Friday, August 15, 2014

H. Terrell Griffin: Murder and Mystery on Longboat Key

When H. Terrell Griffin graduated from Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida, he never dreamed that his life would take him from soldier to lawyer to award-winning author. The first in his family to earn a high school diploma, Griffin could not afford college, so he decided to sign up for a stint in the army. This turned out to be a wise choice because his tour of duty would later become a key element in his stories.

After his discharge from the military, Griffin set to work putting himself through college, then law school. He earned degrees in history and law from Mercer University before embarking on a 38-year career as a successful trial lawyer. His career choice turned out to be another step along the road to becoming a writer. “Good trial lawyers seem to have an intellectual bent and spend a lot of time writing,” he explains. “We’re also very logical beings. We have to have logical consistency to synthesize complex information into a tight story based on the evidence presented by witnesses. That kind of logic applies to mystery writing too.”  

Writing had been a lifelong dream for Griffin. An avid reader, he took a creative writing course at the University of Central Florida in 1971, but the professional demands of his law practice didn’t afford him  the time or energy to write. As he approached retirement, he decided to stop taking new cases and start writing. 

“I started writing for my own enjoyment, but I never thought to publish anything,” he recalls. “Then I decided to get serious and give writing a real shot. After that, I finished a book in about six months.” Griffin self-published his first novel, Longboat Blues, in 2005. The legal thriller introduced reluctant hero Matt Royal, a former soldier and burnt-out attorney who comes to Longboat Key to live the rest of his life fishing, eating, and drinking cold beer.  His idyllic life is shattered when an old army buddy is indicted for murder and asks Matt to represent him. “Matt is who I’d like to be if I were younger, quicker, smarter, and not such a chicken,’ Griffin says. Longboat Blues was followed by a sequel, Murder Key. But it was the third book in the series, Blood Island, that made Griffin’s dream come true when it was picked up by Oceanview Publishing.  According to Griffin, “Holding that first hardback book published by a national publisher was the biggest moment of my life – even bigger than being sworn into the bar.”

Since then, Griffin has penned five more Matt Royal mysteries, all set in Longboat Key. “Longboat Key is a wonderful, funky place,” Griffin says, “and the books are sprinkled with stories I hear in the bars.” Wyatt’s Revenge (2009) has Matt hunting for the murderer of his best friend. In Bitter Legacy (2010), Matt finds himself in the sites of a sniper.  Collateral Damage (2011), which climbed to the top of Amazon Kindle’s Best Seller list, has Matt searching for the killer of an old army buddy’s son. This plunges him into a web of deceit, revenge and murder that stretches from Longboat Key to Southeast Asia. Matt is aided by his detective friend, J.D. Duncan, a character suggested by Griffin’s wife, Jean. “Jean thought I should write a strong female character,” Griffin says, “so I gave J.D. a lot of my wife’s attributes.” Fatal Decree (2012), has Matt and J.D. facing a serial killer who is murdering women on Longboat Key. Add to the mix Guatemalan gang members and Mexican drug cartels, and Matt and J.D. are in for the fight of their lives.

In Griffin’s latest release, Found (2013), Matt and J.D. investigate the mysterious murder of one elderly man and the disappearance of another. Joined by Matt’s friend, Jock Algren, a member of a shadowy government agency, they find their work complicated by a group of dangerous characters who threaten the peace and security of Longboat Key. Like Griffin’s other books, Found delves into the concepts of honor, friendship, and the obligations they entail. And it gives readers a fascinating story they’ll find hard to put down.

For more information, visit the author’s website at www.hterrellgriffin.com.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Loren Buckner: Parenting 101


Parenting is a subject of almost universal interest, and countless books have been written about it. But Tampa writer and psychotherapist Loren Buckner has approached the subject from a different point of view. ParentWise – The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How to Deal With Them is a very readable self-help book that will help parents navigate the often stormy seas of child rearing. “Generally, parenting books focus on what parents can do to take better care of their children. The parent’s own internal struggles aren’t as well addressed,” Buckner says. “I wanted to examine parenting from the parent’s perspective.” Buckner, the mother of two, shares personal anecdotes with readers in the hope that her experiences will give readers insight into themselves as parents. She also includes stories from her psychotherapy practice so parents can realize that they are not alone in how they feel.

Buckner grew up in White Plains, New York and received her undergraduate degree from American University. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in social work from Tulane, then took a position as a substance abuse counselor in Vermont. When her husband was offered a job in Spain, she had the opportunity to spend two years living abroad before moving to Tampa and starting a private practice.
As someone who speaks publicly to large and small groups, Buckner has spoken nationally and internationally, with teenage parents, mature parents, and to parents of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. She discovered that all parents sometimes grapple with worry, disappointment, sadness, loss, and anger – but most feel too ashamed to talk about. 
  
Buckner, a self-described “reluctant writer,” never planned to write a book. “I was going through some parenting turmoil myself and decided to do a professional paper on the emotional strain of being a mother,” she says. “After I presented the paper, someone suggested I write a book. I thought about it for a while. Then I sat down and started writing. I wanted to show parents that if they understand their own emotions, they’ll be better able to understand their children’s.  But I didn’t want it to be a ‘Five Easy Steps’ book because there are no easy steps to parenting.” Before she knew it, she had written 50 pages and soon found herself enjoying the process. “The more invested I became in the message, the easier the writing became,” Buckner explains. “I never even got writer’s block. I spent hours riveted to the computer. I loved being able to speak to parents from my heart. As a therapist, I mostly listen. As a writer, I could speak about my own experiences and those of the clients I work with.”

Five years later, Buckner had completed ParentWise. The book combines true stories of parents struggling with the demands of parenthood, “Food for Thought” questions to help readers examine their own thoughts and feelings, 20 “Intentions,” or goals for readers to strive toward, and honest accounts of Buckner’s experiences raising her two (sometimes difficult) children to be happy, successful adults. She hopes her book will help parents better understand themselves and their emotions and see the link between what happened to them in the past and who they are today. “I want mothers and fathers to learn that they don’t have to be afraid of the memories, thoughts, and feelings that are inside them. The more comfortable parents are with their own emotional lives, the easier it will be for them to understand and take care of their children.” And that, when all is said and done, is the real goal of every wise parent.

For more information, visit the author’s two websites at www.lorenbuckner.com and www.parentwisebook.com.


Monday, July 14, 2014

She's Back! - A Guest Blog by Lesley Diehl

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Lesley Diehl.  Lesley is the author of a number of mystery series, mysteries, and short stories. Dead in the Water, her latest novel, follows "A Secondhand Murder" as the second book in the Eve Appel Mystery series. She was our featured writer on January 6, 2014.

Here she comes again.  Eve Appel is back in another story of murder in the swamps of rural Florida.  Dead in the Water is the second book in the Eve Appel mystery series.  Readers of her first adventure, A Secondhand Murder, know that the wilds of Florida can’t outdo the impulsiveness and sheer stick-your-nose-into-everything-that’s-not-your-business nature of our Eve. She stands out in any crowd, and not only because she’s taller than most women (and men) and has a mop of heavily gelled blonde hair (complete with dark roots), but she’s the go-to gal when you want someone to take action, even if the action is ill-advised.  And Eve’s often is.

All of Eve’s quirky friends, relatives and used-to-be relations like Jerry her ex-husband are back to tell her what not to do.  And I’ve added a few that will get your heart racing: a hunky Miccosukee Indian, Sammy Egret, and his charming and perhaps clairvoyant grandfather.  Others are not so friendly. Readers know that Eve has a mob boss as a friend, Nappi Napolitani who is less mobster and more advisor to Eve.  Dead in the Water adds to Eve’s mob connections.  This time it’s the Russian mob that seems to have killed her favorite uncle on an airboat ride Eve arranged to show her uncle the charms of the swamp.  Little does Eve know that her uncle is also mob connected, or mobs connected because he’s worked for one “family” most of his life and is fighting another at his death.  He visits Eve intending to end his mob career, but instead ends up dead trying to deliver a last cash payment to his bosses.  At least that’s what everyone thinks. But her uncle had another agenda - to save the life of his stepdaughter kidnapped by the Russian mob.  Mobsters of every variety, foreign and domestic, now abound in the swamps, and money goes missing.

Eve makes friends with Sammy Egret, a Miccosukee Indian who is willing to help her unweave the puzzle of her uncle’s death and the missing money.  Sammy likes Eve, perhaps too much, and Eve finds Sammy’s knowledge of the swamp a comfort especially when she and Sammy find themselves dumped in the swamp by a smarmy pair of crooks.  If there’s sizzle between them, it’s dampened by a tropical storm and the knowledge that Eve already has one man that makes her toes tingle, her current squeeze PI Alex Montgomery. 

And what does Alex think about Eve’s determination to find her uncle’s killer?  He advises caution as always as does her friend and business partner, tiny, red-headed Madeleine, the county’s sweetest, kindest and clumsiest woman.  Madeleine’s propensity for stumbling over things or into things could get her in trouble without Eve’s impulsiveness, but Eve’s schemes always put her and her friends in harm’s way, unintentionally, of course.  Outwitting mobsters is no less dangerous than trying to talk to alligators, but Eve insists she knows how to do it.  Eve arranges a final confrontation with the killers where the story began - in the swamp - but this time her usual back-up is not available.  Instead of going it alone, Eve finds she must count on the cleverness of an old man and his version of swamp back-up.

 Is all that money that her uncle carried into the swamp gone?  Grandfather Egret says that the swamp takes things away and sometimes returns them.  Will it return mob money?  Grandfather isn’t saying.  Can the swamp remain silent with half a million dollars floating in its water?

I hope you love this tale as much as I loved writing it.  The joy of being a writer for me is two-fold: laughing as I write and making my readers laugh, too.  Of course, there is a mystery to be solved, but why not have fun solving it?


For more about the Eve Appel Mysteries, visit Lesley's website at www.lesleyadiehl.com
 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Adventures Shape the Tale and the Tale Shapes Me - A Guest Blog by Christine Kling

 
This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Christine Kling. Christine, the author of the Seychelle Sullivan novels, has begun a new suspense series. The second book in the series, "Devil's Triangle," debuted this month. Christine was our featured author on August 4, 2011.
 
I never imagined I would find myself the author of two different series of books, but life has an odd way of taking you down paths you never foresaw. Many Florida readers know me as the author of the very Florida-based suspense novels about Seychelle Sullivan, the tug and salvage captain who works Fort Lauderdale’s New River salvaging boats and lives. I loved writing those books, and I hope to write at least one more before long.

However, after Ballantine had published four books in that series, and I didn’t become the next big bestseller, I’d learned enough about the business to know they wouldn’t want to publish another book about Seychelle. I met with my editor and we began to talk about what I might do next. Thrillers had become very hot, and so I proposed writing an adventure/historical thriller similar to those I loved to read by authors like Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, James Rollins or Florida’s own Chris Kuzneski. We chatted and I kept throwing out ideas. He said the main character should be stronger than Seychelle with a background that gave her more skills. I knew I didn’t want to write about cops or private eyes, and because I had just been introduced to a retired Marine Embassy Security Guard at a party in a marina a few days before, I suggested that as the job for my new main character. He agreed and for the next several minutes, I sketched a rough outline of what would eventually become my character Maggie Riley and the rough circumstances of Circle of Bones.

I’m a slow writer, and I absolutely love to do the research for my books. There are a couple of ways that I like to differentiate myself from the rest of the pack, though. I actually like to LIVE the adventurous lifestyle. So, after deciding to write about a singlehanded sailor in the Caribbean, I sailed my own boat alone up to the Chesapeake, and I flew down to visit Guadeloupe and Dominica, the main setting for the book. I also went to Yale to see the real home of Skull and Bones and traipsed around Washington, DC finding the locations for my story. When I start this sort of research,I usually have no idea what direction the plot will take, but I go off and I have adventures and that eventually shapes the story. In fact, sometimes I’m not sure which shapes which. Just as I was finishing Circle of Bones, I took a paid crewing job on a boat sailing in the Caribbean 1500 rally. We were to sail the 1500 miles of open ocean from Hampton, Virginia to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Weather diverted us into Bermuda which was the only location in Circle of Bones I had never actually visited. I’ve never been sure if my adventures shaped the story or if my story took me there.

I submitted Circle of Bones to my editor at Ballantine and when, after four months, I hadn’t heard back from him, I withdrew the book from consideration and chose to self publish it. At the time I thought, This is it. I’ll never have a traditional publisher again.

As it turned out, my self-published book that I was able to promote myself sold very well. About 7 months after self-publishing, I got an email from Thomas & Mercer, the mystery/thriller imprint that is a part of Amazon publishing, and the editor there offered to republish Circle of Bones under their imprint. Then he went on to ask what else I was working on and after some quick thinking, I stated, “I’ve been thinking of making it a trilogy!” Next thing I knew, I had a three book contract with T & M and I was starting the research for the new book.

To be honest, I first heard the term ‘Dragon’s Triangle’ before finishing Circle of Bones, and I’d thought what a great title it would be. I bought the non-fiction book Dragon’s Triangle by Charles Berlitz and learned all about how it was this region in the Pacific Ocean where planes and boats often disappeared and it was exactly on the opposite side of the world from the Bermuda Triangle. I was fascinated and soon I was on a plane to Thailand and the Philippines and having many grand adventures that eventually formed the plot for the next book about Riley.

So, the second novel in this series featuring Maggie Riley, Dragon’s Triangle, just had its official publication date on the first day of June. This is my sixth novel and the sequel to Circle of Bones, but the thrill of seeing your book let out into the wild never goes away. Dragon’s Triangle actually had already been available to members of Amazon’s Kindle First program since May 1. This is a great promotion that Amazon Publishing does. It’s great for both readers and authors as it offers a selection of four Editor’s Picks from various Amazon Publishing imprints one month before they are offered to everyone else. Amazon Prime members get to download one of the books for free while non-Prime members who join Kindle First can get one book for the discounted price of $1.99. The great thing about the program for me was that it gave me HUGE visibility. Both books in this series now have over 300 reviews on Amazon. Bones has made it to  #1 on Amazon, and DT has made it to #2. Leaving Ballantine and going with Amazon has turned out to be the best career move ever for me, since their marketing has introduced my books to tens of thousands of new readers who might never have found this little Florida writer otherwise.

So, in Dragon’s Triangle, I have Riley sail her boat 1800 miles through the South China Sea. She travels from Thailand to the Philippines and goes for several rides in kalesas, or horse drawn carts like the one I am pictured sitting in. At the end of her voyage, Riley discovers true love. And once again, my life seems to mirror the adventures of my main character.

Last November, a gentleman commented on my blog and asked a question about some software I had used. I responded and we started to correspond. One month later, I flew to Fiji to meet him and for our “first date” we sailed 2200 miles through the Pacific on his 52-foot sailboat. Now, six months later, we have traveled together through Europe doing research for book #3 in the series, and in a field of flowers overlooking a little fishing village in Malta, he proposed - and I said yes. Like Riley, I have found true love.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be certain whether it’s my adventures that shape the tale or the tale that shapes me. But I do know this: I’m going to make Riley have the best adventures ever in book #3 and we’ll see what in new directions my life heads!

Fair winds!



 

 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

April Star - On the Road to Mystery

It seemed written in the stars that April Star would become a writer. When she was nine months old, she fell out of bed and landed on a metal typewriter. According to the Sebring author, “Writing was embedded in me from an early age.” In elementary school, her love of writing sometimes got her into trouble. In math or geography class, she’d sit in the back writing plays and stories. The teachers would confiscate her notebooks and call her mother. They didn’t have to go far to find Star’s mother – she taught second grade in the same school.

After graduation, Star followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a teacher. But two years later, fate intervened - she married Jerry, a man she met on a blind date. Jerry’s construction job required them to hit the roads of America.  For sixteen years, they traveled in their RV to what Star calls “every where-the-hell-is place on the map.” To pass the time, Star would write about her experiences in journals. Later, she wrote a non-fiction account of her travels based on her journals. Titled Life Through a Rearview Mirror, the book was only distributed to family and friends. These stories would later form the basis for her Wanderlust Mysteries.

Star’s first novel, Tropical Warnings, was two years in the making. At first, she found it difficult to transition from short stories to a novel. “I wound up with more of a mini-novel,” she says. “Then I thought of each chapter as a little short story, and that worked for me.” Tropical Warnings, a romantic mystery set in the Florida Keys, tells the story of Laura Madison, a campground manager facing off against an anonymous stalker while falling in love with David Jennings, the private investigator trying to help her.  Star calls her main characters “composites of my husband and myself, back in our romantic younger days.”

Her next novel, The Last Resort, takes Laura and David to St. Augustine where a bottle washed up on the beach leads them to investigate the mysterious death of a campground owner.  Star enjoyed writing this book because it gave her a chance to delve into forensics, an area she finds particularly interesting.
Star’s third novel, The Dolphin Triangle, is a stand-alone mystery introducing Detective Krista Becker. Inspired by the tragic murder of Adam Walsh, the story has Detective Becker investigating the murders of a ten-year-old boy and a young wife and mother. Her investigation puts her in the croisshairs of a psychotic murderer. The Dolphin Triangle was released as a Kindle e-book.

Star’s biggest challenge is finding the time to write. A self-described “morning person,” she usually gets up between four and five AM and does her writing before leaving for her day job as an RV resort office coordinator.  But busy as she is, she never tires of creating stories that will take readers on the road to mystery.
For more information about April Star, visit her author page at www.amazon.com/April-Star/e/B001K8I6AC

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Johnnie Clark - Semper Fi

Anyone who knew Johnnie Clark as a student would probably say that only a miracle could turn him into an award-winning, bestselling author. But miracles do happen, and Clark is living proof. After earning three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, he penned six novels – one, a classic in military literature.

Since childhood, Clark wanted to write. “I remember writing a Batman book when I was eight,”he recalls, “but I didn’t know a noun from a verb. I was the least likely to ever become a writer. I think I got through high school because I was good at football.” At 17, he joined the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam. When he wasn’t serving as a machine gunner, he wrote letters to his mother. These letters would later become the inspiration for his first book.

When he returned from Vietnam, Clark faced the task of readjusting to civilian life. “I promised myself that I would never be around dead people or mud and rain again, he says. “But my first job was laying telephone cables, digging trenches in the mud and rain, and my second job was helping a whistling mortician at a funeral home. I learned never to tell God what you’re never going to do.” Clark then went to St. Petersburg Junior College, and after earning his Associate’s degree, became a mailman. Unfortunately, while delivering a box of books, he aggravated a back injury he’d incurred during the war. Unable to continue his job, he decided to find a way to make a living without using his back so he enrolled in a creative writing class at St. Petersburg College. “I took the same class 15 times,” he says. “It was an 8-week course where they’d critique my writing, so I kept retaking the course until they’d critiqued my whole book. In fact, I dedicated the book to my teachers at St. Pete College because they taught me how to write.”

That book was Guns Up, what Clark calls his “miracle book.” Embittered by the treatment of Vietnam veterans after the war, Clark wanted to write a book that told the truth about what the troops experienced. Guns Up was rejected by every publisher for almost four years, until Clark and his Bible Study class began praying about it. Since the book contained realistic language, Clark decided to rewrite the book minus the cursing. The process took six months. When he finished, the miracle happened.

“The week I finished the rewrite, I began getting calls from magazines saying they wanted to print the excerpts from Guns Up that I’d sent them years before,”Clark says. “That same week, nine publishers called wanting to publish the book. I picked Ballantine Books, and the same editor who’d sent me a rejection notice told me that all the editors thought Guns Up was the best war book they’d ever read.” It went on to become a bestseller, praised by The Los Angeles Daily News as “More than 350 pages of some of the toughest combat ever described on paper.” Published in 1981, it is now in its 37thprinting and is required reading in many high schools, colleges and military units. The Marine Corps has even established a “Guns Up” Award for machine gunners, named in honor of Clark’s book.

Guns Up was followed by a series of books based on non-fictional accounts of marines in combat: The Old Corps (1990); No Better Way to Die (1995);Gunner’s Glory (2004); and Semper Fidelis(2008). Clark describes these books as “military stories that are historically accurate, based on real people and witnesses for Christ.” His writing earned him the Brig. Gen. Robert L. Denig Memorial Distinguished Service Award for writing. Clark hopes his books will help Americans “remember and honor these incredibly brave warriors.”

Clark’s latest novel, Section 8, is a real departure from his other works. A military comedy that calls to mind Catch-22 and MASH, Section 8 takes readers on a zany romp through 1946 China with an offbeat platoon of marines suffering from varying degrees of combat fatigue. The cast of unforgettable characters includes a pudgy Navajo accountant who delivers questionable nuggets of tribal wisdom, an unrepentant scammer who runs several hilarious but semi-legal operations, a Jewish lieutenant who thinks he’s a Catholic priest, a young private with only one buttock, and a crazed Irish sergeant with a low frustration threshold. Clark’s crew of military misfits will have readers howling with laughter.

Going in a different direction with his newest novels, Clark is finishing up a two-book series that will be titled either "The Harlot's Cup" or “The Cup of Wrath.” According to Clark, "One editor at Random House loved the series so much, she changed the title to 'The Cup of Wrath,' then promptly retired without letting me know or anyone else at Random House. So now the title and publisher are in doubt, but the books are not." Clark is excited about this non-stop adventure based on historical facts and Bible prophecy. The story begins with the sinking of the USS Panay by the Japanese in 1937, and the action and mystery continue until 2015. "There’s a beautiful woman that will make every male reader sweat and a love story with a deadly ending," Clark says. "The Harlot’s Cup is very real and mentioned more than once in the Bible. It is believed to still exist deep inside the Vatican and its End Times meaning becomes frighteningly clear as you join the quest in China in 1937 and travel the world through years of war, love, murder and mystery until you find yourself where all things must end." He describes the books as "a little Casablanca, a little Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a little of The Omen."

Even though his new series is very different from the realistic military fiction that established him as a serious author, Clark is confident his readers will enjoy the thrill ride. "Writing is a gift from the Lord," he says, and he hopes to continue using his gift to create stories that will both entertain and inspire.

For more about Johnnie Clark, go to http://www.randomhouse.ca/authors/5037#

 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Black Horizon": Ripped from Tomorrow's Headlines - A Guest Blog by James Grippando

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger James Grippando. James is a New York Times bestselling author. His 21st novel, Black Horizon, was released in March ,2014 and is the 11th in the critically acclaimed series featuring Miami attorney Jack Swytek. James lives and writes in south Florida, where he is Counsel at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. He was our featured writer on April 27, 2011.

The marketing folks who promote my novels like to say that “James Grippando’s books are ripped from headlines.” I disagree. Like many writers, I stay on top of current events, but I don’t retell the past. I look for trends and forces that are destined to collide in the future, and then I ask the most important question a thriller writer can ask: “What if …?”  

If I’m ripping anything from the headlines, it’s from tomorrow’s headlines.

Black Horizon (Jack Swyteck #11) is a perfect illustration of how I work. Last year, I launched Blood Money (Swyteck #10) with an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The final question Joe Scarborough asked me in the TV interview was “What’s next?” I told him that Cuba was drilling for oil just fifty miles from the Florida coast, and Black Horizon was the story of what could happen if a drilling disaster of the magnitude of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill happened in Cuban Waters. Within ten minutes of the airing of my segment on “Morning Joe,” about thirty e-mails had populated my inbox. Almost all were about Black Horizon. One was from Gwen Keenan, Director, Office of Emergency Response, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

“You are writing about the U.S. Coast Guard’s worst nightmare,” Keenan said in her e- mail to me.

I’ve always done my own research for my novels. It’s something I enjoy. From my perspective, the best thing about being an established author is that people far more knowledgeable than I are eager to help me get the facts right. Director Keenan became that person in Black Horizon. Through her, I became aware of some startling dangers about a potential oil spill in Cuban waters. Some of these dangers stem from the eerie similarities between Cuban offshore exploration and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. But it’s even more complicated, due to the fact that the U.S. has imposed a strict trade embargo against Cuba since 1963. (I’m told that President Kennedy ordered 1,200 Cuban cigars the night before the embargo became effective, but that could be Miami folklore). Cigars aside, consider these facts, which collectively add up to a potential geo-political crisis:

·       An estimated 5.5 billion barrels of oil and another 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath a mile or more of ocean in the Cuban basin, midway between Havana and Florida. Because of the U.S. trade embargo, current exploration is being led by Russian oil companies with no U.S. oversight or involvement.

·       Earlier this year (Jan. 2014), former Florida Senator and Governor Bob Graham, who co-chaired a presidential commission on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, reported that, with the Russians’ help, Cuba and its state-owned oil company are “aggressively” pursuing plans to drill offshore, as close as 56 miles from Key West.  Deepwater Horizon was 48 miles from shore.

·       Cuba’s primary target is near the maritime border in waters that could be 10,000 to 12,000 feet deep. Deepwater Horizon was in 5,000 feet of water.

·       Experts agree that with the Gulfstream moving at a swift three to four knots, a Cuban oil spill would impact Florida in just six to ten days. It is estimated that Cuba has 5% of the resources it needs to respond to spill on the order of Deepwater Horizon.

·       The lack of any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, let alone a maritime treaty, means that the U.S. cannot be assured of the safety standards in Cuban drilling operations. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba means that the Coast Guard would be barred from deploying highly experienced manpower, specially designed booms, skimming equipment and vessels, and dispersants. U.S. offshore gas and oil companies would also be barred from using well-capping stacks, remotely operated submersibles, and other vital technologies.

Pardon the pun, but with facts like these spilling out before me, the premise for Black Horizon almost wrote itself:  What if an oil spill of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe happened in Cuban waters and the U.S. was powerless to stop it? 

I’m proud of the fact that critics have heralded Black Horizon as my “most timely book” (Huffington Post). Worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine only make the premise more timely. Most of all, however, I’m grateful to people like Gwen Keenan who help thriller writers get it right. 

Click on this link to see James's interview on "Morning Joe." http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/new-thriller-focuses-on-oil-spills-229309507894

 Visit James's website at:  www.jamesgrippando.com.