Two of my favorite Maine writers are Bill Roorbach and Bob Keyes. Bob writes about Maine's art and culture for out state's biggest newspaper, and this morning he wrote a piece
about Bill's new novel, Life Among Giants
. These two men offer inspiration to all writers, as well as an awareness that the writing life can look many, many different ways.
In addition to Life Among Giants
, Bill has a long career of teaching and writing. (Bill has written six books, each a preparation for the next, he notes to Bob.) One of his essays, "On Apprenticeship,"
is on my list of required reading for new writers. The central anecdote in this essay has morphed into a sort of urban legend among writer. The punch line involves an enthusiastic surgeon attending a writer's conference. Inspired by Bill, she tells him that she's been a surgeon for her entire life and is now prepared to take the next six month off to become an author. This is when Bill matches her enthusiasm and notes that is she who is the inspiration, that he has been a writer for his entire life and is now prepared to take the next six months to become a surgeon.
In addition to the (hopeful) groan of awareness, the lesson here is that writing is a process. Like any craft, it takes time to refine and perfect. The lesson is also to be patient.
Remember that old Donna Fargo song? If you are a graduate of those old school K-Tel record collection commercials, you will remember.
No surprise, but Hawaii ranks as the happiest state overall. The happiest general area? That would be Napa, in the heart of California wine country. Maine is high up there in the happiness tally, too, despite six months of winter.
Challenge: Where do you feel happiest?
For many aspiring writers, the idea of an author photo is an abstract concept. Why worry about a photo when the manuscript is still being considered for a sale? Or when the manuscript is still being written?
I understand the initial disconnect, but an author's platform is, essentially, the person's public impression. Platform is what (and who) you bring to the table. Expertise, connections, experience, qualifications, history--it's the fill in the blank ending to "Oh Shonna, she's the author who writes about_____." As a platform is being constructed, savvy authors include images in this process.
If a book or article is published, most likely it will include an author photo. Quirky or serious, readers want a face with a name. And considering that this image will be a permanent glimpse, I advocate taking care to find a photograph that resonates and represents you well. This is the image that will accompany signage, book jackets, websites, and press releases. Advice:
Spend some time getting the right author photo(s).
(If you live in the southern Maine area, I highly recommend Rob and Shelbylyn Subia at Port City Photography
As 2012 comes to a close, I'd like to reflect on the highlights of the year. Not surprisingly, many of these highlights were food-related. Meals I shared, recipes I tried, and new restaurants I sampled. (I never understood people who maintain the "food as a necessity" aesthetic. Yes, it is necessary, but it is also so, so much more.)
The Caprese Salad I ate for birthday lunch with my husband at The Merry Table
creperie? When the owner cheerfully let us linger after the restaurant's official closing time? Sitting outside and sipping that gin drink on a hot August day, watching the tourists stumble along Wharf Street's cobblestones while Travis told me how much he liked my new haircut? That's more than just tomatoes and cheese.
Or during the worst of the March weather, when Trav and I found ourselves at Emilitsa for the first time? I wrote about it here
. My exposure to Greek wines increased exponentially, and I saw the table that (former) Maine Senator Olympia Snowe prefers when she visits the restaurant. Again, that's more than just ouzo flavoring.
Or that recipe for Quinoa Chowder in the January 2013 issue of InStyle (not online, so I can't link) that is knock-your-socks-off spicy and good, good, good? It inspired me to spend an afternoon researching Ecuadorian cuisine.
Food is culture, it's community, and it's an activity-- a noun and a verb. (And for literalists, adjective and adverb, too.)
For 2012, here are some of my favorites:
- Silly's with a Twist opens! Among the hands-down, spiciest, best-garnished Bloody Mary in this state--and maybe even the world. Plus, the feel-good factor of spending your money with the Kelley sisters, who are two of the kindest people I have ever met.
- Eventide Oyster Co. and its massive garden of local oysters. Food and Wine magazine agrees!
- Learning about the wine bar next door--and Maine's private wine club culture at 91 South. Bogle Vineyards is now among my every day wine rotation, and Noah Gaston's kitchen is on my brag list.
- The 18-Year Aged Balsamic vinegar at LeRoux Kitchen. In fact, the entire oil and vinegar tasting aisle filled with urns and little paper cups. Mmm.
- Fried clams at Grammy's Country Inn at home in Houlton, Maine. I enjoyed a platter-full with my sister and her two children. With a third on the way, her life is about to get much busier, and I was grateful that she could make time for lunch.
Food is more than just physical sustenance. It's emotional and spiritual sustenance, too, if you let it be. I am lucky to live in Maine, and even luckier to earn a living among topics I enjoy. I don't take any of that for granted, and I will continue my appreciation well into 2013, resolving to eat and live well.
What about you? What were some of your favorite dining moments of 2012? Your dining resolutions for 2013?
That is such a loaded question, and the answer contains a very non-glamorous list:
And then, there is this short essay from the December issue of Down East magazine about taking my niece to The Nutcracker at Portland's Merrill Auditorium.
Setting the Stage
Many thanks to my sister for letting me share her awesome kiddos.
It is no secret that my politics are left-leaning, so this week's election was particularly joyful. From Angus King's Senate win, to Barack Obama and Chellie Pingree's re-election, to Marriage Equality finally passing, Maine
is a happy place for me.
Here is a little story about my 30th birthday. I invited my closest friends for a dinner party, promising scallops and chocolate pecan pie. "No gifts," I implored, but if they really felt the need, I suggested they bring me a book. Something particularly meaningful or interesting, preferably, with an inscription or personal note.
That collection remains my favorite section on my bookshelf. From Valley of the Dolls
, the stack of books from my friends and family--each with a handwritten note on the inside--reminds me to be grateful for such an eclectic group of good readers in my orbit.
So, why the birthday story from 10 years ago? One of the birthday books was The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith. And, if you take a look at the Boston Book Festival schedule
, you will see that my workshop, "All About You" is listed directly beside the talk with Alexander McCall Smith.
It is one of those giddy, fangirl author moments.
Please plan to attend the Boston Book Festival
. The events are FREE all day long on Saturday, October 27. I would welcome the opportunity to meet you in person.
I've always been a fan of "It's a Wonderful Life." For me, the idea of seeing a world without my impact is a powerful reminder of the value in an individual. Call it a butterfly or ripple effect, life gestures are mostly tiny-but the effects, mostly massive. It's the same way with writing, too. I can put out my best effort into an essay or a book and hope that a reader is moved, but apart from the online reviews (and spiteful anonymous commentary), there is no good way to gauge impact.
This is especially true with teaching. While visiting my hometown at Christmas, maybe 10 years ago, I started thinking about a former high school teacher and the impact of this teacher on my interests and career path. So, I wrote him a thank you letter. By this time, I was a decade past graduation, and I had no idea if he would remember me. Turns out, he did. And, turns out that upon receipt, my letter made his (particularly difficult) day. At least, that's what he later told me.
When I returned home yesterday, after my own particularly difficult day, I opened a package that contained a gorgeous, ruffled silk scarf in the Fall colors I love. But even more meaningful, was this handwritten thank you card tucked inside. It was from a former student.
While it was an entirely unnecessary gesture, I felt happy for the rest of the evening and woke up happy, too. She's a terrific writer, and I predict good things for her work. If I had some small role in her writing life, that pleases me.
But, it pleases me even more that she let me know.
Challenge: Hand-write a thank you note. See what happens.
My niece's instinct, when faced with a bucket of dead fish, was to reach right in. First with gloves, and then bare-fisted.
Okay, the Marjorie Standish blog project was a good idea--in theory. Building on the success of my "365 Days of 37" that had me posting a position of strength and gratitude each day on Facebook, I thought I would spend 38 blogging my way through Marjorie Standish's Cooking Down East.
Except, most of the recipes--however iconic--were not food I wanted to eat. That was a problem. Shrimp Wriggle and Tomato Aspic seemed terrific from a literary perspective, but I found myself dreading the preparation process. (And where do you even buy Accent seasoning?)
When I got a gig writing food for an audience at the Maine Sunday Telegram (and for pay), that shifted my food interest and took more of my time. When I took a job at Thomas College, that took more of my time. And then when I continued to accept on interesting writing projects for a select few clients, or teach an occasional adult education class, or offer a lecture--my time diminished even more. Add in a new book project, a few essay drafts, and, well, there you go.
Lack of time + lack of interest = a languishing blog project.
So, for 39, I am shifting back into micro-blogging. 365 Days of 39 with a twist. I will embrace Twitter, and I will do more reflecting. Not necessarily in that order.
I recently hosted my niece for a weekend visit, and we joined a lobster boat for an afternoon. She'd just turned 8 years old, and I watched her embrace the experience of baiting, setting, and pulling traps. When presented with a bucket of dead fish, she reached in, first with gloves and then bare-fisted, happy to be part of the process.
There's a metaphor there. My teen years were uncertain. My twenties, chaotic. I hit my stride in my 30s, and rather than dread the impending fourth decade, I want to celebrate where I've been and the life I've structured. That's this year's project. I want to reach in, dead fish and all.
Countdown to 40. Starting tomorrow. I hope you will follow me @shonnaleigh on Twitter.
Books in BoothbaySaturday, July 1412:30-3:30
The eighth annual Books in Boothbay: Maine's Summer Book Fair will be held on
Saturday, July 14, 2012 at Boothbay Railway Village in scenic Boothbay, Maine.
Forty authors from around the state will attend to sign their books, discuss
their writing, and meet their fans. The event runs from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm,
with an authors reception to follow. Admission is free to this year's event
from noon until the end of the afternoon. (There is an extra fee for anyone who
wishes to ride the trains at Boothbay Railway Village.)