I began writing this when we first relocated to rural Florida for our winter months. Since the end of another year is upon us, I thought I might take a look back over the past decade and share some of my thoughts.
A dead body on the sand under a palm tree blowing in the gentle ocean breeze makes for the tension found in many Florida mysteries. The juxtaposition of murder and paradise—what could be better for a mystery set in Florida? Try this. A woman is hog-tied and dumped along a deserted road in the Everglades. All she can hear is the sound of a bull alligator in the distance. Now that’s the kind of setting I like.
My husband and I, both of us writers, used to spend winters in Key Largo, Florida. While I thought of setting one of my mysteries in the Florida Keys, most of my work used upstate New York as a locale for murder. I spent winter days on our cabin cruiser, sunning myself in the stern and swimming in the bath tub warm waters of the Keys, but I wrote about chasing murder suspects in the river valleys of upstate New York. Snow figured large in these tales. I read plenty of fiction about murder in Florida, but most seemed centered on sun, sand and bikini-clad babes. Yet none of that inspired me to redirect my writing energies to wiping out someone wearing shorts and sporting a bad sunburn. I thought I had found my own paradise, writing of cold and snow and having fun in the sun with my winter friends.
We watched the rent on our campground spot increase and buying a gravel covered piece of paradise was equally out of sight, so we decided to move to Okeechobee, Florida. What? You may ask. Well, it was raining when we looked at the place, so perhaps it seemed more idlyllic with the windshield wipers obscuring a view of the field behind the property. We thought we could easily transfer our way of life to rural Florida, intending to take our cabin cruiser out on that big lake until we saw the color of the water and the size of the alligators.
We could have locked ourselves in our air conditioned bungalow, but we’re not easily deterred from exploring. We did. We no longer danced to island music, but we did find cowboy bars where we two-stepped with the rest of them and even developed our own rather flamboyant dance style (I mean, it was flamboyant for a couple of old geezers). We discovered the flea markets on the weekends and delighted to the Mexican food we found at them. It was less expensive than what we were used to in the Keys. We found the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and began attending monthly meetings and the annual conference Sleuthfest in Florida.
Another woman and I formed a local writing group. Through these local writers I learned about rural Florida. Something unexpected began to happen. Tough, rugged, sun-browned and handsome cowboys became characters in my stories. And women with pluck, lots of pluck befriended my protagonists. I was writing about an area of Florida rarely found in a travel brochure, nor written about in glossy travel magazines. Yet I found this place real and approachable, where no one mistook a winter visitor for a native, where blending in was not an option, but where the contact between the two disparant groups made for conflict, but also for fun. That seemed the perfect formula for murder.
Now I have two series set in rural Florida. My protagonists in both are women from the North who choose, in one case, to spend their winters in Florida; in the other, to move to Big Lake country full time. They are outsiders, both Yankees gals with that in your face style that makes many southerners uncomfortable. Yet these women have heart that blooms in the warmth of the Florida winters. As outsiders they are allowed latitude for their brash snooping. They are not expected to behave like the natives and are sometimes overlooked or ignored, opportunities to wrangle their way into situations a native would know enough to avoid.
Rural Florida has become my winter home and the perfect place for a bit of murder as well as for a plate of blackened gator.
Visit Lesley on her website at www.lesleyadiehl.com and read about all her sassy gals, North and South who populate her books and short stories.
Coming March 15, the fifth book in the Eve Appel mysteries: Old Bones Never Die—Make no bones about it. With this case, Eve must deliver or die.