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Old Orchard Beach provides backdrop for new Maine mystery


By Aislinn Sarnacki, Bangor Daily News

A man rescues a woman floundering in the surf off Old Orchard Beach. Nearby, a boy meets a stranger lurking in the dunes. A blood-caked mask washes ashore. And so the mystery of “Strangers on the Beach” begins.

The book’s author, Joshua Pahigian, originally from Massachusetts, first visited Old Orchard Beach as a tourist, vacationing in the oceanside town with his wife for multiple summers.

“The image I got as a visitor wasn’t really the true essence of the town,” said Pahigian, who moved to Buxton, Maine, with his wife in 2002, after graduating from Emerson College with a master of fine arts in creative writing. “When I finally moved to Maine and got a job working in Old Orchard Beach, I saw it during the off season, when it’s a small community of about 8,000 residents. It’s a supportive community — kind of a hardscrabble town in some ways.”

The young writer first found success in the realm of non-fiction, as the author of “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip: A Fan’s Guide to Major League Stadiums” (2004) and “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out,” (2010).

It was on his morning walks along the shore, from Pine Point Beach to Old Orchard Beach, that he finally found the inspiration to pursue his true passion: fiction.

“I guess having that connection to Old Orchard meant a lot to me. Personally, it gave me the confidence I needed — writing about a place I loved and living so close by,” he said. “I’d get ideas — seeing the tourists, talking to the locals, smelling the food, feeling the water — it all inspired me.”

Somewhere along the way, fictional characters took shape and fell into the dangerous plot of “Strangers of the Beach,” published in October by Maine’s Islandport Press.

“I didn’t want just one protagonist to drive the action forward the way we are traditionally taught to write,” Pahigian said. “I wanted to write several stories that would eventually come together in one main story.”

The perspectives in the story vary drastically, from a local 15-year-old boy to a thrill-seeking billionaire. And as events unfold, these strangers are brought together for better or for worse.

“I wanted all the characters to have the opportunity to change in some way during the story,” he said. “Most of the characters emerge from the story in a little bit better place — with some notable exceptions.”

Some of the characters simply don’t survive.

The novel’s short, action-packed chapters flip-flop between characters, making for a quick read. Just when the reader figures out one puzzle, another is presented.

“There was something very liberating and exciting about having the freedom to take the story where I wanted it to go, rather than to have to adhere to the description of a baseball park,” Pahigian said. “It’s a completely different sort of writing than my nonfiction. I think it’s a more personal sort of thing for me. Fiction writing is sharing my imagination with the world.”

Pahigian is already halfway through the first draft of his next novel, and while it’s not a sequel, it does take place in his beloved Old Orchard Beach.

This article first appeared in the Bangor Daily News, January 6, 2013