Sunday, May 24, 2015

R.I.P. - Sonia "Sunny" Fader

On May 21st, Florida lost one of its fabulous writers. Sunny Fader spent nearly six decades as a screenwriter and is the author of "Land Here? You Bet." An avid animal lover, her most recent book,"The Cat that Loved Dogs," is a charming story she described as "A true tale of love, loss and resilience." Her story, "The Spoon," was included in the recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul's "Hope and Miracles." Sunny was a longtime member of the Florida Writers Association and was a mentor to many fledgling writers. Her warmth, generosity, and passion for writing will be remembered by all those whose lives she touched. Sunny was our featured writer on September 18, 2011.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Terry Schmida - Stranger than Fiction

There are few places in Florida as colorful or intriguing as Key West and few people who know the inside stories of the Southernmost City as well as Terry Schmida. This Canadian ex-pat served as a reporter and editor at the Key West Citizen for two decades, and has pretty much seen it all. Since 2006, Schmida has shared his knowledge with readers in three true crime books that delve into the darker side of his adopted hometown.
Schmida also comes from what he calls “good writing stock.” His great-uncle, Myles "The Slasher" Finnan, was an Irish Republican poet who had to depart the Emerald Isle because of his nationalist writings, and his beloved, late uncle, Tony Brady, was a successful author of children’s books. Schmida's mother is the novelist Joanna Brady, author of The Woman at the Light (St. Martin's Press, 2012.) “As you can see,” he says, “I had plenty of inspiration.” These influences manifested themselves early on, as Schmida took it upon himself to create a class newspaper called "The Box" - named for his teacher's "time-out" area - while he was still in grade school. He sold those copies for 25 cents each.
Schmida's full-time career in journalism, however, grew out of economic necessity. “When I graduated college in '95, I entered a different world than I expected,” he says. “Canada was in the midst of a severe recession, and jobs in the media were hard to get. So I moved into my parents’ basement.  When my parents relocated to Key West in 1995, the basement left with them, so I went along for the ride and never looked back.”
Upon his arrival in Key West, Schmida leafed through the local phone book looking for media-related opportunities. The first job offer he got was from the Citizen which, coincidentally, was owned by former Toronto neighbor Ken Thomson. Schmida started out building ads in the composing room and eventually parlayed his interest in music to a position as an Arts and Entertainment writer.  When the paper’s crime reporter left, the job was offered to Schmida.
Schmida had always been fascinated by crime stories. As a boy, he was a fan of Max Haines’s “Crime Flashback” column in The Toronto Sun. The interest followed him to university in Montreal. “In college, I would go to places where famous crimes took place,” he says. “I got a thrill thinking that a crime happened on the very spot where I was standing. So I jumped into the crime reporter gig with gusto.”  Schmida kept this “dream job” until he was offered a promotion to Arts and Entertainment editor.  Since the new position was non-controversial, allowed him to work his own hours and included a pay raise, he took it.
Although he had moved over to a new beat, Schmida’s love for crime reporting didn’t disappear – it just took on a new form. In 2003, he began writing a collection of stories chronicling some of Key West’s more interesting crimes. “A hundred years ago, when Miami was still a little hamlet, Key West was the biggest city in Florida,” Schmida explains. “So there was no shortage of material.”  Three years later, he had completed Terry Schmida's True Crime Stories of Key West and the Florida Keys.
The day after the book was published, he wrote the first story for Volume 2 which came out in the fall of 2008. “I took a break after the second book,” Schmida says, “but the crimes continued to happen. This is a growth industry.” He completed and published Volume 3 in late 2014.
Schmida describes his books as “history viewed through a prism of law enforcement” and admits that writing about true crimes in a small town poses some unique challenges. “I didn’t want to open old wounds by writing about crimes that were too recent where someone’s relative might have been involved,” he says. “I had to ride a fine line between entertainment and picking a corpse to make money.” While his first crime book contains mostly older stories, Volume 2 is more of a fifty-fifty mix of old and new, and Volume 3 is composed mainly of even more recent crimes.
Upon Volume 3's release, Schmida left his most recent capacity as the Citizen's Education and Social Services editor, to concentrate fully on his own books and freelance work. At 45, Schmida is now hitting his stride, covering Key West, Marathon, and all of Monroe County for the Konk Life and Mile Marker newspapers, and serving as the morning news anchor at the Island 107.l FM radio station.
Schmida’s current book project is a chronicle about his decades spent as a Florida Keys news hound. He is also working on another book about Key West’s great eccentrics, and is even exploring the possibility of establishing a crime museum in the old city jail building.
Lastly, Schmida has begun experimenting with fiction writing but admits that he has some reservations about that particular genre. “I tend to be suspicious of fiction because whenever I read it, I can see factual elements embedded in the story,” he says. “I want to tell the writer to just tell me the truth – because the uncut truth is usually stranger than fiction."
For personalized copies of Terry Schmida's books, email

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Heather Graham: Things That Go Bump

New York Times and USA Today bestselling writer Heather Graham learned the art of storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. “She was a fantastic storyteller,” Graham recalls. “Both sides of my family had lots of crazy stories about strange things found on misty nights.” Graham has managed to continue the tradition by penning over 100 novels and novellas that blend history, romance, intrigue and the paranormal into a reading experience that has inspired Publishers Weekly to say, “Heather Graham knows what readers want.” 

Graham did not start out to become a writer. This native Floridian studied theater arts at the University of South Florida, married her high school sweetheart, and started a family. She spent some time doing dinner theater, singing back-up vocals, and bartending. After her third child was born, she decided that, given the cost of childcare, it made more sense to be a stay-at-home mom. This was the beginning of her foray into fiction. “I always liked reading,” she says. “I’m a huge history buff, and I loved The Twilight Zone.” In 1982, after a few false starts, she sold her first novel.  When Next We Love told the story of a young widow in a conflicted relationship with her dead husband’s best friend.  The book was picked up by Dell Publishing as part of its fledgling “Candlelight Ecstasy” series. “Category romance was getting very popular at the time,” Graham recalls. “It was a good place to be breaking in.”

Since that time, Graham has branched out into historical fiction, contemporary fiction, Southern Gothic, and paranormal thrillers. She wrote a series of historical romances under the pseudonym “Shannon Drake” while using her given name for her more contemporary novels. “Pseudonyms are helpful if you’re writing different genres,” Graham explains. “You don’t want readers buying something they didn’t expect.” 

Graham's readers can expect a spine-tingling trip into the world of the occult with her “Cafferty and Quinn” series. Danielle (Danni) Cafferty is an antique shop owner with a mysterious family legacy, and Michael Quinn is a private investigator with a strange past who enlists Danni’s help in his battle against the forces of evil. The series is set in New Orleans, the city Graham calls her “second home.” “I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and I love it,” she says. “I have a lot of friends there and do a writer’s conference there every year. And I love the people. They’re crazy, spiritual and wonderful.” In the latest Cafferty and Quinn novel, The Dead Play On, the duo is enlisted to investigate the strange murders of musicians in New Orleans and the connection between the murders and a saxophone that belonged to a soldier who supposedly committed suicide. 

Graham’s upcoming releases will feature three additions to her popular “Krewe of Hunters,” a series about an FBI unit specializing in crimes involving the supernatural. Graham describes the series as “Ghostbusters meets Criminal Minds.” The Silenced, scheduled for release on June 30, centers around the disappearance of a Congressman’s media assistant who suddenly quits her job and never makes it back to her apartment. In The Forgotten (release date July 28, 2015), the Krewe is called in when body parts begin washing up in Miami, and rumors of zombies abound. The Hidden (release date September 29, 2015) has the Krewe in Colorado investigating an unsolved murder from the 1800s that has an eerie connection to a series of deaths in Estes Park.

Despite her prolific output, Graham still manages to find time to pursue her other passions. A founding member of the Florida Romance Writers chapter of the Romance Writers Association, she hosts the Romantic Times Vampire Party, a yearly event that raises money for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Fund. Last year, Graham was invited to give the keynote address at the Key West Mystery Fest, which gave her an unforgettable opportunity to engage in one of her favorite pastimes – scuba diving. “Their lovely journalist/publicist worked for the Mel Fisher company for years, and she set me up to dive over the Atocha Bank of Spain site with the Mel Fischer crew,” she says. “For me that was far beyond WOW!”

Graham also sets time aside for family, something she describes as “the most precious thing in the world.”  A mother of five, she became a first-time grandmother in February when her son and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby boy. “My daughter-in-law, mom of little Korbin, is an amazing professional within the book world as well,” Graham says. “She is an illustrator and book designer for ‘Up With Paper,’ the company that does those amazing pop-up greeting cards when you're leaving Barnes and Noble and other fine book stores. Her name is Yevgeniya Yeretskaya, and her projects have included incredibly beautiful and clever cards, tie-in books with Marvel and Disney, and beautiful fairy-tale books.” With such a talented mother and grandmother, it would be fair to say that little Korbin is destined to become an avid reader.

Graham hopes all her readers will enjoy the time they spend with her books. “I want them to come away feeling like they’ve spent time with good friends and looking forward to reading more,” she says. Judging from the success of her books, her legion of fans must be doing just that.