Writers of the Month

John “Mac” MacIlroy and Norma Van Amberg


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 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.”


The Burden (An Excerpt)


It was just where he had left it, the small town of his childhood.

He hadn’t been back in years, and likely wouldn’t have gone except for Hurricane Matthew, a most unwanted visitor to his cottage along a tidal marsh in Bluffton. An early October nightmare, it rudely bounced along the southeastern coast, a drunken sailor of a storm that slapped almost headlong into the home he and his wife had shared since moving to the Lowcountry a decade earlier. Together, they had come to love the quiet rhythm of the marsh, until a blood clot took her away ten months earlier. The clot had been lurking deep and silently within her, as deadly as those tics in the gentle breezes off the coast of Africa that roll west, and can turn ugly.

* * *

The storm, sometime after midnight, felled the two live oaks that had stood guard by the cottage for almost a century. Their branches had draped gracefully over much of the house, wisps of Spanish moss just kissing the green tin roof. His wife often said the canopy made her feel safe, that it reminded her of the church and steeple her young interlocked fingers had formed when she was hunkered down in her family’s storm shelter, dark clouds on her native Kansas horizon, her family in prayer. His hands had clutched only a cell phone and flashlight when the trees smashed through the back porch.

He had been a fool to ride it out.

At the peak of the storm, sometime around three-thirty in the morning, the French doors—the old kind that opened inward—blew. The rain drilled almost horizontally into the living room for hours. It spared only a few of the marital treasures his wife had so carefully arranged in the white bookcases which lined the wall—their son’s Southern Miss college mug, their daughter’s wedding picture, and a smoky orange juggling pin they bought at a flea-market early in their marriage, a treasure with its a curious faded sticker reading “Birkenbach Sporting Goods, ‘It Pays to Play,’ Columbus, Ohio.”


“The Burden” © John MacIlroy (2017) from Ebb & Flow


Norma Van Amberg

Norma Van Amberg, a New Jersey native and Douglass College alumna, moved to Hilton Head
Island in 1984 and now lives in Bluffton. A retired newspaper reporter, magazine writer and
editor, she is a facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Lowcountry (SC) and has written a non-fiction manuscript, Balancing on the Brink: Families Navigating 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


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