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

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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 http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

 

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 http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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 http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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

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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 http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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

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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

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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.”

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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 http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

 

 

Mira Ptacin: 3 Tips for Busy Mothers Who Write

miraMira Ptacin is one of the busiest writers you’ll ever meet. Newly a mom for the second time, Ptacin juggles a successful writing career with island motherhood. She carries this off with such grace and good humor, I invited her to share her top three tips for writers who are juggling their creative writing business with the heart-work of motherhood. Here are her nuggets:

  • Strive for harmony, rather than productivity. It will make your writing more clear and strong.
  • Kids offer you great dialogue. Write down what they say, and use it for your stories!
  • Prioritize sleep, but keep a notebook by your bed.

You’re not going to want to miss her reading of newly-published Poor Your Soul (Soho Press) at the famed independent bookstore Longfellow Books Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 7 PM.

pooryoursoulAbout Ptacin, Kate Manning (Author of My Notorious Life) wrote: “In the tradition of Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Melissa Coleman, Mira Ptacin has written a funny and deeply moving memoir of loss, love, and redemption. Poor Your Soul is a story of an American family as unique and loving as any you’d wish to meet, and you’ll be caught up in a gripping narrative, as Ptacin writes of her wild girlhood, her enterprising parents, the confusions of love and sex, and the brave choices women make, following their own good instincts. Elegaic and wise, Poor Your Soul is, ultimately, about the strength of the human spirit.”    

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.

Treat Yourself this Halloween to James Hayman’s “The Girl in the Glass”

The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman

The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman

Brittle leaves rattled around outside and scratched against the glass door of Longfellow Books in Portland. A group of bibliophiles, many of them writers themselves, listened to James Hayman channel Poe. This wasn’t poetry though, it was a reading from the latest in his murder mystery series set in Portland, Maine: The Girl in the Glass. Read the rest of this entry »

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