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Nicole d’Entremont on family stories and 5 tips for writing an historical novel

Nicole d'Entremont

Nicole d’Entremont

Stories. Family stories. The ones spoken across dinner tables and at bedsides. These have the power to send us on journeys of mind, body, and heart. While my father’s WWII stories of the Arctic, propelled me to write about Greenland, “one little scrap of a story” sent Peaks Island author Nicole d’Entremont on a five-year journey to write what is perhaps the first historical novel to portray the Acadian experience in the First World War. While sharing her writing process, five tips for writing a historical novel emerged.

Tip #1: Listen to family stories

Alongside her pot-bellied woodstove, Nicole and I took refuge from the Polar Vortex and talked about “A Generation of Leaves,” her newest novel that follows her Uncle Leo from the tiny Acadian fishing village of Pubnico, Nova Scotia into the trenches of World War I.

Nicole: “I never knew my Uncle Leo. He enlisted to fight in World War I when he was 21 years old. My father told me one little scrap of a story about Uncle Leo, and that story had been passed down to him by my grandmother. My grandmother, Monique Adèle, was a devout Catholic and a formidable woman. She sent my father down to the train station every week to pick up the paper from Halifax and bring it back to the village. It was Monique Adèle’s job to read the newspaper for the names of those who had fallen on the Front. One evening, Monique Adèle went out to the woodpile and she saw her son, Leo, dressed in his uniform, standing there looking at her. He was smiling. She blinked. He was gone. She knew then that she would never see him again. Months later, his name appeared in the newspaper on the list of those missing in action. Eventually, he was

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Author Nicole d’Entremont with parents, brother, and grandmother Monique Adele

listed as killed in action. His body was never found.

I have been returning to the little village of Pubnico every summer since 1964 and that story of Monique Adèle’s experience at the woodpile always stayed with me. I wanted to understand the Acadian experience of World War I. How did families feel fighting for a nation that had expelled them in the 1700s? There is not much written about that.

My grandmother was like the prow of a ship. I remember being afraid of her. She died at the age of 90 when I was 17. But stories about her remained.”

Listening to these family stories inspired Nicole to learn more. For years, she spoke with villagers in Pubnico, gathered more oral history, and defined the characters in her novel. Like her grandmother, the character, Adèle, has 11 kids and she’s “the boss of the village and the matriarch of the family.” She becomes a central figure in “A Generation of Leaves.” Nicole’s Uncle Leo becomes the Acadian soldier, Léonce, who survives but a few months in the trenches.

Family stories and village oral history helped Nicole portray both how the war tore many families apart and how it also pulled the village more tightly together. But those stories were just a beginning in her writing process. Keep an eye out for the second of the five tips for writing a historical novel: Tip #2: Visiting historic sites.

Come aboard for Sailing & Seamanship book events with Twain Braden

Boats on Peaks IslandA few months ago, Peaks Island Press caught up with Twain Braden to talk about his newest publication, The Complete Guide to Sailing & Seamanship. Now that we’ve had what may be the hottest day of summer and this finely-illustrated and -narrated book has hit the docks, it’s time to turn out to hear Braden and illustrator, Sam Manning, speak at Longfellow Books on Monument Square this Wednesday, July 17, at 7 p.m.

If your barbecue schedule conflicts with the event this week, then don’t despair, Braden will also speak at the Peaks Island branch of the Portland Public Library next week, Monday, July 22, at 7 p.m. This talk will entail more of a hands-on discussion of navigation techniques. Feel free to bring charts and navigational tools if you’re interested in learning coastal piloting skills.

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Walk with Laima Vince and discover the inspiration for “The Ghost in Hannah’s Parlor”

Come walk with Laima Vince

Are you a literary tourist? Let Laima Vince be your guide

Laima Vince’s passion for Peaks Island led her to write “The Ghost in Hannah’s Parlor.” This middle reader novel starts one night in November on Captain’s Island when a nine-year-old named Hannah goes downstairs for a glass of water. The adventure begins when Hannah meets the ghost of Hilda De Witt Rose, a turn-of-the-century opera star who lives in a rose in Hannah’s parlor wallpaper along with an entire ghost cast of the opera Carmen.

Now you can discover Vince’s inspiration for this children’s book by walking with her tomorrow — to Snake Alley and to where the famous Gem once stood — Friday, July 11th, starting from the Peaks Island branch of the Portland Public Library at 12:30 pm.

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Importing Democracy: Peaks Islander Julie Fisher influences dialogue on world affairs

Julie Fisher, giving a radio interview by phone

Julie Fisher, giving a radio interview by phone

Struggles in Turkey, Egypt, and other countries have inflamed international news recently and, in the process, spotlighted the most recent book published by Peaks Island scholar and author Julie Fisher. Fisher’s hot-off-the-press Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina (Kettering Foundation Press, 2013) illuminates the nature of struggles for democracy internationally with a clarity that should make Americans sit up and take notice. While much U.S. foreign policy tries to export democracy militarily or by fostering free elections, Fisher advocates for a fuller understanding of what’s required for democracy to “stick,” one that would support countries engaged in democratization.

My visit with Fisher at her island home coincided with one of her many radio interviews, some given in studios and others by phone. Since our interview followed on the heels of the ouster of Egypt’s President Morsi, Egypt started our conversation.

“Democracy is a ‘puzzle’ whose various pieces must find their place. Egypt is the number one story in the news right now. In order to get the democratization process going anywhere, you need a whole triangle of processes; Egypt demonstrates that election is only one piece of the democratization puzzle,” Fisher said.

What are the elements of the triangle of democratization? It goes something like this:

1) Loyal Opposition (the opposition to policies of a ruling regime without overthrow); and
2) Popular Support (as seen in protests demanding accountability of government); and
3) Civil Society (the whole collection of organizations that are non governmental, such as churches, non-profits, and community organizations).

Fisher explains that most countries achieve political participation and protests, but not loyal opposition. Or, their civil society is too weak to carry forward the work of protests because she said, “People tire of being in the streets. They need the non-profit organizations to continue the change.” Importing Democracy outlines several case studies of what Fisher calls “democratization NGOs”, or the “spear carriers” that help strengthen democratization processes. These case studies are based upon her own research.

Importing Democracy by Julie Fisher

Importing Democracy by Julie Fisher

Fisher’s new book is garnering attention locally and internationally. Keith Shortall of Maine Things Considered invited her to speak with him about the ideals of U.S. democracy in honor of Independence Day; this interview joined that of many other radio stations from California to Colorado and Minnesota to Florida. Fisher was also invited to speak at the The Anne Frank Center USA in New York City and at the Library of Congress.

If you would like to meet Julie or see her book, you can catch her this week at the Color and Pages of Peaks event on July 12-13 or you can attend her Brown Bag Lecture and book signing at the Portland Public Library on September 27th at noon.

On writing from a breathless moment: a response to reading “The Snow Child”

SnowChildpaperback-banner1Peaks Island Press doesn’t review books written by fellow islanders because the pretentiousness of that offends me. Instead, I like to feature the authors themselves and their writing process, sometimes even my own writer’s journey. What inspires us to write? How does writing fit into – or spill out of – our lives? So, although this entry may look like a book review, it’s not really. I have just finished reading a book, pressing it against my chest and holding it there as though its wisdom would slip between my ribs. It left me struggling to take my next breath and inspired me to pick up a pen.

You know those e-profiles on Facebook and Linked In, the ones that ask you to list your favorites of this, favorites of that – music, movies, and so on? My finger always taps at the blank prompt for “favorite books.” Favorite is a demanding adjective, one that I only deploy when that something makes me gush. The Help (Kathryn Stockett),  Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and Chocolat (Joanne Harris) have achieved favorite status for me because they transported me to extraordinary, authentic emotional landscapes.  Now that I’ve turned its last page and intend to read it again right away, I list The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey as one of my rare “favorites.”

Ivey is neither Mainer nor islander, but rather an Alaskan writer; however, the ragged, furred-and-clawed setting that she conjures should feel familiar to those of us who maneuver deep snows, burning cold, chronically-shrinking woodpiles, and the pursuit of wringing our blink-like summer of all that it promises. The Snow Child offers a brave, lancing portrait of love and pain and empathy. An aged couple homesteading in Alaska realize that their anguished loneliness may have breathed life into a simple snowman – a snowgirl, really; they then wrestle with fear, chase their hope, and tentatively learn to embrace a more expansive understanding of family and life itself.

fainaLike most people, I have lost loved ones – some unborn and unnamed, others present, yet bent and vacant with illness. Like the main characters of The Snow Child, Jack and Mabel, I dread the fierce love that can make the simple passage of a child out the door turn into an unexpected moment of raw and crippling fear too big to comprehend. But it isn’t the book, it’s Eowyn Ivey, who inspires me as a writer; she beckons her readers into the bitter, toothed Alaskan wilderness to witness the beauty in the sheen of a swan’s feathers and she holds our hand as she shows us the courage it takes to live a fairy tale life whose ending is already known. Reading The Snow Child made it difficult for me to pull in my next breath; it is that moment, that moment of breathless wonder and desperation in life that leaves me no choice but to write.

If you’re intrigued by this book, I point you to the video trailer and an interview with Eowyn Ivey below.

Twain Braden: The Complete Guide to Sailing & Seamanship

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Twain Braden with his newest boat renovation project

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[2005].

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.

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Twain Braden looks over the page proofs of The Complete Guide to Sailing & 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.

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Twain points to one of Sam Manning’s sketches that illustrates one of Bagheera’s misadventures

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.

Peaks Island author Scott Nash offers event at Portland Stage Co.

LongfellowShortsNashPortlandStageJoin The Affiliate Artists and Author/illustrator Scott Nash for a night of readings from his new book, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay The Pirate, as well as other works by Nash.

An open discussion and book signing will follow the actors’ readings.

April 8th 7 p.m. at Portland Stage Co., Forest Avenue, Portland.

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