Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mustique Fiction

Never Assume

Jamie Freveletti is here today. She’s the author of Running from the Devil, a thriller about
chemist Emma Caldridge, who survives a plane crash in the Amazon—and that’s the least of her
worries. After the crash, Emma has to deal with hostage-taking guerillas, secret government
agents, and extraction teams.
Jamie and I met at Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin, my first b’con. I’ll always remember it—
for a variety of reasons, including that fact that Jamie graciously risked her car’s upholstery when
she offered to drive me and several other less sober people to one of the off-site events. Ah,
memories. But we don’t want to get sidetracked. Check out Jamie’s take on vacationing in the
West Indies, then pick up a copy of her book.
I love the title “Good Girls Kill.” What’s not to like about homicidal good girls? It’s a play on
character assumptions that I think we all make. A good girl would not kill–of course not. As a
writer it’s fun to mess with conventional character development. This messing has a basis in
reality, because real people often end up surprising us.
I once traveled to a remote island called Mustique. Located in a strip of islands called St. Vincent
and the Grenadines, it’s an enclave of the rich and famous. The bulk of the island’s inhabitants
are from England, because the original developer was a true English eccentric, known for
throwing his money away on wild parties and crazy schemes. The current residents are refined,
rather reserved people. Or so I thought.
After I settled in, I drove around the island in the car assigned to my rented villa. The carefully
tended island had an exclusive air that made me wary. There was none of the easy breezy island
life found in Caribbean locales. Driving was a challenge, because large tortoises the size of
guinea pigs live on the island and risk sudden death as they ramble onto the road. I turned a
corner to find a small area dominated by a huge sculpture of two tortoises in an extremely
compromising position. By that I mean one tortoise sculpture was perched on the other’s back. I
was flabbergasted. I drove home wondering how such a stiff upper lip type of island came to own
such a statue.
Every Tuesday night Mustique residents attend a cocktail party at one of the only two hotels on
the island. I joined the crowd, feeling a bit awkward, as I was a renter and therefore new to the
crowd of locals. I got a drink and sat on the open air porch next to an English man lounging
against the railing. He introduced himself as “Sir” something or other and we proceeded to have
that kind of safe, stilted small talk you have with someone you’ve just met and have nothing in
common with. Sir Safe was stiff, dull, and stuck to inane, conventional subjects. I don’t know if it
was the wine I’d consumed or the need to liven up what was looking to be a very long night, but I
blurted out, “So what’s with the statue of the humping tortoises?”
Sir Safe got a serious look on his face, put his whiskey down on the cocktail table, and said, “Can
you believe it? It was donated by an owner. Let me tell you, many days were spent deciding what
to do with the thing. The entire community was in an uproar. Who in the world donates a
humping tortoise statue to an island such as this?”
“So why did you accept it? Couldn’t you have melted it down, or something?” I said.
Sir Safe leaned into me and whispered, “He’s an English billionaire, new to the island, and the
other owners didn’t wish to offend.”
“And you?”
He got a grin on his face. “I laugh every time I pass it.”
So much for my assumptions about Sir Safe. In fact, many of my assumptions about the island
owners were wrong. They possessed a sly sense of humor and friendliness that, while different
from an American approach, was authentic. Whenever my characters fall into routine behavior I
remember Sir Safe, the residents of Mustique, and their very funny statue.

Thanks for stopping in, Jamie!