Best known locally for co-authoring the book, “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” with Kevin O’Connell, Josh Pahigian is now set to release his first work of fiction, a mystery set in Old Orchard Beach.
After literally writing the book on Major League ballparks, including the history, architecture and food found at 30 ballparks across the country, Pahigian, who lives in Buxton, decided it was time to turn his hand to fiction.
An English composition professor at the University of New England, Pahigian came to Maine in 2002, and married his wife Heather on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough. The couple had their first child, a son named Spencer, in 2011.
Pahigian grew up near Worcester, Mass., and took vacations at Pine Point and Old Orchard Beach when he was a graduate student living in Boston in the 1990s.
Pahigian joined the faculty at the University of New England in 2004. He helped start the university’s student newspaper, the Nor’easter News, and served as its faculty adviser for the first few years the paper was published.
This week, he spoke to the Sun Chronicle about his new novel and his love of writing.
Q: What prompted you to write a mystery?
A: Although I’d studied fiction writing in grad school, my first several titles were non-fiction baseball books. I’d always wanted to return to fiction, but after my first baseball book sold well, it was hard for me to take the leap of faith that I had what it took to succeed in the competitive fiction market. When it came to paying the bills, writing another baseball book was always the safest bet. I guess I finally found the confidence to return to what I’ve always loved doing.
Q: Why did you set the book in Old Orchard Beach?
A: When we first moved to Maine, I took a part-time job as the assistant director of recreation in Old Orchard Beach. Although my job lasted only about a year, I made friends in town who remain the best buddies I have in Maine. I also fell in love with the town itself. I got coffee at Beach Bagels each morning, grabbed a few slices of pizza a week at Rocco’s and often split a barbecue nacho plate at the Brunswick with my buddy Jason Webber. Also, Heather and I spent plenty of summer days on the beach.
Q: Is the book self-published or do you have a publisher?
A: My publisher is Islandport Press in Yarmouth. Islandport was the perfect fit for “Strangers on the Beach,” since its mission is to tell stories that capture the essence of life and culture in northern New England. Famous children’s book author Dahlov Ipcar, Maine radio personality John McDonald (who is also a columnist for the Sun Chronicle) and stage performer Susan Poulin, from the Ida LeClair shows, are just a few of Islandport’s other authors.
Q: What surprised you about writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction?
A: I am a very organized person. I need to have a neat desk and a well-structured approach to everything I do. I don’t cope well with surprises. That left-brained-ness served me well in writing nonfiction. But it wasn’t possible, or even advisable for me to plan out every detail of the plot of “Strangers on the Beach” ahead of time. I did try. But the best twists and turns came as surprises even to me. I would have a vision for where the story was going but then, at several points, I asked myself at the last moment, “what if this happened instead?” I think that ability to surprise readers is what will make the book exciting to read.
Q: Do you have a preference in terms of genres?
A: Fiction is my preference. It allows me to be more creative and it forces me outside of my comfort zone.
Q: What did you most enjoy about writing your mystery?
A: I wrote the first draft over the course of one summer. I enjoyed getting up at 4 a.m. each day and writing. I enjoyed handing each new chapter to Heather, who would offer feedback as we’d walk from Pine Point to Old Orchard Beach every day. I also enjoyed visiting and revisiting my favorite haunts in town as research for the book.
Q: What can people expect from the book?
A: People can expect to find a lot of familiar places represented in fictional form – the beach, The Pier, the town square, Mr. Goodbar, the Brunswick Hotel, Beach Bagels and the high school. More than the familiar setting, I hope readers will find the characters – the local cops, the teacher, the people working in the square, the people on the beach and the tourists – authentic.
I think the plot will keep readers guessing and turning pages until the very end. The summer begins with three mysterious people arriving in town on the same June night. They don’t appear to be connected to one another, and none of the locals understands why they’re in town. Then, as the tourists are arriving, two locals are involved in a terrible crime. No one understands how they could do it, or why. As the summer progresses, the people in town try to unravel the mystery of how the crime and the newcomers are connected.
Q: Where can people get a copy of “Strangers on the Beach?”
A: Of course the bookstore chains and popular websites, such as Amazon, have the book, but as the holiday season approaches, I’d encourage readers to shop locally, particularly at Nonesuch Books in Biddeford, the Olde Towne & Country Store in Old Orchard Beach, and Len Libby in Scarborough. These local retailers are extremely supportive of local authors.