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.

The 32 Days of Christmas

Have you ever wondered where writers find their ideas?

They come from a multitude of sources, from friends and family, scandals and events. Even dreams. Those sources shape a book’s characters and plot. But what about the setting, which often becomes a secondary character? Where do those ideas originate?

For me, they spring from the places I’ve lived, from the wooded hills of eastern Pennsylvania to the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Time spent there has yielded not only a treasure of sights but insight into the culture that produced them.

All of that is on display in Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the CW McCoy series of crime novels. For the next 32 days, I’ll share on social media the places that inspired the novel, each image accompanied by a quote from one of the 32 chapters in the book. The photos illustrate some of the major themes of the novel—over-development, coastal flooding, financial fraud—all challenges faced by business and residents, real and fictional.

It’s a visual journey I hope you won’t miss. You’ll find the photos on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Here’s a preview.

For a closer look at the world of CW McCoy, you can order the novel from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, as well as bookstores everywhere.

 

An aerial view of the marina in Sarasota, Florida

 

A circus-themed bar like the one Rae Donovan runs

 

Supermoon coastal flooding in Florida stalls a motorcycle built for speed

 

Glass condominium in Sarasota, Florida suggested the twin towers of InSpire

Will Walter sail into the harbor of Spanish Point ever again?

 

 

An artists’ rendering of The Bay in Sarasota becomes the inspiration for the rejuvenation project in Permanent Vacation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mapping the Novels of CW McCoy

Readers of the CW McCoy series of crime novels are treating the books like a treasure hunt. Many have fun comparing the scenes with places they know in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Some locations correspond, like the infamous Route 41, aka the Tamiami Trail. Others are inventions created to simplify the landscape for people living beyond the borders of Florida.

If you are reading the latest book, Permanent Vacation, you’ve discovered something new to the series: a map that guides visitors around downtown Spanish Point, the fictional mashup of the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton.

For readers who haven’t ordered a copy and are curious about the geography depicted in the first three novels–Peak Season, Tourist in Paradise and Curb Appeal–here’s a full-color version of the map. (The print edition features a black-and-white image.) Click here for a downloadable PDF file.

Published by Allusion Books, Permanent Vacation is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, and by request from bookstores everywhere.

Happy trails.

 

Come Hell or High Water

In the luxurious resort town of Spanish Point, Florida, sea levels are rising. So is the body count. Both threaten the real estate industry, and its agents. Including a former detective who’s jumped in over her head.

In her fourth outing (after Peak Season, Tourist in Paradise and Curb Appeal), CW (Candace) McCoy relishes a fresh start—a new agency, a stellar property and a second chance at love. But opportunity turns tragic as she confronts the city elite and their web of deception and greed.

CW knows who’s guilty. She just has to prove it—before someone sends her on a permanent vacation.

Join her on a wild ride through a rising tide of crime and corruption in Permanent Vacation. The book is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, and by request from bookstores everywhere.

Riders on the storm: a scooter braves the water on Florida State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale in 2013

The return of CW McCoy

Florida’s detective turned real estate agent returns to determine if you really can fight city hall.

In the tony beach-side town of Spanish Point, CW (Candace) McCoy tackles a crime waves that’s rising faster than the tide. But that’s not her biggest dilemma, as trouble comes in threes. Will she keep her job? Can she choose between Tony and Mitch? And will she ever see Walter again?

Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the crime series, launches Dec 12, but you can preorder the ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo and Smashwords.

‘There are places I remember’

What are the places in Southwest Florida that inspired Curb Appeal, the third book in the mystery/suspense series featuring CW (Candace) McCoy, the former detective applying her investigative skills as a real estate agent? To paraphrase John Lennon, here are a few of the places I remember, including one many residents hope they’ll never see: the inside of the Sarasota Police Department.

 

Model of the house where CW McCoy finds first murder victim in #curbappeal

 

One of the many condo buildings gracing the skyline of Sarasota, FL #curbappeal

 

 

Sarasota police officers demonstrate vascular hold that Skip Taggert tries on CW #curbappeal

 

 

The Power of Place

How many times have you read a novel and fallen in love with the location? (Fans of Ellis Peters and Nevada Barr, raise your hands.)

CW McCoy’s Spanish Point holds the same allure for those of us who, like CW, fled the darkness of the North for Florida’s Gulf Coast. The result is Spanish Point, a fictionalized mashup of the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton that isn’t the paradise it first seems.

Over the few weeks, we’ll look at the places in the region that inspired Curb Appeal, the third book in the mystery/suspense series featuring CW (Candace) McCoy, the former police detective turned real estate agent whose struggles with career and personal issues lead her into dangerous terrain.

While Curb Appeal is fiction, it’s the tragic attacks on real estate agents that form the backbone of the book—that and efforts by the National Association of Realtors to promote awareness and safety.

Each day on social media, we’ll take a look at the homes, boats and watering holes of CW’s friends and enemies as we reconcile the images of paradise with reality. I hope you’ll join us for a guided tour. In the meantime, here are a few deceptively ordinary images from the Gulf Coast.

On the Gulf of Mexico near Siesta Key: sailing the high seas near sunset on a day that’s divine—until you turn your back.

 

Lakewood Ranch luxury: remember the movie “Play ‘Misty’ for Me”? You may never go near a soaking tub again.

 

Myakka River State Park: the mysterious woods (and the alligators of Deep Hole) beckon the unsuspecting.

 

Dark side of the sun

Curb Appeal, the third novel in the CW McCoy series about a detective turned real estate agent, may be fiction but it has its foundation in reality. And while the book isn’t based on a specific crime, it was spurred by a dangerous trend in a seemingly benign industry.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), nearly 40 percent of Realtors report that they have experienced a work-related situation that made them fear for their safety. In 2013, 25 real estate professionals were the victims of homicide, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Crime against agents is not a new phenomenon. In the decade between 2003 and 2012, the bureau reported an average of 17 real estate homicides per year. It is, however, one that continues to threaten the industry. In the final weeks of 2016, two real estate agents were shot and killed while showing homes in Georgia and Texas, according to the NAR.

Set in a fictional city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Curb Appeal opens with CW (Candace) McCoy discovering the naked body of a rival real estate agent, a black bra wrapped around her neck. It’s the least of CW’s problems. The hot new cop she’s dating may face assault charges. Relations with both her best friend and mentor have frayed. And back-to-back hurricanes threaten to flatten a city groaning under the weight of over-development.

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.

Curb Appeal is the third outing with CW, after Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise. The novel is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo, as well as bookstores everywhere.

Out with the in crowd

For CW McCoy, appearance aren’t just deceptive. They’re deadly. Which is why the former detective turned real estate agent can trust no one, including herself, in Curb Appeal, her third adventure exploring the dark side of the Sunshine State.

While showing a mansion on tony Spanish Key, CW discovers the naked body of a rival real estate agent, a black bra wrapped around her neck.

It’s the least of CW’s problems. The hot new cop she’s dating may face assault charges. Relations with both her best friend and mentor have frayed. And back-to-back hurricanes threaten to flatten the coast.

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.

Curb Appeal will be published on June 7 but you can preorder the e-book version through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

 

Celebrating openness with the SPD

We gather on the second floor of the Sarasota Police Department to celebrate our graduation. There’s a cake, a couple of proud parents and about 20 members of the SPD Citizens Academy. We’re a collection of real estate agents and financial advisers, retirees and writers. We have come to peek into the guarded world of law enforcement and over the past 12 week’s we’ve learned about the hazards of policing on both sides of the badge.

Members of the SPD command staff are here, acting Deputy Chief Pat Robinson and the captain of patrol operations, Kevin Stiff, as are those who organized the academy, Training Officer Jeff Dunn and the volunteers who lugged coolers of soda and water and boxes of pastries and name cards every week.

They have certificates, photos and a parting message for us: we’ve helped them as much as they’ve helped us.

“We are grateful for people who want to live through our eyes,” Capt. Robinson says. “Officers are put under an immense amount of stress. The more folks we can educate on why we do things, the better our interaction with the citizens.”

Jeff Dunn says officers also benefit from the class by getting feedback from some of those citizens.

Robinson echoes that, adding that police can become jaded because they deal with a small but difficult portion of the population. “Sometimes you lose perspective.” (You can download an application for the next citizens’ academy here.)

For our part, we’ve learned about legal rights and wrongs, equipment and procedures, prostitution and traffic stops, court cases and crowd control. We’ve heard from the victim advocate, the public information officer, the state attorney, the coordinator of volunteers. We’ve watched K-9 dogs attack and officers defend themselves. We’ve investigated a crime scene, toughed it out in the use-of-force simulator and fired weapons at the gun range.

In between, we’ve listened to officers describe their background and their passion for the job.

In 12 weeks we’ve learned things aren’t simple. Most officers play by the rules. Some don’t. During traffic stops, most people are polite. Some shoot cops. When we watch video of situations where police use force, the solution looks simple. Hindsight will do that. But we weren’t in that battle, with bullets and adrenalin flying, with limited time and information and options. People make decisions that aren’t rational. The second-guessing, the labels good and bad . . . those come later.

After riding with officers, sharing a meal and listening to their stories, many of us are convinced the most important part of the course isn’t about guns or self-defense or crime scenes or SWAT. The most interesting aspect of police work are the officers themselves.

Getting them to open up might be the biggest cause for celebration.

Jeff Widmer is the author of The Spirit of Swiftwater and other works.

 

SPD Facebook banner photo Web