BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For nine summers, Jim Bolone hoisted tourists’ luggage atop his bicycle for delivery to Mackinac Island’s hotels.
Now an Anthony Wayne Junior High School language arts teacher, Bolone, along with screenwriter and friend Dave McVeigh, has published a lighthearted, funny story about dockporters – those who schlep suitcases on their bikes – in The Dockporter, A Mackinac Island Novel.
Amazon has rated the self-published book No. 1 in one of the young adult fiction categories. Available in paperback and online versions, The Dockporter has received positive reviews from readers of all ages, including this: “It’s a touch coming-of-age story, a love letter to Mackinac Island and a tribute to friendship.”
The book follows Jack McGuinn, a 19-year-old dockporter who is challenged by a rival to ride a record-setting load. The stakes are high: If he loses, golf carts would replace porters on the summer resort island known for outlawing motor vehicles. With a cast of characters ranging from the preppie developer wannabe, the salty summer workers and the Irish cellist who entrances Jack, the story brings to live the feeling of community on the island.
While the characters are an amalgam of people Bolone and McVeigh met over the years, their experiences as porters in the 1980s not only fueled the story but also ignited a friendship between the two English majors.
“Dave was a dreamer. We would spend hours re-enacting movies or talking about books,” Bolone said.
While McVeigh spent years in Hollywood as a scriptwriter working with clients like Disney, HBO and Warner Bros., he moved to Cebu, Philippines, to start his own business. Bolone graduated from Wayne State University with a bachelor of arts and earned a master’s degree from Lourdes University. He has taught for 25 years.
In early 2020, the two reconnected when McVeigh sent a message asking Bolone if he wanted to novelize a screenplay he’d written about dockporters 16 years ago. While COVID-19 set in place travel restrictions, the two men communicated through e-mail to co-write the book. Using beat sheets, a method for outlining a screenplay by identifying the key moments in each scene, the collaboration took about a year.
Although this first book is based on McVeigh’s screenplay, the two are already working on a second book in a Mackinac Island series. Taking place in 1979-80, the book follows Jack as a 9- and 10-year-old while Somewhere in Time, a 1980 movie starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, was being filmed on the island.
“Our goal is to provide a light, entertaining story that transports you back to childhood,” he said. “We want to create a positive community trend for Michigan and our country.”
With schools back to in-person sessions, Bolone continues his own writing during class at the same time his students are working on their own ideas. With his writing projected on the screen, students can see the entire process, including rewrites, edits and mistakes.
“I encourage my students to see that the playing field is level. They don’t need a degree or certificate to write,” he said. “Writing is for everybody.”
Now that the first book is out, many of his students are reading it and learning more about their 60-year-old teacher’s life during the summers of 1981-89 – including the science of loading a bike. While Jack, the protagonist, aimed for 21 bags, Bolone said the record is 32.
“My biggest load was 15 or 16,” Bolone said. “If you aren’t fully trained, you can run into a person or a horse or have it too top-heavy and fly over the top.”
That’s what he did one year, tearing a ligament in his ankle and being confined to desk duty for two weeks.
Mackinac Island still holds an air of freedom and joy for Bolone, who met his wife, Lori, there when she worked for Arnold Transit Services and a pottery studio. On July 24, he’ll return to the island for a book-signing at the Island Book Store and Horn’s Bar.
For those who can’t visit the island this summer, a mental vacation is in order. Just visit www.thedockporter.com to see the trailer and learn more about how to buy the book.