Sunday, March 15, 2020

Writing in a World of Contrasts - A Guest Post by Lesley Diehl

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Lesley Diehl. She is the author of several cozy mystery novels and several short stories. Her latest novel, Nearly Departed, is part of her Eve Appel Mystery series.
I’ve often said that Florida is a wonderful place for a mystery writer to hide a body given the work of our huge sanitation engineers (think alligators) as well as terrain in which criminals can obscure their handiwork. Some folks, even state residents, find my statement puzzling because their understanding of Florida is shaped only by the coasts, the Keys and the land of the mouse. For those of us who reside inland, in south central Florida, we know another state, one populated with cowboys, cattle, horses, and lots and lots of alligators. Coastal residents would get lost in the maze of canals, swampland, pine, palm and live oak forests, and wonder why anyone would travel to the interior. But like I say, what a place to commit and cover up a crime. Yet it is more than that.

For those of us who do live here, we find a raw beauty in this landscape, and we worry that out-of-control development will destroy it. Florida’s problem has always been water, too much in places, too little in others. The construction of roads and bridges, golf courses, condo and home developments has made water issues of primary importance to Florida’s future. It appears that development and climate change are working together to destroy Florida as it once existed. It is estimated that Florida loses 10 acres of open land every hour to development. Loss of land impacts the distribution and flow of water. For example, water used to flow out of Lake Okeechobee south toward both coasts, but with the construction of east-west highways south of the lake, that flow is impeded. In addition, controlling the outlet of water from the lake into the canals heading toward the coast has resulted in algae growth on both coasts. Coastal dwellers certainly took notice when the thick green algae with its accompanying stink grew feet high in the summer of 2018. The solution to the water issues is complex necessitating the collaboration of many agencies and people—farmers, ranchers, developers, water management agencies, sugar concerns, government and private citizens—those who sometimes have had difficulty in working together in the past. Let’s hope the passage of the recent water bill will help.

And so, what does all of this have to do with writing murder mysteries? Those Florida writers who set their mysteries on the coast appeal to readers who love the Florida scene—as they know it. Some readers have recently come to enjoy mysteries located in Florida’s heartland, the land of alligators and cowboys. As one who loves using this setting for my work, I worry that the impact of development on my area will remove what is best about rural Florida, its contrast with the rest of the state. Until recently it has been easy for us rural folks to ignore all those high-rise condos being built on the coast. We only encounter them when we travel out of our area. But, as the protagonist of the Eve Appel mysteries, has noted, the coastal development is infringing on our way of life. Mud Bog (see Mud Bog Murder) contests with big trucks churning up mud, water, plants and wild life bring the promise of entertainment and temporary jobs to our area, but they also leave a destroyed habitat long after the event is past, making breeding and nesting difficult for the species who lived there.
As Eve drives the route from her home in Sabal Bay (think Lake Okeechobee area) to West Palm and then down to the Keys to visit friends and her grandmother, she notes how widening the road has removed the expanses of water, making it necessary for water fowl to feed and breed elsewhere. The vegetation at the sides of the road has changed also. Instead of the sabal palms which grow everywhere in Florida’s heartland, now the roadside has become more manicured, planted with sod and what are deemed more beautiful, plants carefully landscaped. Is it more pleasing to look at? Perhaps, but it also represents loss of a wildness that makes many of us yearn for the past.

I don’t want to suggest that I mourn for the loss of the old Florida for a selfish reason. I don’t just want the tangled mazes of swamp and vegetation as a place to get rid of a body. That’s silly. But my writing like those of others who use rural Florida as a setting would lose its tone and atmosphere because they form the backdrop of a special place and one that can be lost forever if we proceed with homogenizing the Florida experience. Those of us writing in this wild place want to convey the sense that there is something forever about this side of Florida. Visitors who don’t expect the polished nature of the coast but anticipate another world, one that is filled with a primitive beauty will understand the allure of the land between the coasts and want to protect it. Yes, it’s wonderful driving to more populated areas to dine in a fancy restaurant and gaze at boats bobbing in ocean blue waters (our waters here are tea-colored, their own kind of fascinating hue), but when I sit on my back patio in the evening and watch flock of birds flying overhead, the sun reflecting silver off their white wings, I am taken by that beauty. Even the alligator gliding past on the canal has its place in this world. How could I not want to set a mystery here, not for the dark atmosphere swamps and reptiles bring, but also because there is the splendor of nature here also. The diversity of this land is being lost minute by minute, and I don’t want to see it go. Do you?

Buy link to the newest book in the Eve Apple Mysteries, Nearly Departed:

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Michael Warriner - The Stuff of Nightmares

Some people might consider working as a performer at Disney World a nightmarish prospect. Deland writer Michael Warriner, however, used his time there to pen The Man in the Forest, a debut horror novel that is as unique as it is terrifying.  
Warriner, a native Floridian, was always fascinated with stories and music. “In high school and college, I was more into science, but writing was always in the background,” he explains. “In college, I began writing stories to kill time. I learned to see the stories in music and movies and liked to take characters and find different ways to tell their stories.”

After earning a degree in psychology from the
University of Central Florida, Warriner was offered a job as a group home manager and later worked in a behavioral health hospital for children with trauma backgrounds.  While there, he took a part-time job at Disney World. When the hospital unit closed, he transferred to Disney full-time and stayed for three years “I put pen to paper with The Man in the Forest about halfway through my time at Disney and finished it after I left,” he says. “I wrote in the break room.”

The Man in the Forest is the story of Vincent Morales, a musical prodigy who travels to a mysterious town in Romania to give a concert with his sister, Mary, and his friend, Tyler King. While there, he falls prey to the curse of the Forest Man, a horrific apparition who roams the woods bordering the town. Those who see the Forest Man are destined to lose their sanity as they are haunted by a series of horrific nightmares peopled by a murderous jester, a feral blind girl with a taste for blood, and an evil ventriloquist dummy named Johnny.  

Warriner was motivated to write the novel because he had a hard time finding horror stories he liked. “I admired the writing of Poe and Lovecraft who played with madness, and I wanted to play with the psychological side of horror,” he says. “I tried to avoid things I didn’t like in other stories, and I wanted to attack clich├ęs. There are no teens or summer camps in the book, and each of the nightmares has its own hidden message. At the end, they all come together to tell a different sub-story and add up to the realization of the one true thing in the world to fear.” 

The idea for the story came from a spooky experience Warriner had while walking in the woods one night. “I was looking at the tree line and thought I saw the outline of a man,” he recalls. “When I looked again, nothing was there. I began asking myself ‘What if?’ questions, and the Forest Man was born.” Warriner admits that his characters are a bit like him. “The three main characters together form a full person,” he says. “I took each side of my personality and thought of how I could make a character out of it.  That made the dialogue exchange easy - you talk to yourself and reply to yourself.” The thing he likes best about the story is its ambiguity. “I like stories where a lot is unexplained,” he says. “By explaining, you lose the horror.”

Since the publication of The Man in the Forest, Warriner has been published in two short story horror anthologies. In Postcards from the Void, he contributed a piece titled “Springland Meadows,” and in It Came from the Garage, he penned a story called “The Highway Phantom” He has also written a short story for the upcoming horror anthology, Shadows and Teeth Vol.4, titled “The Laughing Man.” 
“I like exploring ‘What if?’ questions from many angles in my stories,” Warriner says, “and eventually answering them by the time I finish.”

For more information, visit Warriner’s Facebook page @ The Man in the Forest.