Writers of the Month

John “Mac” MacIlroy and Norma VanAmberg

John "Mac" MacIlroy

John “Mac” MacIlroy, a former attorney, CEO and adjunct professor, lives along a Carolina tidal marsh with his wife, a painted ceramic dodo bird named DuMont, and a pesky mortgage. In addition to writing short fiction, he has co-authored a book, Not Exactly Rocket Scientists and Other Stories (www.NotExactlyRocketScientists.com), released July 2017 – a collection of zany, “mostly, mostly true” stories. Pat Conroy called it “a great book about friendship.

Tango-19 (an excerpt)

The sky went black, as black as the stealthy double hull of Tango-19, on this, her last mission.

Commander Meredith Conrad eased the ship over the lip of the small planet, one of a cluster now called The Outer Rim. After her sixteen years in space, she had yet to get over the sheer terror of Deep Space Darkness. The human spirit—she now knew this for certain—needs to see something in the night sky.

Meredith was, at least technically, still mostly human. So she let linger the memory of those brilliant night skies that once held nothing but wonder and promise—until the day the skies of Earth forever turned angry, and the rains began.

Of the ships launched before contact with Earth was lost, fewer than forty made it to the three cluster planets. No one knows why so many ships simply disappeared, or why three weeks ago things started to go wrong on Outer Two, the smallest of the colonies.

“Maybe it’s the Darkness,” she remembered the Command Admiral saying just hours ago. “Nothing really like it. Does something to the soul. Crushes it, really, particularly in the older refugees. They simply give up. It’s the trace of some primal fear the night monster under the bed, something in the dark woods. It’s in us all, somewhere.” He seemed to pause just then, an unusual tic in his command-crisp style. “But maybe you’re lucky, Commander. You volunteered to be one of the early Augments, and the first to receive the neural-chip implant. That seems to be the ticket, something in the procedure that hardens your soul, toughens you up. Likely a tender mercy, out here. You never talk about it, and this is your—what—ninth mission?”

“Yes, sir. Number nine.” But, she thought, you are so terribly wrong about my hardened soul.

“Tango-19,” © John McIlroy (2017), from Ebb & Flow


Norma Van Amberg

Norma VanAmberg is a retired, award-winning journalist. A graduate of Douglass College, Rutgers University in her native New Jersey, she has lived in the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton area since 1984. She worked for The Island Packet as a staff writer from 1985 to 1997 and as editor of Coastal Sport & Wellness until May 2010. She is a NAMI Lowcountry Board Member and is polishing her non-fiction book about mental illness.

Biking on Hilton Head Island (an excerpt)

Touring Hilton Head Island on a bicycle is an excellent way to view the natural beauty of this barrier island. Even the main road, William Hilton Parkway, offers landscaped medians and entrances to subdivisions full of colorful, flowering plants. Plus you get great exercise doing it. A brunch or dinner break at one of the many eateries provides a refreshing stop along your way.

After a long ride to the Coligny Beach area on a hot day, a friend and I treated ourselves to a hearty omelet and pancake breakfast at the popular Skillets restaurant. We knew we could pedal and perspire away a good amount of the calories, pumping our way down the beach to get into Sea Pines. Then we could walk our bikes on one of the beach access points to reach the pathway and enjoy some tree shade on the return trip.

Bicycling on a subtropical island is an adventure. You can discover a great blue heron lifting off from the edge of a lagoon, stop to join some people watching an alligator sun itself on an embankment, or inhale the scent of the ocean air wafting on a welcome breeze.

Once I got my bike with gears, which makes pedaling longer distances on inclines more comfortable, I was ready to climb the Charles E. Fraser Bridge over Broad Creek. It offers a panoramic view of the Palmetto Bay area when you enter or leave the Cross Island Parkway.

I like to head off Palmetto Bay Road toward the marina and stop for a cool beverage at outdoor seating by the Black Marlin or Charleston Crab Company restaurants there.

When I go bicycling mid-island in Shelter Cove, I stop at the Veterans Memorial at Shelter Cove Community Park. I don’t have a family member who served, but I do remember the friends of my generation who fought and even died in Vietnam. In addition to pausing at the memorial, visitors can relax on benches overlooking Broad Creek or meander the trail on the grounds.

“Biking on Hilton Head Island” © Norma VanAmberg (2017), from Ebb & Flow