Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with fellow mystery/suspense writer C. Michele Dorsey to talk about our mutual affinity for the Caribbean and her recent release set there.
GIVEAWAY: Be sure to comment below. Michele will be giving away all three books in her Caribbean series to a commenter, randomly chosen from all of the commenters to this post.
Here’s our chat:
Penny: I love the fact that we both have mystery novels set in the lush tropical islands of the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands to be specific. A lot of people vacation there. But you found your way there and ended up staying longer than most. How did that come about?
Michele: I accidentally discovered St John in 1986 during a day excursion on a cruise I hated. But I fell in love with the island. After more than three decades of going to St. John, I never tire of its beauty. More than three quarters of the land is owned by the National Park Department, which saves it (largely) from being spoiled. There is something about being on St. John that makes me feel at peace with myself.
Penny: How has the time you’ve spent on St. John had an influence on your writing?
Michele: When I was super busy practicing law, teaching part-time, and raising a family, the only time I had to write was on weekends and while on vacation. After we discovered St. John, we returned several times a year until we began spending winters there in 2015. Writing on St. John was bliss. What could be better than soaking in silky warm aqua water, then sitting on a beach chair with your toes in powdery white sand with your laptop on your lap, playing make believe? In the beginning, I wrote stories based in Massachusetts where I lived, but then one day when I was sitting at the dining room table in my favorite vacation villa staring at an empty hammock, I imagined a man being shot while lying in it. And that’s how my first Sabrina Salter mystery was born.
Penny: Tell me more about your protagonist Sabrina and how she made her way to St. John like the author who created her.
Michele: Sabrina is an exile from Massachusetts, who was acquitted of murdering her husband by a jury but was convicted and vilified by the press. Her career as a television meteorologist in Boston is over, so she flees to St. John to start over. Many people who live in St. John have come to start over after colorful pasts, so Sabrina meets many interesting characters, including her partner Henry with whom she begins a villa rental business. Between the tourists who come to visit St. John and those who have defected to the island, there is no shortage of stories.
Penny: Have you ever been on island during a hurricane or tropical storm? Have you been back since the horrific one-two punch of the two Cat 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria (termed Irmaria by locals) in September 2017?
Michele: Funny, you should ask. Tropical Depression, the third book in the series, which was recently released, is set during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Tropical Depression was challenging to write because I wasn’t there during the hurricane, but I interviewed a number of people who were and had seen the damage firsthand during a visit shortly after the storm. The cottage we had been renting was uninhabitable and our efforts to relocate long term thus far have been unsuccessful. It was a devastating hurricane, far more so than earlier ones we had seen the damage from. Maria was the second punch that added insult to injury. Islands are fragile, even with perfect weather. The effects of two Cat 5 hurricanes back-to-back will be felt for years.
Penny: What are the challenges of living an extended period of time on an island?
Michele: Living in paradise is not perfect. It’s hard for those of us who live in variable climates like we have in New England to imagine perfect weather nearly every day. I’m a little like my protagonist, Sabrina. I love weather. I admit I can find it monotonous.
There can also be a sense of isolation on an island and a feeling of cultural deprivation.
There’s plenty of art and music, but not the variety we have in the states. It can be a little like living in a pandemic when all you want to do is crawl through a bookstore or watch a movie in a theater with the smell of popcorn surrounding you.
Penny: Interesting parallel between living on an island and enduring a pandemic with all its limitations. I can see it.
Shifting to characters, how much are you pulling from your past with Sabrina’s character? Are any of your other characters inspired by people you know?
Michele: Even though the Sabrina stories are mysteries set on a gorgeous Caribbean Island, they are really stories about broken relationships. Unfortunately, some of them lead to murder. My characters are often composites of people I’ve met.
Penny: Historically, you have split your time between a cooler climate in the summer and a warmer one the rest of the year: Cape Cod and St. John. Are any of your mysteries set on the Cape or New England at large? Or do you envision setting a mystery in New England at some point?
Michele: I have written several mysteries set in New England. Stay tuned.
Penny: Oooh, I am looking forward to that. Have you or will you ever write outside the mystery genre?
Michele: I’ve taken a stab at romantic comedy. I enjoyed writing it, but the editing is going oh-so-slow.
Penny: Romantic comedy? Well, that’s ambitious. Good for you. I look forward to reading it.
Can you share more about the storyline for Tropical Depression?
Michele: Sabrina Salter returns home to St. John in the Virgin Islands after a disastrous vacation in New England where her grandmother rejected her and her boyfriend, Neil, betrayed her. She discovers an employee at her villa rental agency has been murdered and her best friend and business partner, Henry, is the prime suspect. If that isn’t enough, Hurricane Irma, a category five-plus hurricane is racing toward St. John and her grandmother is on island to make amends. Reluctantly, Sabrina must enlist Neil and his rusty legal skills to save Henry and help find the murderer while a killer, a massive hurricane, and her grandmother are charging her way.
Penny: I look forward to following Sabrina on her next escapade on St. John. Can you tell us how we can get a copy of Tropical Depression?
Michele: You can find it on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1736557726
Be on the lookout for the fourth Sabrina Salter mystery, which is scheduled to be released June 1, 2022. In Saltwater Wounds, Sabrina and her octogenarian grandmother enter a truce while they set off to find out what happened to Sabrina’s mother when she disappeared thirty years before.
Penny: Good luck with the release of Tropical Depression. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Looking forward to Saltwater Wounds!
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, and Tropical Depression. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.
GIVEAWAY: Comment below for a chance to win all three books in Michele’s Caribbean series. She will be randomly choosing a winner from all of the commenters. Good luck!