Diane Sawyer Newsletter/Blog #2 December 2012

Diane Sawyer Portrait

Hi everyone,

Welcome back. Here is my second newsletter, the December 2012 edition. Thank you for your comments on the first one. I’d like to share highlights with you again about my books, recent travels, and recipes, along with a new feature called “This and That.” A special welcome goes out to the people my husband and I met on a cruise to the Panama Canal in mid-December. Thank you, one and all, long-time friends and new friends. Happy reading.

Fondly,

Diane Sawyer

I’d like to begin by answering the question I’m most frequently asked: “Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?”

The Montauk Mystery

Montauk Mystery

Following the advice “Write about what you know,” I set The Montauk Mystery in the fictional town of Grayrocks, Long Island, very similar to Greenport, the town where I grew up. That gave me the familiar ambience of a seaside resort town where people worked hard and played hard, usually near the water. Greenport also had a history dating back hundreds of years. Looking for plot ideas, I researched countless sources about Greenport and the surrounding area. The information I found about the Montauk Indians, scant as it was, brought back many fond memories.

Growing up, my friends and I knew a few Montauk words, like the names of surrounding towns. We knew wampum was made from oyster shells. (We used to play among the oyster piles at the end of Fifth Street.) We found arrowheads in the bay where we swam and on the beaches where we played.

As I researched, the Montauk people’s place in Long Island history and the legends about them intrigued me. A plot began to form. I created Annie Devane, a local artist, knowledgeable about the Montauk culture. She is hired to join an archeological expedition to the Shell Islands where danger and secrets await. (The Shell Islands are fictional, but similar to Shelter Island, which I could see from my bedroom window.) The story developed incorporating romance, ecology, history, family, and danger.

The Montauk Steps

 Montauk Steps

The Montauk Steps, my second novel, also unfolds in the fictional town of Grayrocks, Long Island. This time, the resort-town ambience and Montauk culture were familiar and I looked forward to exploring them even more. But I didn’t want to place the main characters, Annie Devane and Matt Revington, in danger again. I wanted them to plan their future together and live happily ever after right there in Grayrocks. So I decided to create new characters.

For the type of story I enjoy writing, I needed a male and female character whose work depended on their ability to notice details and allowed them to travel to different places. A sense of humor would offer a nice break from murder and mayhem. Being physically fit would be great for chase scenes. If one of the characters carried a gun and had access to police resources that would help. These ideas shaped Lilli Masters, a photojournalist, arriving in Grayrocks for a photo shoot, and Zack Faraday, a detective, visiting Grayrocks for a wedding. This is their first adventure and it takes place at break-neck speed during three days, a Labor Day weekend. I can’t wait to see what happens to them next.

The Tomoka Mystery

Tomoka Mystery

The idea for my third novel, The Tomoka Mystery, came about when I visited Tomoka Park, near Ormond Beach, Florida, with my husband and friends. During a presentation, the park ranger described the contents of a typical midden mound, a pile of shells and “kitchen debris,” left there by the Timucua people, who once inhabited the area. My mind wandered. Why not think of a story set in contemporary Florida and weave through it the Timucua culture?

As I watched the park ranger, a plot began to form. What if a body were found in that mound? And what if the body wore jeans, not centuries-old Native American clothing? I asked the ranger if there had ever been a murder in the park. Startled, he said stealing exotic plants was the most prevalent crime. I noticed that people could come to the park by land or water. There were no gates to keep them out at night. Campgrounds were available. An educational building offered insights into the Timucua culture. Tomoka Park was turning into a great setting for a murder mystery with many specific details to enrich the story. I could bring my characters, Lilli and Zack, there on vacation and let trouble find them.

Huge amounts of research followed. So did additional trips to Tomoka Park, where I met bikers and artisans along with locals and tourists. Needing a second setting, a place where Lilli and Zack could relax, I relied on the condo of friends who lived nearby. Luck was on my side. Recent renovations to their computer room offered a great hiding place. A neighbor’s condo with a balcony created a convenient place for a murderer to enter. By the end of the final draft, I was pleased that Zack and Lilli were getting along so well. I could hardly wait for their next adventure to begin.

The Cinderella Murders

Cinderella Murders

The Cinderella Murders was a huge departure for me. No Montauk or Timucua native people, no familiar town, and no characters from previous novels. The story sprang from a writing exercise that challenged me to step out of my comfort zone: “Write about what you don’t know. Study an unfamiliar painting and let it talk to you.”

So, there I sat in the local Fine Arts Museum, staring at The Woman By The Sea, a painting which featured a sad woman in Victorian clothing, standing along a shoreline in France. After an embarrassingly long silence, I asked her why she was so sad. More silence. I decided that her sister was missing. (I have a brother, but no sisters, so the sister-relationship would be unfamiliar.) To figure out a plot, I researched everything Victorian. I set the first draft in Victorian times, but the slow pace didn’t work for me. However, photos of modern-day New Jersey resort towns with a Victorian flair offered promise.

The mysterious outdoor settings I found in research books added vitality to the staid indoor Victorian-style settings. The idea of a stranger coming to town to find her missing sister in a tight-knit community with plenty of secrets guided the plot. Details piled up. A conversation I had with an expert familiar with serial killers cranked up the evil that would propel the story. For added inspiration I researched serial killers from Jack the Ripper to more recent ones, including those who chose Florida universities for their rampages.

The Cinderella Murders is my personal favorite because it took such a long round-about journey until it finally found its voice, characters, and ambience. It warmed my heart to see a serial killer brought to justice by a heroine and a detective whom I had created specifically for this story. I cheered for them every step of the way.

The Treasures of Montauk Cove

Montauk Cave

by Diane Sawyer (2010)

The idea for The Treasures of Montauk Cove began during a wine presentation on a cruise ship. When the sommelier discussed the high price of wine recovered from shipwrecks, she said if the owner of the wine or the name of the ship happened to be famous then the price of the wine rose accordingly.

When I returned from the cruise, I researched shipwrecks in the waters near Long Island, where my fictional town of Grayrocks is located. There was so much information that I figured another Montauk novel might be possible. Wine vineyards now covered the fields of eastern Long Island so that could work into the plot. Next, I looked for a famous person who was a wine connoisseur and had visited eastern Long Island. I found a well-known historical person who would be perfect. That convinced me the plot I was dreaming up could work.

Overcoming obstacles—like geographical and historical facts-led to many creative choices, especially how bottles of wine could lie hidden in the waters off eastern Long Island for hundreds of years and then suddenly surface. More research, more creative choices, and the story came to life. Working with characters who now seemed like old friends and a setting close to my heart helped tremendously. Finding ways to weave fact and fiction into a believable plot was my favorite part of writing the novel. I think both mystery and history buffs will enjoy it.

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My books, Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle editions, are available at Amazon and other online sites. Many thanks to the publishers, editors, and staff at Avalon Books, Worldwide Mysteries, and Amazon Publishing for their kind encouragement and support.

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COOKING DELIGHTS

In case you happen to be a chocoholic, here’s a popular and easy recipe for you. A chocolate cake with three (possibly four) sources of chocolate. Bon appétit.

Place the following ingredients in a large bowl: 4 eggs,

½ cup water, ½ cup vegetable oil, 8 oz sour cream, 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels, ½ cup chopped walnuts, 1 package (3.9-oz) chocolate instant pudding mix, and 1 package (18.25-oz) chocolate cake mix. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour batter into a greased 12-cup Bundt pan. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until the cake begins to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Remove carefully from pan (running a plastic knife around the outer and inner edges of the cake works well) and cool completely on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over the top of the cake. Or, for the real chocoholics among you, skip the powdered sugar, and frost with a can of chocolate frosting. I know what you’re thinking–That’s a bit over the top!

This and That

Like many Floridians, my husband and I have a pool in our back yard. Recently, the pool sweep (which removes leaves, pine needles, and other debris) stopped working automatically. It could still be turned on manually with a flick of a dial in a box attached to the side of our home. I don’t have a clue about motors and gizmos or anything electrical. My husband had no success in trying to fix the timer or motor or gizmo. He called an electrician. Several hours before the electrician was due, our pool man arrived. I mentioned the problem. He said, “Let me check it out.” I followed him to the side of the house. He opened the box, moved all the gears forward for a better look, and said, “Let’s begin by removing this dead lizard.” He pulled the creature from the box and set the timer. Soon after he left, the pump came on automatically and has been working great ever since. Tell me, have you noticed how lately everyone says, “Think outside the box?” Well, apparently there are times when you need to think inside the box.

Travel News

My husband I took a ten-day cruise on the Island Princess, leaving Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on December tenth. We enjoyed five “sea days” interspersed with five “port days” that took us to Oranjestad, Aruba; Cartagena, Colombia; the Panama Canal and Colon, Panama; Limon, Costa Rica; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I intended to describe the experience of entering and exiting the Panama Canal, but I’ll save that for next time. I need to absorb the visual experience and double-check the facts. Meanwhile, believe me, seeing and experiencing “The Eighth Wonder of the World” or “Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Ditch,” two names often given to the Panama Canal, was amazing. Instead, I’d like to offer a brief description of Cartagena, Colombia, because many of you, including my son-in-law and his family and several people I met on my adventure trip to Ecuador, have a connection to that country.

My husband and I and another couple took a taxi from the ship to the “old town” of Cartagena. The entire area, the walled section of the city dating from the 1500’s, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. We immediately felt like we were stepping back in time as we saw wooden balconies jutting out from houses and shops and nearly touching over narrow cobblestone streets…Vivid pink and red bougainvillea peeking over walls…Plazas, such as the Plaza de Bolivar, with benches, leafy trees, and statues…Street vendors selling cut-up fresh mango (delicious!), jewelry, and scarves…Cafes with outdoor tables…Shops filled with local crafts…The Cathedral of Cartagena and the Santo Domingo Church…Contemporary metal artwork occupying a wide sunny street. (Colombian sculptor, Fernando Botero, is world-renowned for his “overly plump” statues, such as the Reclining Woman. His work was recently on display in St. Petersburg, Fl, at the Fine Arts Museum. The statues were so large they were placed outside the museum on the lawn, and so eye-catching that they stopped traffic.)

We bypassed the Palace of the Inquisition Museum (Cartagena was one of the three sites of the Inquisition in the Americas)in favor of a museum that depicted the life and customs of the people who had inhabited the area long ago. We were fascinated by the video and the wall panels that showed the farming techniques and reliance on canals that enabled the early settlers to survive. Equally fascinating were the cases filled with artifacts that depicted the people’s craftsmanship. When news spread about their burial customs, including placing valuables with the deceased, the lure of gold brought invaders to the area.

As we left the walled town to find a taxi back to the ship, we gazed into the distance at the massive fortress, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, famous for its tunnels, some of them still functioning. The fortress surely has tales to tell. I hope to research that in the near future.

Happy travels to all of you!

Happy New Year!!

Fondly,

Diane Sawyer

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