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Tips from a Commuting Writer: Peter Bridgford and “Hauling Through”


Peter Bridgford, author and charter boat captain

You know all those articles about religiously rising early and sequestering yourself at a hallowed desk in order to achieve success as a writer? Nope, this is not one of those; consider this an ode to the literary road warrior, the “commuting writer.”

Most commuters busy themselves with avoiding coffee spills or with checking for pillow face and inside-out-shirts (speaking for myself, at least). But, year after year, I have watched Peter Bridgford, author of Hauling Through, use his commute across Portland Harbor more productively. Consequently, to me, he bears the standard for the “commuting writer’s” life.

I caught up with “Bridge,” as he’s known to Peaks Islanders, in between his duties captaining his own charter boat and vacationing with family on Monhegan Island. Yes, inexplicably, islanders go to other islands for vacations; I just went to North Haven for a getaway myself. Read on to see how Bridge advocates for a commuting writer’s life, a practice that makes writing more accessible for many of us, including me.

The ferry ride between Peaks Island and the mainland is almost the same length of time as the train ride commute I used to have in D.C., so I began to write on the boat. There’s one big difference from commuting in D.C.; however, and that is, when you’re on the ferry, you’re riding with friends and acquaintances, not complete strangers who want nothing more than to ignore you. So it’s common for the people in your section of the ferry to want you to be part of their commuting conversation. There’ve been many times that I knew that I was appearing rude, aloof, and downright strange to my fellow ferry riders as I religiously put on my headphones, opened my laptop, and began typing away, but the need to write was so strong that I decided I could live with those monikers. Most of my friends understood my odd behavior, and allowed me to have my time on the boat.

I think that the practice of writing on the subway and then the ferry have had two lasting impacts on me as an author. First off, I learned that I can write anywhere – subways, ferries, airports, train stations, buses, etc. Also, I saw that forty minutes a day is more than enough to get some good work done. The math is simple; 40 minutes a day, 200 minutes a work week, and 10,400 minutes a year! I know that some writers can be so daunted by the task of finding the perfect place and length of time to write that they actually block themselves as they search for those, but I feel fortunate that I now know that it can happen anywhere and in any amount of time you have.

As for how I embarked upon writing “Hauling Through,” I graduated from college without a clear career path in mind, and, for most of my twenties, I worked an assorted collection of diverse jobs in various locations with the most colorful of characters. Along the way, I sterned on a lobsterboat in a small isolated fishing community in Maine. I did not experience what Jamie Kurtz, the main character of my book, did in the fictional town of Kestrel Cove, but the kernel for my novel was looking back at my experiences in that small town and my attempts of being accepted by the people around me. Even moving to Peaks Island had some similar threads – being accepted by the other islanders, getting to know all of those other wacky people that chose to live on an island, and realizing there is a different set of norms and rules that exist on islands. I definitely see that the richness of the characters and the zaniness of the daily events on islands, in isolated communities, and aboard ships not only make for the perfect setting for novels, they are the perfect places for an exciting and rewarding life.

Things to do: Attend the Peaks Island Branch Library’s book event with Peter Bridgford, author of Hauling Through, on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at 7:00 pm in the MacVane Community Room.

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


My Affair with Henry and the Photo Shoot that Followed

As the one who’s always behind the camera instead of in front of it, my need for a new, professional portrait crept up on me this year. Charmed by Sarah Beard Buckley Photography‘s beautiful 50 Mainers portraits in Maine Magazine, I craved how she created environmental shots that capture the intersection of sense of place with personal identity. Since my pulse centers on Portland, I wanted to choose from the many scenic or gritty or architecturally fascinating locations. But where? My mind traced the trails and cobblestone streets and wharves until my mental tour arrived at Congress Street and stopped at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, the historic home museum of the Maine Historical Society. Yes, I’m talking about an affair with “Henry,” a Maine poet, dead for some 130 odd years now.

I discovered by age ten that “Henry” had seeped into my DNA. On a one-week forced hiatus from school, confined to bed with influenza, I decided to memorize the 88-line poem “Wreck of the Hesperus.”

It was the schooner Hesperus,
      That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
      To bear him company…
Those of you who know this poem know that the skipper probably shouldn’t have brought his little daughter. Things don’t end well for either of them “on the reef of Norman’s Woe.” Nonetheless, I was smitten by the melodrama of the trampling surf, sheeted ghost, bleak sea beach and the salt sea frozen on her breast (you really have to read it, it’s great stuff).
Weeks later, as a fifth grader, I performed the Wreck of the Hesperus in front of the whole school in what today we would call a poetry slam. Bruce Macomber’s intensely talented rendition of Casey at the Bat transported us all to Mudville and put me firmly in second place. (I forgive you now, Bruce).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Although I lost that competition, my affair with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow continued. My mother, Joan, a compulsive and passionate gardener, belonged to the Longfellow Garden Club, a volunteer non-profit since 1924 that maintained the garden once established by the Longfellow family. She donated hundreds of hours of her time to organize, research, weed, and plant a garden worthy of the house’s history. Before she passed away, she became the Club’s President, a position that honored and intimidated her in equal measure. My personal relationship to that garden deepened when I graduated from the Portland History Docent Program as a docent trained to give tours at the Longfellow House, a volunteer service that I loved.
So, yes, the photo shoot had to use the lovely newly-renovated and rejuvenated garden of the Longfellow House. Thank you, Maine Historical Society, for allowing the photo session and for taking care of this treasure.

Patricia Pierce Erikson, at the “Children’s Gate” entrance to the Longfellow Garden

Things to do: Residents of Portland visitors alike love to take their bag lunch into the Longfellow Garden or catch some private moments for reading and writing in the lush oasis. On Thursday, August 4, 2016 the Garden will host a poetry reading event.
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

How an Island Loves its Library

Peaks Island enjoys its own small library, a branch of the Portland Public Library. I mean it really enjoys its library. Loves it. A lot. A Friends group devotedly nurtures library programs and book purchases by organizing fundraisers. These programs vary from the “birthday book program” for island elementary school children to a middle school book club (yes, middle schoolers) to the achingly sweet tradition of bringing books to the homes of island newborns. I could go on, but for today, I want to give you a sneak peek at the long-awaited annual tradition of having a book sale to raise funds for the library. Islanders donate books by the cartload and then tables groan with impressively organized books. While I juggled my tottering pile of eleven books, I noted that the “Foreign Language” section of the sale boasted some 18 linear feet of books. Really? What island can say that? Well, if you haven’t made it to our sale, then take this one-minute tour.

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

Do Islands Foster Creative Minds?

Scott Nash at the TEIA Clubhouse “Being an artist is about doing absurdly creative things and then feeling somewhat bad about it later.”

Do islands foster creative minds? Although I can’t say
if all islands offer literary and artistic magic, I can say that I have never lived in a community as drenched with creativity as Peaks Island. Certainly Scott Nash is among those with buckets of creativity, as he demonstrated this evening.

The crazy-famous illustrator-author-exhibit-curator spoke to a large crowd who were enjoying the sea breeze at the TEIA clubhouse. His talk, “Changing Things Up: Embracing the Mess of a Creative Mind” shared his ‘philosophy of creating.’ He used a dryer metaphor to explain,

My brain has things tumbling about-like in a spin cycle-things that haven’t come out yet, but need to. I have to find things to do with them. Artists like change. Without change, I get bored.

A lot has popped out of that spin cycle already. Scott has published nearly 50 books, including a series of Flat Stanley, The High Skies Adventure of Blue Jay the Pirate, and Shrunken Treasures. His studio has designed logos from Nickelodeon, Jr to Comedy Central to Bernie [Sanders] emojis.

But it’s not all books and logos; he and his wife, Nancy Gibson Nash, design and install creative environments-whether it’s turning their home into a Halloween performance art installation (which they did for 19 years) or transforming Henry Bear’s Park toy stores into a child’s wonderland.

But Scott plans to take “changing things up” to another level. He confessed to his audience,

My mother used to call me an instigator. I enjoy making large projects, bigger than myself.

What does that mean he’s doing next? Launching a 501c3 called The Illustration Institute. Citing how illustration has lost the rightful place it once had as a popular genre of American art (think Norman Rockwell), Scott described the year-long series of workshops that he’s organizing at the Portland Public Library, taught by a who’s who of illustrators from around the country. Scott appealed to the audience, looking for collaborators to get this off the ground. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, he then wants to take The Illustration Institute on the road to other host libraries around the country.

Scott’s pitch looked to me like a 21st century illustrators’ takeover of the spirit of the atheneum of yore. That sounds pretty creative to me.

The enticing porch at TEIA.

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

Nicole d’Entremont’s play runs at Maine Playwright Festival


Nicole d’Entremont, Peaks Island, Maine

The 15th Maine Playwrights Festival kicks off with an evening featuring dramatic readings of five new plays, with island author Nicole d’Entremont‘s Insurrections among them.

Over the span of one act, Insurrections transports the audience to three separate locales: a classroom in Kabul University, Afghanistan in 1979, a civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama in 1965, and a wire enclosure for detainees outside of Baghdad, Iraq in 2003.

Nicole explains the origin of her play and its three-locale structure:

“In each of these three settings, individuals make decisions that are impulsive and that decisively alter their lives.I wrote the play while taking a Maine College of Art (MECA) course taught by Callie Kimball who is a playwright, actor and teacher. She sent out an email to her students regarding the Maine Playwright Festival and I (rather impulsively) entered and was happy to be awarded a runner-up position along with three other playwrights. I’m excited about the opportunity to bring these scenes to life and am very happy to work with Michael Levine as Director and the culturally diverse cast that shows the changing face of Portland.

I initially took Callie’s playwrighting class because I wanted to use more dialogue in my fiction work. It has helped immensely. The book I am currently working on has much more dialogue propelling the plot and I’m learning to get out of my characters’ way and let them go with their own words. I’m less fussy about what they say. Whereas, if I’m writing a descriptive passage, I fiddle around more with syntax and search for the right word. Dialogue is freer. I like the way it moves across the page and I always learn a lot from what characters blurt out.

The short scenes depicted in the play that take place in Kabul and Baghdad were initially stories told to me by students who were in my writing classes–here in Portland, Maine and in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I made a few embellishments on both of those stories but the core truths are there. The stories are so powerful that they have continued over the years to inform my conscience about war. The segment of the play set in Alabama was an experience I had while participating in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in 1965.

I felt all three events shared a commonality beyond politics and ethnicity; they spoke to the complexity of human nature, our mixed emotions in situations, and of bedrock beliefs about fairness and the human family.

acornproductionsCome see the staging of Nicole’s Insurrections and the other award-winning plays at the Maine Playwright’s Festival:
  • Maine Playwright’s Festival
  • Saturday, April 30th
  • 7:30-9:00 PM
  • Mechanics Hall, 519 Congress St., Portland, Maine 04101
  • Event is free, with $10 donation suggested

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

Iterative Writing: How Scott Nash Put Shrunken Treasures into Our Hands

When you’re reading a book, have you ever wondered: how do writers translate their imagination onto a page? I a


Cover of Scott Nash’s Shrunken Treasures

lways assumed that other writers work like I do by first conjuring, inhabiting, and experiencing a three-dimensional model of a scene in the mind before writing it onto the page. Peaks Island author and illustrator Scott Nash; however, does this iterative draw-write-draw magic that looks to me like a channeling of the subconscious through the hand. That was what I discovered sitting in his living room, asking him about his children’s book that Candlewick Press releases this month-Shrunken Treasures.

The origin story of Shrunken Treasures goes like this: while on a long car ride from Belfast, Maine, Scott and his wife, artist Nancy Gibson Nash, entertained themselves through long hours by condensing Moby Dick into children’s verse. Scott recounts,

“I’ve always loved doing mashups, even before it was trendy. So this was a challenge to mash up classics like Moby Dick and The Odyssey into a children’s poem. When I got home, I sketched out the Ulysses and Captain Ahab characters (see below) and sent off the idea to my editor. My editor is like the benefactor of my nutty ideas. I show up with a pile of sketches and a draft of a novel about bird pirates [referring to his High Flying Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate] and they see the possibilities. This time I presented two sample poems and in iPad full of clunky sketches of the characters in the book. They’re risk takers. It’s lovely.”

That children’s book pitch became the beautiful picture book that I now hold in my hands. Short verses. Lean, yet rich and playful illustrations. I recognize Scott’s


An inspiration for Shrunken Treasures

nostalgic nod to one of his inspirations, the Big Golden Book of Poetry. My own dog-eared copy of this childhood treasure was cherished for decades and was one of the items that I kept when I had to clean out my parents’ house.

Lucky for us, Scott moved on from sketching Ulysses and Captain Ahab to Mary Shelley (yes, of Frankenstein).

“I draw to inspire the writing and then write to inspire the drawing. When I get stuck with a character or a plot, I stop writing and draw.”

In Scott’s verse, Mary “first made one monster and then that monster made another one [Frankenstein].” Scott comments that, “the book would never have worked if the verse was more free. The classic stories are complex so that keeping the structure familiar helps to simplify the story.”


A character sketch of Mary Shelley, on Scott Nash’s iPad.

I predict this book will become a new classic and prove popular with multiple generations at once. Two upcoming events will allow you to hold Shrunken Treasures in your hands and seek the author’s autograph:

  • The Cape Author Fest on April 9 at the Cape Elizabeth High School and
  • a book launch event at Longfellow Books on April 14th at 7 PM.

Prepare yourself for literary frolic.

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



Maine’s “Lewis Carroll”-Catherynne Valente-Takes Fifth Fairyland on Tour


Catherynne Valente named her Peaks Island, Maine home “The Briary,” the place where the queen lives in Fairyland.

Catherynne Valente’s writing has been compared to that of Lewis Carroll and Neil Gaiman, to name a few, in a review of The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, the fifth volume in the New York Times bestselling Fairyland series that came out this week  (Michael Berry, Maine Sunday Telegram 2/28/16). Perhaps it’s the teen heroine named September who encounters octopus-assassins, sentient bathtubs, changelings, wombats, and a Moon-Yeti in her Fairyland adventures that begs the comparison. When I asked Catherynne how she felt about the flattering comparison, she said,

 “Oh, I love the Alice books so much. They are certainly a deep influence, as are all the children’s classics–Narnia, Phantom Tollbooth, Peter Pan, The Neverending Story, The Hobbit, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows. And one of the things we never think about with Alice is how intellectual those books are! Sometimes people tell me I use words that are too big for kids–but we think nothing of giving six-year olds these novels full of allusions to Victorian Prime Ministers, Latin puns, chess strategy, higher level math, and references to military battles and politics few children could possibly understand in this day and age. And that’s part of what I love about it! you can read Alice as a child and simply enjoy the nonsense and the adventurous girl, and read it again as an adult and see that it isn’t nonsense at all, enjoying the references and added dimensions of Carroll’s work. Best of both worlds, and I hope kids can do the same with my books.”

As a Maine island resident myself, I know that the natural environment of Peaks Island fuels the imagination of many authors and artists. I invited Catherynne to describe how the island has fed the five volumes of the Fairyland series. She explained,

Fairyland itself is an island, the very one my title character – September – circumnavigates in the first book. The climax of the book also occurs at a place inspired by Peaks Island’s Battery Steele. I have written the entire series on the island, in two houses and my office down front, the Ministry of Stories (the Umbrella Cover Museum in the summer). I even named my home after the place where the queen lives in Fairyland – the Briary.

The beautiful Peaks Island autumn shows up in the magical country of the Autumn Provinces, as does the sense of community in all the little villages of Fairyland. One of the beloved companion characters in the later books is actually a Model A Ford named Aroostook, after the burlap sack over its spare wheel. Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a wilder magic. Maine shows up in so much of my work, though sometimes it goes by another name.
 girlwhoracedfairylandWhen Peaks Island Press caught up with Catherynne at her island home this week, she was packing to take the last Fairyland on tour and was looking forward to the scavenger hunts and dress-up parties organized to celebrate the book launch at bookstores across the country (Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New York). I asked her how her young readers were responding to the heroine named September. She said,
 My young readers are wonderful, and they’ve really embraced September. I always have girls dressed in orange at my readings, and so many of them identify with September’s struggles and plain spokenness and tendency to rescue herself. I never tried to make a perfect protagonist, but a real one, one that was the kind of kid I wished I was when I was young–bookish but brave, loyal, but talks too much, and full of longing for excitement and a magical life.

Catherynne Valente has written the five-volume Fairyland series on Peaks Island, in two houses and her office down front, the Ministry of Stories, which hosts the equally whimsical Umbrella Cover Museum in the summer.


In the year marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, what could be more appropriate than a celebration of a new “Wonderland,” one with Maine island roots? Here are the titles of the five books in the series, in order:

  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  • The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
  • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
 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
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