Russ Lane’s 2016 film “Looking for a Hero” tells the story of his father’s rescue of five teenagers from a sinking sailboat in 1958. His new book, “Snow Angels on the Moon,” tells the story behind the story – and every bookworm knows the book is better than the movie.
Lane’s father was Russell A. Lane Sr., of Pemaquid, a lobsterman and veteran of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. At the time of the rescue, he was a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper on Whitehead Island, off the coast of St. George.
As the book opens in 2014, the elder Lane is aging and sick. In addition to physical ailments, he has depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the service. He shows little interest in life.
One day, as his son looks through an old photo album, he finds a newspaper clipping about the rescue and sets out to prove a point to his father about the meaning of his life.
Lane begins a search for the five teenagers from the boat. He eventually finds four: an Air Force pilot, an award-winning author, a justice of the New York Supreme Court, and a physician behind a lifesaving vaccine.
As Lane finds the survivors and shares their lives and memories of the rescue with his father, he sees a change come over the older man.
Throughout the book, the author reflects on his own life – from his relationship with his father to his lifelong stutter to his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.
At one point in the book, local historian Barbara Rumsey observes Lane as he conducts research at the Boothbay Region Historical Society during a particularly challenging day for his Parkinson’s symptoms.
“Nothing stops you, does it?” she says.
Lane, of Pemaquid, hopes his story encourages others with Parkinson’s. All proceeds from book sales at a launch party in November – more than $1,000 – went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Despite its often serious subject matter, “Snow Angels on the Moon” is funny just as often.
Lane writes under the name “Russie” because it was his childhood nickname and “because I write like I am 10 years old,” he says, with the self-deprecating humor typical of his writing.
As he writes about a conversation with fellow visitors to Whitehead Island, he wonders if they notice his “other” speech problem: “Once you get me talking, it can be a hard job to shut me up.”
In another passage, he recounts his first date with his wife aboard his father’s lobster boat.
“After watching me haul the first two traps, Heidi found an extra pair of gloves on the dashboard. Without any coaxing, she soon had her hands dipping into the soupy fish guts and filling bait bags,” he writes. “I was in love.”
His writing ability he credits, in part, to his childhood efforts to hide his stutter, with the help of a dictionary.
“I would look up words that were not S words, because I always had a problem with S words – so I would spend a lot of time, as a child, looking up words I could easily speak,” he said. All those hours with the dictionary had another effect – to develop a writer’s vocabulary.
As a writer and filmmaker, Lane connects to stories of regular people – people like his father. “It’s kind of why I did the movie, because my father had a story that needed to be told,” he said.
But the movie left “loose ends,” Lane said – there was more story to tell.
There was another factor.
“Dad wanted me to write a book,” Lane said. “He’s been a big advocate of mine my whole life: ‘Go make something of yourself.’ He was probably the first one to recognize anything about my writing.”
His father died in November 2017.
“The manuscript was done and he got to read the whole book two months before he passed away,” his son said.
The younger Lane was nervous about his father’s reaction. In the book, he writes frankly about his father’s depression and PTSD.
“I thought he was going to be like, ‘Why’d you have to go these places?’ I opened up some pretty raw things in the book about his life, my life,” Lane said.
“He said that he loved the book,” Lane said. Of those raw descriptions of his struggles, he said that if the book would help others, they were well worth sharing.
Lane believes the film and book, and the process of making them, brought his father and family a sense of closure before his passing.
“There was nothing we didn’t already tell him, nothing left unsaid,” he said. “There was such a peace there.”
Lane is now writing a book about his great-aunt Pauline Geyer, from Pemaquid Harbor, which he describes as a story of love and separation.
Fourteen years after his diagnosis, he describes his Parkinson’s symptoms as “pretty steady right now.” The disease is “a big unknown,” because it “doesn’t treat anyone exactly alike.”
He knows patients diagnosed after him who have lost all mobility and now use wheelchairs. “I can’t let this, the fear of the disease, hold me back,” he said. As Rumsey observes in the book, he hasn’t.
“I want to keep people laughing,” Lane said of his book, “but I also want people to understand they’re not alone with some of these things.”
“Snow Angels on the Moon” is available at Sherman’s bookstores, as well as from Maine Authors Publishing and Amazon.