I had the pleasure to attend my 2nd Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America Breakfast at the Florida Library Association 2014 Annual Conference in Orlando. Librarians love free food and free coffee more but what we really love is listening to authors talk about their books.
The panel was led, as it was last year, by Nancy J. Cohen who in addition to writing several series of books has an extremely dry sense of humor and wit that is so subtle you almost don’t realize how funny she is. Each author spoke for a few minutes about their books and then there was time for the audience to ask questions. Here is some of what stood out for me.
A veteran of the U.S. Army and former lawyer, H. Terrell Griffin writes the Matt Royal series set in Longboat Key, Florida. One thing he finds interesting about being a writer is that people are impressed with that. One morning he was having his picture taken outside for a magazine. A guy drives up, sees the photographer and all the camera gear and asks what’s going on? The photographer says I’m taking this man’s picture. The guy says why? For a magazine, he’s a writer. The guy says have I ever heard of you? H. Terrell says I’m James Patterson. The guy says nope, I’ve never heard of you. H. Terrell served on the library board of his local public library and has great respect for what librarians do.
Joanna Campbell Slan writes the Kiki Lowenstein series, the Jane Eyre Chronicles and the Cara Mia Delgatto series. Joanna says she writes about ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Whatever goes wrong in her life, she can put it into one of her books. Once when she was travelling, she realized she was one pair of panties short for her trip. So she washed out a pair in the sink and hung it up to dry. It seems like the crotch of the panties never dry as fast, so she hung it over the hotel lamp and went about whatever else she was doing until she smelled something burning. When her husband was doing laundry, he said why does it look like your panties caught on fire?
Joanna grew up in a violent, alcoholic family. She became a voracious reader and would walk to the public library to check out an armful of books that she would start reading on the way home (she has the scars on her knees from tripping while reading to show for it). One day her mom said don’t you have anything to read? Joanna said I read them all already. Her mom put her in the car and they drove to the library. Her mom told the librarian you need to give this child bigger books. The librarian introduced me to Jane Eyre. Joanna identified with the book and with Jane, and decided she needed to be like her–get an education which is a path to a better life. As librarians you might never know that the next book you give someone could be the key.
S.L. Menear is a debut author and the first book in the Samantha Starr series sounds fascinating and fun. She was only 11 months younger than her brother and when they were growing up, she did everything he did: flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, scuba diving, para sailing, hang gliding. In her 20s she went to work for Pan-Am as a flight attendant. As the new person she was always on call if someone more senior called in sick. So she traveled all over but most of her fellow crew had been there and done that before, so she found herself wandering around by herself. She found herself in revolutions, gunfire, earthquakes, bombs going off.
All of these things happened in her life, and she stored them up and figured she would put them in a book.
When she heard that the commercial airlines were going to hire one female pilot each, she decided to train to be a pilot. She was hired as one of the first of these and flew for many years. Then when she developed a rare eye disease, had to stop. Her mother was a writer, and suggested why don’t you write a book? Deadstick Dawn was that book. Deadstick refers to flying with the engine off. The series features a female pilot in her 20s, Samantha Starr, who flies for an elite charter airline. (The kind where the planes have luxury cabins!) It might be more properly called a thriller than a straight mystery. The second book is due out later this year.
Miriam Auerbach writes the Dirty Harriet series. Harriet is “just like” Miriam–Harriet rides a motorcycle, Miriam a bicycle. Harriet lives in a log cabin in the Everglades, Miriam in an air conditioned home in a gated community. Harriet shot and killed her husband, Miriam shot and killed a beer can. Miriam came up with the idea for Dirty Harriet when she was in a funk after being passed over for a promotion. She was sitting in bed, eating chocolate and watching Dirty Harry movies. She didn’t understand that character, but then realized, what if he was a she? Dirty Harriet.
A former Boca Babe (high maintenance woman married to a high income man) who looks like she lives a charmed life but is in an abusive relationship. One day he pushed her too far. “Go ahead, make my day” and she shoots him. Harriet leaves the high consumption lifestyle behind, moves to the Everglades and becomes a P.I.
Nancy J. Cohen writes The Bad Hair Day series. She likes to include things that actually happened to her. For example, once neighbors were building a fence and it appeared to be on her property. If it were built, her sprinkler piped would be in their side of the fence. She went out and confronted the workmen (who happened to be driving a truck without a license plate). This become the premise for Hanging by a Hair.
As far as libraries and books go, she was a fan of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames. Judy for character development and Cherry for inspiring her to become a nurse. Later on she read the Horatio Hornblower series and again loved the character development. What she looks for is characters that grow and change. She also tried to incorporate issues that are reality for anyone living in Florida, such as child drowning and skin cancer detection tips. She hopes to make readers as eager for the ext installment as she was for the next Nancy Drew.
This was followed by a Question and Answer period. I will maybe post that as a part 2.