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Archive for Eleanor Morse

Secret Weapons Against Winter: Write or Plunge into the Sea?

sandalsinsnowMy willingness to jump into a 40 degree ocean does not prove me crazy. Yet, many shake their heads, say “better you than me,” shudder, and turn away. Maybe I’d rather they didn’t understand how alive I feel, walking across snow in sandals, peeling off layers on a breezy winter beach with my heart rate quickening at the thought of the icy sea needling my skin. Maybe if people knew that, afterward, the whole body flushes with warmth, bright light and giddy laughter then they would want to polar bear plunge, too. Then the wintry beach would be crowded with other island souls, desperate to unmuffle the months between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Nah, not happening. Many more islanders harbor a different secret weapon against the Maine winter: writing.

Thanks to the Sudden Fiction writing sessions of Eleanor Morse and Nicole d’Entremont, we huddle around the woodstove and beat back the winter darkness with our words. I love how Maine author extraordinaire Stephen King explains this type of literary defiance in his essay “On Impact.” King wrote, “it’s the work that bails me out. 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.” As the temperature plunges, the snow piles up against the window, and daylight resists the earth-tilting nudge to lengthen, we fight our way back to life by wielding our pen (and sometimes even by plunging into the sea).

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

Double event day for island authors Nash and Morse

It may be a BlueJay on Stagesmall island and small literary community, but authors on Peaks Island make up for it with a flurry of activity. Tomorrow, April 8, 2013, two island authors will be involved in events – one on island and one off.

As published earlier, Scott Nash’s wildly popular The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate will be on stage at 7 p.m. on the mainland at Portland Stage Company. Come meet some dramatic renderings of Nash’s beloved avian characters. For more information see Affiliate Artists Events.Leslea Newman on Peaks Island

At the same time, island author Eleanor Morse will introduce award-winning writer, Lesléa Newman, at an event sponsored by the Peaks Island Branch of the Portland Public Library. Lesléa has written over 60 books, many of them for children and adolescents, including the children’s classic, Heather Has Two Mommies, the young adult novel, Jailbait, the middle grade novel, Hachiko Waits, and the adult poetry collection, Still Life with Buddy. Her latest book, October Mourning, is a cycle of poems about the death of Matthew Shepard, the gay twenty-one-year old University of Wyoming student who was lured from a bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, and left to die. The book, a searing and beautiful tribute to Shepard, has recently been named an American Library Association 2013 Stonewall Honor Book. This event will be 7.00 p.m. at the Doug MacVane Community Center, Peaks Island. The book will be on sale after the reading and talk. Refreshments will be served.

For the “big, bloody, beating heart”: Love from the Rock Benefit

LovefromtheRockIn Peaks Island Press’ last article, I described the benefit for Longfellow Books, our beloved indie bookstore that Joshua Bodwell calls the “big, bloody, beating heart” of this city’s literary community. Peaks Islanders love Portland. They love their independent bookstore. And they love their independence out here on “the Rock.” Roll that all together, along with Scott and Nancy Nash‘s brilliant event logo artwork, and you have a benefit designed to help Longfellow Books recover from Nemo blizzard damage. Thanks to Eleanor Morse‘s inspiration to organize this event, you can come and bid for a 90 minute origami lesson, two piano tunings, or a bisque ware painting party for four, and much, much more! Just two days away, don’t miss it!

Love from the Rock

Brackett Memorial United Church

Sunday March 10th, 2:00 p.m.

  • 2.00: Children’s book (ages 8 and up) readings begin–including authors Jamie Hogan, Scott Nash and Annie O’Brien;
  • 2.30: Silent auction browsing and bidding.
  • 2.45: Adult fiction reading from authors Nicole d’Entremont, James Hayman, and Eleanor Morse
  • Coffee, tea, amazing baked goods, books for sale.

Love from “the Rock”: Peaks Island Reading and Silent Auction to Benefit Longfellow Books

Fans and humidifiers dry out Longfellow Books. MPBN photo.

Fans and humidifiers dry out Longfellow Books. MPBN photo.

On Sunday, March 10th, the Peaks Island community of authors, readers, and unabashed bibliophiles will gather to raise funds to benefit their beloved, award-winning independent bookstore, Longfellow Books. As most people know, “Nemo, the Blizzard of 2013” delivered a destructive blow to the Longfellow Square-based bookstore, requiring it to close temporarily and undergo considerable repairs from damage incurred by severe flooding. Approximately half of the stock was damaged, and insurance will only partially cover the losses – you’re not surprised, I know.

Well, islanders aren’t afraid of rising waters and they’re prone to band together to make important things happen. Author Eleanor Morse is organizing a reading and silent auction to benefit Longfellow Books. Here is how you can get involved.

Eleanor Morse, at her reading at Longfellow Books

Eleanor Morse, at her recent reading at Longfellow Books

Love from the Rock

Brackett Memorial United Church

Sunday March 10th, 2:00 p.m.

  • 2.00: Children’s book (ages 8 and up) readings begin–including authors Jamie Hogan, Scott Nash and Annie O’Brien;
  • 2.30: Silent auction browsing and bidding.
  • 2.45: Adult fiction reading from authors Nicole d’Entremont, James Hayman, and Eleanor Morse
  • Coffee, tea, amazing baked goods, books for sale.

Longfellow Books is one of the last remaining indie bookstores in the Portland area. It’s
more than a store–it’s a place for people to gather, to browse, to attend readings and
events, to be a thinking and feeling human being. WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DO?

Donations of services for the silent auction (help-your-neighbor/brighten March). For instance:

  • a drawing lesson
  • magician tricks for children’s birthday party
  • juggling lessons
  • dump run
  • clean the refrigerator
  • shoot pictures for an hour
  • walk the dog/feed the cat
  • interior design color consultation
  • birthday cake/pie
  • teach dance moves

What else?–let your mind roam free! Please email Rhonda Berg at or Eleanor Morse at to set up your donation.

Donations of baked goods for the afternoon of March 10th. Coffee will be provided, and juice for kids. If you can bring a plate of goodies, please bring it to the Fellowship Hall of the Brackett Church by 1.45 on March 10th.

Celebrate the Publication of White Dog Fell From the Sky at Longfellow Books

ImagePreviously, I have written about Eleanor Morse and her award-winning novel, The Unexpected Forest. Since that time, Eleanor has written her third novel, White Dog Fell from the Sky, whose publication by Viking she celebrates next Friday, January 11th.

Advance Praise for White Dog Fell From the Sky from Publishers Weekly “Pick of the Week” calls it “Brutal and beautiful . . . Morse’s unflinching portrayals of extremes of loyalty and cruelty make for an especially memorable novel.”

Portland’s beloved Indie bookstore, Longfellow Books, will host a wonderful evening of Zambabwean music, beginning at 6:30 p.m., followed by Eleanor reading from her book at 7 p.m.

Interested in learning more about Eleanor and her newest novel, White Dog Fell from the Sky? Read my interview with Eleanor here.

Patricia Erikson is a Peaks Island-based writer and educator who blogs about the literary community on Peaks Island at Peaks Island Press.

White Dog Fell from the Sky: Eleanor Morse

As one of the writers who has enrolled in Eleanor Morse’s Sudden Fiction classes on Peaks Island, I know that being a good writer and being a good human being are synonymous for Eleanor. It’s part of what draws us back to her mentoring over and over again. Eleanor says she has “come home to writing” and this award-winning author and Spalding University M.F.A. faculty member seems very comfortable there indeed. The publication of her third novel, White Dog Fell from the Sky, is garnering praise from readers and writers alike. I caught Eleanor in the midst of her busy schedule for Imagelong enough to interview her about her newest book that hits bookstores next week.
Q. What was the inspiration for writing this novel?
A. In 1970, I married a man who had grown up in Botswana. Two years after we were married, he and I moved to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The country had just gained independence from England in 1966; looking back on it, I understand how fortunate we were to be living and working there during those early years of independence. My husband became the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, and I became the head of the national office of the adult education wing of the tri-country University of Botswana Lesotho and Swaziland.
It was a heady and hopeful time in Botswana. The discovery of diamond and of copper/nickel deposits shortly after independence put Botswana on a firm economic footing. An almost non-existent army siphoned off few resources, and money poured into new schools, hospitals, and social services. Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, was a highly intelligent, enlightened, well-respected and well-educated man.
Next door, apartheid still gripped South Africa. Botswana was a firmly multi-racial country, but its neighbor’s policies cast a long shadow. I wanted to portray some of that contrast in the book. In addition, I wanted to capture the harsh beauty of the land, the wild animals and herds of cattle thirsting for water during drought years, and the ways that government policies affected the indigenous San people.
Q. Did you feel that you grew or changed as a writer while working on this particular project? 
A. The writing deepened my understanding of those years when I was a young woman in southern Africa. I was only twenty-six years old when I went to Botswana. White Dog Fell from the Sky is not my personal story, but the backdrop is the Botswana I knew during the mid-1970’s. In creating this book, I was mining memories of the language and landscape, of my journeys out into the bush, of my own white guilt in a black African country. Through research, I learned more about the terrible realities of apartheid, and I understood more fully how land use policies adversely affected the survival of traditional Bushmen families.
ImageMuch of this book was written during a difficult personal time. At times I thought I would need to abandon the project, but in an unexpected way the book saw me through that hard time. I cared enough about the characters to feel a
strong sense of responsibility to them and to their story, and they carried me forward. The combination of that time and the writing of this story has given me greater courage to explore dark places. While I don’t wish to dwell there, I think the writing has let me embrace a larger measure of the world, not just the part
I’m comfortable with, or want to see.
Q. How did you decide upon the title?
A. I wanted a title that would evoke a concrete image and draw a reader into the book. I had various ideas, but this one had the feeling I was looking for. The title comes from the early chapters of the book: Isaac is a political refugee who flees South Africa. He’s nearly dead when he arrives in Botswana, and when he comes to, a dog is sitting by his side. She refuses to leave him, and later, he says to himself that she is like a creature who has fallen from the sky. White Dog is a persistent presence in the book. She asks for nothing and is single-minded in her patience and loyalty, against all odds.
Q. How do you juggle living on an island with teaching in a distant MFA program?
A. Life used to be much more of a juggling act than it is now–raising kids, working full time, shoehorning in a few hours a week to write. Now, teaching in an MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, the work involves intense periods of teaching every six months at residencies in Kentucky followed by six-month semesters mentoring graduate students. During the semester, students send in fifty pages of writing every three and a half to four weeks for critiquing; when those packets arrive, I need to drop everything to attend to them. Otherwise, I’m free to write. This summer, I’ll be teaching in Ireland through the same MFA program, and mentoring students over a longer nine-month semester.
– by Patricia Erikson, a Peaks Island-based writer and educator, who blogs about the literary community on Peaks Island at

Eleanor Morse: Coming Home to Writing

Eleanor Morse at home on Peaks Island

When does a writer become a writer? When they start writing? When they publish a book or begin to teach writing?

When I asked Eleanor Morse this question, she said she started writing at seven or eight years old, but didn’t identify herself as a writer until she reached her early forties. With her recent novel, Unexpected Forest, winning multiple awards, and her position as a faculty member in the M.F.A. program at Spalding University, it’s hard to think of Eleanor as anything but a writer these days (other than the most compassionate human being you’ve ever met).

Ironically, a major in English literature was as close as Eleanor could get to creative writing while attending Swarthmore College as an undergrad. And that wasn’t very close. “There was no way to use that part of myself,” she told me over a cup of tea and her own homemade rice crackers. “It wasn’t until after college that I reconnected with my writing self, but not until my early forties did I decide to move writing to the center of my life.”

While raising two children and working full time at Maine Medical Center as an adult educator, Eleanor enrolled in a full-time M.F.A. program at Vermont College. “It was lunacy,” she said, “but I couldn’t not do it.” At Vermont College, with Sena Naslund as a mentor, Eleanor charted her own course. “I didn’t always do what I was told in my M.F.A. program. People would always say ‘write what you know.’ Well, I didn’t want to do that. For me, writing is an expansive process.” When Eleanor wanted to stretch and learn more about the ancient paintings of the San or Bushmen of Botswana, she created a character who needed to research them. “All along, as a writer, I’ve headed into areas that I don’t know. I don’t want to be bounded by my own life experience.”

Eleanor started identifying as a writer  “at the point that I started trusting my editorial instincts. Until then, I needed a ‘thumbs up’ from other people to tell me whether or not my writing had value.”

These days, many people are eager to value her writing. Sena Naslund recruited her onto Spalding University’s faculty. Unexpected Forest, published by Down East Books, won Independent Publisher’s “Gold Award” in the Best Regional Fiction of the U.S. Northeast. Also, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance awarded it Winner of Best Published Fiction at the 2008 Maine Literary Awards.

Those who know Eleanor won’t be surprised to hear that she shrugs off such accomplishments and awards. “When I think of the future, I hope I’ll continue to write books as long as I have breath and a brain in my head. Writing means doing my best not to shy away from characters, scenes, or story lines that are hard or emotionally challenging. To create characters that are vulnerable, I need to be vulnerable myself, willing at times to be scared. People often think that writing and living are quite separate. But they’re not.”

Island writers who enroll in Eleanor’s Sudden Fiction classes know that being a good writer and a good human being are synonymous for Eleanor; it’s part of what draws us back to her.

As Eleanor said, she has “come home to writing.” She’s come home indeed and seems very comfortable there.

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