Thursday, October 16, 2014

Joanna Brady - The Lighthouse Lady

Ten years ago, Key West writer Joanna Brady came across an article about a U.S. Coast Guard cutter being named after a woman called Barbara Mabrity. Intrigued, Brady decided to find out more about her. What she discovered served as the inspiration for Brady’s first published novel, The Woman at the Light.
Brady, a native of Canada, had always been interested in writing and history. After she had her children, she got a job writing ad copy in Toronto. She made a few attempts at a novel, but they were unsuccessful. Her decision to move to Florida in 1995 would change all that. “I left Canada because I hate the cold,” she says. “I picked Key West because my husband and I had vacationed there, and we love the town. It’s an unusual place. It’s not just a party town. It has a certain sophistication that attracts a lot of creative people.” Brady’s experience as a freelance writer and copywriter led to writing weekly freelance articles for the Key West Citizen. A few years later, Brady’s fascination with Barbara Mabrity would take her from journalist to published author.

For Brady, lighthouses have always had a magical quality, especially the Key West lighthouse (which now serves as a museum.) According to Brady’s research, Barbara Mabrity was married to the keeper of the Key West lighthouse in the 19th century. After her husband died of Yellow Fever, she took over the job.  “I discovered that Barbara was part of a sisterhood of women who had taken over as lighthouse keepers after the deaths of their husbands or fathers,” Brady says. “There were at least four of them in the Key West area, but Barbara was the most well-known.” Brady started out with the intention of writing her biography but couldn’t find enough information. “Researching and fact checking were difficult because none of the early Key Westers wrote much down, and many of the books I read contradicted each other,” Brady explains. “For example, a hurricane blew down the lighthouse in 1846. Some versions of the story say that Barbara’s children were killed in the storm. Other versions say that was impossible.” Given these difficulties, Brady decided to write a fictional short story based on Barbara Mabrity. She soon realized that the story had the potential to become a novel. “Fictionalizing Barbara Mabrity and turning her into Emily Lowry opened up a lot of possibilities,” Brady says. “But we do meet Barbara Mabrity as a minor character in the book.” 
The Woman at the Light tells the story of Emily Lowry, whose husband tends the lighthouse on an isolated island off the Key West coast. One afternoon in 1839, he disappears, leaving a pregnant Emily to take over his duties in order to support herself and her children. When an escaped slave washes up on the island, Emily finds herself in a relationship that puts her at odds with society’s rules and changes her life forever. Brady doesn’t think Barbara Mabrity would have been too pleased with the book. “Miss Barbara was pro-Confederate,” Brady says. “She would have been appalled by an inter-racial romance.” 

The Woman at the Light was released in April, 2010 as a Print-on-Demand book but was eventually picked up by St. Martin’s Griffin, a big six traditional publisher, who re-released the book in July, 2012. This left Brady wondering, “Okay. What do I do for an encore?” 
It was a challenge for Brady to find the time to write every day in addition to her newspaper columns, so last year, she dropped her weekly columns and now does occasional freelance work. This has freed her up to write another book, which she completed this summer. “This one,” she says, “though not a sequel, has a similar title – The Woman at the Chateau. It will be exciting to people who enjoy ghost stories, romance, and World War II history.” She says it was a big challenge, but it was fun to write and early readers have found it fun to read.  The story takes place in Brooklyn, Key West and Southwestern France. Felicia Milford, a young American artist with an art gallery in Key West, spends a summer in a village in France. Gifted with ESP since childhood, she meets the ghost of a beautiful French aristocrat, Colette de Montplaisir, who has been haunting a nearby chateau where she was murdered by the Nazis in 1944. Colette is still mourning the loss of her husband and daughter. Felicia traces her daughter, now an elderly woman,  and helps locate her,  bringing about a reunion by channeling their conversation. With it comes  love, forgiveness and redemption. “I know it sounds crazy, but it really draws people into it,” Brady says of the emotion-filled story. This novel, hot off Brady’s computer, is not yet in print, but she hopes it will be soon. Meanwhile, she is exploring ideas for yet another book, set in West Berlin after the war. Stay tuned.

Brady’s Florida book The Woman at the Light, is still her published “baby,” and she hopes more readers in Florida will discover it. “It occupies a special place in my heart,” she says. “I’d like readers to come away from it thinking that their time reading about Key West’s glorious and nefarious past was well spent. I hope they can say they enjoyed the story and learned a lot about the oldest settlement in South Florida. I read all the reviews posted by readers and some of them send my spirits soaring.  It’s very satisfying for me to think I’ve struck a chord with people who read my novel.”

For more about Joanna Brady, visit her website at


Monday, October 6, 2014

Guy Cote - What If?

Every good story begins with a “What if?” For St. Petersburg writer Guy Cote, this question was the beginning of a journey that took him from the misty legends of history to the outer limits of science and technology.

Cote’s interest in writing stemmed from his lifelong love of cinema. “I liked to emulate fictional movie characters,” he explains. “Eventually I got tired of living vicariously through other people’s characters, so I decided to write my own screenplays.” He completed his first script before graduating from the University of Maine, and in 1991, he headed to Florida to see if he could sell it. In the interim, he completed six more screenplays, studied film production at California State University, took an intensive screenwriting course at the International Film and Television Workshop, and earned a Master’s degree in history from the University of South Florida. “I’m a huge history buff,” he says. “If ever there was a person in need of a time machine, it would be me.”

Cote took a job as a history teacher, but in the back of his mind, he knew that someday he would write a novel. Six years ago, he decided to give it a try. “I’ve always wondered how famous historical figures would view and interact in today’s world,” he says. He had long been a fan of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor who once ruled all of Europe, so he asked himself, “What if Charlemagne was around today?” He began to do research and unearthed some puzzling details that drove his story. Cote spent one year plotting the story’s timeline and three years doing the actual writing. The end result: Long Live the King, the first installment in what Cote hopes to be a series called “The Charlemagne Saga.”

Long Live the King is the story of Josie Ersman, a young woman who leaves her highly dysfunctional life in America to go to Germany to meet a grandfather she never knew. Once in Germany, she accepts a job working for her grandfather’s employer: an organization that has been trying since Nazi times to reunify Europe as the great medieval emperor Charlemagne (aka Charles the Great) once had. According to Cote, “The organization our heroine works for is actually a real-life society founded by a former Nazi with the stated goal of reunifying all the countries of Europe into one super nation.” But in Long Live the King, Cote goes one step further. As the nemesis of the story tells Josie, “We cannot truly enjoy the peace, unity and prosperity of Charles the Great’s empire without the Emperor himself. That is why we are going to clone Charlemagne, and we want you to give birth to his clone.”

From there, the story takes off on a multi-national, cross-continental adventure that is more than Josie could imagine and almost more than she can handle. Cote wanted his heroine to be unconventional. “I was tired of the standard adventure characters,” he says.  “I wanted to throw someone with no sense of adventure into a situation that was completely foreign to her.” Cote also enjoyed the challenge of creating a female protagonist. “The story dictated that the main character had to be a woman since it involves a pregnancy,” he says, “but it wasn’t easy knowing how a woman would feel.” So he bought books on pregnancy, watched online videos, asked for help from female friends, and after his marriage, enlisted advice from his wife.  The result, according to Cote, is “a book that weaves together all my passions: history, suspense, action, adventure, travel, politics and religion” and views them all from a female perspective.

The sequel to Long Live the King is currently in the “plotting stage,” but Cote had to put the Charlemagne Saga on hold to novelize a screenplay he wrote entitled “Tried and True” and complete another thriller entitled The Hottest Place in Hell. Cote’s filmmaking partners are currently raising the financing for the “Tried and True” film and The Hottest Place in Hell is making the publishing rounds with industry professionals in New York. Cote intends to begin writing the second installment in the Charlemagne Saga by the beginning of 2015. While his writing requires a substantial commitment, Cote wouldn’t have it any other way. “The most difficult thing about writing is that it’s such a solitary endeavor,” he says, “but that’s also what I enjoy the most. It’s a form of escapism that allows me to create a world and run around in it. And when I’m finished, I hope readers will wonder, ‘What if that really happened?’”

For more information, visit the author’s website at