Marcia Talley (Guest Blogger)
My husband retired in December. An avid sailor, his idea of a fab retirement trip was to pack up a few “necessities” in a duffle bag the size of a pillowcase, climb aboard our ancient Tartan 37 sailboat and set sail down the Intracoastal waterway from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale — a distance of 1200 miles — and from there, another hundred miles or so across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.
I thought it’d be fun, too. Research, I smiled to myself, envisioning a novel — no! — a whole series of mystery novels, set along that scenic waterway. Assassins in Albemarle. Bodies in Beaufort. Corpses in Charleston. Deaths in Delray Beach. So, I packed up my laptop and went along.
After provisioning, there’s barely enough room for two people on a sailboat — imagine living for six months in a space the size of your average bathroom. A radio, of course, but no TV. And no high speed internet, either, although wireless signals can pop up in the unlikeliest of places. I was sitting cross-legged on deck somewhere in the vicinity of Vero Beach one day, tapping out chapter three of the next Hannah Ives mystery when email suddenly started pinging into my mailbox. “Sail in circles!” I shouted to my husband. “This area’s hot!”
The usual place to get free internet while cruising is an independent coffee shop, or the town’s public library. It was at a public library in Myrtle Beach, NC, in fact, that I learned from my agent of a hardback deal (hurrah!) for Dead Man Dancing and the Hannah mystery after that. By Myrtle Beach, too, I’d read to the bottom of my modest, space-restricted TBR pile, so the mystery section of the library looked enormously inviting. I longed to dive right in, but, alas, what library is going to lend a book to someone who plans to sail into the sunset the following day?
While doing a load of laundry in Charleston, South Carolina, I learned a life-saving fact. Marina laundromats are the lending libraries of the cruising sailor. Here’s the deal: you take one, you leave one. At Charleston City Marina, I left Margaret Maron’s Rituals of the Season on a shelf over the coin-operated dryer and picked up R is for Ricochet, which I’d somehow missed when it first came out in 2004. I left Sue Grafton in Isle of Hope, Georgia where I snagged a copy of Rochelle Krich’s Blues in the Night, which kept me happily engrossed all the way to my next laundry day in Fernandina Beach, Florida. There, Rochelle was traded for a well-thumbed copy of Dead Before Dark by Charlaine Harris. When Elaine Viets wrote High Heels are Murder, I doubt she imagined anyone would be plucking it off a rickety bookshelf on a tropical island in the Bahamas but I did, in Hopetown in the Abacos, leaving Ellen Crosby’s Merlot Murders in its place. And at the marina on nearby Man of War Cay, I picked up a plumply waterlogged copy of Carolyn Hart’s (appropriately titled!) Set Sail for Murder (in hardback!) thinking, “Today’s my lucky day!”
Then I really got lucky. One morning while listening to the Abaco Cruisers’ Net, I heard about Buck a Book. Open Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 10 to 1 and staffed by Mimi Rehor and a string of volunteers, Buck a Book turned out to be a battered, turquoise shipping container plunked down under a palm tree in a muddy parking lot opposite The Conch Inn in Marsh Harbour, capital of the Abacos. Mimi accepts book donations and sells them to sailors like me for a buck each, all to benefit the gravely endangered wild horses of Abaco. (http://www.arkwild.org)
Inside the cramped, dimly-lit space, with a computer screen glowing bluely in one corner and a dissenting fan keeping the stagnant air gently moving from another, I checked out the shelves: Steven King, James Patterson, Michael Critchton, Patricia Cornwell, Nora Roberts and the usual suspects were there, for sure, but I’m happy to report that books written by authors I actually KNOW were more than generously represented on Mimi’s shelves. I greedily stocked up on Denise Swanson, Christopher Fowler, Nancy Martin, Jerrilyn Farmer, Chassie West, Donna Andrews (how on earth had I missed Click Here for Murder?), Andrew Taylor and half a dozen more, paying for them with a twenty dollar bill, and please keep the change, Mimi.
I’ve been home since Saturday, catching up on paperwork and getting reacquainted with my cat, Tommy, who’s presently sulking under the bed, just to punish me. I was away for six months, but in all that time, thanks to my fellow cruisers, I never really felt out of touch with my friends.
Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony-award winning author of Through the Darkness and five previous novels in the Hannah Ives mystery series. Her short stories appear in more than a dozen collections. She is Secretary of Sisters in Crime, and immediate past president of the Chesapeake Chapter.Visit her web site at www.marciatalley.com.