Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The List

The list is out. Yes, that list.
Around Maine, just about everybody knows what list I mean.
There's been a prostitution case in the news of late. The woman charged is a Zumba instructor and her list of clients has been on the verge of release for days now. It supposedly features politicians, attorneys and a TV personality.
The list has been chatted about for days on social media sites. With the release of the first batch of names Monday, those sites are abuzz with comments, jokes and gawkers. I turned on a sports talk show this morning and this is what they were discussing.
Smart alecks and jokesters are getting all the mileage they can out of the situation. I've made a few cracks myself.  I'm even expecting an email from a college friend who typically contacts me when something  in Maine hits the national news.
The media is checking their morals to decide what to do. WCSH created a special banner and link on its web page so voyeurs could find the list immediately. They included a disclaimer that stated that since the names didn't include addresses or other means of identifying these men charged, that confusion and mistaken assumptions could be made if people have the same name. Sorry about that, folks. But they got the names up on their site really, really fast and can puff up their chests about breaking news. I assume it might be a safe bet that the TV personality isn't one of theirs. Boy, would their face be red.
Another TV news site, WMTW posted the story on their site but referred people to the Kennebunk Police Department page, where the names are listed.
Newspapers are trying to make the same decisions. To list or not to list. I'm curious to see what my own paper does, but at the same time, I could care less.
First, people clamored for the names to be released. Now they don't like how they were released. Others have just waited to see the list and fill their insatiable need for whatever reading the names might do for them. It has been a constant dialogue for over a week, getting more mind-numbing with each passing day.
Is this really all we have to focus on? Aren't we better than this? Is our time really best spent waiting on and salivating over the potential salacious and juicy details to come?
So you read the names on the list. If there's nobody you know, then what? Or what if there is somebody you know on the list? Does that make you feel better? Are you anxious to judge or joke over the potential humiliation involved? Do you feel sorry or feel scorn for them?
Maybe its like driving by a bad car accident where people like to slow down and gawk. Maybe it's a means for people to feel better about themselves. They can look at all those immoral names on the list and be glad that they're not those poor perverted saps.
Unfortunately, I see this all as a prime example of all that's wrong with this society. We're a reality show world in which the sexier, slimier and divisive the narrative, the better. Rather than wallow in it, we should be rising above it.
The men get charged. Their names become public knowledge. Good. They probably deserve it. But it shouldn't be our obsession. Are we any better than them if we're addicted to all the details and relish in them all?
It reminds me why negative ads work in politics and why our elected officials talk to us like we're idiots. Because we allow them to. We don't elevate ourselves and our thinking.  It allows for a blanket of dialogue that reaches the lowest common denominator among us. People believe the spin they're spoon fed. People focus on the style and not the substance. The political spin and extremist talk overwhelms us, but many accept it with apathy.
The world is full of discontent and disillusionment. You can't help but see it in the course of a day.  It can be a sad environment to exist in sometimes. Frankly, it is discouraging. But we can't dwell on what's wrong in this world.  It is easy to be overwhelmed with that negative energy. We become only as good as the sludge we immerse ourselves in.
That's why we must rise above the smut and mindless trappings of things like this. We must find ways to make the world better instead of reveling in the examples of its discontent.
In this prostitution case, there are families involved. Wives, kids, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers will all face scorn, scrutiny and shame over somebody's selfish act. Yet, we want to see those names so we know who they are. Does this make the world around us better? What is gained from this feeding frenzy over a Zumba intructor's fantastic failure?
Lists about sex-crazed scumbags can serve their justice to the law breakers. They serve the rest of us nothing.
We're better than this. We should prove it. We should rise above this kind of in-the-gutter focus. We should elevate our thoughts and our actions. Who knows, if we do this, maybe such lists become obsolete.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Feeling Grave

WEST BROOKSVILLE - I stood back and perused all the gravestones in front of me.
Standing at Mount Rest Cemetery in West Brooksville, I could scan all the names and see various ancestors buried in all corners of this small Maine coastal town resting place.
There were not only members of the Mills family but also families named Wasson, Douglass, Farnham (or Varnum) and Jones.
As I realized how many ancestors were scattered around this small resting place, I realized that so many of the characters in my first novel, Sons and Daughters of the Ocean, were based on many of the people there.
In fact, I started to do a quick mental checklist in my head and concluded that almost all of the characters in Sons and Daughters that were based on actual people were buried there. There was one that I knew that wasn't - because he was lost at sea. But then I discovered his stone (pictured below). Though he wasn't buried here, he was at least memorialized here with all the others.
Sons and Daughters of the Ocean is a historical novel based loosely on my ancestors that lived in various parts of Brooksville. It is a coming-of-age tale of sorts about three teens growing up in a small coastal village called Brooks Harbor. The shipbuilding and sea faring is the lifeblood of the town. And there in Mount Rest Cemetery, almost all the characters are buried. It was like my novel coming to life right there before me.
I stopped by the stone of Mary Mills Tapley and her baby, whose tragic story opens my novel. She was my great grandfather's sister and Mary Miller Fuller in the book.
The real life George Miller, Albert Miller and Sarah Dyer are buried there. The Watson's and the Dyer's that play prominent roles in the story are there. So are the Fuller's, though not related, their lives were interspersed with those of my ancestors. There was the real life Lizzie, one of my favorite characters. She actually died as a teen in real life, but I liked her character enough that I didn't want her to die young like in real life. So much so that she is still alive and well in my follow-up novel Breakwater.
It dawned on me that in both of my novels, I shared the lives of so many people and told their stories. It was very powerful and a bit overwhelming to realize this.
It truly made me feel guilty, as if I had intruded on their lives and exploited them.
I felt the same feeling a week or so later. I was on the Victory Chimes anchored in Pulpit Harbor in North Haven. Not far from there is the cemetery on the island where my grandfather's first wife is buried. Her story is the basis for a character in  Breakwater, as is the life of my grandfather and many other ancestors of that generation.
Again, I felt as though I had taken advantage of them. I had used them. I felt a significant amount of responsibility in telling their stories and using their lives the way I did. I wondered if I did them justice. I wondered if I was true to who they were and what their lives were about.
None of this had come to mind when I wrote the two novels. I knew I was basing characters on the lives of these people. But - other than my grandfather -  there was no feeling of any kind of responsibility toward them or their lives.
Now I began to wonder if I had treated them carelessly and irresponsibly. I actually wondered if they'd be displeased with the work I had done.
I mulled this all over a little longer. Then came the reflections of the 911 tragedy. I knew a couple of people that were killed on that day, including a childhood friend and neighbor.
What struck me was the honor and reverence I tried to make, as did others, to the lives of the people that perished. I didn't want to mourn their tragedy. I wanted to celebrate their lives and acknowledge the impact they had on this world.
Then I realized I had done the exact same thing with these characters in my novels. I had not exploited them. I had not used them. I had taken their stories, whether tragic, historic or heroic, and shared them. I had lifted them up and kept them alive and showed how their lives impacted the world around them.
It still feels powerful and overwhelming. But I don't feel guilty. I still hope I did them justice and served them well. But I'm also excited about the fact that these people and their lives live on through my work, to some small extent.
It is still a great responsibility to feel but a rewarding one as well.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lucky To Be Adopted

Did I ever tell you that I was adopted?

Yep. I was taken in by an Afghani family back in the 1980's. They had boys my age that liked to play soccer. They had cute girls and they had a mother that cooked food like I'd never had before. It was a significant step into a new culture for me.

Actually, my church had chosen to sponsor a refugee family from Afghanistan. I knew a little about the plight of the Afghani people after the Russians invaded but I didn't really know what to expect when this family came to Maine. The only experience I had with refugees was in a Tom Petty song.

 Our church was going to help them get settled and acclimate them to a new life in the United States. My parents were involved in the process, and I was just along for the ride.

As I got to know the family, I couldn't help but spend more and more time with them. All that really mattered to me was that they had boys my age, pretty girls that would smile at me and a mother that could cook. It was no wonder that I found myself over to their house many an evening. And it always seemed that I'd arrive just a little prior to dinner. Funny how that'd happen.

I knew I'd offend them if I didn't stay to eat with them, and I can still recall their mother saying "I like to see you eat". I certainly didn't want to disappoint her.

Well, today, I sat down to an Indian food buffet with one of my Afghani brothers, Fawad Atebar.  I hadn't seen him in about 30 years. He's a few years younger than I and almost as good looking. He and his wife and children were in Maine and he chased me down. It was wonderful to see him again and catch up on his, I mean our, family.

It reminded me of those wonderful days with the Atebar family. His father was a major general in the Afghani army. He was forced to flee and wound up in the U.S. It was a difficult adjustment for a family that had everything back in Afghanistan but had to start over here.

I remember playing soccer with the boys and even sister Reta would join us on occassion. I remember going to the movies and going swimming and just spending time with the Atebar family in their home. I met other members of the Afghani community. They were all wonderful people. I had one of the best and most competitive games of volleyball when myself and one other American joined a bunch of Afghani men for some fun and intense games.

For a kid in high school, it was a tremendous learning experience. I learned all about their culture and the injustice of the Soviet invasion. I even wrote an essay in high school based on a story General Atebar told me. It was about Afghani children finding shiny objects that looked like toys, only to discover they were Russian mines that would blow up in the hands and faces of the innocent. A lot of my views on war and justice were certainly formed during that time.

Growing up in Maine, I hadn't met a lot of people that were different from me. The red-headed red-necked kid from Texas that moved up the street from me was about as foreign as it got.  The Atebar's had a different religion. They're culture was completely different to me. They looked different. I was the pale shaggy-haired white son.

And did I mention the food? My family, you know the one I was born with, were never really adventurous when it came to meals. My Dad never could learn the difference between a taco and burrito.  So Afghani food was completely new to me. I still don't know what the dishes were called. I just called them good. And  I just know I still miss it after 30 years.

They were good-hearted people. They had been through great hardship and faced adversity I couldn't imagine. Yet, they were kind, gracious and wonderful. They were my family.

After living in Maine for two years or so, they moved out to California, where another son had settled. That was the last time I saw them or heard from them until reconnecting with two of my Afghani brothers via Facebook.

When I talked to Fawad on the phone the other night, he told me how he had gone to visit my mother and how grateful his family is for what people like us did for them way back then. General Atebar now has 32 grandchildren. Fawad and his lovely wife have three of them. They are wonderful kids, one of which gave me a huge hug when she first met me and couldn't get enough hugs from her Uncle just before she left. It made a wonderful day that much greater.

When I think about how well the family is doing now and the start they had here, I'm glad and proud to have been part of it. It is nice knowing that helping somebody in such a way can have such a wonderful impact. I really wasn't trying to do good, but I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do so.

But what amazes me most isn't what we were able to do for them back then. It is what they did for us. I've been thinking about all the benefits of being part of their family, all the fun we had, all the things I learned from them, the impact they had on the person that I've become.

It was a great experience and a great gift to my life. I'm so lucky to have been adopted.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A new relationship

After a decade-plus relationship, we've decided to part ways.
It wasn't because things weren't working. I just decided the time was right for something different. So I told my 1999 Toyota Corolla, 'It's not you, it's me.'
This was after the dear soul hung on for dear life to get me to the Toyota dealership. It was a white-knuckle final ride up the Maine Turnpike to Augusta. With my muffler and entire exhaust system being held up by a coat hanger,  my gas tank running dangerously empty and tempting fate with any old part on that aging bucket of bolts just waiting to give way, I held my breath and patted the dashboard lovingly as I inched my way closer and closer to my Corolla's final destination.
Since then, I have a new love. A black beauty that is quite RAVishing. I traded in the Corolla for a more powerful Toyota cousin, the RAV4.
While I'm thrilled with the purchase and trying not to think about the debt I've just placed on my meager finances, I can't help but think fondly on those many years me and my Corolla spent together.
Right from the first day, that car taught me a lesson.
 I went to Prime in Saco on a Saturday morning in the fall of 1998. I didn't really have the intention of buying a car that day. They happened to call my bluff and gave me a price I couldn't resist. I had perused the choice of cars and picked out a nice blue color on that cloudy day. Two days later, it was a bright sunny Monday and I discovered that the car I had bought wasn't blue but teal green. I made a mental note to never buy a car on a cloudy day.
I proved I learned my lesson this week. I test drove my RAV4 on a nice sunny day and bought the black SUV in the rain the following day.
I had over a decade of great memories with that Corolla. I kind of wish I could keep it around like an old abandoned row boat and make a planter of out, but as much as I loved that car, I didn't mind sending it on its way. I want to remember it in its prime.
It was a spunky a little number. It could be fun to drive. It had some zip. It was a fun little fling while it lasted, based on simple reliability, economy and fitting into the parameters of my life at that time.
The RAV4 feels more like a grown up car. It has just about everything except bells and whistles. I waited years to have a car with a CD player in it, but now I don't need one because I have a car with an IPod jack in it. It has 10 air bags (11 if you include me). I sit it in and hear the Pursuit of Happiness song  "I'm an adult now" racing through my head. It has space for all the things my life needs to make space for - from people to all the stuff George Carlin often talked about. It has a seriousness about it - like serious power and acceleration with a V6 engine.
Still, it is difficult to move on from one you've loved and lost.
One of my favorite adventures with the Corolla was the day the town of Wiscasset  made pieces of Maine history available to the public. The old schooners, the Hesper and Luther Little, had rested and rotted in the river for decades. They were icons for those that drove Route 1 on a regular basis. Time had taken its toll on them though. What hadn't broken apart and washed away was dredged up and dumped at the transfer station. Word was sent out that anyone interested in souvenirs of these two beloved vessels, could rummage through the debris on a particular fall morning.
There I was bright and early ready to load up that Corolla with ship debris. You wouldn't believe how many schooner pieces you can stuff into a Corolla. I have one bean that was a good foot thick and about one Corolla in length. I barely fit across my backseat. I swear the Corolla sucked in its gut and held its breath as I slammed the backseat doors.  I piled smaller pieces on top of it and loaded up the trunk. I dreamed of what I could have done had I had a truck, but the Corolla gave me every inch of space it could.
My plan was to put these pieces on display at our cottage in Owls Head. But I couldn't deliver them directly that day. I had to cover a playoff soccer game in Auburn that afternoon. After that game went to penalty kicks, I raced down to Portland to cover a Pirates hockey game. It wasn't until about 11 p.m. that I headed for Owls Head.
By the time I arrived, I didn't feel like emptying my car of the Hesper and Luther Little. So those pieces of maritime antiques sat in my car overnight. The next day, they were proudly put on display while the Corolla wreaked of an old ship for a couple weeks.
When I emptied my trunk before saying goodbye to the Corolla this week, there was a tiny sliver of wood way in the back. I assumed it was a piece left over from that day. I hoped it would increase the value of my Corolla but it didn't. Neither did the antique cassette tape that has been stuck in the cassette player for five or six years now.

That day is one of the great memories I have of my Corolla. There were many more miles and many more adventures I had with that car. It served me well for a good many years.
I'll feel bad that I've left that Corolla for another love. But time moves on. Life changes. Some things don't last forever, especially if its rusts in Maine weather.
There's a new excitement to this new relationship. It offers me so much more than the Corolla ever could.  I hope this new relationship endures as well as the previous one did and the adventures we share are equally memorable.
 While the Corolla is likely headed for a scrap heap somewhere, I still have its key, a lot of great memories and a great appreciation for the reliability and dedication it showed me for so many years.
And if that isn't enough to keep me smiling, my RAV4 goes really, really fast !!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me

I almost asked for today off.
It wasn't because I didn't want to work on my birthday. We have a sizable slate of games, and I really didn't want to miss out.
But my history of working on my birthday hasn't been good. Considering one of my worst experiences came last year on my birthday and since I just did a game Wednesday that lasted nearly three hours and totaled 40 runs, I fear the disaster that might be looming. In recent years it just seems like the job is sticking it to me on my birthday. And I wonder what the birthday gods have in store.
 It makes me wonder if I should go back to attending concerts on my birthday. After all, what could be better than seeing the Smithereens at the Paradise in Boston to celebrate? That's a fond birthday memory but one that came quite a while ago - before a job, life, and responsibility got in the way.
So each year, I wonder if this year's present will be worse than last year's surprise.
Last year, I was simply working in the office. I was paginating the scoreboard page - the sports page that has all the box scores that make sports fans go squinty-eyed before their time.
It was supposed to be a relatively easy evening. I won't go into the whole story about our wire service and our change in computer operating systems. But let's just say that was the night  the old system we were using to get wire agate chose to cease working,  on my birthday, at around 9:30. I noticed at 10 p.m. that the wire had stopped updating. When we realized what was happening and what my options were, it was 10:30 p.m. I had an 11 p.m. deadline and three columns to fill, mostly baseball boxes.  And I was going to have to do all the boxes manually, which I didn't know how to do at that moment. Usually, we'd call a box score onto a page ready formatted.
So I frantically tried to get as many incoming baseball boxes done and on the page as fast as I could. It was an agonizingly slow process, especially with a dozen boxes coming in and plenty of space to fill on the page. I  knew I was going to miss deadline because it was extremely tedious formatting everything each box at a time. I ended up sending my page about 15 minutes late. I don't even remember if I did any kind of makeover. But I do remember busting my hump to get that page out only to leave that night without a single word of recognition for my efforts.
After that, I might have vowed to never work on my birthday again.
My other birthday work woes pale in comparison. There was a softball game that lasted three-plus hours. It went into extra innings and was even delayed by a thunderstorm.
There was the year the Portland Pirates were up 2-0 in their best-of-five playoff series. Both wins had come on the road. All the Pirates had to do was win one at home. After losing the first game, they hosted Springfield on a Saturday night - and lost. That meant the next day, a Sunday, I was on the road and headed back to Springfield to cover Game Five, instead of having the day off. Guess what day that Sunday was? My birthday. The Pirates even lost that night and an expected lengthy playoff run ended suddenly.
One year I spent my birthday writing about a local coach that had died that morning. Nothing kills the birthday excitement than writing about somebody's death.
Another year, I was supposed to be headed for Owls Head. Instead, I was in the office working on some local story. I don't even remember what it was about. All I remember is that the woman in the newsroom who would put balloons on people's chairs for their birthday approached my desk while I was on the phone - with balloons in hand. I gave her a "Don't  you dare" look. She tied them to a newspaper rack right next to my desk. That actually worked as a nice compromise. As people walked by, they'd ask "I wonder whose birthday it is?" I sat there looking all innocent and say, "I don't know."
So I know I won't be driving to Springfield today.I'm not doing agate. As far as I know, nobody has died that would prompt a story from me.
I do get to combine jobs by visiting a bookstore this morning and then a softball game this afternoon. I'm even doing a game with my favorite Softball Mom in attendance. She was the one last year who didn't like my softball notebook and suggested I "Get with it and do some real reporting."
I'm not even going to let her bother me. It's my birthday. I have the following two days off. I'm ready for whatever this day brings. If work goes smoothly today, I'll be thrilled and will relish and enjoy the day. If something goes wrong, well, I'll have another story to tell next year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Cottage With Heart

It wasn't the changes that got most of my attention, it was what had stayed the same.
There was a new shower installed, a new window and a brand new floor. Our new cottage bathroom was making great progress in the renovations. But I was intrigued not by what had just been installed but what has been there for 40 or 50 years.
In the walls was electrical wire with duct tape wrapped around it - a sure sign that my Dad had been there. There was his signature. In the ceiling was old scrap pieces of wood that were red. My brother and I concluded that these were original boards on the outside of the cottage when it was first built and painted red. This was back in the 1950's. Our assumption was that when he turned what was once my bedroom into what is now the bathroom, he used those boards in the ceiling.
There was his handwriting scribbled on beams and junction boxes, so he'd recall which wire went to what.
Upon further review, we realized that the bathroom door was crooked. We examined it and couldn't quite figure out why it was crooked but enjoyed the quirkiness of the realization nonetheless. We also enjoyed the fact that we'd never noticed it before.
My Dad built our  Owls Head cottage in the 1950's. He borrowed $1,000 dollars and used $500 to buy the land and the other $500 to build the place - with a little help from his brothers and contributions from various lawn sales and scrap heaps.
Over the years the cottage has had a few makeovers. An upstairs was built 10 years ago or so. Last year new awesome bay windows were installed as well as a new sliding door. A new well has been put in. Further changes are in the planning stages - meaning we're planning on finding money somehow to pay for them.
With each upgrade, a little bit of the cottage that my Dad built disappears. It isn't the original. It is becoming the replica. On the wall in the kitchen hangs a saw that he used to build the place with. I love the changes and improvement but hate the thought of my Dad's cottage slowly being replaced. I just realized what a nightmare it will be for me to replace his/my chair someday.
Now there are still plenty of things around the cottage that are part of his original design and handiwork. It was a place he loved. The work he did around the cottage wasn't just because they needed doing. They were acts of love. He enjoyed doing them and did them with a passion for a place that meant so much.
I remember talking to him about this very subject a few weeks before he died. My brother and I would plan to watch the New England Patriots games with him on Sunday afternoons that fall, knowing he didn't have many Sunday's left. I arrived early one Sunday morning and we had a nice chat. I discussed projects I had planned for the cottage, a new walkway that would lead to the shed,  and he talked about the labor of love the place was for him.
So when I looked around the torn open walls of a bathroom in transition, there was his stamp everywhere. I couldn't help but laugh, smile and enjoy every little piece of him that he had left in those walls and ceilings.
All that evidence is now covered over by sheet rock or ceiling tiles. Those walls are being painted. And a new bathroom will be born. It will look great and I'll be thrilled with it.
But I'll also know that my Dad is still there. The heart of the cottage still bears his work. He's in the walls. He's in the ceiling. He's in that crooked door. I feel the hard work he devoted to the place. I feel the love he had for it. I feel the love for the cottage in my heart, just like he did.
In life we all have an opportunity to leave a little bit of ourselves behind. My Dad did that in ways I see and feel every day. I can even find him in simple pieces of duct tape and a crooked door.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Great Maine Writer You've Never Heard Of

At just about every one of my speaking engagements, I mention the name of one of Maine's greatest authors.
And everybody acts like they've never heard of him.
That's because most of the audiences I have spoken to have never heard of George S. Wasson.
I could say that I was related to Stephen King or E.B. White and get all kinds of oh's and ah's, but I have no connection to either of them. When I mention my link by ancestry to Wasson and his influence on my novel Sons and Daughters of the Ocean all I get are blank stares.
Wasson is part of Maine's great literary history, as was his father, yet most people have never heard of either of them. I had no idea who they were either before I began looking into my own family history.
I discovered my connection to the Wasson family in West Brooksville. My great grandmother, Sarah,  was a Douglass. Her mother, also named Sarah, was a Wasson.  The older Sarah was not only a sister to Nancy Wasson, who married into the Mills family as my great, great grandfather's second wife, but she was also the sister of David Atwood Wasson. He was a well-established Transcendentalist essayist, author and minister, whose peers were Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau.
His son George S. Wasson became an established writer as well. He wrote a handful of maritime stories. His use of dialect and his wonderful drawings that accompanied his work, made his books something unique.
One Maine magazine listed the most endearing Maine authors in its literary history. Wasson was included on the list as was poetess Celia Thaxter, another ancestor of mine.
When I began writing my first novel and chose to base it on family history and Maine's shipbuilding and merchant sailing heritage, Wasson was an obvious  part of the research. He co-authored the book Sailing Days on the Penobscot. It is probably the most complete account of the schooner industry in Penobscot Bay. I have my great grandfather's copy of that book. My first novel is loosely based on him and a character like him that ultimately goes off to sea at a teen.
Between the stories, the list of ships built along the coast, the dialect he wrote with and the historical information provided, that Wasson book was a significant foundation of my research for my novel. Reading some of his other books, like Home From The Sea and The Green Shay, gave me even more insight into that world. I subsequently used a lot of words and phrases he used in his books to bring my characters to life. Phrases like "Godfrey Mighty", "chowly and hubbily" and "a real apple-shaker" helped make my  characters feel that much more true and real.
Included in Sailing Days on the Penobscot is mention of his grandfather, David Wasson and the three-masted ship that he built. A significant part of the plot in my first novel is based on that three-master and it being the first of its kind on the Maine coast. I think he also mentions the story of George Tapley and his dying wife (my great grandfather's sister). The plot of my novel depicts a similar story based on that account.
I read a number of books that provided me great information on that age of sail, but Wasson's work was so authentic because he was there and was part of it. There was a great authenticity to his work and I feel it helped bring something similar to my writing.
There isn't a ton of information to be found about George S. Wasson or his father David Atwood Wasson. I did an online search for photos and found one of myself before I came across any for either Wasson.
A small sail boat once owned by George S. Wasson is on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport,Maine You can still find George S. Wasson's books for sale at various online sites. There's also a book or two about David Atwood Wasson. Because of their age, they won't come cheap. A copy of Sailing Days on the Penobscot will run hundreds of dollars.
It is too bad the work of the Wasson's have been passed over through time. It makes me all the more pleased that their work was able to influence my own. I mentioned in a previous blog the impact the work of Michael and Jeff Shaara had on my novels. Like their work, my novels wouldn't be quite the same had it not been for the work of the Wasson's. And being able to carry on their work and write about their ancestry, as well as my own, makes it feel as though I'm keeping their legacy alive.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Painting Names

Choosing a paint color shouldn't be too difficult.
That's what I wanted. All I needed to do was go to the local paint store and pick out a blue to adorn my walls.
But it's a little more complicated than that. The color blue turned into Billow, Sonic Sky and  Sky Blue No. 1, 2 and 3 as well as a bunch of less masculine sounding names of which I wouldn't even consider.
So not only was I overwhelmed with the variety and various shades of blue, my mind became distracted when I began wondering, who comes up with the names of all these colors?
That immediately led me to thinking, "I could do that".
And of course, instead of picking out a color as I'm supposed to be doing, I'm mulling over my ability to name various paints and writing a Tweet, Facebook post or blog about it. That's what this writer's mind does - whether I want to or not.
Now I recognize that naming paint colors can't be as easy as it sounds. There are more shades for paints than I know what to do with. It starts with blue and then becomes less blue, lesser blue, even lesser than that blue and the lessest blue of all blue. And there's more blue, a little more blue, a lot more blue, really really blue, as blue as you can get blue and soooo blue that it's almost black blue. How do you name all those?
I've always thought it funny how they name cars. They give them this somewhat exciting name like the Elantra. No car dealer is going to call their car the Ford Lemon or the Saturn Hunk a Junk. They've got to name the car in a way that is inviting and cool sounding - for those who only buy things because the name sounds hip. It first makes me wonder if they really think buyers are that stupid and then it makes me wonder if buyers really are that stupid?
The same would go for paints. You have to be descriptive but also stylish in the name. I'd still have some fun with it but it would probably get me fired the first day.
I'd start with naming paints after bands - Metallica Black, Beatles White, Sammy Hagar Red, Deep Purple Purple, Moody Blue, Coldplay Yellow. I'd name some after sports figures - Bud Black, Randy White, Vida Blue, Mean Joe Greene.  Then I'd use my sense of humor. I'd invent Hi Ho Silver, Kermit Green, Guinness Black and Tan, Tighty Whitey and Tuscadero Pink. There would be the token softer less manly colors like Girly Pink and Sissy Blue. Then there would be the rough and tough man colors like  Burly Black and Bad Ass Blue. And, of course, I'm a sucker for wordplay. So there'd be something like Don't Red On Me and Hullablue.
After awhile, the fun with the paint names would be gone. I'd have to settle for coming up with names like they have now. I'd be putting aside fun and funny for something boring, safe and lame sounding. And that's not me.
So maybe naming paints ultimately isn't my thing. I should just stick to picking out the color blue and paint my walls with it. Afterall, it is just paint.
The final choice? It's called Skywriter. How appropriate.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Civil Inspiration

I had always wanted to write a novel.

I was telling stories long before I could even write. I'd stand up in front of class in first grade and tell stories, stuff I made up or scenes I had played out with whatever action figures I used the night before.

But the writing the novel goal just never seemed to materialize. There were various attempts. There are numerous notebooks tucked away in the KCM archives with partial stories I had created and gave up on.

It wasn't until I read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and the other two books in the Civil War trilogy – Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, both by Jeff Shaara – that I saw potential for a novel. And it wasn't just one, it was three.

That's how my career as an author began.

I thought I might take a look back at some of the authors that have inspired my work. Not to give away too much of the speech I deliver to various historical societies and libraries, but my novel Sons and Daughters of the Ocean and its followup, Breakwater, would never have happened had it not been for the works of the Shaara's.

It really was the movie Gettysburg that inspired it all. I first saw that film at the State Theater in Portland, with the full sound system that made every cannon boom shake the walls and ring your ears. I loved that movie, and it quickly became one of my favorites. Afterall, its historical, its has a great music soundtrack, it's about Maine and it has some family connections (my great grandfather's brother was in the 20th Maine) – all things I like.

The movie made me want to read The Killer Angels, the book that the film was based on. After reading that, and loving it, I followed with Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. Ted Turner later made a movie version of Gods and Generals as well.

What I liked about those books was how the author took certain major characters during that period and brought them to life. It was a non fictional tale written like a novel, not a text book. I came to learn a wealth of things about such vital historical figures like Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I can almost guarantee if you see me eat a lemon, I'll make some sort of Stonewall Jackson reference – because I learned that Jackson loved lemons by reading this series.

For anyone interested in the Civil War, this trilogy is a must. It inspired me to create a historical series on my ancestors that made for a must read, whether it be about the privateering age or life of a small shipbuilding community.

I subsequently read Jeff Shaara's work on the Revolution – A Glorious Cause and Rise To Rebellion. Both were written in the same style of the Civil War trilogy. They're historical novels in the truest sense. I may read them again, just to bolster my knowledge as I write my next historical novel.

During that period of time, I had spent many years researching family history. I had produced two books as a result. One was on the Mills family and another was on the life of my grandfather. I printed a batch of copies for various family members and then went looking for another project. I had unleashed the creative beast within and not had to feed it again.

I concluded that my next move was to write a novel. With all that family history swirling around in my head and the work of the Shaara's fresh on my mind, the idea of my own trilogy was born.

Sons and Daughter's of the Ocean would be first. It would be a historical novel based on my ancestors that were shipbuilders and merchant mariners in Brooksville, Maine. I'd follow that with another historical novel set during the Revolution and one of my ancestors that was a privateer. The third book would be based on the life of my grandfather or father.
I knew I had the makings of my own trilogy and went to work. As it turned out, Sons and Daughters of the Ocean was published and subsequently Breakwater followed in December. I switched up the order, which has a long story in and of itself. Sea of Liberty, a tale about the privateering age is currently in the works.

For both Sons and Daughters of the Ocean and Breakwater, there were numerous authors that inspired, informed and help shape the books that were eventually published. Just like more authors are helping as I write Sea of Liberty.

But the Shaara's came first. As a journalist, I've learned to "write what you know". I knew my family history, and the Shaara's showed me how to tell its story. Following their lead and being inspired by their work, I achieved the goal I had had for decades.

 Now if Ted Turner would just call to offer to make the movie versions, I'll be good to go.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Something New at the DCU

It didn't seem all that long ago that I'd been in the Worcester Centrum.
But it had been so long that the arena in Worcester, Mass isn't even called the Centrum any more. It's now called  the DCU Center and doesn't even sport the ugly Home Depot orange d├ęcor any longer.
The arena inside still looks pretty much the same, but the whole building has been spruced up and expanded.

The biggest difference between my covering Maine hockey last weekend at the DCU and the Portland Pirates playoff game I covered there years ago was how much my job had changed in just a decade.
I sat in the same ice rink, watched from the same press box, wrote in the same press room and left through the same door. But the way I did my job was so different, showing just how fast the world around us is changing.
Fortunately the food at the Centrum, I mean DCU Center, is as good as it ever was. That hasn't changed either. The late hockey scout Ace Baily, who was on one of the planes on 911, was known for going to the Centrum to eat dinner, even though he was going to Springfield to scout another AHL game.
Back when I did that game in Worcester, there was no wireless, no Facebook, no Twitter. Newspapers were still thriving, or at least surviving back then.
Today the job included filing a game story for print additions but also included Facebook posts and tweets and whatever updates we could think off. Many members of the media were for online sites and not for publications. That was unheard of when I was covering the Portland Pirates.
Thanks to a quick look of the career stats for Krys Barch, it looks as though that Pirates playoff game was in 2000. Barch had the overtime game-winner as a rookie. I don't know what's more amazing, the fact that it was a dozen years ago or that Barch is still playing in the NHL.
That Pirates game was quite a memorable one. Portland was favored to win the playoff series but found itself in a 0-2 hole heading to Worcester for an elimination game. The Pirates rallied from behind to take the lead in that game and were up a goal in the final minutes.
I had already started writing a story as if they lost and switched it up after they took the lead. I had much of the story written before regulation even ended. Back then, the press box had no means of filing the story. So I had to pack up the computer and rush down to the press room and use a phone line to file via modem. Every minute counted, especially on a Saturday night in which there are earlier deadlines and there are flights of stairs and a slow elevator in between.
Then Jamie Huscroft took a penalty. It lead to a Worcester power play. That lead to an IceCats power play goal with a couple of seconds left in the game. That prompted a barrage of words that would get my mouth washed out with soap if my mother heard them. But with the roar of the home crowd over the tying goal, I didn't even hear myself cursing the equalizer.
That game ultimately went into three overtimes. Barch had the game-winner early in the third. I was watching from the stands, a pucks throw from the Zamboni entrance that was in close proximity to the press room. I rushed to my computer, updated a story and sent it quickly without quotes via the phone modem. I checked with the editor, who told me my write-through story, with quotes, was due in about 15 minutes.
I got the quotes, filed the story and left Worcester, getting home past 3 a.m or so.
This past Saturday, I didn't have all the drama of that overtime game. Maine lost in regulation in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal. I had a story without quotes filed within three minutes of the game ending – gotta love boring third periods. I got some quotes and sent a write-through within an hour after the game. I was in my hotel room by midnight.
But what was so different Saturday night was the role technology played.
One of the first orders of business was to get the password for the arena's wireless system. Then it was time to test it out. I quickly got online and all seemed right with the world. I checked my email, created a story file, checked my Facebook posts and opened up Twitter.
That was until the wireless system got so overloaded by all the media for the first game, my computer wouldn't even load web pages any longer. Though I wasn't covering the first semifinal, I was going to post the score on Facebook and Twitter. I did that with my phone, realizing that I could do almost as much with my smartphone as I could with my computer.
I wasn't about to panic. A bad wireless signal is the modern equivalent of the bad phone line, especially for those of us who recall filing stories with Radio Shack Trash 80's and their sensitive acoustic couplers - oh, the stories I could tell. We deal often with places that think they have adequate wireless signals that ultimately don't, especially when they host some major event that is too big for their router's britches - yes, Bangor Auditorium I'm talking about you.
I didn't really need to be online during the first game. My hope was that there would be less traffic in the evening and that I'd have no problem.
Sure enough, I was able to get online during the Maine game and do my thing. I was Facebooking scores, tweeting updates while writing my story periodically during the game. A colleague of mine wasn't so lucky. He had trouble sending his updates on line, which was especially aggravating since it was the only task he had that evening, since his paper doesn't have a Sunday edition.
I was able to email the office and could have called them had I  needed to with my cell phone. Back in 2000, I was hunting down the nearest pay phone to update them after each overtime.
Moments after Maine's season ended, I filed the story, using a web-based system that no other newspaper in the country is using. I was ahead of deadline by 45 minutes. By the time I updated the story with quotes, I was settled back in the press room, still logged into the wireless signal.
The informational super highway that we're on these days moves at such a pace that it is easy to forget how fast we're moving and how much progress we've made.
As much as my job was the same last Saturday night, it had changed completely. Back in 2000, had you told me I'd be booking my room online, reading emails from people reviewing my novels and checking my Kindle sales all by phone or computer, I not only wouldn't have believed you but would have had no idea what you were talking about. A Kindle? A smartphone? I think we had email back then but am not sure.
It's one thing to be able to say how much life has changed since I was a kid but it is another to see how much the world around us changes in just a decade. It makes me wonder what life will be like the next time I'm in Worcester.