John Clark introducing everyone to my successor as librarian in Hartland. Right after we finished interviewing Nick, Karen McGrady who is a trustee and headed the search for a new librarian, looked at me and asked, “What do you think?” “It was like talking to a younger version of myself,” I replied. She nodded in agreement. What are the odds you’ll find someone who not only reads, but writes in the YA fantasy genre to pick up where you left off? Well, that’s what we did and I’m excited to have Nick step in and take the library to new places.
He’s a native mainer and has his undergraduate degree from UM-Farmington and his MLIS from Syracuse University. You can’t ask for better credentials than those when looking for someone to run a small, but extremely busy public library. While I plan to stay involved as a volunteer, I’m being extremely careful to act as a resource and let Nick have the freedom to do what he sees fit in order to run the library. If you’re interested, we’re having an open house at the library to celebrate the changing of the guard as well as recognize our valued volunteers. This takes place on Saturday, May 30th from 1-3 at the library which is located at 16 Mill St. in Hartland. Anyone reading this is welcome.
Here’s an interview I did with Nick for the blog.
What was your life like growing up–where, interesting things you did, what did you read, what were your hobbies
I grew up in Livermore, Maine. I mostly spent my time reading (a lot of boxcar children mysteries and great illustrated classics among other things, later Dragonlance and Terry Pretchett novels), swimming, camping, and hiking, mostly with the cub scouts and boy scouts. I also developed a love for board games and table top games in general. I also was involved with area youth sports or AYS that was organized between Livermore, Livermore Falls, and Jay. Soccer and baseball, and a couple years of basketball. I was never really athletic but it got me involved, and I was on a soccer team through freshman year of high school before it got more about competing than playing the game. I also spent a lot of winters skiing, not coming in until I was soaked through and frozen. I also played the trumpet from fourth grade through freshman year of high school in school band. Actually found myself reminiscing and wanting to relearn when I pulled it out of the closet this weekend. Other than that I have always been an animal lover, mostly dogs but at one time my family had two dogs and two horses (one of which was friendly most of the time but would only let my mom ride her). I actually got thrown off one of them and hit my head on a rock once (thankfully was wearing a riding helmet). Other than that it was a lot of family gatherings, writing, and going to the library.
How did you survive high school? What was the best part of it, worst part?
I mostly survived high school by putting my nose to the grind stone and focusing on school, always a bit of a complete nerd. I think the worst part was the little bit of bullying I encountered but I just tried to move on to different people. I think the best part was the trip I took to England through the school. Best decision I made to get some experience visiting other countries. Lots of history, lots of walking, and some nasty swans.
You went to UMF what was your college experience like? Highlights, defining moment(s)
Well, at first I was an English major, but as soon as I got there I realized I really wanted to be a writing major, so the first year was started with me learning what classes both majors required and taking those in addition to general electives. I spent the first two years applying to the creative writing program and taking advice from writing professors, including the director of the program. I felt a profound sense of accomplishment when I was finally accepted to the program.
My freshman year I had a group of friends, we went to all the meals together, went to the movies together, but then we were split apart when two of us who were dating split up in a nasty way, and then broke further apart a year later. I reunited with one of the original group though when I became a Community Assistant, probably the best of the group to be friends with too.
After that I met two people that would become my best friends at UMF that have continued after, Sean and Erich. Sean worked in the University snack bar and would give me extra stuff, including double sized quesadillas (paid for of course). We would all get together in the snack bar on weekends when he was working and there were fewer people there, building bigger and more unhealthy quesadillas we would share, culminating in the Alpha-dilla which was multi-layered and included such things as curly fries and mozzarella sticks and anything the snack bar had in it. We each had special handshakes and would talk about what we would do if we ever got rich. We invented a place called Manada, because it would be in between Maine and Canada, where we would all live and have roller coasters connecting all of our houses, and each with a different position within this new country.
And some of my best friends were my neighbors in the residence halls and my fellow writers, many of which overlapped. Lots of weekends spent gaming, writing, and “stealing” the neighbors rug to put in front of our door until they took it back.
I think some of my best experiences were as a Community Assistant (what others may know better as an RA). I met some of the best people working that job and apart from being paid I got to create programs for people which leads into library programming too. I think my favorite programs were the writing contest I started that continued for a couple years after I left, and games of Human Clue and Human Candyland I helped plan with many other Community Assistants across campus (brainchild of my friend Cassie) which brought together CAs, residents, our Assistant Directors, Director, and Professors.
You started writing when? What got you started?
I don’t really know what got me started. I always had an active imagination, pretending I was part of my favorite shows or books, at some point I just started writing my thoughts down. I started writing poems, which led to writing a christmas poem for my family every year which I still do even though I started hating writing poetry. I then began writing short stories and starts to novels that never really got finished but was very encouraged by one of my English teachers, Mrs. Hatfield.
You majored in creative writing, did you have any professors who were memorable? Why?
The most memorable professor for me was Elizabeth Cooke. She was the professor for my first creative writing class and was my greatest support and help getting accepted to the creative writing program. Afterwards she became my academic adviser. She was always kind but constructive with her criticism and loved reading all the stories she read and was always making us think about why we wrote something a certain way. She could help turn a three page draft written in sleep deprived delirium into a great ten page story.
What got you interested in library science?
Well, I have been going to libraries since before I could read. I volunteered at my local public library in high school, and worked as a library aide in the high school library. Interesting it didn’t occur to me that I was heading towards being a librarian until I did my apprenticeship for the creative writing program at the same library I volunteered at in high school. Myra threw everything at me to see if I would crack and I just got more interested in being a librarian.
How was the Syracuse program?
The Syracuse program was great. The program focuses a lot on theory about planning, marketing and assessment but there is lots of opportunity to get hands on library experience and learning. There is a lot of room to design your own program and direction with electives once you get through the required classes. There is a strong emphasis on community and the library being the center of that community. There is also a lot of emphasis on technology and the advancement of technology in and through libraries. There are some professors that were proponents of going fully technological (libraries with no physical materials, just digital with computers and tablets to serve the patrons) but I am a proponent of middle ground. Always good to improve technology and there might become fewer books and other physical materials but there will always be a balance of digital and analog or else you aren’t really serving your community. I think the best part of the program is a lot of the courses require you to talk face to face with librarians and immerse ourselves in the profession while still learning, including with the required internship. I learned a lot with my internship with the Syracuse branches of the Onondaga Public Library System and was exposed to a lot of diversity that my education was previously lacking.
You started a creative writing group got young adults, tell us about that.
I always was interested in starting a writing group in a library, but obviously not if there wasn’t an interest or a need. There was also a lack of programming for teens at the library, so in the interest of improving teen services I sent out a teen survey to the local middle school and high school. When the surveys came back there was some interest in a teen writing group. It took awhile to get the advertisement out but after enlisting the help of family members in the schools we got some interest. We have six regulars, most are interested in writing fiction but there are some that want to write nonfiction or are at least interested in it. Most of the meetings have been writing prompts that I think of beforehand. I try to get a good range that allows them to write whatever kind of writing they want to, sometimes with a loose “theme.” The intent was to get them sharing their work and workshopping their pieces to improve their writing.
What/who are your influences as a writer?
I think my major influences are Terry Pratchett (mostly his humor and his version of Death), and Margaret Weis of Dragonlance fame (I share my birthday with her too so that is cool). My poetry was very influenced by Emily Dickinson. I think most of my realistic fiction has been heavily influenced by my observations of the people around me, and the aforementioned Elizabeth Cooke. Probably a bit of J.K. Rowling thrown in there as well.
You’re about to take on responsibility for a small, but active public library. Why did you apply and what are you looking forward to the most?
I grew up in rural Maine so I have always had a love for small, local libraries. The big libraries are fun too but leave a lot of corners to hide in and you don’t get to experience everything, sometimes not even getting to work hand-in-hand with the community. In libraries like Hartland Public Library you get to immerse yourself in everything and you get to meet everyone in the community and get to offer your help in helping them find what they need and want.
Where do you see yourself in ten years as a librarian, as a writer?
I don’t know where I see myself in ten years with either, I’m really open to anything as long as I am part of this world of libraries and writing. Hopefully I will have been published and hopefully I am still learning from my experiences as a librarian and from the patrons I am serving. Probably sounds a bit lame.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had?
Well, its not really one moment, more of an annual moment. Every year after Thanksgiving my brother, a couple of my cousins, myself and now my sister-in-law get together for a weekend of tabletop role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, and other tabletop games. We play late into the night and wake up early and eat things that are generally bad for us. Its a weekend of inside jokes, gaming and fun. We have more weekends like that but after Thanksgiving has always been constant (though sometimes with absences if someone has other things to do).
What place do you want to visit the most?
I think it would be fun to travel anywhere but being honest I think the place I most want to visit right now is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As I said, complete nerd. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and would love to see it if only just once.
Congrats to Nick on the new job and best wishes in the writing career. Treat Memorial is a great little library. My late sister-in-law, Elaine Emerson Smith, was librarian there before Myra and I spent quite a bit of time there in those days. John, glad to know you’re still going to be volunteering. I hope one of you will continue to take book and video donations. I’m running out of shelf space . . . Again!
Kathy/Kaitlyn (in Wilton)
Congratulations to Nick on this new venture in life! I grew up in Jay and I also spent quite a bit of time at Treat Library back when Miss Mixer was the Librarian. Such fond memories. Yes, Maine sure is a small town, the former director of Treat Library, the late Elaine Emerson Smith was also my sister-in-law, married to my husband’s brother Kenney.
I’m wondering if Nick is of the Berry family of Berry Hill fame? Such a great apple orchard!
Not surprised that you’ll still be volunteering, John. See you on your blog!
Debbie (Currier) Buker
As much as I’ll miss John’s weird humor, I can see that nothing is going to change. It will be a smooth transition.The patrons will love you!
Looking forward to meeting Nick next weekend at the open house.
Big shoes to fill, John! But I’m betting you will find too many ways to fill your time.
Enjoyed the interview and stopped by to say, “Welcome, Nick!”