Thursday, March 15, 2018

Behind the Scenes: What Goes On in Winter?

You may have noticed that, it being winter, the shop is operating under its official Winter Hours. This means we are open Thursday through Sunday.

So what goes on when the doors are closed? Perhaps you think these days might be spent in marathon reading catch-up sessions? Bonbon eating? Hours of cat photo sessions to get the perfect Instagram shot of Mr. Biscuits?

Well, these things are all nice, I will admit. However, while I do have one day off to run all the errands and cook food for the rest of the week with my other half, Tristan from Coast City Comics, and play with the cats (of course!), Tuesday and Wednesday are work days of another sort -- these two days are spent writing. With all the snow and ice outside, it's the perfect time to hunker down for hours on end and get a lot done. Indoor kids unite!

Some of you have read my first book, which came out just as the shop was opening -- Strange Maine: True Tales from the Pine Tree State. In the years since then, I have been sneaking in work on my next book whenever I can -- a difficult task when trying to make enough money to live on, as it turns out. But now, having passed our 8-year anniversary at the shop, and having survived so far, it is time to really turn up the heat on this book and get it out to the table.

This book will fill in the recent blanks in Maine's historic record when it comes to sightings within this state of large mystery mammals, specifically hominids. These are Maine sightings in which people have seen something large -- not a bear, not a moose, not a human being. Eyewitnesses have come forward with accounts dating back into the late 1960s, with other encounters moving right up into the 2000s.

Perhaps optimistically, I continue to theorize that there are many unexplained encounters in Maine that are not on record.

This has been a long process. I started working on the historic end of things (old newspaper articles from the 1800s, etc), sifting and sorting through digital and microfilm archives, over a decade ago. While that was a real needle-in-a-haystack challenge, my current focus has turned out to be even more complex.

Over the last two years or so, I have been collecting eyewitness accounts. This involves talking to real live people, sometimes in person, more often over the phone or via email. My job is to record their experience, and put that encounter down on paper so that other people who are interested can read about it in the context of all the other sightings by people who -- to this day -- do not know what they saw. There is no place for it in the taxonomy of large Maine mammals. But even anomalies must find their place in history. That is where I come in -- to write it all down.

And what a process! To achieve the smoothly written narratives that people will (hopefully!) enjoy reading as they page through this book takes a ridiculous amount of behind-the-scenes work. When I have interviewed folks on the phone, or I begin from an existing video interview, I next transcribe the interview, typing and re-listening for hours on end, making sure that there are no mis-quotes (the human mind likes to transpose words and phrases between the time you listen to them and write them down, did you know that?).

Then I go through a printout of the transcription, and note all the important bits -- dates, places, details, a turn of phrase that really tells the person's point-of-view in the story. The first of the questions emerge. There is always something forgotten in the flow of an interview!

Then I have to try to write it all out coherently. Interviews, while they sometimes start out with a straightforward account, inevitably wind up wandering. Humans are very distractible creatures, after all! Details are clarified when I ask questions later in the talk, the scene is filled in before and aft, and as it turns out, the questions are never-ending, often resulting in follow-up emails containing elements that have to be added into the story later as well.

At the end of all that (sometimes spread out over months or years), one has the first draft of a chapter -- substantial, in a logical progression of events, and hopefully with a good build-up of mood, with its setting told in a way that the reader finds themselves there with the witness as they read along!

Last week I wrote the drafts of two chapters -- the first accounts to come out of my interviews. Each was a long account -- years long. I had to research certain elements to verify them -- place names, locations, family histories in the region. I still need to make fieldtrips to the sites themselves, so I can see them in person, to give me a better idea of the landscape. I want to be sure to get it right when I put it into words. I need to email the witnesses with more follow-up questions, things that I wondered about when I began finally writing it out -- and things I forgot to ask before.

This week I wrote the drafts of THREE chapters! While each of these were shorter accounts, the assembling of their elements into reading form was, if possible, more complex than last week's chapters. Questions were spread out between more than one witness in one case, and months of emails in another. Two of the cases were early interviews -- one happened before I even had come up with a worksheet to fill out, the notes from it scribbled on a piece of scrap paper.

Trying to place the locations on a map is often difficult -- one witness is unable to pinpoint the spot out in the remote wilderness from decades ago, another spot was somewhere in an area divided in four by the USGS topographic maps (this happens a surprising number of times, they often seem to take place at in-between areas). Another was tricky since they wanted to stay anonymous and the case involves family property.

Luckily, the two-witness case was well lined up. Both men were in agreement about the majority of details -- I interviewed them independently via phone. I just had to assemble the details, compare and contrast, and as each interview had gone in a different order due to differing conversational styles, there was a lot of flipping back and forth between the two printouts, trying to find details from one or the other. I eventually started checking off paragraphs in the printouts in an effort not to miss anything. Phew!

Add to all this further research -- corresponding with Maine black bear experts, reading about black bears, learning the basics of primatology, DNA sampling, how to build a hair trap, store and transport samples, cast tracks in the wild, reading about the Maine wilderness, reading histories of tiny northern towns, and cobbling together all the background that needs to be filled in to give these incidents their normal, everyday context, and to build a reasonable system for verifying what I can about what are often once-in-a-lifetime happenings.

So that's what I do when I'm not in the shop. That and continuing to pursue additional leads for other unknown accounts -- the search is still on!

Speaking of which -- If you or someone you know has had such a sighting or experience, please feel free to call me on my cellphone at (207)450-6695 -- please leave a message, so I can call you back, as I am working and unable to answer calls a fair amount of the time -- or simply email me at -- or if you prefer pen and ink, you can write me at P.O. Box 5302, Portland, Maine 04101.

And thank you, as always, for reading.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Paperbacks from Hell LIVE! in Portland Maine

Hi everyone! I am super excited to announce officially that after months of plotting and scheming, the Green Hand Bookshop and SPACE Gallery have picked a date for Grady Hendrix to come to Portland and regale you with the wild world of vintage horror paperbacks!!!

I know a lot of you have already been reading his great book, Paperbacks from Hell, either because you stumbled across it on your own, or because my ravings drove you to come find a copy at my shop or elsewhere, and from everything I've heard back, you are all loving it to death.

Now, take it to the next level! Grady in person!!!

[Tune in next for: "How many exclamation points can Michelle use when she's really excited and typing about it?!!!!!" The answer: So many. So, so many.]


WHAT: Paperbacks from Hell LIVE!!!
A wild ride through the world of vintage horror paperback culture
PLUS! A screening of 80s horror schlock classic The Re-Animator
WHO: Grady Hendrix, author of My Best Friend's Exorcism and Horrorstör
WHEN: Friday, April 27th, 2018; doors open 6:30pm, starts 7:00pm
WHERE: SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101

Facebook event page here:

After seeing Grady's presentation at NecronomiCon last year down in Providence RI, and meeting him in person, I became determined to bring him up here to Stephen King country to do his live version of Paperbacks from Hell LIVE! for all of you. Thanks to the lovely folks at SPACE Gallery, we are able to make this happen!

Paperbacks from Hell LIVE! will be followed by a screening of Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, starring one of my Lovecraftian favorites, Jeffrey Combs in one of his iconic roles. Since it's based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, and because "When in New England...," Grady will be adding special bonus Lovecraft (and Stephen King) content to the show for this one night only.

Some of you told me about Grady before this awesome book came out, because he is also the author of two other excellent and entertaining horror novels, My Best Friend's Exorcism and Horrorstör. I'm reading both of them now, and I agree wholeheartedly with my customers' reviews.
Grady Hendrix portrait by Kagan McLeod of INFINITE KUNG FU
So -- bring your books, or buy them at the event (I will have all 3 of Grady's books on hand for sale), and you can have Grady sign them for you as a special treat during this evening of horrific fun!

It's going to be a fantastic evening! Don't miss it!!!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Habits of a Northeastern Bookworm

I was reading a message board thread a few weeks ago about how many pages folks would read into a book before they decided not to finish it.  The discussion made me really think about the evolution of my own reading habits.

When I was younger, I read the whole thing because... well, that's just what you do, right?  I didn't question much of anything before the age of 13.  Including the protocol of reading books.  I was a voracious reader, and just plowed through everything I read.

Later on, I still read books all the way through, but more because I was an aspiring writer, and I felt like I should give the author a chance to paint their full picture.  I saw a book as a canvas.  Sometimes the parts were lesser than the whole, and reading the full book would fill in all the blanks.  Sometimes this just meant I wasted time on mediocre books, but other times it was rewarding (Frank Herbert's Dune series for instance).

I tempered this a bit when working at the local library.  If a book didn't really grab me, that was okay.  I still walked away with an idea of what the author's prose and technique were like, and the themes of the book, so even if I returned the book without finishing, I still had enough of a grasp of it to be helpful to library patrons if they asked me for recommendations. 

I also started doing book reviews around this time, and sometimes there just wasn't enough time to linger on a book -- I had to get it done and assessed by the deadline.  This really helped me think critically about what I was reading, and why it did or didn't hook me, and what qualities it might (or might not) have that I had to gauge regardless of my personal preferences.

The next step was when I opened my used bookshop.  All the skimming skills I picked up at the library had to kick into high gear -- customers weren't borrowing these books for free, so the stakes of recommending books to someone were much higher.  I take my job pretty seriously, and I do my best to help my customers spend their money carefully.

These last couple of changes in my reading habits were more on a professional level -- my personal reading stayed on its own track for the most part.  I still didn't feel beholden to finish a book if it wasn't grabbing me, but I did give it an honest try in respect to the author and the piece of work.

Then even my personal reading habits changed in response to a series of events.  Over the course of a year, I found myself in the position to help dissolve and re-house the personal libraries of two different friends, both of them writers and avid book-lovers, both of whom died suddenly from heart attacks with no warning.  I had to handle this professionally, assisting the families with my expertise and heavy labor when they were just coming out of the shock of unexpected bereavement -- coping better but still overwhelmed.

My grief for these two was brought to bear on the number of books they had on their shelves that had obviously not been read yet.  I began to think of the number of books I had yet to read, and for a time my reading choices were laser-focused, channeling an urgency I had never felt before.

Thankfully, that urgency has been tempered, because there is nothing like the untrammeled joy of picking up a book and taking it home just because it looks tasty. 

It still flares up from time to time, but this is helpful in small bits. It means my "to read" pile gets weeded out on a regular basis to eliminate the flash-in-the-pan appeal of certain books that (to be honest) I know I'll never actually get around to reading. 

Instead, I'll add the title to my "To Read" list in case I do want to read it some day in the future when I have time (ha!).  This allows me to put the book itself back in circulation freely, without any wistful longing to hang onto it.

I have also stopped making New Years resolutions -- instead I make two or three lists of 10-20 books apiece that I want to read during the year, including a "Books I Should Have Read by Now" list.  It's working out pretty great so far -- I'm on my third year of doing this now, with at least a 50% success rate (often more) for each of the little lists.

How do you guys direct your own reading choices to get to the books you wind up actually reading?
(IF you've read this far in my surprisingly long post!  Where did all that come from?!)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Remembering Rick Hautala

Just a reminder for those of you who knew Rick Hautala or loved his books -- this is going on this weekend here in Portland!!!
WHAT: Remembering Rick Hautala
WHEN:  Saturday, February 03, 2018 - 1:00pm - 3:00pm
WHERE:  Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, 1 Monument Square, Portland, Maine

Legendary Portland-area horror writer Rick Hautala was the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a New York Times bestselling author with dozens of novels to his name. Five years after his passing, Hautala’s contemporaries gather to celebrate the indelible mark he made on horror fiction, both as author and mentor to so many other writers.
Literary friend Ghristopher Golden will host a discussion, and fellow authors including James A. Moore, John M. McIlveen, Catherine Grant, Bracken MacLeod, and Nate Kenyon will read short excerpts from Hautala’s work.

Please join us to remember and celebrate this local treasure Saturday, February 3rd, 1-3pm, in the Rines Auditorium.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book signing - Gravestones and great stories!

Just a reminder for anyone who does not follow the shop on Facebook -- author Ron Romano will be at the Green Hand Bookshop tomorrow, Sunday October 29th, 2017, from 12:00 noon until 2:00.  Ron will be happy to sign copies of his books, which will also be available for purchase!  Both of them are great reads if you are a cemetery geek or Maine history buff -- Ron really brings history to life!

Ron's newest books is Portland's Historic Eastern Cemetery: A Field of Ancient Graves, and his prior book (in case you missed it!) is Early Gravestones in Southern Maine: The Genius of Bartlett Adams.  Both are fascinating reads that will make you want to go clambering around looking for handcarved treasures in whichever New England cemetery you happen to find yourself in.  They are also a wonderful glimpse into the every-day life and customs of Portland, Maine, well-illustrated with photos and old newspaper clippings, as well as maps to help you find your way along the lanes.

I highly recommend both books -- and besides, Ron is a great guy to meet in person, too!  Come on down and say hello when you're out wandering on Sunday!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Summer reading wrap-up at the Green Hand

Well, I know that summer is really not over for another month, but here in Maine the weather has suddenly decided (at least for today!) that boy, maybe fall really is on its way!  But that does not mean that reading comes to an end.  To the contrary!  We Mainers know the secret to surviving winter is laying in a good store of books.

Meanwhile, we while away the still-a-bit-warm months, nibbling on a bit of the prospective titles here and there as we go, just a morsel to tide us over in between county fairs, apple picking, and coffee drinking.
This time I'd love to talk about two diametrically opposed books. One is a classic, one is a new kid on the block (relatively speaking).

Let's talk about the classic first. Like so many other classics, I knew Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) by reputation long before I read it.  In fact, I read Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, an amazing and highly entertaining time travel novel riffing delightfully on Jerome's book, years before I read the original, which I tell you gave it a certain absurd level of surprise.

Jerome's original is a confection of frippery, ostensibly centered around what should be a relaxing riverboat journey in the company of friends.  Well, you know how that goes.  A little from Column A, a little from unmentioned Column B, C, and D.

It is worth noting the asides from the narrator, which are many and varied throughout the journey.  You learn such practical lessons as: how one should never, ever, travel with a large wheel of stinky cheese, no matter how much your nice friend wheedles you to take it with you.  This is probably a good lesson for me to learn before accidentally finding it out for myself in person.  Trust me.

In summary, Three Men in a Boat is a perfect book for dipping in and out of during idle moments.  I wish all of you may have many of these during your summer months, this year and for all the years to come!

The second book, Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, edited by Lynne Jamneck, was released by Dark Regions Press in early 2016, about a year after the project was successfully funded (and then some!) via IndieGogo.  This is another book I've been dipping in and out of -- as I am wont to do with most short story anthologies I read.  So far the stories I've read have been wonderful -- eerie, unsettling, and uniquely different from much of the Lovecraftian fiction I've read in the past few decades.

The volume is a lush affair, oversized and rampant with full-color reproductions of paintings by Daniele Serra, an Italian illustrator some of you may know already from cover art on some of the Joe Lansdale novel reprint editions which I carry at the shop.  Authors include some old favorites like Joyce Carol Oates and Storm Constantine, and many newer authors for readers to explore further, such as Tamsym Muir, whose story "The Woman in the Hill" strikes just the right creepy note.

If you are interested in copies of either Three Men in a Boat or Dreams from the Witch House, I do have both of them at the shop for your reading pleasure, along with all sorts of other volumes, old and new, that have been flowing through our doors all summer long since we returned to a more normal operating schedule.  Drop in when you can -- you never know what you might find!

Some of you may have noticed that I missed a couple of weeks on here, mostly because I had the great pleasure of going to NecronomiCon 2017 a couple of weeks ago, down in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was a great feast of literary, cultural, and social delights.  I will write a post giving you the highlights shortly, so stay tuned!

My cat Meep inspects the additions to the home library.
Meanwhile, here is a snapshot of my haul from the weekend (not as big as it should have been; I demonstrated admirable restraint, but only because I'm going to be ordering a few things wholesale for the store shortly).

First, flanking the stack of bookish bounty, are a couple of issues of Ravenwood, full of the names of friends and other intriguing peeps, including cover art by Sam Heimer and Pencilmancer (Josh Yelle)!  Hot damn.  Next is Dean Kuhta's debut novel, Silvarum, promising all manner of marvels (Hi Dean!).

The slim volume below?  Oh, that's In the Gray of the Dusk: A Collection of Typewritten Treasures by Muriel E. Eddy, neighbor to H.P. Lovecraft himself, a nice addition to the copy of her other book, The Gentleman from Angell Street, which has been on my bookshelf since I bought it at one of the original NecronomiCons, back in the 1990s. Next on the menu is the delicious souvenir program from the convention, a feast unto itself.

Next, Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 2 from Hippocampus Press, recording the 2015 proceedings of the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Symposium, a celebration of Lovecraftian scholarship and exploration which features in the lecture schedule at the convention each year.
Following that is the anthology Carnacki: The Lost Cases: 12 Tales of the Classic Detective, edited by Sam Gafford, which I've been wanting to read since the idea for the collection was first announced.   Then, two titles bought from the nice folks at Cellar Stories, Providence RI's used book oasis, steps away from the historic Biltmore Hotel:  Shapes of the Supernatural, another great weird fiction anthology by the powerhouse editing team of two sisters, Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge, which I've been meaning to read for a while now.

So... stay tuned for future developments!  And enjoy the tail-end of summer!!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer reading at the Green Hand: Fantastical tales!

While I read a lot of genre fiction, I rarely read books that might be termed as fantasy, having binged on it heavily as a teenager.  However, once in a while a book comes to hand, often randomly, that tips the scales and pushes me to read something full of dragons, wizards, kings and queens.  This is the case with tonight's addition to the summer roster of Recently Read Books.

First let me sing the praises of one Charles de Lint.  I have long loved his Newford Stories, but have not often read his pure fantasy.  Enter The Harp of the Grey Rose: the Legend of Cerin Songweaver, found by happenstance on a gray day on the Free Book shelf at Flatbread Pizza here in Portland -- because there is nothing more alluring than a book you didn't have a moment before, and de Lint's name is always a glint of gold in amongst any assortment.

This is a brief novel, a delightfully refreshing 230 pages in paperback.  In it we meet Cerin, maturing from young orphanhood with his foster mother at the edges of Wran Cheaping village, watching her witching ways, meeting her tinker kin, and wishing the old tales were alive for him to experience. 

Then he meets the solitary Grey Rose, losing her almost immediately to a horrible warlock long thought to be only a legend.  And so his quest begins.  Along the way there are the requisite near-freezings, near-drowings, and the companionable talking bearfolk.  I won't tell you more -- just know that you will meet many myths and mythical creatures, experience harrowing sorrows and witness desperate acts of heroism.  Again, this is a fast ride -- de Lint's pen fires a lightning streak among the forests and shadows for you to follow.

While I love de Lint's storytelling, it is hard to explain precisely why.  What makes him soar above other fantasy writers for me, luring me to keep on reading?  I suppose for one thing de Lint is not heavy-handed with exposition of plot, setting, and characters.  He describes within the telling.  His characters bring you into their world through their eyes, into their heads through their thoughts.  The magic in his stories is lived by the characters, and by you at the same time, likewise their doubts and questionings.

So if you want to escape into another world, follow that harper of the pen, Charles de Lint.

Secondly, we come to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which I will treat more briefly, since it is so much in the public eyes these days with the new Starz adaptation fresh in people's minds. 

No, I hadn't read it yet.  I knew it only by reputation.  ("BLASPHEMY!" you shriek in shock and amazement, holding your head between your hands and staring in shock at the Recalcitrant Bookstore Owner!)  It was on my personal 2017 list of Books I Should Have Read By Now, and I was bound and determined to read it before I sat down to watch the show.

I had tried reading Good Omens shortly before, but it fell flat for me.  (I know, again you shriek "BLASPHEMY!" right?)  So with that disappointment fresh in my mind, I had no high expectations for American Gods, even with almost two decades of my friends' and customers' hype ahead of it.

I fell for it almost immediately.  Something about the deadpan delivery of our narrator, Shadow, perhaps.  And the idea of all the layers of deities and entities that we humans so love to conjure up, no matter what era or belief system we are a part of. 

But overall there is a great feeling of trueness about it -- and I'm not saying TRUTH here -- I'm saying trueness.  True humanity, true imagination, true nighttime logic -- because one last thing I must say is that the entire book, real as it feels, also feels like a dream.

I hope you have all found time to read some wonderful books of your own out there this summer. 

À bientôt!