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.

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