Almost from the very beginning, Paul Baribault knew what he wanted to do with his life. And so, with big dreams dancing in his head, he announced his plans to his high school guidance counselor.

It could have gone better.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be a writer,'” Baribault recalls of that long ago conversation. “She said, ‘Do you mean you’re going to teach English?’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to write.’ And she said, ‘Well then, you’re going to starve.’ And I said, ‘I don’t care. I have to do this.'”

The Lewiston native didn’t succumb to the doubts of that long ago guidance counselor and now, 50 years later, nobody of sound mind would deny that the 69-year-old is a writer through and through.

He’s written seven plays, nine screenplays and more than 100 sonnets. Most recently, Baribault authored four children’s books that he’d like to see adapted to radio shows and school performances.

He also spent 14 years penning features and product descriptions for L.L.Bean, a gig that in many ways sealed Baribault’s ultimate destiny as a writer.

Mount Shasta

When Baribault graduated from Lewiston High School in 1966, he knew he wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until he had moved on to St. Michael’s College in Vermont that he began to realize how much he wanted it.

“I wrote my first play when I was 24,” Baribault says. “I was living in Killington, Vermont at the time. I decided at that time I was going to give writing a really good shot – until I was 40. And if I didn’t make any money at it by then, I was going to get a real job.”

Few people become great writers by staying in one spot and Baribault was no exception. In Vermont, he was landscaping and painting houses to support himself, but those odd jobs did little to broaden his horizons. He hadn’t had a chance to taste the culture of the arts and to develop his own craft through experience.

That changed when Baribault was invited to visit Mount Shasta, a wee city of just a few thousands souls crammed in around an extinct volcano in northern California.

“I was just going to be there for the summer,” Baribault recalls. “I was going to camp on the mountain and just take it all in. Instead, I was there for 14 years.”

You can hardly blame him for staying. In Mount Shasta, the budding young writer found like-minded souls – people who were throwing themselves into their art and trying to make a living at it.

“It was an artistic community,” Baribault says. “There were a lot of painters there, musicians, writers. Everybody was giving their art their best shot. Nobody judged you for what you did for a living, which was lovely.”

Again, Baribault supported himself by house painting, but in Mount Shasta it was different. In Mount Shasta, even the guy who ran the paint business understood that Baribault’s priority had to be his art.

“He was very friendly toward my writing,” Baribault says. “He said, ‘If there’s a given morning when it’s just coming to you and you don’t want to come to work, that’s okay with me.’ It was a perfect job. While I was there, I wrote screenplays, because everybody in California was writing screenplays. I also wrote a volume of sonnets while I was there. That just kind of happened one day. I was doing landscaping at the time and there was this line that was continuously in my head. I thought, ‘What is that?’ And then I thought, that’s the start of a poem.”

It sounds idyllic, but there was a problem. Baribault had vowed that either he’d be making a living with his writing by the time he was 40 or he’d give it up and get a real job.

Guess which birthday was closing in?

Baribault has always felt that some grand force was looking out for him as he pursued his writing career. That may be entirely true, although when it came to his 40th birthday promise, that grand force was a few days late.

Everything but women’s wear

Baribault ultimately left northern California and returned to Lewiston. At the time, he was drawn back home by the idea of developing a computer program that would allow homeowners to see how paint colors would look on their walls before they started painting. In the meantime, he took seasonal work loading trucks for L.L.Bean. It was meant to be just a temporary job, but Bean would prove to be a key component in Baribault’s 40-year quest to become a professional writer.

“A job was posted for writing for the catalog. I thought, ‘I can do that,'” Baribault says. “I went in with my screenplays – I had done no business writing at all. Happily, one of the two writers interviewing me was a screenwriter herself. We just hit it off and I got the job.”

The catalog job was offered just five days after Baribault turned 40. After decades of wandering, he had found a way to make a career out of writing.

“I lucked out,” he says. “When I got that writing job at Beans, I had a professional career. I had a pension and all that stuff. Someone was looking out for me. If I had turned 40 and I hadn’t given it my best shot, I would have been miserable. I know that.”

For L.L.Bean, Baribault wrote features on topics like the Mount Everest Peace Climb and Babe Ruth’s known love for the Bean boot. He also wrote a Christmas musical, produced by Bean, and deep product descriptions for the company’s many wares.

“I wrote for every category,” Baribault says, “except women’s wear.”

He stayed at L.L.Bean for 14 years, but his writing didn’t stop at florid descriptions of hats and coats, hunting rifles and tents. Baribault kept writing and, after moving on to work as a marketing manager for Agren Appliance, he finalized the play “God Touches,” a dramatic comedy in four acts. He showed the script to Dennis St. Pierre, a well-established actor who had starred in an off Broadway show and made guest appearances on big time shows like “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal” and “NYPD Blue.”

St. Pierre liked the script, as it turned out, and agreed to star in the play, which debuted in 2009 at the Franco Center in Lewiston.

“To this day, I wonder how we pulled that off,” Baribault says. “About 600 people came over three nights. We actually made money. It was very well-received.”

By that point, Baribault was pushing 60. Nobody would have blamed him if he had taken semi-retirement. He had made good on his promise to become a writer, after all.

But few writers ever really feel like quitting. And now that Baribault had married and raised a family, he had new interests to tug at his attention. His wife at the time in particular wanted him to write children’s books.

As is his way, Baribault kept it in mind and then waited for that grand force to show itself again. And it did, as Baribault was driving to Norway just a few days after the birth of his second grandson.

“I was halfway there,” he recalls, “when this idea for a book came to me: two little kids encountering four little animals and then they go on this series of dream adventures through 10 stories.”

Sleepy time

“This book was a gift,” Baribault says. “It wrote itself in a matter of two weeks. You’re up at all hours. You’re catching sleep where you can. You don’t know where the story is going, that’s the cool thing.”

The book is “Sleepyheads – Telling Dreams,” which involves an aspiring young writer (naturally) and her cousin, who share dream adventures with four animal friends they encounter in a forest glen. The book features a three-tiered surprise ending – a twist that Baribault hadn’t even invented until he was halfway done the writing.

When the book was finished, Baribault spent some time flogging the manuscript around to agents and publishers before deciding to publish it himself, though Amazon. Before he could begin that process, though, the book needed a cover and artwork to accompany the stories.

For that, Baribault turned to his nephew, artist and teacher Richard “Rik” Belanger, who was tasked with creating imagery to introduce a world where children and animals share their dreams.

“It was my first time doing a book cover, so it was a challenge for me,” says Belanger, who lives in Poland. “I think it was challenging for both of us. We just kept going back and forth on ideas, and talking about what kind of images to use.”

Belanger would sketch an image, Baribault would give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Through this collaborative effort, a final cover for “Sleepyheads” was produced – a bright blue sky and a vivid green earth surrounded by various items, including a blimp, a boomerang, hot air balloons and a castle.

Baribault had himself a book, on sale at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle forms. The paperback, with black and white artwork on the inside pages, sells for $6, a price point low enough that Baribault can pass along copies to various schools in hopes of convincing someone to transform it into a school play.

Mission accomplished? Hardly. Over the following three years, Baribault wrote another trio of children’s books, “The Cobbler’s Cape,” “Yudy” and “The Nightengale’s Song.”

Belanger came back to illustrate “The Cobbler’s Cape,” while one of his students, then 16-year-old Ashanti Fortson, worked up a cover and art for “The Nightengale’s Song.” The final cover, for Baribault’s book “Yudy,” was created by Hallowell artist Christopher Cart, who had created paintings for “God’s Touch” years earlier.

Now a grandfather closing in on 70 years, Baribault’s status as a writer is well-established. But as most authors discover, writing isn’t often enough. There’s also the matter of getting those books before the eyes of potential readers and promoting them relentlessly. That means creating and maintaining a website (Baribault designed his own through through the service GoDaddy), delivering author talks wherever invited and constantly searching for more creative ways to promote his work.

“The creative part comes easily,” Baribault says. “I have to force myself to do this part.”

He’s doing it, though. Recently, Baribault dropped his books off with Lewiston school administrators in hopes that someone with a little ambition will turn them into plays. He’s also held writers workshops at the Carrie Ricker School in Litchfield, which enabled him to plug his books while talking about the craft he dedicated his life to – and who knows more about the craft of writing than a guy who dedicated 50 years?

Five decades after making himself a promise to become a professional writer at all costs, Baribault is still getting up at 3 a.m. most days to write. As far as he’s concerned, his timing has been right on the money. After all, a few decades ago, he would have had to spend all of his hours querying agents and publishers in hopes of one day getting his books published, a process that could take years.

Instead, thanks to the rise of self-publishing services, Baribault was able to publish his books himself, maintaining control of his work and taking charge of his own destiny.

“It’s a Golden Age for writers,” Baribault says, holding up a copy of “Sleepyheads.” “I mean, a grandparent who wants to write a single story for their grandchild can do this. It’s amazing.”

Back when he was a young aspiring writer at Lewiston High School, Baribault got some less-than-encouraging advice from that guidance counselor who portended such a grim future. Fortunately, he also ran into a student teacher from Bates College who was far more supportive of Baribault’s dreams.

He remembers what that student teacher looked like, Baribault said, and he remembers that she told him to keep at the writing no matter what. He doesn’t remember her name, however, so on his website, he posted an open letter to that memorable teacher in hopes that she will one day stumble upon it and know that she made a difference in a young man’s life.

“So this is to thank you for those many encouragements to keep at the writing in the future,” Baribault wrote to that teacher. “I did and have, and I owe part of it to you.”

Baribault has a dream where a play based on his work will someday be shown at Bates College and, through some cool convergence of luck and destiny, that one-time student teacher will be there to see it.

It seems fanciful and not very likely, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the idea altogether. Baribault knows a thing or two about dreams, after all, and he has the will and patience to see them through.

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Author and Lewiston native Paul Baribault with his books. (Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal)

Author Paul Baribault and his grandson, R.J.


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