by Steve Desroches
Writer Casey Sherman was walking down Main Street in Chatham in front of Yellow Umbrella Books when his brother came over to him. He’d just been to the Coast Guard station and heard the story of the dramatic and heroic story of the Pendleton rescue where the Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG 36500 saved the majority of crew of the tanker in distress during a vicious nor’easter on February 18, 1952 off the coast of the elbow of Cape Cod. While the CG 36500 is now a floating museum maintained by the Orleans Historical Society, the story was beginning to fade into obscurity had it not been for that moment on Main Street in Chatham.
“He came over and said ‘I have your next book’,” says Sherman. “He was right.”
Born and raised in Barnstable Sherman already had four books published by this time, including A Rose for Mary: The Hunt for the Real Boston Strangler, about his investigation as to whether or not his aunt Mary Sullivan was actually a victim of the crimes attributed to Albert DeSalvo when she was just 19 years old. A prolific and vivid writer Sherman’s book about the Pendleton rescue The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue, which he co-wrote with Michael J. Tougais, became a New York Times bestseller and was made by Disney into a film of the same name that came out earlier this year. And his latest book, Boston Strong: A City’s Triumph Over Tragedy, co-written by Dave Wedge, about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, is being made into a film title Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, and Kevin Bacon.
It’s his success bringing New England stories to a larger audience both in books and films that are the subject of two events Sherman will be at this week in Provincetown. Sherman will speak about his new book Boston Strong at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum on Friday and then he’ll participate in a panel discussion titled From Book to Screen as part of the Provincetown International Film Festival on Saturday.
“I’m fortunate to find good local stories, but they are universal in scope,” says Sherman.
In whatever story Sherman chooses to write about he looks for ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and asks the question, “What would you do?” Adding there is no right or wrong answer to that, he is often struck by everyday people who become heroes in an instant. He’s careful to find and focus on the humanity in each story and not just write about the most sensational moments, but paint a complete picture. Whether it be for a book or a screenplay, remembering that these are real people who have entrusted him with their story is not a responsibility he takes lightly.
“You don’t want to exploit trauma,” says Sherman. “That’s how I’ve always approached these stories. It’s about the journey. I tell that story.”
Using that approach keeps him confident that as a book becomes a screenplay and then a film, integrity is maintained, even as a bit of creative license may be infused to make a movie more entertaining. Sherman also believes in a storyline accessibility where particular movies reach the widest audience possible. He notes that he was happy Disney purchased the rights to The Finest Hours as he wanted to ensure the film did not receive an R rating so children could see this inspirational story.
The film didn’t just reach people of all ages, but audiences in over 80 countries around the world. Sherman would receive e-mails from all over saying how much they loved The Finest Hours. But it was one in particular, from a young woman in Malaysia, that sticks in his memory the most. She wrote to say that the character Miriam, an independent woman in 1950s America, was a source of inspiration to her, a woman from a conservative Muslim family in a conservative Muslim country that doesn’t encourage women to be independent or to speak up for themselves. Sherman says her e-mail closed with her saying that after seeing the film she feels she now can speak up, too.
“You throw a pebble in a pond and you never know where the ripples will go,” says Sherman. “It’s amazing how a story can inspire someone and change their life.”
Casey Sherman will speak at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, High Pole Hill Rd., on Friday, June 17 at 5 p.m. A book signing will follow. The event is free. For more information call 508.487.1310 or visit pilgrim-monument.org. Sherman will also participate in the Provincetown International Film Festival’s PIFF Talks: From Book to Screen on Saturday, June 18 at 9:30 a.m. at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St. For tickets ($25) and information for that event, go to the box office at Whaler’s Wharf, 237 Commercial St., 1st fl. (oceanside), call 508.487.3456, or visit ptownfilmfest.org.