Three Good Days

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It was low tide so this lobster trap float was high on the shore

Late this morning I went to a favorite waterfront spot to take photos—the Town Landing in a small town nearby. It was packed (by Maine standards). Swimmers. Kids catching crabs. Sun bathers on the rocks. Two boats being launched,  a teenager taking off on his paddleboard.

It’s been raining for about a week. Today it’s clear, not a cloud in the sky, and there’s a light breeze. Humidity is low.

An ambulance was sitting in the small parking lot, but there was no emergency. Four EMTs sat on the dock eating lunch. As I walked by, I heard one of them say, “We get three good days of weather in Maine each year, this is one of them.”

It’s true. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone with me so my photos aren’t the best…but here’s Maine at its best. I guess there’s a reason we have state slogans like Vacationland and The way life should be. These days will carry us through the next winter; they’re what we wait for.

For more of my Maine photos, follow me on Instagram @juliamunroemartin

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There are plenty of boats in the harbor–these dinghies are used to row out to where boats are moored

Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

Groundhog Moments

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

It’s Groundhog Day, and Punxutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. As two of my Instagram friends discussed this snowy morning, “there’s never been a more Groundhog Day than today.” (Thank you @littlelodestar and @lemead)

You see it’s been snowing pretty much nonstop for a while now. It all started with Juno, the Blizzard of 2015—was that only a week ago? When I realized it was Groundhog Day today, I started hoping, irrationally that Phil (the groundhog) would see his shadow and in six weeks voilà it will be spring. (I say irrationally hoped because I really don’t believe that Phil can predict or not predict anything—he is a Groundhog after all.)

But predict he did.

That’s not what this post is about. Not really. It’s about the iterative process of life. About the predictability (and unpredictability—shall we say serendipity?) of life. The hopes of life. The moments of life. Because the other side of Groundhog Day that has become legend (in addition to Phil) is the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Not only because it’s good, but because it has become iconic.

And that’s what I was thinking about this morning. Not the snow falling outside (yeah, yeah, another foot. What’s another foot when you’ve got three or so already?). Well, first I thought about the snow. Then I thought about the movie, and Bill Murray’s character reliving the same day over and over again.

I started thinking. Which day, days would I want to live over and over again? Murray’s character didn’t get to decide. But as long as I’m reinventing things, I’ll say I can. Decide. I started thinking while I woke up this morning. Which days?

Topping the list (of course) are the obvious ones. The days my children were born. The day my husband told me he loved me the first time. I reconsidered, realizing that while I definitely would want to live those days over and over again, there are other less obvious contenders.

The day my son harvested garden vegetables with us when he was just four. He carried a pumpkin he’d grown from a seed onto the stage of the 4-H Perfect Pumpkin competition (alone, he told us to stay in our seats in an auditorium of about 400 people), and walked onto the stage to claim his prize for “the perfect pumpkin.” That day.

The day I strolled arm in arm with my teenage daughter down the L’Avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris. That day.

The day our young family drove across California on the roadtrip of a lifetime and my son made up a song about “Dusty Mountains in the Distance,” and my son and daughter (five years old), unbeknownst to me, got into a competition to see who could make me mad first. That day.

Actually, any road trip day with either of my two kids is a day I’d like to live over again. Talking, playing, singing, napping, looking at colleges, the companionable silences, even the bickering and the complaining (mine as well as theirs). Those days. All of them.

Or a day like yesterday. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I enjoyed the first sunny day in a good long time by going on an outing. It was cold and of course there was snow, but it was beautiful. We went to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth and watched children (and some adults) sledding with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. We visited the “Portland Head” lighthouse. We took photos—many—as is our wont to do. Ice coated the huge rocks surrounding the lighthouse. We met a small Yorkie Terrier running faster than any dog I’ve seen, across fields of ice. We chatted with Clyde’s “parents” for a few minutes about Clyde’s Patriots shirt (yes the Yorkie was wearing a shirt). They were excited about the Superbowl, and they’re probably even more excited today. Maybe today’s a day—or yesterday—many Patriots or Patriots fans would want to live over and over again.

I digress.

Yesterday was a day—an everyday day—that I’d want to live over and over again. Days like yesterday provide the framework of my life, they give my life meaning. They remind me that it doesn’t take much. A sunny day. An hour car ride with someone you love. A beautiful lighthouse to take photos of. A call from your daughter. An email from your son. A warm house to call home. A delicious meal shared.

These are my Groundhog Days. My Groundhog moments.

What are the days you’d want to live over and over again? The moments?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Prepare for a “Potentially Historic” Snowstorm

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This is from another (smaller) storm…but you get the drift

The storm is brewing. “Potentially historic,” the forecasters are saying. “Up to two feet.” In Maine, you grow used to this. The storms and the predictions. The rush to the grocery store for bread and milk. It’s kind of a joke (that people focus on pre-storm bread and milk), but it’s based on reality. At least that’s what my checker friend Carol says.

Carol is one of the people I see almost every time I go to the large supermarket in our small town. She’s one of the people I enjoy talking to. She’s engaged with customers, but she’s focused on her job, too. I know she has two sons, twins, who are now adults. She loves reading. She’s always upbeat so I seek her out when I look for which line to stand in.

And I’m not the only one. Yesterday while I was standing in Carol’s line, an elderly woman rolled up behind me in a seated shopping cart. She asked if it was a “14 or fewer” line. I said no. When Carol overheard us, she asked me what the woman had said. When I told her, she smiled and said, “That’s because I’m usually at the 14 or fewer registers.” Because Carol is fast. She’s fast and courteous and positive.

I knew the woman in line in front of me, too. She works for a friend of mine—Mark—who runs a catering business. She’s the best at rolling pie dough than anyone I’ve ever seen. And by best, I mean she can roll perfectly round pie crusts, seemingly effortlessly. Mine? Mine are more like oblongs or amoebas or some other amorphous shape.

Mark is famous (I told Carol) for his chicken pies.

“Oh I know,” Carol said. “Mark and I grew up together. We were like cousins.”

Of course. Everyone knows everyone in our small town. In Maine, too. There are only 1.5 million people in the entire state. Here, we have two degrees of separation (compared to the normal six). You don’t mention the name of someone to another person unless you’re saying something flattering—unless you want a fight or a cold shoulder. And those cold shoulders can last a long time (take it from someone who’s breached the two-degree rule on occasion).

The pie roller paid and left, and Carol started ringing up my purchases.

“You know those leftover edges from your rolled dough?” Carol said. “My mom used to make them into popovers. My mom made the best pies…”

Carol spoke lovingly about her mother’s pies—how they grew all the fruit, how she’d fill the freezer with unbaked pies to be baked mid-winter during a storm. I imagined Carol as a small girl, sitting next to the wood stove eating a piece of blueberry pie that was made from berries she and Mark picked the summer before. They wouldn’t care about the weather outside or a power outage, either, because they’d be warmed by the stove and by all the love that went into that blueberry pie.

I paid for my bread and milk and drove home.

Here’s hoping we don’t lose power—and if we don’t I think I might just bake a pie. I have the ingredients. Carol made sure of it.

How do you prepare for an epic storm…or the threat of one? Do you buy bread and milk?

Great New Books Favorites

2014 GNB Favorite Books copy

One of the best things I’ve done this year was to become a contributor to the Great New Books blog team. When my writer friend (and Great New Books founder) Jennifer Lyn King visited Maine last year, she contacted me and asked me if I had time for a cup of coffee. Instead, Jennifer and I took a tour of my little corner of coastal Maine. Jennifer and I both love photography and the day we went out was absolutely gorgeous…we had an amazing day and both of us posted photos on Instagram before Jennifer headed out for a sunset lobster dinner with her family (who I also had the happy opportunity to meet).

I digress. Before we parted ways, Jennifer asked if I might be interested in joining the Great New Books team—if an opening came up. I quickly said yes, and I was thrilled when just about a month later she emailed and said she was expanding the team and asked if I would like to join.

When I joined Great New Books, I became a part of an amazing group of readers and writers; in addition to founder Jennifer, they’re Hallie Sawyer, Nina Badzin, Jessica Vealitzek, Lindsey Mead, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, and Katie Noah Gibson.

Great New Books is all about weekly sharing of a new book one of us loves:

Our passion is for recommending quality books which keep us turning pages long through the night, great books which have the potential to touch hearts, and lives, and open doors to a better world.

But Great New Books is so much more than that. We’re nine women. All from different backgrounds, at different stages of life, but our lives intersect at a passion for reading and writing. And I can now happily say that I call these eight remarkable women friends. We share our lives through weekly emails, something I count on every week…continuity in my life that’s a little discontinuous of late. For that I’d like to say thank you. To Jennifer for the invitation to join, and to the other women in the group. Thank you for being a part of my life and for allowing me to be a part of yours.

This week’s posting on Great New Books is even more special than usual because we each contributed to it (Jennifer did an amazing job compiling it, too!). Each of us picked the favorite book we read this year, and that’s what this week’s post is all about.

Over the past several weeks, the nine of us on our GNB team — Lindsey Mead, Nina Badzin, Jess Vealitzek, Hallie Sawyer, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, Katie Noah Gibson, Julia Munroe Martin, and Jennifer King — have worked hard to each try and pick our favorite book from 2014. Between the nine of us, we’ve read over 450 books this year. It hasn’t been an easy task to choose just one book apiece. But here, after long deliberation, are our favorite book picks (old and new) we’ve read this year …

So please head over to the Great New Books blog. Read about our favorites, and sign up to receive the weekly posts while you’re there, too. I can promise that every week you’ll read about books that we feel passionately about—and isn’t that what reading is all about?

Happy New Year,

Julia

 

 

 

Saturday Six

Here’s what’s happening this week in my world…keep reading for how to enter a giveaway for an ITunes gift card!

1. Fact or Fiction? Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post called Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction about three things that got me thinking about whether men have an edge over women in the publishing and writing world. Here’s the beginning:

 Lest you think I’m a ‘man-hating feminist,’ let me assure you I am not. In fact, I like to think that in my day-to-day life mine is a pretty equal world—all things considered. But when I hear things that make me think that women aren’t equal (for whatever reason), I pay attention…

A huge thank you to my wonderful daughter for taking time (on very, extremely short notice) from her busy job to give me her insight and help in editing this piece.

2. Diary of the Fall. This week I also had my first post on the Great New Books blog! I wrote about Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa. It’s about three generations of diarists, and it’s an interesting book on many levels—for me it was most interesting in its structure: nonlinear in nature and very short chapters. I hope you’ll take a look at the post, here’s an excerpt.

Lately I’ve been fascinated with nonlinear stories—in fact I’ve been searching them out. That’s how I stumbled onto Diary of the Fall written by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

This story of three generations of men—all diarists—is told through the eyes of a single narrator: a forty-something (unnamed) man, who relives and retells the story of a dangerous prank he and other Jewish thirteen-year-olds at an elite school in Brazil play on their one non-Jewish classmate, João. At João’s thirteenth birthday party, the boys decide as a group to drop João during a ceremonial “13-bumps” tradition, and João is seriously injured in “the fall.”

3. That giveaway. I’m putting together a new play list for the WIP I’ll write during NaNoWriMo. If anyone can guess what I’m writing about based on this playlist, you’ll win a $10 gift card from ITunes. Here’s a screenshot of the songs I’m listening to in repeat while I’m in planning mode.

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click to enlarge

Not that this will necessarily help you with your guess, but my favorite song so far is “Cool Kids” by EchoSmith. (I never was one of the cool kids, by the way, maybe that’s why.) Seriously, leave a comment and if you guess correctly (or even close!), I’ll send you that gift card.

4. It just goes on and on. We’re still in the midst of one of the most prolonged and beautiful falls I can remember. In fact, we’re just about “at peak.” The colors are dazzling and distracting and stunning…I can’t think of enough descriptors, so how about another photo?

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This sugar maple next to a neighbor’s house is what I’m talking about…dazzling right?

5. King Tide. I missed the lunar eclipse but caught the “King Tide,” the year’s highest astronomical tide, and it was something. I stood on the tiny piece of remaining shore on Cousins Island Beach and let the water wash over my sandaled feet. Yes, it’s still been that warm here…in Maine…in October. It’s amazing and wonderful.

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This is all that was left of the beach during King Tide!

6. Can’t break the habit! MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I gave up cable TV a few years ago—actually right around when I first started blogging. Now, instead, we binge watch TV. (No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, except that we no longer have a cable TV bill.) We’ve gone through Rescue Me, The Guardian, The Mentalist, Castle, The Mindy Project, and now we’re about to wind up Chuck. Any suggestions on what we should start next would be greatly appreciated. Clearly we like an eclectic mix but tend to like quirky and shows that have (at least some) humor and a lot of mystery.

How are things in your corner of the world? What are you writing and watching and listening to? Don’t forget to guess what my new WIP is about, and you could win that ITunes gift card.

Cheers,

Julia

What’s Your Story?

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N and the Forever Young

“I don’t have a story,” that’s what he said when we first started talking, when I asked if I could talk to him sometime, hear his story. Everyone always says that. No one thinks they have a story.

Like I said in a recent post, I’ve been doing a lot of photography in one particular place—the dock and town landing of a nearby town. I’m lucky I live in a beautiful, photogenic place. The coast of Maine. “Vacationland,” the license plates say it all. It’s a five-minute drive to the picturesque spot where I go to take photos, where about a thousand boats are moored. A small community, that’s the way the Harbormaster describes it. And every boat, every boat’s owner has a story. That’s what I think. That’s what I’m after with my photos—the stories.

A few minutes earlier, “N” (the lobsterman) had made his way up the ramp from the lower dock. It was a misty morning, and I was taking pictures of blue boats in the mist, of a man loading a red bag into a small rowboat, of dark birds against a gray sky—of anything that stood out, of anything that I could actually see in a picture.

N stopped at the top of the ramp and leaned against the dock railing, squinted out over the water. I’ve been going to the landing enough days this summer that people recognize me. I think N must have.

“If you’d been here half an hour ago, you’d have been caught in a downpour,” he said.

I nodded.

We stood next to each other at the end of the long dock, N leaned comfortably against the dock railing. We watched the man with the red bag row out in the rowboat. A kayaker went by, and I snapped a photo of him over N’s shoulder.

“It’s not really a fog, but you couldn’t call it rain either,” N said.

“Definitely not,” I agreed.

“Do you ever come here in the winter?” He asked.

I lied and said yes. Well, it wasn’t a total lie. I’d been there once or twice but not regular-like, like N meant.

“Lots of people don’t see the beauty,” N said. “They just come here and never see.”

N had a story; I could see it in his eyes. I could see it in the way he wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

“How long have you been lobstering?”

“My whole life,” he said. “That’s my boat.” He pointed down to the end of the dock at a clean and tidy—a beautiful—lobster boat.

I didn’t see a name on the boat, often it’s on the hull. “What’s her name?” I expected a woman’s name. Many boats are named after a wife, a sweetheart, a mother. Linda Kate. Nicole Marie. Skinny Girl.

“Forever Young.” He turned and looked at me. His blue eyes clear under white raised eyebrows. We smiled. “I’m seventy-one,” he said.

“You were born here?”

“Yup. Grew up on Diamond Island.” He turned and looked back over the water.

I nodded. No story.

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Another day, the Nicole Marie

“My father was at Fort McKinley during World War II—have you seen the concrete batteries that are still out on the island? He was part of the Maine Artillery, met my mother when she was seventeen, bicycling through town. He left for Hawaii less than a year later…right after that I was born…”

Definitely no story.

N and I chatted a few minutes more, much of what he told me too personal to share in this blog—or anywhere. But it certainly won’t leave my mind, and when I got back to my car I jotted a few quick notes in a notebook I always carry.

I probably have two or three conversations like this each week. I take some photos, I ask some questions, and I hear amazing stories of other peoples’ lives. I love hearing the stories unfold, especially when whomever I’m talking to thinks they have no story to tell. It makes me want to write, too. Not necessarily a specific story I hear but just write. The more I hear, the more I think about life. The stories make me think about my own life, help me make sense of it all. And the more I think about life, the more I want to write…about life…about the interconnections and intersections and relationships of life, and about how we all fit together.

N and I chatted for a few more minutes—he wanting to tell as much as I wanted to hear. I wanted to ask if we could go out for coffee, so I could hear more of his story, but I didn’t. Instead, after just enough to whet my curiosity, I said good-bye and walked down the long dock to the small parking area. As I got in my car, I looked back and watched as N stepped onto the Forever Young.

I know where to find him when I want to hear more of his story…and when he wants someone to listen.

Where do you get your stories? Are you like me that you like to talk to people you meet about theirs? Do you have a story to share? I’d love to hear it.

 

Photos + root canal + hornets = book?

What on earth do multiple hornet stings, bathroom renovation, root canals, and binge TV watching have to do with writing a book? Find out today on my post at Writer Unboxed, “Cooking a Book.”

I also talk about photography. While I’m waiting for my next story to come together in my mind, I’ve been taking lots and lots of photos (which you already know if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram).

Here are a few I’ve taken in the past few days. Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer!

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We had a lot of fog lately… this was the day after it lifted

 

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As the fog rolled out…sun rolled in

 

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I love visiting docks in the early morning when the water is glassy

 

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Cousins Island Beach last night (iPhone photo)

 

 

 

“On little cat feet…”

Yesterday's photo, taken with my iPhone

Yesterday’s photo, taken with my iPhone

(Thank you poet Carl Sandburg for the inspiration behind the title of this post!)

The last few days have been foggy off and on, which is fine with me. I love the fog—and anytime I think it might be foggy, I drive to the water’s edge (we’re five minutes from Casco Bay).

Yesterday, though, it surprised me. Sunny at my house, I drove to the Falmouth Landing—a place I go at least four times a week to take in the sights (and take photos). The dock was socked in. I had only my iPhone, but I still took a picture because it was surreal: thick fog over the water, sun and bright clouds above, dark at water’s edge.

Fog is an enigma. It gives the air a particular feel of both a lightness but also heaviness and weight. It is both lovely and also mysterious…at times it can feel dangerous. As you drive toward the coast, the fog leads you to the sea…with wisps and trails of clouds…and the scent and tanginess of salt. Standing on water’s edge, birds appear out of nowhere and boats disappear in the distance. The sky turns from white to blue gradually or the fog can blow off in seconds.

I hope you enjoy these photos!

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I got out of my car just in time to see this gull landing… and today my camera was all set on the seat next to me

 

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Stray lobster traps often dot the beach at low tide

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Families of ducks float in and out of the fog

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I love the way the islands look in the foggy distance. Casco Bay is sometimes called “the Calendar Islands” (because legend has it they number 365). The US Coastal Pilot says the Casco Bay islands number 136.

Inspiration as Far as the Eye Can See

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Boats as far as the eye can see…

Our house is about five minutes from the coast. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that for the first year I was blogging, I posted weekly videos of a nearby town beach on Cousins Island, a small island accessible by bridge. (All those videos are still on youtube!)

I stopped posting those videos (I think the winter did us in—that is, MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me—it was just too cold to stand out there in the bitter wind, week after week.), but I still go someplace on the water almost every day—either to take photos for Instagram or just to enjoy the view and observe the activity and wildlife and sometimes just the smell of the water.

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A lobsterman rows to his boat

Most mornings these days I’ve been going to the Falmouth Town Landing. What I love about the landing is that it’s home to commercial fishermen in addition to pleasure boats. In fact, it’s one of the largest boat “parking lots” in Maine, with over 1,110 boats at peak season.

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Lobster traps on tidal flats (at high tide water will go almost all the way to the old boat house in the background)

I never know what I’ll see when I get there—baby ducks and lots of shore birds, people setting off on their sail boats, lobster boats, someone unloading bait for the day’s fishing, dinghies, dogs swimming in the water, children exploring the tidepools, and lots and lots of boats…and that’s just scraping the surface. This morning was no different.

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The captain of the Nicolle Marie readies for a day of lobstering

It was busier than I’d ever seen it. Lobstermen were loading traps onto boats (the tourist season is heating up). I talked to a few of them about their day (and mine…we’ve had a lot of clouds and rain lately and they all commented on what great weather it is for photography).

After an hour at the dock I was (kind of) ready to come home to tackle the writing day… although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there is a part of me that wishes I could stay all day to watch and soak in not just the sun but the flavor of life on the dock. One of these days I just might!

What are some of your favorite places to go for inspiration?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. If you’re on Instagram and want to follow me (or even if you aren’t on Instagram, and you just want to check out my photo gallery) I’m @juliamunroemartin

 

 

 

 

Slowing Down to Notice

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The inlet MEH and I were driving by….

The other day I realized that I haven’t blogged recently about Maine—about the natural beauty of the area where I live. This was followed quickly by the realization that I barely notice where I am. Truth is, there are whole days and probably even weeks that go by when I rarely think about my natural surroundings at all.

The small town I live in is located in southern Maine, on a small harbor on Casco Bay. A beautiful river runs through town (at the current time its banks are steeped in autumn colors) and it’s a short hop to the coast, to the bridge where I used to take videos every Sunday during the first year of this blog.

In August, when I was writing at a local coffee shop every morning, I’d leave for home at around noon. One day, instead of heading straight home (a five minute drive), I headed east, toward the bridge where I used to shoot those videos. I crossed the bridge and got out of the car and just stood, smelling the salt air and marveling at the beauty I rarely thought of on most days.

For a while, I’d drive out there everyday. Finish writing and visit the bridge. Just stand there and notice. It felt great. Not so much what I was seeing, but the fact that I was seeing. I was slowing down enough to see, to notice.

Like most of us, I got busy again. I think one day I had to go to the store immediately after the coffee shop or I was meeting a friend—I’m not sure which. Then MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job and I got really distracted. (You can read about that here on Writer Unboxed.)

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A few minutes later…

Then the other day MEH and I were coming back from Portland—about twenty minutes from our small town—and MEH was driving while I looked out the car window, and I noticed we were crossing a small inlet. I asked MEH… was he like me? Were there times he didn’t even notice? Yes, he said, many. And we just marveled. At where we live, at the things we drive by almost everyday. At the natural beauty surrounding us.

The more I paid attention, the more I noticed…the small things, the nuances. The more I noticed the better I felt. More connected to my surroundings but also to the moment. More aware. More alive. Better. Just noticing, just knowing, that out there—outside myself—is a whole big world. Of beauty, of nature, of nuances, of life.

And it reminded me that I really need to pay attention and to slow down enough to just notice.

Do you, like me, sometimes go through life blindly without even noticing your surroundings? How do you get yourself to slow down enough to see, to appreciate? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Cheers,

Julia

Erika Marks: The Mermaid Collector

Today on my blog, I’m happy to interview writer friend Erika Marks, author of the recently-released novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. I met Erika on Twitter right after I first joined, almost two years ago, and we quickly discovered I live very near where she grew up in Maine. We’ve traveled many of the same paths in Maine at different times, making for some fun and lively Twitter discussions. Last summer when Erika came home to Maine, we met in person—it was so much fun! Time flew as we talked like old friends.

Erika has generously offered to give a copy of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR to one lucky commenter! To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this post before midnight on Saturday, November 10. On Sunday, November 11, I will pick a winner at random. Contest now closed: congratulations Amanda Hoving, you won! :)

Please join me in welcoming Erika!
Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog! I’ve read (and loved) The Mermaid Collector. One of the things that makes it such a distinctive novel is the 1888 story about The Mermaid Mutiny. I’m curious how you came up with the idea? Was there some historical event that sparked it?

Erika:The idea for the legend came from a photograph I saw in an architectural magazine of a mosaic that depicted a local sea captain and his mermaid lover. As soon as I read that, it clicked for me what a romantic backdrop that would make for a novel: a town with a mermaid legend and what it would be like to live—or visit—a place that thrived on such magic and mystery. And of course—as you well know as a coastal Mainer, Julia!—seaside life always bring with it an irresistible element of enchantment.

I loved the scene in the book where Tess is preparing food for for her romantic evening with Pete. You always write the best descriptions of food! (I have only one complaint: your books always make me hungry!) Are the dishes in this book ones you make in your real life (as in Little Gale Gumbo)? Do you use food to represent something more?

Erika:Julia, thank you! I do find myself writing romantic scenes that center around cooking—either in preparation for an intimate scene (such as the one you mentioned with Tess and Pete) or building a romance around a meal. For me, the romance and food go hand-in-hand. As I talked about when LITTLE GALE GUMBO came out, my husband and I do a great deal of cooking together so I can’t help but find it a natural and appealing way to reveal a romantic relationship, whether it’s one just starting out, or one that is well-established. How people cook together can reveal a lot about their intimacy as a couple—as well as about themselves as individuals.

In the background of The Mermaid Collector’s cover is a photograph of a lighthouse in Portland, Maine—very near where I live now (and I know you grew up seeing a lot of this lighthouse)! When you were writing, was this the lighthouse you were envisioning? If not, what lighthouse or type of lighthouse did you imagine? And was there a house that you were thinking of as a model for the lightkeeper’s house?

Erika: Oh, you and I know that lighthouse well, don’t we? And I love that the art department picked it without knowing how much personal significance it had to me. Actually, I wrote the book envisioning the lighthouse and keeper’s house at Marshall Point Light in Port Clyde, Maine. In the book, the keeper’s house is set a good distance from the tower, and my family and I were staying in Camden the summer around the time I began writing THE MERMAID COLLECTOR in earnest, so that setting and the orientation of the keeper’s house to the lighthouse, and that wonderful white-fenced walkway down to the tower all quickly fixed themselves in my mind when I went home to start writing.

There are certain characters, certain love stories that stick with me long after reading a book, and I have to say that I grew particularly attached to Lydia and Angus as a couple. Was there one character over others that you could particularly relate to or felt akin to? How about a favorite character? What about a favorite couple?

Erika:As I mentioned to you before, Julia, I LOVE that you appreciated Lydia and Angus—I too treasured them as a couple because they were both such genuinely good people put in a very difficult situation and they learned to survive together. I loved Tess and Tom too because, while they are an unlikely match, they are both deeply flawed people who needed to connect with one another on a very raw level. Unlike in LITTLE GALE GUMBO, where the couples have years and years to nurture their affection and their attraction, Tess and Tom have a much more condensed love story—as do Lydia and Angus, really—and I loved the idea of exploring that. So often we focus on the permanence, on wanting the confirmation of the happily ever after, when in life we also can experience those connections that are more immediate, that are somewhat “lightning in a bottle.” They are no less powerful or meaningful, but they may be briefer and without that guarantee of forever.

One of your main characters, Tess, was an artist by profession, a woodcarver. I thought it was a great fit for her character! I’m curious if you yourself are a wood-carver? If not, what kind of research did you need to do to write her character? Did you actually try your hand at it?  

Erika:I’m not a woodcarver but I have spent a lot of time around woodworkers (and am married to one!) I worked for several years for a woodworking magazine and gleaned some techniques there. I think there is something so romantic about working with wood—and I loved the idea of Tess sculpting this mermaid out of a piece of raw wood, of it coming to life as her own story evolved.

You mentioned on your website that you had started a mermaid collection—how many are in your collection? Did you have any mermaids before you started writing this book?

Erika:I have started a collection—yes! It is woefully small still (but growing!) and my daughters are always eager to help me expand it. This year’s Christmas tree will have several mermaids on its boughs.

Please remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Erika’s book!



BIO: A native New Englander, Erika Marks now lives and writes in Charlotte, NC. She has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator and a carpenter. This is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.


Author Mia March says "Thank You, Maine"

Today I’m happy to introduce you to author Mia March and her wonderful debut novel The Meryl Streep Movie Club. Mia and I met on Twitter and thenin one of those real life meets Twitter life storieswe realized we both live in southern Maine. We met for coffee and the rest is history. After I read The Meryl Streep Movie Club (and loved it!), I was delighted when Mia agreed to guest post on my blog about something near and dear to both our hearts: Maine. 
GIVEAWAY! Mia has graciously offered to give away one signed copy of The Meryl Streep Movie Cluball you need to do to be entered is leave a comment before noon on Friday, August 3, when I will select a winner at random.  The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations Christine Grote! 

Thank you, Mia!
Almost ten years ago, my then husband brought home a guidebook on Maine and a copy of a magazine article about how the Greater Portland area was rated the #1 place to raise a child in the U.S. We lived in a city, and I am a city girl through and through. I like crowds of strangers. I like tall buildings. I like billions of twinkling lights. I like the idea of turning a corner and passing Harrison Ford (who smiled at me when I gaped at him). But that summer, my son was turning two, and the idea of a back yard, of preschools that you didn’t have to apply a year in advance to possibly get into, of an easier lifestyle, all won out. The husband said it would be like a writing retreat from which I’d never have to return. I said yes, and we drove up to Maine and rented a house in a small town with one traffic light and a great school system. Just like that, we were Mainers.
The first month, living in Maine, with all those trees, all that fresh air, all those bodies of water, big and small, including a narrow creek running across the winding, hilly, rural road from our house, in which I had my own tiny office with a view of it all, it really did feel like a writing retreat. And Maine, as you know if you’re a regular reader of Julia’s blog, is not just beautiful, but beautiful in a way that soothes and calms the soul. Three months in, though, I was ready to go home. My husband wasn’t. And our son, well, he did love the open field of wildflowers on our property, the tire swing in the yard, hunting for treasures in the creek after breakfast every morning. The horse farm a few houses down from us was a three hour activity as close to life-school as I could dream. My son had nature and the freshest air on earth out his door. So I stayed. But I’ll be honest: I didn’t like it, not one bit. The ocean, the lighthouses, the rocky shoreline, the state parks—none of it moved me. Two, three years in, Maine felt as unfamiliar as it always had. It didn’t feel like home.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, my marriage ended—very far away from friends and family. Two things saved me. The first, I expected. The second, I didn’t.

The first was movies. And particularly Meryl Streep movies. I rented five and plunked myself on the couch with tissues and popcorn and was swept away by the stunning Out of Africaand the funny, poignant Heartburn. My Meryl Streep marathon reminded me of another time a Meryl Streep movie had a huge impact on me, and I got myself off the couch, opened the laptop, and wrote the words: Chapter One, inspired in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. I had an idea to write a novel about a fractured family of women who reunite in an old family inn on the coast of Maine and find themselves reconnecting through “movie night” in the parlor—via the surprising and heartfelt discussions raised while watching Meryl Streep movies together. I had a good sense of that old family inn in my mind, but I wanted to really see it, not just in Googled images, but in person. I wanted to find that inn in order to have my characters, my story, inhabit it.

So I set out on a road trip along coastal Route 1 with my son to find a Victorian inn that would bring my fictitious Three Captains’ Inn to life in my mind and heart. My son, with the promise of stopping at the aquarium in Boothbay Harbor to visit the shark tank, kept his eye out in the small towns we stopped in on our inn hunt. This mini road trip was the second thing that saved me.

I didn’t find the exact inn of my imagination, but all that looking, all that searching, made me notice Maine in a way I hadn’t before. For a few years by then, I’d been so busy wanting to “go home,” that I never stopped to pay attention to Maine’s small treasures, beyond the vast Atlantic and the rocky shoreline and lighthouses. Suddenly, I was enchanted by yellow cottages with low white wood fences poked through with blue hydrangeas. By plaques on the front of centuries-old houses with the original owner’s name and year built. By blueberry stands on the side of the road with baskets to leave money. Farms dotted with belted galloways with their black and white big bodies making my son laugh. Narrow paths, lined with rosa rugosa, down to little beaches strewn with shells and interesting little creatures for my son to collect. And the dogs. I don’t think I’d ever really noticed Maine’s dogs before. From big to small, from mutt to champion breed, but all very happy looking. Up along the coast from our small town just north of Portland to Camden, now one of my favorite places on earth, I fell in love with the adopted home state I came to kicking and screaming, the state I ignored for several years. I saw Maine in a new way, my own way. I came home with the setting of my novel, its spirit, firmly entrenched in my heart, and I wrote about the coastal harbor town setting, about that robin’s egg blue Victorian inn perched high on a hill overlooking the harbor—the inn I never did find—with the same love and affection that I had for my characters.

Were it not for the idea for a novel and a life-changing road trip up the coast, I might have never known that a pot of blue hydrangeas has the power to change my mood, that you can take a class called: How to make whoopie pies, that you can see things in a whole new way if you go looking for something that only exists inside yourself, inside your imagination. So thank you to Maine. And thank you to Julia for inviting me to share my story with you.
———-
Mia March lives on the coast of Maine, the setting of The Meryl Streep Movie Club, published this past June by Simon & Schuster. The novel is slated to be published in over 18 countries. Kirkus Reviews kindly describes The Meryl Streep Movie Club as “a heartwarming, spirit-lifting read just in time for beach season.” Mia’s next novel, Finding Colin Firth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2013. For more info, please visit Mia’s website at www.MiaMarch.com. You can also friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MiaMarch.author and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/March_Mia

Lucky 7 with a Twist


A huge thank you to Hallie Sawyer and Karen Wojcik Berner for tagging me in the Lucky 7 challenge! This challenge allows a glimpse of other writers’ WIPs or latest book. And the rules for this challenge are simple:

The Lucky Seven basic rules

1. Go to page 77 of your WIP or latest book.

2. Count down seven lines.

3. Copy the 7 sentences that follow and post them.

4. Tag 7 other authors.

The Twist

Nonetheless, I’ve decided to break the rules, twist them, and sometimes I think that’s okay, especially when it involves building suspense. My just-completed The Cottage on Quarry Island is women’s fiction with significant revelations, reversals, twists and turns, when main character Annie moves to a small island in Maine. Page 77 reveals a significant plot turn, a spoiler if you will, so, instead I’m using page 7.

Page 7, 7th line down, 7 sentences from The Cottage on Quarry Island

      And it was on these small items I staked my future: the letter, the photographs, the business card. I closed the door to my father’s house in Boston, I got in my car, and I drove to Maine. And then once I arrived in Bertie’s Cove and made my way down Main Street to the real estate office, several of my would-be neighbors smiled and greeted me, and I imagined myself as a new citizen in the most welcoming town in Maine.
After caring for my father for six months, nursing him through cancer—I desperately wanted respite. And the small picture on Deb’s business card of the harbor of Bertie’s Cove—with its tiny boats and houses, wispy clouds on bright blue water—looked ideal.
Buying the cottage? A sudden, precipitous decision based on a whim after a half-day kayak tour around Quarry Island.

My Lucky 7 authors

I think I’m a little late in the game to Lucky 7’s, so please forgive me if you’ve already been named… or if you don’t want to participate. (You won’t hurt my feelings one bit!) But if you do participate, please let me know when you post—I want to have a chance to read what you post, too!!

Cheers,

Julia




p.s. Today I’m also guest blogging about what it means to be a Third Culture Kid and how it impacts my writing. Check it out at the blog of my wonderful friend Emma Pass in my post: Word-by-Word, Scene-by-Scene, Chapter-by-Chapter.

The Nature of Words

One of the things I like about my current WIP is the integral connection of nature with the main character. “Annie” moves to an island in Maine, searching for refuge and gets caught up in a mystery.

Annie spends a lot of time on the beach, walking, searching, and finding answers. In the meantime, she observes the moon and the tides and the water. And she is also working outside in the elements.

While Annie has wandered the beaches, I’ve searched the Internet and in libraries—and I’ve done a ton of research for the book. In fact, I have an entire file box full of information and background, backstory.

I’ve learned about the tides: ebbtide, flood tide, ebb and flow, high tide, low tide, clam flats—and much more—about what each of these things means. And my proximity to the coast (five minutes from the type of beaches Annie would walk on) helps me fuel my research and imagination.

And I’ve researched the stars, planets, and the cycles of the moon—I have a calendar where I’ve sketched out when high tides and low tides are and how they interact with the phases of the moon, waxing and waning, sunrise and sunset times. These heavenly changes add to the richness of Annie’s story.

In addition to these terms, I also have researched gardening and house terms—what plants bloom when on the coast, what might be left of a garden from long ago, how to insulate a house, what kind of wood is used for building—intricate details, many of which will never make it into the actual novel, but are the backdrop of Annie’s (and now my) life.

I’ve also researched the history of Maine islands and houses, of bridges and ferries, and people who have lived on the coast for centuries.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because of my love of words (wordsxo loosely translates into word love)—and every piece of research leads me to new words. Just this morning, on a final read through of my manuscript, I was looking up the words “by in large,” an expression I’ve used many times. And when I did, I found out the actual expression is “by and large,” and much to my happy surprise it is nautical in origins—from World Wide Words:

“The phrase by and large in sailors’ parlance referred to all possible points of sailing, so it came to mean “in all possible circumstances.”

And while by and large does not play a large role in my novel—in fact just three words of over 80,000—it’s a well chosen word that I hope adds interest and authenticity to my work.

Further, every word and every piece of information I’ve gathered while writing—much like the shells and sea glass my characters collect on their walks—has shaped this novel, steeped in love of not just writing and research but also love of the beauty of nature along the coast of Maine.

Are you (like me) fascinated with the origin of words? How they’ve changed in meaning over the years? Can you share examples? Writers: How are your research and word choices entwined with your main character’s personality and journey? Have you collected information and done research for your WIP that enriches your life?

Cheers,

Julia 

A Longing for the Morning Glories

This post was going to be about disgruntlement—a complaint and a rant that it’s still winter. That it’s March 4th and we awoke to snow for the second time this week. About how unusual this is, how last year it was spring today.

Then I looked back to my wordsxo post of March 4, 2011, which was: Writing Inspiration from a Winter Wonderland. It was 3.7 degrees. And it made me remember: I live in Maine. And in Maine, we do winter, sometimes for eight months a year. I’ve seen snow in September and snow in April—I’ve heard tell from some old timers that back in the day it might’ve even snowed in May.

And that’s when I realized. I can be as disgruntled as I want to be. But it’s still snowing today, March 4th, and the weather forecast says there will be snow later in the week too.

I keep telling myself to suck it up, that we’ve barely had winter. That it’s such an unusual year that in January and February we had so little snow we could see green grass; that this year even some old timers wondered will winter ever come? One of those days, before a March 1st snow, I found a photo on my iPhone of morning glories climbing the garden trellis.



And I let myself go there: to the garden. Because I had forgotten all about the morning glories! And the sunflowers! I imagined myself this morning, standing outside next to the morning glories, picking tomatoes, and hearing bees buzzing on the sunflowers.

And I wondered about last year when I wrote about inspiration from the snow—was I just trying to figure out something to blog about? Or was I truly inspired? Because this morning all I feel is disgruntled.

And a longing for the morning glories.




Cheers?
Julia


p.s. What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods? If you live in a wintery climate, are you still getting snow? Or is it spring time? If you live in a place where you never get snow, do you wish you did? Are you inspired by your weather? Or are you like me—disgruntled?

Q&A with Alex George (A GOOD AMERICAN)

Last summer, writer friend Erika Marks (LITTLE GALE GUMBO) introduced me on Twitter to novelist Alex George—who was here in Maine researching the setting for his next novel.

Today I have the great pleasure to interview Alex in this post. We share a Maine connection, but the real reason I interviewed Alex was that less than two weeks ago his novel A GOOD AMERICAN was released to wonderful reviews—including being named #1 “Title to Pick Up Now” by O Magazine, February 2012!

I wanted to know more about A GOOD AMERICAN and the writer behind the book; specifically I wanted to ask Alex questions about his definition of home—a theme central to this blog and my heart. I also wanted to know a little bit more about what he thought of Maine as the setting for his next novel.

Finally, I am giving away one copy of A GOOD AMERICAN! All you need to do to be entered into the giveaway is leave a comment before Friday (February 24) at midnight EST!

Please join me in welcoming Alex George! 

Is A GOOD AMERICAN your debut novel? If not, is there a common thread or theme in what you write?

I’ve written four previous novels which were published in the UK and some European countries, but A GOOD AMERICAN is my first book published in the States – hence the “debut novel” tag.  However, this book is so different from my earlier efforts that it feels like a true debut in all respects, not just geographically.

There was no common theme in my earlier books, except perhaps for music – which also features heavily in A GOOD AMERICAN.  But this book is much bigger than the others, both literally and figuratively.  I remember, many years ago, reading THE MAGUS, by John Fowles, and being so completely consumed by the story that I failed to notice that the bus I was traveling in got stuck on the side of the highway in the pouring rain.  I never forgot that.  So more than anything, I just wanted to tell a really good story.  I hope I’ve managed to do that.

A GOOD AMERICAN is called “…a universal story about the families we create and the places we call home.” Because I grew up traveling around a lot, home is something I think a lot about and write a lot about. What does home mean to you and why is it something you wanted to write about?

Home, and what that means, is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, ever since I left England and moved to the States, nearly nine years ago. Of course, there’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is,” but I suspect that may be a little too simplistic.  If it were that easy, then Missouri—where I live now—would be home, as it’s where my children are.  But it’s actually more complicated than that.  When I return to England, the past rushes up to me in ambush, and I am pole-axed by a longing to return there for good.  But I don’t know if that’s a function of simple nostalgia, unhappiness with where I am, or something else.  It’s very confusing.  What I do know is that you cannot deny the pull of your past.

It’s a topic I wanted to write about because it’s such a universal theme, one that applies to everyone.  We all have a home, even if we might be a little unsure where it is.  The characters in the novel have an ambivalent relationship with “home,” which I don’t think is unusual.  Many of them spend a significant time trying to escape it—but they all get pulled back in the end.  I don’t think that’s an unusual situation.

One of the things that drew me to your book was that your main character is described as “being an outsider.” Are there parts of being an outsider that you can relate to from your own life? If not, what drew you to writing about an outsider?

I’m an Englishman living in the middle of Missouri.  If you look up “outsider” in a dictionary, you won’t see a picture of me there, but perhaps you should!  Every time I open my mouth, I announce my otherness to the people around me, betrayed by my accent and my failure to grasp the rules of football.  But I think that your question touches upon a more universal issue.  I believe that, in some way, we all feel like outsiders.  Rightly or wrongly, we all feel isolated and remote at times.  And that felt like something worth exploring.  James Meisenheimer, the novel’s narrator, feels a little distant and remote from his family, although he loves them deeply.  I think that distance allows him to tell the story he has to tell.

I know you recently completed the U.S. Naturalization process and became an American citizen. I’m not sure how long you’ve been in the U.S., but how did you draw from your own experiences as a newcomer to the United States as you created your novel’s narrator, James?

My experience as an immigrant to the United States mostly informed the characters of Frederick and Jette, James’s grandparents, since they were the characters who made the journey from Europe to America, as I did.  Frederick is an unequivocal and passionate convert to the American way of life; Jette is more cautious, and, indeed, often feels homesick.  I think most immigrants experience a degree of ambivalence about leaving their home country and starting afresh elsewhere; Frederick and Jette personified those two contradictory sentiments. 

Every immigrant is afflicted by the same paradox: one wants to fit in with one’s new country, but one never wants to forget where one came from.  My mother was born and raised in New Zealand, but she has lived in England for more than fifty years.  She still calls New Zealand home.

On February 16, 2012, I became a citizen of the United States, less than ten days after the book was published.  There is a scene in the novel when Frederick and Jette take their oath and become citizens.  It is rather extraordinary that I should be undergoing the same process at the same time as the novel is being published.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about becoming a U.S. citizen?

I’m looking forward to voting.  I’ve been paying taxes for the past nine years so I think it’s about time I had a say as to how they were spent.  As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst system of government in the world, apart from all the others.  It’s an old cliché, but it’s a privilege to live in a country where power changes without a shot being fired.  Sometimes I think many people take such things for granted.  I will vote with pride in November’s Presidential elections.

I am devoted to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  I think they are wonderful, inspiring documents, and I am committed to the principles that they enshrine.  Freedom, equality, diversity, tolerance: these are all magnificent things for a country and its people to aspire to.

I love America, but I won’t deny that a small part of me was sad when I took the oath.  A friend wrote to me on the day of the ceremony, and told me I had an English soul—and that this was something that due legal process could not ever change.  I think they may have been right.

The book has a lot of music in it. I’m curious, did you have a theme song in your mind as you wrote it? Or was there any particular music you listened to while you wrote?

I love to write about music.  It’s always a challenge, since it exists in a totally different medium.  But I am passionate about it, and I can’t quite imagine writing a book without music in it somewhere.  But no, I had no particular song in mind while I wrote.  There are an awful lot of different types of music in the novel – it starts with an opera aria, and ranges from New Orleans jazz, blue grass, ragtime, and barbershop singing.  Funnily enough, the book critic from USA Today said she thought the book would make a great Broadway musical!  Music plays a variety of roles in the course of the novel, but its principal function is to act as a type of glue—it’s a way of forging bonds and making connections between people.

Generally speaking I don’t listen to much music while I write—it’s too distracting.  On those rare occasions when I do have music playing as I write, it can’t have words, for the same reason.  I listened to lots of solo piano pieces – mainly Scriabin, Beethoven, and Shostakovich.  And the Bach cello suites.

We met over Twitter over a mutual interest in Maine, and you’ve said that your next novel takes place in Maine. What drew you to Maine as a setting? Have you found challenges in having a novel set in Maine?

I love Maine.  I have only been twice, but as you know, the place has me in its spell, and I cannot wait to return.  It’s so beautiful, so very different to the landlocked tedium of Missouri.  It is, without question, my favorite place that I have been in the United States.  I believe that you do yourself a favor if you write about things and places you feel passionate about (for better or worse)—that passion will come out in the words on the page.

Mainers have an independence of spirit that I appreciate.  It strikes me as being something that is a good thing to write about.

There are obviously challenges in setting a novel in a place that you don’t know especially well.  A lot of research is required.  To the extent that this involves burying my nose in a book, this isn’t such a great thing.  (And I have a lot of books about Maine.)  But if it means (and it does!) that I have to keep returning there, and that I am able to claim those trips as tax deductible expenses—well.  Definitely a good thing.

Follow on question: What are some of your favorite places you’ve been to in Maine? What are some places you’ve heard about but haven’t gotten to see or experience yet?

I enjoyed Portland, but really fell in love with Maine when I went further north.  I spent a week in a cottage just outside Ellsworth last August.  My friend and I spent most of our days in Acadia National Park, walking and climbing and drinking in the beauty of it all.  It was one of the happiest weeks of my life.  We drove up Route 1 from Portland and wanted to stop in every town we passed through.  I’d love to go back to that area and explore some more.

Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing to receive a copy of Alex’s book A GOOD AMERICAN! (Deadline: Friday, February 24, midnight EST) The winner will be chosen at random, but I would love it if you would tell in comments a little bit about what home means to you! The contest is now closed: Congratulations Nina Badzin, you won a copy of Alex’s book!

Cheers,

Julia



* * * * * * * *

Alex George is an Englishman who lives, works, and writes in Missouri.  He studied law at Oxford University and worked for eight years as a corporate lawyer in London and Paris before moving to the United States in 2003. A GOOD AMERICAN has been named as the #1 Indiebound pick for February 2012, an amazon top ten book for February, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick for Spring 2012. You can connect with Alex on his website (alexgeorgebooks.com), on Twitter @alexgeorge, and on Facebook.

Sunrise Thoughts on Half a Habit


This morning I looked out the window at the sunrise and thought: “What a beautiful sunrise to capture on video…” Then my thoughts wandered to standing on the bridge overlook and making the weekly movie of the sandbar beach.

And then I remembered, no more. Apparently the routine has become a habit: look up the tide chart online to check the daily tide predictions, check sunrise and sunset times, put new batteries in the video camera, make a plan for when to go. In all, it would take us about an hour to plan, drive, shoot the video. Then another hour to post the video and write the blog.

A two-hour habit. Me, a creature of habit, said—a little wistfully—to MEH (My Engineer Husband): “It’s Sunday and we don’t have to make the video.”

“Isn’t it grand?” MEH said.

So here I am to let you know: today I’ve only been able to give up half the habit. If you visited today expecting to see the beach video, check out last week’s post and explanation for why it’s not here!

Are you—like me—a creature of habit? Or are you more like MEH—happier to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a very special interview and giveaway for my one-year blogiversary, so please come back!

Hello, Goodbye

What’s left of the trees :(

Today marks the final wordsxo video from the beach overlook. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I have been trudging (okay, driving) out to the bridge once a week—usually Sunday morning—rain or shine or wind or snow or whatever. It was a year-long project, started on February 13, 2011. I had planned to have next week be the last video, BUT today we arrived at our usual spot and the town had cut down the trees that we used as our backdrop frame of reference.

I saw that as a sign. Enough.


In honor of this being the last video, I decided to make a vlog. Hello! I’m not crazy about appearing on camera (especially January in Maine in the wind…challenging to be out there let alone look decent), but since MEH refused, I decided I’d take the bullet for the wordsxo team. 


I realize it’s almost impossible to hear what I’m saying so here’s the basic transcript: It’s the last video, it’s really super windy and cold, the trees were cut down, thank you Hallie Sawyer for planting the idea for my appearance, thank you to Sara Grambusch for being Sandbar’s biggest fan, goodbye videos.


Starting tomorrow, I’ll be blogging twice a week: Mondays and Thursdays—with no more vlogs or videos in the plans. But I will be writing about writing, editing, the writing life, and where I get my inspiration. You can also count on many more photographs and even a few more Maggie mysteries! So please stay tuned.
I hope you enjoyed the videos—they’re all on youtube, here. Someday soon I’ll be writing a wrap-up blog about them. Have you ever made a change in course on your blog or in your life? How did it go?

Cheers,

Julia

“It’s Maine, Deal with It”

“It’s Maine, deal with it.” This expression came to mind as I stood on the beach overlook at 2 degrees.
I used to have a neighbor who moved to Maine shortly after I did, and she loved to say that to me: about the heat and humidity in the summer, about the blackflies in May, about too many tourists in August, but especially about the snow we know we’re going to get—no matter how mild the season starts out.

When we looked at the thermometer at home this morning it was a flat 0 degrees. So if anything I was disappointed it was 2 by the time we got out to take the video. Luckily, with not a wisp of a breeze, it felt like maybe 3 anyway. I stood in a foot of snow to take the video, and you can hear the crunching of snow under our boots, the zip of my jacket pocket as I take out my iPhone to take a photo of my boots, and the snap of the photo being taken.



Other than those sounds and the slight movement in the water, you’d think this was a still shot this morning. Lucky us, by the time we got to the other side of town (inland) it was all the way down to minus 6 degrees. So cold that even Abby, our black lab, wanted to go home. She held up one freezing paw after another in the crunchy snow, and we lasted all of 5 minutes on the dog walk.

What’s an expression you associate with the place you live? Are there things you just know you’re “going to have to deal with” in your weather and in your life?

Cheers,

Julia 

This is What 1 Degree Looks Like

(Sunday, January 15, 2012, 7:35 a.m. EST, 1 degrees F)



“How long does it take to get frostbite?” I asked MEH (My Engineer Husband) as we came back to the car after shooting the video on the bridge. 

I asked him this question because MEH wanted to walk a little farther, to get one more photo. He threw me the car keys.

“Get in. I’ll be right back.”

I got in the car and cranked up the heat.

The predicted low for this morning was 0 degrees, but we didn’t quite make it. It was 1F degree as we crossed the bridge; a disappointing 2F degrees when we parked the car—but it was windy to make up for the warm up.

It’s not the coldest temperatures I’ve ever been in, and on the way home MEH and I talked about it. Forty below zero my freshman year in college in Minnesota, I said. I was from California, and it was the coldest temperature I’d ever heard of let alone walked outside in. My friend from Connecticut told me her dad once said if you get colder than 0 degrees it all feels the same. It didn’t.

One of the photos MEH took while I was in the car:
“Ocean on the Rocks”

MEH lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for a while. The story he likes to tell is that he took a year off from college and went back four years later. One winter he worked in a gas station with no heater, and it was thirty below zero on a regular basis. His shift was midnight to eight o’clock in the morning, and he spent the night running up and down the parking lot to keep warm. He pumped the gas so the customers didn’t have to get out of their cars. The first night he tried to wash a windshield, but the washing fluid froze to the windshield and the driver was not happy with him—so he stopped. He never had more than 10 or 15 customers any night. He did a lot of running.

Today will be a good day to edit at the dining room table. MEH will write some software at the kitchen table. His sub-zero running days are over.

How’s the temperature in your neck of the woods? What’s the coldest weather you’ve ever been outside in, and how did you cope?

Cheers,

Julia

January Thaw

(Saturday, January 7, 2012, 3:36 p.m. EST, 40 degrees F)




In comparison to last week’s video, this week’s video looks like it’s in black and white! Although it looks colder, it isn’texactly the same temperature after dipping into the single digits mid-week. Today we stood on the bridge without gloves or hats and amazingly we were warm. The air was still and calm. Two kayakers paddled up to the beach on the glassy water just out of camera view. It felt more like April than January, and it seems Spring is just around the corner….a dangerous feeling in the middle of a Maine winter.
This could be what’s referred to in Maine as a “January Thaw,” except we have barely any snow on the ground. Most years in January three to four feet of snow banks line the streets. I’m not going to lie—I hope it remains a low-snow winter and we get an early start at gardening.

How’s winter in your neck of the woods? Ready for Spring?

Cheers,

Julia