Location, Location, Location by Carole Sojka

Readers often ask me if I’ve ever lived in Florida, and when I say I haven’t, they ask, copylogically, I suppose, “Then why are your mysteries set there?” But I’m afraid I don’t really know the answer. Because I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer who doesn’t outline and who lets the characters dictate the course of the story, Florida as a setting just kind of happened.

My friend of longest duration−−we met as babies−−lives in the area where A REASON TO KILL is set, and I’ve visited her often over the years. On my trips we went to the usual tourist sites, and I found attractions that found their way into my imagination and then into my books.

My original idea for the story centered around the houses of refuge built by the U.S. government in the late nineteenth century.  The barrier islands along the Florida coast were the scene of many shipwrecks from the years when the Spaniards sailed ships back to Europe loaded with treasure until today. These islands had no fresh water, no food, no inhabitants, and until recently, no means of communication with the outside world. Surviving a shipwreck didn’t mean the sailors would live. Stranded, they died of thirst and starvation before they could be rescued.

Starting in 1876, the U.S. government built ten houses of refuge along the barrier islands to provide shelter, food and water to men shipwrecked and stranded on these islands until they could be rescued. The Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge is the last remaining one, and my first idea for a novel was centered on the wife of a keeper of the house, a lonely woman isolated with her husband, who falls in love with a shipwrecked sailor.

That idea didn’t make it past a few draft chapters, but still I liked the house of refuge setting. Mara, my alcoholic character and the one suspected of murder in A REASON TO KILL, was my original protagonist, and she was closely tied to the Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge. But I felt more comfortable with a police detective who had the authority to ask questions and demand answers rather than an amateur sleuth, so I created Andi Battaglia, the detective in the Burgess Beach Police Department. I kept Mara and her problem with alcohol in the story, but she became a more minor character. Thus are settings and stories born.

Besides the houses of refuge, I also was interested in the groups who observed and protected the endangered loggerhead turtles as they came ashore along the coast to lay their eggs. This became the setting for the poisoning of Max Denman in A REASON TO KILL.

Once I set the first book in Burgess Beach, my pseudonym for the real town of Jensen Beach, when I wrote  the second book, SO MANY REASONS TO DIE, of course it was also set in Florida. This time my range expanded south to Miami and South Beach and north to Fort Pierce. The area, by the way, was christened the Treasure Coast because of the 1961 discovery of treasure from, among other shipwrecks, the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet, lost in a hurricane near the Sebastian Inlet.

Perhaps Andi and Greg will leave Burgess Beach in the third book—now in progress—but I can’t tell you that yet because I’m only the writer. It’s up to the characters to decide.

A REASON TO KICover__8x5LL is the first in the series. When nine strangers convene on a Florida beach to observe and protect the endangered loggerhead turtles nesting there, one dies of poison and another turns up dead soon after.  It’s up to Andi Battaglia, a rookie detective in the Burgess Beach Police Department, to find out who among the remaining wildlife supporters has a reason to kill.

When in SO MANY REASONS TO DIE, Andi’s police partner, Greg Lamont, walks onto the murder scene of his ex-lover, he and Andi find themselves tangling with dangerous drug dealers amid the sizzling nightclubs of Miami’s South Beach.

See you all next month.

Meet Carole Sojka

Mysterious Ladies are mysterious in many different ways. Today I’m going to tell you Carole_SisCrime_001004something about the life that led to my becoming one.

I grew up in New York City, went to Queens College there, and met my husband on a blind date. Do those still exist? Boris was exciting to me: newly discharged from the Navy, about to enter college, he read almost as much as I did, and had a taste for adventure and travel. He’d been stationed in San Diego and had lived off-duty with a friend who was a Formula One race car driver. That was the source of one of his first pronouncements: “When I get my engineering degree, I’m going back to California.” So I knew the future—and it sounded like fun. So after we married and he graduated, we moved to California—first to San Francisco, later to Southern California.

Together we spent two years in Somalia with the Peace Corps followed by six months traveling through North Africa and Europe. The Peace Corps was a great adventure for us at a time of hope in many newly independent African countries. I taught English as a second language to students who already spoke three or four languages, while I spoke only English and some “kitchen Italian” I learned from Hassan, our houseboy.

Our house in a beautiful town on the Indian Ocean had so many holes between the floor boards that Hassan cleaned by pouring buckets of water over the floor. We made friends with the town officials: the Harbor Master; the headmasters of the two local schools; the Police Chief, a large man with two wives and several stainless steel teeth; Italian teachers; and the District Commissioner, from whom everyone concealed their drinking of alcohol, forbidden to them as Muslims.

Carole-and-Gina-1ASomali children, knowing their market, dragged wild animals through town, sure we would buy them just to end their suffering. We had baboons, including Gina who thought I was her mother, and later became my rival for male attention; blue-skinned monkeys named Daniel and Nutmeg; and a beloved cheetah. One day I even bought a leopard, thinking it was a serval. Fortunately, the leopard escaped, and no leopard-related injuries were reported after he vanished.

Then we returned home to real life: adopting a baby boy we named Mark and earning a master’s degree in judicial administration that led to a career as the administrator in a public law office. We also rediscovered our love of traveling and over the years have visited thirty or more countries on every continent except the Antarctic—no museums there, I’m told.

I had avoided fiction writing ever since I overheard unkind criticism of an early short story, but I regained my courage, joined a writing group, found a terrific group leader and wrote a lot of short stories, becoming inured to rejection. I most liked writing mysteries of the kind I like to read: traditional whodunits with multiple suspects.

My first novel, A REASON TO KILL, was published in October 2014, and my second SO MANY REASONS TO DIE, just came out in April. Both are set in Florida—don’t ask—and feature a pair of detectives in a small town on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

I’m on the Board of Sisters in Crime/LA, the largest chapter of Sisters in Crime/National, a great group and very supportive of new writers. In June we’ll hold our every-two-year-CALIFORNIA CRIME WRITERS CONFERENCE, which is sold out. It should be a blast!