An unexpected New England perspective

Continuing research into topics related to my new book Quaking Dover has greatly changed my view of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in New England. And thus the greater legacy of the region itself.

And here I’d thought I was done!

When Carla Gardina Pestana’s history, Quakers and Baptists in colonial Massachusetts, presented the Salem Friends Meeting as the only Quaker body in the Puritan colonies, I was initially baffled, only to learn that it was true, including those of today’s Connecticut.

Besides Dover and Hampton in New Hampshire, the other Quaker congregations were in Rhode Island or what was then the Plymouth colony or, in Nantucket’s case, the province of New York.

Massachusetts’ unification of the Plymouth colony in 1691 does muddy the waters, but by then, the persecution by Puritans had greatly lessened.

The ultimate impact was on freedom of religion and speech and political opinions, all of which are facing renewed opposition today.

As I had said, here I thought I was done.


Making a public presentation is a two-way affair

Feedback for an author is a vital part of the equation. Reader responses and honest reviews are more than essential feedback, they’re affirmations that others care about the subject and labor. You’re no longer alone. And often, you learn things you might not come upon by mere research.

As I found one more time, to our mutual amusement, when presenting some Maine aspects of my Quaking Dover book as a local writer in town, one early Maine family that’s spelled Treworgy is pronounced TRU-wurjee.

More or less.

Well, it was originally Cornish, by way of Devonshire, and came up to this end of the state from being among the first settlers down at the other end, right across from Dover Point.

Beyond that, writing and reading are ultimately one-on-one, despite the anonymity of the reader, who may be deeply touched personally, all the same.

That’s why it’s so meaningful when you speak up.

‘It’s all fiction’

As my new book came together in its revisions, I began to feel some parallels to John Baskin’s 1976 New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village, a non-fiction opus based on what was then the new field of oral history.

The village he examined was largely Methodist and Quaker, the latter having come en masse from South Carolina as their rejection of living in a slave-holding countryside. In fact, when they relocated as a Quaker Monthly Meeting, they carried their treasured minute book with them and continued their records in Ohio.

His book became something of a classic and was even excerpted as a popular series in the Dayton Daily News.

While relying heavily on quotations from his sources, he did knit the interviews together with some heavy interpretation on his part. And here I was, becoming an active narrator in the action in my own work.

My book, as it stands, is heavily influenced by what I’ve learned writing fiction, in addition to my lifetime career as a newspaper journalist. I view the result as a story.

More to the point, when Quaking Dover came out, one longtime friend asked me if it was another novel. I bristled, I think, “No! It’s a history! Non-fiction!” While also thinking, “Didn’t you read the description? What did you miss?”


I am trying to remember the first time I mentioned Baskin’s book, probably in a Quaker circle in another part of the state, and hearing the response, “It’s all fiction.”

Huh? It seemed pretty solid to me, and the asides on Quakers were rather informative for a newcomer, as I still was then.

A decade or so later, visiting family back in Ohio, I ventured off to worship at the New Burlington Quaker church, which had rebuilt out by the highway after the village had been flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the close of the service, I was asked why I chose them rather than the more silent Friends in nearby Waynesville. Well, I had worshipped in that historic meetinghouse years earlier but, as I replied, I enjoyed visiting other branches of the Quaker world. And then I added, “Besides, I have the book.”

A moment of awkward silence struck the circle around me before the oldest person, a woman perhaps in her early 90s, softly pronounced, “It’s all fiction.” Obviously, they all knew what I meant by “the book.”

Oh? I was in no place to argue and accepted her verdict as literary criticism. In some ways, I took it as advice, not that anyone knew I, too, was a writer. Those of us in the news biz were already treading on thin ice in too many ways.

Still, as I retold the encounter to a reliable bud, he inhaled sharply and noted, “That’s strange. It’s the same thing Aunt Cecille said. Her words, ‘It’s all fiction.’”

Well, she did live in a town only a few miles up the road, one where the local Friends church had recently petered out. She, too, had Quaker roots and community creds.


As a journalist, I can relay one fine reporter’s observation that he knew he was on course with a controversial issue when he found both sides of the story were upset. Not that I want to go there. Still, I do know that we humans have a hard time accepting our own shortcomings and follies and that we view events through our own lenses.

I should add that Quakers, as a whole, write a lot. It’s a crowded field.

How crowded? The primary Quaker history journal takes this stand: if a book hasn’t been vetted by a peer review panel of historians, it’s taking a pass.

As they did on mine.


These events leave me feeling confirmed as an author

Being invited to speak about my book, either as a solo outing or as part of a panel, is something quite new to me.

It’s distinctly different from being the featured poet at a café reading or even having a chapbook in hand for sale.

Since Quaking Dover is a factual history, the narrative ties into much more definable readerships than my novels have. I’m even able to present PowerPoint slideshows of people and places appearing in the story, and then be surprised afterward to meet descendants the families or the current residents of houses I’ve touched on.

Having a presentation be recorded and made available on YouTube, as happened through the Whittier Birthplace Museum in Massachusetts, is personally thrilling.

My previous YouTube appearance was private, for a selected audience, largely a sequence of appropriate Scripture and related images. It even had an original, emotionally moving musical score from a talented collaborator.

My face wasn’t visible there, by the way. Yes, the invisible writer as witness.

Alas, it’s gone and I do wish I had a copy.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity. Rarely do we get feedback from our finished efforts. Are we writers simply navel-gazing or do we somehow reach others, especially one on one? Have we actually been wasting our time?

In blogging, I’ll assume you, too, are a writer and know what this means.

Humbly yours, all the more.

Things I wasn’t expecting when I started drafting my newest book

Yeah, I know about the adage, “Write about what you know,” but I’ve come to see that advice needs to be balanced by “write about what you want to know.”

What we might call a creative tension. If you’re a writer, I hope that helps.

My latest book, which started out as a humble and brief profile of Dover’s Quaker Meeting but turned into a contrarian New England history, could be presented as one example.

I mean, Dover is still seen as a shadow to neighboring Portsmouth, which is much smaller and more uppity. Get real!

Back to the book at hand and the research that’s gone into it. Here are some things that surprised me.

  1. Thomas Roberts as a cofounder of the settlement, rather than William Hilton. That alone alters the traditional telling.
  2. The Devonshire connection, which gave Dover a much different culture to build on rather than the one the Puritans presented.
  3. The extent of New Hampshire’s role as a haven for dissidents and misfits.
  4. Puritans as less than monolithic. They were primed for revolution but full of insecurities.
  5. Richard Waldron’s power in Boston. He was more than a rich hick in the sticks.
  6. The crucial impact of a few key provision in New Hampshire’s agreement to come under Massachusetts management. A male didn’t have to be a member in good standing in the town church in order to hold land or to vote in town affairs.
  7. Dover Friends Meeting as one of the seven oldest in America. It has a more prominent place in Quaker history than has been recognized.
  8. Early English resettlement of Maine after the French and Indian devastations coming around 1730 rather than 30 years later.
  9. Dover’s textile mills’ predating those in Lowell, Lawrence, and Manchester. In fact, the founders of Lowell looked to Dover for inspiration. In other words, we weren’t a small, insignificant mill town.
  10. The Sorcerer who was a member of Meeting. You’ll have to read the book to find out about him.

Order your copy of Quaking Dover at your favorite bookstore. Or request it at your public library.

Must admit, since writing the book, I’m still learning

More accurately, I’ve become acutely aware of how much I still don’t know. Or even, does anyone see this fully?

The adage, “Write about what you know,” had me starting with my Quaker experience. But the adage should add, “Write about what you don’t know.” Frankly, that’s the part that’s exciting.

Think of it as working a puzzle, trying to figure out what goes in the gaps. You just don’t know without some hands-on trial and error. And perhaps a few friends or family members’ help.

From the other direction, I know a professional historian who quotes his mentor saying that if you think you have an answer nailed down, you’re badly mistaken.

I’ll spare you my list regarding the Quaking Dover project, for now.


With another new calendar year, here we go again

Hard to believe this blog is now in its second decade.

With the Barn, a new year usually signals a slight shift in focus and content.

2023, for instance, will see a series excerpting dreams I’ve had over the years. Mine can be surreal and inexplicable and yet, I feel, illuminating. They’ll likely give you unexpected glimpses into my psyche even though I’m thinking of it as literature. Meanwhile, the prose poems that have been appearing on Saturdays have run their course. Hope you’ve enjoyed their compressed impressions of my earlier life and feelings, especially when they’ve reflected your own, too.

Dover’s 400th anniversary will continue to be a major theme, including things I’ve learned since the release of my book based on the town’s Quaker heritage. And there will be announcements of presentations based on the book as they come up through the year. The ones I’ve done so far have been a blast.

Now that you’ve been introduced to Eastport and its ways, the tone of those posts will also turn, shall we say, more casual? Or at least more of the everyday experience around here rather than a record of the connections I’ve discovered. Besides, living on an island in Maine is some people’s fantasy, at least through the summer. I’m hoping to add a streak of reality to that vision.

Kinisi will continue with their off-the-wall, quirky, flash slashes. Some fall into the realm of concrete poems, a la Aram Saroyan, and others take the trippy flashes of the sort Richard Brautigan produced. Others can be seen as prompts for others to build on. These minimalist notations do reflect the way I’ve often heard and seen the world, slightly askew, even though I have to admit I don’t “understand” many of them. They’re intended to dance to their own beat, OK?

And I have to admit my Tendrils on Tuesday are great fun to investigate and offer. I never thought of top ten lists as entertaining, forget the factual dimension. They definitely have much more to dig up as we go.

One big shift will likely be in photography, from my Olympus camera to my S-22 Ultra cell phone. We’ll see what you think. Eastport and the surrounding environment are certainly visually rich subjects. Click, click, everywhere you turn.

Overall, though, I’m intending to have fewer posts this time around, yet it still looks like that still means at least one posting each day. Or, as one renowned writing teacher taught his classes, “Write 300 good words a day.” Not that I’m keeping count, even as I keep hoping to cut back. Does keyboarding really become compulsive?

My life and outlook have certainly changed over the course after signing up for a WordPress blog, which then led to four related lines. Thanks for sharing so much of it here.

What are you looking forward to on your end in the new year?

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?

Delving into a microcosm for a bigger comprehension

In looking at the categories I’ve used since launching this blog a decade ago, I feel I should explain why I’ve resisted adding to them.

I simply wanted to retain some kind of focus on what I’d envisioned as a merry-go-round. Yes, the categories were the selected horses to ride.

Think of “American Affairs,” largely inspired by an academic department that Indiana University and Yale and a few others launched in the mid-‘60s to encapsulate a multicultural investigation of current affairs. I nearly embraced it as my own major, the way some Blacks turned to Swahili.

Hey, I had a girlfriend who saw that regarding her own eldest brother. Back off, please, and let’s get back to subject.

What I’ve found in practice here at the Red Barn is that my Am Affairs specific pigeonhole has increasingly probed local public states, especially in Dover, New Hampshire, and more recently, Eastport in Way Downeast Maine.

Or, as the adage goes, all politics are local. (Should that be “is”?)

The writer Tom Wolfe was someone I had thought followed this American Affairs college degree path, but I find myself mistaken, at least as far as academia goes. Still, I would list him as an inspiration here, just shorn of the heap of superlative adjectives, expletives, and adverbs.

But our localities do get lost in the national mass-media mindset, to the impoverishment of us all.

Or, as the French said, “Vive la difference!”

Actually, as I’m realizing, that also applies to my latest book, Quaking Dover.