Chickawaukie, Appleton, The Kennebec River, 911, and Mom


Carleton Bridge

John Clark weighing in of turning points from a slightly different perspective. One of my morning swim buddies is reading Hardscrabble Kids my young adult anthology that came out in 2022. She made two comments I’ve heard others make about the stories in it. She really liked Inky Johannsen, a mentally challenged teen who can fix or improve anything mechanical even though he was abandoned by his scatterbrained mother and never attended school. She also said she likes the authenticity of my settings and characters as they relate to Maine.

I don’t expect to have what I write (save for stories published in wider ranging anthologies), find a market outside of Maine or New England and I’m fine with that. I’d much rather have readers stop in the middle of a story and wonder, “How the hell did he know Uncle Harold?”

My sister Kate just wrote a blog over at Maine Crime Writers on character mining. It’s one of the things I like to do, along with memory excavation. The process of character mining is a bit more challenging thanks to social media and the demise of big shopping malls, but here in Maine, we have a viable alternative...county fairs. I grew up in Union where the fair happens every August. My family has a long history of involvement with it. Kate was a Blueberry Princess one year, I designed a t-shirt for the Blueberry Festival, an event our mother, A. Carman Clark helped start. Mom also was curator of the Matthews Farm Museum which is housed on the fairgrounds, and the weekend before I got married, I marched in a parade around the racetrack in 90 degree weather while wearing a Smoky The Bear suit.

I am firmly convinced that Maine fairs are secret alien gatherings because I see people there who are just enough off that they’re extremely memorable...and they’re never seen anywhere else. I used this event in the second book in my Wizard of Simonton Pond series.

By now, you’re scratching your head and asking, “What does this have to do with turning points?” Think of memories that are indelible. Despite killing off a scary number of brain cells via substance abuse, I have a ton of visual and auditory snippets from my life that count as turning, or more importantly, should have been turning points. The title of this post refers to five of them.


Chickawaukie Lake lies just outside of Rockland where the Maine Lobster Festival happens every August. I have cringeworthy memories of the night I passed out and came to halfway into the water, nearly wrecking my car. They took a while to piece together, given that I came to the following morning, aching from head to toe, wondering where the heck my car was.

Appleton looking north from the shore of Sennebec Lake where I grew up.

Appleton is the town just north of Union where I had another near death experience, this one while riding a Honda 90 that belonged to my friend Joe. I hit a big elm tree head on and came to in an ambulance. This particular memory has legs extending twenty-five years later when I reconnected with Joe and was able to make amends while discovering we were both members of AA.

The Kennebec River is a mighty and beautiful beast, getting its start at the West Outlet of Moosehead Lake. It runs all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, passing through The Forks, Bingham, Madison, Skowhegan, Waterville, Augusta, and Bath. I’ve fished it, canoed it, and whitewater rafted it, but my most vivid memory comes from the time I fell off the old Carleton Bridge while painting it. The fall was less traumatic than the water quality. It was in 1969 and the river was foul. I lucked out by being reassigned to sit in the boat required by safety laws where I got a tan, read paperbacks, watched girls walk across the high sidewalk, and waited for the next poor soul to suffer a similar fate. I also saw things floating downriver that I’m certain came from trash discarded by aliens because they sure as hell didn’t look like anything man made or earth grown.

I’m convinced even zombies remember where they were the moment they learned about 911. I was the library director at the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library. I generally listened to new age music on cassette while driving to work, so when I arrived and found my staff clustered around a TV in the lobby, watching an airplane hit a building over and over, my brain got stuck. The rest of the day resembled the movie Groundhog Day because every time a new patron entered the library, we had to update them, or they had information we did not. Everyone’s biggest concern was a patron who was a commercial airline pilot and rumor had it he was on one of the planes. Fortunately, he wasn’t, but the trauma of that day derailed my ability to write for a long time.

  That writus interruptus was nowhere near as long as the one following my mother’s death. Mom was also one of my best friends. She got sober six months before I did, and whenever I stopped at 1000 East Sennebec Road, we talked writing, recovery, and imagination. Her death derailed not only my career as a library software specialist, but my writing for a very long time.

Turning points, I’ve had a few. The ones listed here are just a small sample, but whenever I am stuck on what to write about, I turn to the mental Rolodex in my head, and find another memory card, read it, and am off.


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