‘Snotgrass’ author takes family secrets, and growing up in Washington, Maine, to a tragic comic level
CAMDEN — The first thing you need to know about J. E. Moores’ latest self-published book, Snotgrass, is yes, that is his mother and her foot-and-a-half-high Marge Simpson bouffant on the cover. The second thing, despite the cartoons on the cover, is this is not a children’s book. Far from it.
Snotgrass is actually a memoir about five generations of Moores’ colorful family, particularly the tall tales his grandfather, Grampy Flanders, told him growing up in a farmhouse in Washington, Maine, in the 1960s. The title character Snotgrass is a swamp monster that Grampy invented to convey a moral lesson to Moores, which we later learn, arose from a disturbing childhood incident Grampy witnessed as a boy.
“I always say the best part of anyone’s life are the secrets,” said Moores. “So, I put everything in here that I thought was juicy stuff.”
Moores, in many ways, is a character who belongs in a book himself. He lives in Camden with his wife, Hazel, and their 10-year-old daughter, Malaya, who happens to accompany him on his book tours and author interviews. A big kid himself, he builds and collects toys, draws cartoons and has written 15 books ranging from stories to toy construction. He doesn’t own a cell phone, have a license or drive.
“And I don’t own anything I can’t carry,” he said. “Because once you do, it owns you.”
Toys for Moores are the perfect vehicle to tell stories.
“I had all of the Planet of the Apes toys as a kid,” he said. “I also loved the obscure Chinasaurs. They were packaged as dinosaurs, but they were made up monsters. I’ve always loved theater and designed a lot of props. Just making stuff is what I love to do, but it usually has to have a narrative. Any toy I collect or make and turn into a book or a video, it’s got to have a back story and lore.”
The made-up monsters in Moores’ memoir happen to be Swamp Boggers, Philly Lou Birds, Side Hill Gougers and a Yupapotamus — all part of Grampy’s sense of humor as he explains facets of life to Moores as a kid on long drives through the backwoods of Maine. (Incidentally, a few of these monsters appear on the cover crawling all over Moores’ mother.)
After Moores graduated from art school in Maryland, he pursued an artist’s path by keeping the bills paid with jobs, such as video editing and computer work.
For almost 20 years, he and his wife, a professional blogger, have owned and operated several dot.com stores.
“Anything I knew about 10 percent about, I set up with a domain name and basically pursued which one made the most money,” he said.
The set-up he has now allows him to work two hours a day stocking and shipping items on the jobby job stuff, leaving the rest of his time free to pursue creative activities.
“Yes, I’ve worked very hard to do very little,” he added.
Snotgrass is written simply from a childlike perspective about the family stories he has heard all of his life, even though many are often tragic. He’d been working on compiling these stories for several decades, trying to find a way to make characters out of real people.
“My mom always had that bouffant even though we lived in a little farmhouse the middle of nowhere and she was always dressed like she was going to some royal ball. She was a really tough lady— always doing everything herself, even out changing her own transmission, all dressed up in this garb. And she was famous for it. She’d be gardening or driving her lawn mower and people would be like ‘I’ve never seen your mom’s hair out of place.’”
In person, Moores’ best kid-like quality is his sense of humor in the face of a serious situation. Deeper into the book, it’s revealed that one of the biggest family secrets he kept was the identity of his biological father, who abandoned him. To know this about Moores and to witness his cockeyed optimism, makes him even more of a compelling real-life character.
“The book gets really intense,” he said. “It’s funny, but I use humor to set you up for heartbreak.”
“The best part of these stories is that my grandfather would add to the stories his dad told him and I’ve passed them down to my daughter. All the toys I’ve built or collected were used in play with Malaya and were a way to continue the stories with her. They were just a way to see what would connect with her.”
Moores has already done two small book readings in Camden and Washington, but will be spending the next few months teaching arts and crafts at Malaya’s summer camp up north. To learn more about Moores visit: jemoores.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org