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 michelle.souliere@gmail.com -- 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.]

YES! IT'S TRUE!!!

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
FMI: space538.org/events/paperbacks-hell-grady-hendrix

Facebook event page here:
facebook.com/events/144073082948819/

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
FMI:  https://www.portlandlibrary.com/events/remembering-rick-hautala/

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.