Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Musing in Middle Florida by Deborah Sharp

Deborah Sharp is a Florida native and former USA Today reporter. She writes the funny, southern-flavored Mace Bauer Mysteries, featuring Mace’s wacky mama. The fourth book in the series is Mama Sees Stars (Midnight Ink, September 2011). 

You may read an excerpt here:
Deborah’s website is here:

Musing in Middle Florida
By Deborah Sharp for questions

 Excavating my desk recently, I uncovered an essay I wrote for Mystery Scene magazine way back in 2008, when my first book came out.  It was about how the fictional town of Himmarshee in my Mace Bauer Mysteries is inspired by a real-life slice of middle Florida -- all sweet tea and citrus groves, cattle ranches and rodeo:

A spot where cowboy is used as a verb, where barbecue is a religion, and where the mascot for the local high school is a 1,500-pound Brahma bull named Bubba.

The clip made me think how places spark our creative spirit; serve as muses, if you will. Since the lovely Kaye Barley invited me to be today’s guest blogger, I thought it would be fun to meander to some of the spots I love in the little-known part of Florida I write about. I once rode a horse across the region, saddling up to research the annual week-long trail ride that became the setting for my second book, Mama Rides Shotgun.

I know Kaye often runs pictures of authors and their pets. Domino, the sweet-tempered horse I borrowed for trail ride, is not a pet. But I loved him. When we made it to the end of the Cracker Trail Ride, his owner gave me one of Domino’s worn horseshoes as a souvenir.  I use it as a paper-weight.

Early on, I thought I’d set my books in the real town of Okeechobee. It’s about 80 miles south of the manufactured fun of Walt Disney World, and 50 miles from the nearest ocean breeze. But it turned out the down-home, rural flavor I wanted for the series was endangered there. I knew it as soon as I saw a hand-lettered sign pop up outside a remote country store: 

Boiled P’nuts/Cappuccino.

Cappuccino? There goes the neighborhood.

So I made up Himmarshee. I kept the rustic elements that attracted me to the area in the first place, and lost what I’d rather not see. Like a Walmart on former pasture land. Or a proposal to plow under orange trees and plant 14,000 new homes. Without a lick of irony, the planners of that pre-recession project wanted to name it “The Grove.’’

There is still plenty of beauty to take in, though. Like a creek on a fog-shrouded morning along the Cracker Trail. 

And there are still wild things to admire . . . from a distance. 

One of my favorite writing spots is outside, along the Kissimmee River. My husband and I have a getaway there, a little trailer on a few acres of land. 

 It’s not exactly an office, but it is a spot where I can envision what my main character, Mace Bauer, might see. Alligators glide by in the dark river. Sandhill cranes soar overhead. Cattle low from a nearby pasture. My middle Florida muses.

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Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Deborah - Hi and Welcome!!!!

I love this. I especially love your office. I'll be thinking of you sitting there this winter while I'm looking out my window at snow and ice. And I will be very jealous.

(Tell Mama I said "Hey!")


Unknown said...

I enjoyed this post. I consider myself a Floridian, having grown up in the Ft. Lauderdale area, worked at a camp in the Everglades, and gone to college in Orlando. I agree...unearthing orange groves is!!! Deborah, you are sharp! Warmly, Susan Anderson

Deborah Sharp said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, Kaye. Your lovely pictures at this site prompted me to include some of my own favorite spots.
Susan: I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, too. Small world. Lots of changes in that slice of the state, right?

jenny milchman said...

What an idyllic spot to work/write in! (The gators stay away, I imagine). When you find cappuccino in gator country, I agree...something's changed :)

Vickie said...

That is a lovely office you have there!

Thank you for sharing your muses with us. I adore Mace and Mama to the nth degree.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hi, Jenny ... yep, idyllic until an 11-foot gator ambles onto the bank of the Kissimmee River! Yikes!
Heya, Vickie .... thanks for reading. You know I adore YOU to the nth degree.
PS to Kaye: I'm in your state today with two fellow authors and Molly Weston, doing a Dangerous Dames tour around Raleigh Durham. Wish you were a little closer!

Julie Compton said...

I'm not a FL native (even though I call it home now), and you've captured the side of it I love. It's a side of Florida many visitors never see. The pictures are great -- I especially love the photo of the creek. Hey, if you ever decide to do that tour on horseback, I'll join you! (It'd be quite different from our NC book tour, huh?)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Deb, you are a credit to our home state. I'm so glad that you and Mama live here. Generations to come will appreciate how you've captured a fading culture for us.

Msmstry said...

What a great visit to Florida—without the heat! Thanks. I'm glad you've had all these great experiences that I can enjoy via Mace and Mama.

Gotta run--looking forward to being with the Dangerous Dames!

Vicki Lane said...

Lovely post, Deborah! I grew up in Florida in the Fifties and graduated from UF in '63. I loved the real old Florida but it got too crowded and we moved to the NC mountains in '75. I'm so glad to see some of the real Florida remains. Thanks for capturing it in your books!