The annual Books in Boothbay book fair at Boothbay Railway Village took on a special meaning Saturday, July 8 with the recent passing of book illustrator Thomas Block.
“I really didn’t know him but we became good friends,” said television reporter and commentator Don Carrigan. Block illustrated Carrigan’s Maine bestseller “Togus the Cat.” The two had lived within two miles of each other in Walpole before they collaborated on the book.
“He had a remarkable ability to draw animals,” said Carrigan. The first drawing Block made was with Togus in the arms of Carrigan’s wife, Donna. “Everyone knew what Togus looked like,” Carrigan said. The Maine coon cat had been featured with Carrigan on television before the book was conceived. Carrigan said bringing out Togus’s personality without making him cartoon-like was a challenge for Block.
In tribute to Block, who taught art at Wiscasset High School for many years before retiring and taking on book illustration, author Paige Pendleton assembled 70 photographs of Block. She projected them on a small screen. Pendleton and Block had collaborated on five books over five years. At the time of his death, Pendleton had four more books waiting for illustration.
“He was a very handsome man,” said Pendleton.
The Narrow Gauge String Band, with whom Block was an integral member for many years, played songs dedicated to Block. Band member James Bahrensdorf recalled that he and Block had graduated from high school in the same class in Connecticut before meeting again at a class reunion in 2010.
Over 40 writers displayed their recent works. Dale Phillips said his writing career started after took a course by Stephen King. “I said I better do something with it,” said Phillips.
His six murder mystery novels based in Maine take on themes developed by former literary figures. “They are a thinking person’s action series,” he said.
Former Portland police detective Bruce Coffin has published his second mystery novel. “I was a writer before I was a cop,” said Coffin, who began writing in high school. Coffin said he is inspired by his law enforcement career, but his characters are strictly fictional.
Sandra Neily said her upbringing in East Boothbay gave her the respect for the environment which inspired her to write about the Maine woods. The daughter of a local real estate agent, Neily said she has seen the changes in the ownership of Maine property.
“I grew up with people involved with the land,” she said.
Her books tell stories about rural Maine without attempting to take on a political point of view. “You can’t be preachy,” said Neily.
Joanna Breen and Desiree Scorcia have taken over coordination of the event, now in its 13th year.