Joel Mowdy may have traveled a long way from his hometown of Mastic Beach, but it is still close to his heart.
Earlier this month, South Shore native Joel Mowdy saw his first-ever book, “Floyd Harbor: Stories,” published by Catapult. It’s a collection of 12 fictional stories based on Mowdy’s observations growing up in the Shirley, Mastic and Mastic Beach area through his mid-20s.
“The stories are about people that you don’t often read about,” said the 42-year-old, who now lives in Bali, Indonesia, where he is an English teacher at the Green School.
On Friday, Mowdy described his 244-page work to GreaterMoriches, which is set in the 1990s.
“There is no other place like Mastic Beach,” he said. “I always thought that when I lived there, and I still do now that I traveled the world. It is so naturally beautiful and the people are unique.”
The book’s title pays homage to the area’s history. In the 1980s, there was a failed initiative to change Shirley’s name to Floyd Harbor.
However, in Mowdy’s creation, Floyd Harbor does exist as a setting for his characters, who are impoverished Mastic Beach residents struggling to make it on Long Island.
The collection of stories follows mostly teenagers and early 20-year-olds who look to become independent by working low-paying jobs. Some of them find success by making it to community college; others wind up in the prison system.
The tone of the book varies story to story, says Mowdy.
“Sometimes it is dark, heavy and melancholy, but there is always an undercurrent of humor through it,” he said. “And some of the stories are flat out black humor funny.”
Though the book isn’t based on one particular person, it takes aspects of Mowdy’s childhood experience to life with words.
Similarly to some of the fictional characters, Mowdy hit a rut after grade school.
“After high school, I didn’t do much for three years,” said the William Floyd High School class of 1994 graduate. “I just lofted around Mastic Beach.”
Since the book’s release on May 14, Mowdy said he’s gotten responses “over and over again” from readers who “recognize and relate to the experiences in it.”
The book’s launch has been a long time coming for Mowdy, who has a master of fine arts in fiction writing from the University of Michigan.
After his hardship following high school, he attended Suffolk County Community College in his mid-20s, where he discovered his best skills was writing. That’s also when he began writing about Mastic Beach.
“I had professors tell me I was pretty good at [writing], and I was really terrible at math, so I guess I am going to be a writer,” he recalled saying to himself.
Mowdy is now looking to publish “The Haltia,” an eco-fantasy story he and his wife Simona Vaitkute wrote together, about an American boy exiled to the last old growth forest in Europe.
He is also at work on another collection of stories set in Lithuania and other far-flung places.
Top: Mastic Beach native Joel Mowdy at the Green School, where he teaches English in Bali, Indonesia (Credit: Widi Komang)