Monday, November 18, 2013

I Keep Coming Back to the Land of the Flowers - A Guest Post by Mary Anna Evans

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Mary Anna Evans. Mary Anna is the award-winning writer of the Faye Longchamp archeological mysteries. Her latest novel, Rituals, was released earlier this month and is available wherever fine books are sold. Mary Anna was our featured author on January 17, 2011.

So far, three of my novels, four of my short stories, and one of my songs are set in Florida, and I am currently at work on yet another book that takes place in The Sunshine State. Since I have written eight books (and counting) about a Florida-dwelling archaeologist named Faye Longchamp, my entire writing career could be seen as a love song for the land of the flowers. Florida has been my home for almost all of my adult life, and now I’m preparing to leave it. I’m excited about the next phase of my life, but leaving Florida is an emotional thing for me. I simply love the place.

While I realize that we’ve done a pretty good job of paving over the peninsula and its panhandle, if that was our goal, there are still places here that are achingly beautiful. The beaches, the cypress domes, the springs, the lakes, the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the swaying palm trees...there are so many evocative nooks of Florida for a writer to use in her work.

My first book, Artifacts, explored Faye’s home on a lonely island off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, and I returned to that place, Joyeuse Island, in Faye’s fourth adventure, Findings. Strangers is set in the ancient city of St. Augustine. My short stories “Land of the Flowers” and “A Singularly Unsuitable Word,” are set in the Florida swamp. “Mouse House” is set at a nameless central Florida theme park where I enjoyed shoving an unpleasant person off a very high castle turret. “Low Budget Monster Flick!” is set at a resort very like the one at Wakulla Springs, during the filming of a movie very like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And now my nameless work-in-progress is taking Faye back to her Joyeuse Island roots. That’s a lot of stories for one state, but Florida keeps giving them to me.

And Florida has given me more. The Florida Historical Society gave Artifacts their Patrick D. Smith Florida Literature Award. The Florida Book Awards has given medals to both Findings and Plunder. The Will McLean Folk Festival gave the song I wrote to accompany “Land of the Flowers” an award in their Best New Florida Song Contest. The Studios of Key West gave me a writer’s residency in paradise. Remind me again why I’m leaving?

I’m going away, at least for two years, because I want a chance to study creative writing with people who really know their stuff. I am totally self-taught as a writer. I want the chance to see exactly what I’m capable of doing and it’s for me time to do it. If not now, then when? So, beginning in December, I will be in New Jersey pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts at Rutgers University.

After that? Well, I don’t know. I can’t see that far down the road. I do know this. Whether I come back as a resident or as a visitor, I know I’ll never leave Florida for good, because there’s no place in the world more beautiful than the land of the flowers.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Janis Froelich - Sports, Writing, and Real Life Drama

The 57th PGA Championship is best remembered for the miraculous 16th hole play that won the trophy for Jack Nicklaus. But for Tierra Verde writer Janis Froelich, that event will forever be linked with something far more sinister - the brutal murder of her friend, 27-year-old Linda Mae McLain.

The year was 1974 when Froelich, then a 28-year-old mother of two, accepted a temporary job as an office assistant for the Professional Golf Association in Akron, Ohio, home of the prestigious Firestone Country Club. It was there that Froelich met fellow PGA staffer Linda McLain, herself a young mother with three small children. The two had much in common and soon became friends. Unfortunately, their friendship was short-lived – brought to a sudden and horrific end when Linda was stabbed to death by her husband. The shadow of this tragedy would continue to haunt Froelich for the next three decades.

Since that dark February day in 1975,  Froelich has gone on to lead a full and interesting life. Following in her father’s footsteps, she pursued a career as a writer. “As a student, I faltered in math but got A’s in English,” she says. “In school, if you’re not a cheerleader or a majorette, being editor of the school paper puts you right up there.” She took a job with the Akron Beacon Journal where she worked for over ten years until moving to Florida to be near her parents. She spent eleven years as a food writer and then TV critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Then she moved to Iowa where she worked as the TV editor for the Des Moines Register. In 1995, she married photographer Ray Bassett (owner of Maddock Photography in St. Petersburg) and returned to Florida to write for the Tampa Tribune.

In 2008, Froelich was laid off from her job at the Tribune, but she didn’t take a hiatus from writing. Inspired by an article she had penned for the St. Pete Times, she spent the next two years writing a book that would help her exorcise the ghost of her murdered friend.  Part memoir, part true crime story, My Life Looking Back at a Murder revisits the circumstances surrounding the McLain tragedy and explores the ripple effects of domestic violence. “The story is a sort of stream of consciousness, with my life paralleling what Linda would have been experiencing in hers,” Froelich explains. “I also wanted to re-examine the case to see if I could find something new.” The hardest part for Froelich was talking to Linda’s family and seeing for herself the long-term effects of domestic violence.

Froelich hopes My Life Looking Back at a Murder will help raise awareness of the epidemic of domestic violence. “While there is more help available today, domestic violence is a social problem that still hasn’t been solved,” she says. “Three women are murdered by their significant others every day.” She would like to see relationship classes taught in high schools, and thinks parent-child dialogue about domestic violence would be helpful. To do her part to address the problem, Froelich is donating a portion of the profits from her book to The Spring of Tampa Bay and the Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland. 

Froelich’s latest book, Team Shop, takes an insider’s look at another popular sport – baseball. Team Shop chronicles the Tampa Bay Rays’ sensational 2011 season. “I was working for the Rays, the MLB,” she says. “Well, that’s not quite right. In my dreams, I guess. I actually sold t-shirts and cowbells in the team shops around Tropicana Stadium.” She decided to take notes on the season to use for her writing class at Eckerd College.  By the time the season ended, she realized she had enough material for a book. “When the Rays made their unlikely comeback in 2011, I had a rare home stand vantage point. Not only did I witness the muscle, sweat and steel nerves played out at the Trop, all kinds of life experiences rumbled in front of me under the dome.” Team Shop looks at sexual romps in the dressing room, puking in the bushes, picky managers implementing strict drink cup rules, distraught co-workers pushing mops long after the game, and the constant foam finger drama.

A much more serious drama was playing out in Froelich’s real life at the time. In late September of that same year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She includes an account of this very personal experience in Team Shop and donated $500 from the proceeds to the Morton Plant Mease Foundation that provides free mammograms for women in need. She also hopes the book will inspire others to write down their thoughts. “You never know what’s down the road,” she says, “and writing helps immensely to clarify your thoughts and feelings.”

For more information, visit the author’s website at