The inner landscape of Florida

Writing gives us a chance to explore. Since moving to Florida, that’s meant close encounters with alligators, beaches, police cars, rooftop bars, concert halls and wall-to-wall tourists with traffic to match. In six years, I’ve made it a mission to distill those encounters into a series of books.

As we head into fall, I thought it time to take stock of where I’ve been since washing up on the Gulf Coast. To abuse a lyric by the Grateful Dead, it hasn’t been a long trip, or an especially strange one. But it has resulted in a wealth of material that’s yielded two crime series, a standalone novel and two short additions to the roster of nonfiction works.

As Julie Andrews famously sang, here are a few of my favorite things.

Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, my newest novel, Born Under a Bad Sign, follows two young people as they fight for their dreams, and their lives, in one of America’s most turbulent decades—the Sixties.

My first mystery series, set in a fictional version of Sarasota, Florida, features former police detective turned real estate agent CW McCoy and her struggles with clients and crime. The series consists of four titles, with (fingers crossed) a fifth on the way. Here’s a brief rundown:

Peak Season. Life at the beach can be murder. Forced to shoot a fellow police officer, CW McCoy surrenders her gun, her badge and her confidence to take refuge in Southwest Florida. But even in paradise, violence finds her like a divining rod.

Tourist in Paradise. When a gunman mistakes Candace McCoy for a wealthy visitor, the former detective faces her biggest challenge yet: Is the violence the start of a full-blown war on tourists? Or are the attacks a smokescreen for an even greater threat?

Curb Appeal. While showing a mansion on Florida’s tony Spanish Key, CW McCoy discovers the naked body of a rival real estate agent, a bra wrapped around her neck. As the deception and bodies mount, CW must uncover the truth about her friends, her lover and a serial killer bent on murdering fellow agents . . . before she becomes a victim herself.

Permanent Vacation. In the luxurious resort town of Spanish Point, sea levels are rising. So is the body count. Both threaten the real estate industry, and its agents. Including Candace McCoy.

My other crime series, the one set in Northeast Pennsylvania, features a defrocked journalist by the name of Brinker who becomes an agent for an assassin. Frequent trips back home provided new material but most of it comes from memories of my days working for the daily newspaper.

Mr. Mayhem. Sued by his publisher for libel, Brinker is reduced to promoting trolley tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd. A good serial killer would help.

Mr. Magic. Brinker has lost his magic. The ad agency’s CEO wants him to ace the competition. His former girlfriend wants him in detox. And as rival advertising executives disappear, an ambitious state trooper wants him in jail. If this keeps up, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand may have to vanish himself.

Fans of science and true crime might enjoy the nonfiction works. In addition to Finding Woodstock, a collection of essays and photos about the impact of the 1960s on all of our lives , those books include The Spirit of Swiftwater, the story of vaccine pioneers in the 20th century (University of Scranton Press) and Riding with the Blues, a behind-the-scenes look at the Sarasota Police Department.

The books are available on every platform and in virtually every format. Check out the Amazon author page for details.

Surveying the Sixties in ‘Finding Woodstock’

I came of age in the 1960s, absorbing the culture, identifying with the music, praying I wouldn’t get drafted and shipped to Southeast Asia.

The decade began with a revolt against the restrictions of the 1950s and folded back in on itself. Along the way, it bounced from one extreme to another. We marched for peace and rioted for justice. At Woodstock, we celebrated the unifying power of music. Four months later, the innocence died with the concert at the Altamont Speedway.

At the time, none of it made sense. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, we have the opportunity to look back, not in anger but with an understanding of the forces that shaped our world.

The 12 brief essays that comprise Finding Woodstock reflect on one of America’s most turbulent times, examining the promise of the era and the decade that shaped our lives. A companion to the novel Born Under a Bad Sign, the collection provides the backstory to a generation that is still trying, as Joni Mitchell once sang, to get back to the garden.

Finding Woodstock launches June 1 in ebook and paperback formats at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other retailers.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

I came of age in the 1960s, absorbing the culture, learning the music, praying I wouldn’t get shipped to Southeast Asia. While my new standalone novel is fiction, Born Under a Bad Sign is based on a series of historical and personal events that played out in many of our lives, from the war in Vietnam to the fight against the Tocks Island Dam to the dicey gigs our band played to keep the dream alive.

The novel launches today.

Titled after the 1967 hit by blues master Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign introduces a pair of unlikely heroes, a Quaker and a rocker, Elizabeth Reed and Hayden Quinn—lovers, fighters and opposites in every way. It’s through their eyes that I’ve tried to capture the heady rush of those years. In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the most famous rock festival of our time, we’ll look at the impact of the Sixties, at Woodstock and Vietnam, at the government’s plan to dam the Delaware River and the people whose homes and lives were demolished by that project.

And, above all, we’ll reconnect with the music. Join me as we revisit an era that shaped a generation.

Born Under a Bad Sign is available through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

 

 

By the time we got to Woodstock

Two years after the Summer of Love and life in the rural town of Pennsboro, Pennsylvania is about to explode. A dam that would flood the valley pits family against family. Protesters riot. Buildings burn. Amid the chaos of 1969, two lovers risk everything to fight for their dreams.

That turmoil forms the setting for my first standalone novel, Born Under a Bad Sign, a book that captures the spirit of the era through the eyes of an unlikely couple—a pacifist Quaker and a rebellious rocker, two people who wield their differences like armor and sword.

Elizabeth Reed has three passions: photography, the river the government wants to dam and a musician who can’t settle on any one person or place. Hayden Quinn, the guitarist Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, feeds a single obsession—to play Woodstock, the biggest concert of his life. He presents Elizabeth with a dilemma: does she stay to save her family farm, or relinquish her dreams to follow Quinn into the unknown?

In a time when her generation trusts no one under 30, Elizabeth must face the greatest risk of all—whether to trust herself.

The story of Elizabeth and Quinn is inspired by real events. I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, the site of that proposed dam, and watched the conflict tear apart families and entire towns. Our band never would have made it to Woodstock but we opened for national acts and played some of the holes Quinn’s fictional group plays. And like Elizabeth, I wielded a camera for a small newspaper that covered the crises of the region, including the forced eviction of its citizens and the squatters who claimed their land.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the novel is a portrait of love and loss in the one of the most turbulent times in American history.

With an on-sale date of May 1, Born Under a Bad Sign is available for preorder through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.