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Long Islanders find golden age  — for writing

Nature photographer and author Vicki Jauron crouches to

Nature photographer and author Vicki Jauron crouches to take a photo during a hike through the woods of the John James Audubon Center in Audubon, Pa., on July 12. Credit: Kriston Jae Bethel

"Everyone has a book inside of them" goes the old saying attributed to journalist Christopher Hitchens. Sometimes, they have several books inside of them.

Too often the demands of a job or a family can consume decades before those stories are finally told.

For many Long Islanders, retirement has served as a muse in which they've discovered the writer inside. And the results have been both rewarding and exhilarating.

"I spent a lot of time in my career doing presentations and what not," said longtime Babylon resident Vicki Jauron, who retired as a human resources director at LIPA six years ago and has since penned two children's books. "So writing wasn’t something totally foreign. It took a little bit of an effort, but it was also a lot fun. I started doing some books for my grandson and cut my teeth on that, and then I thought, I could do this for real."

Jauron is one of five writers with Long Island roots who are sharing their golden words as they enter their golden years. Here are their stories.

VICKI JAURON

When Jauron, 61, picked up a camera upon retiring, she never realized her pictures would be worth thousands of words.

After joining a nature and wildlife photography group six years ago, she fell in love with the birds that called Nickerson and Jones beaches their home, especially the piping plover. 

"They are just so adorable," said Jauron, who moved to Downingtown, Pennsylvania, last year. "They're so curious and have no fear. They'll just run up to you."

Jauron used her images to share her love of LI's feathered friends with children, and earlier this year released her first book, "The Magical Bird Beach of Long Island" (Babylon and Beyond Photography, $23.95), which introduces 2- to 6-year-olds to the birds and teaches about the importance of preserving their environment. In September, she'll release a follow-up, "The Magical Bird Beach of Long Island in Winter," which looks at such birds as the snowy owl and peregrine falcon.

Jauron said it took three months to put her 42-page book together. "I actually got the first copy back and decided to redo a lot of it," she said.

Jauron admits she knew nothing about birds when she started photography. "I'd post a picture and say, 'here's a white bird.'"

The more she photographed them, the more curious she became to learn about them, and now she wants to share that passion with the next generation.

"I thought if kids could see how amazing nature is, that would be a great thing, especially in the world we’re in right now where we’re not so good about protecting the environment," she said. "They’re going to be the ones that have to do this."

ARTHUR DOBRIN

Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write "Gone With the Wind." Dobrin, 76, of Westbury, has her beat by about 40 years.

The Hofstra University professor emeritus began writing his new book "Where We Started" (Nsemia, $30), which deals with slavery in the 1800s, when he was a teenager. In between, he has penned more than 25 books, including three novels, five books of poetry and a children's book, but he always knew he had to finish "Where We Started."

He was finally sparked six years ago while teaching at a historically Black college in South Carolina. "I was really immersed in a Black community in a way I had never been before," he said. "It was a fascinating experience. These kids in my class were all descendants of people going back to the slave days. I thought let me go backward and take a look at this."

The project required an enormous amount of research, which he relished. The book was bought by Nsemia, a publisher headquartered in Nairobi with offices about three blocks from the Peace Corps building where Dobrin had once worked.

"The timing was just right for this book," he said. "A lot of people are saying we need to go back and revisit American history and understand it in deeper ways. I think this book does that."

JOANNE BELLI

Home is where the heart of Belli's book is.

Belli, 71, who lives at the Lido Beach Towers, has always been obsessed with the building's rich history and stately architecture. After all, how many other structures on Long Island are a vivid pink and boast stunning cupolas with tall spires?

Now the retired teacher details the building's storied past in "The Lido Club Hotel" (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), which refers to its original name, before it was turned into a condominium complex in 1980.

Built in 1928 by the senator and real estate developer William Reynolds, the hotel opened as an exclusive club that barred Jews. After facing foreclosure in 1940, it was transformed into a U.S. Naval Training Center during World War II and then a discharge center. In the 1960s, it became a popular night spot with a revolving rooftop where stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Barbra Streisand performed. In the 1970s, it was bought by a Holocaust survivor and became a full-scale kosher hotel.

What Belli may have lacked in writing experience, she more than made up for with her passion for the project. As a trustee of the Long Beach Historical Society, she had access to the group's archives for her research, which began 14 years ago. That research also included some key interviews.

"Doing the research, I amazed myself," said Belli, who also has a home in Malverne. "To contact the great grandson of Sen. William Reynolds and to reach out to some of the grandchildren of the people who owned the hotel at different times really made the book come alive."

PHILLIP VEGA

Though they've never met, Vega said Tiger Woods is responsible for him becoming a writer.

Vega, 54, of Stony Brook, was all excited about seeing Woods in a golf tournament on TV one Saturday afternoon about five years ago. He soon lost interest when he discovered Woods wasn't on the roster and his mind started wandering back to a summer from his teen years in Stony Brook. "The images started playing in my mind almost like a YouTube video," Vega said. "I was compelled to write down what I was seeing."

As his imagination took hold, Vega realized he had the basis for a novel. "Sometimes I would start writing at 10 at night and work into the morning," he said.

In six weeks, he finished "Last Exit to Montauk," which deals with his experience growing up Hispanic on Long Island. "Whenever I'd see people talking about the Hispanic experience in the United States, it was always about the migrant workers or the illegal aliens crossing the border," he said, citing typical stereotypes. "I didn't relate to that."

As someone who grew up in an upper-middle-class home with a mother who was a physician and a dad who worked in the federal government, Vega wanted to share his own Hispanic experience. "Last Exit to Montauk" is a romance that features many Long Island locations — from a Friendly's restaurant in Stony Brook to the beaches of Montauk.

Although Vega left Stony Brook for Tampa, Florida, in 1993, all of his novels, including "The Captain and the Queen" (2018) and "Searching for Sarah," set to come out in the fall, have taken place on Long Island.

"No matter what, I'm still a Long Islander," he said.

STEVEN DRIELAK

There's no question that Drielak is more than qualified to write a true crime story. For starters, he has close to 40 years' experience as an expert in forensics attribution, which specifically means that when a chemical from a biological or radiologic substance is found (think weapons of mass destruction), he must determine where it came from.

One case that always fascinated him was the 1937 kidnapping of wealthy Alice Parsons from Long Meadow Farm in Stony Brook. "I had personal experience working on the cold case," said Drielak, 67, of Hampton Bays. "And I had a real desire to find out the facts."

And as he did, those facts came together in his book "Long Island's Vanished Heiress" (The History Press, $21.99), which relives the case that made national headlines.

"The police were told nine separate lies by her husband and housekeeper," said Drielak, who had lived in Stony Brook before moving to Ellicott City, Maryland, in 2007. "The forensics done on the ransom notes revealed more than fingerprints. The results of the exam were just stunning. There was contact with the kidnappers in the form of eight separate letters to her husband and housekeeper."

Writing is something that has always come easy to Drielak, who started writing textbooks dealing with forensics attribution in the late 1990s. He has also written three novels in his "Murder in the Hamptons" series, which blends history and fiction.

"My first historical fiction novel took me one day to write the outline, and I wrote the whole story in 30 days," he said. "I don’t know what writer’s block is."

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