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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.

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

shrunkentreasures

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

goldenbook

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.”

IMG_1547

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.

 

 

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

catherynnevalente

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.
MinistrySofStoriesoffice

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 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 »

Out of the Fog and Toward Manuscript Submission

House Island, suspended in fog

Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

As writers, we need guides to help us through and out of the fog just as surely as a seaman needs foghorn and compass. In my Jimmy Brackett manuscript, Jimmy must row from Peaks Island to House Island and onward across Portland Harbor to reach the shop where he works. He must use all of his skills and senses to pick his way from island to island and then reach the Portland waterfront, bustling with Civil War-era activity.

Like Jimmy, we all need stepping stones to find the way, reassuring strategies that help us see as far as our headlights can reach during our journey.

The reassuring stepping stone for me right now is hearing my mentor, Rachel Harper of the Spalding MFA program, tell me that it’s time to prepare the agent query letter and submit my manuscript. “This is what you’ve been training for. You’re ready to come out in front of someone. It’s a journey that’s not easy, but you’ve got to go on it,” Rachel said. I’m at that moment where it’s time to stop editing, time to let go of it. It’s time to find the bravery to take that next step.

So expect to hear more from me soon about one-sentence synopses and query letters. I’m grabbing the oars. If I want Jimmy Brackett to reach the mainland, I have to start the long row across the foggy harbor.

Find Your Retreat: Your secret hiding sense and place

retreat2An experience this weekend reminded me of the necessity for finding my “retreat,” that muse-infused space where magic happens. I don’t mean a formal “writing retreat,” complete with workshops and lectures. Although, those are nice, too. Find your retreat in a place that inspires you, connects you to a sense of wonder.

A shadowy porch, a flower-ringed garden bench, or a gloomy forest might offer what Robert Duncan called a widening of the world:

“…part out of longing,   part     daring my self,
part to see that
widening of the world,   part
to find my own, my secret
hiding sense and place, where from afar
all voices and scenes come back…”retreat3
I craved this place “where from afar, all voices and scenes come back” so I ran away this weekend to edit my Jimmy Brackett manuscript. Dear friends offered me respite for a precious 24 hours. I feel rejuvenated, renewed, re-energized.
I share photos from the weekend to encourage you to find your retreat. It doesn’t have to cost money. Go out and find that place, that corner, that view that brushes aside cobwebs and sets your writing free.

 

retreatWritten 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.

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