Island writers tell all

Get to know the ‘Islanders Write’ authors before the big event.


“Islanders Write” is returning for the fourth summer on Monday, August 14, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. This daylong event examining the art, craft, and business of writing is open to the public and free of charge.

In anticipation of the event on Monday, The Martha’s Vineyard Times asked some of the day’s participants a few expected and unexpected questions, and have selected a sampling of their answers to share. For more information about “Islanders Write,” and a detailed schedule:

What time of day or night do you get your best writing done?

Elise Broach: My best time for writing is ten to three—bankers’ hours… too bad writing doesn’t pay as well as banking.

Linda Fairstein: I do my best writing in the day — start in the morning, stop for lunch and a swim, and power through the afternoon. I never ever write at night, after that first sip of Scotch.

Annabelle Gurwitch: My favorite writing time is the middle of the night, when I have exhausted all other means of distracting myself. Alas, I fear if I give in to that kind of thing, I’ll be sleeping all day, never get out of my pajamas, then sixteen cats will take up residence at my place and not long after that I’ll have to be airlifted out of my bedroom on a piano crane.  So I subscribe to keeping what Dani Shapiro calls “bankers hours” in her book Still Writing and sit at a desk everyday, breaking up my day with walks and short runs.

Meryl Gordon: On the Vineyard, mornings after 7 am, to leave plenty of afternoon time to go to the beach. In NYC, after 4 pm, when the phone stops ringing.

Elizabeth Hawes: Long ago I committed myself to the key advice to write early in the morning or “from bed to head,” which almost always works well, although I accomplish this only occasionally.

John Hough: William Styron is the only great writer I know of who didn’t write in the morning, so I write mornings only, hoping some of the success of the majority will rub off.

Gregory Mone: The time I’m supposed to be doing something else.

Walter Shapiro: Unless I’m on a deadline for writing a column, I start my serious work at about 4 pm, because I need enough time to pass for self-loathing — a potent motivator — to set in.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve done for book research?

Geraldine Brooks’ son Bizu Horwitz heading sheep in Jerusalem on research trip. —Courtesy Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks: Herded sheep in the Jerusalem foothills.

Linda Fairstein: Go six hundred feet below the streets of New York with the sandhogs who are building the water tunnels under the city. Dark and wet (with water from the Hudson River seeping through the bedrock beneath Manhattan), and a bit terrifying — but essential to the story of “Bad Blood.”

Jack Fruchtman: Because I write nonfiction, historical works, the most unusual aspect of my research is to try to enter the minds of the figures I write about, and to do that, I once sat in Thomas Paine’s house in New Rochelle, N.Y., and tried to imagine his life there. Frankly, it failed.

Nicole Galland researches her novel Godiva. —Sarah Mayhew

Nicole Galland: I rode on a horse naked and bareback while researching my novel about Lady Godiva.

Jessica Harris: Eat blood sausage in the open market in Kenya.

John Hough: Walked the length of the Deep Ravine at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana. It is choked with brush and scrub, and the habitat of rattlesnakes. Tourists aren’t allowed there — not that they want to go — but I had permission from a park ranger. He told me to be very careful.

Gregory Mone: I asked a physicist, If Santa’s suit makes him invisible, how would that work?

Richard North Patterson: Travels through Nigeria with bodyguards after taking out kidnapping insurance.

Walter Shapiro: In writing my first book (“One-Car Caravan,” on the 2004 Democratic race), I allowed myself to go up in a plane piloted by John Kerry, who took a cell-phone call as he was making a perfect landing.

Richard Michelson: Infiltrated a Klingon Command War Council at a Star Trek convention.

 Do you write your first draft in longhand or on the computer?

Nancy Aronie: Computer, then I print then I fix in longhand, then go fix on computer, then I print, then I leave it alone so I can get some distance on it, then read again, final fix, then send it out. Then panic and make a few more changes. Editors are very good to me, and make the edits I beg for.

Geraldine Brooks: Longhand until I know what I’m doing, laptop once I figure that out.

Linda Fairstein: I wrote most of the first draft of my first book (nonfiction) in 1990 in longhand, which I thought was wonderfully old-fashioned and romantic, but once I met my first computer, there was no going back.

Annabelle Gurwitch: I would still be writing my first book if I had to write longhand because I have such terrible handwriting. I grew up in that generation where teachers just shrugged their shoulders at left handers and you were on your own so my smuggy longhand looks something akin to Cy Twombly paintings.  But I insist on taking notes longhand because thoughts stick in my brain in a deeper way if I write them out  and I also edit by printing out pages and writing in my terrible scribble.

Jessica Harris: It’s all on computer now, with loads of printouts and paper edits. (Sorry about the tree killing!)

Elizabeth Hawes: Still longhand for important passages or decisive paragraphs.  I feel more secure this way for it and it looks like it belongs to me.

Richard Michelson: Computer. I have lost the ability to read my own handwriting.

Gregory Mone: Longhand until my pen can’t keep up with my brain. Then I switch.

Richard North Patterson: I dictate my first draft on the computer.

Walter Shapiro: I write everything on the computer — and, for better or worse, do it without an outline.

Do you clap at a Menemsha sunset?

Linda Fairstein: I don’t clap. Sometimes I cry. It’s always a joyful sight.

Jack Fruchtman: No, never, though I do not sneer at those who do, but, boy, I can’t understand why they do so. Who (or what) are they applauding? Well, to each his/her own.

Jessica Harris: Honestly, I live in O.B.; I don’t drive; I have never seen a Menemsha sunset. I probably wouldn’t clap because God does good sunsets lots of places!

Gregory Mone: No, I look for parking.

Arnie Reisman: Only once. Think that was in the ’70s under drugs.

Walter Shapiro: I feel that the audience should not get in the way of the performance, so decidedly no clapping at sunset.

Richard Michelson: No, except when those around me are clapping. Then I bow to peer pressure.

If you were to write a country song about the Vineyard, what would the first line be?

Geraldine Brooks: “I got the no-entry, you-ain’t-welcome, private beaches summertime blues.”

Callie Crossley: “Missed the Ferry on Purpose Cuz I Was Missing You.”

Nicole Galland: “I got the Five Corners Blues, cause I’m blue in the face from inhaling all that carbon monoxide.”

Jessica Harris: “Late night doughnuts and Lyme disease have left me feeling great unease. What is happening to the Island I love?”

Richard North Patterson: “I’d like to take this day and freeze it.”

Arnie Reisman: “Why did the men in Menemsha put the chill in Chilmark?”