Authors Posts by Jack Shea

Jack Shea

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“Shores of the Heart,” a first novel by Thea Marsh. Paperback, self-published from Mira Digital Publishing, Chesterfield, Mo. $14.95, 198 pages including reader’s guide. Available online through Amazon or attheaqmarsh@gmail.com.

Tina Reich was leaving the author sign-and-schmooze table at the Islanders Write conference last month when I asked for her reaction to the event for our upcoming story in The Times. When she learned I review books for these pages, she thrust a copy of “Shores of the Heart” into my hand.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book and here it is, self-published today [Aug. 11],” she beamed. “It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chests.”

I’ve read this first novel, written under the nom de plume Thea Marsh, and found a fresh and unconventional story, full of literary and life wisdom, told in a straightforward first-person narrative by a fictional Island girl, Miranda, with a great and busy life — hubby, three kids, and a home — who unaccountably and unexpectedly finds herself in love and in lust with a Wall Street one-percenter, Clay, with a seasonal manse that’s been in the family for simply ages.

The guts of the plot is the recounting in first person of Miranda’s coming to terms with her decision to embrace an extramarital affair, its ecstasy, and the dangers it presents to herself, her marriage, and to her family’s health.

Ms. Reich has written outside the conventional manner of novelizing. She includes the author’s voice throughout in the form of prefaces before most chapters in which she comments on the material to follow in terms of its issues as the author faces them, or she quotes other literary giants on the aspects of the human condition about to be on display. The effect is to take the reader into the author’s head as well as into the character development that follows in the chapter.

Ms. Reich is startlingly well-read, from Flaubert to Barbara Kingsolver, and makes use of that knowledge to advance the notion that Miranda is the sum total of her life experiences, that her love-madness has deep roots in her personal history. By extension, Ms. Reich seems to argue that that is the case with all of us — we simply don’t know why we do some things that seem anomalous in our lives — and that awarding scarlet A’s is at best simplistic, at worst misleading and irrelevant.

So if you were expecting a bodice ripper, this ain’t it. There is a fair amount of heavy breathing, and some graphic sexual passages you won’t be reading to the kids, but Ms. Reich’s writing style is not lurid. It is spare and direct, journalistic.

The writing is crisp, with definitive short sentences. Well, except for the parts where she goes off on the Terminally Self-Absorbed who descend on us each summer. Her characters and the prefaces ask questions about life and how and why we all live it the way we do. Ms. Reich describes that part of her writing process as turning the diamond over and seeing its prisms from the other side.

This is a first novel, uneven in places, but written in an agreeable style that draws the reader in. Ms. Reich notes that she does not spend a lot of time on external physical details of her characters, but on fleshing out the internal spiritual nature of her characters. Not the way Charles Dickens would have done it perhaps, but it works here for her.

Ms. Reich is an accomplished literary mind. She tells us straight up that she has written the book she wanted to write in a style and format in which she chose to write.

The book has several other compelling aspects for me. First, thanks to the Islanders Write conference, we literally stumbled on this author who has spent her 27 Island summers aching to write this nontraditional book.

Next, how many others are there on-Island who didn’t bump into a book reviewer? And how do we continue to get their voices heard?

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Jim Wann, Don Dixon, and Bland Simpson, the Coastal Cohorts, delight audiences with their tales of coastal living. — Photo courtesy of Jim Wann

Martha’s Vineyard fisherfolk, you can meet your doppelgangers on the eve of the 69th annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby when The Coastal Cohorts stage King Mackerel and the Blues are Running: Songs and Stories of the Carolina Coast at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12 and 13.

"King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast" echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.
“King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast” echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.

King Mackerel is a long-running performance of music and stories about fishing and life along the Carolina coastline. The theatrical show includes a three-man acoustic folk/soul/rock revue, with an environmental edge, of Southern coastal life featuring old-time video of hurricanes and other features of life “on the edge.”

The Coastal Cohorts is a trio of good-ole boys who also happen to be smart, award-winning musicians whose tunes and talents have been acclaimed up and down the Carolina coast, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Westside Theatre in New York, where Clive Barnes, arts critic for The New York Times and later for The New York Post, called the Cohorts “a pure, salt-watered delight.”

And coming at the end of tourist season, it may make you glow a little to know that you can see the show for a helluva a lot less than New Yorkers paid.

The Cohorts serve up a heady down-home sound with some elements of what is called “beach music” in the Carolinas, which has nothing to do with The Beach Boys, pianist/vocalist Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English & Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, hastened to add in a phone chat last week. More like beat-your-feet happy music, trellised with lyrics about life on and around the deep blue. You can Google King Mackerel and hear some cuts yourself.

Mr. Barnes said the show reminded him of Jacques Brel’s work. Mr. Simpson said he wasn’t so sure the review would go that way.

“We were playing the West Bank Theater on 42nd street, which is small. Clive Barnes is sitting about 10 feet away from us. Now, we have a bit in the show where we throw rubber worms into the audience. You know, the ones you rig up as lures?

“Well, Jim [Wann, lead guitar] had thrown his and I have my arm cocked and suddenly realize I’m about to hit the most important theater critic in the world with a faceful of rubber worms. Then I saw him lean forward and I took that to mean he was enjoying it, so I let fly.”

The point of that story is that these are guys who let it fly. The show itself is an example.

“We were contacted in 1984 by The Embers, a very popular beach music band, to write some songs and material for them. When they realized the amount of staging and lighting involved, they didn’t continue, so we said, ‘let’s do it ourselves.’”

So they wrote the songs and a script, named themselves The Coastal Cohorts, and “King Mackerel” was launched. The show has been going since with a short hiatus in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Many of their performances are devoted to fundraising for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other nonprofit environmental organizations. Mr. Simpson serves on the NCCF board and has a committed interest in the health of the ocean and its residents.

Mr. Wann is a Tony and Olivier-nominated creator of Broadway shows, including the long-running Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Mr. Dixon is a successful singer-songwriter and record producer (REM’s Murmur) with more than 200 recorded songs for artists who include Joe Cocker, Marshall Crenshaw, Hootie & the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Marti Jones, and Ronnie Spector.

The Coastal Cohorts will arrive on Martha’s Vineyard thanks to the efforts of seasonal Island resident Edward Strong, a senior partner at Dodger Properties, a major player in New York theater productions that include the hit show Jersey Boys.

“Ed Strong has a house here and he’s been after us to come and do the show for five or six years,” Mr. Simpson said. “He really put it together with M.J. Munafo (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse executive artistic director).”

Mr. Strong said he had been thinking of bringing the Coastal Cohorts to the Island for some time. “It seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “And the occasion of the Derby seemed like a wonderful kick-off event.”

Noting the obvious relevance of their material to an Island where fishing and conservation are dominant concerns, Mr. Simpson said, “We may be bringing coals to Newcastle. Certainly Martha’s Vineyard is one of the most important coastal communities in America. But we’re glad to be here, particularly since none of us has ever been to the Vineyard.”

In conversation, Mr. Simpson echoes familiar themes. “Our show is that tourism was a great thing that didn’t impinge on bluewater fishing for a long time. Then the waterfront was bought up and conflict began. Co-existing cultures started to run into each other. Fish houses [waterside businesses that buy commercial catches] had declined precipitously in the past decade on the barrier islands, for example. A group of fishermen bought the last one on Ocracoke Island or fishermen there would have had no place to land their catch.”

These guys get it, and the music is good.

Performances begin at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night. The show runs about two hours so no need for fishermen anticipating the start of the Derby at 12 midnight, Sunday, Sept. 14 to wear their waders to the theater. You’ll have time to gear up after the show and still meet the incoming night tide.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors; $30 for students. Tickets are available online at boxoffice@mvplayhouse.org or by visiting the theater at 24 Church St. in Vineyard Haven.

For more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.

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Athletes were on the field running, jumping, kicking and sweating.

The football team takes a brief water break during an early morning hell week practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Cummo) — Photo by Michael Cummo

Several hundred Island high school athletes are catching their breath as pre-season practices wind down in advance of competitive play next week.

While pre-season doesn’t include the “Hell Week” of two-a-day practices common a decade ago, coaches here push their charges with two or more hours of conditioning and drills to prepare often under-manned squads for Eastern Athletic Conference play.

Football coach Don Herman, in his 32nd year, pushed play repetition in the early going with QB Mike Mussell returning after missing a season with a thumb injury. With only 50 candidates for the varsity and JV programs, Mr. Herman is maximizing skills and minimizing the potential for injury. “The fact is that most injuries occur in practice, not in games, and the days of using JV players as tackling dummies is long past,” he said.

Firs-year soccer coach Esteban Aranzabes has installed a system he learned in his native Uruguay and which served him well as coach of the Island’s U-18 squad. “The game begins in the locker room, not on the field. We stress constant movement in practice for conditioning and drills. Players move 80 percent of the time in games, we want to simulate that in practice. We use drills that stress a unitized team effort, including walking to the field in two lines,” he said.

Cross-country and track coach Joe Schroeder, in his 27th season, has learned over the years that the key to preparation lies in mental preparedness and goal-setting. “Cross-country is more of a mental sport and a team sport than many realize,” he said. “The kids are better prepared when they come in pre-season. They have to prepare themselves for the course. This sport requires athletes to be mentally strong. We’re not memorizing plays. Our work is goal-setting and belief in self, understanding that the gap in distance between first place and fifth place is important to the team, for example.”

The first games of the season begin next week. The varsity and junior varsity golf teams play Somerset Berkley Regional High School on Tuesday at 2:45 pm at Farm Neck golf club. Both the boys and girls soccer teams play on Wednesday, with the boys travelling to Nauset Regional High School for a 4 pm game and the girls taking on Nauset at home at 3 pm.

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The charitable arm of the exclusive Edgartown club gives back richly.

The exclusive Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown features manicured greens and a beautiful clubhouse. — Photo by Laurence Lambrecht

The Vineyard Golf Club, an exclusive 18-hole golf club off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, has quietly become a friend to the Island community in 13 years of operations, dispensing $1.8 million to Island nonprofits through the Vineyard Golf Club Foundation.

According to several recipients, the private club also has a knack for showing up for organizations with high demand for critical and important services, including reaching out to nonprofits and inviting applications for financial aid.

“They are rock stars, we love the VGC foundation,” an effervescent Diane Malcomson, development officer for Boston Medflight, said last week from her Boston office. Medflight transports 100 to 125 critically ill Island residents a year by helicopter to Boston hospitals each year. It makes about 300 flights from Nantucket annually.

Medflight recently received a $40,000 grant from VGC Foundation to help purchase a fixed wing aircraft for transport flights. “They have their finger on the pulse of Vineyard needs and they reached out to us,” she said. “We met in October, long after the summer season, and every one of the committee members were there for our presentation. You can tell they take their work seriously.”

Ms. Malcomson, a longtime summer visitor to the Island, said the VGC effort is critical to the life flight work. “We are a nonprofit and we are compensated for $6,000 of a life flight cost of $15,000,” she said. “We serve the sickest of the sick and we come when we are called without reference to ability to pay. Because we are Boston-based, people sometimes don’t recognize us as an Island nonprofit, so we’re grateful for VGC Foundation’s willingness to recognize us.”

“The fixed wing is a godsend because it is cheaper to operate and allows us to land in areas where a helicopter can’t,” she said. Medflight has received $87,000 in VGC donations over the past 8-10 years.

Pete Lambos, executive director of the busy Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club, lauded the VGC Foundation’s acuity in recognizing need. “They give us a $5,000 grant every year for operations, but last year they donated $35,000 to repair our leaking roof system,” he said. “I think they know what’s going on because a lot of members and trustees donate privately and are Island residents so they see our benefit to the community. They’re very good to us. We’re glad to have friends like that just down the road.”

A review of past and current VGC Foundation giving indicates an emphasis on healthcare, kids programs, conservation, public safety and housing needs.

The MV Arena received a $100,000 grant ($50,000 outright and $50,000 in matching funds) to repair its roof. “We invited them to come in and present,” said Scott Anderson, general manager of Vineyard Golf Club. “The ice arena is a staple of the community, particularly in winter. I see the benefit of the arena for my kids and for the whole community. We are lucky to live here and have that resource.”

Arena president Jim Kelleher said the board was pleased to receive such a generous donation from the Foundation. “It is clear that club members understand and appreciate the vital role that the arena plays in our community,” he said. “This gift, which really saved the facility, will allow for the rink to remain open and active for the next generation of Vineyarders. The arena is a fantastic resource for our community, and we look forward to the challenge of raising the necessary funds by September in order to receive the second portion of the matching grant from The Vineyard Golf Club Foundation.”

Habitat for Humanity, which helps residents build family housing, received a $10,000 grant this year to develop a thrift store platform, to receive, store and sell furniture and home goods.

“$1.8 million is a substantial sum,” Mr. Anderson said. “With 305 members, many of whom also donate personally to Island organizations, we’ve been able to build some reserves to devote to community projects.

“Now we have some traction. People know to come to us, and we have developed a straightforward online application process that generally takes 45 days from submission to delivering funds. The board wants the money back out in the community quickly.”

The VGC foundation website also notes that donations have been made to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and YMCA building funds in past years. Rounds of golf on the exclusive course are donated for auctions and fundraisers, and each September members relinquish the course to local organizations, including the Vineyard Nursing Association, The Rotary Club, and MV Ice Arena for their annual fund raising tournaments.

Application can be made online at www.vineyardgolf.com. Deadline for submissions is June 30 of each year, and additional grant cycles with invitations to present to the board are offered from time to time as donation funds are available.

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Richard Sher is the creator, producer and host of the radio show "Says You!", which airs on WGBH in Boston and many NPR stations around the nation. — Says You!

Says You!, a long-running, quirky National Public Radio (NPR) quiz show that features several Island residents and visitors will be recorded live from the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 7 pm. The weekly show is recorded in several cities around the country and is making its first stop on the Island.

Another NPR show, The Moth, true stories told live, also recorded on the Vineyard this summer. The Moth features true stories about the lives of narrators from various backgrounds

The show will also feature music from guest band Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.

Speaking to The Times from the cell phone-challenged wilds of New Hampshire last week, host and producer Richard Sher noted that five of the six longtime game show panelists have strong Island connections, including residents Arnie Reisman and Paula Lyons, summer resident Fletcher “Flash” Wiley, and frequent visitors Francine Achbar, Carolyn Faye Fox, and himself.

Panelist Tony Kahn, an author and journalist, is a resident of Truro. “Yes, he’s an outlander, but we’re trying to be inclusive,” Mr. Sher quipped.

Says You! is a tongue-in-cheek quiz show in which nimble-minded and funny panelists are asked odd questions for which they must construct answers, most of which are extremely unlikely to be true. For the show’s nearly 20 NPR years, Mr. Sher has been adamant about protecting the element of surprising the panelists and the audience. The show’s motto is: “It’s not important to know the answers…it’s important to like the answers.”

“There is a theme to the questions but we never like to foreshadow the theme. We like the audience to be thrilled, happy, and totally unaware and we’ve learned that that’s exactly the way they want to be,” Mr. Sher said, adding, sotto voce, “think ‘Island Idylls.’”

Says You! can be heard weekly on WGBH 89.7 on Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, and on WCAI 90.1 on Saturdays at 8 pm.

Says You!, Thursday, August 21, 7 pm, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. An evening of “Island Idylls” with Says You! gang and special guests. $30 $35 preferred seating. For more information, visit saysyou.net.

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A plumber by trade, an umpire by passion, “Rippie” has the final word on the playing fields of Martha’s Vineyard.

Ritchie Roys calls a baserunner safe during a playoff softball game Tuesday night. — Ralph Stewart

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a bum compared with Richie (The Ripper) Roy.

Rippie makes a call during a women's softball game.
Rippie makes a call during a women’s softball game.

“Rippie,” as he is known to his public, has probably punched out a couple thousand people in the last 30 years of umpiring in the Island’s men’s and women’s summer softball leagues. Strikeouts (aka “punchouts”) are relatively rare in the slow-pitch leagues, but a couple here, a couple there, they add up over 30 years.

Mr. Roy has developed a well-choreographed out call that features an extended left arm and leg and a right arm which jerks backwards, accompanied by a howl that clearly informs batters that they have, in fact, struck out.

Fans love it, players love it and its campy panache injects some pain-killing humor for the hitter in the hot seat.

We caught up with Mr. Roy at War Veterans Memorial Field in Vineyard Haven before a game to discuss his career as an arbiter and to get the lowdown on “The Call.” Mr. Roy did not channel Robert DeNiro in Taxi, spending endless hours in front a mirror. His signature call sort of showed up over time.

Born in Oak Bluffs and raised in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Roy is married with a son and uses umpiring as a way to stay close to sports, particularly those involving a round stick hitting a round ball. Then there is the sense of community that develops after you have umpired games played by multiple generations in the same family.

At 50, Mr. Roy shows up as a direct, happy man. He is a shade under six feet a fit 205 pounds, courtesy of a year-round workout regimen.

“Baseball was always my game,” Mr. Roy explained. “I played four years in high school (Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, class of 1982), then I played in the old Falmouth League. Some (pro) scouts approached me, but they wanted kids who were playing in college so it didn’t work out. But we’ve got one Island kid, Tad Gold, who has turned pro so that’s good.

The "law" on the softball field. From left, Mike Lynch, Ritchie "Rippie" Roy, and Tom Pachico.
The “law” on the softball field. From left, Mike Lynch, Ritchie “Rippie” Roy, and Tom Pachico.

“Umpiring is a way to stay close to the game and the people in it. I got started umping in the league back when the team at bat in the game provided the umpire. I enjoyed doing it. I still do.”

A plumber by trade, one of several professions not particularly known for punctuality, Mr. Roy said, “I show up. People are depending on you. You need to have dedication.”

He estimated he has umpired 1,200-1,500 games over the past three decades, and he has played with a host of teams with such cosmic names as the Gonads, Treds, and Hurricanes.

Mr. Roy plies his artistry three night a week in season at Veterans Field in Vineyard Haven and at the town field in West Tisbury.

Mr. Roy is certified by the U.S. Specialized Sports as a softball umpire and as a basketball referee. He works the winter rec league basketball games on the Island as well. Arbiters are paid $40 a game, not quite your average rate for plumbing, but officiating is not about the money for Mr. Roy, particularly when you consider the potential hazards of umpiring. Players and fans can say hurtful things about umpires’ character, eyesight and lineage after a disappointing call. That’s not been a problem for Mr. Roy, veteran players said.

“I’ve been in this league 16, 17 years and I don’t think Rippie’s ever had to run (eject) anybody,” White Star player-manager Asa Zeth Vought said on Monday night. “He’s one of the better umpires in the league. I don’t always agree with his calls but he’s working every play. He tries hard all the time. How do you describe Rippie? He’s just Rippie, loves the game, not a care in the world out there. He makes it better for everybody just being here.”

While we were chatting, Mr. Roy was rearranging a photo shoot, cajoling umpires Mike Lynch and Tom Pachico into the frame. “These guys are dedicated umpires. They deserve some credit. They’ve been doing it longer than I have,” he said.

Mr. Lynch has 47 years behind the plate and Mr Pachico? “I’ve been doing this so long, I don’t even remember how long,” he said.

Mr. Roy has seen a lot of change in softball over his 30 years.

“Well, there’s no beer in the outfield anymore,” he said. “Probably that’s a good thing. And we start each at bat with a ball and one strike count on the batter. That’s done to speed the games up. Batters who amass four balls — pitches outside the strike zone — are awarded first base. Batters who amass three strikes — pitches within the strike zone — without hitting a fair ball, are declared out and get to skulk back to the bench.

“The quality of play has always been pretty good on the Island, but I’d say the players overall are fitter than in years past and there is great athleticism out there. For example, one thing I’ve noticed is it’s harder to get a double on the outfield arms today, particularly on this field. Yesterday’s double is a single today.

“Despite that, scoring is up somewhat from a few years ago. We had a 29-0 mercy rule game in the men’s league. That’s a huge score. (The “mercy rule” ends a game automatically if one men’s team is leading by 15 runs and a women’s team by 10 runs after the completion of five innings.)”

So which is better to umpire, men’s or women’s games? “Oh, no, no, no,” he said. “Not going there: I get into enough trouble as it is.”

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Many of the day's panel discussions were standing room only. — Bella Bennett

Hundreds of Martha’s Vineyard writers, readers, and literary fans trooped through the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on Monday to participate in Islanders Write, a daylong wordfest of panel discussions, free writing clinics, and book signings sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times and MV Arts & Ideas magazine.

M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.
M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.

Peter Oberfest, publisher and owner of The Times, admitted to some flutters before the inaugural Islanders Write event. “I had this thought that I would show up and find about five people here,” he said.

Not to worry. Nearly 70 people found their seats in the hall’s upstairs meeting room at the ungodly hour of 8 am to hear the first panelists discuss “Writing for Radio,” starring national PBS newsies Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Rob Rosenthal, and Mindy Todd and Sean Corcoran from WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR affiliate, an event co-sponsor, along with Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books. The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts in Edgartown sponsored Drop In and Write sessions for attendees.

By midday, the panel discussion audiences were standing room only for discussions ranging from writing children’s books, writing in the new media world, narrative non-fiction writing, a discussion of writing workshop styles, and journalists who turn to fiction writing.

Mr. Oberfest and literary lion David McCullough delivered parting remarks shortly after 4 pm to a room with nearly 200 attendees, seated and standing.

The mood in the hall was palpably upbeat and intent all day. The crowd no doubt enjoyed hearing from Pulitzer Prize winners (Mr. McCullough, Geraldine Brooks, and Tony Horwitz), but the 100-plus audience questions asked during the day indicated a genuine desire to learn more about the writing craft and, perhaps, some tips on getting published. A smattering of early careerists were there looking for the big break, and some fans showed up just because their favorite authors were speaking.

The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.
The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.

Panelist authors did a brisk business at the authors’ signing table downstairs close to the free writing workshops offered by Justen Ahren, director of the Noepe Center. “This is the best day in Noepe’s history,” Mr. Ahren murmured after eight non-stop hours of mentoring small groups of writers.

What the audience got was advice on writing Ps and Qs and a somewhat grim recounting of the infernal thicket that book publishing has become from articulate pros who have been there.

The role of research and its sometimes joyfully serendipitous results were touted by Mr. McCullough and by Joshua Horwitz, whose research for “War of the Whales: A True Story,” would uncover a world of deceit and secrets and pit him against the U.S. Navy whose sonar testing drills allegedly caused historically non-stranding whales species to strand in record numbers. The case is at the U.S. Supreme Court.

For novelist Geraldine Brooks, research means something else. “I have to write enough first so the character has a voice and tells me what I need to know to tell the story. That’s when I learn what I have to find out,” she said, an example of a unique personal style urged by all panelists for attendees to develop.

For Mr. McCullough, research is the key to his work about historical figures and eras. “If I knew what the research would show, I wouldn’t be writing the book,” he said. “I’ve flipped the phrase ‘write what you know’ to include ‘know what you write,’ and the truth is stranger than fiction. Take Jefferson and John Adams, former foes, then friends, who died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If you wrote that as fiction, it would not be believable, but that’s what happened.”

Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.
Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.

“And don’t believe that it’s all been written about a subject. There is tremendous opportunity to uncover new information regardless of how many books have been written on a subject,” he said, bringing to mind John Hough Jr.’s new novel “Little Bighorn,” an event that has spawned hundreds of books and articles.

During a discussion of cookbook writing, author Cathy Walthers echoed the thought. “I read that one or two new cookbooks are published every day,” she said. She argued that the market is not saturated. “That’s like saying all the songs have been written.” Ms. Walthers, the author of a new cookbook devoted to recipes featuring kale, advised would-be writers to “Make it your own, put your imprint on it.”

A much anticipated panel featured Chilmarker Nancy Aronie and Mr. Hough, longtime mentors of writing groups using very divergent styles. Ms. Aronie requires only positive feedback for her writers from their colleagues, while Mr. Hough employs a more critical approach. Devotees of each style filled the room, applauding as their favorite was introduced.

Ms. Aronie offered a quick summary of the differences. “[My approach] is don’t hurt the baby,” she said. “I teach the discipline of writing 10 minutes a day. My approach is to look for the remarkable, based on my own experience. If I had been criticized, I’d have gone swimming rather than writing. I want people to read aloud, to feel their own rhythm. Then you go to John to get the gold.” She noted that Mr. Hough’s students often bring work that is close to the publishing stage.

Mr. Hough said, “Nancy and I do different things,” he said, noting that students’ submissions are blue pen edited and returned the following week. “I will never advise an author to quit writing, but I will offer criticism that I as an author will hear from an agent or publisher in New York. It’s better to hear it at this stage.”

Panelists were asked how to wrestle with the difficulty of publishing today, how to market and build audience with social media, the pros and cons of self-publishing, and what they described as the price gauntlet of online retailing.

Amazon.com took an enthusiastic daylong beating from virtually every author. Tony Horwitz offered a complete and often humorous trashing of the online giant, saying Amazon’s price-slashing tactics are designed to put competition — publishing houses and independent bookstores — out of business, impoverishing authors in the process. He has decided to use the traditional publishing house model. “I’m going down with the Titanic,” he announced.

Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.
Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.

In addition to eight hours of sage advice, many attendees had positive experiences meeting and greeting each other. Tina Reich, a New Yorker with 27 summers on the Island with her husband Lou (a dead ringer for Robert De Niro)  was over the moon to meet an MV Times book reviewer.

“Here, here’s a copy. I’ve been wanting to write a book for years and I’ve just self-published ‘Shores of the Heart.’ It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chest.”

And in the corner of the room, Deb Dunn, a children’s picture book author from Chilmark, was typing furiously on one of several electric typewriters set up for writers to use. “I used to have a Brother [brand] electric typewriter. I miss it,” she said. Across from her, college student Tanya Horwitz, 20, picked tentatively on an electric typewriter. “I may have used one once, maybe at my grandfather’s house. I wouldn’t want to use it for a long paper, but it’s kind of cool,” she said.

Ann Graham of Edgartown came early and stayed all day. Ms. Graham showed up as the Everyman of the attendees. “I do a lot of long-form business writing on business strategy in my business, but I am here looking for ways to transition into different kinds of writing,” she said. “I’d like to do a memoir.”

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A round of golf in the summer can be pretty pricey but there are ways to lower the cost.

President Barack Obama, shown here on the first day of his 2013 vacation at Farm Neck Golf Course in Oak Bluffs, is among the many Island visitors who spend time on the links on Martha's Vineyard. — File photo by Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald

Affordable golf. On Martha’s Vineyard? In the summer? Actually, yeah. In fact, there’s even an inexpensive option.

Island golf courses appear to have constructed a fee schedule designed to maximize income during the season and still provide affordable in-season golf to a pretty passionate group of year-round Island golfers who hold a resident membership in one of the Island’s many clubs and visitors able to play at off-peak times. Affordable off-season and winter memberships are offered by Edgartown and by Mink Meadows. Off-season rates at Island courses are in line with off-Island courses.

One might think the five courses here would probe the outer limits of pricing as Island purveyors sometimes do. But that’s not the case with golf.

Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs and the Edgartown Golf Club have not raised prices in years, and while in-season midday rates are zesty, $160 at Farm Neck, reading the small print can get you on for just a few dollars more than nearby off-Island public courses charge in-season. Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown is a members-only club and doesn’t have public play or rates.

Courses in upscale communities such as Pembroke, Wayland, and Scituate feature greens fees with a cart in the $60-70 range for 18 holes. Pinehills in Plymouth, a top-quality course, gets $100-110 for 18 holes and a cart in season and charges about the same as Farm Neck and Edgartown for early and late day rounds. Mink Meadows is less expensive than Pinehills for off-peak tee times.

You can play Farm Neck early in the day for as little as $80, half its midday in-season rate. Edgartown plays all day for $70, though you need to play a round with a member before earning three additional rounds at that price without a member present. Mink Meadows in Tisbury offers 18 holes for $95, with a cart for $113, midday in-season, but you can play nine early for $35, or $46 with a cart. Play nine late in the day for $45, $56 with a cart at Mink.

“I think Island golf fees are reasonable,” Mark Hess, general manager at Edgartown Golf Club said this week. “Our rates have remained the same for about five years. And relative to resort areas, golf rates here are really reasonable. Go to Hilton Head [S.C.]: you’re looking at $150 or more easily. There are fair rates out there and you ought to be able to get on. The number of Island golf courses is sufficient to meet demand.”

Farm Neck is humming along nicely, head pro Don Costello said. “Our rates have been unchanged for three years,” he said. “Greens fees at other top-rated resorts are two or three times higher than ours. The number of rounds are up this season. Our pro shop does a good volume of business. We have top brands and we’re less expensive than the (golf) warehouses. We see it as a service for Island golfers for their clubs and equipment.”

But the hands-down most affordable, and probably the coolest golf experience you’ll ever have, is offered by The Ancient and Honorable Chappaquiddick Links (AHCL) on North Neck Road on Chappaquiddick.

This 105-year old course was built by and is maintained by descendants of the Marshall family which owns the property and attendant buildings. It’s nine holes, and a classic Chappy experience. Featuring two par 4s and seven par 3s, the 1,325 yard beauty wends its way along the Cape Poge Bay shoreline. The family maintains the rustic course as a matter of love.

“No, it’s not a moneymaker,” said Brad Woodger, who manages and maintains the course for the family. The AHCL, also known as the Island Ball Watchers Society, is real golf presented in a droll, understated Island way.

It’s a private club, which actually means pretty much anyone can play at a rate of $40 a round, though recognized Islanders often get a discount. There is still be an honor box for off-season golfers. Sir Reginald the Crow is the course mascot and logo-bearer and keeps an eye on all things golf. The Ancient and Honorable is reluctantly up for sale by the family. Golf course, main house, outbuildings and 18 acres for $12.5 million. No buyer yet.

Mr. Hess and Mr. Costello play Chappy and enjoy it. “It’s really a fun course and golf doesn’t come any more affordably,” Mr. Costello said.

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William Waterway's new book honors the Gay Head Light.

“Gay Head Lighthouse: The First Light on Martha’s Vineyard,” by William Waterway, The History Press. 159 pages, $19.99.

The Gay Head Light will likely be pulled back from the precipice yet again.

Right now it stands only 50 feet from the eroded Gay Head cliff’s edge, but a group dedicated to saving the 215-year old beacon have found the Island icon a new home 150 feet away. The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee (gayheadlight.org) has in hand more than half the $3 million needed to move and restore the lighthouse.

Now comes William Waterway (Marks) with a slim volume about the lighthouse, which has survived attacks from nature and from bureaucracy in its lifetime. What we also get from the Gay Head Light story is a macro view of the country’s post-Revolutionary history and a micro view of up-Island life as it was lived in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in the words of the people who lived then.

Turns out the care and safety of Gay Head Light has been a mission for Mr. Waterway for nearly four decades, which led him to personally pay for its upkeep for several years. Mr. Waterway founded the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI), the first U.S. civilian entity to be awarded the care and feeding of lighthouses from the U.S. Coast Guard. VERI has a 35-year lease dating from 1986 with care for the East Chop and Edgartown lights also included.

Mr. Waterway’s mission has led him to ferociously research the lighthouse, its Aquinnah community and people. Scholarly and commendable work.

If Aquinnah has always felt exotic to you, annual town meeting hijinks aside, Mr. Waterway’s text sheds some light. Until South Road was extended to Gay Head in 1931, there was no paved road to the light. For more than 100 years, travelers could only traverse the last five or six miles on foot or horseback.

And when they got there, hot showers did not await. Nor did electricity. Aquinnah was the last town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be hooked up. Here’s some perspective: when you and I were rockin’ to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” on TV in the 1950s, Aquinnah was a-twitter about the arrival of electricity. The lighthouse was electrified first, but only after Elsie Grieder, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, wrote to President Harry S. Truman to scold him about conditions at the light. Truman always promised that “the buck stops here,” and he was as good as his word.

The Gay Head Light was literally isolated from the remainder of an isolated island, with the responsibility of making safe passage for mariners navigating the ship-eating Devil’s Bridge, an underwater ridge that extends out from Gay Head toward Cuttyhunk.

Mr. Waterway gives evidence, through correspondence and in conversation with lighthouse and Wampanoag tribal elders, of the difficulties of being a lighthouse keeper in Gay Head. There was limited potable water: a trek to a fresh spring a mile away was the best answer. Firewood to heat the light and the keeper’s house was shipped in by boat.

The lighthouse lens refracted light from 14 lamps fueled by whale oil, creating smudge on the lenses and windows and the need to clean the lens and window surfaces constantly. Our 19th century national government knew Gay Head was critical to marine passage in the golden age of sail and that Vineyard waters were among the most traveled and dangerous in the world.

Still, when first keeper Ebenezer Skiff petitioned for a raise from $200 per annum in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson had to approve a $25 increase. Skiff’s later petitions for raises, and a horse and wagon to fetch water, required the attention of presidents Madison, Monroe, and John Q. Adams. Gay Headers were chatting with the White House 200 years ago. Can’t make this stuff up.

The arrival of “Gay Head Lighthouse” ought to aid fundraising for the preservation of Gay Head Light, but not just because it’s really old and a premier Island visual treat, but also because it is a symbol of the character of eight or nine generations of Islanders who have kept its light burning.

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— Photo courtesy of Veranda Publis

“Bandstand, The Search for the Oak Island Gold” by Jib Ellis, Veranda Publishing, 2014, 390 pages, $16.95, available at Bunch of Grapes (Vineyard Haven), Edgartown Books, and at area libraries.

We all enjoy a perfectly-prepared bon mot.

In “Bandstand, The Search for Oak Island Gold,” long-time Island resident Jib Ellis serves up bushels of them, reason enough to read this reckless, funny, and literate novel about a hunt for 600-year-old treasure in Nova Scotia, of all places.

There’s more. “Bandstand” is a well-plotted story of five people who embark on a treasure hunt of two kinds. The nominal expedition is to Oak Island, Nova Scotia, a real place, in which Vikings, Knights Templar, and pirates of various stripes are rumored to have buried their loot, including the ever-popular Holy Grail and the answer to the Shakespeare or Francis Bacon controversy. The hidden treasure notion has attracted treasure hunters since 1795. Naturally, the local populace now offer an annual festival during which fortunes are presumably found in tourist wallets.

The fallback treasure hunt is the team’s group-funding Internet gambit in which memberships are sold, offering the opportunity to buy lottery chances for a share of the swag. Mr. Ellis told The Times, the 200-year effort to unearth Nova Scotian buried treasure “is a philosophical challenge, not an engineering challenge.” When you learn what Team Ryder’s map is, you’ll understand. “The book is not autobiographical, the characters are bits and pieces of people I’ve known along the way,” he said.

Mr. Ellis’s characters are authentic, individual — a few just this side of needing institutional care — but all resembling people and personalities we know that we know but just can’t place. Good stuff here: it’s got depth and it’s funny.

Ryder, the protagonist, is a 42-year-old rich guy who lives near East Chop. He loves boats, women, and not doing much. He understands the Island and its people.

Ryder is also having an affair of the heart with Charlotte Rosen, a snappy, gorgeous, age-appropriate, AA-loving attorney who is well aware of The First Law Of The Sisterhood: Men Are Not As Smart As Us. Ryder also knows this is true and he doesn’t care. He does believe that true love is balm to his semi-broken heart. Mr. Ellis delivers well-defined characters, each with its own clearly-described neurosis.

There’s Fitzroy, the Jamaican B-school genius; and Daniel, an Island Native-American computer wonk. Finally, there is Benson, a giant falstaffian character, Friar Tuck with a mean streak. Ryder, Fitzroy, and Benson met at Columbia and have remained pals.

While he has morphed himself into a Druid bard as we meet him, Benson’s career specialty is black ops. How black, you ask? So black that he doesn’t work for Uncle Sam. He works for a secret company that works for Uncle Sam.

Benson is my favorite. Everyone should have a Benson. Mine was Tom Trainor. Benson and Trainor shared remarkably similar attributes: staggeringly big, socially tone-deaf, limited impulse control, dangerous at rest, and extremely dangerous when provoked.

In our youth, Trainor enjoyed strolling into college bars to announce that he was “six-foot-five, 265 pounds of rompin’, stompin’ destruction.” Oh, the fun that ensued. Tom’s great heart blew up in Costa Rica 15 years ago while on a spiritual mission to establish a bar for workers in the Brazilian rain forest. I am not making this up.

Spirits like these are rare and they are irresistible, given the Prufrockian lives most of us lead. So despite documented knowledge of painful consequences, we go into the bar with them anyway. Thus, Ryder and his team make Benson their advance treasure scout. Ryder and the team knew better and they did it anyway. Gotta love it.

Mr. Ellis knows his pirates and his history. Norsemen and Europeans were rattling around the east coast eons before Cabot and Columbus. Ancient Irish were here in the sixth century.

This is a fiction, but also a story woven from strands of real history combined with research and generally logical projections. I have always seen pirates as ill-intentioned snowbirds, obsessed with tropical climates but the pirate rock stars (Blackbeard, Black Bart, et. al.) were here. One of them, trotting off the gallows, confessed that he had buried loot in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Ellis’s short bio reveals a varied writing past. He uses the language beautifully, delivered in a wry humorous style that indicates wisdom born of long experience with our often sketchy human condition. “Bandstand” is a shade longer than it needs to be and features, well, odd cover art. Of particular note was my reaction to occasional but startling deviations from structure, syntax, and punctuation. After a few outbreaks, I found myself saying, “Well, that’s Ryder for ya.” When the author can make you believe the character screwed it up, you got some writing, brotha.

“Bandstand” has its own personality. Leo Kottke wrote the principal blurb. Mr. Kottke has made a virtuoso musical career from blending disparate styles into a seamless whole. He understood “Bandstand.”

One Larry Miller wrote the other blurb. Mr. Miller is not identified but we assume he is not the right-handed pitcher who enjoyed virtually no success in a brief major league career.

Mr. Miller weighs in with the thought that “F. Scott Fitzgerald lied. There are second acts. Jib Ellis and Bandstand are living proof.” Good news for those of us who maybe didn’t knock ‘em dead in the first act.

Author’s Talk with Jib Ellis, 7pm, July 30, Edgartown Library. For more information, call 508-627-4221. Mr. Ellis will also appear at Islanders Write, a one-day literary event sponsored by The MVTimes and Arts & Ideas Magazine. His book will be available for sale there, along with other independent authors Amelia Smith, Michael West and Tom Dresser.