nd event – showcases the Narcissus, its relation to Teddy Roosevelt, and Roosevelt’s love for the Maine outdoors. Proceeds from the event will help fund the restoration project.

Since I published the article last year, the Teddy Roosevelt Association and the National Park Service (Sagamore Hill site) have partnered up with Seashore Trolley Museum and the museum has been awarded restoration funds from a national railway society. Bibliophiles will love the early edition Roosevelt books up for grabs in the silent auction, as well as the book signing events featuring authors Chip Bishop, Andrew Vietze, and Joshua Reyes.

You can read more about the restoration project of the Narcissus at www.narcissus1912.blogspot.com

Written by Patricia Erikson, 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.

Chasing Muse: Finding the “Wild, Silky Part of Ourselves”

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Reaching the summit in the Saddleback Mountain Challenge. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

People pay good money to chairlift up a mountain in civilized fashion and then ski down for pleasure. I just paid to snowshoe straight up 2000 feet in single-digit temperatures to brave a gnarly descent. But, then, I’m not a mountaineer, I’m an island writer chasing a muse.

When I shuffled to the starting line of the Saddleback Mountain Challenge an hour earlier, racers appeared in a motley assemblage of equipment that reflected their strategy. Most wore Randonee skis adorned with “skins” that could be removed at the peak, allowing a rapid descent. A few people wore snowshoes with a snowboard strapped to their back; their descent would be swooping, graceful. One man wore two halves of a snowboard strapped to his feet, halves that would be reunited, presumably, once he achieved the peak. And then came the smartypants distance runner — one of two women in the pack and the only one outfitted with just snowshoes to wear, both up and down — that’s me. Halfway up the mountain, I reconsider the wisdom of entering this challenge; wind-driven ice cements to my hair and face, and bounces off my fingers, bare and hot from exertion. What was I thinking?

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Brown hair turned white in Arctic conditions. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Reaching the peak, I pass a number of racers who stop to switch their fancy gear to downhill mode. One-two-three of them. I wonder: do they admire my strategy of using the same gear for the entire race? Nah.

I yank on my coat and gloves, pull up my face guard, and lumber onto the mountain’s shoulder. My left ear loses feeling to the flesh-freezing wind, no doubt casting me even more as the Bride of Yeti. Then I reach a point where the race route narrows to a two-foot wide shelf, little more than the ridge of a snowdrift. As if on cue, I stumble onto the precipice. A normal audience would gasp as my center of gravity plunges over and back from the edge, but the ski patrol sentry quips, “Nice catch.” That’s high praise up here.

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Running across the peak on snowshoes. Photo courtesy Saddleback Mountain.

Finally, I stand alone at the top of the designated downhill route, a narrow chute. It’s name: Muleskinner. I try not to take the name literally or conjure images of how it might apply to me. But, if this route were a highway, the sign would flash orange neon letters “Go back, 50-60% grade.”

Given the promised first-place prizes of season ski passes for the winning man and woman, the racers ahead of me are pushing hard; I just want to survive. Avoiding last place would be a bonus. Descent on snowshoes: my strategy faces a crisis. Facing this downhill reminds me of facing a blank page, or worse yet, a manuscript with extensive need of editing. I don’t want to do it. What am I afraid of? Falling? Getting lost in a snowbank? Those rank as givens today. I decide I’m most afraid of not finishing. I abandon all pretense of sanity and step over the edge, on purpose this time.

To my shock, the deep, fresh powder has been scoured away by wind, leaving porcelain-smooth white ice disguised as snow. My snowshoes respond by rocketing downhill, spinning me sideways. There is nothing to grab, nothing to stop me. Channeling my five year-old self, I sit down hard and push my snowshoes out in front of me. With buttocks serving as my snow-tubing device, I shoot straight down Muleskinner, stopping in an explosion of deep powder. Able to stand again, I run downhill until hitting another porcelain plate of ice. Repeat the sit and slide until powder impact. Stand and run. Midway down Muleskinner, a couple of the guys that I had passed on the peak, pass me–one of them with graceful swooshes, the other guy resembling a human snowball.

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Reaching the finish line. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Why am I doing this? It wasn’t until after I crossed the finishing line (looking indeed like the Bride of Yeti), after I had driven back to Portland and reached home by ferry, that I read Mary Oliver. Only then did I find words for what I was doing on Saddleback Mountain–I was taking care of the “wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem [and, I would add, no writing] can exist.” Oliver describes this inner muse as a “mysterious, unmapped zone” that “comes before everything, even technique.” She warns that “It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.”

This is what I fear more than Muleskinner. That silence within.

In “Wild Geese” Oliver writes, “You do not have to walk on your knees, For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Seriously? Does this mean I didn’t have to grind up and down that flesh-hungry mountain on snowshoes to find my “mysterious, unmapped zone”? Mary Oliver would probably say that I could discover beauty in the everyday world around me. But, no, on this day, I needed the mountain to shatter a deep silence, to shake the silence apart the way the wind knocks rime ice from evergreen needles and casts the shards into the howling spit of the storm.

 

Thank you to Eleanor Morse and my fellow writers in the Sudden Fiction group for sharing Mary Oliver with me at the moment I most needed it and to the staff of Saddleback Mountain for running a first-class ski area with the biggest heart I know.

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.

Secret Weapons Against Winter: Write or Plunge into the Sea?

sandalsinsnowMy willingness to jump into a 40 degree ocean does not prove me crazy. Yet, many shake their heads, say “better you than me,” shudder, and turn away. Maybe I’d rather they didn’t understand how alive I feel, walking across snow in sandals, peeling off layers on a breezy winter beach with my heart rate quickening at the thought of the icy sea needling my skin. Maybe if people knew that, afterward, the whole body flushes with warmth, bright light and giddy laughter then they would want to polar bear plunge, too. Then the wintry beach would be crowded with other island souls, desperate to unmuffle the months between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Nah, not happening. Many more islanders harbor a different secret weapon against the Maine winter: writing.

Thanks to the Sudden Fiction writing sessions of Eleanor Morse and Nicole d’Entremont, we huddle around the woodstove and beat back the winter darkness with our words. I love how Maine author extraordinaire Stephen King explains this type of literary defiance in his essay “On Impact.” King wrote, “it’s the work that bails me out. For me, there have been times when the act of writing has been an act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.” As the temperature plunges, the snow piles up against the window, and daylight resists the earth-tilting nudge to lengthen, we fight our way back to life by wielding our pen (and sometimes even by plunging into the sea).

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.

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 athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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