By Timothy McGuire
PORTLAND – Twenty Maine authors gathered Saturday night to share desserts and champagne at the Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery. They were toasting a night of dinners hosted in the area to raise money for the library’s print and electronic resources. It’s the single biggest fundraiser for the library, and a unique invention. Call it Book Club with a bonus – an author or two as part of the guest list, to enjoy some fine food and literary discussions.
“We think it’s one-of-a-kind,” said David Jacobs, head of the library’s special development. “It’s been an incredible success, and such a fun time.”
Tickets to the dinners were $75 per person, and the fifteen area hosts sold out their seats. Contributors could also help out by becoming a “Head Chef” for $500, a “Sous Chef” for $250, or a “Patissier” for $25.
Sarah Braunstein, the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, said the evening was a delight, a great way to raise money for the library, and a good chance for writers to talk about their craft. When asked if her book was based on actual events, Braunstein said “No, it’s mainly all invented. I’ve been interested in the topic for a long time. People who flee reinvent themselves.”
At the mention of having heard of a “run-away name” that a kid adopted each time she took off, Braunstein said “There’s a character in this book who has a run-away name. Paul becomes Pax, or peace.”
She was joined at her dinner by Caitlin Shetterly, author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home. They had haddock ceviche, a food so exotic one needed help with the spelling. Look it up, though, to discover an interesting aspect: the citrus in the lime actually cooks the fish, so no heat is needed. “It was excellent. Soup, salad – there were (recounting mentally, eyes up, head back, redisgesting) five courses,” Shetterly said.
James L. Nelson, author of With Fire and Sword, described himself as a maritime novelist. “I’ve always been drawn to the sea. It’s a genetic disposition, not a learned behavior,” he laughed. “I was living in Los Angeles on a sail boat. I started working professionally on tall ships. My dad was an English professor at Bates. My mom was a teacher at Lewiston High School. I knew I could teach. But I didn’t know if I could write or not.” When asked what he saw as the connection between reading and writing, Nelson said “Writing comes first. It’s the most important thing. But reading comes next.”
His early love, and one that has served him throughout his life, was the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester, and also the works of Ernest Hemingway. He spoke of an image from Forester that has stayed with him since he read it as a boy. “He writes about a log, on the bottom of the ocean, that gets covered with more and more stuff.” That became an image for him of his own writing – a submerged symbol with ever-expanding connotations.
Barbara and Jill were testing the treats at the dessert table when asked about their evening. They had dinner with the authors Monica Wood and Hannah Holmes, discussing their writing while dining on brie soup and chicken with mushroom sauce. “The presentation, the ambience, fine china and silver, it was all so elegant,” Barbara said. “But it was the people who made it special.”
“We support literature whatever way we can, financially, physically,” Jill said. “We do whatever it takes.”