By Timothy Gillis
A baseball writer for ESPN has returned to his true love: creating fiction. Author Josh Pahigian, who teaches writing composition at the University of New England, made his name by traveling from ballpark to ballpark, covering America’s pastime.
But now, he says, he is getting back to his creative roots.
“I wrote the ‘Ultimate Baseball Road Trip’ in 2004, with my grad school buddy, Kevin O’Connell,” Pahigian said. “That got some national media attention. Kevin and I were on ESPN for an appearance and both started writing for ESPN out of that. It launched me as a baseball writer and, as much as I like that, it’s not my real passion.”
Pahigian, who has seven baseball-related books to his credit, loved the start he got as a sports scribe, but it did kind of pigeonhole him as a writer.
“There was a temptation to keep writing baseball books,” he said, “because of the money and response, but it was moving me away from what I saw myself as – a fiction writer.Writing fiction again was very freeing for me. Writing the type of non-fiction I was writing was rooted in a pretty straight-forward account of the facts – baseball guides and history books – which focused on ‘what was,’ with a little bit of my opinion. Writing fiction gave me a chance to use the creative side a lot more. It’s been invigorating for me, a pleasure.”
Pahigian also teaches in the Low residency, a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Ct., working with students one week each semester. His teaching schedule allows him time to hone in on Old Orchard Beach, where he worked at one time for the recreation department. OOB is the site of his debut novel, “Strangers on the Beach,” a fast-paced whodunit set with the familiar backdrop of the OOB Pier, the summertime tourists, and the Brunswick, where one of the main characters hides out.
Pahigian said he enjoyed revisiting his old OOB haunts, both literally and in his writing, but the entire process took quite a while to come to him.
“From the time I had the idea for it, it took about a year writing it, then another year finding a publisher, then another year for it to come out,” he said. “My wife, Heather, andI spent a lot of time at the Beach. We were married on Pine Point Beach, about a mile up from Old Orchard, in 2002, right in front of the Lighthouse Inn.”
Now living in Buxton, Pahigian says he had a lot of fun writing about a place that healways enjoyed going to.
“Strangers on the Beach” tells the story of Ferdinand Sevigny, “a bold and brash billionaire whose failed stunt to sail blindfolded across the Atlantic lands him in Old Orchard, triggering a series of events that redefines him and all those people caught up inthe mysteries that surround him,” according to a press release on the novel. The book has been tapped as an “Indie Sleeper Title to Watch” by Publisher’s Weekly, the release said.
The novel has several good plot twists, perhaps surprising for a writer’s first foray, but Pahigian employs a few classic tricks, as well as some original red herrings. Most of the chapters are quite short, and work like a series of Dan Brown or Michael Crichton cliff-hangers, providing quick-paced reading and cinematic qualities. The narrative perspective is always what’s called “limited third-person,” wherein the storyteller is not one of the characters but some voice removed from the action. The “limited” nature of the perspective means that the narrator does not know all (as an omniscient narrator does), and Pahigian uses this curtailed view to his advantage. Chapters usually shift from one to another over-the-shoulder points-of-view, and the reader is kept curious but only partially informed.
“I tried to limit myself to whatever would be apparent to that character,” he said.
Billy, a local kid who gets caught up with the billionaire’s escapades, is first seen under the pier, lamenting his troubled life with a morally loose mother. He encounters someonewhom he (and the reader) thinks must be the billionaire, but that’s not so.
Ernie, a local cop, seems destined for a long, important role in the mystery, but that assumption also proves false.
“When I started, I expected him to be in the book all along,” Pahigian said, “but there was a danger of him taking over. When I decided to kill him, I went back and added some foreshadowing.”
The author said Old Orchard seemed like a natural locale for his mystery.
“The town has a history of devastating fires and floods,” he said. The fire in the novel is based on several such blazes, but not on any specific one.
“I guess I took something that was historic of the town, and tweaked it to build the story, for Sevigny’s stay at the Brunswick,” he said.
Pahigian said the main character might not be the same person as the protagonist.
“None of it is possible without Sevigny,” he said. “He’s the locus of the story, but – from a writing standpoint – Billy and Marisol were more interesting to create.” Marisol is Sevigny’s love interest.
Another character, Sally, collects objects on the beach and becomes an unwitting witness.
“She’s not based on a specific person, but my wife and I go to the beach a ton, and I’ve seen people who walk around and collect things,” said Pahigian, who plans on writing more fiction now.
“I’m working on another novel, also set predominantly in Old Orchard. It’s not a sequel or a prequel – different characters but the same setting that inspired me,” he said.
The next novel is also a murder mystery, part of it set in 1927 when a plane is lost at sea. The pilot is assumed lost with it, but the plane, in fact, has landed at Old Orchard Beach, and the tourist town becomes a perfect backdrop once again.
Josh Pahigian will be reading from “Strangers on the Beach,” and talking fiction, in general, at the following places: On Wednesday, January 30, at 6:30 p.m. at McArthur Public Library in Biddeford; on Thursday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at North Gorham Public Library; and on Saturday, February 9, at 2 p.m. at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.