Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writing About What You Know About - A Guest Post by Dorothy Francis


This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Dorothy Francis. Her works range from a series of animal stories for children to six cozy mystery novels set in Key West. Dorothy was our featured author on June 15, 2011.

Do you remember the first writing you had published?  Most writers do.
Mine went like this:

                          KNOCK KNOCK.

             Jumped  from the tub.  Grabbed for a towel.

             I  raced to the door on high.

             Looked high and low.  No one was seen.
             Least not by the naked I.

I was following the new writer’s rule—write about what you know about.  And it worked.  I knew a little about human nature. 

During the years, I’ve taught many writing classes.  One of my themes to my students has been “Write about what you know about." The rule worked for me again when I wrote a short piece of prose for a magazine. I followed my own advice in the following sketch which earned an editor’s acceptance and a small check.

                                                         YOU NEVER KNOW

            In the 1940s, our Methodist minister in Olathe, Kansas often spoke of the Second Coming.  One Sunday morning, I thought this had actually happened.  A tall man, dressed in spotless summer whites decorated with heavy gold braid on the sleeves and shoulders entered our church and seated himself front and center.  Adults looked at him from the corners of their eyes.  Kids stared openly.  Nothing like this had ever happened in our town.

            But no, it wasn’t the Second Coming.  The man was a lieutenant from the new naval air station the federal government had just opened a few miles outside our sleepy village in land-locked Kansas.  I almost burst with excitement .  His family was from Hastings-on-Hudson in New York, and they had moved next door to us.  They had two children, and they needed a babysitter.  Me?

            No. Cautious parents didn’t allow their daughters to babysit for strangers. You never knew what those men might do.
             Mom and I took Lt. Comfort and his family a heaping box of strawberries from our garden.  They acted as if they had never seen strawberries fresh from a patch before. I wondered where they got strawberries.  Were there no strawberry patches in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.?

             “Any special way you fix strawberries?” Lt. Comfort asked.

            “If we have sugar, we usually sugar them down and add cream,” Mom answered.  “But if you have no sugar, they’re delicious right from the box.”

            “We have sugar, but we don’t have cream,” Lt. Comfort said.

            “I’d lend you some,” Mom said, “but we’re out, too.”

            “I’ll go get us some,” Lt. Comfort said.

            Mom shook her head.  “No grocery stores are open on Sunday in Kansas.  It’s the law.”

            Lt. Comfort smiled.  “We’ll see.”

            We headed for home.  An hour or so later, Lt. Comfort appeared at our door carrying a cup of sugar and a pint jar of thick cream.  Nobody thought of fat or cholesterol in those days.

            “For your strawberries,” he said, offering the gifts to my mother.  “We can get sugar from the commissary on the base, and I found us some cream.”

            Mom looked at him wide-eyed.  “Where did you find cream on Sunday?”

            He grinned.  "Drove to the air base and revved up my trainer plane.  Just flew around the countryside until I spotted a pasture filled with cattle. I landed the plane, and a farmer came running out, sort of excited.”

            Mom’s eyes grew even wider and I could tell she was squelching laughter.

            “It was a smooth piece of land.  The farmer said something about scaring his cows, and I apologized.  When I asked for a quart of cream, he just shook his head.  By then his wife had joined us, and she invited us
into their home.  She went to her refrigerator and found some cream for me”
           “I don’t believe it!” Mom exclaimed.

            “I gave her a few dollars," Lt. Comfort said, “and she seemed real happy about the whole thing.  Farmer’s name is Hoff.”
           “I know her,” Mom said. “I’ll get her jars back to her.”

            Mom fixed the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted.’         

            “You just never know what those men will do,” Mom said.

            Later, we did know just what those men would do.  They’d win a war for us.

            Lt. Comfort, if you’re still around Hastings-on-Hudson—we’re forever grateful!

When my husband and I started spending winters in the Florida Keys, that writing rule worked again for me, and I wrote a series of six mystery novels set in Key West.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing what I was beginning to know about.

The good news for me this year is that those six Key West mysteries have been released as e-books, and they’ll be around for a long time to come.  You can look for them on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Untreed Reads Books.  And the 16,000 libraries in the United States may be able to find them via Overdrive.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Don Bruns - Good Stuff

Sarasota author Don Bruns's writing career had an inauspicious start. “I sent my first story to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine when I was 11,” he says, “and they sent it right back.” So when he won a critique from bestselling author Sue Grafton at a charity auction in 2000, it was déjà vu. “I submitted my manuscript and got back eight pages of criticism,” he recalls. “She even asked me if I’d ever actually read a book.” Bruns was understandably discouraged until Grafton called two days later explaining that she’d been so hard on him because he had the makings of a good writer. She suggested that he attempt a new book. So, with her criticisms in mind, he got to work on a mystery novel titled Jamaica Blue. Grafton liked the manuscript so much that she mentioned it at a national mystery convention, garnering Bruns a contract with St. Martin’s Press. Twelve years and several novels later, Bruns has established himself as one of Florida’s award-winning mystery writers.

Jamaica Blue was the first in Bruns’ “Caribbean Series,” five novels featuring protagonist Mick Sever, an entertainment journalist who explores the seamy underbelly of the music business. Bruns drew from his experience as a singer/songwriter to give the series a gritty realism. “Every book was ripped from the headlines,” Bruns explains.  For example, St. Barts Breakdown, the sequel to Jamaica Blue, was based on music producer Phil Spector, while book three, South Beach Shakedown, was inspired by the career of singer Jackie Wilson.

In 2007, Bruns decided to change course with Stuff to Die For, a comic mystery about two wisecracking underachievers (James Lessor and Skip Moore) who decide to start a moving company and stumble upon a murder. Book List said the novel “…will remind the reader of Tim Dorsey's cast of whacked-out characters but with the narrative voice and feel of Mark Twain's Huck Finn."  Again, Bruns pulled his inspiration from real life. “After graduation, a college buddy and I did a stint as stand-up comics,” he recalls. “Zinging each other was part of the act.”  He describes James and Skip as “wannabe millionaires, full of bravado, who stumble along but always come out on top.”  The enthusiastic response to Lessor and Moore led Bruns to pen a “Stuff” series.
In Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, the boys reinvent themselves as holy rollers when they meet tent revival preacher Reverend Preston Cashdollar. The third book in the series Stuff to Spy For, has James and Skip playing the spy game when they are hired to do surveillance on the president of a security systems company suspected of cheating on his wife. In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, the boys finally become licensed private investigators.  To get their fledgling agency, More or Less Investigations, off the ground, they go undercover as carnies to investigate a series of murders in a traveling carnival show.

Too Much Stuff  finds the boys in the Florida Keys searching for gold lost in the 1935 hurricane. The book was scheduled for release to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Henry Flagler’s railroad connection to Key West, something Bruns calls “a defining moment in Florida history.” Inspired by Last Train to Paradise, Les Standiford’s chronicle of Flagler’s railroad,  Bruns wanted Too Much Stuff to be historically accurate.  But there are enough bungles and missteps to keep readers laughing (and guessing) right to the end.

 Book number six, Hot Stuff, is a story about the murder of a sous chef in a trendy Miami restaurant.  Bruns researched professional kitchens, actually visiting about 35 all across the country. One of the characters was a pastry chef named Kelley Fields.  Bruns later learned that Chef John Besh in New Orleans has an executive pastry chef named Kelley Fields.  According to Bruns, “I met her and we had a good laugh about her being a murder suspect in the book. I also got a free meal at one of Besh’s restaurants. Not bad!”

The latest book in the series, Reel Stuff, was launched on December 4th.“This is the seventh “Stuff” novel, and the team of James Lessor and Skip Moore still manage to crack me up,” he says. In the story, an A list movie actor dies in a stunt gone wrong on a Miami movie set. Is it suicide or murder? Skip Moore goes cross country, learning more about the movie industry than he wants to when his girlfriend, Emily, goes undercover as a fledgling actress and is offered a major role. “I was reminded of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, about Chili Palmer, a loan shark who goes to Hollywood and within a couple of hours finds himself deep in the movie business,” Bruns says. Bruns was also able to incorporate into the plot some material from a movie pitch he made to Henson Studios several years ago. Book List calls Reel Stuff “A lean, thoroughly entertaining mystery...clues, laughs, and shenanigans abound. The Stuff novels aren’t quite comedy-mysteries, but they’re about as close as you can get, effectively mixing serious crime with plenty of humor.”
Bruns has also penned a stand-alone thriller that is awaiting publication. Peter's Gate is the tale of a nefarious organization that controls the Vatican and makes an attempt on the Pope's life. Bruns calls the book, his longest yet, "non-stop tension that was fun to write." There are also plans for another "Stuff" book. Meanwhile, Bruns will continue to be on the lookout for some strange-but-true inspiration because, as he puts it, "The real stuff is even better than what I can imagine."

Monday, November 18, 2013

I Keep Coming Back to the Land of the Flowers - A Guest Post by Mary Anna Evans

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Mary Anna Evans. Mary Anna is the award-winning writer of the Faye Longchamp archeological mysteries. Her latest novel, Rituals, was released earlier this month and is available wherever fine books are sold. Mary Anna was our featured author on January 17, 2011.

So far, three of my novels, four of my short stories, and one of my songs are set in Florida, and I am currently at work on yet another book that takes place in The Sunshine State. Since I have written eight books (and counting) about a Florida-dwelling archaeologist named Faye Longchamp, my entire writing career could be seen as a love song for the land of the flowers. Florida has been my home for almost all of my adult life, and now I’m preparing to leave it. I’m excited about the next phase of my life, but leaving Florida is an emotional thing for me. I simply love the place.

While I realize that we’ve done a pretty good job of paving over the peninsula and its panhandle, if that was our goal, there are still places here that are achingly beautiful. The beaches, the cypress domes, the springs, the lakes, the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the swaying palm trees...there are so many evocative nooks of Florida for a writer to use in her work.

My first book, Artifacts, explored Faye’s home on a lonely island off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, and I returned to that place, Joyeuse Island, in Faye’s fourth adventure, Findings. Strangers is set in the ancient city of St. Augustine. My short stories “Land of the Flowers” and “A Singularly Unsuitable Word,” are set in the Florida swamp. “Mouse House” is set at a nameless central Florida theme park where I enjoyed shoving an unpleasant person off a very high castle turret. “Low Budget Monster Flick!” is set at a resort very like the one at Wakulla Springs, during the filming of a movie very like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And now my nameless work-in-progress is taking Faye back to her Joyeuse Island roots. That’s a lot of stories for one state, but Florida keeps giving them to me.

And Florida has given me more. The Florida Historical Society gave Artifacts their Patrick D. Smith Florida Literature Award. The Florida Book Awards has given medals to both Findings and Plunder. The Will McLean Folk Festival gave the song I wrote to accompany “Land of the Flowers” an award in their Best New Florida Song Contest. The Studios of Key West gave me a writer’s residency in paradise. Remind me again why I’m leaving?

I’m going away, at least for two years, because I want a chance to study creative writing with people who really know their stuff. I am totally self-taught as a writer. I want the chance to see exactly what I’m capable of doing and it’s for me time to do it. If not now, then when? So, beginning in December, I will be in New Jersey pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts at Rutgers University.

After that? Well, I don’t know. I can’t see that far down the road. I do know this. Whether I come back as a resident or as a visitor, I know I’ll never leave Florida for good, because there’s no place in the world more beautiful than the land of the flowers.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Janis Froelich - Sports, Writing, and Real Life Drama

The 57th PGA Championship is best remembered for the miraculous 16th hole play that won the trophy for Jack Nicklaus. But for Tierra Verde writer Janis Froelich, that event will forever be linked with something far more sinister - the brutal murder of her friend, 27-year-old Linda Mae McLain.

The year was 1974 when Froelich, then a 28-year-old mother of two, accepted a temporary job as an office assistant for the Professional Golf Association in Akron, Ohio, home of the prestigious Firestone Country Club. It was there that Froelich met fellow PGA staffer Linda McLain, herself a young mother with three small children. The two had much in common and soon became friends. Unfortunately, their friendship was short-lived – brought to a sudden and horrific end when Linda was stabbed to death by her husband. The shadow of this tragedy would continue to haunt Froelich for the next three decades.

Since that dark February day in 1975,  Froelich has gone on to lead a full and interesting life. Following in her father’s footsteps, she pursued a career as a writer. “As a student, I faltered in math but got A’s in English,” she says. “In school, if you’re not a cheerleader or a majorette, being editor of the school paper puts you right up there.” She took a job with the Akron Beacon Journal where she worked for over ten years until moving to Florida to be near her parents. She spent eleven years as a food writer and then TV critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Then she moved to Iowa where she worked as the TV editor for the Des Moines Register. In 1995, she married photographer Ray Bassett (owner of Maddock Photography in St. Petersburg) and returned to Florida to write for the Tampa Tribune.

In 2008, Froelich was laid off from her job at the Tribune, but she didn’t take a hiatus from writing. Inspired by an article she had penned for the St. Pete Times, she spent the next two years writing a book that would help her exorcise the ghost of her murdered friend.  Part memoir, part true crime story, My Life Looking Back at a Murder revisits the circumstances surrounding the McLain tragedy and explores the ripple effects of domestic violence. “The story is a sort of stream of consciousness, with my life paralleling what Linda would have been experiencing in hers,” Froelich explains. “I also wanted to re-examine the case to see if I could find something new.” The hardest part for Froelich was talking to Linda’s family and seeing for herself the long-term effects of domestic violence.

Froelich hopes My Life Looking Back at a Murder will help raise awareness of the epidemic of domestic violence. “While there is more help available today, domestic violence is a social problem that still hasn’t been solved,” she says. “Three women are murdered by their significant others every day.” She would like to see relationship classes taught in high schools, and thinks parent-child dialogue about domestic violence would be helpful. To do her part to address the problem, Froelich is donating a portion of the profits from her book to The Spring of Tampa Bay and the Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland. 

Froelich’s latest book, Team Shop, takes an insider’s look at another popular sport – baseball. Team Shop chronicles the Tampa Bay Rays’ sensational 2011 season. “I was working for the Rays, the MLB,” she says. “Well, that’s not quite right. In my dreams, I guess. I actually sold t-shirts and cowbells in the team shops around Tropicana Stadium.” She decided to take notes on the season to use for her writing class at Eckerd College.  By the time the season ended, she realized she had enough material for a book. “When the Rays made their unlikely comeback in 2011, I had a rare home stand vantage point. Not only did I witness the muscle, sweat and steel nerves played out at the Trop, all kinds of life experiences rumbled in front of me under the dome.” Team Shop looks at sexual romps in the dressing room, puking in the bushes, picky managers implementing strict drink cup rules, distraught co-workers pushing mops long after the game, and the constant foam finger drama.

A much more serious drama was playing out in Froelich’s real life at the time. In late September of that same year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She includes an account of this very personal experience in Team Shop and donated $500 from the proceeds to the Morton Plant Mease Foundation that provides free mammograms for women in need. She also hopes the book will inspire others to write down their thoughts. “You never know what’s down the road,” she says, “and writing helps immensely to clarify your thoughts and feelings.”

For more information, visit the author’s website at 

Monday, October 14, 2013

You Never Know Where Your Book Will Take You - A Guest Post by Diane Gilbert Madsen

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Diane Madsen. Diane is the author of the DD McGil Literati Mysteries, a series of novels that link true incidents in the histories of famous authors with current-day mysteries. She was our featured author on June 26, 2012.

Once your book is published and on the shelves, you go on to the next one.  But sometimes one of your books rears up and takes you places you never envisioned.  That’s what happened to me after Hunting for Hemingway, my second DD McGil Literati Mystery, was published.  The extensive research I did for the book really paid off in unexpected fashion.  It took me to Cuba.
I lived in  Hemingway’s boyhood hometown of Oak Park for 24 years, and was also an English Major (eeekk),  so the forces of the universe undoubtedly dictated some interest on my part in Ernest Hemingway and fueled my research.  Parts of that research involved Hemingway’s Corona #3 typewriter - the one his first wife, Hadley Richardson, gave him as a present on his 22nd birthday.  After finishing my mystery novel, I wrote an article on the importance of that Corona typewriter and the importance of typing itself to Hemingway’s career as a young journalist and fiction writer.  That article was published in the Spring 2013 issue of The Hemingway Review, and the Review kindly chose a photo of a Corona #3 for the cover!

As a result, I was asked to speak at the International Hemingway Colloquium, held in Havana, Cuba last June.  I realized that my mystery novel had been the trigger (as we crime novelists say) that impelled this adventure into action. 
Hemingway, who spent almost 20 years in Cuba, loved the island and its people.  When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954 for The Old Man and the Sea, he dedicated it to the fishermen of Cojimar and to the Cuban people.  The medal is housed at the El Cobre Sanctuary, located just outside Santiago de Cuba.  It was stolen in the 1980s, but Castro put out a notice warning the thief to return the medal within 72 hours or face the consequences. It was returned but is no longer on display.

 I did find that Cuba has 2 different pesos minted in Hemingway's honor – one a portrait and another a fishing scene with him aboard his boat, the Pilar.  All the Cubans we met on the street knew about Hemingway and expressed excitement to meet people from all over the world at the Colloquium. 
Hemingway’s former home, the Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), is now a museum, maintained for the past 53 years just as it was in 1960 when Hemingway left for the States, never to return. The Finca, with the help and cooperation from various organizations, had gotten some needed repairs, and on my visit, it was in wonderful condition.  It looked as if Hemingway had just left to go have one of his favorite Papa Doble rum drinks down at La Floridita. For all of you who live as I do in South Florida and know all too well the ravages that just one summer in our tropical climate can do to a property, this was great news to me.  The staff was very knowledgeable and it was obvious they enjoy caring for this property that reflects so much of Hemingway’s personality. I encourage you not to miss visiting this living museum if you get the opportunity.    

On a private tour of the Finca with Director Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, I was able to see up close and personal how Hemingway lived his life in Cuba and examine what treasures he left.  The first thing I noticed was what a prolific reader he was.  There were some 9,000 books scattered throughout the beautiful house.  He only had a few mysteries that I knew of – Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Isaac Dinesen – all recorded in the packing slips of cartons he shipped to Cuba from Key West in 1940. 

Hemingway is often thought of as the man’s man who filled his life with hunting, fishing, boxing, bullfights, and drinking. Indeed the walls of every room had his mounted trophies of lion, leopard, buffalo, Impala, and fish, all recently refurbished, Ada Rosa informed me. Then I saw the other side of Hemingway’s character on the grounds of the Finca where several small headstones marked the graves of some of his favorite cats and dogs. He was especially fond of Black Dog, who used to lie on the lesser Kudu skin on the floor where Hemingway stood - usually barefoot - while he worked.

Visiting Cuba involved obtaining all sorts of permissions, visas, etc. Fortunately we had a tour director, Scott Schwar, former President of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, who’d made over 20 trips and knew all the ins and outs, thus making our journey smooth and enjoyable. I made many Cuban friends and met many Hemingway scholars while I was Hunting for Hemingway in Cuba. If I hadn’t written Hunting for Hemingway, this intriguing opportunity would not have been presented.

More information about Diane Madsen can be found at:       -    Twitter @dianemadsen

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Patricia Friedberg - History's Lessons

It started with a cryptic inscription in an old book.

As a child visiting her grandparents in London’s East End during World War II, Bradenton writer Patricia Friedberg has vivid memories of that tumultuous era. She recalls experiencing Nazi air raids during the blitz and seeing her grandmother’s house in Aldgate reduced to rubble. But what stands out most in retrospect is the courage of the Londoners as they faced danger with endurance and determination.

Friedberg seems to have inherited some of that courageous spirit. In 1964, she accompanied her physician husband to the Rhodesias (now Zambia/Zimbabwe).  Having studied at The London School of Journalism, she wrote newspaper articles and documentaries for Rhodesian television. After several years, however, the growing civil unrest forced her family to leave Southern Africa for the safety of America. Moving to Milwaukee, Friedberg attended Marquette University,  wrote newspaper columns, and hosted “People of the Book,” a PBS talk show.

While visiting her mother in London after her father died, Friedberg  came across a book she recalled seeing as a child. It was a 1934 original copy of A Frenchman in Khaki, a memoir by the French impressionist Paul Maze recounting his experiences as a field artist during WWI.  On the title page, written in Maze’s hand, were these words: “To Mrs. Simon: Whose help and devotion was a factor in writing this book which the author will never forget. In memory of the days when she entered my room with that refreshing smile of hers that led to her present happiness.”  Friedberg asked her mother about the book, and a fascinating story emerged.
Friedberg learned that her mother, a young woman from a working-class Jewish family in London, had been employed by Maze to help him write his memoir. Despite the differences in social class and culture, the two forged an intimate friendship.  “My mother lived to be almost 100,” Friedberg says. “She began talking more about her past after my father died, and later told my sister she had a secret she would take to her grave. Between her stories and my memories, I knew I had a story.”

That story eventually became a screenplay titled 21 Aldgate which is being considered for a TV mini-series. Friedberg then decided to rewrite 21 Aldgate as a novel.  Writing the book was a unique experience for her. “It was difficult to stay outside the story and not see the main character as my mother,” she says, “but I enjoyed bringing to life the people I once knew.”

21 Aldgate is a tribute to the brave civilians caught in the Blitz. It is also a fascinating tale of love, endurance, and family. At its heart, however, 21 Aldgate is an indictment of the senselessness of war. “I found a photo taken in 1914 of my mother’s brother fighting in Mesopotamia in WW I,” Friedberg says. “It was almost identical to a recent picture of my grandson stationed in Iraq. Here we are, all these years later, still fighting that same bloody war. Having lived through World War II and the war in Rhodesia, I strongly believe we should think before deciding war is the only answer to far-off conflicts.”

Friedberg has recently completed a memoir titled Letters from Wankie: A Place in Colonial Africa. Based on letters she’d written to her parents, the book chronicles Friedberg’s experiences while living in Rhodesia. “In a drawer in my mother’s dressing table I came across a bundle of blue air letters tied with a yellow ribbon.  I recognized them at once – they were letters I’d sent from Rhodesia,” she recalls. “My mother had kept each and every one of them – over five hundred – each depicting daily life in a hotter than hell colliery town on the outskirts of a game reserve.” 
After Friedberg and her husband were married, the couple spent a few months living in Johannesburg but decided that living under apartheid law was not something they could tolerate. They then moved to Wankie, a town in Southern Rhodesia, where Friedberg took a job as Clerk of the Court in what was known as the Native Commissioner’s Office.  It was here that she penned the letters to her parents which served as the inspiration for Letters from Wankie. “I realized on reading those letters they were documents of a time long gone,” Friedberg explains.  “They give a firsthand account, written by a twenty- year-old naïve young woman seconded into history without knowing she was to become part of a period often despised and rarely appreciated.”

History can come alive when viewed through the eyes of people who experienced it. Patricia Friedberg’s books are proof of this, helping readers to relive the past and, hopefully, learn from it.

 For more information, visit the author’s website at  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Florida : A Feast for the Senses - A Guest Post by Deborah Sharp

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger, Deborah Sharp. A former USA Today reporter, Sharp traded sad news stories for funny fiction with her Mace Bauer Mysteries, featuring Mace's wacky Mama. “Mama Gets Trashed” (Midnight Ink, $14.99, Sept. 2013) is the series' fifth book.  After a tipsy Mama tosses out her wedding ring with the trash, she drags daughter Mace to the city dump to search. When they stumble upon the body of librarian Camilla Law, the straitlaced town is scandalized. Not only is a killer on the loose, but prudish Camilla is all done up in sexy black leather. Foul play and fetish wear in little Himmarshee, Florida? Mama's blushing fifty shades of pink!  Deborah was our featured writer on September 8, 2011. Visit her online at or on Facebook at

I'm a native Floridian, old enough to remember my dad shooting a gator in our front yard in what is now an extremely urban south Florida. When I decided to write a Florida-set series, I wanted to place it somewhere like the wilder state I knew as a child. My husband and I have a little piece of property in middle Florida, a spot to escape the stresses of too much noise, too many cars, and too many people. I chose that untamed part of the state -- north of Lake Okeechobee and south of Orlando -- for my setting.
I created the fictional town of Himmarshee, and placed it in this authentic slice of Florida. It remains the sort of place a man would shoot a big alligator that ventured too close when his grandkids were swimming in the Kissimmee River. He’d plop the head on an ant pile, so the bugs and other critters could pick it clean, and then he’d give the skull to his city slicker neighbor, who comes once in a while to visit.

I know this, because I was the city slicker gift recipient. Hey, I’ve gotten sweaters I liked a lot less.

One of the most striking differences between my south Florida home and my characters' home is the unique way each place stirs my senses. When I give classes on fiction-writing, students always want to know what's missing from their stories. Often, it's the full array of the senses. We're all pretty good at describing how a scene looks. But what about what we hear, or smell? How does the texture -- the touch -- of a thing feel?

My characters experience a completely different environment in Himmarshee than I do at my home in Fort Lauderdale. I spend time in that part of the state so I can describe the sensation of life in Himmarhsee. I grew up on the coast, as distinct from Florida's interior as a seagull is from a Sandhill crane. When I think of the beach, I smell the fruit-stand scent of suntan lotion. I hear the tck-tck-tck of palm fronds rustling together in a light breeze. I feel the crunch of broken shells beneath bare feet as I walk along the shoreline.
Fictional Himmarshee sits just north of the big lake, in Florida's real-life cattle belt. When my main character, the tomboyish Mace Bauer, is outside, she notes the sweet smell of orange blossoms in citrus groves, tinged with the faint odor of manure. At dusk, she hears a chorus of croaking frogs and the steady hum of insects. She feels the sharp sting of a mosquito. The wind blows off the lake, drying the sweat on her skin.

These two different parts of Florida stir my senses in different ways. The contrasts help me create a unique setting for my characters. Writers have to be aware of all the senses. The eyes should be open, of course. But so should the ears, and even the pores of the skin. Like alligators in Lake Okeechobee, inspiration is abundant in Florida. Writers have to be receptive. Be ready to sense it.

What's it like where you are? What does it smell like? How does it sound? What can you touch?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

James O. Born - A Different Kind of Cop

When James Born worked as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he whiled away many long, uneventful hours of surveillance work reading novels by Tom Clancy and W.E.B. Griffin. When he was asked by crime fiction icon, the late  Elmore Leonard, to provide technical advice on police issues, Born was bitten by the writing bug and decided to pen his own stories – tales that would capture the real-life element of police work.  “I wanted to show cops as real people with wives, kids, bills to pay,” he says. “The job isn’t everything to every cop. They have lives too.”  Fourteen years later, Born is the award-winning author of five books he describes as “realistic police novels – not like the crap you see on TV.” His books give readers an up-close-and-personal look at police work, from the inside jokes to the moments of gut-clenching fear that come with the territory.
Born’s first novel, Walking Money, marked the debut of Bill Tasker, a state cop who becomes entangled in a complex web of embezzlement and double-crossing that puts him at odds with the FBI. Publisher’s Weekly praised the book as “a terrific debut…Born’s been there, and it shows.” Tasker reappears in Born’s next two books, Shock Wave and Escape Clause, where he goes on the hunt for a stolen stinger missile and investigates some shady doings at a Florida state prison. Born’s fourth novel, Field of Fire introduces readers to ATF agent Alex Duarte. Born’s editor liked the more serious Duarte character, so Born featured him again in his fifth book, Burn Zone.

Born’s next novel was perhaps his most unusual. Human Disguise, released in 2009, was such a departure from his other works that Born decided to go with a new publisher (TOR) and a new pen-name: James O’Neal. “I didn’t want people to be confused thinking this book was like my others,” Born explains. “I’m really excited about it because it’s so different.”  A near-future sci fi police story, Human Disguise is set in a post-apocalyptic Florida where Tom Wilmer, a lone detective, finds himself pitted against an ancient alien menace. The book took Born a year to write. His inspiration came from his experiences working for the government and from his Florida roots. “As a native Floridian, I love to think about where the state’s been and where it’s going,” Born says. According to Publisher’s Weekly  “…his (Born’s) self-assured, hard-edged writing style, solid characters and wildly entertaining thriller plot will keep readers enthralled."
A sequel, The Double Human, hit bookstores in 2010. Here, Tom Wilmer returns to go undercover in search of a serial killer unlike anything he’s ever encountered. Known as “The Vampire,” this killer is not human...and neither are his victims. Kirkus Review named The Double Human to its list of “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2010," and USA Today Bestselling Author David Hagberg compared the book to the George Orwell classic, 1984.

Born is a writer who enjoys everything about the process. He even claims to be “one of the few writers who like having deadlines.” And when he isn’t trying to beat those deadlines, Born enjoys reading, teaching at writer’s conferences, windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving, running, and sharing time with his family. “My goal never was to be wealthy,” he says. “If people read my books and respond to them, that’s what makes me happy.”
For more information, you can visit the author's website at

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dirk Wyle - The Mystery of Science

For Miami author Dirk Wyle (pen name of Duncan Harold Haynes, Ph. D.), there are few things as fascinating as the wonders of science. After receiving a degree in chemistry from Butler University, he went on to earn his doctorate in molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent four years in Germany as a post-doctoral scientist, and after returning to the United States, spent the next 30 years working in biomedical research.  Wyle also became something of an entrepreneur after discovering a way to convert general anesthetics into injectable form. He started a small company with its own lab that grew into a thriving business he sold 13 years later for several million dollars.

In the mid ‘90s, Wyle was bitten by the writing bug. “Reading was a constant in my life, and I always thought I had a novel in me somewhere,” he says. “I guess I could have turned into a literary type, but science eclipsed that.” He noticed that none of the books he read depicted scientists realistically. Inspired by the works of John D. MacDonald, a writer he calls “one of my influences and a kindred spirit,” Wyle decided to pen a novel that would show what life as a scientist was really like. Three years later, he had completed Pharmacology is Murder, the first in what would become a five-book series Wyle describes as “captivating mystery/thrillers with a scientific background.” Pharmacology is Murder introduces Ben Candidi, an amateur detective with a doctorate in pharmacology. Wyle calls his protagonist “candid and idealistic, a guy who thinks the world could be a better place if everyone applied themselves and tried to do the right thing. He doesn’t look for trouble, but it comes to him framed in the challenging projects he’s given.”  Publishers Weekly praises the Candidi mysteries as “pleasing for both their intrigue and their intellect.”
Pharmacology is Murder was followed two years later by Biotechnology is Murder. Here, Ben Candidi is investigating a biotechnology company that claims to have discovered a cancer cure. The deeper he digs, the more enmeshed he becomes in a web of murder and intrigue. The third book in the series, Medical School is Murder (2001), has Ben in a Miami medical school where he has taken over the lab of a dead professor. After agreeing to write the old man’s biography, Ben uncovers some disturbing clues that lead him to believe that the professor did not die of natural causes. Amazon Gold (2003) takes Ben deep into the Brazilian rainforest searching for his fiancée, Rebecca Levis, who has mysteriously disappeared.

Wyle’s latest addition to the Candidi series is Bahamas West End is Murder, a novel that was inspired by his voyage to the Little Bahama Bank. “I put in at the West End Marina. It was a really funky place, full of interesting characters.  I always thought it would be natural to have Ben sail into that place and have to deal with the people there.” What starts out as a romantic vacation for Ben and Rebecca turns into an adventure complete with a dead body on a boat, a host of seamy marina characters, corrupt local police, and a new breed of pirate in a novel Booklist says, “…blends scientific smarts with quirky characters in another fine outing.”
Wyle’s latest projects include a sixth Candidi mystery that will take Ben to the Yucatan Peninsula and a stand-alone psychological thriller set in Boca Raton. Wyle finds it challenging to “fit science into exciting circumstances,” but you don’t need scientific background to enjoy his books. He hopes his novels will give readers a greater appreciation for the human side of science, and perhaps help them learn something new along the way. “I’d like to make science real enough to resonate with the reader who’s interested,” he says. And it’s easy to be interested when science blends with a healthy dose of excitement, mystery, and intrigue in an unforgettable story.

For more about Dirk Wyle, visit his website at

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Project June Bug" on Attention Talk Video

Since I'm proud to consider myself a member of the Florida writing community, I'd like to share with you the first in a series of interviews I did for Attention Talk Radio/Attention Talk Video. It's about my book, Project June Bug, so I thought it would be appropriate to post it here. I am truly honored to be in the company of so many Fabulous Florida Writers. I hope you enjoy it!
Best wishes,


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Frank Cerabino - A Lighthearted Look at Florida Living

Frank Cerabino became a writer by accident.  It all started in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
After graduating from the US Naval Academy, Cerabino was assigned to duty on an aircraft carrier. “It was almost like being in prison,” he recalls. “You spent 80% of your time at sea. The only leisure activities were playing cards, watching awful movies, or reading books. I was never much of a reader, but I started reading by default and realized, for the first time in my life, how terrific it was to read for pleasure.” He became a voracious reader, sometimes reading for six or seven hours a day. Then he got the itch to write.

Cerabino tried writing short stories and enjoyed it so much that he took a job as the ship’s public affairs officer. There he was charged with writing press releases, producing TV newscasts and putting out the ship’s newspaper. As press liaison, he even got to work with the White House Press Corps.  By the time his stint in the Navy ended, he had decided to make writing his career.
After earning a Masters degree in journalism, Cerabino worked at the City News Bureau in Chicago for six months. Then he was offered a job with the Miami Herald and relocated to Florida. Five years later, he joined the staff at the Palm Beach Post where he’s worked as metro columnist since 1991. His humorous observations on life in Florida have won him numerous journalism awards and spawned five books that take a lighthearted look at the eccentricities of life in the Sunshine State.

Cerabino’s first novel, Shady Palms: A Condo Caper premiered in 2000 as a serialized story in his column. Set in a fictional condominium community in Palm Beach County, the tale introduces Bernie Hamstein, the put-upon president of Building C, who finds himself caught between a pregnant renter and the outraged residents of his adults-only building.  Bernie’s trials continue in Shady Palms 2: Fowl Play (2001) and Shady Palms 3: Viagra Falls (2002).

In a second series, “Pelican Park,” Cerabino regales readers with the comic misadventures of a family in a South Florida suburb. According to Cerabino, “I wanted a break from Shady Palms, something with a younger female protagonist. I didn’t want to be known as that guy who writes about old people.” In the title book of the series, Pelican Park (2005), Cerabino introduces Pinky, formerly of Boca Raton, who has moved with her two children to Pelican Park, a suburb of West Palm Beach. Pinky’s hilarious adventures continue in Pelican Park 2: Pinky Feels the Pinch (2006).
Cerabino describes his books as “a mixture of humor, pathos and suspense.” He admits that he was inspired by San Francisco writer Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City,” six serialized novels Cerabino describes as “light, but with a sense of place that spoke to the community.” He also credits his association with Miami Herald writer Carl Hiaasen for influencing his writing.

Cerabino’s most recent publication is a departure from his other works. “Writing Like a Taller Person: The Best of Frank Cerabino,” published is 2011, is a collection of columns written for the Palm Beach Post over the last 20 years.  In addition to writing five columns each week, Cerabino keeps himself busy teaching a class, biking, running, and playing the accordion. But it’s his writing that brings him the most satisfaction.  “You put a piece of yourself on paper, and there’s a sense of permanence in that,” he says. “It’s something immortal - a little marker to show you’ve been here. That’s all the satisfaction I need. Of course, I’d also love to be rich and famous.”
For more about Frank Cerabino, go to


Friday, July 5, 2013

Victoria Allman - A Chef on the High Seas

When Victoria Allman took a year’s sabbatical from her job as a chef at one Calgary, Canada’s top restaurants, she never intended to become a world traveler.  She merely wanted to expand her horizons a bit and sample some different cuisines. But that was before she met her sea captain husband and took a job as a yacht chef.  Now, 14 years later, Allman has visited some of the world’s most exotic locales and collected many mouthwatering recipes. She shares both her recipes and her adventures with readers in two unique books – Sea Fare and SEAsoned.

Allman’s voyage from kitchen to writer’s desk began in Canada where she wrote food features for a Canadian magazine. When she moved to Fort Lauderdale and joined the crew of a luxury yacht, the magazine wanted stories about the places she visited. “I knew what I wanted to say, but not how to say it,” Allman explains. So she took some classes and joined a critique group.  Soon her columns were appearing in other travel magazines like “Dockwalk,” “OceanLines,” and “Marina Life.”  Then she hit on the idea of compiling some of her articles into a book. Seven years later, Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean was published. 

Sea Fare, a book Allman describes as “an adventure travelogue,” is a collection of essays that focus on food and travel. But her concern about privacy issues prevented her from sharing some of her more colorful experiences. “Truthfully, I was worried about keeping my job and seeming disrespectful to people, so I ignored the funny situations the crew often found themselves in. I didn’t want to insult anyone or give away any personal secrets,” Allman explains. “Even though I received wonderful reviews,  everyone wanted to know the real story, the gossip.” So she decided to address this in her next book.

In SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with her Captain, Allman fictionalized her life. The stories are true, and Allman and her husband, Patrick, are still the main characters, but the adventures take place on a fictional boat with a fictional crew. Allman did this “to facilitate the story of Patrick becoming captain of his first yacht and all the craziness that goes along with such an uncontrollable situation.”  She admits she had more fun writing SEAsoned because she was free to tell her stories without worry. She also received help from other Florida writers. “The Florida writing community has been so supportive,” she says. “They pointed me in the right direction.” Allman even earned  Royal Palm Literary Awards from the Florida Writers Association for both books.

One of the distinctive features of Allman’s books are the recipes that end each chapter, recipes she learned from locals in the places she visited. According to Allman, “The recipes are 100 percent authentic. I was learning how to cook as I traveled. ” With this in mind, she planned to write a third book which would pick up where “SEAsoned” left off  - with Allman and the crew embarking on a world tour. Unfortunately, the tour had to be cancelled due to the yacht owner’s hectic schedule. “Life in yachting changes faster than the weather,” Allman says.

Not to be deterred, Allman changed course and is close to completing her third book, SEAside. It is the continuing story of Allman’s nautical journeys closer to home, in America and the Bahamas. The story focuses on the relationships between ten crew members living in close quarters as they serve an ever chaotic flurry of on-board guests. Allman says that her stories have been cited as “the ‘Downtown Abbey’ of Yachting.”

Allman hopes her books will open up the world for her readers. “I want to inspire people to travel more,” she says. “It’s hard to harbor hate and bigotry when you travel. It’s a big world, and we all have to eat. So despite our differences, we’re all connected in that way.”

For more about Victoria Allman, visit her website at

Next: Frank Cerabino - A Lighthearted Look at Florida Living

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Many Worlds of Jeffrey Wilson

Jeffrey Wilson has had a window into many worlds. This Tampa writer has experienced life as a firefighter, paramedic, actor, jet pilot, diving instructor, naval officer, and Vascular and Trauma surgeon. He also served two tours in Iraq as a combat surgeon with the marines and a Joint Special Operations Task Force. He brings these experiences to his writing by creating unforgettable characters and placing them into weird worlds and fantastic situations. The result is an edge-of-your-seat reading experience that will keep readers riveted until the last page is turned.

“I’ve done everything on my eight-year-old wannabe list – other than being an astronaut,” Wilson says. “My mom attributes it to my short attention span.” His short attention span didn’t prevent him from earning a degree in biology from William and Mary College and a degree in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School. He does, however, say it’s the reason he started to write short stories. His first published work was a short story printed in his middle school’s magazine. As he continued writing, his stories won several fiction competitions.  “I always wanted to write a novel,” he admits, “but I didn’t think I had the attention for it.”

This all changed after 9/11 when Wilson was deployed to Iraq. “Being in a war zone consists of long hours of boredom broken up by short periods of excitement you can do without,” he explains. Wilson decided to fill those long hours by writing the story of a marine stationed in Fallujah who is shot in the chest and wakes up as biology teacher in Middle America. He then begins to have vivid dreams of Iraq that cause him to question whether his life or his dreams are the true reality.  What started as a short story gradually evolved into a book.  “I found novel writing liberating,” Wilson says. “It was actually easier to develop the characters and back story.”  The novel, Fade to Black, is scheduled for release on June 14, 2013. Wilson will be in New Orleans that day with his wife, signing copies of the book at the Stoker Weekend/World Horror Conference at the Hotel Monteleone and hosting a launch party later that night.

Wilson’s debut novel, The Traiteur’s Ring was released in 2011 and was actually the third book he had written. It is the story of Ben Morvant, a Navy seal who comes into possession of a mysterious ring that brings him visions of evil, pain and death. Forced to face a dark secret from his past, Ben realizes he is a soldier in a greater battle than he could have ever imagined. The Traiteur’s Ring was originally published as an e-book before being picked up by Journalstone Publishing as part of a three-book deal.

Wilson’s 2012 release, The Donors, is a fantasy horror novel set in a modern-day hospital. The story centers around Nathan Doren, an abused five-year-old, and Jason Gelman, the doctor who cares for him. The two must face demonic creatures who stalk the hospital halls, feeding on the fear they create in their victims. According to Wilson, “The whole idea of demons harvesting fear from bad people came first. Making a child the hero came later.” Wilson admits that writing in Nathan’s point of view was a challenge, but having his own five-year-old son was a huge help. “Being a dad,” he says, “I could relate to how a kid’s brain works.” The West Orlando News called the novel “a very professionally written tale of nail-biting, chilling horror." The Donors has also been featured on National Public Radio.

Wilson has recently finished his fourth novel, Julian’s Numbers, a story he says involves “a 12-year-old with a terrifying gift, a father with a haunted past, a family sailing vacation from hell, a handful of ghosts, and a hammer.” This book, like his others, echoes his personal experiences. “My favorite leisure activities involve my kids – taking them to the beach, going boating or skiing,” he says. “After working such long hours, I really appreciate family time.”

2013 promises to be a busy year for Wilson, with the book launch in New Orleans in June and  an appearance as one of 22 authors hosting fans in New York City at “Fanfest”, a new event that is part of the International Thriller Writer’s annual Thrillerfest, later this summer. Wilson will host fans at the event on July 12th beside some thriller giants like Lee Child, Joseph Finder, Heather Graham, Michael Palmer, and RL Stine, just to name a few. “It’s a bit intimidating to mingle beside some of my writing heroes,” Wilson admits, “but it's sure to be a great time!” And of course he is hard at work on novel number five, which he hopes to finish writing by summer’s end.

In addition to his own writing, Wilson is also the proud father of an up-and-coming author. His son, 12 year-old Connor Wilson, made headlines last August as the youngest traditionally published fiction writer in America. Connor’s award winning book, A Giant Pencil, keeps father and son busy with book signings, media appearances, and a busy schedule of school appearances around the country.While Wilson sometimes finds it difficult to balance writing with his busy life as a surgeon, a husband, and the father of three, Wilson loves the process. “Writing is like watching my favorite TV show,” he says. “I can’t wait to find out what will happen next.” And anyone who has read one of his books is sure to feel the same.

For more information about Wilson and his books, visit the his website at

Find out more about his son Connor Wilson at

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Florida Vacation - A Guest Post by Elaine Viets

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Elaine Viets.  Elaine has written 12 Dead-End Job mysteries, set in South Florida. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.” Her bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. She was our featured writer on May 9, 2011

"For readers who live far from the beach, Board Stiff is a vicarious Florida vacation,” mystery reviewer Oline Cogdill said. 

I wanted my twelfth Dead-End Job mystery to give readers an insider’s view of the South Florida tourism industry, beyond the glamorous beach hotels.  On those same beaches, the small companies who rent ocean kayaks, Jet Skis, surfboards, paddleboards and more fight for their lives – and tourist dollars.

Board Stiff started after I read a newspaper story about a beach concession company whose equipment was vandalized right before Spring Break. It was a small step from sabotage to murder – at least in my book.

The big tourist hotels have legal teams, PR firms, ad agencies and more. The small operators navigate a maze of regulations without this help. The bad operators poach on their territory. I talked to paddleboard operators for this book. One was dismissed as a crank by some. Sadly, he’s now out of business. His story has some elements of Sunny Jim’s, the owner of the paddleboard rental company in Board Stiff.

Sunny Jim hires newlywed private eyes Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont to investigate who’s ruining his business in Riggs Beach, a beach town similar to Fort Lauderdale, without the lawyers. He tells the two private eyes: “I keep a trailer – like a lawn service trailer – and rent my paddleboards, but you gotta be good to go out on the ocean. I also give lessons at Riggs Lake: one hour of personal instruction and a half hour of practice for a hundred bucks. The water is quieter and calmer on the lake. It’s a good place to learn. You ever do stand up paddleboarding?”
“No,” Helen says. “I’ve seen guys paddling along on those big surfboard-like things on the Intracoastal Waterway.”
“Stand up paddleboarding is the hot new sport,” he says. “Everybody wants a piece of the action, and I’ve got the best spot in the city.”
Sunny Jim has caught a rival, Bill’s Boards, “poaching on my territory. Giving lessons right next to my space. Even set up a sign like he belonged there. His lessons are cheaper, but he doesn't pay the city to rent the land or buy the license or carry liability insurance like I do. He can afford to undercut me.”
“How come Bill doesn’t have to follow the rules?” Helen asks.
“I’m getting to that,” Jim says. I called the cops and they shrugged and said it wasn’t their problem.
Now if I don’t open up early so Bill’s Boards can’t park there, he tries to set up his business again. I’m out there at six a.m., though most of my customers don’t show up until after nine.”
“Sounds stressful,” Helen says. “Did you complain to Riggs Beach?”
“Hah! Rigged Beach is more like it,” Jim says. “I’ve made more than two hundred complaints to the police, the beach patrol and Riggs Lake park rangers. The city commission won’t do a blessed thing. I finally went to a meeting and complained. Put on a suit in Florida. One commissioner said it would cost too much to enforce the rules. What about the fees the city is missing? What about following the rules? The commissioners said they wanted proof that my competitors are poaching. I even stood behind a palm tree and took photos, but the commission said that still wasn’t proof unless I caught ’em when the money was changing hands. I was never cynical about government, but after that meeting, I saw that same commissioner say hi to his good buddy, Bill, my competition. Slapped him on the back and they left together. In public. No wonder the police won’t arrest him.”
Sunny Jim hires Phil to work at his beach location. Helen has an easier dead-end job.
“I want you to sit on the beach with a video camera,” Sunny Jim says. “Like a tourist. You can document my competitors stealing my business. Tourists video everything – even palm trees doing nothing but standing there.”
Helen and Phil take the job. They watch – along with scores of beach goers – an innocent tourist fall off her paddleboard. Her death looks like an accidental drowning. But the medical examiner says it’s murder.

They’ve witnessed a murder, and they haven’t a clue.