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?


  1. Great post, Deb. Non-Floridians often think only of that "beach scene" you depicted, but in the ten years I've lived here, I've learned the state has so many different personalities. You do a fantastic job of painting several of those, but especially the rural side. Good luck with your new release!
    P.S. Jackie, thanks for featuring Florida writers!

  2. As you know, Deb, I spend some time in rural florida too and love Mama. I can't wait to read this new trashy one. I'm also a country girl, so the smells of the Big Lake area are familiar to me as are the sights. I especially like the cows there, really cute ears on 'em.

  3. Hi, gals ... thanks for the kind words. Julie: The image of Fla outside the state (sometimes within, too) is either the beach or Disney. Happy to hear you've explored some of its varied sides. Lesley: I sure do know you spend time in rural Fla ... I think you and I should start a group for authors who mine Okeechobee --- uh, ''Himmarshee'' --- for fascinating nuggets ;-) !

  4. Hi Deb, I remember meeting you at the SWFRW chapter of RWA a few years ago. You spoke about the first book in your series, Mama Does Time. Delightful, both your talk and the book! Best of luck with the series from one Florida-set mystery series writer to another. Cheers!

  5. Hi, Deb, I live in Vero now, but I've lived in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and St. Augustine - all very different, even though they're all in Florida. I grew up in New Jersey, and the texture of the light in NJ is very different from the light in FL - that plays into senses also. Can't wait to see you and Mama (and Elaine) at the Vero Beach Book Center!

  6. I'm looking forward to getting Trashed with Deb in Vero Beach Nov. 1. I love how you talk about the Florida off the regular tourist trail, Deb.

  7. Thanks for the comments, y'all. Elaine, I would have written about ft laud, but you had it tied up. Linda, I forgot to talk about the light. Love that.

    Jean, I remember that romance writers' meeting and I thank you very much for the kind words.

  8. Would be remiss if I didn't thank Jackie for inviting me to guest post at her fabulous blog. This is such a great resource for people who want to know more about Florida authors ... Jackie's interviewed EVERYBODY!

    1. Thanks, Deb. Getting to know all you wonderful writers has been a real pleasure!

  9. Looking forward to reading Mama Gets Trashed! And enjoyed this blog entry.