Miriam’s Musings

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 10:50 pm

Random posts from the Mind of Miriam!

Check them out on the right sidebars – Recent Posts and Archives (or scroll down).

Comments welcome!

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Can Alligators Kick Sideways?

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 10:32 pm

Originally posted on Sapphyria’s Book Reviews, May 25, 2015.

Nancy--George----Bess-nancy-drew-59141_321_367Nancy Drew had Bess Marvin and George Fayne (a girl). Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has Lula. J.D. Robb’s Lieutenant Eve Dallas has Detective Delia Peabody. Who are these “secondary” characters? Why, they’re sidekicks, of course. Sidekicks are a staple in crime fiction and serve many diverse and important functions. They provide a personality counterpoint to the protagonist, an alternate point of view, or knowledge or skills that the protagonist doesn’t possess. Often, sidekicks provide comic relief. Perhaps most critically in mystery fiction, sidekicks serve as a sounding board to the sleuth as he or she investigates a case, by asking pointed questions and serving up theories of the crime. They allow the protagonist to expound on his or her thought processes. As such, sidekicks serve the function of a Greek chorus.

When I started writing my Dirty Harriet Mystery Series, I faced a dilemma. My sleuth is a female version of the iconic movie character Dirty Harry. That means she’s very much a loner (at least, she starts out that way – over the course of the series she develops a community of friends), and not much of a talker, to boot. Harriet is so much of a loner that she lives in a log cabin in the Everglades, far from civilization (although she does travel to town to make a living, as a private investigator). So my dilemma was, how could a solitary, silent protagonist have a sidekick to bounce ideas off of?

Invest-i-gator (2)Enter Lana. She’s six feet of muscle and mouth. Her skin is habitually cracked and mud-caked. Her eyeballs bulge, and one snaggletooth juts out over her upper lip. No, she’s not a butch women’s basketball coach or a Catholic school nun. She’s an American alligator.

Lana is Harriet’s next-door neighbor in the swamp, and they engage in a nightly rehash of Harriet’s murder cases. Meaning . . . Lana is a talking alligator. A talking alligator, you say? Yeah, that’s what some of my very literal-minded acquaintances say too. This is adult fiction, they argue – you can’t have talking animals! To which I say, who says? Others have asked whether Harriet is mentally ill, hearing voices. Nope. Now, if this were literary fiction, there would be a term for this device – magical realism. But folks, this is not literature – it’s fun. Harriet is not hearing voices and Lana is not really talking – Lana is merely a reflection of Harriet’s own thoughts, a voice of Harriet’s conscience.

golf course gatorSince I’ve developed Lana, I’ve developed a certain fondness for alligators. My South Florida neighborhood is abundant with them. Here’s one I recently spotted on the golf course behind our house.

 

gator collection

 

Family & friends often give me gator gifts. Here’s a sampling, which is on my work desk. The big gold one was a gift to myself, to hold my Dirty Harriet books. The crystal one was a gift from my husband to hold my author bookmarks. And the little gold one resting atop the big one and all dressed up, was a surprise from my audiobook narrator, Karen Commins (who, by the way, does an awesome voice of Lana!).

Here are a few fun facts about alligators:
• Only two countries on earth have them – the U.S. and China
• The average American alligator is 13 feet long and weighs 800 lbs.
• They can sprint at up to 30 miles per hour.
• As reptiles, they are cold-blooded (perfect for murder mysteries!)

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Highway to Hollywood . . . In My Dreams

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 10:07 pm

Originally posted on Lisa Ks Book Reviews, May 24, 2015.

dirty harryWhen you hear the book title DIRTY HARRIET, what’s the first thing you do?  If you’re like most people, you chuckle.  (If you’re like a few people, you think something x-rated, but that’s another story).  Most people readily recognize the title as a play on the iconic 1970s movie character Dirty Harry, the rogue cop portrayed by Clint Eastwood and known for one-liners such as “Go ahead, make my day.”

I never really understood Dirty Harry’s appeal.  But one day while I was in a funk, I took to bed to eat chocolates and watch TV.  A Dirty Harry movie marathon was on.  Suddenly, I had a vision of Harry as a woman, and it all made sense.  I envisioned a strong, silent justice seeker – a Dirty Harriet. A couple years later, that momentary mental flash turned into a published book that became the start of my Dirty Harriet Mystery Series. Dirty Harriet is a wisecracking, butt-kicking, Harley-riding private eye.

HollywoodWhat could be more natural for a film adaptation than a take-off on an instantly-recognizable character in a story full of action and dialogue, right?  Even before the book was published, I got word from my agent that three movie production companies were interested in the film rights.  Immediately, I had another mental flash – me on the red carpet at the premiere, in a gorgeous gown, next to the film’s star (Sandra Bullock, perhaps?).  I never heard another word about those interested parties. 

hollywood-pitch-festival_s165x110Over the next few years, occasionally my agent would send word of another bite . . . and then again – nada.  Then I heard about a Hollywood Pitch Festival – a kind of speed-dating event where authors and screenwriters have the opportunity to pitch their projects to producers in two-minute blasts.  I decided to give it a shot.  After all, I reasoned, I’d gotten a New York literary agent and a large publisher without having any connections in the publishing industry – so why couldn’t I do the same in Hollywood?  Besides, a vacation to Southern California sounded like a plan for me and my husband’s first wedding anniversary.

hotel rooseveltSo off we went to the historic Hotel Roosevelt located right on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  The pitches took place in an ornate Spanish colonial revival style ballroom.  The production company reps, all of whom appeared to be adolescent-age, sat in the center.  Every two minutes, literally a bell would ring, and the “pitchers” would move on to their next “date.”  I pitched to eight reps, all of whom expressed great enthusiasm, gave me their cards, and said they’d take the project to their studio heads. When I got home, I dutifully sent gracious thank you e-mails to every one of them . . . and then never heard another word.  But my husband and I had a great anniversary, so all was not lost.

angelinaAt some point, this Hollywood thing became my husband’s obsession more than mine.  He found out that Clint Eastwood had appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Ellen had suggested a movie called Dirty Harriet.  Around the same time, Clint had mentioned elsewhere that Angelina Jolie could play a Dirty Harriet. (These were not my Dirty Harriet, you understand, just a Dirty Harriet).  My husband thought I should get in touch with Clint, Ellen, and Angelina.  Yeah, right, I thought.  But I went ahead and found their office addresses on the Internet, and mailed each of them a copy of the book with a nice note.  Well, by now, you can guess where that led.  That’s right – not a peep from the celebs (not even a form-letter thank you with an autographed photo . . . jeez!).

theaterA couple years ago my husband and I were out to dinner when we were approached by two gentlemen who said they had theater tickets for a performance that night that they could not use, and wanted to give them away.  Were we interested?  We’d had no plans to go to the theater that night, but heck, what a gracious offer – why refuse?  So we found ourselves seated in the performance hall awaiting the start of the show, when I spotted a mystery writer friend of mine sitting with his wife a couple rows ahead of us.  I called out to him, he came over, and we started chatting about his books and his latest work.  After he returned to his seat, a gorgeous lady sitting next to me asked, “Your friend is a writer?  What does he write?” I proceeded to tell her all about my friend and how clever his books were.  Well, long story short, this lady informed me that she was married to a major film producer and was looking for a project of her own to produce.

At that point I felt a sharp pain in my side.  What the heck?  It was my husband, who was seated on my other side, elbowing me in the ribs.  “Tell her about your books,” he hissed in my ear.  So I did.  She loved the concept.  She gave me her card and asked me to send her a copy of the book.

mediateca (2)Now the first thing I did when I got home was Google this lady and her husband, because at this point, you could say I’d been around the block a time or two. Well, it turned out everything she’d said was true; her husband is indeed a major Hollywood player, and she herself is an author and television celebrity in her own right.  So I sent her the book, and this lady has actually followed up, not once, but several times.  While she hasn’t yet secured a commitment from a production company, every few months I get a call from her assistant saying they’re still pursuing it.  The last time I heard from her, she said a particular producer was extremely interested in considering Dirty Harriet as a TV series.  So hope springs eternal.

RPLA (2)In the meantime, the closest I’ve gotten to my dream was at last year’s annual award ceremony of the Florida Writers’ Association, where my third Dirty Harriet book, DEAD IN BOCA, won a Royal Palm Literary Award for humor/satire.  The theme for the party was “Stars of Florida Writers,” complete with Hollywood decor.  So here are my husband and I on the red carpet at last . . . even if it is in Orlando.

Now . . . how about you indulge my fantasy?  What actress would you envision as a wisecracking, butt-kicking, Harley-riding female private eye?

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Deadly (Pre)Occupations

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 9:58 pm

Originally posted on Brooke Blogs, May 23, 2015.

don't judge meI recently had the privilege and pleasure of being an invited author at a women’s book club in my neighborhood. I told these ladies that if they see me walking my two dogs outside and I don’t wave, they (the ladies, not the dogs) shouldn’t take it personally. You see, it’s just that I’m preoccupied . . . with murder. I write mysteries. And dog-walking is the perfect time for plotting and contemplating ways to off someone. So while Elvira, my corgi, and Kazam, my Brussels Griffon, are romping, I’m stabbing, shooting, and strangling – in my head, of course.

My favorite murder method is one that fits the victim’s occupation. So in one of my books, a minister, a priest, and a rabbi go to a bar . . . okay, not really. But what does happen is I (I mean, my villain) bludgeons the minister with an organ pipe; drowns the priest in a baptismal font; and strangles the rabbi with his own prayer shawl. It’s not that I have anything against members of the clergy – but these victims weren’t entirely innocent, and the means of murder in each case kind of seemed like a bit of poetic justice. Likewise, in another of my books, a greedy builder is bulldozed at one of his own construction sites.

barbell-skull-crushersAnd in my current work in progress, a professional weight-lifter gets his skull crushed by a barbell. If you’re a gym rat like me, you know there’s an actual exercise called the “skull crusher” where you lie on your back, lift a barbell straight overhead, then flex and extend your elbows to repeatedly bring the weight to your head. This is supposed to strengthen your triceps (you know, those flappy things on your underarms that my fitness instructor calls “bat wings”). Of course, you’re not supposed to actually drop the barbell on your skull . . . but that’s what my victim does (with some help). So, it looks like an accident. But my victim’s mother believes otherwise, and she hires my protagonist, private investigator Dirty Harriet, to . . . well, investigate.

Rid-o-rat-rat-poisonMy preoccupation with deadly occupations started on the job. In my many years of working life since I was sixteen, I’ve had some nasty bosses and colleagues (who hasn’t?). One guy liked to kiss up to the manager by being a tattletale. So you could say his actual occupation was being a rat. I fantasized about slipping rat poison into his triple venti half sweet non-fat caramel macchiato. At another job I had, the boss’s wife was a professional equestrian. She liked to sashay into the office to show off her expensive riding wardrobe, her long silky black hair, and perky buns encased in those skin-tight breeches. I was twenty, penniless, insecure . . . and, okay, jealous. I imagined her slipping in a pile of manure and cracking her head on the horse stall.

miriam-with-bloody-handprints-225x300Before you get alarmed, let me say that I’ve never acted on any of these fantasies. Really, I’m a just a mild-mannered professor by day, intrepid crime writer by night (that’s me on the left). I’m nothing like my killers or my protagonist – she shot her abusive husband in the heart. The only things I’ve ever shot are beer cans.

But I do have to wonder – am I alone in these deadly occupational preoccupations? What about you – ever thought about it? And what occupationally-appropriate method would you like to see in future mysteries?

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Get off the Back!

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:54 pm

Originally posted on Musings and Ramblings, May 20, 2015.

No, that’s not a typo for get off my back – it is get off the back. The back of a motorcycle, that is – and into the driver’s seat. My Dirty Harriet Mystery Series features a Harley-riding, butt-kicking, wisecracking female private eye. She drives and maintains her bike herself. And when she rides with her man, he sits behind her. Harriet is a Biker Girl. What exactly does that mean? Here’s the best definition I’ve found:

red_girl_on_harley_davidson_by_animalniko047-d5td5dtBiker Girl: \Bik”er\ G[“o]r, n. A girl, woman, who rides motorcycles of any brand or origin. She is not afraid to take control of her destiny, or to take risks. She is gifted with a strong desire for adventure and fun, and finds both atop a bike. Biker Girls are not the property of anyone but themselves, and will not be intimidated by social mandates of what girls/ladies/women should and should not do (Woman Rider Delphi Forum).

Lots of ladies these days are Biker Girls, but even if you’re not, you can still live by the “Get off the Back!” philosophy – it’s a metaphor for taking charge of your life. Here are a few notable Biker Girls who have exemplified this attitude. And probably not coincidentally, all of them have also been quick with a quip (like my own protagonist).

bessie stringfieldBessie Stringfield broke through gender and racial barriers by becoming the first African-American woman motorcyclist to ride across the US in 1930, when she was nineteen years old. Throughout the next two decades, she made eight more cross-country solo motorcycle rides, which took her through the Deep South during a time of extreme racial prejudice. During World War II, she became the first female civilian motorcycle dispatch rider, carrying documents between U.S. military bases. She once won a motorcycle track race disguised as a man – but when she took off her helmet, revealing her identity, she was denied the prize. Bessie was married and divorced six times. She kept her third husband’s surname, saying, “He asked me to keep it because I’d made it famous!”

Ann Richards was the governor of Texas from 1991-1995. Although officially she was the second female governor, she is considered the first one elected in her own right, since the first female governor, “Ma” Ferguson, “inherited” the job after her husband, “Pa” Ferguson, was impeached. Ann was known to curse and laugh as loud as any man. As a county commissioner in the 1970s, she would “out-bubba the bubbas by picking her teeth with an ivory toothpick and cleaning her fingernails with a Swiss army knife during commissioners’ meetings,” according to a Texas Monthly article. Currently, nearly ten years after her death, Ann is the subject of a documentary, a book, and a stage play. Ann boasted Texas-style big hair to go with her big persona. Among her many quips and zingers was: “I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don’t have any.”

martina navratilovaMartina Navratilova (like me, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia!) is a tennis legend and an inspirational leader to women young and old. Many have called her arguably the best tennis player ever (male or female). She amassed an unmatched number of professional records over the course of a career that spanned four decades. Martina is involved with charities that benefit animal rights, underprivileged children, and gay rights. On the subject of aging, Martina has said: “The ball doesn’t know how old I am!”

Hats off to these and other women who’ve “gotten off the back.” What about you? Even if you’re not a biker, how have you gotten off the back and taken charge of your life (or plan to)?

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What is a Boca Babe?

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:40 pm

Originally posted on A Blue Million Books, May 18, 2015.

boca ratonBoca Raton, Florida, has been hailed as the Beverly Hills of the East Coast. Now, to me, that’s a claim that cries out for corroboration. So let’s see – what are the commonalities between Beverly Hills and Boca? Opulent mansions and beautiful shopping areas? Check. Young blonde women precariously balancing a size sixteen stack atop a size two tuchus? Check. But frankly, I think they’ve got it backwards – it should be Beverly Hills that aspires to be the Boca of the West Coast. After all, we’ve got some home-grown beauts that they can’t shake a stick at. Namely, we’ve got Boca Babes. What, you may ask, is a Boca Babe? Here are some clues:

• If you live in a house the size of a jumbo jet hangar, then you are likely a Boca Babe.
• If you don’t talk to anyone who doesn’t own anything made by Prada, then you just might be a Boca Babe.
• If Neiman Marcus is #1 on your cell phone speed dial, you might be a Boca Babe.
• If you’ve had diamond studs soldered into your earlobes, you could be a Boca Babe.
• If your dog owns more clothing and toys that some people’s children, you just might be a Boca Babe.
• If the only thing you know how to make for dinner is reservations, you are probably a Boca Babe.
• And if you are all these things but you’ve hit the big 4-0, then you’re no longer a Boca Babe – you’re now a Botox Babe.

corvette2In sum, Boca Babes are high-maintenance, highly enhanced, high-end consumers married to high-income men. To illustrate, here is a pic of me posing as a Boca Babe (no, really, I’m just posing – this is not my everyday appearance!).

My series protagonist, Harriet Horowitz, is an ex-Boca Babe. Why an ex? Here’s the thing: a rich husband, no matter how revolting, is the price of admission to the Boca Babe Club. Harriet’s husband was indeed revolting. He abused her for ten years. Finally she’d had enough. One day when her husband raised his fists at her one last time, she told him, “Go ahead – make my day.” He obliged, and she shot him through the heart – with his (now hers) .44 Magnum.

Due to the influence of a wealthy friend, the local Boca philanthropist Contessa von Phul, Harriet’s act was ruled justifiable homicide. And Harriet embarked on a new identity – Dirty Harriet – and new life. She sold everything, bought a Harley, and moved to a desolate cabin in the Everglades. She swapped swank for swamp, indulgence for independence.

Harriet embarked on a new career as well: she opened up her own private eye agency, ScamBusters. And business is booming. Boca’s got a slew of scams. Investment scams, insurance scams, immigration scams – you name it, we’ve got it. So Harriet is doing just fine as a ScamBuster. But occasionally, murder intrudes. So far, Harriet has had four murderous adventures in the Dirty Harriet Mystery Series, including the latest, Boca Undercover.

But I don’t think Boca Babes are confined to Boca. What do you think – do you have a version of Boca Babes in your town?

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Why Auerbach?

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:27 pm

Readers often ask if I am related to Red Auerbach, the legendary Boston Celtics coach. Um . . . no. Sorry, never heard of him till I was enlightened by indignant sports fans (I’ve been known to confuse a basketball team for a baseball team a time or two. Or three). But . . . some of you know that Auerbach is my pen name; my actual name is Potocky. How did I come up with Auerbach? Funny you should ask.

Auerbach was my late father’s original surname. My father was Jewish, living in Czechoslovakia before and after World War II. Basically, not a good place to be Jewish at the time. In order to assimilate, in the 1950s he changed his name from the Jewish-German Auerbach to the Czech equivalent Potocky. The two names mean the same thing: “by the creek.” So in English, my name would be Creekside!

remakeblackangelposterbMost of my father’s family perished in the Holocaust. This year it will be seventy years since my grandparents were gassed in Auschwitz. So I use the Auerbach name as a way to give the finger to the Nazis! They tried to exterminate the Auerbach family and the Jewish people, but we are still here seventy years later – and will be for seven thousand more!

 

 

 

 

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A Heroine on a Harley

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:25 pm

Originally posted on The Book Babe’s Blog, February 11, 2014

162863_8481My series protagonist, Dirty Harriet, is a wisecracking, ass-kicking, Harley-riding private eye. Naturally, readers often ask if I’m a Harley rider myself. Afraid not. Or, more accurately, afraid to. While Harriet rides a motorcycle, I ride a bicycle. The kind with fat tires and a single speed. It tops out at about 10 mph as opposed to Harriet’s Harley Hugger’s max speed of 103 (which she has taken it to). And the dissimilarities between me and my lead character don’t end there. Harriet lives in a log cabin in the Everglades; I live in an air-conditioned house. In a gated community. Harriet does martial arts; I do ballet barre. Harriet shot and killed her abusive husband; I’ve shot and killed a beer can.

DSC01210So what gives? Why did I give Harriet a Harley? Okay, here’s the thing. Jimmy Buffett said Margaritaville in not a place – it’s a state of mind. I say a Harley is not a thing – it’s a state of mind. A symbol: Strength. Freedom. Control. Self-reliance. Independence. Ingenuity. Courage. America. So while I’m outwardly living my reclusive, reticent writer’s life, the biker chick that resides within gives me the guts to meet life’s challenges head on. Like all women, I’ve had my share, from schoolyard bullying to divorce to bosses from hell to illness and loss. Now, when crap happens, I ask myself: what would Harriet do? And I always get my answer. She wouldn’t cower and cry – she’d face it and fight. And not only for herself or her loved ones. Harriet fights for the world’s dispossessed – those who haven’t been given a fair shake.

hd_woman_adHarriet and her Hog didn’t spring out of nowhere, of course. When I was eighteen I met a Harley-riding preacher and spent the next twelve years of my life on the road with him (while also going to college, grad school, and supporting us financially, since he also happened to be chronically unemployed with addiction issues). So while that relationship was a rough ride, I did get plenty of insight into the Harley world and the Harley psyche. And I experienced what I call High on the Hog – that feeling of flow, of being in the zone, that altered state of mind that comes with hearing the repetitive rumble of a V-twin engine and seeing the road roll by under your feet. It’s when she’s in that altered state that Harriet is able to assemble the diverse clues that point to the killer she’s hunting in each of her cases.

My hope for readers is that Harriet inspires them to channel their own inner biker babe. Here’s wishing you a Harley state of mind!

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Mirth and Murder

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:21 pm

Originally posted on fellow mystery writer Lesley A. Diehl’s Blog, November 30, 2014

Today I will comment on a deadly serious subject: mirth and murder. Why do I write about these two seemingly contradictory life experiences? Well, I think they have a common root. Many murders are committed from anger. And I have heard many comedians say that their humor stems from anger, as well. For me, both are true (well, I haven’t killed anyone, but hopefully you get my meaning). Yes, I am one angry beeeaaatch, just like my protagonist, Dirty Harriet (and, might I mention, her inspiration, Dirty Harry). Okay, I have a wonderful, supportive husband, two loyal dogs, a beautiful home in paradise (i.e., South Florida), true friends – so what do I have to be angry about? In a word: injustice. You know, that stuff we read or hear about in the news every day. Corrupt politicians (but I repeat myself, as Mark Twain said). Exploitative employers. Bigoted bullies.

a_funny_mystery_writer_joke_round_sticker-r1a286b42259e43ea946ece7a2f560315_v9waf_8byvr_512So I channel my anger by taking down my targets with satire and slaying (fictional, of course). Just what is satire? I did some in-depth, writerly research on this (in other words, I went to Wikipedia). According to that definitive reference source, it’s an art form “in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.” I’m no Jonathan Swift with his “Modest Proposal,” but my own modest aim is to make a few readers laugh, to think – and maybe to act.

As for the slaying part, real-life jerks become either victims or villains in my books. And Dirty Harriet sees to it that the villains always get their just rewards. And I hope that’s as rewarding to you, the reader, as it is to me.

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Why I Love Miami

Posted at Jun 26, 2015 8:17 pm

An interview originally posted on fellow mystery writer Raquel Reyes’ Blog, December 29, 2014.

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

Back in the eighties, when I was living in the frozen North (okay, the Midwest, but still…), I was captivated by Miami Vice. Miami-Vice-TV (2)Those neon colors . . . those swaying palm trees . . . those strutting flamingoes . . . Don Johnson. I knew it was where I wanted to be. Operating on a variation of the “if you build it, they will come” theory, I implemented a “if you visualize it, it will happen” plan. I bought a photo calendar of Miami and hung it on my wall above my word processor (like I said, it was the eighties). I banged out my doctoral dissertation on that little machine over a winter and spring, alternately gazing at the snow outside my window and the beaches on the calendar. Then I applied for and was offered a job in my dream destination . . . and I have been happily working in Miami for over twenty years now. Apart from the sun ‘n’ surf, what I find delightful about Miami is, of course, its bizarreness. You don’t have to look far to find it. Just in today’s paper I read the delightful headline “Confusion Surrounds Dead Rat Shipment.” According to the story, the owner of a religious artifacts shop in Miami receives three shipments yearly of two hundred dead wild jungle rats from Nigeria, dehydrated and packaged on sticks, for use in healing and spiritual ceremonies. The owner says they are top sellers. Somehow, I don’t think this would happen back in Kansas, where I moved here from.

What is your favorite novel set in Florida and why?

Well, this is like asking a mother to name her favorite child. clyde butcherI love mysteries. I’m a member of the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, where I have been fortunate to make many friends over the years who write great Florida novels . . . and I want them to stay friends. So . . . I’m going to weasel out. Instead of Florida in words, how about Florida in pictures? My total fave is Clyde Butcher’s books of his black-and-white photos of Florida swamps. Haunting. Ethereal. Unforgettable.

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

Harriet would kick the sharks’ asses (. . . do sharks have asses?).

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