To Live & Write in FLA- Alethea Kontis

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Welcome back to all the Cozy in Miami readers. Maybe that should be an  ‘I’m back!’? I’ve recuperated from SleuthFest and have lined up some exciting authors for 2017’s edition of To Live & Write in FLA. Don’t forget to sign up (column to your left) to get new posts to this blog delivered directly to your inbox. 

I’d like to introduce you to Alethea Kontis. Although we have never met IRL, we know each other via an online Florida writers group. I think I will soon have to visit her as she’s promised to bring homemade baklava! Being that she is Greek I’m betting it is probably very, very good. A few other things to know about this New York Times bestselling author: She is a princess. She is an authority on Fairy Tales. She writes children’s books, YA, and adult paranormal/fantasy. And there is so much more… but, onto the interview.

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How long have you lived in FLA?

3 years

Where do you write and when?

Lately I’ve been working at Port St. Java (Port St. John) once or twice a week, but mostly I’m at home on the couch—nothing fancy. As for work hours…well, if I’m breathing, I’m writing.

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What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

My biggest failure: Every romantic relationship I’ve ever had.

What did it teach me: How to write angry. How to write sad. How to write evil. How to write hope. How to write a broken heart. How to write a happy ending. But mostly, how nothing and no one is worth sacrificing my career and my family.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?  

The best advice I’ve ever received…it’s hard to put into words. It was more of an attitude, really. I had no formal creative writing education growing up—I was a child actress and science nerd who majored in Chemistry. But that never stopped me from writing and learning everything I could about the publishing industry. And when my mentors finally did appear—Orson Scott Card, Andre Norton, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jane Yolen, Jude Deveraux—they never treated me like a wannabe. They said things like, “Just write the novel.” Or “When are you coming back over to work?” Or “Get used to it.” I might not have known I was a “real author,” but they did. I just needed to see myself in their mirrors. Even now, I hear their voices in my head, and I get back to work.

So if you’re a writer, listen to your mentors. Let them be hard on you. Trust them. Remember their voice in your head. And if you don’t have one, I’ll be that voice for you right now: Go write that novel. Go back to work. Writing is hard. Get used to it.

Who is your Dead Dream Date and why?

Not fair—there are so many to choose from! Off the top of my head, I would love to sit and visit with Ellen Raskin. Ellen is best known for her Newbury Award Winning book (and best mystery of all time) The Westing Game, but my favorite of hers was called The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. Ellen also worked in the industry as a graphic artist—among the hundreds of covers she produced was the first edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She died when I was eight (right around the same time I started reading her books).

I am such a huge fan of authors like that—Ellen Raskin, Astrid Lindgren, Lewis Carroll, Diana Wynne Jones—renaissance people with diverse interests who wrote genius level books for subversive young misfits like me. They challenged me to be even smarter, and made me feel like having a Giant Brain maybe wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

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Favorite cocktail or N/A drink and at what Florida bar?

I really don’t do bars or cocktails. My favorite Florida evenings are spent shrimping with my dad on the pier out past the Mercury 7 memorial in Titusville. It’s always so beautiful and peaceful out on the water, under the stars. And no matter how many shrimp we catch (or don’t), I always high-five John Glenn on the way back home.

Check out Alethea Kontis on her website, twitter, and facebook.

I’ll be back in two weeks with a new Florida author interview.

To Live & Write in FLA- Micki Browning

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I love the cover art for Micki Browning‘s new book. She revealed it to a group of fellow mystery writers and I was there that day. That was well over a year ago! I’ve been waiting to read what’s behind that gorgeous cover. Luckily, I won’t have to wait too much long. Her mystery, Adrift, will be released in January 2017. It won the 2015 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery and unpublished book of the year.

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Before becoming a full-time writer in paradise (The Florida Keys) Micki Browning worked in law enforcement for more than two decades. Coupled with her degree from the FBI National Academy she has an incredible depth of first-hand knowledge that any mystery writer would kill for! (FYI- No need to do that as she is a consultant and will share her expertise with you.) I love the opening to her website. “I have to confess. My current job is murder. I’m a writer of wrongs.”

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How long have you lived in Florida?

I’ve lived in South Florida since 2011. I had every intention of spending six months in the Keys and six months in Colorado, but other than a couple quick trips to visit family and friends in the Centennial State, that plan didn’t work out. It’s nice to live in a state where the people don’t know what a snowblower is, and I can wear flip flops year round.

 

Where do you write and when?

I love writing outside, especially if it’s near water—the saltier the better.  I find that writing freehand taps into a different part of my brain than when I’m at my computer. I’m more adventurous armed with a pencil. That said, I spend a lot of time in my home office.  Deadlines require focus. I’m fortunate that I can write at anytime during the day—as long as I’ve had at least one cup of tea.

 

What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

I didn’t sell my first (or second) book, which at the time felt like a horrible failure. It taught me humility. I retired as a police commander, a step away from chief of police, but living life as a police officer was far different than writing about it. I was a neophyte writer who needed to learn her craft.

 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Plot from the point of view of your antagonist, and write from the point of view of your protagonist. Obvious, right? How can your protagonist go about solving the nefarious deed at the heart of the story if the author doesn’t know how the antagonist executed the (almost) perfect crime?

 

Who is your Dead Dream Date and why? (literary or otherwise)

James Thurber. He was primarily a cartoonist, but his short stories were incredibly funny and his wit was driven by intelligence and insight. His brand of storytelling has always resonated with me. He taught me that some of life’s most poignant moments benefit from a dash of humor.

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Favorite cocktail or N/A drink and at what Florida bar?

The first cocktail I had in the Keys was at Sharkey’s Pub in Key Largo and it was a tropical mash-up of light rum, pineapple juice, mango fruit rum, orange juice, passion fruit rum, grenadine, and a splash more rum. I think it was good. I’m not sure, it’s all a bit hazy….

 

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To Live & Write in FLA- Lesley Diehl

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Lesley Diehl is one of my favorite Florida authors and I’m not just saying that because she blurbed my book. Beyond the belly laughs her humorous mysteries gift us, she pays it forward as a source of encouragement and solid advice to novice writers.

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The Eve Appel series about a sassy & snoopy country girl, is set in rural Florida. The third book , A Sporting Murder was awarded a Readers’ Favorite Five Star Award. The fourth ,Mud Bog Murder, will be released September 1st.  I recommend you read the whole series!

 How long have you lived in FLA?

I’ve had a long term love affair with Florida beginning in the 1980s when I spent Christmas breaks and Spring breaks in Key Largo. I had friends who introduced me to the Keys and when I retired, my husband and I began spending the entire winter season in Key Largo. We liked the funky, fun bars, loved dancing to Island music and have a variety of friends there, some from the US and others from Canada, Germany. Haiti and Cuba. Our German friends had tea every afternoon, so we took up the habit also and continue it each day now. It was a fun time, but soon the big developers came in and took away the charm there.

We now spend six months each year in rural Florida, old Florida, with cowboys, horses cattle, lots of alligators and swamps. It has its own rugged charm. It’s quiet, a good place for writing and a really fine location for a murder mystery

Where do you write and when?

I write year long. In Florida, my desk overlooks our little canal where I can watch the bird life and alligators and listen to little frogs croak at night. Back in Upstate New York, the setting is just as ideal. I look out a window into a lilac bush and watch the squirrels run across the shed roof and then jump onto the house roof looking for a way into our attic, the little buggers.

What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

Wow! Now that’s one question no one has asked me in an interview before.

I began writing when I retired and that was a mistake because I began my writing career much too late. I now understand that breaking into the business is a long term proposition, and I have less time than I’d like. Given the number of ideas for stories and books that whirl around in my head, I should have begun in my twenties, but back then I felt it was a foolish idea to entertain writing and publishing a book. Now I’m sorry I didn’t act on that impulse. However, I’m learning patience in my dotage, so if I live long enough, I might get fifty percent of those ideas in my head onto a computer and then into books.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?  Or do you have some personal writing advice to offer?

Related to the question above, here’s my writing advice to those who are thinking of writing a book. Do it now, but do it wisely. Do not wait until you “have the time.” Make time, and be certain you join writing organizations such as Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America because simply writing is not enough. You need to learn your craft, so get advice from other writers, but writers who know the business. I so admire those people who hold down a full time job and yet find the time to write. I know some of them do in when the kids are in bed or they get up early in the morning and write before they go to work. Kudos to all of you. You’re on your way.

Who is your Dead Dream Date and why?  (Literary or otherwise)

I would have loved to have gone to dinner with Eleanor Roosevelt, not as a date date, but as a person I admire for her work for the poor, for women, for minorities and for people struggling through the Great Depression. She was an inspiration to those who knew her, and she influenced her husband, moving him to develop social programs to help move the nation through the dark years of economic upheaval. She helped redefine the role of first lady. I know some thought she was too pushy, too interfering, but I admire her courage in standing at the side of a man who although a great leader was probably not a very good husband and mate.

Favorite cocktail or N/A drink and at what Florida bar?

I love mojitos, and I wish someone would recommend a bar that makes a good one. I can do a bang up job at home, and I know a bar that makes a super mojito in Upstate New York, but I’m afraid I’d have to come to Miami for one. I don’t even know a bar that does them well in the Florida Keys. Everyone seems to think you can make a decent one with a mix. Blah! Recommendations anyone?

mojitoCome on Floridians, let’s direct this lady to a good bar with great mojitos! Find Lesley via her website or on goodreads.

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Miami Interview #6

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One of the things I love about these Miami Interviews is question number two. My reading list is getting longer and longer. I will be adding J.D.’s favorites to it along with her first in series , Through Pelican Eyes. Here is my interview with poet, flash fiction author and mystery writer J.D. Daniels.

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1. Have you ever been to Miami? Please tell us the one thing you found delightful or unique about “The Magic City”.

My ex-husband and I lived in Miami when my son was in kindergarten and my husband was attending graduate school at the University of Miami. It was a charming, fun time to be so young and blessed by the Miami sun. I’ll always remember the magical wind swept days we spent sailing in the local waters. But what we loved most was the quality and diversity of the people we met. We made many friends. My nephew has lived in South Beach for some time and loves it for the same reasons. My son, who owns his own internet advertising company now in Seattle, was born in Key West when my husband was an officer in the navy. He is proud to declare himself a Conch and remembers his kindergarten and first grade Miami days with a smile. So do I. My daughter, who is two years younger, went along with me when I volunteered in my son’s classrooms.  I have a feeling that’s where she got her initial love for helping young minds. Her chosen career is as a Speech Language Specialist in California.  She and my son are also my best fans.

2. What is your favorite novel set in Florida and why?

My all-time favorite is The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III who also authored The House of Sand and Fog. I tend to like edgy work. The characters (especially the stripper April) are unforgettable and desperate. The plot thunders toward a cataclysmic ending. As far as mysteries set in Florida, I’m a big fan of all the contemporary writers with female protagonists. The more strong intelligent women portrayed the better. But, don’t get me wrong, I admire strong male characters as well. My portrayal of the Turkish carpet merchant in Minute of Darkness proves that point.

3. Tell us about your writing and main characters.

My writing mirrors my furniture—eclectic as all get out. My writing life has kept me two steps off the traditional grid. I received my Doctor of Arts degree from Drake University with a dissertation of my own poetry. It was initially planned that I would submit fiction as well, but I had so much poetry at the time, my fiction was set aside. Instead of applying for academic jobs like expected, I packed a bag and took off for England and worked as a waitress in a vegetarian restaurant where I learned to smile again and continued to write like a madwoman. Writing was, and still is, a paramount goal. For years, publication was a marginal one. I’m a self-proclaimed gypsy academic and an obsessive, dedicated writer of all things words. My book of poetry, Say Yes, 2013, chronicles a woman’s journey from darkness to light.

The biography The Old Wolf Lady: Wawewa Mepemoa, 2005/2014 tells the life story of a crusty, straight-wise woman who spent her life making a difference and bucking a world defined by men. I am proud to say the five-year-long project was sponsored by The Iowa Arts Council and the college where I still teach writing.

My mystery series set in Matlacha and Pine Island, Through Pelican Eyes, 2014, features a strong, zany artist/amateur sleuth protagonist. Ironically, the series came about when a male New York editor said to me: I don’t think you have the DNA to write a mystery. Oh, how I love a challenge. The second in the Jessie Murphy Mystery Series will come out this spring. The third is almost finished.

Minute of Darkness & Eighteen Flash Fiction Stories, 2015 will be released at the end of January. Again, the protagonists are women. The main characters go head to head with moral challenges. The novella is set in Ankara, Turkey where I taught at Bilkent University.

My writing motifs reflect external struggle for mastery over obstacles that seem insurmountable and interior conflict with issues women and men face daily. My writing style is simplistic and minimalistic. I trust, for some readers, it radiates with mythology. But mostly, I hope my words bring pleasure, that they entertain.

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4. Would your main character(s) be a fish out of water in Miami or would they dive in and swim with the sharks?

There is no doubt whatsoever that my twenty-eight-year-old amateur sleuth Jessie Murphy would be in the water swimming and whooping for joy while all the time watching her back. Her sidekicks, Redneck Zen and Gator would be splashing right along beside her and most likely be tickling the shark with a gaff. One of the American women in Minute of Darkness would be in the water as well—Cass Griffith. But Justina Ismit sadly would, if faced with the chance, remain on the shore, playing it safe, hiding from the adventure, the risk. My other, diverse female characters in my flash fiction would have their own choices to make. My male Turkish protagonist is not fond of water. He’d be in an outside café eating calamari, not Greek calamari—Turkish calamari.

Please find J.D.’s books at your favorite independent bookseller or link to them via her website.

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Miami Interview #5

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For all the my blog readers that are dealing with the cold weather up north, I hope this interview warms you up. Lesley Diehl  is a  winter bird. She lives in up-state New York but winters in Florida. Two of her mystery series (Big Lake murder mysteries and the Eve Appel series)  are set in rural Florida with plenty of swamp action. She, also, has a mystery series that has a micro-brewing theme. So, grab a beer ( or flan if you’ve got it) and sit a spell with my guest, retired professor of psychology,  author Lesley Diehl.

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1.Have you ever been to Miami? Please tell us the one thing you found delightful or unique about “The Magic City”.

I used to spend my winters in Key Largo and sometimes I came to Florida for vacations to get away from all that snow and cold up north. There’s nothing as welcoming as stepping out of the airport in Miami and having all that hot, wet air hit you. That’s just heaven to a Yankee in the winter!

Of course the best thing about Miami is the food, especially the Cuban food. There’s nowhere that beats it, tender chicken and buttery yucca or malanga, fried plantains or a whole pig roasted in that hot box so that the skins gets crispy. And flan, how I love flan. Oh, yum, yum. It’s also fun to go to South Beach and look at the beautiful people and wonder how anyone can be that perfect with all that great food around!

And close to the heart of Miami is Miami Springs, the charming little community where several of my friends from the airlines had homes. My husband and I spent New Year’s Eve in a small neighborhood restaurant there. Food was wonderful and music delightful. No one can dance like Cuban-Americans. Nearby is Coral Gables, another place to eat outside and watch people, a delight for writers. I found the best thrift shop there where they sold used tuxedos. Of course, like one of my protagonists, I love buying secondhand.
2. What is your favorite novel set in Florida and why?

It’s so hard to choose because there are so many great Florida writers, certainly mystery writers, but I especially love Carl Hiassen, not really in the mystery genre, but his take on Florida politics and the masterful way her converts them into humorous events and outrageous characters means you can’t beat him for a great, side-splitting read.

3. Tell us about your writing and main characters.

I write two humorous cozy mystery series, both set in rural Florida. My most recent series is the Eve Appel series. Eve is a winter visitor who has come to Florida to set up a high end consignment shop with her best friend. Eve is a tall, blonde, rail thin woman with a penchant for buying designer gently used clothing, accessories, and especially shoes. Although she’s near six feet in bare feet, she prefers wearing at least four inch heels most of the time. Eve seems to find trouble in the guise of dead bodies often. She’s an in-your-face kind of gal who believes she can handle every situation even when she finds herself face to face with a killer. Despite her sassy ways, she is loved and admired by many people who come to her aid when she needs help. In the most recent book Dead in the Water, murder strikes when she takes her uncle on an airboat ride and he is killed by a single shot to the head, clearly from a sniper’s gun. He is family, and Eve is determined to find the killer. And she has lots of help, a hunky private detective, some cowboys, a mob boss, her grandmother (as spunky as Eve), a homicide detective who might wish Eve out of the way, a handsome Miccosukee Indian and his grandfather. Look for alligators and a few snakes to spice up the search for the murderer.

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4. Would your main character(s) be a fish out of water in Miami or would they dive in and swim with the sharks?

Eve would revel in a swim with the sharks. She’ll take on anything. And because she loves to eat (darn but she’s one of those gals who never gains weight), she’ll be frequenting those restaurants I talked about and searching out any consignment shops. And she wouldn’t turn down looking for a killer either. Eve works hard at her business, but I think she deserves some down time and Miami might be just the place to take it. Now, there’s an idea for a scene in my newest manuscript about Eve.

 

Please visit your local independent bookseller or link to Lesley’s books directly from her site.  w