There’s one outstanding King of Maine

The popular (and how) “king of horror” has long deserved kudos for getting so many people to read, period, especially in today’s mass-media and marketing saturation. (I refuse to say “culture.”) Plus, there’s evidence he’s a much “better” writer than his top-selling novels reflect, given his appearances as a poet under pseudonyms and a few rogue novels. He’s quite conscious of structure and a bigger picture, for one thing.

Add to that poet Donald Hall’s observation that New England has a gothic nature, which King has played in spades, and King’s own comments about today’s publishing scene in his duels with the critics, often with advice I wished I’d been able to apply to my own work, but mine remains what it is.

All I’m saying is don’t underestimate him.

  1. His upbringing, should you care, would easily fill a dark series of stories all on its own. Somehow, he managed to get back to Maine.
  2. His wife, Tabitha Spruce, seems to be much more of a muse and guiding spirit than has been acknowledged. They met in college at the University of Maine and are still married. She stayed with him through a period of heavy alcohol abuse followed by recovery and sobriety.
  3. He’s said he married her “because of the fish she cooked for me,” and his favorite foods are salmon and cheesecake.
  4. Often critically dismissed as a commercial, pop-culture writer – horror, supernatural, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy fiction – King nevertheless embodied a seriously dedicated author who spent long hours day after day at the craft. He had good reasons to return fire at the more elite literary side of the profession.
  5. He’s never left his blue-collar background. Witness his longtime residency in Bangor, Maine, where you can live in one of the city’s classic big mansions and still be one more regular guy.
  6. Despite his wealth, his politics lean left. He and his wife are active philanthropists – ranking sixth among Maine charities. It’s said no deserving child in Maine is denied a college education, thanks to the King scholarships.
  7. He’s an avid Red Sox fan. And a daughter’s a Unitarian-Universalist minister. Wanna talk about being a New Englander?
  8. His life was changed by an afternoon accident in 1999 when he was struck by a minivan while walking along a highway that left him severely injured and sent him to Florida to live through our harsh winters. Still, he writes on.
  9. He’s claimed to not use cell phones, though that was a while ago. As for other technology? There’s his recent spat with Twitter, which tried to charge him for contributing content for the platform – rather than the other way around.
  10. His 65-plus books have sold more than 400 million copies and spawned countless films, TV series and miniseries, and comic books. And still he’s advocating for the better royalties and advance payments to entry-level authors.

The King home in Bangor is a popular tourist attraction. A tree trunk outside has been transformed into a wild sculpture.

Ten major American religious dissidents

Who says you had to conform growing up? Here are some people who made America the land of the free, not that I agree with all of them. Still, it really does come down to language and how we use it. Especially when religion and politics are mixed in.

  1. Samuel Gorton. Just plain onery in early New England.
  2. Roger Williams. Leading to a progressive movement then known as Baptists.
  3. Anne Hutchinson. Pointing the way to New England Quakers.
  4. John Woolman. A Quaker who worked ardently against slavery and other economic perils.
  5. Henry David Thoreau. It’s a Unitarian thing, ultimately.
  6. William Miller. The foremost of the voices that would become the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ellen G. White emerged as an essential proponent in its development as it organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, and then Takoma Park, Maryland.
  7. Joseph Smith. You know, the Mormons. Along with Brigham Young and Utah.
  8. Dorothy Day. Catholic Workers, a truly radical movement.
  9. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights and much more.
  10. Bayard Rustin. Gay Black Quaker ahead of his time on many fronts.

Who am I overlooking?

With ten years of blogging under my belt, let me say  

  1. You have a global audience. I remember being startled after posting a posting of a snowy New England day and getting a comment from the Philippines, “I’ve never seen snow.” In my life, I’ve always taken it for granted. And professionally, my daily journalism career focused on a well-defined circulation area, perhaps a single county or an entire state, depending on the newspaper at the time. My Red Barn posts, on the other hand, often get read on five or six continents.
  2. On WordPress, you’re part of a community. Sometimes posting can feel a bit like corresponding to pen pals in the old days. And it’s important to see what they’re up to as well and letting them know you’ve stopped by, too.
  3. At first, I didn’t understand “likes.” Yes, I was that naïve about social media. They do help me know who’s tuning in on a given day or topic, even though the number of hits now is generally lower than I had five or so years ago – I take it that’s one thing happening across the board. But I’m also surprised by the number of new likes on archived posts.
  4. Tags. They help invite readers. Just don’t use too many or too few. These days, I’m finding readers show up less frequently but then stay around longer, sampling other recent posts or digging into my deep past. I do find tags quite helpful in navigating the WP Reader for fresh voices.
  5. Categories. I find them quite useful in navigating the Barn, so I assume that applies for others, too. With the Red Barn’s unique merry-go-round approach to topics, I find them quite helpful in organizing the ongoing mix.
  6. Scheduling. Unlike most other bloggers, I often work on posts long ahead of their release. It’s one way to create time for my other projects, admittedly, as well as to juggle topics for a better rhythm of presentation. The practice also allows me to go back and polish a post before it goes live or to add from additional reflection. And paradoxically, it can also have me releasing in a more timely pace with the changing seasons – working “live” would actually put me behind the action.
  7. Classic editor, rather than the newer “block” format. Old-timers here at WordPress will definitely understand. Ditto for the Administrative working option.
  8. Reader’s comments are important. Some days they’re the best part of a post. But they’ve definitely declined, and I’m not sure whether that’s a consequence of the Barn’s current appearance or of its shifting round of topics or just something else in general.
  9. Photography. Despite a lifelong love of visual art, I had intended the Red Barn to be a text vehicle. But then photography crept in, first through a borrowed digital camera and then a cheap point-and-shoot Kodak leading to an Olympus and now an unbelievable smart phone. In short, I now list photography among my hobbies, even if it does seem like cheating compared to the historic and very real craft of light meters, f-stops, and darkroom developing of film. As for texts, length remains a puzzle – sometimes a longer “think piece” gets more hits than the bright briefs that seem essential on other social media. And photography on WP? Let me suggest it seems to be more thoughtful than gossipy or copped from other sources.
  10. I’m still ambivalent about the decision to branch out into related blogs. Should I have kept most of their posts within the Barn? Or would that have cluttered the mix? The genealogy of Orphan George does seem to demand its own bookshelf, as it were, as do the free poetry chapbooks of Thistle Finch, but I do wonder about the money-and-your-life project now archived at Chicken Farmer as well as the Quaker spirituality and Bible reflections at Sowing Light.

Oh, yes, it does take far more time than I anticipated, even when I had a backlog of poetry and correspondence for republication. And I do miss the Fresh Pressed selections in the Reader feed. But not so the self-congratulatory “awards” nominations that made the rounds.

Personal goals in the new year

  1. Be more attentive to relationships.
  2. Do a better job of housecleaning.
  3. And gardening slash yard work.
  4. Read more of the books I’ve amassed and plunge through the backlog of magazines.
  5. See to the home renovations.
  6. Relish in the publication of Quaking Dover.
  7. Exercise more. Including time for treks in the wild.
  8. Revisit my journals.
  9. Have better dreams.
  10. Act my age.

A few great regrets in my life

Maybe it’s just the end of the year and looking ahead, but let’s be honest.

There are things we’ve all done that we wished had gone differently.

Here are some of mine.

  1. Not knowing the realities of boy-girl relationships back as a teen. I missed out on a lot of fun and companionship. Maybe I should even add learning to dance, and not that four-square stuff they tried to stuff us into back as sixth-graders. No, New England contras and Greek circles were both epiphanies, much later.
  2. The big dream that turned out to be false. Along with all the promises I believed.
  3. Blowups and inadequacies in parenting.
  4. Divorce. And an inability to confront her long before that. Ancient history now, but even so.
  5. Hurting others.
  6. Failing to make a bestsellers list.
  7. Leaving the Pacific Northwest with my tail tucked ‘tween my legs. Even though I finally wound up living in a couple of places that suit me even better.
  8. Not being able to see a big research project through to completion. Not our fault, but I still believe it would have made a huge difference in an awareness of how politics and public services really work.
  9. All the missed social cues and opportunities that went with that. Yes, post high school. It may have even meant my professional career would have gone more Big Time.
  10. All those years of little to no physical exercise, even if I am in pretty good shape for my age.

Some of my favorite dishes the leading lady in my life creates

As I’ve said, she’s one of the world’s great cooks. Middle-Eastern, Italian, Mexican, French, German, even Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian, she does them all and with flair. Me? Let’s look at some of the more regular things I’ve delighted in.

  1. Anything over charcoal – lamb, peppers, flatbreads, steaks and chops. It never really figured in my life before her. Usually, they were more like sacrificed offerings.
  2. Roast chicken any number of ways – thyme or rosemary lead my list, but Thai and even Indian now come close behind.
  3. Asparagus under a poached egg – ditto for spring dandelion.
  4. Strawberry or blueberry clafoutis. It’s just one of her many creamy desserts that wow me, often with our own berries.
  5. My annual birthday bash of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, which she says is one of the easiest things ever.
  6. She’s quite fond of pork. One year we even had a whole half-pig to play with, cut up to her specifications. I think I’ve already told that story.
  7. Homemade yogurt. It’s almost like ice cream.
  8. Pho or banh. Vietnamese staples.
  9. Chowders. Sometimes using lobster stock from leftover shells.
  10. Souffles. They taste as heavenly as they look. Even after they deflate.

Now that I’m done bragging, what’s some of your favorite home cooking?


How different today’s downtown Eastport looks from even the 1950s

Stroll through Eastport’s downtown – rebuilt within a year or two of the disastrous 1886 fire and now in the National Register of Historic Places – and you’d think it was always like this, only with all of the storefronts bustling.

Not so, as I’ve been hearing, and that’s confirmed by a closer look at the undated aerial photograph on the cover of Joe Clabby’s two history books.

So as an idea of how things have changed.

  1. The waterfront is still full of sardine canneries set out on wharfs just behind the storefronts downtown, but many of the operations are now abandoned. There had been 21 at the prime around the turn of the century, but only one is still operating after 1975 and that ceases in the early ‘80s. As one local told me, you could watch the town fall into the water. Only the shell of the American Can factory still stands today.
  2. In fact, you would have a hard time seeing the water. The Waterfront Redevelopment Project, launched in 1978 and completed in 1983, cleaned up much of the scene and installed the popular walkway.
  3. The railway station, successor to the steamboat pier sits, beside the American Can factory. There’s a large apron in front of it, possibly for parking.
  4. A big movie theater occupies the space where the parking lot and the fisherman statue are now. And another big building fills the now-open space of the amphitheater. Today both are big gaps in the row of storefronts but allow more sunlight into the district.
  5. No Breakwater pier. That won’t come until 1961, with extensions later. It’s the focal point today.
  6. And no Fish Pier, which further defines the harbor.
  7. A rail line still runs into town. Service will end in 1978 and the tracks, removed.
  8. The Hotel East sits where the Motel East now is – at a 90-degree angle to the original.
  9. A row of houses is perched at the water’s edge of Shackford Cove. Long gone.
  10. There’s no Coast Guard station.

Here’s how the waterfront looked even earlier, from two photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine in August 1911, now in the Library of Congress collection.

There’s nothing “quaint” about the place in these, is there?

Favorite names I haven’t used in a novel

I’m waiting to name a character Sorrell. And Hezekiah is what I would have loved to have named a son, not that I would have found support on that one. Maybe as a middle name?

In a story, I try to avoid using names of people I know, or at least know well. Ditto for close family. So they don’t count here. It certainly narrows the range. On top of everything, after multiple revisions, I don’t always remember what I’ve kept in the end.

Besides, a name should be suggestive.

Now for ten or so more.

  1. Lane. Or Blaine. Unisex, very useful.
  2. Perry. Unisex again.
  3. Majik. Was a fisherman around here but could be unisex.
  4. Dana. Well, since we’re on a roll.
  5. Marilyn. Evocative, yet all-American.
  6. Pierce. I see a cutting edge in his glance.
  7. Bonita. Could go by Bonnie, too. From the Spanish, makes an alternative for Linda, which I also haven’t used, or Melinda, even better.
  8. Trent. The family had aspirations and this was the golden boy.
  9. Berry. Back in unisex, along with alternative spellings.
  10. Lark. Even Clark. Or Clifford. Or Larkins.

For children, though, I’ve become very fond of handing down family names. Even using a maternal surname. Guess it’s the genealogist in me at work.

We haven’t even gotten to nicknames, which can really pop a character into focus. Think of “Willy” as one possibility.

How ‘bout some suggestions from you?

 Some things I miss about Dover

It may be a small city, but even so, it was home. And much larger than where I’m now living.

So some of what I miss?

  1. The over-the-fence or across-the-street conversations. Especially the guy stuff. Tim, Mark, Jack, Mayor Bob, that circle, especially.
  2. Recycling. I feel guilty putting it all in one bag. Unless the volunteers regroup after this Covid thing.
  3. The indoor pool. Not just the physical exercise of swimming, but the banter with other swimmers and the lifeguards.
  4. The Quaker Meeting and Greek circle, too. Not just older folks, but meeting the babies who have come along in the interim.
  5. Our garden, even though it was a lot of work. It was even visually pleasing.
  6. That leads to glutting out on fresh asparagus for nearly a month in late spring.
  7. And heirloom tomatoes, with tomato and mayo sandwiches for the better part of two months come high summer. (Downeast Maine is too cold at night for them to mature.)
  8. A range of dining options, not all of them in Dover. We weren’t far from neighboring communities. Not just ethnic, either. LaFesta Pizza would be a prime example of taking a specialty a step extra.
  9. The Amtrak as an escape to Boston or Portland. Not that I had used it that often, back before Covid, but I had plans.
  10. Dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer. Without the renovations on our new old house, it was a return to a primitive era for me. The two nearest laundromats were an hour away, in opposite directions.