Bound together against gun violence

Thu, 02/01/2024 - 10:00am

“In honor of the victims, survivors, and families of the Lewiston mass shooting that occurred on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.” So reads the dedication of a new anthology of Maine short stories “Maine Character Energy: A Charity Anthology,” published by Rogue Owl Press on Jan. 17. All 11 authors – Lara Tupper, Shannon Bowring, Paul Carro, Emily Knowles, sid sibo, Bruce Pratt, Mary E. Plouffe, Cynthia Graae, Michelle Soucy, Clif Travers and Charlotte Crowder –have ties to Maine. They were raised here, still live here, used to live here, or vacation here.

Project Editor Sarah Parke was inspired to pull an anthology together after reading Stephen King’s essay in the Oct. 27 edition of the New York Times addressing his frustration with the country’s obsession with firearms. For Parke, it was a call to action: “... Taking the time to put your frustrations into words and sharing those words with an audience, I think, speaks to some degree of hope that perhaps people can be persuaded to take action, to do better. Words have the power to convince, revile, entertain, and charm. Stories hold a unique kind of power ... I wanted to create a story collection that would celebrate the resilient spirit of Mainers.”

Parke put out the call to writers the first week of November. There were no genre restrictions, but the stories had to take place in Maine. Gratuitous violence would not be accepted. “I did contact some of my former MFA program writers and friends of friends who were writers, who might have stories already written about, or taking place, in Maine. I received 20 stories and loved the quality of the submissions.”

All proceeds from the sale of this anthology are being donated to nonprofit Everytown For Gun Safety. The largest gun violence prevention organization in the U.S. was formed in 2013,  after a merger between Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The seeds for Moms Demand Action were planted in direct response to the Sandy Hook shootings of Dec. 14, 2012. Shannon Watts, mother of five children, created a Facebook page to discuss the need for Americans to do more about reducing gun violence … and the conversations on that page formed the grass roots of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown.

“Everytown For Gun Safety is supporting grassroots movements, works with other organizations; is involved in education – members visit schools and talk about gun safety,” said Parke. “Hopefully one day there will be a solution. There doesn’t seem to be enough checks and balances.”

Two of the 11 writers, Karen Menzell and Paul Carro, submitted stories written specifically for the anthology. Maine native, and horror author, Paul Carro has been living in Los Angeles since graduating college, yet he still considers the state his home. Most of his family still live in Maine – several in Lewiston. “I was one of those people frantically reaching out via phone to make sure my loved ones were safe as the shootings unfolded. Thankfully they were OK, but they lost some friends.”

Although most of Carro’s horror stories are set in his imaginary town of Tether Falls, Maine, Carro knew the story for this anthology would not be. “The event was a greater horror than any author could write about. I chose to write a story (“You Can’t Get Theah From Heah”) I hoped could provide some comfort for those experiencing the grief of loss,” Carro said. “How do you console people in such a tragic time? What I wrote might help some poor kid who cannot understand why mom or dad didn't come home. Death takes people unexpectedly.”

Menzell lived in Maine while earning her MFA in creative writing at University of Southern Maine’s Stone Coast program. Before the idea for the anthology came about, this sci-fi, fantasy, horror author had not yet written any stories set in Maine. “I wanted to write a story marked by loss, and also hope for the future – this is also what this anthology means to me. When Sarah asked if I wanted to be involved I immediately said yes. I had yet to write an earthly story set in Maine,” shared Menzell. “I wrote a story (“Paint It Black”) of a Maine teenager going through normal teen issues of both friends and family, and what it’s like to grow up in a state where nature is so close, vast, and meaningful.”

Boothbay Harbor’s Lara Tupper submitted a short story from her award-winning collection “Amphibians.” “Sarah wanted to focus on Maine character and resilience, and to me this means meeting hard circumstances with compassion and action. My short story, “Glass,” speaks to resilience. I've written about Maine in other ways, but this story seemed to meet Sarah's vision for what the anthology could be. I was thrilled when it was accepted and grateful to Leapfrog Press for allowing the story to be reprinted.”

Parke said the cover concept was the most challenging aspect of the project. She turned to someone she had attended USM’s MFA Stone Coast program with – Emily Knowles, artist, designer, writer, teacher, and former resident of Lewiston – now in Louisiana. Parke looked through some of Knowles’ recent work before contacting her to discuss what what she visualized for the cover.

Knowles had been a teacher at St. Dominic Academy for six years in Lewiston and it’s where her two sons attended school. Her sister, niece and nephew still live there, too. Five years ago, Knowles retired from teaching and returned to art and writing. One of her favorite canvases turned out to be pairs of VANS slip-on footwear, sans laces. She painted ocean waves and sunset scenes, mostly. Sarah Parke found them online and ordered some.

When the anthology project came her way, Knowles was just getting back into painting (on traditional canvas), and digital art – in her new home in Louisiana. In particular, Knowles had been experimenting with making stained glass with paint. “When Sarah contacted me to ask if I would design the cover of this anthology she wanted a Maine scene. I was thinking water, pine trees, wildlife ... But Lewiston is such a strong Catholic town, and so the stained glass came to mind,” said Knowles. “A lot of emotion went into the cover as I worked on it. It’s heartbreaking and it felt so strange not being there. We were all glued to the television while friends and family in Maine were calling and telling us what was happening faster than the news.”

During the days and weeks that followed the mass murders, Knowles got back in touch with some of her students, one of whom was a first responder Oct. 25. Knowles asked for them to keep journals to work through the emotions they were experiencing – just as they had in her classes.

“I wanted to create a story collection that would celebrate the resilient spirit of Mainers,” Parke said. “I chose the title “Maine Character Energy” because the term ‘main character energy’ is in the zeitgeist now that refers to people taking control of their lives, their narrative, which I think applies to the Maine spirit and people in the wake of a national tragedy like the folks in Lewiston. I also love the pun!”

The goal is to sell 3,000 copies. There is significance to that number: “There were 31 people – and their families – affected by the shootings and the idea was to sell 100 copies for each of them,” Parke said. “But we decided to round off to 3k.”

The anthology is available as a paperback for $12.99 and as an eBook at $4.99. By purchasing a copy of “Maine Character Energy: A Charity Anthology,” you are showing support for the work of Everytown For Gun Safety and for the families, and the community that is Lewiston.

The eBook and paperback are available online at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, The Rogue Owl Press, Good Reads, and Kindle, among others. Locally, it will be at Sherman’s Book Store in Boothbay Harbor soon.