Just listen to some powerful lines from the bared heart

The best poem I’ve ever read in nearly six decades of the New Yorker is one that wasn’t even presented as one of its two weekly poetry selections.

Instead, it appeared recently within a theater review, where the play under consideration reminded the critic “of the late poet Essex Hemphill, a master of frank desire whose smart, life-hungry speakers toss of lines like these:

I am lonely for past kisses,
for wild lips certain streets
breed for pleasure.
Romance is a foxhole.
This kind of love frightens me.
I don’t want to die sleeping with soldiers
I don’t love.”

A bit later comes a couplet from a different Hemphill poem:

I am beautiful.
I will endure.


My, how I admire the directness of those lines, their acerbic observations unencumbered by literary aspirations.

Yes, he skirts the imagist realm of so much of my own verse but somehow, to my eyes, averts any preachiness that can come from the subjects he’s examining.

What hits me the most is the clarity and intensity of his self-examination.

Yes, each time I return to these.

Gee, has it seemed I’ve been a bit AWOL lately?

Have to confess the Red Barn posts have been moving along on schedule, but just not as many or as varied as usual.

Seems I’m not alone that way, here on WordPress or other social media, for that matter.

On this end, I’m knee-deep in trying to get a big project in gear – the part that follows the publication of a new book, which is just around the corner. These next steps are time-consuming and emotionally a roller-coaster. I’m always feeling I’m way behind there, as well as uncertain of the way.

As a complication, about a month ago I suffered a physical fall in the middle of the night and was reminded once more how fragile the body gets in older folks, aka the elderly, and how risky that can be when living alone. I’m still feeling some of the aches after the bruises and what else and won’t be resuming the twice-a-week fitness classes till after Labor Day.

Quite simply, that’s slowed me way down.

And then there was my week at the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quaker) off in Castleton, Vermont, now that we’re gathering face-to-face again. Getting across northern New England, however, is a remarkably drawn-out trip, no matter how stunning some of the scenery can be. I did see parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont for the first time.

Weighing on me especially has been the surreal political and social nightmare unfolding here in America. It’s not just Trump, either, but closer to home the threatened return of Paul LePage to the governorship of Maine. Trying to write about that has been paralyzing, and the news developments keep mounting at a dizzying pace.

So here we are and summer’s almost over. It hasn’t exactly felt lazy.

Turning the focus on his own mess

When I was revising two earlier novels into what became Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I did wonder about a parallel volume from the point of view of his lovers. What a cad or sweetheart or lost soul or whatever they saw him as. Yeah, dump it all on.

You know, the self-centered hippie dude, Peace Love & all.

Well, there was a hot volume of erotica, Naked Came the Stranger, where each chapter was secretly written by a different person or party who then hid behind a character who got the author credit and posed for the interviews. The various writers didn’t even see the other material until the book came out, not that it ultimately mattered. She did have every color of eye you could imagine.

On this end, I’d welcome submissions for my own project, if only I had space to tackle it, but time is drizzling out, along with the original impulse.

I mean, the hippie chicks in his life weren’t the only ones screwed up, OK? Let’s be honest. Facing the music could be amusing and healing for all.


How I came up with the tags for the ebook edition

Don’t know about you, but I do find tags very helpful in searching for ebooks.

Well, they’re also very helpful in finding fellow bloggers. In fact, if you’re not using them, let me urge you to do so. I’ll even give some free advice, if you’re interested.

Part of the trick, of course, is in choosing ones that will connect with folks on the other end. When I was setting up Quaking Dover for release through Smashwords, the tags I had intended led to some others I thought would pitch the book far more widely and effectively, and, to my surprise, more accurately.

Here are the ten I went with:

Faith, Families, New England, Strong Women, Colonial, Quaker, Peace Movement, Spiritual Walk, Community Life.

The book’s already charted as Non-Fiction/History/American, so there was no point in duplicating those.

Do any of those appeal to you?

Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at Smashwords.com.


Confessions of a booklover

Looking at my book purchases over the past few years, I’m finding that most of them are ebooks. The new paperbooks in my collection are mostly gifts, gratefully received, augmented by a few used volumes purchased online.

Cost is a factor, admittedly, but so is shelf space. We still have a thousand or more titles to cull from our collections before moving the remainder up here, and keeping them in storage ain’t cheap. My own practice of the past decade requires me to say adios to one copy every time I get a new one, and I find the swapping to be heart-rending. Books really are personal, and who ever wants to let go of a friend?

Among the harder aspects of putting our old house on the market was one we hadn’t anticipated. Our Realtor told us the bookshelves couldn’t be jammed, as ours were, but that buyers were entranced when shelves were only half full. We didn’t want to repulse them but, well, we had several walls to go through on that point.

That meant buying a lot of boxes from U-Haul to pack. Buy boxes? They stack better, for both transport and storage. Worth the price.


When it comes to how I’m now reading, I do find a distinction between ebooks and paper.

If it’s a page-turner being devoured quickly for pleasure or else an authority I’m using for background reference, I prefer digital. The digital search function’s very helpful, believe me – much better than relying on an index – and if I’m quoting something in a writing project, cut-and-paste beats keyboarding any day and is less likely to include typos. On the other hand, if the text requires slow reflection and digestion, traditional paper moves to the fore. Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living is a prime example, along with Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative.

Maybe the divide even comes down to whether it’s something I want to read hands-free or hands-on.


These also play into my considerations in my own publishing strategies.

As I looked to outlets for my big nonfiction project, Quaking Dover, I realized it was the kind of volume most readers would want to have in their hands or even wrap as a present.

It was one I’d want to place in bookstores and libraries, but that became a big hurdle.

If I put it the book up at Amazon’s KDP, the bookstores would back off. As for libraries? Dunno.

The alternatives I saw were prohibitively expensive for what would be a niche item, unless it magically took off on the charts, even as print-on-demand.

The plot thickened when my ebook haven, Smashwords, announced it was being absorbed by Draft2Digital. Yeah, the promises of no changes were there, but really?

Yet from what I’m seeing, maybe not. Maybe this is the big challenge to the Amazon juggernaut.

Upshot is, that’s where I’m planning to place my print version.

Just made my unanticipated theater debut

Eastport may be small, but its lively arts scene includes the Stage East company, with some rather lively programming.

At the moment, for example, they’re preparing a world-premiere musical for performances next month.

It’s the kind of place where you quickly get to know half of the town, too, so I wasn’t surprised to get an email from the director Thursday morning, even if its contents were unexpected. Could I participate in a play reading that evening and the next two nights?

An original work, the winner of the company’s inaugural playwriting competition?

I’d never done anything like that before, but in a pitch-in kind of community like ours, you learn to step up when asked, and so I replied fine. Honestly, I felt honored, and it couldn’t be too different from a poetry reading, right?

The initial reading was fun, both times through the one-act play. Better yet, my part was the shortest of the four and the least complicated. And then I learned we’d be doing it in front of a live audience the next night, meaning last night, and again tonight.

The playwright is Wilder Fray Short, a Bowdoin College senior and soccer fan, and the one-act play is In the 45th, about sibling rivalry and a lot more.

The competition, open to young full-time Maine residents and including a week-long residency and $1,000 prize, itself honors the late Jay Skriletz, the company founder, prolific playwright, and believer in social change.

To which I’ll add, it was an amazing experience and if you’re anywhere nearby, show up tonight!

Reviewing a whole year of posts in one evening

It didn’t start out to be an overview, but I do forget a lot, including what I’ve written or photographed or even done over time. These posts, though, are records of bits of that  life, coming together in the manner of a quilt when you step back enough to see the emerging pattern.

Somehow, in the process of scheduling a few new entries a few nights ago, I wound up going backward in time through the Red Barn. Let’s just say I stayed up much later than I had planned before sleep started to catch up with me. And that was just going through the previous year, not the entire decade I’ve been at this.

But what a year! Not to brag, but I was surprised by the high quality of the dispatches and their range, and I did enjoy some deep satisfaction. (That’s not always a given for a writer, by the way – sometimes it’s more “Ugh!”)

Has me wanting to go back deeper in the archives, maybe a month at a time, to see what other treasures might be buried there.

And from there? Bet many of the rest of you have rich lodes awaiting rediscovery, too.

Blog on!

Am I the only blogger working from Downeast Maine?

I don’t mean broadcasters or newspapers reissuing their material online, nor do I mean Facebook or Twitter snapshots and quips. Blogging, as you know, is more varied, personal, and I’d say engaged than that. It requires a special focus.

At the moment I’m finding it difficult to locate anyone else posting anywhere in the Pine Tree State, apart from gloating visitors and a few writers sharing a site based elsewhere.

It’s not that folks hereabouts are aloof, not by any means, as I’m discovering in my new locale. I’m fascinated by the stories they tell as well as the unique landscape we share, but I’m still new on the scene.

Welcome to my workstation, for now.

How much interest would there be in my new book?

The literary great Samuel Johnson once quipped, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” but he also ascribed to the  pejorative term of “hack writer” for those who set down words as an income. It makes for an impossible bind. After all, he was a stickler for quality literature.

That perspective could generate guilt among some of us who did our best to defend the language in what Johnson would have considered grub work – in my case, daily journalism, with its effort at an anonymous style and universal voice. And yet, for me, at least, there remained an aspiration for something loftier, more lasting, more artistically and intellectually demanding but which, as I’ve found, had no monetary value.

Do I regret the effort? Not when I sit down and reread the published but largely neglected fiction and poetry. Pointedly, it has come at a heavy personal cost in time and foreclosed opportunities, no matter any satisfaction I feel.

CURIOUSLY, I DOUBT that anyone has felt the pain of this dichotomy more than novelist Stephen King, even though I’m certain he’s never heard of me. He has, though, articulated the gap between the writing for wide readership and for critical acclaim better than anyone else. Writing under pseudonyms, he has demonstrated a mastery of the craft, and under his own name, some deep insights into the art of crafting a novel. He deserves great credit for getting a public reading books, against all odds.

MY CURRENT QUANDARY comes in trying to decide which course to take regarding my latest – and likely last – manuscript. I’ve found researching it to be exciting; my findings, provocative and original; and the current voice that’s resulted, lively and entertaining. I get animated just talking about its content, and the listeners catch on. The problem is that it’s still a niche product, as far as marketing goes.

I mean, a history of the Quaker Meeting in Dover, New Hampshire?

Yes, it has the freaky potential to break out, but that’s a gamble.

The book moves novelistically. There are some big villains, a contrarian take on New England itself, a long period of frontier violence, historical surprises, a look at a subculture something like today’s Amish, and political dissent. What a volatile mix!

I’ve approached a couple of regional publishers but heard nothing from one. Not that I’m surprised. They survive by being conservative and cautious. Still, it would relieve me of a lot of effort in production and distribution that I just don’t feel up for. I’m more optimistic, cautiously, about the other. As I posted earlier, I’m ready for a break. Let them keep some of the change.

Plan two would be to issue it as an ebook, like my novels, and via Amazon’s KDP, where it would also be available as a print-on-demand paperback. I’m not sure how to include the maps in those formats, though, and the work wouldn’t be available in bookstores. Much of the sales of the paper edition would be, as they say, from the trunk of my car – after readings and talks, essentially. As for libraries? Marketing of an ebook remains, from my experience, very difficult. People want something physical to examine, even if they buy otherwise.

The third option is through one of several self-publishing programs that distribute to bookstores. (The stores won’t touch the Amazon editions, since they would have to sell at a higher price to cover their added costs.) For reviewers, it’s more respectable than Amazon. You might even pick up some book clubs. The bigger problem is that this route would require me to invest some big bucks. At this time, I have no way of knowing whether the investment would be offset by sales in bookstores, mostly in New England. Or, put another way, I’m feeling way out of my league or field of expertise. Yes, I would have a product I could feel proud of. But could I make the numbers add up? My wife advises me to consider it like joining a country club. Hmm. One involves dropping balls into holes.

A fourth alternative is to shelve it altogether, maybe even taking the money I would have spent and finally traveling off to Europe. Let myself be content with the overview I’m presenting in weekly installments here at the Barn.

One thing I’m not doing here, contrary to Johnson, is being mercenary.

What course would you suggest pursuing?