`Liars' lines are latest to hook readers

OUTDOORS

October 17, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

PORTLAND, Maine - Take the fibs out of fishing and there's nothing left.

But write it all down, and you may have a best-seller.

After telling readers about her life at sea as skipper, as a swordfishing captain and about living on a speck of granite surrounded by a sea of lobster traps, Linda Greenlaw has decided that what we really need to know about her nautical life is that All Fishermen Are Liars.

Which means, of course, that Linda Greenlaw is a liar, a fact gleefully played up by the publisher of her three books and spread around by her friends here at the Dry Dock Restaurant and Tavern on the city's waterfront.

"Liars? If she doesn't mind being one, we don't mind it, either," says Tommy Tucker, 55, one of the reoccurring rascals in all three of her books who fishes out of Ocean City part of each year.

Indeed, everyone at the bar seems ready to toast - not roast - the most famous resident of Isle au Haut, Maine, population about 80.

A note of disclosure here. I have, on occasion, shared refreshing, adult beverages with Greenlaw as fish stories were swapped. Let's face it, when author Sebastian "Perfect Storm" Junger says of Greenlaw, "She's one of the best captains, period, on the entire East Coast," she's somebody worth listening to.

Even if she is a fibber.

So suffice it to say, there have been times when I have bought a round. Greenlaw has bought a round. Tucker has dipped into his pocket, as well. I think others paid, too. Then, it all gets kind of confusing. I consider these hours to be continuing education. OK, I'm a fibber, too.

The unconditional affection of her fellow islanders is one of the pleasant side benefits Greenlaw has earned in the years between The Hungry Ocean in 1999 and Liars, which came out this summer. In 2002, she produced, The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island.

"I've learned that people love to have their names in print. They don't mind what you say about them," she says, eyes a-twinkle. "People love sea stories. I love sea stories. It's made promoting this book more fun than the other two."

Even though she's a Mainer to the core, the latest book has its Ocean City characters, like Tucker and fishing buddy George Pusey - the infamous "Island Boys" of her previous books - and Capt. Gus Forbush, whose family owned marine railway yards on the Eastern Shore.

Forbush's harrowing survival tale on a Newport News tour boat makes up one chapter of the book and might remind you of the Inner Harbor water taxi accident.

Screw-ups and rescues and tales of the ones that got away fill the rest of the chapters. As a public service, Greenlaw even includes some lies to cover up a bad day on the water.

Another lesson she's learned over the last five years is that a physical pounding at sea is preferable to sitting down to write a book.

"People come to a book signing and say, `Oh, God, I can't wait until your next book,' " she says. "And I'm thinking, `If you only knew. Don't hold your breath. It's hard."

Truth be told, on top of being a liar, Greenlaw has gotten it into her head that she's a fraud.

"I still feel funny when I get introduced as a writer. I'm always so skeptical. I'm so sure someone is going to say, `Who told you could write? You're all done,'" she says.

So, she remains enveloped in an identity crisis. Is she a fisherman who sometimes writes or a writer who sometimes fishes?

"We're still working on it," is all she'll say.

While you fished this summer and I spent August at the Athens Olympics, Greenlaw hustled books on a 60-stop tour that took her to 17 states and D.C. Liars ended up on The New York Times best seller list.

It's nice to hear Greenlaw say that another part of her life is settling down. After complaining in her 2002 book that the single-male population of Isle au Haut consists of a relative or two and a gay friend, Linda Greenlaw has found love.

Just in time, too. Friends tried to set her up. Men mailed her mash notes with pictures of their boats. And then there were the phone calls to her home.

"Is this Linda?" she says, imitating one of the men.

"Yes."

"Oh my God, I didn't think you'd answer. I don't know what to say."

"Then why did you call?"

"I mean I'm in the phone book," Greenlaw continues, roaring with laughter. "Do they think I have a secretary? Who calls someone long distance without knowing what they want to say?"

Her new beau is a summer resident of the island and a Vermont orthopedic surgeon. He came to a book signing and took her to dinner. Things blossomed.

"I made a point of mentioning him in the book so people will stop playing matchmaker," she says.

This winter, after the lobster traps are pulled, she'll be collaborating on a cookbook, Filled to the Gills, with her mother. In recent years, Martha Greenlaw has fought breast cancer and had bypass surgery. She's as tough as nails and as warm as fleece - and a good cook to boot.

Sometime next year, Linda Greenlaw will start work on her first novel.

"It will definitely be about the fishing community because I don't know anything else and I'm not a great researcher," Greenlaw says, laughing.

Then she turns serious.

"My biggest fear is of failure," she says. "I felt that way every time I left the dock, that I had caught my last fish. I feel that way with every book."

And like the good fisherman she is, it's hard to tell if Greenlaw's fibbing.

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