Friday, March 1, 2013

If It Can Happen, It’ll Likely Happen in Florida First: Laura Belgrave

The most recent issue of Mystery Readers Journal focused on Florida Mysteries (Volume 28:4). So many great articles. Have a look at the Table of Contents HERE. There truly is something unique about Florida, and Laura Belgrave has her take on it!

Laura Belgrave is the author of the Claudia Hershey Mystery series. When she’s not writing, she works as the social media guru for a skilled nursing facility in Florida, which she says bring its own amazing challenges. You can learn more about her at

Laura Belgrave: 
If It Can Happen, It’ll Likely Happen in Florida First

If I had my way, the Florida state bird would be the chameleon, not the mockingbird. Of course, there’s a problem with that because the chameleon is a lizard and it doesn’t have wings. Yet.

I say “yet” because if there’s anything particularly outstanding about Florida, it’s the state’s ever-changing, quirky personality. That means that if anything can happen, it’s likely to happen in Florida first. After all, if you keep up with the news, then you already know Florida earned the dubious distinction of being the first place in the country where one man chewed the face off someone—and that someone was a man the attacker didn’t even know. It occurred in May 2012 and after the initial horror, the story morphed into black humor that went viral all over the web.

Florida is that kind of place: mercurial, divided between rich and poor, and altogether dynamic not for what you can expect next, but for what you can’t. Not surprisingly, I have a love-hate relationship with it and so does Detective Lieutenant Claudia Hershey, the protagonist of my three police procedurals.

For those of you with whom I am not yet acquainted, those mysteries are In the Spirit of Murder, Quietly Dead, and Deadly Associations. They originally appeared in hardcover and paperback, but have since found their way into downloadable ebook format for the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other places. If you’ve read any of them, then you already know my homicide detective came from Cleveland, Ohio to a central Florida town where she figured she could do better as a single parent in raising her daughter, Robin. The town wouldn’t pay as much, but murder was far less likely to occur. Right?

Here’s the thing, though: Central Florida, filled with Palmetto bugs big enough to saddle and ride, may be wildly different in appearance than the shimmery coastal areas that make for great TV, but it isn’t immune to murder. Murder is just a bit better disguised, and more cleverly buried under the kind of small-town secrets that make it tough for cops on limited budgets to adequately tackle.

Still, there are some similarities between the coastal areas and Central Florida. Some years ago the middle of the state adopted the long-held development pattern of its coastal counterparts. Yup. Developers, sensing opportunity even in the part of the state where a breeze is worth a full day of conversation, began tossing up condominiums and planned housing communities. Those changes in Central Florida had one thing in common with housing communities in the rest of the state, and that would be the ever-popular concept of the homeowners association. If you live in a community that has one, then you already know how powerful—and contentious—they can be.

That kind of friction made it impossible for me to ignore the kind of setting where a homeowner’s dispute with the association could spiral out of control. It occurs in my third novel, Deadly Associations. (Catchy title, no?) Now, I’ll admit, I had absolutely no idea what the story would be about when I started writing it. That’s just how it works for me. All I knew is that my own despairing efforts with an aquarium of fish blew an image into my head and I was off and running, dragging Hershey along with me. In my case, the fish died. In Hershey’s case, she was taken hostage.

Here’s the basic opening, straight out of Chapter One.

The water in the fish tank looked cloudy. That couldn’t be good, although most of the fish didn’t seem to mind. They glided tirelessly through the murk, occasionally darting left or right, or up or down, for no apparent reason. Maybe they were scavenging for particles of food invisible to the naked eye. That’s what the guy who owned the tank said. He said they had radar sharp as a bat foraging in the night for insects. Of course, that might not be true, because when the guy talked at all he leaped feverishly from subject to subject with no thought to connecting the dots for his audience. In a bar, it would merely be irksome and you’d sidle away. But this was the guy’s family room and it was impossible sidle anywhere, not with a gun trained at your head. 

There was a lot of tedious research in writing Deadly Associations, of course. Police procedurals demand it. Still, what mildly twisted fun I had while putting Hershey through her paces. For one thing, I got to use terms like “crinkum crankum,” which was of tremendous interest to the police chief’s nephew, a kid that for the second time the chief attached to Hershey like a pilot fish. In the chief’s mind, it might make the kid a little more savvy. Hershey didn’t see it that way. In fact, being saddled with the kid, who bears the preposterous name of Booey, was of great consternation to Hershey. Then again, much that occurs in the small town is of perpetual consternation to Hershey. That’s just her way.

Make no mistake, however. Although I enjoy plugging occasional humor into my novels, none of the books could be described as being a cozy. Then again, neither could they legitimately be described as hard boiled bogged down with detailed violence. What readers tell me is that the Claudia Hershey mysteries do embody the kind of tension that makes them hard to put down. Well, hell, that seems only fair in a state where tension on so very many levels gives Florida its distinction as being one of the most strangely remarkable states in the country.

Now, having said that, really, please don’t make the mistake of believing that all of that distinction comes from the glittery coastal areas. Huh-uh. In fact, the next time you visit, take some time to swing through the central areas. You’ll see the old and the new. You’ll see agriculture and cows. See if you don’t agree that where the old and new meet, collisions are bound to appear. If you aren’t sure, just ask Claudia Hershey. Ask her, too, about the eventual possibility of a flying chameleon.

This is Florida. You never know.

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