Thursday, November 10, 2016

Where Do Stories Come From? - A Guest Post by Diane Sawyer

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Diane Sawyer. Reviewers have referred to Sawyer’s work as romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, mystery served with a taste of history and archaeological mysteries. She has recently completed two novels, set in St. Petersburg, and is working on a third, also set in St. Petersburg. Sawyer was our featured author on October 19, 2012.

For me, a story begins when I see something unusual that piques my curiosity. My immediate reaction is: “With the right characters and setting, this could make a really good story.” That’s exactly what happened with The Tell-Tale Treasure, my latest novel. My husband and I attended a Florida Orchestra concert featuring a soloist who played an exotic wooden instrument, the erhu (sometimes referred to as a Chinese violin or a Chinese fiddle).  I had never heard of an erhu. The program stated that many people hear a woman’s voice in the distinctive sound coming from the instrument and some insist the woman is weeping. I was hooked. 

During the following weeks, I researched Chinese culture and Chinese music. One thing led to another—Chinese philosophy, Chinese holidays, even dragons, which are sometimes carved into the neck of an erhu. The story line began to develop: a cold-case missing-person story, about an internationally known Chinese musician—I named her Ivy Chen—who disappeared after a series of concerts in St. Pete with the Florida Orchestra three years ago. The case turned cold. I would need a highly motivated, knowledgeable heroine—I chose the name Rosie Renard—who could help the cold-case detectives.  But how? Details about Rosie emerged. She owned Rosie’s Treasures, a second-hand shop in St. Pete’s Grand Central District.  She found items belonging to Ivy Chen in a footlocker recently purchased at an estate sale. Wood was Rosie’s specialty. She helped the cold-case detectives uncover details not evident in the original investigation, and so much more. Hooray for Rosie! The cold-case sizzled!

Unlike my previous five novels, The Tell-Tale Treasure was set in my beloved St. Pete, where I have lived for 28 years. As I scoured neighborhoods, looking for places to set key scenes, I saw with new eyes the vibrant city I called home. I found it difficult to unleash an evil person in St. Pete, someone who could target an unsuspecting person and get away with anything. Even kidnapping. Possibly murder. A profile of this horrid individual took shape—and frightened me. To counterpoint that, I relied on fantastic detectives. Creating them gave me joy and a chance for some humor to offset the terror.

Readers will root for Ivy as they see her in captivity, planning a desperate escape against all odds. They will root for Rosie too for handling all the physically demanding scenes I threw her way as she attempted to save Ivy. Both Rosie and Ivy did what my characters tend to do when they became real to me. They vied for additional scenes to accomplish their goals. The secondary characters (Dare I call them that?) weren’t shy either and demanded bigger parts in the plot. I’m a pushover. They all got their way.

For me, the most creative aspect of writing The Tell-Tale Treasure was showing the undeniable role of music, philosophy, art, and even romance as survival skills in this gripping tale. By the way, I am not yet finished with a St. Pete setting. More stories will follow. Stay tuned.

The Tell-Tale Treasure was published in October, 20016, by Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) Publishing, an independent traditional publisher located in Tallahassee, Florida.  The Tell-Tale Treasure is available at   It will soon be available at   and at Barnes & I will be launching The Tell-Tale Treasure at the Times Reading Festival at USF in St. Pete from 10 to 5 o’clock, on Saturday, November 12.  My publisher, Terri Gerrell, from Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) will be at Booth 42, across from the Food Court. Please stop by and say hello. Several other SYP authors will be there too.  We would love to meet you.

For more information, visit Sawyer's Author Page at Amazon or contact her at (please put “newsletter” in the subject line). 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Lovable Loser - Jim Clinch

We love our curmudgeons. From James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo to television’s Archie Bunker  and Oscar Madison to Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, these crusty characters have an odd but universal appeal.  One of the newest additions to their ranks is Canterbury Edmund Garfield, the grumpy, politically incorrect and quintessentially Floridian creation of Venice writer Jim Clinch. Garfield is the title character in Clinch’s debut novel, “Canterbury’s Tale,” a book the author describes as “a novel of whiskey, cigars and murder,” and a story that will have you laughing (albeit guiltily) as you turn each page.

Clinch, a New Jersey native, moved to Venice, Florida when he was ten.  He recalls Venice as being “a wonderful small town to grow up in.” He graduated from Flagler College with a bachelor’s degree in English and went on to earn a master’s in business from Nazareth College in Michigan. After spending some time as a newspaper reporter and a sheriff’s deputy, he began his career as “a corporate guy,” travelling extensively as a sales VP.  He also married his high school sweetheart and started a family.

According to Clinch, “I always wanted to be a writer. It just took me 40 years.” Clinch wrote his first novel at the age of 16 and, over the years, started many others including “two or three really bad ones.”  Although he had the desire to write, the demands of family life as well as his job and his volunteer work with Sertoma, the Chamber of Commerce and other non-profit boards left him with little time.  It wasn’t until his three children were grown that he was able to work writing into his busy schedule. “That,” Clinch says, “was when Canterbury Garfield just stumbled into my life, smelling of whiskey and urinal cakes, and said hi. He was so weird that I had to introduce him to the rest of the world.” Thus began the five-month odyssey that culminated in Canterbury’s Tale, a book Clinch categorizes as part of “the Lovable Losers genre.”

For five years prior to writing Canterbury’s  Tale, Clinch stopped reading books by other mystery writers. “I felt it would be terrible to be too derivative of someone else,” he explains. “Every story has been told, so it’s more a matter of re-imagining it with a new spin and interesting, fun characters the reader will want to know more about.” Canterbury Garfield certainly fits the bill. A burnt-out former journalist and reluctant insurance agent, Garfield is what Clinch calls “a recreational malcontent, a universal offender who gets through his day by shocking and annoying people.”  For Clinch, writing in Garfield’s voice was great fun. “It was cathartic to have this irascible person venting,” he says. “He was able to say many of the things that I can’t.” In Canterbury’s Tale, Garfield becomes unwittingly implicated in the crossbow murder of his town’s unsavory mayor and finds himself facing Latin American gangsters, an Asian hit man, international organ smugglers, federal agents, and an elderly disgruntled client who runs him down with her Prius, all against the backdrop of the sleepy town of Puntayelo, Florida.

Clinch has big plans for Canterbury Garfield, including a series of novels based on his misadventures. He has completed the second book in the series, Pink Gin Rickey. It has Cantebury dealing with a crazy British aristocrat, a hip-hop mogul, snipers, Nazis, religious fanatics and a mystery involving a missing B-17 from WWII. “I'm only sorry this book took me four years to write," Clinch says. I’m looking forward to writing as many books as I have time for."One thing Clinch can tell readers for certain: They’ll be weird.”

For more about Jim Clinch, visit his website at or visit Canterbury Garfield's Facebook page (if you're in the mood for a good laugh!)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Florida: Marvelous for Murder – A Guest Post by Lesley A. Diehl

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Lesley Diehl. Diehl is the author of cozy mysteries featuring sassy country girls who enjoy snooping. Her latest release is Mud Bog Murder, book 4 of the Eve Appel Mysteries, a series set in rural Florida. Diehl was our featured writer on January 6, 2014.

I’ve set some of my mysteries in other locations, but my favorite place for leaving a body and solving the crime is Florida. I have two series set in rural Florida, and I live among the swamps, canals, cowboys, cattle, horses, turtles, feral pigs and alligators much of the year. Because my home is inland and not on one of Florida’s coasts, I find myself with a different picture of the state and why it is especially suited to bumping off people. I also admit that the Florida most know works well for a mystery setting, just for different reasons. I find Florida writers use Florida in ways writers in other states do not. For my work, as for that of my fellow Florida writers, I find setting inextricably intertwined with plot and character. Here’s how that works:

1.      Lull the reader into the beauty of the beaches and then kill someone

It’s a great place to use the beautiful beaches, waving palm trees, and blue waters in juxtaposition to grisly death. Similarly, a writer can take the reader for a fun ride or adventure in Disney’s paradise and plant a dead body there, perhaps in a teacup ride. There is something so startling about killers in paradise. And something so satisfying about a sleuth who ignores the beauty to take on the case and find the bad guys (and gals). What dedication. We tourists love this sleuth for his or her determination and intelligence. Writers such as Randy Wayne White and James W. Hall create protagonists who are eager to rescue us from the clutches of those who think they are above the law. Along with these crime fighters, we can work up a real mad to think that anyone could ruin the serenity of coastal existence.

2.      Underneath all that beauty lurks ugliness

The state may have been more bug infested and swampy before the developers got here, but paradise comes at a cost. Carl Hiaasen uses rampant destruction of wildlife and habitat to create scenarios that in any other state would be viewed as sheer fantasy. Here, they can happen. Likewise, in Mud Bog Murder, I write about how mud bogging alters the ecosystem. It provides a perfect opportunity to make fictional work relevant to contemporary social, economic and environmental issues.

3.      Beauty and greed make for interesting characters

Take paradise and couple it with overzealous money grubbing and you’ve got the perfect recipe for villains, some so evil we can hardly wait until they get their comeuppance and others so crazy we want them to return to wreak havoc again. Hiaasen gives the latter type of villain free rein in his books, while Tim Dorsey creates characters so unusual that we aren’t sure if they are protagonists or bad guys, but we tolerate their criminal doings book after book. It’s hard to imagine any of the characters in Hiaasen’s and Dorsey’s books living in Vermont or Iowa. Nope. But take beach erosion and a developer eager to accommodate a hotel owner’s need to keep the beach lovely for guests and you’ve got part of the plot for Hiaasen’s newest book especially when the sand comes from Cuba!

4.      There are other places in Florida to hide bodies—better places

Most Florida writers stick to the two coasts and the Florida Keys, and why not? They are lovely places to live and locations familiar to both the residents of Florida, most of whom reside in these places, and the tourists who choose to visit where there is ocean. With the exception of Orlando, home of that famous mouse and his pals, truly a world away from the usual, most areas of Florida inland are rarely visited by tourists and rarely written about by Florida writers. A few of us think the swamps and grazing lands of Florida make perfect places for killing someone and then hiding the body. Because of the large number of alligators, a discarded body can stay hidden forever. You do the math. There’s no juxtaposition of environmental beauty with murder here, only denizens of the swamp waiting for their dinner. This swampy reality is of real benefit to writers like Deborah Sharp whose Mace Bauer series is set in rural Florida and features a protagonist who has grown up in the area, works as an environmental officer and uses an alligator’s head as a coffee table decoration. The latter is an indication of beauty in the eye of the beholder, and readers of the Mace Bauer series will see a lot of this point of view in the characters and the plots of the books.

I allow my characters to embrace rural Florida, although my protagonist is a Yankee who has moved to Florida and adopted the rural setting as her new home. I have taken Eve Appel from a gal who finds the swamps, grasslands, cattle and cowboys alien and somewhat frightening to someone who embraces the unique nature of the place and becomes part of the community, not without difficulty, of course. Learning to live with alligators on the fairways, in the backyard, under the car or on the menu in a restaurant is not accomplished without some strain, and being accepted into a community whose values sometimes run counter to her own has created some bumps along the way for Eve. She’s a spunky gal who’s up to the challenge.

Florida is the perfect place to set a mystery regardless of what part of the state a writer uses as the book’s locale. For more information about the uniqueness of Florida, pick up any local newspaper and read about water pollution, runaway development, dirty politicos and dirty cops—oops, you can find those in any state, sorry; we just do them so much more colorfully here—destruction of habitat, invasion of non-indigenous species other than tourists, and sinkholes. Speaking of sinkholes, I used a large one to hide a still in a book, but I should really consider using one as a place to toss a body. There is no end to what Florida will encourage a writer to conjure up to keep the reader entangled in the story.

Oh, and did I say I write cozy mysteries? Humorous cozy mysteries? Somehow that seems fitting in a state where running into a land developer on the sidewalk may prove as dangerous as an alligator in your pool.

Visit Lesley at and see all her books at

Monday, October 3, 2016

Brigitte Moore - Home Sweet Home

It has been said that home is where the heart is. For many, it is the place where they were born and raised, but for St. Petersburg writer Brigitte D. Moore, it was the culmination of a journey that spanned 21 years, an ocean, and two continents. Born in Breslau, which was then part of Germany, Moore was forced to flee with her family during the final throes of WWII. She chronicles the story of her life as a refugee in her memoir, Finding Home – My Journey from Post-War Germany to America.

Moore immigrated to America in 1958. She settled in New York City where she first took a job at Columbia University. Later, she went to work for a German import/export company, rising through the ranks from clerk to Vice-President of Product Development. She also married and had two children. In 1989, after a series of personal tragedies, Moore decided to move to Florida. “I had experienced three deaths three years in a row,” Moore recalls. “I was suffering from burnout and needed a change.”

Moore started writing as a way to communicate with her two grandsons, Christopher and Thomas. “Life during the war was so strange in my mind,” she says. “I wanted to write about it so my grandchildren would know what it was like. I started writing little vignettes after they were born. I planned to make copies and give them to my grandsons. I never planned to write a book.”

Because of the upheaval of life as a refugee, Moore was not able to obtain a formal education. An avid reader, she learned English when she decided to immigrate to America. “I took a few college courses while I was working at Columbia, and I discovered I had a talent for writing,” she says. “In my importer/exporter job, I had to write letters, press releases, ads, brochures, but I didn’t know how to center on a story and find the right flow.”

Fortunately, Moore mentioned her writing to Sunny Fader, a friend who happened to be a writing coach. “When Sunny heard my story, she was impressed,” Moore explains. “She offered to coach me, so I began bringing her my pages. Sunny would make suggestions and I’d re-write. She was a wonderful mentor, and the book would never have happened without her.” According to Fader, “What drew me to help Brigitte, even before I saw her material, was her passion for the project. But it is the subject of her book that kept me enthusiastic. Her book opened a window into a part of World War II history I knew nothing about. Add to that the remarkable grit it took for the young woman to turn around her destroyed life, to make a new future for herself in the United States. It is not surprising that this book resonates with so many people."

Moore hopes Finding Home will help readers understand what the civilian population in Germany went through during those tumultuous war years. “It shows, in a positive way, my struggle to find a place I could call home. I felt I did not belong anywhere, but I had dreams. I wanted to be a teacher, to play the piano. I always wonder what might have been.” 

Moore has been invited to speak about her book and her experiences at many libraries and civic clubs. Encouraged by the positive response to Finding Home, Moore has joined a critique group and is planning to continue her writing. “My spiritual journey began in Florida, and I want to write about that,” she says. “I want readers to see that no matter what life gives you, there is always a way to go on. There are helping hands that reach out to you if you’re open to receive them. Life is beautiful.”

For more information about Finding Home, visit Moore’s website at

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Love Stories - A Guest Post by Joanne Lewis

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger, Joanne Lewis. Lewis is the author of two series, the Forbidden Trilogy and Michaelangelo and Me, and three stand-alone novels. Lewis was our featured writer on July 25, 2012.

It is said that everyone has one true love in life, but I have learned this is not true as I have fallen in love many times.

As a child, I was in love with my parents who protected, nurtured and guided me. Dad made up bedtime stories that carried into daytime hours. Mom encouraged me to be brave and try new things: food, activities, and friends. They told me I could achieve anything.

When I was eight years old, I wrote my first book about the weather. I covered two pieces of cardboard with wallpaper, bound the pages together and was thrilled when it was placed in my elementary school library. I fell in love with writing.  

As a pre-teen, my focus became talking on the phone with friends and testing boundaries with authority figures. I was in love with freedom. While a teenager, I read all of Judy Blume’s books, the Nancy Drew series, and many popular novels as well as the classics. I fell madly and irrevocably in love with reading.

In high school, I fell in love with my first boy, or at least I thought it was love. He was wiry and muscular and had a hint of a moustache. I passed notes about him to my friend in history class. I didn’t mind when I was caught and sent to detention. It gave me more time to think about this new kind of love, romantic love.  

After graduating college, I went to law school and became a prosecuting attorney, specializing in sex crimes and child abuse offenses. I fell in love with helping people, especially children.

Years later, I married my high school sweetheart. I fell in love with being someone’s everything. When my husband and I divorced, I was sad and invigorated. I examined who I was and who I wanted to be. I learned to accept myself. I fell in love with me.

As a novelist who has published seven novels, I do not pen traditional love stories yet I have learned something different about love from writing each one.

Forbidden Room, book one of the Forbidden Trilogy, is a murder mystery about Sara, a woman charged with murder, and Michael, the new attorney that represents her. Michael believes in her innocence, but did Sara really do it? It is a novel that questions the meaning of love. Writing Forbidden Room caused me to reevaluate my definition of love.

Forbidden Night, book two of the Forbidden Trilogy, is my latest release. This novel delves further into Sara and Michael’s relationship, and reveals more about the murder and secrets from the past. From writing this novel, I learned that love traverses time and has no boundaries.

Make Your Own Luck is a murder mystery about a young attorney who defies her father to represent a thirteen-year-old girl accused of murder. Writing this novel I learned about unselfish love

The Lantern is a historical novel about a girl in fifteenth century Florence, Italy who dares to compete with the great Renaissance artists. It is a story of the search for truth in art. I fell wildly in love with Michelangelo while writing this novel.

Michelangelo & the Morgue and Sleeping Cupid (books one and two of the Michelangelo & Me series) are historical fantasy novellas. There are three more books to be released in this series in 2017. Writing this series has fortified my love of research and prose.

Wicked Good is the story of a mother and her son, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. I wrote this novel with my sister, it brought us closer together and I learned about unconditional love.

I was diagnosed with cancer and am now cancer free. From that experience I fell in love with life.

What are your love stories?

For more information, visit Lewis's website at or her Amazon author page at,

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sue Kotchman - Written With Love

Susan Kotchman has always had a love for children and books. This was first borne out in her career in education and later in her career as a writer of children’s books with heartwarming stories that teach positive values. Her experiences as a former elementary school teacher and principal, as well as a member of a large family, have given her insight into all kinds of people and behaviors.  She writes about real personalities and actual situations that readers of all ages can relate to, especially children, classroom teachers and parents. 

Kotchman moved to Florida from New York in 1969 with her parents and five siblings. She discovered writing while a student at Seminole High School. “I found my passion for writing during a creative writing class taught by my teacher/coach, Mr. Bennett,” she says. “He inspired my creativity so very much. I wish I had the opportunity to thank him.” She went on to St. Petersburg Junior College before earning bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Florida and later a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Nova University.

Her first assignment was teaching a first grade class. “The students were so full of life and excitement about learning,” she recalls. “I loved watching their faces light up when I read to them, and I think this also pushed me to want to write.” After 17 years of teaching elementary school, Kotchman became a curriculum specialist before becoming assistant principal and finally principal of Madeira Beach Elementary School.

In 2008, something unexpected changed the trajectory of her life. A brain bleed forced her into early retirement. Being a woman of faith, she decided to turn her misfortune into something positive. “I began writing over 20 years ago with dreams of becoming published,” she says. “I always wanted to promote literacy and a love of books.” So Kotchman decided to do this by writing books of her own, books that show children the importance of relationships and learning.  “There are many beautiful books on the market, but there are also many that shouldn’t be in the hands of young children,” she explains. “My books are written with heartwarming stories and incorporate beautiful pictures. They are, so far, realistic fiction.” She purposely chose topics that the average person wouldn’t think were important for elementary-aged children.

Her first book, With Love from Grandma, was written after her mother passed away. She used her daughter as a character. The book’s underlying purpose is to help children learn to cope with grief in a positive way. “There are 2.9 million children being raised by at least one grandparent today,” Kotchman says, “and when they pass, are these youngsters ready to deal with the loss?” The book is currently being used in 23 Pinellas County schools.

With Love from Grandma was followed by a sequel, With Love from Grandpa. This book came about after a request from a former colleague. “A principal friend wanted me to write a childlike book with a more challenging vocabulary for upper-elementary children,” she says. The story follows a grandfather and grandson on a fishing adventure at the beach. According to Kotchman, “I want kids to be able to learn about people by noticing their action, facial expressions and words. I think With Love from Grandpa does all that.”  To help get the concept across, she developed writing activities and discussion topics for teachers to use with their students.

Kotchman’s third book, Sam, tells the story of a little monkey who loves to make children happy and can't refuse their gifts. After trying to please his friends, he learns a valuable lesson about taking care of himself and shares it with them in a special way. Kotchman's newest book, Mason’s This and That Day, (scheduled for release at the end of September, 2016) is about a young boy who is constantly changing his mind and can't seem to stay focused on one project. Kotchman describes her character as “quirky, adorable and so much like many of the students I’ve had experiences with.” Although it is a picture book, it is appropriate for all grades, because, as she explains, “It's a great way to allow the reader to linger on each page and enjoy the artwork, which was done by Linda Cowen.”
Kotchman believes that "Life is about relationships and learning new things." She hopes her books will have a positive effect on young readers. “Many people don’t look at the content of books and how they may affect a child’s thinking,” she says. “We must give them books full of stories they can relate to and help them challenge the content with conversation. And you can never discount the importance of a strong value base.”

For more information, go to

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Alyssa Maxwell - Murder in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island, is a study in contrasts. There are the average folks who live and work there year-round. Then there are the “summer people,” the ones who inhabit waterfront mansions and whose names read like the “Who’s Who” of American elite.  Fort Lauderdale writer Alyssa Maxwell captures both worlds in her Gilded Newport Mysteries, a series of historical cozies that give readers an inside look at Newport’s “Gilded Age.”

Maxwell, an avid reader, has enjoyed creating her own stories since she was in elementary school. After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English, she embarked on a career as an editor and ghostwriter. She didn’t think about creative writing until 10 years later when a friend and co-worker had a book published. “I always thought of writers as rock stars,” she says, “but this made me realize that an ordinary person could write a book—with a lot of hard work.”  She began by penning several historical romance novels under a pseudonym. “I wasn’t having the success I wanted,” she recalls. “I found that I was always writing with a mystery/suspense thread, and historical romance readers prefer a more relationship-centered plot. I loved reading mysteries and realized I was a closet mystery writer, so I decided to try my hand at writing one.”

Maxwell admits that learning to write a true mystery was a challenge. Fortunately, she had a friend to help her. “Nancy Cohen (author of the Bad Hair Day Mystery series) worked with me,” she says. “She critiqued my work to see if I left a trail of clues and to make sure everyone had motive, opportunity, and secrets.” Maxwell decided to set her book in Newport because of her lifelong fascination with the city and her husband’s Newport roots. “My husband comes from an old Newport family, and that gave me an insider’s view of what it’s like to live there,” she says. She chose the 1890s because “the Gilded Age is Newport’s most famous period and would give me the most material to work with.” She also admits a fascination for turn-of-the-century gadgets and inventions that find their way into the story.

Murder at the Breakers, the first of the Gilded Newport mysteries, debuted in March, 2014. It introduces 21-year-old Emma Cross, a distant relation to the Vanderbilt family, who finds herself cast in the role of amateur sleuth when her brother is arrested for the murder of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s financial advisor.  “Emma needed to be connected with the Vanderbilts but with local roots so she could move between both worlds,” Maxwell explains. “Everyone sees her as an oddball because she doesn’t really fit into either world. And I wanted her to have an independent streak, so I gave her a feminist aunt loosely inspired by my husband’s great-aunt.” Maxwell was thrilled when Murder at the Breakers hit the USA Today Bestseller List in September, 2014.

Murder at Marble House, the next book in the series, hit bookstores in September, 2014. In it, Emma investigates the murder of a fortune-teller that may be linked to the disappearance of Emma’s cousin. Murder at Beechwood, the third Gilded Newport Mystery, followed in May, 2015. Here, foul play is suspected when a family patriarch goes overboard during a yachting race at the Astor’s Beechwood Estate.

This month will see the release of the fourth Gilded Newport Mystery, Murder at Rough Point, on August 30th. Relatively secluded at the southern end of Bellevue Avenue, Rough Point is reminiscent of Gothic manor houses in the English countryside—the perfect atmosphere for a murder mystery. In it, a band of misfit artists from Europe have gathered at Rough Point for a retreat, and Emma is sent there to write an article for her "Fancies and Fashions" page. Though they call themselves friends, these artists thrive on conflict, and Emma senses they’re hiding something. Added to the mix are her long-absent parents, forcing Emma to face resentments that have been festering these past few years. When one of the artists is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, Emma investigates with the help of her friend, Detective Jesse Whyte. No one is above suspicion, not even her parents.

Maxwell has just finished the fifth book in the series, Murder at Chateau sur Mer, which should release sometime in the summer of 2017. One of her biggest joys in writing this series has been signing books at The Breakers and Marble House in Newport last year. She’ll be in Newport again this fall, once again signing books at the mansions' gift shops and holding a readers’ chat at the Newport Art Museum.

In addition to her Newport mysteries, Maxwell is at work on a series of historical mysteries set in a country manor house in post-WWI England. Called A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries, the books feature two sleuths with very different backgrounds – the granddaughter of an earl and her lady’s maid. Maxwell describes the novels as having “an Upstairs-Downstairs, Downton Abbey aspect.” The first of the series, Murder Most Malicious was released in January 2016, and will be followed by A Pinch of Poison in December 2016. She is about to begin the third book in the series, titled A Devious Death.

Maxwell hopes readers will enjoy a glimpse into the dual worlds of bygone days. “I want readers to have the fun of experiencing how people interacted in those times and to realize that families like the Vanderbilts were people like the rest of us, with the same ambitions, hopes, disappointments and adversity. Most of all, I hope readers will enjoy following the clues and solving the crime – if they can!”

For more information visit the author’s website at

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Nisei: The Other Heroes of WWII - A Guest Post by J. J. White

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger J.J. White. White is the author of three novels: Prodigious Savant. Deviant Acts, and his latest, Nisei, a historical fiction set in WWII.  He was our featured writer on January 16, 2016.

It’s always interesting the replies you receive from novelists when asked where they get their ideas for books. Most likely you’ll get a different answer from every author. That’s the way it was for me when I decided to write Nisei. It was an odd decision to delve into historical fiction when my previous books were thrillers, but sometimes you don’t choose what you wish to write, it chooses you.

Years ago I read an article about 3,ooo Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who rescued 211 white soldiers of the 141st, Texas Battalion in the Vosges Mountains. What floored me was that the 442nd had nearly a thousand casualties during the rescue. I thought someone needs to write about this because obviously these Japanese-American soldiers were used as cannon fodder to save those white soldiers. It was more complicated than that, of course, but the story captivated me enough that I knew it would be my next book.

Although I’d never heard of the 442nd Segregated Regiment before this, there was actually a good deal written about them. The good news for me was that almost all that had been written was non-fiction. I decided then to write Nisei from the perspective of one GI from Hawaii who had to overcome internment, prejudice, and the policies of his own government, to prove his loyalty to his country.

The Nisei were second generation Japanese-Americans born between 1915 and 1935. After Pearl Harbor, they were given the designation of “Enemy Alien" status by the U.S. government, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, essentially placing all Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. It’s easy to find fault in Roosevelt’s decision, but at the time the generals and admirals were convinced the Japanese would attack the west coast of the U.S. Those Nisei men old enough to enlist were not allowed to and so most were interned. Finally, in late 1943, those who signed a loyalty questionnaire were allowed to join the Army.

My protagonist, Hideo Bobby Takahashi, like the other proud Nisei of Hawaii, enlisted, and joined up with the west coast Nisei for extensive training in Shelby, Mississippi. Once trained, they shipped off to Italy to fight battles in Anzio, Rome, and the Arno River area. From there, the regiment fought against Hitler’s crack troops in France, Belgium and Germany.

The 442nd RCT was the most highly decorated regiment in WWII and was known for its fierce fighting. Many Nisei soldiers earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest medal available to them since the army would not allow Asian-Americans to receive the Medal of Honor.

In 2000, President Clinton held a ceremony on the White House lawn where twenty-one Nisei solders who had earned the Distinguished Service Cross were given the Medal of Honor, including Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

It took fifty-five years, but these brave Americans finally received the kudos they deserved.

For more information, visit the author's website at

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Beverle Graves Myers - Music, Mystery and History

Tito Amato is not your typical amateur sleuth. The canals of 18th century Venice are his beat. He’s more comfortable in an opera house than a station house, and he’d rather be singing than solving crimes. Tito Amato is a “castrato” – a male castrated at an early age to preserve his soprano voice – and he’s the unlikely protagonist in a six-book series of historical mysteries by Fort Myers writer, Beverle Graves Myers.

Myers fell in love with Baroque opera in college.  After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Louisville, she continued on to earn a medical degree and complete a residency in psychiatry. She spent many years as a practicing psychiatrist before deciding to make a midlife career change. “I’d always been a huge reader,” she says. “I was the kid leaving the library every week with an armload of books. I looked at authors as higher beings and thought you had to have some special kind of magic to be a writer. As I grew older, I began to realize that I could do it if I honed my skills and practiced.”  While reading Anne Rice’s “Cry to Heaven,” a novel about at castrato singer, she became intrigued by the main character. Having always loved mystery stories, Myers decided to put a similar character into a mystery novel, and Tito Amato was born.

In the first book in what was to become the Tito Amato Mystery series, Interrupted Aria, Tito tries to find the murderer of one friend to exonerate another. Painted Veil finds Tito on the trail of the head of a shadowy society connected to the murder of an opera employee. In Cruel Music, Tito goes to Rome to free his imprisoned brother and finds himself enmeshed in the world of papal politics and murder. The Iron Tongue of Midnight has Tito facing a menacing and notorious figure from his past, and Her Deadly Mischief follows Tito as he hunts for the assailant who pushed a woman to her death at one of his performances. 

The final installment in the series, Whispers of Vivaldi, has Tito reluctantly thrust into the role of director after the opera company’s maestro is murdered. When Tito becomes the prime suspect, he realizes that he has to save himself as well as his company by finding the murderer as well as the true identity of the mysterious Angeletto, a popular castrato from Milan.

In a departure from the series, Myers has co-written a stand-alone novel with Joanne Dobson, her friend and neighbor. Face of the Enemy is a mystery set in New York City during World War II. The book started as a “fun project” that resulted in a short story. After the story was published in Hitchcock Magazine, the two writers decided to develop it into a novel. “We kept tossing scenes back and forth until we were satisfied,” Myers explains. “What we wound up with was a third voice that didn’t sound like either of us.”

Now that the Tito Amato series has concluded, Myers is on the hunt for another historical period to delve into. “I have a real knack for pulling a good story out of the past and bringing it to life with characters that mirror real-life people,” she says. “I strive to write as if I’m painting with words using a fine-pointed brush, exposing readers to past eras without making it into a history lesson. I’m still very interested in the World War II home front, but the world of Downton Abbey is also very intriguing. I’m doing research on both.”

For more information on books by Beverle Graves Myers, visit her publisher’s website at

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick - That Was Then

In these days of high tech gizmos and information overload, it’s easy to forget that there was a time, not so long ago, when the closest thing to a cell phone was two tin cans connected by a string; when Facebook was an album of black and white photos autographed by schoolmates; and when a laptop was where you curled up to listen to a bedtime story. Bonita Springs writer Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick chronicles these bygone days in Going on Nine, the beautifully-written tale of a young girl coming of age in the summer of 1956. Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s classic, Dandelion Wine, Going on Nine takes readers on an unforgettable journey back in time to an era of drinking from garden hoses, catching fireflies in jars, licking cake batter from wooden spoons and enjoying the unbridled freedom to explore the world and all its wonders.

Fitzpatrick credits her older sister with starting her on the road to writing. “When my late sister went to the University of Missouri to major in journalism, I wrote letters to her. One day, I received a postcard that said, ‘Hey, kid, why don’t you come on over? You really can write!’ So I did.” After graduating from the University of Missouri’s Columbia School of Journalism, Fitzpatrick distinguished herself as a feature writer for newspapers in Hannibal, Milwaukee, and her native St. Louis. Her profession afforded her opportunity to experience some memorable moments. “I interviewed Jimmy Carter from a rooftop while he was working for Habitat for Humanity,” she recalls. “I talked to women on Death Row in Texas, drank cocktails with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and stood in the shadow of the Trade Center towers on 9/11.” Her eyewitness account of the aftermath of the terrorist attack earned her two awards from the Milwaukee Press Club for Excellence in Journalism and inclusion in Washington D.C.’s Newseum.

In 2005, as a new retiree, Fitzpatrick found herself with time for creative pursuits. Her two daughters suggested that she write down the stories she often told about childhood friends. One of those stories eventually grew into a four-generation family saga titled A Matter of Happenstance. The tale of a wealthy St. Louis family, the novel explores the impact of coincidence on individual lives and how the power of personal character can alter that trajectory. A fifth-generation member of that fictional family was to become the central character in Going on Nine.

Going on Nine is the story of Grace Mitchell, a feisty eight-year-old who runs away from home after arguing with her parents and winds up embarking on an odyssey of self-discovery. Her parents suggest that she spend a few days living with each of her neighborhood friends to see if she can find a family that’s a better fit. After getting an insider’s glimpse into the complexities of each family’s private affairs, Grace learns important lessons about life, relationships, and outward appearances. Told in the alternating voices of adult and eight-year-old Grace, Going on Nine is written with a lush, lyrical quality that elevates it to the level of literary fiction.

“It was worlds of fun writing this book,” Fitzpatrick says. “I like the diversity of characters that populate the small, close-knit neighborhood of Thistle Way. The story also speaks to a different generational model. We baby boomers tend to look back on our childhoods with nostalgia. The freedom we enjoyed fostered self-reliance, creativity and independence. But there were dark days as well. The 50s were as fabled as they were flawed.” She hopes readers will return from Thistle Way with an appreciation of how “families and friendships are nuanced and often layered in ways imperceptible to those viewing and judging them at a distance.”

Ever since Go9 (the nickname Fitzpatrick gave the book and, now her official Florida license plate) came out in May of 2014, Fitzpatrick has spoken at book club meetings, library programs, women’s group gatherings, discussion groups, independent bookshop events, and big-chain book store promotions. “​In some ways, a new book is similar to a newly-released movie: its moment in the spotlight is finite,” Fitzpatrick says. “The good news is that word-of-mouth endorsements can extend and broaden the readership of a particularly enjoyable, informative, or provocative book for months, and sometimes years, beyond the initial flurry of interest and activity.  This has been the case with Going on Nine. I am pleased to have author talks scheduled for the upcoming fall season here in Florida.”

In 2015, Fitzpatrick and her husband became full-time residents of Bonita Springs.  She also completed another writing project- a memoir based on letters written by her father.  “When I helped clear out the house my late parents shared for more than 40 years, I discovered a hidden packet of letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II, letters he signed Just, Bob,” she says. ​“The cache of more than 150 letters is a family treasure, but to transform it into a memoir of interest to a wider audience, a story that addresses universal themes of hope, honor, longing, love, loss, and abandonment took some doing.  On the advice of a professional editor, I wrote two dozen vignettes, stories-within-a-story to tuck in between the letters. Each vignette is a vivid look back at my exemplary parents when they were in the throes of rearing their six not-so-exemplary kids. With contemporary humor, wistful nostalgia, and the leavening clarity of hindsight, the vignettes comprise half the story taking Just, Bob from World War II to the modern era.”

Three years ago, Fitzpatrick became a first-time grandmother and began writing books for her granddaughter, Lily. “I have created not one but three books for this little spitfire," she says."Each is a picture book with simple text that documents the previous year of her life. Of all the books her parents have sprinkled throughout the house for her, these are her favorites.” Fitzpatrick has also been contributing shorter pieces for periodicals and online literary websites. "Authorwear,” an story she describes as a “tongue-in-cheek essay about a writer’s struggle to find just the right outfit for a book talk,”can be found at “It’s the website of a literary magazine dedicated to humor,” she says. “Being a full-time writer is a serious business, filled with self-doubt, isolation and rejection.  Which is why it’s so critical, sometimes, to throw back your head and laugh out loud.”

For more information, visit the author’s website at

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Robert Jay - Fables to Fiction

When Robert Jay was telling stories to his children, he had no way of knowing that his tales would someday inspire an award-winning series of novels. But that is what happened to this businessman-turned-writer. Jay is the author of the “Montooth” books, a series based on the exploits of a group of Florida teens growing up in the 1950s. These crossover novels give readers, young and old alike, a slice of life during a time when values and lifestyles were very different.

Jay, an Indiana native, spent his career as a businessman, but that did not stop him from telling stories. “I was in charge of writing a company newsletter,” he recalls. “I always included some fiction to make it interesting.” His creative side also showed itself when he read fairytales to his children. “I’d take a story and tell it in different ways, changing it as I went along,” he says. Unbeknownst to him, one of these tales would form the basis for his first full-length novel.

When his daughter was 11 years old, Jay, who was in Germany on business, found a unique way to tell her a bedtime story.  He wrote a fable about an alligator named Montooth and sent her a chapter every day. Years later, he discovered that she had kept them all.  She encouraged him to write a book based on the story, and he finally agreed.  Jay had developed a keen interest in the Cuban Revolution after hearing about it from a Cuban co-worker. “I started thinking about how I could incorporate the fable into the Cuban Revolution,” he says. The result was Montooth and the Canfield Witch.

Montooth and the Canfield Witch started out as a novel for adults. “I wanted to begin the story with the characters as teenagers so they could be in their twenties by the time of the revolution,” he explains, “and because I wanted it to be something I could share with my daughter, I didn’t want to include anything inappropriate.” When the book was published, Jay was surprised to find that teens comprised a large segment of his reading audience. The story centers around the adventures of Carty Andersson, the feisty teenage heroine, and her four-man “Crew.” Jay wanted a strong female protagonist and admits that he was influenced by his daughter. According to Jay, “She’s like Carty in many ways. They both have strong personalities.” Jay also notes that his characters have a baseball connection. “I’m a Cleveland Indians fan,” he says. “The first names of all the good characters are the last names of Indians players. The first names of the bad guys are the last names of Yankees.”

In Montooth and the Canfield Witch, what starts out as a school science project leads the Crew into a page-turning adventure involving a mysterious female hermit, a group of unscrupulous treasure seekers, and a diabolical Cuban who will destroy anyone who gets in his way. The book has earned three medals from Virginia's Young Voices Foundation for excellence in literature in the following categories: Adult Fiction, Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction, and Mystery/Suspense Young Adult Fiction.  It has also earned the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction from the Florida Writers Association. 

 The second book in the series, Race for the Ryland Ruby, begins in Cuba and takes Carty and the Crew on an adventure with roots in King Solomon’s mines. Race for the Ryland Ruby won the Young Voices Foundation Awards for Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Southeast Regional Fiction and received the Young Voices Foundation Seals of Approval for Adult Fiction and Historical Fiction.

Book Three, Red Cross of Gold, is the latest installment. It follows Carty and her friends to Purdue University where Carty becomes a suspect in a professor’s murder. Carty and the Crew learn valuable lessons in this next stage of their lives, discovering that the bonds of friendship can transcend both distance and ideology. The Crew also learns, however, that virtue may not always win out. As with the first two books in the series, Red Cross of Gold is a multi-award winner, receiving the Eric Hoffer Award and the New England Book Festival Book Award for Young Adult Genre. The three novels are cleverly linked together by the Montooth fable

Jay’s latest release is somewhat of a departure from his Montooth series but is still based on a Montooth story. Explaining ObamaCare to Kids: The Legend of Montooth and the Dillos originally appeared as a small part in one of the Montooth novels, but Jay has transformed it into a classic children's fable with what he calls” homage to Aesop, Lewis Carroll, and Hans Christian Andersen.”  Like Jay's signature fables, it uses a variety of animals to explain life values. Young readers will relate to the characters and will easily recognize the morals of the story as Montooth, and his friends work together to fight for what is right in a society much like our own. Parents will have the opportunity to connect the story to modern world developments, including the establishment of ObamaCare. The book has been awarded the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for Juvenile Fiction and the Global E-book Award for Best Website Design.

Jay hopes his novels will resonate with teens as well as their parents and grandparents. “I wanted Carty to be a spokesperson for the values of the 1950s,” he says. “I want to show teens that you can be rewarded for the good things you do – for being a positive force in life.”

For more information, visit the author’s website at

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What's In A Name? - A Guest Post by William Eleazer

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger William Eleazer. William, an attorney and former law professor, is the author of three legal thrillers set in Savannah Georgia. He was our featured writer on September 5, 2014.

I think Roy Peter Clark says it well in his book, Writing Tools. 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. He puts it this way:

      “What’s in a name? For the attentive writer, and the eager reader, the answer can be fun, insight, charm, aura, character, identity, psychosis, fulfillment, inheritance, decorum, indiscretion, and possession.”

 Most successful novels have unforgettable characters.  The strength and morals of the characters—or lack thereof—are the heart and soul of the novel. Have you ever wondered just how much of a part, if any, the names we choose for our characters play in the novel’s success? No doubt Gone with the Wind would have been successful without naming the main characters Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, but I think those names were perfect and perhaps even a contributing factor to the novel’s success. It has been reported that during the early drafts of the novel, the author, Margaret Mitchell, referred to Scarlett as “Pansy” and it wasn’t until it was ready for print that “Scarlett” was substituted. Can you imagine the movie with Vivian Lee, the English actress selected from the 1400 who were interviewed for the role of Scarlett, playing it as “Pansy?” I can’t either.   

I don’t recall using any specific methodology when selecting the names for Savannah Law. For most characters, I used the names of friends and relatives. (A great marketing tool!) This included the names of all the members of my Friday night poker club. Of course, if the character was evil, deceitful, or weak, I was careful to choose a generic name, one far from any friend or relative. It’s almost impossible to come up with a name that no one in the entire country has, but because my novel’s locale was Savannah, Georgia, for names of the evil characters I checked the internet for anyone in Savannah with that name. Two of the novel’s characters were the sons of a World War II immigrant couple from Estonia, Jaan and Ingrid Terras, who had settled in Springfield, Georgia, a small town near Savannah. And it was here that I made a writing mistake that I still regret.

I needed two Estonian male first names. Neither would be the main character, but both would be major characters. After substantial research to ensure authenticity (which included correspondence with the Estonian Embassy in Washington), I named these two characters “Jaak” and “Juri.” In the novel, I explained that “Jaak” was pronounced YA-ak, and that the Estonian pronunciation of Juri was YER-ee. Bad decision on names! If you are a writer and still reading this, take this to the bank and learn from my mistake: NEVER use names that are hard to pronounce. Several readers have called this to my attention. Sure, the reader is not vocally pronouncing the name, but the mind is, and it’s disconcerting to come to an unfamiliar name that is difficult to pronounce. It simply stops the ease of reading and is unnecessary. For name authenticity, there were dozens of Estonian male names I could have chosen that are the same as our own and easy to pronounce. 

In my second novel, The Indictments, which was a sequel to Savannah Law, I made another mistake in naming characters. In Savannah Law, I had introduced Jennifer Stone as the girlfriend of the protagonist, Scott Marino. Jennifer, like Scott, was a law student. She was smart, beautiful, and honest. In The Indictments, I brought in Jessica Valdez, who was also smart and beautiful—but evil. Jessica also sought a relationship with Scott, bringing her into conflict with Jennifer. And the mistake here was in the two first names. Several of my readers informed me that they had difficulty keeping the character names apart, and after reflecting on it, I agree. Both names are common names, but both begin with “J” and both consist of three syllables. Would have been much better with “Claudette” or “Zelma” Valdez. Subtle difference, yes, but from the reader’s viewpoint, important. In selecting character names, the devil is in the details.

Let me end on a positive note— the selection of a good character name. In each of my novels, Scott Marino is the protagonist. I don’t know how I came up with that name, but I like it. Easy to pronounce and, at least to me, sounds like action, strength, courage. Not sure of  why, but maybe I associate it with Dan Marino, the great Miami Dolphins quarterback who was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame just a few years before my first novel. In any case, don’t you think “Scott Marino” reads much better than “Wilbert Peevey?” (My apologies to all the “Wilberts” out there!)  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

David Edmonds - Writing What He Knows

David Edmonds has had enough fascinating experiences to fill several lifetimes. This Tarpon Springs writer’s life has taken him from a historic Civil War homestead in Louisiana to a remote Indian village in Peru to war-torn Nicaragua and many other exotic stops along the way. He is a former marine, Peace Corps volunteer, senior Fulbright professor, academic dean and U.S. government official. As an author whose life reads like fiction, Edmonds can keep readers spellbound by writing what he knows.

Edmonds grew up in Louisiana and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Spanish and a Master’s degree in Economics from Louisiana State University. He studied at Notre Dame, Georgetown and George Washington University and earned a Ph.D. in International Economics from American University. His assignments with the US Government took him to Latin America during the turbulent 80s and 90s. There he experienced cultures where assassinations, terrorism, torture and kidnapping were commonplace. This would eventually provide fodder for his fiction.

“I’ve been a writer most of my adult life,” Edmonds says. “Even though I majored in Economics, I took creative writing courses everywhere.”
But it was returning to his home in Louisiana that kick-started his literary career. “My family home was used as a hospital during the Civil War, so I decided to do some research and write about it. What started as an article became a 600 page non-fiction book titled Yankee Autumn in Acadiana which won a literary award from the Louisiana Library Association.

Edmonds followed this with four more history books and a couple of ghost-written books, but it was a chance encounter in a tiny Chilean village that led to his first novel.“I was in the Peace Corps stationed in a miserable little Indian village,” he recalls. “The weather was bad, and I was sick much of the time. While I was recuperating in a hospital, I met this beautiful, classy Peruvian exchange student. After I returned to my village, I got the idea of writing a romance.” This was the genesis of his first novel, Lily of Peru, which wouldn’t be completed for another 20 years.

During those years, Edmonds often wondered about the woman’s fate. “I tried to get in touch with her a few times and often fantasized about linking up with her. Then I met my lovely wife, Maria, and lost all interest in her.” He didn’t, however, lose interest in his novel. Published in 2015, Lily of Peru garnered four awards, including a prestigious Royal Palm Literary Award of the Florida Writers Association, a Readers' Favorite Award, and an International Latino Book Award.  Lily of Peru tells the story of USF Professor Mark Thorsen who travels to war-torn Peru to meet with Marisa, an old love from his Peace Corps days. When he discovers that Marisa is connected with Shining Path, a terrorist organization, he sets out to learn the truth while defending himself against government agents, anarchists, soldiers and hostile jungle tribes in an adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

His second thriller, which was just published by Peace Corps Writers, is titled The Girl of the Glyphs (co-written with his wife). “When I was in Nicaragua, I worked with former Sandinista soldiers,” Edmonds says. "One of them hid in a cave during the war between contras and  Sandinistas.  The cave had once been a Mayan jade mine and its walls were covered with mysterious symbols. He asked for my help in finding it, and thus began an arduous journey. My wife suggested I write a book about it.”

In the novel, a young woman from the Smithsonian hears of a cave containing writings about a mysterious holy man. She finds herself chased by a group of tomb looters who think the cave contains a lost treasure. Edmonds has also written a prequel to The Girl from the Glyphs. Set in the 1740s, The Heretic of Granada tells of a priest who escapes the Inquisition and takes up with pirates to get revenge on his enemies.

It is the  element of realism that makes Edmonds’s books particularly compelling. “All my stories are based on personal experiences that have been fictionalized,” he says. “One of the things I love about writing is re-living an experience through my protagonist, embellishing it and having it turn out the way I wanted it.” He hopes his books will give readers a window into life in South and Central America and the Caribbean. “We complain about the United States,” he says, “but we’re lucky we don’t have to go through the things they do.” Thanks to Edmonds, readers can live the experience from the safety of their armchairs.

For more information, go to or David's author page on

Monday, March 14, 2016

Inspired by the Sunshine State - A Guest Post by Joanna Campbell Slan

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Joanna Campbell Slan. Joanna is the national best selling award-winning author of four mystery series and several non-fiction books. Her newest mystery, All Washed Up, will be released on March 21. Joanna  was our featured writer on August 9, 2012. 

Five years ago, I found my dream house, a cottage on Jupiter Island. “Seaspray” was a foreclosure property that had been sitting vacant for more than three years. The hibiscus and sea grapes blocked the view of the ocean. Rats had taken up dwelling in the attic. The paint outside was peeling. I fell in love right away. I knew I’d come home.

I was born here in the Sunshine State, up in Jacksonville. My father was stationed in the Navy there. My parents paid for the hospital and delivery costs by winning a bet on a greyhound. (I’ve always loved dogs—no wonder!)

The large room upstairs in Seaspray offers a nearly panorama view of the beach. I use it as an office, but it was originally an artist’s studio. When the artist’s daughter dropped by for a visit, she clasped her hands to her chest and said, “Mother would be so happy to see you working here.”

Happy, happy me. What could be better than to walk the beach when I get stuck? The Treasure Coast inspires me daily. Life here on Florida’s Treasure Coast sparks my creativity. While picking up trash off the sand, I conjured up the idea of a collection of cozy mysteries, written in the style of Agatha Christie, and just as varied as the debris that rolls up in the tide. And so "Happy Homicides" was born. With my friend from Vero Beach, Linda Gordon Hengerer, we hammered out the details.

Happy Homicides 1: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries was a riptide of a success, propelling many of the authors (including me) into Amazon’s Top 100 Mystery Author category. Happy Homicides 2: Thirteen Cozy Mysteries/Crimes of the Heart came out on Valentine’s Day. Sales have been brisk.
On March 21, All Washed Up, the most recent book in my Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series will be released. Each book in the Cara Mia Delgatto series shares a bit of Florida history and lore. Tear Down and Die, Book #1, explored the Highwayman Paintings, those fantastic landscapes once sold for a pittance but now worth tens of thousands of dollars. Kicked to the Curb, Book #2, delved into the sorrowful history of the Dozier School for Boys. All Washed Up, Book #3, features Lilly Pulitzer and the birth of the CIA. (Yes, it happened here in Florida.) This week I’ll start work on Cast Off, Book #4. I’ll weave a tale around a stunning coral rosary, one of the pieces destined for the Queen of Spain and lost when the Spanish Armada sank in 1715. The rosary is now owned by my neighbor, Bill Brisben, who owns the salvage rights to the wrecks.

I once read an essay by a writer in Seattle who claimed the miserable weather was responsible for the success of many local authors. To that I say: Phooey. The sunshine, the views, and the diversity within our great state provide ample fodder for any writer worth his (or her!) salt. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Joseph Collum - Focus on Fort Lauderdale

Even though he was born in New York, award-winning writer Joseph Collum has always thought of Fort Lauderdale as home.  His family moved there when he was five, so it was where he spent his formative years. “It was like a paradise back then,” he recalls. “I used to play at Whiskey Creek, and I was always out on the water. It was a great place to grow up.” Collum’s fondness for his childhood home has inspired a series of mystery novels set in the city he knows so well.

“Novelist” is a relatively recent addition to Collum’s resume. Although he’d wanted to write a book since age 12 when his dad introduced him to John D. MacDonald’s novels, Collum chose a different career path. “I took a journalism class when I was at the University of Florida and got hooked,” he says. “It was during Watergate when Woodward and Bernstein were all the rage. I liked digging up stories, so I became an investigative reporter.”

This proved to be a wise decision. Collum distinguished himself by garnering more than 100 major journalism awards for tackling issues like elder care and political corruption. His exposé of racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police raised national awareness of the practice and resulted in Collum being credited for coining the term. But it was Collum’s final assignment that caused him to transition from reporter to novelist.

On September 11, 2001, Collum was assigned to cover the collapse of the Twin Towers. “Standing in the midst of all that death and destruction was overwhelming,” he says. “I was struck that all these people had gone to work thinking it was such a beautiful day, thinking they had the rest of their lives ahead of them. And then they were gone. I spent a week at Ground Zero. Nothing I’d ever experienced came close to that. It left me emotionally spent.” Collum also realized that if he really wanted to do something, he shouldn’t put it off until tomorrow. So he moved back to Fort Lauderdale and started working on a book.

Collum’s first book was actually his second to be published. The Black Dragon: Racial Profiling Exposed is an extensive history of racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police. Drawn from over 200,000 documents and personal interviews, the book weighed in at around 800 pages. Collum was unable to find a publisher, so he decided to try his hand at a novel.

“In 2000, while I was still living in New Jersey, I came to Fort Lauderdale for vacation,” he says. “I noticed that by 2 p.m., the beach was in shadow because of all the high-rises that had been built. This stuck in my mind.” It also became the genesis for Brady’s Run, a mystery novel that introduced Collum’s signature character, Max Brady. Brady, an ex-cop and ex-attorney, moves home to Fort Lauderdale after losing his wife in the World Trade Center collapse. “I needed to write about 9/11,” Collum explains. “Max came to Fort Lauderdale in grief, and so did I. It was a catharsis for me to write about it.” Like Collum, Max discovers that the place he remembered has substantially changed. The mysterious deaths of owners of Mom-Pop motels along the beach prompt Max to investigate the “shadow world” of rampant development. His involvement places him in the crosshairs of some dangerous adversaries.

Following the publication of Brady’s Run, Collum asked his publisher to take a look at The Black Dragon. After substantial editing that cut the page count in half, the book was accepted for publication. “I’m happy that it was finally published,” Collum says. “It was an important story that needed to be told.”

Collum’s next release was the second in the Max Brady series. Et Tu Brady is based on a murder that took place at Whiskey Creek in the late 1960s. “It freaked me out that a place I associated with such good childhood memories could be the scene of a gruesome murder,” Collum recalls. “I decided to write about it someday, and over the decades I played with the idea. When I wrote Et Tu Brady, I decided it was time.” In the story, the murder of a boyhood friend has Max looking for a connection between the crime and a mysterious sunken treasure. Along the way, he is forced to unearth some painful memories to prove the innocence of the girl who was his first love. As the story segues between past and present, Collum gives readers a taste of what life was like in the Fort Lauderdale he once knew.

After pouring so much heart and soul into Et Tu Brady, Collum took a break from writing. “Sometimes, when I look back on the three books I've written, I wonder how I managed to plod through them, word by word, sentence by sentence, writing, re-writing and re-writing ad infinitum,” he says.  “The idea of starting from scratch on a new project seemed so daunting. “ In spite of this, Collum has begun two books since Et Tu Brady was published.

Collum’s first attempt involved a story he covered as a young reporter about the mob assassination of a cop who was one of his sources. “I had tried to write a non-fiction book about it way back then but didn't have the time or discipline to complete it,” he says. ”I still have a cabinet filled with my original files on the case and immersed myself in them, but my attempts to turn the story into a Max Brady novel were not satisfactory to me, so I put that project aside. I plan to return to it someday soon and give it another go. It is an incredible story. My challenge will be doing it justice.”

During the same time, Collum was writing some articles for a friend who publishes a shipping magazine. One of the pieces was about cruise ship passenger safety. He was shocked by what he found, and because Fort Lauderdale is the cruise ship capital of the world, he decided it would be a great setting for a Max Brady story. “In the name of research, my wife and I took a cruise with some friends last year,” he says. “I gathered a lot of good color which I am employing in the story.” The book, titled A Bullet for Brady , starts out on the inaugural voyage of the world's largest cruise ship out of Port Everglades.  It will take Max Brady and his girlfriend - the indomitable Rose Becker - to some exotic locations. According to Collum, “I'm having fun with it but still have many miles to travel before it is ready for public consumption.”

Collum is also plotting another Brady book that he hopes to start soon and perhaps write simultaneously with A Bullet for Brady.  “While my production has been fallow since Et Tu was published, I am hoping 2016 brings a surge of productivity and that I’ll have two more books at least written, if not published, by the end of the year,” he says. “I love writing, and I hope to have a few more years on this earth to write a few more books. I hope I’ll get better as I get older. My goal is to have sparks fly off the page.”

For more about Joseph Collum, visit his website at