Archive for non-fiction
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.
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.
Ancient forests, ghost birds, and intrepid scientists. This might sound like a blurb for Rollins’ sci-fi Amazonia, but instead it describes the non-fiction content of Michael Steinberg’s “Stalking the Ghost Bird: The Elusive, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Louisiana” (Louisiana State University Press, 2008).
“I was always interested in birds growing up in Missouri. I would read Peterson’s Field Guide every night before bed. Then, once on vacation in Florida, I thought I spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker. Ever since then, I followed the news of sightings.” This love of birds and the environment led Mike into the field of Geography and eventually into a teaching position at the University of Southern Maine. There his academic writing focused on Mayans in Belize who were adapting their indigenous agricultural traditions to a drug economy. Steinberg and his family were then lured out of state by other opportunities that allowed him to write and publish Stalking the Ghost Bird – a culmination of his lifelong interest in this bird.
The book recounts how scientists cautiously refused to disclose their rediscovery of the supposedly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker until, finally, they captured a short video and sound clip of the bird. Publication of their findings in Science triggered frenzied media coverage and controversy among birders and scientists who disagree – and continue to disagree – about whether the bird really exists. Mike’s writing explores the public fascination with this mysterious species.
These days, Mike migrates a fair amount himself, living part-time on Peaks and part-time in Tuscaloosa where he teaches at the University of Alabama. He brings his research and writing to Maine in summer where he enjoys time with his wife and two sons. “We wanted to move back, to move our boys to where lots of families pursue outdoor adventure for themselves and their kids. Maine is that place for us. Definitely.”
Maine’s literary community has led Mike on a different kind of journey; he enrolled in and graduated from the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, a two-year low residency program based out of the historic Stone House – a waterfront property designed by John Calvin Stevens in 1918. He now appreciates the skills entailed in writing narrative non-fiction.
We won’t need to wait long to read another of his books. I pulled him away from editing his latest manuscript so that we could traverse together the cattails surrounding Peaks Island’s Trout Pond. In between pulling me out of the mud and pointing out a cedar waxwing, he balanced on a jagged boardwalk and described how “A Brook Trout Pilgrimage” (under contract with University of North Carolina Press) recounts his pilgrimage through brook trout habitats from northern Georgia to Labrador. “I’ve gone from the ivory-billed woodpecker to brook trout.” The connection? “They’re both indicator species – one for bottomland forests and the other for cold water habitats.”
Mike and his family join many who have left Peaks, only to return once again. I’d like to think the island’s literary habitat drew him back. Whatever the reason, we’re glad for it.
The extraordinary Nancy 3. Hoffman has added “published author” to her notable list of achievements that already includes singer, accordionist, pianist, musical director, and Curator/Director of the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum. Her performances with the Casco Bay Tummlers Klezmer Band and The Maine Squeeze accordion ensemble have demonstrated Nancy’s talents to audiences nationally and internationally, but founding the Umbrella Cover Museum, well, that put Nancy in a category all of her own, something you might expect from a woman who sports an integer for a middle name.
Now that Nancy has published Uncovered and Exposed: A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum, you can discover the cultural landmark that Peaks Islanders pass daily on their way to the post office and grocery store – a quirky museum that National Public Radio, BBC Radio, The Weather Channel, and the New York Times have been talking about!
So get Uncovered and Exposed, hop on a Casco Bay Lines ferry, and visit the museum. Nancy might even serenade you with a song or two.
Living on a four-square-mile patch of land surrounded by water, the launching of boats comes as no surprise to islanders. These days, boats parade down our main street on an almost regular basis, headed from their backyard winter lair to their moorings. Surrounded by talented writers, as we are, the launching of books also comes as no surprise to island residents. They are, however, an occasion for great celebration.
It’s for this reason that Ronda Dale and Kevin Attra spent a sunny afternoon regaling passerbys at the Gem Gallery. The occasion? Fran Houston’s launch of h
er book, For the Love of Peaks, a collection of photographs and interviews with 33 life-long residents of Peaks Island. Fran’s documentary project was supported by the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Arts Commission.“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with each and every ‘Lovie’, as I call them,” she concludes in the preface. “To be welcomed into your homes and hear your stories and memories and to be trusted with your words has been a joy and reward. Thank you.”
We have a ferris wheel to thank, in part, for Fran’s inspiration – or a tiny building that once housed a ferris wheel’s generator at the turn of the last century. This was her first island home, a tiny “shack” with a great view of the harbor that inspired her to begin writing and taking photographs.
Fran explains her journey this way: “I first conceived of the idea of For the Love of Peaks when encountering the rich history of Peaks Island and hearing the stories of the old timers. Each conversation both gave me a glimpse of that person, deepened my love and connection to Peaks, and got me asking, why do we live on an Island? And why Peaks Island? I began to wonder how I could share these glimpses. It wasn’t until I saw Jerry Robinov’s Faces of the Mind exhibit – photographs with accompanying self-written stories – that I knew what I would do. I would interview. I was on fire. I asked the Gem Gallery on Peaks if I could exhibit in June 2008. I asked the Island Times if I could publish the stories and photographs. So For the Love of Peaks was born. When the exhibit happened, everyone asked when the book was coming out, so here I am.”
The celebration is just beginning. Her next book launch reception is this Saturday, June 12th from 3 – 7 p.m. at the Addison Woolley Gallery in Portland. If you would like to purchase the book, you can do so at the Maine Historical Society’s bookstore online.
Addison Woolley at Studio 203A
61 Pleasant Street, The Bakery Building
Portland, Maine 04101
You may also contact Fran at
If writers move to an island like Peaks Island for the quiet and retreat that protects and feeds their creative work, then they also need to learn how to hide. Hint: that means don’t win awards and get your names in headlines. Island authors Anne O’Brien, Lisa Sinicki, and Catherynne Valente ought to know what that feels like; their award-winning work has focused the spotlight onto our island literary community in the last month.
Annie and Lisa were both recognized by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Founded in 1975, Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA) is a non-profit membership organization whose mission is to enrich the cultural life of Maine by supporting writers, publishers, and the literary arts. MWPA is Maine’s only statewide literary arts organization and is the largest, per capita, writing organization in the entire United States. Each year, they announce the recipients of the Maine Literary Awards.
Anne Sibley O’Brien teamed up with her son, Perry Edmond O’Brien, to write the nonfiction book, After Gandhi, for 10- to 14-year-olds (Charlesbridge, Spring 2009). After Gandhi, illustrated with sketches and portraits in black-and-white water soluble pastels, and striking black-on-red pull-out quotes., won the “Children’s Young Adult” category.
Lisa Sinicki, founder of LGS Communications, is usually known for her contributions to Trade Show Executive, Event Marketer and Event Design magazines. Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance recognized her non-fiction writing skills by awarding her an Honorable Mention for her essay “Lobster Lover.”
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. This literary award is given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. to recognize outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels that are written for the young adult market.
Additionally, Catherynne won the Lambda Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category for her book Palimpsest (Bantam/Spectra Books), an award given at the School of Visual Arts Theater in New York City. “The Lambda Literary Awards are the most prestigious queer literary prize in the world,” says Lambda Executive Director, Tony Valenzuela. “The Awards are important because they recognize the work of authors chronicling the LGBT experience and creating art out of our lives.”
Please join me in congratulating each of them!
I live on an island where stories cling to patches of dirt and leaning buildings the way an oak leaf clings to a branch in winter. The porch of my own house, for example, apparently doubled as the venue for a lobster business decades ago. The authors of “A Glimpse of Old Peaks Island: Through Rose-Colored Glasses” no doubt know the stories my house, as well as most others, could tell. Luckily for us, Alice Boyce, Eunice Curran, Reta Morrill, Ellin Gallant, and Joyce O’Brien decided to share their memories of Peaks Island, vivid snapshots beginning prior to the World War II era in Casco Bay.
“A Glimpse of Old Peaks Island” includes chapters that highlight different eras of the island’s history, as well as a biographical chapter for each author. In some ways, their memories render the island of the past as an unrecognizable place. The book takes us back to a Peaks Island with “hurdy gurdy men,” working windmills, and a fleet of busy taxis. It takes us back to the era when ice houses towered over the island’s ponds, waiting to store mountains of harvested ice for summer use. It takes us back to the war days when the sight of a tall, quiet man in a strange coat entering the store could trigger rumors of German spies walking about the island.
Although we no longer have working windmills, the Peaks Environmental Action Team is installing a anemometer tower to determine the feasibility of a power-generating wind turbine. While there aren’t island farmers selling fresh eggs and vegetables from the back of lumbering trucks anymore, chickens still run chaotically through our streets and a community garden project is, pardon the pun, taking root.
As Boyce, Curran, Morrill, Gallant, and O’Brien write “We have attempted to ‘paint a picture’ of what life was like with this collection of memories from our childhood. So much has changed yet so much remains the same. It was then, and still is, a most beautiful island.” I couldn’t agree more.
An interior wall of the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building bears the well-worn adage “The pen is mightier than the sword,” a saying attributed to the Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who, by the way, also penned the equally familiar line “It was a dark and stormy night…”). Two hundred years earlier Robert Burton wrote “A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword” and, if rumor holds any water, Napoleon Bonaparte quipped (presumably in French) “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” If Bulwer-Lytton, Burton, and Bonaparte could have met Tom Bohan of MTC Forensics, they might have applied their respective phrases to him. This Maine islander is on a crusade and his pen is cutting a swath through crime labs nationwide. It’s no wonder his recent book is called Crashes and Collapses.
When Tom was growing up in the Midwest, he dreamed of moving to New York and working as a detective-scientist. Armed with a desire to pursue science, Tom studied Physics as an undergrad at the University of Chicago; he then pursued a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (his thesis was on, uh, something to do with the properties of magnetic resonance when the temperature reaches absolute zero). Later, on a Fulbright grant, Tom taught as a visiting professor in Peru before returning to the U.S. to teach in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Bowdoin College. Brunswick may have offered science and a near-absolute-zero experience, but not nearly enough of that detective slice of his dream.
Ironically, the 1972 oil spill in Casco Bay propelled his career as a forensic scientist and national author. The Portland Press Herald called it one of the top stories of the century: the Norwegian oil tanker “Tamano” ruptured its hull, gushing more than 100,000 gallons of oil into Casco Bay. Tom found himself called in as the expert to help solve where and when the tanker had suffered its blow. To do this, he used Archimedes Law of buoyancy. Let’s call it the Mystery of Soldier’s Ledge since, I’ll give it away, the tanker didn’t really damage itself on a navigational buoy as the Captain had thought, but had ripped itself open on Soldier’s Ledge in Hussey’s Sound. Tom’s scientific writing suddenly found a new audience: the courts. At last, his science had converged with detective work.
When I visited Tom in his Peaks Island office, I asked him if he liked writing. He glanced out the window at the grove of trees that often shelters deer. “I like it when it’s done,” he laughed.
As the current President of the American Academy of Forensic Science and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Forensic Science, Tom has to excel at “getting it done.” He travels internationally, lecturing and publishing on the use (and often misuse) of science by the legal system.
This is where Tom’s pen becomes the sword.
“My writing often incites anger in my readers,” Tom said. “The U.S. legal system commonly uses forensic evidence with little scientific evaluation. That can and does lead to false convictions of the innocent.” A report by the National Academy of Sciences called attention to this problem earlier this year; headlines cried “Forensic Techniques Lack Scientific Validity.” Welcome to the messy world of fingerprint analysis and shaken baby syndrome clues; it makes CSI look like a kids’ birthday party. Tom’s writing sits solidly on his foundation as a practicing scientist; from there he advocates internationally for a reassessment of scientific practices that generate evidence.
For the record, Tom doesn’t watch CSI, but I think their script writers should be reading him.