by Nancy Nau Sullivan
My sister asked me if I knew of a ghost writer. (hint, hint.) I tried to be a ghost writer one time. It didn’t work. I couldn’t get into the head of character, nor the setting. Especially the latter.
My sister is the tireless founder of a non-profit for mothers and children. I’ve never seen anyone more passionate about a project—she gives me inspiration. I suggested to her: Why don’t you write the story? I think she could do it. She’s a terrific speaker and a prolific writer of letters asking for money!
My response was four emojis, crying, green, with their tongues hanging out. Well, I guess I better find her a ghost writer. I’m a mystery writer, and if I wrote her story, there would be a murder or two, and I don’t think she would like that. She’s trying to save lives!
So, I ask the question, Do we write what we write because we are inspired and passionate about….what? The character? The setting? The plot?
For me, it’s all of it, but especially the setting. I arrived at that conclusion after a series of explosions.
I’d been a working journalist for years, always looking for the story, the angle. Writing dibs and dabs of this and that. Then I got a divorce, my mother died, and my father told me he was leaving Indiana and coming to live with me and the kids on an island in Florida. It was quite the explosion of events for me and the family, all at once, and I struggled to put the pieces back together. I’d always been a proponent of writing as therapy (besides, it was my job), and so I set out to write a memoir. The events were crazy enough, but the setting is what drew me into my story: Anna Maria Island on the Gulf coast of Florida. Ever since I was six, I’d been going down there, and it was my haven. When things got hot up north, I went hotter, back to the place I loved. I know, for addicts, the saying is that change of setting will not cure the disease. For me, the island was my cure.
My memoir, The Last Cadillac, was published in 2016, a roller-coaster ride of high family drama that pit me between my elderly father and the two kids. The mistakes I made and the joy I found propelled me to tell my story so others who found themselves in similar circumstances could glean something from this tale. One thing that struck me was that this set of circumstances usually happens overnight—to almost everyone. Everything is hunky dory, and the parents fall ill, and the child ends up in command. There is no manual for it.
Fortunately, my dad and I had Anna Maria Island, the place we loved best.
Anyone who has published one book knows that the itch to publish more is a constant. It’s like hitting a hole in one; that’s just great, but it ignites the hunt for the next one. Since I love mysteries, and since I looked around and saw what was happening to my beloved island, a story began to hatch. The land-grabbing goons were coming to take down the cottages and build McMansions on “Santa Maria Island.” (I changed the name.) Throw in a dead body, a kidnapping, a hurricane, and Blanche Murninghan was born of mishap on an island she would defend to the death (almost). My mystery, Saving Tuna Street, launched in June 2020, the first in the Blanche Murninghan series. It was nominated for best mystery, 2020, at Foreword Reviews.
Since Blanche can’t sit still, the series led her to Mexico City next. Trouble Down Mexico Way was published this past June. Next up, Vietnam (June 2022). The girl was born with a bitty little suitcase in her hand. I’ve been to Mexico and Vietnam, and so the story goes…
I don’t think I would have written these books if I hadn’t been so inspired by setting. Anna Maria Island got me started. It sustained and fed me, the warm breeze, the crackling palm trees and parrots, the white sand and turquoise Gulf. It’s where I healed myself and found a way to get my stories into shape. Although Blanche will travel, you can bet she will always land back in her cabin. On the beach. On Tuna Street, Santa Maria Island.
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