What is the easiest, least expensive way to own an island in the Thousand Islands area? Why create one, of course—on a typewriter. And that’s what I did many years ago. But after peddling the manuscript to a couple of publishers and getting no takers, I put my story with beloved characters, idyllic setting and humorous plot on a shelf and forgot about it.
Then a year or so ago, I came across the light-hearted novel I’d titled, “Jordan’s Island,” reread it, decided it had potential and wondered what was the best way to get it on my computer. Typing nearly 60,000 words for the umpteenth time held no appeal, and eventually I decided a voice-activated word processing program was just the ticket.
The story was written years ago after a family get-away to the Alexandria Bay area. Following a boat tour (yep, we were some of the annoying interlopers ) I was so enchanted by the islands that I vowed someday we would own one. Barring that happy situation, I would write a book using the St. Lawrence River as background.
With every discretionary dollar used to explore Italy multiple times from the Ionian Sea to Switzerland, the Adriatic to the Riviera, I realized if I wanted to own an island home, it would have to be in my head.
I still liked my story about a woman forced to remarry her ex if she wanted to keep her inheritance. (Remember, romances are fantasies.)But the background needed a lot of work, a lot more digging. And far from hating the research, I relished it.
Compared to ten years ago, the internet makes fishing for facts a breeze. Still, I needed more. For example, what kind of boat would my island-dwelling characters use to get supplies, visit friends at Alexandria Bay, tour the Canadian side? When web sites proved insufficient, I telephoned a boat seller in the area, who helped me out.
My fictional hero, a communications whiz, had bought his island from a well-to-do company which had drilled a well through the granite base. How common was that? Didn’t many people living on the islands carry water or use filtering apparatus to utilize river water? I called a real estate agent who said that current laws mandated that a well be dug for any new structures. “But,” the agent confided, “owners find ways around the laws.”
A bit of info about the fabulous mansions some have built was needed for my storyline. A younger sister unexpectedly provided help. She, as a new high school graduate in our small Pennsylvania mountain town, had been invited with some other girls to the palatial digs owned by a classmate’s family. The rooms were huge, the setting magnificent, she said. More importantly, the girls were on their own.
She related an incident about the drinking that went on by a few in the group. One evening after gaining access to the family’s liquor cabinet, they all piled into the small boat the family used and set out on the river, narrowly missing a freighter from the Great Lakes. The waves from the ship threatened to capsize them. “Our parents never knew,” she noted.
Interesting, but perhaps a better perspective would come from people who spent entire summers in the area.
That’s when I remembered a former co-worker’s book, “Cliff Carpenter’s Island,” a compilation of newspaper pieces the Democrat and Chronicle editor wrote about his cottage on Hay Island near Gananoque on the Canadian side. Happily, I hadn’t given it away, the slim book squirreled away between tomes on Calabria and the Vatican museums.
Cliff’s book was helpful in more ways than one. He wrote, among other subjects, about his blind summer neighbor, Robert Russell, who penned, “The Island,” published by Vanguard in 1973 to acclaim.
A copy discovered in the Rochester central library, was sent out and I began reading it at bedtime, basking in the accomplished writing and the philosophical insights plus I was living the adventures of the Russell’s and their children right along with them. Principal takeaway: The river is as dangerous as it is beautiful.
During the day, I was reworking my own book ad infinitum. Then it dawned: As long as I was immersed in rewriting, I, too, was an island dweller, loath to give up my characters, their problems and the magnificent setting. Writing, “The End,” and meaning it, proved to be very difficult indeed.
Note: In June, “Jordan’s Island,” was published as an Kindle ebook on Amazon.com with a paperback version to follow this fall.
By Patricia Costa Viglucci
Patricia Costa Viglucci is a columnist and author of nine books including Young Adult novels, light romances and a collection of family memoirs titled, “Growing Up Italian in God’s Country: Stories From the Wilds of Pennsylvania.” She and her writer husband Carmen, a retired editor and author of "Albany Street Kid,", live in the Rochester area. Their three children and seven grandchildren live nearby. Pat is currently writing a book about their many trips to Italy. (See Patricia Costa Viglucci’s complete list of books on Amazon)