Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of ALL THINGS UNDYING and eight previous crime novels featuring survivor and sleuth, Hannah Ives.
Marcia is author/editor of two star-studded collaborative novels, NAKED CAME THE PHOENIX and I’D KILL FOR THAT set in a fashionable health spa and an exclusive gated community, respectively. Her short stories appear in more than a dozen collections and have been reprinted in several of THE YEAR’S FINEST CRIME AND MYSTERY STORIES anthologies. A recent story, “Can You Hear Me Now?” is featured in TWO OF THE DEADLIEST: NEW TALES OF LUST, GREED AND MURDER BY OUTSTANDING WOMEN OF MYSTERY, edited by Elizabeth George.
Writing and Living in Paradise
by Marcia Talley
My friend, mystery novelist Elaine Viets who lives there, says that Ft. Lauderdale is the farthest south you can live and still get meaningful work done. I’ve checked the maps, and my present location, 26° 35.51 N, 77° 00.36 W to be precise, is exactly 28 minutes of latitude — approximately 32 miles — north of Elaine’s condo in Lauderdale, so as a novelist, I figure I’m safe, but it’s not always easy writing while living in paradise.
We’re in a rented house on Dickie’s Cay, a tiny strip of land that forms the harbor that protects Man-o-War Cay, a settlement of boat-builders and church-going people with a year-round population of approximately 150. There’s a hardware store —“if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” — where items that went on the shelf twenty years ago are still for sale, with their original price tags. There’s one sit-down restaurant — best hamburgers in the world at the Dock-n-Dine, my husband says — a couple of gift shops, a sailmaker’s shop where four ladies sit at ancient sewing machines turning out the most beautiful and practical canvas bags, and two groceries that don’t sell cigarettes or booze. No law against it, they simply don’t. Albury’s Harbour Market, where I shop, is the size of your average two-car garage, but I can’t think of anything that Phyllis doesn’t have — even half-and-half! — in that tiny, neat-as-a-pin store. I shop, she puts it on our tab, and we pay up at the end of the month. With a tab, I feel like I really belong.
No TV, no daily newspaper. There are no ATMs, the bank is open on Tuesdays from 10 to 2, and few cars. Rush hour is two golf carts meeting on The Queen’s Highway, an eight foot wide strip of concrete that bisects the narrow island.
There are no roads where we are on Dickie’s Cay, and our family “car” is an Avon dinghy — to go shopping or to eat out, we walk out to the end of the pier, climb down a wooden ladder, fire up the outboard and putt-putt across to Man-o-War. I couldn’t resist setting my eighth Hannah Ives novel, Without a Grave, in these islands, although I took the very great liberty of sandwiching my fictional islands between Scotland Cay to the north and Man-o-War Cay to the south while pushing Fowl Cay a bit further out into the Atlantic Ocean. I must apologize in advance for an inconvenience this will cause to cruising sailors.
On the porch of “Tradewinds” where I’m sitting right now riding a rogue wireless signal — thank you, whoever you are! — I’m working on my next Hannah Ives novel, drinking a cup of coffee, and watching the sun come up.
Just a few minutes ago, the first boat of the day came by, filled with Haitians from Marsh Harbour who come here every day to work building boats and houses, doing yard work, anything to earn a few dollars to send back to their families in Haiti. They are a friendly, hard-working people who often spend their lunch hours reading passages from the Bible aloud, and seem delighted when I speak to them in my passable French.
I’ve adopted a cat, “Dickie,” who showed up one day so hungry that he ate plain, cold spaghetti and bits of
And speaking of birds, as I was writing yesterday a hummingbird whizzed by like a giant wasp, reversed suddenly and hovered just two feet in front of my face, wings a blur. I’d seen hummingbirds visiting the yellow flowers on the oleander in the garden, but I couldn’t figure out what drew this little fellow to me, until I realized that on his side of my computer screen there is a brightly-lit white apple.
A sudden rainstorm followed by a rainbow, a sunset that sets the horizon ablaze, a tiger cat purring for the first time in who knows how long nestled against your side, and a hummingbird checking you out. As I said, there are distractions while working in paradise, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.