Write what you know. Great advice from a great writer. One small correction, in the interest of veracity, what he really said was that he was going to “write one story about each thing that he knew about.” Slightly different, but still quintessential Hemingway. Given his life experiences, the man was never going to run out of material. As for me. What I know about is Florida, SCUBA diving, and the legal world. Put them all together, you have the Hayden Kent series.
The rules in Florida have always been different. That’s a given. Where else did people wear white after Labor Day in the 1950s? Where else could holiday decorations include a mechanical Santa Claus blasting off from the top of a palm tree in a multi-colored Mercury space capsule? Yep, Florida. And oh yes where else did the local ice company annually create a white Christmas for kids? We didn’t see snow in Miami until 1977. It must not have liked us. It never came back.
The Miami that I knew was a sleepy little southern town. A great place to run barefoot and grow up. I wanted my heroine, Hayden Kent, to have the same kind of idyllic memories, and I wanted to write what I knew about. Hayden lived in my mind for a few years before I found a place to set her. It wasn’t until a deep dive on the wreck of the Thunderbolt when a plastic bag floated past my face from the wheelhouse that I found my story. When the bag first peeked over the windowsill, it looked like a hand. I snatched it as it floated past to keep it from being a turtle snack. That’s when I knew I was writing a book about a body on the Thunderbolt. A body Hayden discovers when a dead hand beckons her to find the rest of the body.
Between the time I spotted the bag and the time I surfaced from my dive, I had my story. And my location for Hayden. She was a conch, from six generations of conchs. Born and bred in the Florida Keys. Even today, conchs are a closed society. Proud, hearty, and hardworking, a conch has a different set of standards to the newcomers to the Keys. Theirs is the way of the sea and sun. Hayden’s family originally sailed the seas. Her house, the one she lived in all her life and inherited from her parents, is a hurricane house its roof connected to the oolite base by a thick anchor chain, and it sports a widow’s walk.
I knew I was the only one who could tell Hayden’s stories. I am experienced as a diver. I love the water around Marathon where she lives. My legal background complements hers and both of us share an insatiable curiosity and excellent research skills. Death by Blue Water was a book that wrote itself. My imagination had fleshed out the tale by the time the dive boat reached port. All that remained was to get my fingers on the keyboard…and three rewrites…and oh, sorry, that’s another story.
Not so Death by Sunken Treasure. Treasure’s tale sprang from years of practice as a probate paralegal. The story starts in Hayden’s office, and travels a labyrinth route through the discovery of two wills, both signed by Mike Terry on the same day. The day he dies in a diving accident. It’s Hayden’s investigation to determine which will is the true last will. Tracking the evidence and unraveling the sordid and painful events of Mike’s last few weeks leave her convinced the accident was a murder and the proof is in the wills. Hayden and I worked side by side following the leads and discounting the red herrings. Writing it was like a real time investigation. Fast paced and filled with intrigue. Her dearest friendship is at stake in Treasure, one false move and she stands to lose everything that matters most to her. This is very much Hayden’s story. I’m proud that she let me tell it.
The rules are different in the Keys. For tourists, for locals, for outsiders, and most of all, for the conchs.
Next time, we’ll talk about Catherine Swope. She’s an ex-cop and a realtor. I’m neither, but we both run.