Thursday, November 26, 2015

Michael Tougias - A Passion for Writing

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the November 26, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Michael Tougias is the third author to visit the Morrill Memorial Library this fall (as part of the Stuart Plumer Author Night Series). He is a local author and his book, The Finest Hours (coauthored with Casey Sherman in 2009) is the basis for a Disney film that will be released in theaters in January of 2016. Casey Affleck, Chris Pine, Holliday Grainger and Ben Foster star in the movie that portrays a daring and harrowing rescue off the coast of Cape Cod. The movie has had several planned release dates over the past few years – one as early as this October and the other as late as the spring of 2016.

The Finest Hours is just one of six books that Mike Tougias has written about heroism and tragedy at sea, most of them tales off the coasts of New England. A related book, The Blizzard of ’78 (2001) recounts the storm that “knocked New England to its knees”.

The Finest Hours recounts the harrowing efforts of the Coast Guard to rescue sailors when two oil tankers split in two by the force of a terrible winter storm on February 18, 1952. This happened just off of the Cape Cod coast, and the courageous men who braved stormy seas and insurmountable odds to save more than 30 sailors from the ship.

On December 2 at 7 pm, Tougias will speak about his latest maritime story, Rescue of the Bounty.  An exact replica of the HMS Bounty (made for the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty) was precipitously moored off New London, Connecticut before that Hurricane Sandy roared up the Eastern coastline in 2012. Fifteen men and Captain Robin Walbridge hoped to bring her to a safer port in St. Petersburg, Florida, sailing to the east of the hurricane. Unfortunately, the rest is history as that fateful storm bashed and battered the ship which took on water and overturned, spilling its crew into the tumultuous seas. Once again, the US Coast Guard rushed to the rescue and saved all but two of the crew in a daring and courageous effort.

Mr. Tougias has visited our library before to talk about his books Fatal Forecast (2007), Ten Hours Until Dawn (2005) and Overboard (2010).   Another, A Storm Too Soon (2013) is set off the Gulf Coast. Like all his books, they are incredible stories of heroism and tragedy at sea. 

Fatal Forecast is the tale of two lobster boats as they left for the fishing grounds of Georges Bank. Weather, as it always is off the Massachusetts coast, was unpredictable that November day in 1980. Brewing storms were off to the southeast and malfunctioning weather buoys caught two fishing boats in the tumult and frenzy. The story details the tale of the Fair Wind and the Sea Fever, crippled by the fury of nature. While it was the last voyage, and a fatal one, for some of the sailors, it is also the heroic tale of the amazing rescue of Ernie Hazard, who spent hours adrift in an inflatable life raft. 

Ten Hours Until Dawn is another story of courage and death – yet it occurred two years earlier during the Blizzard of 1978. While cars were caught on snow-covered highways, the tanker the Global Hope was foundering on the shoals in Salem Sound, just off the coast of Marblehead and west of Baker’s and Great Misery islands.  A Coast Guard patrol boat, heading for a rescue, lost its equipment and power and foundered in the mayhem. Captain of the Can Do, Frank Quirk, and his four men who disappeared in the storm. They perished in the seas, courageously rushing in to help.

Tougias admits (in the biography on his author blog) that his publishers would probably “wish I would stay on one topic or theme.”  Instead, he acknowledges that he finds a subject he is passionate about, and he researches until a book is born of that study. In 1996, he published a novel, Until I Have No Country, about King Philip’s War in New England. In 1999, he co-wrote (with Eric Schultz) a non-fiction account of the struggles of the New England colonists and Native Americans in 1665-1667.  The book was made into a videorecording in 2000 and the DVD is available in Minuteman libraries.

Tougias doesn’t limit his writing to history and sea rescue. He has authored ten guide and travel books for New Englanders. Exploring the Hidden Charles, AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Boston, Outdoors in Franklin, and Nature Walks in Central and Western Massachusetts are a sampling. He has written others about the Quabbin Reservoir, fall colors in New England (Autumn Rambles) and quiet places to explore in Massachusetts.

In 2014, Tougias joined with his daughter Kristin in writing an unusual memoir, The Cringe Chronicles. He also teamed up with Buck Harris, a teacher at Swampscott High School, to publish the journals of student Derek Sheckman. Derek was 18 when he passed away from a rare cancer and Derek’s Gift details Derek’s struggles along with his writings.

As I was searching for a way to describe Michael Tougias’ varied and successful writing career, I was reminded of this quote. Author Mary B. W. Tabor wrote that “one sure window into a person’s soul is his reading list.”  One clear window into Tougias’ soul is the books he had authored – with a passion for local research, he shares the stories and trails that we might miss otherwise.

If you need help finding any of Tougias’ (pronounced toe-gis) books in the Minuteman Library catalog, please call or stop by the Information or Reference desks at the library. I hope you join us on December 2. Please make sure to call the library to register for the program.