John E. Conway profile
Phone interview 1/31/04
- by Carol Standish
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Catboat Summers is an engaging account by John Conway of his family’s favorite activity—messing about in boats on Buzzards Bay. Although it is Conway’s first published book, it is full of crisp description, lot’s of humorous, credible dialog and stories that flow at a gripping pace unusual in a memoir. It is clear that he is no stranger to good writing. “I don’t think Stephen King has anything to worry about,” he replied when I asked him how he learned to write so well. He went on to confess that he was a ham and had cultivated a talent for making light of most subjects, including himself.
As for his writing talent, it turns out that he’s been writing since his teens, paying his way through college writing and taking photographs for magazines. After he graduated with a dual major, journalism and electrical engineering, he went to work writing articles on engineering for a trade journal publishing house. Today, he has “about the most fun job on the planet” working for a major sports marketing and management firm. Conway is part of the digital aspect of the company. “We manage 3200 websites out of Boston and figure out how to leverage new [electronic] ‘toys’ into the existing technology, thinking two to three years out. My mission is to tinker, experiment and watch the reaction.”
And the obvious case of boat fever? That sweet malady was planted by his father who presented 10 year old Conway (and his two younger brothers) with an 8-foot pram. Summering on Cape Cod, “We could pull the boats right up out of the water onto the lawn.” Later as a teen growing up in Milton, Massachusetts he took the subway to the Community Sailing Center on the Charles River where he learned to sail. “I can’t say enough good about it. Being in the city between two bridges conditions change constantly but they use very forgiving boats,” he recalls.
Today, the Conway summer home on Buzzards Bay is the base of all the boating action in Catboat Summers. “It’s Tom Sawyer land, you’re barefoot all summer, you’ve got the river, the ocean, (consistently above 70 degrees—a barely credible fact to a Mainer), the beach, the woods and acres pastures full of dairy cows. It’s a place that time forgot.”
Even as teens, his children were always eager to spend their summers there. “There was a good sprinkling of kids to start with and then we convinced other families to come so we had parallel universes, summer friends and winter friends.” The cockpit of “old bucket” as Conway fondly calls his boat has been known to accommodate 17 people, safely at one time. “Of course, some of those people were pretty tiny.”
What do the Conway kids think of Dad’s book? “When it first came out I got a real ear-full. They think I portray them as geeks. ‘Daa-ad, you make me look like a complete jerk!’ but they haven’t disowned me yet. I told them it was an opportunity to take a shot at the old man. I encourage them to write.” It seems a dubious prospect, though, to expect a “Conway Kids Rebuttal” anytime soon. In fact when Conway gears up to publish a tale (some of the book’s chapters have appeared separately in various boating magazines) the kids contribute, refreshing his memory “you forgot the best part” and embellishing the information from the boat’s log, the skeletal source of the stories. They also help choose pictures. “I always have a camera with me, it’s an old habit. So we have too many photographs of almost everything we’ve ever done.”
It’s no surprise that the children became “boat nuts” themselves. Grown now, the two oldest, Abby and Ned love sailing but Caroline prefers a motor boat. “She likes to pick a destination and go there, no fooling around,” says Conway. His wife Christine is of a similar mind. “She’ll come along [on the sailboat] when there is a fixed destination, which preferably includes a nice restaurant and maybe even a B & B.”
Conway says he doesn’t see a larger boat in his future.” I think this is it, unless she falls apart on us. She is old, which is why we stay close to shore and have plenty of life jackets. She’s just the right size and I have way less guilt...I do intend to cruise longer and farther but I know enough characters [with larger, off-shore boats] to have the experience without owning one...my planned technique is ‘mooching’.”
In fact, Conway’s advice to anyone interested in boating is “to find somebody who owns a boat and ‘mooch’ your way into his/her life.”
And finally, yes, we can expect a sequel. “but the ‘further’ adventures will be different—because the characters are all adults now. I’m also thinking about a volume of ‘around the campfire’ or ‘cockpit’ stories, scary or mysterious. The most feedback I’ve received from my book has been about the chapter where I’m sure I see ghost ships.”
Catboat Summers review