Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dog Beaches and Dogged Beginnings

Dogs aren’t allowed in most Maine wildlife sanctuaries, as I noted last week, but there are other options. I just found this Maine dog hikes site. Although Popham Beach State Park bans dogs (except off-season November-April,) Fort Popham State Park allows dogs all year long.

A minor fort has been at Popham in Phippsburg since the American Revolutionary War. The current fort was built in 1862 to defend the mouth of the Kennebec River during the Civil War. Upstream is the ship building city of Bath. The granite fort was only half-completed and manned during the Spanish American War and WWI. It’s fun for kids to explore.

There’s also the historic life saving station.

Fort Popham Beach is about a mile and a half long. Off season you can continue for another mile and a half along Popham Beach. Fort Popham is also the best beach for spotting seals that fish in the cross-currents. We once counted 30. Be careful of rip tides where the Kennebec River mixes with the Atlantic Ocean.

Beware of big yellow dogs too!

As you walk on the soft sand, you’ll pass 2 islands with lighthouses: Seguin Island (above) and Pond Island (first photo). On a misty day, the foghorns will serenade you. I took these photos on the first day of autumn.

I believe my Golden Retriever is half seal. My children joined Stella and the seals to jump waves. This would be Stella’s dream house:

If you’re hungry, go to Spinney’s right on the beach. You can pick out your lobster from the tank or get fish and chips or lobster rolls. There are plenty of non-seafood choices too and excellent desserts like fresh-baked pies and strawberry shortcake. A more limited menu is available take-out if you can’t leave your dog. We’ve been enjoying the mild beach weather this September.

Last weekend, however, was a stormy washout. I walked Stella to the pond by our house and admired the turning leaves. It was duck weather:

The skies are grey as some maples are hitting peak color.

Most of the time I’m at home, working on my novel. I become a total hermit when I begin a new book. Beginnings are challenging because there are so many possibilities, and you don’t know the characters well. I have two central characters, two time periods and three locations. What narrative structure will work best?

Anne Lamott has a good book on writing, Bird by Bird. The title comes from a childhood anecdote. The author’s brother was falling apart writing a science report on birds. Their father, a writer, told the boy to write it “bird by bird.” To this advice Anne Lamott adds, don’t be afraid “to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

I find the only way I can get started is to hole up in my office. A neighbor/friend complained that I might as well still be in England as she’s seen so little of me. I’ve been home for two months, but most people probably aren’t aware that I’m back. Even on weekends, while my family sleeps in, I start working and find it hard to stop.

I’m setting aside Wednesdays and half of weekends for social time – catching up with friends and visiting other blogs. After writing two books, I now understand the importance of pacing myself and not alienating my friends and family (sorry!)

A novel is a marathon, only the writer hits “the wall” on mile one instead of on mile twenty. Those first pages are painful, but by page thirty or so I find my stride. A new book is also fun. I wake up every morning eager to find out what will happen next. It’s getting easier.

Only today both kids are home sick and builders are at work in my house making it shake. The Herculean trials of a mom-writer-at-home . . . . Can you believe it's October already?

What works best for you when you start a new project?
It doesn’t need to be about writing.

UK readers: it looks like you can order Charlotte Agell's Shift (reviewed last week) in the UK through

Dog Walkers and Photographers: please read Linda’s comment about legal restrictions.


Bee said...

Oh, Sarah -- good luck and best wishes as you set forth to create "Not Cricket." I admire your dogged qualities, but I hope that you will still find the time to squeeze us in.

Speaking of dogs, Stella and your children must be hardy specimens! That sea looks way too gray and cold for swimming. More to my taste is a nice lunch at Spinney's!

The red of that maple is so eye-catching. (Everything is still green, and rather disappointingly so, around here.) That watercolor-like picture of the trees reflecting in the water is stunning. It makes me understand why some people claim fall as their favorite season.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, reading blogs like yours is my reward when I finish a day of writing. A blog is so appealing because it talks back!

I find the Maine water hard to bear even in a wetsuit. The advantage of Popham is the chilly ocean water mixes with the rivers at low tide to warm it. The sea temperature lags behind the season so my kids said it wasn’t bad at all. Still too cold for me without the sun. Stella-the-seal braves the Atlantic in January and come out dripping icicles.

I’m a huge fan of fall since moving to New England. I found the reflection more interesting than the trees themselves. The mist, rain on the water and digital zoom all worked to produce the watercolor effect. The red maple and window is at Bowdoin College, a dorm.

Alyson | New England Living said...

I agree, fall is my favorite season. It always was, but I especially love it in New England. Beautiful maple! I love the composition of the shot. Our maples have begun to turn, but haven't peaked yet.

I must buy that writing book! I love Anne's quote! I think most of us are upset if the first draft is turning out not to be completely brilliant, but really it not need be. I need to take that advice more to heart!

I loved hearing about your writing habits. I know how you feel when you get sucked in and all else falls to the wayside. That can definitely happen to me. In fact, it usually does.

Thanks,once again, for your stunning pictures of the Maine coast!

Les said...

Beautiful beach, thanks for sharing. It looks like the dog had a great time, I hope the people did as well. I really like that shot with the maple leaves against the white building. There is only the slightest shift in leaf color here, still green, but different. We do not usually peak until early November. Fall can be the longest season for us and although I have learned to enjoy it, a certain melancholy comes with too. Good luck with getting started.

Elizabeth said...

Loved the duck pond and the leaves.
The chnge of seasons is spectacular anywhere.
Will send you an e-mailwhen less jet lagged.
Am in NY!

walk2write said...

Sarah, thanks for taking us to the beach and on a leaf tour. When we moved to the Pensacola area, we were a little disappointed to discover that dogs are not allowed on public beaches (although I have seen a few being taken for early morning, covert ops). When we lived on Anastasia Island near St. Augustine, we found not only dogs were welcome but also cars, trucks, etc. I guess the free-wheeling Daytona Beach trend worked its way north. There was a strict, unwritten rule about the dogs, though, to bag anything left behind. Most of the residents who were frequent walkers on the beach were also outspoken, self-appointed poop patrol officers.

tina said...

Stella looks like she is having a great time. It is so pretty up there and that fall color is outstanding too. Take it one day at a time. Sometimes when thinking of things with the garden it helps to work it all out in my imagination the day prior. Yup, I have whole conversations and can picture the whole thing. Unfortunately Mother Nature has other visions. Good luck!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, you're right. Edward would love this! We are headed to the beach in a couple of weeks, with both dogs, so he's in for a good time soon, although we haven't told him yet!

Don't you adore Anne Lamott! She's a favorite of mine. I do admire the discipline it takes to be a writer. My husband is a songwriter and I watch him head out every morning to his studio in our back garden, coffee in hand, and am amazed at his focus. Most people tend to think of a writing career as all magical inspiration, but it's really hard work as well. As I am sure you know.

And to answer your question, yes..that is me in the photo. Wishing I was there today!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, another really good writing book is Stephen King’s On Writing, and I say that even though I found his novels too scary to read. My first drafts change so much, especially the beginnings. Good writing comes from being able to read your own work critically, and, more importantly, being able to accept and to learn from criticism that others give you. Be sure to read my response below to Pamela about Lamott’s book – I still think it well worth reading, if you read selectively.

Les, we people enjoyed it too – it’s a great walk for non-dog walkers also. Our leaves started changing end of August, and some will go into early November. Peak seems to hit this region around Columbus Day. I do get a bit wistful watching them fall, anticipating the long winter before me.

Elizabeth, welcome back to the USA.

W2W, we always bring bags when we walk. I do wish more dog owners would be responsible, but they tend to be at Popham.

Tina, thanks for sharing your process. I often plan out my day of writing while I’m swimming laps in the morning, but often the characters surprise me when I put word to paper.

Pamela, Lamott’s book on writing is inspirational. She has certainly been through a lot and triumphed. I underlined big chunks of her advice on writing, but I wrote “yuck!” on page 90 where after a bad rejection, she drank and took cocaine until she passed out. Enough already. She then did get back to work. My process is a bit saner.

tina said...

Sarah, I love Stephen King novels. But I am diverse too and also like writers like Jean Auel and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, but those scary ones get me everytime. I understand why you don't like them though.

Shauna said...

Yea for big yellow half-seal dogs! I must say, that while that water looks good, I imagine it must be cold - even in the summer. Good luck with the writing.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, I loved Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear too. My agent, Jean Naggar, discovered Jean Auel, and she’s been her agent ever since. She also represents thriller author Phillip Margolin. Jean encourages me to tighten the line of suspense in my writing. She’s a fabulous agent. Stephen King writes very well, and I do like suspense, but really scary books give me nightmares.

Shauna, thanks for the encouragement. I’m eager to get back to writing tomorrow, assuming the kids are better.

tina said...

I had a hunch you liked her too. Who wouldn't? I have never heard of Phillip, but will keep a look out. Don't worry about coming over right away at all.

tina said...

Hope the kids get well soon!

Brenda Pruitt said...

Well, I just recently found you. So I haven't read your other novels. But I admire someone who has the tenacity to pace themselves through a novel. And I absolutely love your red maple leaves!

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, thanks the kids are feeling better. I’m fighting it now of course.

Brenda, my agent is looking for a publisher for my first two novels so no admiration is due yet. I do love writing and red maples. You might want to enable access to your google profile so that readers can find your blog.

A Cuban In London said...

Lovely photos, especially the last one but one, or penultimate image.

Autumn is my favourite season (maybe something to do with me being Scorpio) and your photos are so full of that melancholy tinge that autumn encapsulates so well.

Great post.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, ACIL. I love the word penultimate. It’s not often one sees it used, and used correctly. I’ll enjoy this autumn the more when the sun comes out again. New England fall should be bright leaves against blue skies. Maybe next week.

Rose said...

Love that photo of the duck on the water--the reflections make it look more like a painting than a photo!

Sarah, I do enjoy your discussions about the process of writing. My secret ambition has always been to write a novel--I think many of us have that secret--but I have never been able to make it past page one! I can understand why the beginning is the most difficult part. What about voice? Do you always write in one point of view or does that vary from book to book? And how do you decide which voice to use?

I'm glad you've decided to set aside some days for social activity; it will keep you more balanced and no doubt help your writing as well.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, someone else mistook my header painting for a photo. I like to play around with my media and with narrative voices. You ask an excellent question about choosing voice.

Moose Crossing, was written in the first person. Rachel and I don’t share a personality, but we have a similar background of being New York Jews who move to Maine, although I’m only half Jewish and not a typical New Yorker. Writing in the first person, using a familiar voice, is easiest for novices, but it can be restricting. All the action has to be seen through her eyes. It works best for a personal story.

S.A.D. centers on the diversity of views on religion, love, education, politics and science so I used multiple voices and kept the narrative flow by writing in the third person. The most persistent voice is the protagonist’s. Haley is undecided, and I appreciate her lack of bias on this volatile issue. It allows me to tell the story without choosing sides.

I’m still working on the voice issue in NOT CRICKET. At the moment I’m using 2 voices. I’m using the first person for the protagonist so that you know that this is her story. I’m using the third person for the other central character so I can tell the whole story about the past before the protagonist was born. I like the contrast between their perspectives that span two generations.

I’d guess every writer has a different method for choosing a voice. I start with my story and decide which character/s would be the best voice for that book. In my revisions I experiment. A good writing exercise is to write the same scene in 3 different voices. The character that speaks to me a certain way is the right voice; it resonates.

Long answer to a short question! I get on a roll when I’m writing, and this morning’s chapter went quickly.

Cindy said...

Reading the comments on your blog is like the sequel to the post! Always interesting conversations going on.
I have to say I can't read Stephen King either, too scary.
I love the reflection photo. Of course it reminds me of your watercolor but it's also like there is a hidden world beneath the ripples.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cindy, this week I think the comments are longer than the post. Isn’t the best part of blogging the conversation? I spend most of my week talking to my characters (ie myself.) It’s a relief to have real people talking back. Especially because you all have such interesting things to say. I love your hidden world observation.

Donna said...

Wow, the pictures you take and the area you live in is gorgeous. Maine is so beautiful! I've been up there a few times and I really like it. I like your dog, she looks so friendly and fun-loving. Dogs really know how to have fun and relish life!

Best of luck with writing your new novel. I often wonder about how writers go about the whole process of actually creating and producing their story, so it's interesting to read about your experience with this.

I agree with the quote from Anne Lamott. When I had to write numerous papers in college, the method I finally found that worked the best was when I just sat down and typed whatever came to mind. The first draft was usually very rough, but with good research, editing, and polishing I could make it shine. It's just the process of getting started that can be difficult, so taking the pressure off by doing a bare-bones, straight-from-the-mind draft worked pretty well!

Sarah Laurence said...

Donna, living here inspires my art and writing. My dog is indeed fun-loving and friendly. Thanks for sharing your rough starts.

Jean Merriman said...

The pics are all great Sarah but the one at the pond is absolutelt stunning!

Jean Merriman said...


Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Jean!

Gretel said...

I am a hermit most of the time, I am usually a terribly antisocial person so I sympathise...if I had gorgeous beaches like yours at my disposal I would probably be even worse!

Sarah Laurence said...

PG, interesting as you’re a book illustrator/toy maker. We hermits seem to gravitate towards the arts. I guess we have to enjoy solitude. It’s the fall foliage that is tempting me today.

Anil P said...

I would've loved to sit at that table by the window and watch the sun on the beach, hearing an occasional voice come floating in. I quite like the way the sunlight tumbles across the small table.

Seeing the picture of maples turning colour I'm reminded of the gulmohar blooms here in March-April. Maples must make for pretty viewing against the backdrop of the skies, bluer the better.

Starting off is always difficult not unlike getting a bicycle going I suppose, only to have it roll on its own later.

I suppose the key is to hit a slope sometime.

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, gulmohar blooms sound beautiful. Seasonal color is so special. I like your bicycle simile so much I’m going to ride it. I’m building a hill with my words; that’s why it’s so difficult at the beginning. Once I have enough words, I coast down them as I finally did today. I’m back at Oxford.

Anil P said...

:-) :-)

Anonymous said...

You should be aware that atleast 5 of your photos in "Dog Beaches and Dogged Beginnings" were taken from private property. Fort Popham State Park extends only to Spinney's, beyond Spinney's and Percy's is privately owned and deeded to low water. Please read the information on the University of Maine's Law School site explaining the shore property rights as upheld by the Maine Supreme Court's decisions.
Furthermore, please don't encourage people to bring their dogs to this beach, they are a threat to the endangered terns and piping plovers. That is the reason that dogs are not permitted on the Popham Beach State Park. Dogs urine and feces are also dangerous for our children playing on the beach as many people do not clean up after their dogs and sometimes dogs are a threat to small children when not leashed.
Problems such as these are likely to cause property owners to limit access in the future if people are not considerate of the preservation/safety of the beach. That includes asking property owners permission to photograph and sell pictures of privately owned beach.

Sarah Laurence said...

Linda, thank you for the legal clarification as I was not aware of it. We do leash our dog when she isn’t swimming and always clean up after her. There were no nesting birds at that time of year. Although I do sell my paintings and photos, these photos would not be among them. I will add a notice to my blog so that people will read your comment and understand the legal restrictions.