Friday, June 29, 2012

Thin and Famous in Mystic: Take 1

Author Lisa Saunders. Photo by Cindy Barry


Secrets Behind “The 7 Wonders of Mystic”
…and misadventures along the Seafarer’s Trail

by Lisa Saunders

Mystic, Connecticut: Named top 100 “Adventure Towns” by National Geographic

While exploring the secrets behind “The 7 Wonders of Mystic,” writer Lisa Saunders tries every seacoast adventure she can find in hopes of becoming thin and famous. While designing a Seafarers Trail—meant for those who don’t like to go uphill--she meets a blind sailor who invites her on a winter voyage up the east coast. Has Lisa finally found an exploit that will inspire her to write an international best seller? Can the plump writer and blind sailor defy foul weather, scurvy, and the temptation to eat the useless crew?


Introduction
Wanted: Epic Mystic Adventure
Mystic, Connecticut, is a village of seafarers, sailboats, mystery, and adventure. Located close to the Atlantic Ocean, you can see the area in the movie, Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts, and in the recent release, Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. (Note: Mystic, CT, is not portrayed in the film Mystic River, starring Sean Penn. That movie is named after another river and takes place in Boston.)

My husband Jim and I had first visited Mystic in 2006 to get away from our home in Suffern, New York, a few months after our younger daughter died after a long illness. Mystic appeared shrouded in mystery as a spring fog settled over the river, its tall, wooden ships and streets lined with old homes. The historic, seafaring community was a welcome break from our grief and the humdrum existence of living as inlanders. Intrigued by the 19th century maritime village portrayed at Mystic Seaport, we bought blue water glasses from its gift shop etched with the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest wooden whaleship in the world, and took lots of photos of a park-like cemetery with its “Lost at Sea” headstones engraved with anchors and ships.

Imagining the exciting lives of Mystic’s former residents set my imagination on fire. Returning home to upstate New York, we hung those photos on our bedroom wall as a reminder of another world—one I wished I could escape to.

To make a long story short -- aren’t you relieved when writers state that? – four years later, my husband's company offered to transfer him to Groton, Connecticut. When I got the news, there was no doubt that I wanted to go and where I wanted to live—right in Mystic, which is situated in both the Towns of Groton and Stonington.

There was a stiff price to pay, however. Aside from leaving my parents, friends and the grave of our daughter behind, I also had to leave my full-time writing job in communications at Rockland Community College--and search for a new job in a community that revolved around life at sea.

Finding the area already teeming with underemployed writers and publicists, it took longer than expected to find a “real” job, so I was grateful when my former employer hired me back as a consulting writer, allowing me to work from home. Since freelancing offers no retirement benefits, I thought now was the time to get thin and famous. Thin, because that’s been my lifelong goal, famous, because then I could do whatever I wanted!

I decided to begin my life as a freelance writer by publishing an article about my new hometown: “The 7 Wonders of Mystic.” At least that would help me become known as “local author”—it would be a start. My second goal? Find a friend with a sailboat! Sailing on an epic voyage was a sure fire way to write a best seller—and afford those retirement years.

I also decided to design a “Seafarer’s Trail,” a map to guide adventure seekers to the hidden gems I uncovered—some obvious -- others only after lots of research. It would include all the wonders, including contenders, along with the haunts and homes of legendary seafarers, both living and dead, through the villages of Mystic, Stonington, and Noank.

Although I gained weight walking stretches of the Seafarer's Trail because I stopped along the way for ice cream and fried clams strips, I did, through conversations with the locals, uncover the secrets behind what I crowned “The 7 Wonders of Mystic,” become embroiled in a controversy over the“8th Wonder,” and discovered that I, too, had family secrets buried in Mystic. When I visited a local graveyard, I was in for an even bigger surprise.

Just when I thought Mystic’s dead folks were reaching from beyond the grave to hand me a story for my best-selling novel, it happened—a new Mystic friend bought a sailboat. Jim and I were promptly offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to embark on an east coast, winter voyage—one that would make me look brave--even by Mystic standards. But can an out-of-shape 50-year-old, baby boomer shake her sedentary, landlubbing ways, venture the high seas and make a name for herself?

I blogged often as I prepared for the trip. Oh yes, I had become a blogger, something all underemployed writers become. Something that all friends of writers dread. (Our older daughter actually makes a living as a blog editor—so there is always hope!)

 
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