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A Reading from a Memoir about the Uterus and the American Dream: Mira Ptacin

My daughter is an only child, not because I chose this, but because I lost the three pregnancies that followed her blessed birth.

That’s a sentence that I have never committed to paper; I probably never would have, except that I attended Mira Ptacin‘s reading from her memoir at Portland’s newest independent bookstore, Print. Mira read from Pour Your Soul (Soho Press), an account of the discovery that her unborn child would not survive outside of the womb, and the decision that she and her husband, Andrew, made to terminate the pregnancy.

miraptacin2When has it ever been “safe” or easy, socially, for women to discuss their body experiences involving conception, pregnancy, and birth? True, things are better now as bookshelves groan with literature celebrating, and promising tips on navigating, pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. But the ice remains thin under the topics of failed pregnancies or unviable pregnancies that are terminated. Certainly, the current political climate does not make the issue any easier to discuss.

miraptacinreading1Into this void, Mira Ptacin wades with an emotional bravery that sets a high standard for all other writers. At the reading, fellow island author Anne Sibley O’Brien asked about this willingness to bare herself to the reader; Mira responded,

This is just who I am. I had to write this. I had to publish it to move on and create closure. This is behind me now, and it feels like a long time ago. But so many women have reached out to me with their stories. These stories deserve telling.

miraptacinreadingpanoThank you, Mira, for sharing and for encouraging all those who meet you and read your work. I look forward to the next book, a historical fiction in the works!pooryoursoul

I’ll leave you with an apt quote from Stephen King:

“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.”

Be well and keep writing.

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.

 

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

bridgfordcaptain

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.

 

Aiming for Audience: How Peaks Island Authors Do It

Aiming for Audience event

Aiming for Audience event

In an era when many people are tempted to debate the future of books and libraries, it’s comforting to me that the discussion on Peaks Island centers more around how we can make our library bigger and better, and which authors are going to meet with the public next.

This week, I’ll have the pleasure of tackling the topic of  “Aiming for Audience” with a panel of authors, including Tom Bohan, Twain Braden, Mira Ptacin, and Chuck Radis. While we’re foregrounding magazine and journal articles, aiming for audience is something all writers should consider at the writing, editing, and pitching-for-publication phases. For that matter, it’s a topic that everyone should think about whether you’re a teacher, a politician, or a businessman.

Who are the readers that you are most interested in reaching? What do you hope to accomplish when you reach your readers; in other words, what do you hope that they will feel, think, discover, or do?

Peel yourself away from the beach or deck for a couple of hours and join us at the:

Friends of the Peaks Island Library Annual Meeting & Program

Thursday, July 30, 2015, 7-8:30 PM
McVane Community Center, 129 Island Avenue, Peaks Island
Refreshments will be served.

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.

From Page to Stage: Nicole d’Entremont’s “A Generation of Leaves” becomes a play

Nicole d'Entremont

Author Nicole d’Entremont heads toward home from the ferry landing on Peaks Island.

One benefit of commuting by ferry to and from Peaks Island is the opportunity to connect with neighbors on the ride across the harbor. One damp, windy evening (that’s my wink to  a “dark and stormy evening” purple prose), I sat with Nicole d’Entremont and learned about the adaptation of her novel, A Generation of Leaves, into two plays, one of which — Le Retour (or The Return) — premieres this summer.

Le Village Historique Acadien will stage Nicole’s play in beautiful Lower West Pubnico Nova Scotia. Nicole said, “Le Retour captures the second half of my book — Elzéar’s return home to Pubnico and his attempt to “fit in” to life in the small Acadian village of Pubnico. As in the book, the image of his older brother Léonce who was killed in Ypres, Belgium haunts him and he must contend with this haunting in a visceral way. I won’t say more lest my words betray some kind of spoiler.”

acadian-family

Le Village Historique Acadien offers costumed interpreters that bring history to life (photo courtesy of Le Village).

The Canadian Maritimes are dotted with French-speaking villages like Pubnico, the oldest Acadian settlement in the province. Costumed interpreters and events at Le Village Historique Acadien explore Acadian culture. Nicole explained, “Le Village is a perfect place for the performance since the amphitheater is set in the historical restoration of an Acadian village in the early 1900’s the time period of WWI and of the return of soldiers from the war. Unlike here in the US, the Centennial of WWI is being remembered in all the countries that took part in that massacre from 1914-1918 and not just remembered in 2017 one hundred years after the U.S. entered into the fray in 1917.”

LeVillagecast

Le Village Historique Acadien cast in 2014 with playwright Nicole d’Entremont far right

“In writing a play, you can’t depend on long lines of descriptive narration. The fun challenge was crafting short lines of dialogue and suggesting stage actions to move the plot along. But then I missed the introspective life of characters so I needed to write asides–the actor breaking through the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. In Le Retour, one character does quite a bit of that, but without long soliloquies. Le Retour is almost all in le français and I translated the script with the help of my teacher here in Portland–Nina Schmir. The necessary Pubnico acadien patois will be added by the actors.”

 
“In the first play last year, I enjoyed backing off and seeing what folks did with what I had written. Actors learned the lines and sometimes changed them–that’s because the lines have to work on the stage and that was not my craft. Actors knew what was working and I generally agreed. I loved the camaraderie, the set design, the costumes, the goofing around, the sound effects, the serious moments of discussion regarding how to move, gesture, and emote on the stage.”
 
“I have a little more riding on this one act play than last year’s play because I deal more forthrightly with some themes of French/English relationships which still resonate in Canada: the effects of war on returning soldiers and religious bias. These are issues we confront every day and either we look at them and say nothing or we discuss them. Maybe this play will provoke the latter.”

Le Village Historique will perform the play in early August, so check their website or Nicole’s blog for an announcement of the final schedule. Ferry service on the Nova Star sails from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; from there the Pubnicos are a short 45 minute 103 Highway or 60 min, scenic Lighthouse Route 3 up the shore.  Nicole said, “If you haven’t been to Nova Scotia, especially to the seven Acadian villages of Pubnico then you would be in for a treat. There are places to stay and Le Village has great regional cuisine.”

For more information about Nicole d’Entremont’s writing process, see 5 Tips for Writing a Historical Novel.

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.

Writing on Basement Walls: What inscription will you leave in 2015?

Portland High School, courtesy of Wikipedia

Portland High School, courtesy of Wikipedia

Imagine that you are descending stone stairs down to the basement in a 150-year-old high school to a room known as the Graffiti Room. Does this sound like a writing prompt or perhaps jacket copy for a mystery novel? Mention of this Graffiti Room popped up in my daughter’s college application essay recently. In her words, “the floor, ceiling, and all four walls are covered with students’ names and graduating years. Layers and layers of signatures blanket the historic walls…in a few months I will sign my name in this room, leave my mark on history, and become a part of the tradition.” I realized that when my daughter inscribes her name on the wall, she will share space with her grandmother who would have written her name nearly seventy years earlier.

I don’t generally advocate for writing on walls, furniture, trees or rock outcrops either, but, the layering-of-names tradition hit me. I have never been bitten by the “I was here” bug that would prompt me to write my name on a wall, but isn’t striving to write similar? When writers write, aren’t they grasping at truths, inscribing them, and leaving them behind like names scrawled on a wall? Think inscription, trace, epigraph, literary footprints.

I used to struggle with cynicism towards academic publishing; I still harbor frustration with the jargon-ridden, inaccessible nature of the genre. My prejudice shifted when, after delivering a presentation at a conference in Arizona, a few undergraduate and graduate students asked me to sign their copy of my book “Voices of a Thousand People.” This wasn’t a book tour, far from it. I don’t think my presentation even mentioned the book, but, to my surprise, they eagerly shared their excitement to meet me and how much they loved “Voices.”

Despite my reservations about academia, my work had spoken to these students, fired their imagination, and fueled their passion for learning. Even though writing often feels like a selfish endeavor — the journey toward flawless craft and research, the search for inspiration, and the quest for publication — it remains similar to writing on walls. Writing leaves a trace, a literary pathway for making and sharing insights with people the writer may never meet.

So if you’re struggling with your writing (as I have been this past year), embrace the notion of writing on walls. Writing is not just a solitary endeavor. The act of writing reaches out and touches others, makes connections and shared meaning that we all crave. Keep writing. As you face 2015, ask yourself: what delightful discovery do you want to leave for others to discover in a basement room?

Here are the Peaks Island Press entries that readers most visited in 2014:

Most Read Article about a Peaks Island Writer
Eleanor Morse: Coming Home to Writing

Most Read Article on the Writing Process
Nicole d’Entremont: on family stories and 5 tips for writing an historical novel

Most Read Article on Peaks Island Literary Life
Book Love: An island tradition welcomes babies

“So you want to be an islander?”: Tom Bergh writes on Casco Bay

Tom Bergh with student kayaking expedition

Tom Bergh (far right) with student kayaking expedition

Whatever you do, “do NOT ask us – as in never ask us – what time the 2:15 boat leaves.”

So says Tom Bergh to those who yearn to become islanders. In hosting the hundreds of thousands of tourists who migrate to Maine, especially in summer and fall, we earn our license plate moniker “Vacationland.” Tourism is the largest industry in Maine’s economy, measured in billions of dollars. With its shoreline road, beaches, favored wedding locations, restaurants, cottage rentals, and shops, Peaks Island hosts a significant share of Maine’s tourist traffic. Island residents react to tourism in varying ways – from refusing to leave their property for three months (well amost) to rolling up their sleeves and making tourism a cornerstone of their business.

So you want to be an islander?

So you want to be an islander?

Tom Bergh, outdoorsman and owner of Maine Island Kayak, is one of the islanders who has spent years coaxing tourists into kayaks and introducing them to Maine, to Peaks Island, and to the allure of Casco Bay’s marine life and ocean currents. Tom once told Canoe & Kayak that “The sea strips you down so quickly. It shows you how people relate to themselves and their environment and that it’s all about taking total responsibility for every aspect of your actions.” Having led countless families and school or corporate groups on excursions, Tom was ideally suited to pen his first book, “So you want to be an islander?: A Field Guide to Life in Casco Bay.”

This self-published guidebook covers everything from ferry etiquette (including what not to ask) to island rules of the road and from a history of lighthouses to a look at local sea life inhabiting tide pools.

A New Field Guide to Life on Peaks Island, Casco Bay, Maine is available at amazon.com, at our beloved, local Longfellow Books, or by contacting tom@maineislandkayak.com, 207-232-6733.

For a glimpse of Peaks Island kayaking – on the aggressive side – watch this video, if you dare.

Born to Write, Living in Exile

tarpedboat

Tarped boat awaiting first launch

When I was barely old enough to hold a pencil, I wrote stories. I started typing them as soon as my mother offhandedly passed her clackety typewriter to me so that I could play at being a reporter. Writing has been one of the most defining desires in my life, yet, I find myself living in exile from it.

Should I blame the full-time job that leaves me wrung out by the end of the day? Or the household chores that pile up onto the night and weekend time slots when I’m not working? And don’t forget the emotional exhaustion and sleeplessness that accompany parenting a teenager. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I’ve let my life tear me away from writing.

typewriterkeys2Now I am pitching and lurching, unmoored, adrift on cross-cutting currents not of my making, poised for a wreck. Without writing, there is no direction, no point on the horizon for reckoning. No point at all.

I stop and look, really look, at my mother’s typewriter, now mounted on a wall, its keys black, rounded, gem-like. I want to tap them, watch the keywheel spin, throw the carriage return to one side with a satisfying smack. And start again. Click, click, clack. Click, click, clack. I want to push back at the life-squalls, drop a line overboard, and let it rope-burn through my fingers, clean and direct, plummeting to the seabed, led by a word-weighted anchor seeking a page.

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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