Alumni Spotlight: Joshua Pahigian '96
Q: What was your major at HC?
A: I was an English major from the start: English was always my strength.
Q: While at HC what were your interests on campus?
A: I played intramural sports like softball and basketball. I also worked for The Crusader covering the Sports section and writing reviews for the Features section. One highlight during my time on The Crusader staff was when I got to cover a Lemonhead concert at Assumption College, which was a popular local band at the time.
Q: What was your favorite time of year at HC?
A: Each fall when everyone was coming back to school was always my favorite time of year. It seems like every spring I was so ready to be done with school and not have all those papers to write, but after two weeks at home I already missed my friends and the sense of community at HC. The fall was always a hopeful time of year to reengage academically and socially.
Q: Were there any specific classes you took, or Professors you had while at Holy Cross that you consider to have been particularly influential?
A: As an English major, I remember really getting a lot out of a few professors' classes. Helen Whall. She was an influential professor for me. I had her as a freshman for the First Year Program. My class was the first class to have that. The class with Helen Whall was an English class. I later also took a Shakespeare class and an expository writing class with her. I also took a lot of Political Science classes even though I wasn't a Political Science major. I took a couple of classes with David Schaefer. I didn't always agree with all of his political views, but I thought he was a really good professor and I always enjoyed his classes.
Q: Can you briefly outline your career path following your graduation from Holy Cross?
A: I graduated in the spring of '96. Initially, going to graduate school hadn't really occurred to me. I had other friends who were very focused on graduate school, but I was ready to be independent and get out in the working world. I took a job at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) as the Assistant Director of Annual Giving. It was nice to have some money in my pocket and some independence, but after some time on the job I realized I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. After a few months I realized I wanted to keep writing but there weren't many opportunities at the time. I realized creative writing was a bit of a leap of faith, but I realized it was what I loved to do. I took that leap of faith that if I gained some more education I could do it as a career so I went to Emerson College the fall of '98 and I spent three years there as a full time MFA student. The experience I had working at WPI, enabled me to get a part time job in the Emerson Fundraising office and that paid some of my graduate school fees. I got my MFA in Creative Writing. My specialty was fiction. I actually didn't take any non-fiction classes while at Emerson, only fiction and screen-writing. I graduated from Emerson in 2001. My first seven books were all non-fiction. This goes to show that you can't always see into the future to see where your career is going. My advice to students is to keep your options as wide as possible because you never really know where your path is leading.
Q: What is your favorite genre to write in and why?
A: Fiction. However, my first baseball book that I co-wrote with Kevin O'Connell (one of my classmates at Emerson) was non-fiction. We came up with this idea when new ballparks were being created. I loved fiction from the start, but I had this opportunity to use my writing and make some money and I had a publisher willing to pay me to go around the country and go to ballgames. The book was really well received and got all kinds of great media attention. As a result publishers and my literary agent kept pushing me to do more baseball books. Even though I loved writing fiction, I had a way to pay all of the bills. However, with each book I felt like I was getting a little further away from what I loved to write. My passion has always been fiction, which is a bit more creative.
Q: What inspired you to finally make the switch from writing baseball books to writing fiction?
A: It was really the setting of my latest novel Strangers on the Beach. My wife Heather and I both went to graduate school in Boston. We were living together in Somerville, MA, but we would often travel to Southern Maine. We really fell in love with that coastal part of Southern Maine. When we both finished our graduate degrees we bought a house in Buxton, Maine right near Old Orchard beach. The area became a place I became more and more familiar with and fell more and more in love with. With my other books I would always run into a crisis of confidence in my ability to carry out the plot. I would usually abandon my attempts at novel writing around page 100 or so. With writing Strangers on the Beach, each day I sat down at the keyboard to write it and it was such a pleasure. I felt that I was metaphorically going to a place that I had such a deep connection to. I knew the story so well that I felt I could create a story that was authentic. I didn't give up on Strangers on the Beach and I kept plowing through even when I ran into obstacles. Knowing the area so well really gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to continue writing.
Q: How would you describe your latest novel Strangers on the Beach?
A: It is a hybrid in terms of what type of book it is. My publisher has pitched it as a Mystery. It is also a small town sort of book in the way it characterizes the place and the people there. It also has a love story in it. I would say it is a Mystery, a page-turner, a Romance, and also has that small town aspect to it. I was really going for something that was easily readable as well as engaging.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing this book?
A: Well the story is told from the angle of a number of different characters. Trying to write with some authenticity from the perspective of a 15 year old boy, a 22 year-old women, as well as from the perspective of a guy caught in the throws in a perpetual mid life crisis was definitely a challenge. It was a challenge I didn't' necessarily tackle alone. The first reader is always my wife, and the second is Colleen Mohyde from the Doe Coover Agency. A lot of their feedback had to do with character development and they gave me really helpful advice and things to work on. I think it is really important for young writers to accept and embrace the idea that you need to have thick skin as a writer and you need to be open to other people's ideas and insights. I know my own writing benefits a lot from the people who read for me.
Q: Do you have any advice for students on how to break through a writer's block?
A: Don't sit there in front of the computer trying to figure out how to get started. Just start writing. If I feel that way I pull out paper and write in longhand. Take the pressure off and just start writing. Whatever you are going to say about the text- just start writing. That interaction between the pen in hand and the paper is a little different sort of brain process then sitting at the keyboard. After 15 minutes to half an hour you may be surprised at the words on the paper or the ideas you have formulated. It has always worked for me and has worked for some of the students I teach.
Q: Where can people get a copy of your latest novel?
A: You should be able to get it at any bookstore. All the E-readers like Amazon and Kindle also have it.
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