Who is digging up the Pilgrims and why?
A new mystery novel asks that question through an historical “what-if” and a fictional grave-robbing case, as readers of author Rick Pontz’s “103 Pilgrims,” discover how decisions of our ancestors affect our lives today.
So far, real life is affecting the art.
Plymouth’s quadricentennial celebration has been pushed to 2021, but the book, published to coincide with the 400th birthday has gone forward according to plan.
He said for visitors to the area, the book [$17.95, paperback, Hugo House Publishers, Austin, Texas] takes people around the town. Characters “dine” at real local restaurants or tourist things like whale watch boats and ferries. He promises his second novel will be using same kind of interactive scene referencing as Plymouth has delayed almost all the 400th anniversary events until next year.
There is still a 400th anniversary to tie into in 2021 — that of the first Thanksgiving, as linking with the city’s history has always been Pontz’s aim.
“That was the intent,” said Pontz about his debut detective novel set — naturally — in Plymouth has been on sale in the city and the founding Pilgrim settlement in 1620 following “a rumor that there’s more than 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact — but no one knows because the original Compact doesn’t exist. Or does it.”
Enter protagonist Tony Tempesta, retired Plymouth cop and uninsured private “advisor” who looks into problems for clients seeking a “solution.”
The novel’s opening chapter set aboard the Mayflower offers the what-if scenario of a stowaway on the ship.
“I was reading about the number of people on the Mayflower and ‘I thought, boy, that would really throw a monkey wrench into everything,’” he said.
The plot posits the effect of a stowaway, if there was something different about the stowaway and why would someone want to hide the person’s existence.
“About a year and a half ago, I said, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to get this thing published,’ because of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims,” he recalled. He felt the publicity surrounding the event might help him sell the book.
What he describes as a “desperate” effort to get it published was fruitless until September 2019.
“The deal I made with them was that, if they published the book, and set it up and get everything prepared, I’m a shameless self-promoter and I would go out and promote it like you wouldn’t believe,” Pontz said. “I have been doing that.”
The Cape Cod Guide has printed an article about the book and Plymouth information centers have placed rack carts with his book on it and the See Plymouth website [seeplymouth.com] offers the links for three sources where the book can be purchased, as well an article about the novel. While it is sold nationally, Pontz has done about half his promotion in the Plymouth area.
Available on amazon.com since Feb. 11, the coronavirus interrupted plans for book signings set up in Plymouth, beginning in May, including an event that was to coincide with a wine tasting at the Plymouth Bay Winery. He is working on setting up some virtual author talk events, but has not done any yet because of the way the coronavirus caught everyone off guard.
Born in Holyoke, and a former Plymouth resident for 25 years after his family had moved to Michigan when he was about 6 years old, Pontz said many people he knew there hail from families who have lived there for five to seven generations. He attended Northeastern University before moving to Plymouth. His grown children still live in the Plymouth area.
“Therefore, I was considered a newbie,” he said in a recent YouTube interview for his publisher. “During the time I lived there, I heard all types of stories about people’s families, the history of the area, some of the nuances, some of the mysteries, some things that were said to be true but were never really written down.”
The novel, 12 years in the writing, Pontz began writing down things that reminded him of the area and stories about Plymouth that people told him over the years.
“I realized they didn’t make much sense even after I put them together, so I tried to rewrite them,” Pontz said in the YouTube interview. He began to recognize that he “wasn’t a very good writer.”
He decided some creative writing courses were in order. Classes through Arizona State University and online programs near his Phoenix home — and reading other authors — put him on the path to finding his process.
When he is ready to write, Pontz said, he has a beginning in mind and knows how it is going to end.
“The stuff in between is the interesting part to me,” he said. “When I read [novels], I see the beginning and I always wonder what’s going to happen next.”
Just as reading a good book can keep you awake, reading late at night, Pontz said writing one has the same effect. It often leads to rewrites.
“The book was written at least three times from beginning to end, and then I began rewriting again after I went back to school,”
he said. He is in writing classes again during the process of writing his follow-up novel.
Also set in Plymouth, it is titled “Blood on the Rock.”
“I’m actually trying to rewrite the book a little bit to include the ‘failed’ celebration, how hard that they worked to make it happen,” he said, noting that Hanson’s 200th anniversary year has also been impacted. “The whole area’s been working on it.”
Plymouth held its first planning meeting for the quadricentennial 11 years ago, and started “pumping money into it” — $40 million worth — six years ago.