When traveling somewhere new, there is a definite difference between going as a tourist and staying in the home of a local resident who tells you all the best restaurants, walks and events that you just can’t miss.
Now, some may argue that you cannot get the same effect from reading a guidebook as you can from knowing a local, but there is a new book out this month that may make you take up that argument. Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard Guide Book, is co-created by mystery writer Cynthia Riggs, photographer Lynn Christoffers and cartographer Stephen (Step) Wesley, and is as close as you’ll get to having one of the Island’s elders lead you by the hand without, well, having an Island elder lead you by the hand.
Add to that argument that this book is based on the world surrounding the fictitious Victoria Trumbull, the 92-year-old-poet-sleuth and protagonist of Riggs’ mysteries and you’ll really have them stumped. “I came up with this idea about two years ago,” said Cynthia Riggs when we met in her brightly lit breakfast room in her 300 year old home last week. “Originally, I didn’t want to be the one to write it. I don’t think of myself as a tour book writer.” But after attempts at having someone else write it, Riggs said she knew she had to be the one to do it.
Riggs and Christoffers are neighbors and Wesley, who was with the Inkwell Bookstore in Falmouth, became friends with Riggs while doing events for her books. Add to that combination Janet Holladay of Tisbury Printer, who did the final design, and two years later you’ve got a guidebook beautiful and thorough enough to do this Island justice.
“Victoria Trumbull is based on my mother,” said Riggs, whose mother, Dionis Coffin Riggs was a poet, author, newspaper columnist and civic leader who was born on Martha's Vineyard and who died there at the age of 98. “Janet (Holladay) is a fan of my mother, she designed all of the books we did for my mother and she’s also a poet. And she’s also a genius.” The book design is set up so that you feel like you’re about to embark on an adventure with the wise and daring Mrs. Trumbull. Interspersed with the maps, tours and photographs, the book is peppered with Island tidbits like: What is a Pinkletink? And what is Up-Island? Then there are Dionis’s poems, sometimes in full and sometimes just a stanza or two.
There are a total of six tours in the book: Tour One: Vineyard Haven to Up-Island; Tour Two: West Chop; Tour Three: West Tisbury; Tour Four: Oak Bluffs; Tour Five: Vineyard Haven to Edgartown and Tour Six: Chappaquiddick. There are also chapters dedicated to “special places” like: Waskosim’s Rock; Quansoo; Sepiessa Point and The Cleaveland House. Along the way, readers are reminded to look out for particular landmarks that appear in Riggs’ mysteries and anecdotes that relate back to her books. In Tour Three: West Tisbury, Riggs writes, “The Howes House is considerably more than a senior center. Some community activity is happening there every weekday, including yoga, a writers group, computer lessons and Scrabble games. The West Tisbury Board of Selectmen held its weekly meetings there before the Town Hall was renovated and numerous town meetings still convene there. It was in the parking lot behind the Howes House that Victoria Trumbull backed into the Meals on Wheels van in Jack in the Pulpit, in a series of scrapes that led to the loss of her driver’s license.”
Even Riggs, who said she thought she knew the Vineyard well before writing this, learned a few things. “I found out that the original name for Music Street was Cow Turd Lane,” she said laughing. Whether you are a Victoria Trumbull fan or you’ve never read a single one of Riggs’ mysteries, you will learn Island history, go down the most beautiful dirt roads and visit each corner of the Island. “I included places to go if you’re coming here for a long weekend, or if you're here for a month. If you’ve never been here, but read the books, what are the high spots? What are some of the quirky things that you’d encounter along the way? This tour book is not comprehensive, but it does give you a feeling of the Vineyard,” said Riggs.
The photographs, taken by Lynn Christoffers, offer the perfect compliment to each tour and special place. Far from being the standard high-summer landscapes, these photographs feature lone Lagoon rowboats, windswept winter dunes and late autumn walking paths. It is the Island of Victoria Trumbull and so it is the Island all year long.
With mileage clocked with the precision of a GPS that knows which roads are one way and which ones dead end, readers can follow the tours street by street or follow the “Chart of Martha’s Vineyard Prepared for Victoria Trumbull Island Sleuth by Step Wesley,” that includes all Island landmarks, including Victoria Trumbull’s house – which is actually The Cleaveland House where Riggs now lives and runs the B&B her mother started.
According to Riggs, “We decided to self-publish because I have experience with it. I published all of my mother’s books through Cleaveland House Books and my father, who wrote a wonderful book called Arrows and Snakeskin, in 1963 that was published by Little Brown, I reprinted through Tisbury Printer and now it’s used as a textbook at Westchester Community College.
“The reason that self publishing has a bad reputation is because the books are not carefully edited. Plus, one of the times that self publishing works is when books are highly local and this is definitely a local book.”
Already, half of the first print run has been sold. “The whole thing is very exciting,” she said. “I wrote emails to all my B&B guests and they’ve all ordered a book. I keep all my fan emails (she gets about four a week) and sent a mass email to all those people, many of who have also ordered books. I’ve gotten all these neat letters back telling me things like, ‘Cleaveland House is exactly what I pictured Victoria Trumbull’s house to look like.’”
The success of the book has enticed the authors to extend their Holiday Gift Offer and the book will be sold at the pre-publication rate of $25 until December 1st. You can find it at , , , , the Camp Grounds and . You can also email to Riggs directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and send her your name, address and how many books you want. “We’ll send books, the bill and an envelope to mail us a check.”
Riggs, Christoffers and Wesley will also be at the Thanksgiving weekend Artisans Fair signing and selling what may be the perfect Island gift.