Guest Blogger ~ Sharon Marchisello

Setting a Mystery in the Galapagos

When my husband and I took our bucket-list vacation to the Galapagos in 2014, I had no idea I’d set a book there; otherwise, I’d have written off the trip on my taxes. (If you’re looking for the Galapagos on the map, it’s a group of  islands straddling the equator, approximately 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador.) But I didn’t get the idea until six months later, when something triggered an experience from our cruise that I thought would make a great opening scene for a mystery.

Normally, the guides were conscientious about counting heads and watching over all the passengers in their charge whenever we were away from the ship. In an archipelago comprising 97% national park containing flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, tourists must be carefully supervised. But one day, my husband and I left another activity to join a snorkeling excursion already in progress, so neither of the guides assumed responsibility for us.

We were swimming along, marveling at the vast array of colorful underwater life, when I surfaced to see both Zodiac boats motoring back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the shore of an island populated only by sea lions and blue-footed boobies.

I waved and screamed, popping up and down like a cork, and fortunately, someone spotted me. One of the boats turned around and came back to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away but told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.

But what if…. What if my protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?

When Secrets of the Galapagos begins, my heroine, Giovanna Rogers, is snorkeling with her new friend, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo. The two get separated from the group, and Laurel disappears. And then no one on the ship will acknowledge that Laurel didn’t make it back.

Trying to determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz (one of only four inhabited islands in the chain). “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012 without an heir.

But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed some information about the animal that certain individuals in the tourist industry didn’t want released?

You’ll have to read Secrets of the Galapagos to find out what happens next.

Shattered by a broken engagement and a business venture derailed by Jerome Haddad, her unscrupulous partner, Giovanna Rogers goes on a luxury Galapagos cruise with her grandmother to decompress. At least that’s what her grandmother thinks. Giovanna is determined to make Jerome pay for what he’s done, and she has a tip he’s headed for the Galapagos.

While snorkeling in Gardner Bay off the coast of Española Island, Giovanna and another cruise passenger, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo, become separated from the group, and Laurel is left behind. No one on the ship will acknowledge Laurel is missing, and Giovanna suspects a cover-up.

When the police come on board to investigate a death, Giovanna assumes the victim is Laurel. She’s anxious to give her testimony to the attractive local detective assigned to the case. Instead, she learns someone else is dead, and she’s a person of interest.

Resolved to keep searching for Laurel and make sense of her disappearance, Giovanna learns several people on board the ship have reasons to want Laurel gone. One is a scam involving Tio Armando, the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and a major tourist attraction in the archipelago. And Jerome Haddad has a hand in it. Thinking she’s the cat in this game, Giovanna gets too involved and becomes the mouse, putting her life in jeopardy. But if she doesn’t stop him, Jerome will go on to ruin others.

Buy links:

https://www.amazon.com/Sharon-Marchisello/e/B00NH6N4WK

https://www.sunburypress.com/collections/sharon-marchisello

Sharon Marchisello is the author of two mysteries published by Sunbury Press—Going Home (2014) and Secrets of the Galapagos (2019). She has written short stories, nonfiction, training manuals, screenplays, a blog, and book reviews. She earned a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and has been an active member of Sisters in Crime since 1995, currently serving as treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. Retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines, she now lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, and volunteers for the Fayette Humane Society.

Website: sharonmarchisello.com (https://smarchisello.wordpress.com/)

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Photos source: Sharon Marchisello

WHY KEEP WRITING?

Reasons for me not to write any more:

  1. Reached retirement age long ago.
  2. I’ve never been a best-seller.
  3. If I didn’t write I’d have more time to enjoy life, family and friends.

Despite the three reasons I listed, I still have  a need to write the last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. She’s retired now and I want to send her off into a happy future and tie up a few loose ends for her and her husband. I’ve been hanging out with them both for so long, it is hard to say, “goodbye.”

I did manage to end my Rocky Bluff P.D. series (written under the name of F. M. Meredith) with Reversal of Fortune.

In case you might wonder if I have plans for another series, the answer is probably not.

I do want to write another mystery, a young adult set in Los Angeles during World War II. Why, you might ask. Because that’s where and when I grew up. It was a different time in so many ways and I have some great memories of what went on: Air raid drills at home and at school, Block warden meetings where the kids had a great time playing in the dark while the grown up learned to roll bandages and other tasks, victory gardens, food and gas rationing, being free to go wherever I wanted all day as long as I was home in time for dinner, and telling my friends wild stories like what I said was the truth.

Not sure if it will interest anyone, but I plan to write it anyway.

Marilyn

Discoveries in the Back Yard

When my husband and I first moved to our current home, over forty years ago, we threw ourselves into the suburban backyard life. We planted flowers, veggies, added a terrace and three stone walls, and planted shrubs in lieu of a fence. Over the years we’ve moved the veggies, added shrubs, and coped with various pests. I pick up ideas from the summer garden tours and I’ve used poisonous plants as murder weapons in some of my stories. 

Some gardens are chaotic in color and placement of plants, and others are neatly arranged beds of one or two colors. Some include chickens, decorative pieces, and unusual shrubs. But most are neat and tidy. I admire neat and tidy because that’s a struggle for me.

This neat arrangement didn’t last long.

Over the years we neglected our gardens because of other demands–work, lack of energy, health. For a long time the uncontrolled mess out back bothered me enough to consider hiring a landscaper, but I never went very far with the idea. Then a few random comments from our neighbors changed my perspective. All around me are flat well-kept lawns leading up to a few shrubs by a foundation, and the occasional flowering tree. All very tidy. Our yard offers something different.

My neighbors look out upon trees, our trees, lots and lots of green, thick enough to block out most of the neighbors behind us and to entice deer and other animals. When I look out back I look into the edge of a forest, where a small path seems to lead deep into the dark recesses, the sunlight blocked by a thick canopy. The trees are ordinary but mature, the quiet is soothing, and animals scurry past me. My neighbors and I have seen a coterie of the usual and the not so usual—squirrels, rabbits, toads, mice, raccoons, skunks, voles, opossum, deer, coyote, and possibly a fox.

It took me a while to realize this is now a wildlife habitat. My unruly neglected yard has become something useful for the animal world. The National Wildlife Federation offers a sign declaring an area like ours a Certified Wildlife Habitat, if it meets certain requirements for wildlife: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. The certification process is more complicated than this simple list may make it appear, with more specific examples of each criterion. The Federation website includes a certification checklist for those interested in applying.

The certification sign is really a fundraising tool, but an effective one. As I look out over my yard, where the drought has turned the grass to something akin to straw, weeds proliferate along the edges of the shrubbery, and the ground itself has turned lumpy, I imagine the area growing up naturally, with birds bringing in seeds and animals shaping the ground, with native plants, or weeds, emerging in unexpected places. All this happens slowly, but I can sit on my terrace and enjoy the view, and enjoy the visitors scurrying through my mini forest. And not feel guilty for letting the back yard return to a more natural state.

Writing vs Knitting, Different or the Same?

Have you ever found the bag of yarn for an afghan you planned to knit/crochet during the winter months but not the instructions? That’s what it’s like to write a book. Every time you open the bag, it is full of tangled skeins of possibilities, different yarns, weights of yarn, and colors waiting to be knitted into a cohesive whole that matches a picture you’ve concocted in your head.

Add to the various yarns and colors, different sized knitting needles and crochet hooks, the use of which results in different size stitches, different thicknesses of fabric, and different lengths and widths of the finished product that enrich and add depth to the design.

So, you pull out the yarn, decide on the main colors (characters), secondary colors (second bananas), and pattern (plot). You’re knitting this one in twenty squares. You test the gauge of each yarn against the ruler, so you know how many stitches per square, ensuring they will fit together.

Your design set, you wait a day, look at it again and realize square five needs to precede square four, and what the heck were you thinking on square eleven. You move things around a bit, then start. Square one measures the right size, it follows the theme and color scheme, so you move on to square two. About square five, you unravel square two because the pattern doesn’t add to the flow. As you knit, you revise the design, unraveling on occasion, recasting, and reknitting.

When you have all your squares done, you sew them together. And though you took the utmost care with the colors, size, and pattern of each, it turns out you need a new square sixteen to fill a hole in the pattern that foreshadow the red in the last four squares. Now, you have one too many squares. And square six needs more blue, seven more green, and ten through thirteen more white, then you notice that square nine muddles the whole pattern (what the heck is all that purple). You do the fixes, add square sixteen, remove square nine, and voila, you have a gorgeous afghan.

You take it to your knitting club for review. The first reviewer asks why there is so much red, and the next why there is so much green. They shake their heads at your explanation. Steaming, you take your afghan home, hang it on the wall, and stare at it for a few days. In the end, you unravel some red, leave the green, pull out square fifteen, add a new square with a tinge of purple, and try again. Your reviewers love the changes.

You take a photo, write an ad, attach a price, and place it on Amazon. The first Amazon review reads it could have used some red in the square you removed it from at your reviewer’s request, and what about that dropped stitch you missed? You snarl. Then start square four of your newest creation, purling instead of knitting.

You unravel and start over.

Nova: A bright star….by Karen Shughart

I remember sitting on the wet tarmac in the parking lot of PetSmart. It was a cold, rainy day in April a year into the pandemic. Both my husband and I smiled when a man came walking over to us with a tiny Blue Tick beagle on a leash. I opened my arms and she walked into them, and from that moment it was true love.

We hadn’t wanted another dog, our dear Gretchen had gone over the Rainbow Bridge years before, but when we saw Nova on a no-kill shelter website where other friends had recently adopted dogs, we were smitten. The shelter staff was honest. Nova had been severely mistreated as a breeder at a puppy mill, and when she was of no more use to them, they threw her out. By the time the shelter found her, she had tick disease, ear and eye infections, had been shot multiple times with a BB gun (and had the pellets in her body to prove it) and had not been spayed. They didn’t know how long she’d live, given her health challenges. We decided that that we would love and cherish her for as long as we could.

From the beginning she must have sensed the strength of our love, and we provided her with the best medical care possible. After a few months she got a clean bill of health; her eyes sparkled and her coat was shiny . She loved her kibbles, green beans, and pumpkin, and each morning my husband shared a small piece of banana with her while he was eating his.

Nova

She learned to enjoy her daily leash walks and to not be afraid of grass, she’d never seen it before. Within weeks she was patrolling our yard in search of adventures, attempting to dig under our fence to see what was on the other side, and if truth be told, to find whatever goodies she could forage, she was a beagle after all. When we went out for an evening without her, she watched cartoons on TV and nibbled at a Kong filled with frozen green beans. She adored food puzzles and could solve them faster than we could say her name.

One of my favorite things was winter cuddling. On a cold, snowy day, we’d crawl onto the loveseat in our living room, fire blazing in the fireplace. I’d read with her head on my chest, both of us under a cozy throw; she’d fall asleep and snore softly, a paw on my shoulder. She loved being warm and when we tucked her in on a chilly night, I covered her with a soft blanket. She’d sigh and would lick my nose.

At first, we thought it was the heat, we’d had a warm summer, but this year in late August something changed.  She resisted her walks; when she went outside, she stayed on the deck instead of exploring the yard. Her high, squeaky, indignant howl(that had been suppressed by a bark collar at the puppy mill) to let us know she wanted to come back inside was replaced with her sitting in front of the door waiting patiently until we let her in. She started pacing at night, she couldn’t find a comfortable place to sleep, even with two of her beds in our room. Then we discovered several large nodules on her neck. We made an appointment with our vet, but before we could see her, Nova started having serious breathing issues.

That same night we drove to an emergency clinic, where a technician was waiting to admit her. It turns out she was riddled with cancer; the nodules were obstructing her breathing. Steroids to minimize the symptoms were one option; chemotherapy, too, but with either choice her life would be extended by only a few weeks or months.  We couldn’t bear to lose her, but neither could we bear for her to suffer. We made a choice.

At 2 a.m. that morning we gave her a snack of pureed chicken, talked and sang to her, petted and kissed her; with Lambchop, her favorite stuffed toy, and her “blankie” helping her on her journey to the Rainbow Bridge. Before she passed, she nuzzled us once more and gently fell asleep.