Josh Pahigian had always dreamed of being a novelist.
But even people with dreams have to pay the bills.
Over the past decade or so, Pahigian said he sort of “fell into” a habit of writing baseball books, including “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” and “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”
The books were successful enough to help him pay some bills — while also teaching writing at the University of New England in Biddeford — and successful enough to establish him in the publishing industry as a baseball writer.
But writing nonfiction books about baseball was not what Pahigian was passionate about as a writer, so he continuously looked for an opportunity to finally publish a novel.
This year he did just that, with the October release of “Strangers on the Beach” (Islandport Press, $22.95). The book centers on 40-something billionaire Ferdinand Sevigny as he attempts to sail blindfolded across the Atlantic, lands in Old Orchard Beach and becomes entangled in drama.
Pahigian, 38, lives in Buxton with his wife and son, and continues to teach writing at UNE.
Q: Where did you get the idea for this novel?
A: It’s rooted in a place — the beach between Old Orchard and Pine Point — and the town of Old Orchard Beach. Just living my life, I realize I’ve been doing research on this place, and that gave me the confidence to write about it.
My wife and I were married on Pine Point Beach. Being educators, we have summers off, and have spent a lot of time on the beach. One summer (before having a child), we spent 43 days there. So I guess as a writer I noticed things about the place over time, and that led to the book.
Q: The relationship between Sevigny and Marisol is complicated, and some might say even controversial. What was your intention in writing it the way you did?
A: He’s an older man, he’s considerably older than she is (17), and he plucks her from an island home. She was willing, it wasn’t a kidnapping, but she’s kind of living as a kept woman without much independence.
I did want to make characters who were likable, but also human and also flawed in some ways. And complicated. Sometimes, life is a little messy or ambiguous.
He’s the billionaire celebrity who can sort of drift through life calling his own shots, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. The book is indicative of that. It’s not a relationship that’s bringing him what he needs any more than it is (bringing her) what she needs. I hope by the end of the book they’ve progressed in some way.
Q: How has the response to the book been from folks in the OOB area?
A: I’ve gotten an encouraging response. People like the book there. It uses real OOB landmarks and familiar places to establish the setting. There’s the beach itself, and that odd relationship between tourists and locals.
Locals are depending on the tourists on the one hand, but at the same time, their town is kind of overrun for two months, then it becomes a ghost town.
Q: You mention beach thievery in the book, meaning people stealing from unattended beach blankets. Was that based on a crime that actually happens?
A: I don’t think it is. We’re very lax, my wife and I. We usually walk from Pine Point to the center of Old Orchard, three miles each way, so we typically leave our blanket for two hours or more. We’ve done that hundreds of times in 10 years, and we’ve never had anything stolen.
Q: This was your first work of fiction after several nonfiction books, particularly ones about baseball. What are the main differences and challenges between writing nonfiction and fiction for you?
A: I think a big part of it for me, being away from it so long, was having the confidence to really do it.
I had tried at various points to write a novel, but it seemed like every time I did, I’d get 100 pages in and I’d run into a challenge with the plotting or the character development, not understanding who the characters really were.
Then I’d listen to people who were saying, “Why don’t you write another baseball book?” So for me, it was having the confidence to stay with it through all the obstacles.
I think the reason I could was that it was set in this place I love.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I am working on another novel now, a first draft of it. I haven’t shopped it around. I’m doing it because I enjoy it. Again, it’s set in Old Orchard Beach, but it doesn’t have the same characters.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti contributed to this story.