Today’s special guest is mystery author Jonathan Ross. He’s chatting with me about his new thriller/suspense novel, The Jumbee’s Daughter.
Welcome, Jonathan. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands, the Mojave Desert California, and Cocoa Beach Florida. I remember adventurous summers in St. Thomas, exploring the wild bays and mountains of my stepfather's estate, which became the setting of The Jumbee’s Daughter. I served in the Navy and am now a practicing naval architect living with my wife in Maryland. I have brewed Guinness stout in Dublin, crossed the Pacific in a World War II submarine, danced Sevillanas in Spain, ate with chopsticks in Taiwan, and explored a prehistoric cave in France. I speak fluent Spanish and enough French to order a nice meal and find directions.
Please tell us about your current release.
Viewpoint character Anika Hegner comes from a long line of Danish colonists on the island St. Thomas. She is pure Dane, except for a drop of Jumbee blood, straight from the Dark Continent. Since childhood, she has delighted in shape shifting to a black cat and scaring the unwary. She’s a young woman now and often seeks the peacefulness of her family’s abandoned estate on the wild south side of the island. But her peace is shattered when she finds a taciturn Army veteran trespassing. He claims to be working for the police to trap drug smugglers, but she is not so sure. Back in town she meets a handsome Latino who is a dream to dance with during the tropical evenings. He says he has come to the island to open a new business, though is vague about his line of work. She discovers that both men are engaged in a deadly contest, winner take all. Scary things begin to happen on the estate, especially at night. A final confrontation is days away. Anika chooses to help one man succeed. She prays that she has chosen well, for the decision is one of life or death – his and hers.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always wanted to have St. Thomas as the setting for one of my novels. I got the chance when I had a vision of a lonely black cat sitting on the runway at the St. Thomas airport, viewing all the passengers leaving a plane that had just landed. In the story this turned out to be Anika.
Excerpt from The Jumbee’s Daughter:
Mike Stiles shook hands with his best friend on the planet. They stood inside a stifling room in the St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, airport, piled high with boxes, some wooden and some cardboard, all marked “urgent.” A single light burned in a ceiling socket. Stiles swatted a mosquito.
Walters gave him a once over and seemed to draw his own conclusions. It had been nearly a year since they’d served together in Afghanistan, where they’d lost the third man of their trio to an enemy sniper. Walters looked Stiles in the eye.
“Thanks for coming down; like I said on the phone, I really need you.”
Stiles shifted his weight, uncomfortable at the compliment. “Well, it seems I’m having trouble fitting into civilian life. I figured helping you out would be good therapy.”
Walters gave Stiles another look and said, “Most people have trouble when the return home. The truth is, combat fucks with your head, no matter how tough you are. Happened to me, happened to most people I keep in touch with. But we gotta move on. It gets better if you try; if you don’t try, it eats your lunch.”
“Roger that. Can’t just sit around looking at the wall like a fucking Zombie.”
“It’s ‘Jumbee’ down here, Mike.”
“On the island they’re called ‘Jumbees.’ They’re spirits of the dead and they are mean motherfuckers. All the islanders believe in them. The folks here even shut their windows at night to keep the Jumbees out. I used to work here before I joined the Army, and the guys I met told me stories. I’m starting to believe there’s some truth to all of it. Anyway, you’ve got to treat Jumbees with respect when you talk with the locals.”
“Always trust the locals.”
“Except in the sandbox.”
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m writing Scent, a thriller/suspense novel in which the viewpoint character, James Goodwin, uses his olfactory equivalent of perfect pitch to sniff out people’s emotions, from love to malice. He earns a handy living by uncovering corporate cheats, but he’s growing bored. When billionaire Garth Cotton asks him to cook up the world’s first love potion, James smells a grand challenge, and accepts. But once on the high seas in Cotton’s mega-yacht, James smells treachery. He sniffs out secrets that land him and Cotton’s dazzling assistant, Samantha Heartgrave, on a timeline to death. To save himself and Samantha, James must exercise his gift of smell in ways he never dreamed possible.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was in the fifth grade, the class was too noisy and our teacher threatened to make us all write a paragraph that described how to button our shirt with one hand. I thought this would be wonderfully fun, and from then on realized I had a passion for writing.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I obey the first rule of aspiring writers: “don’t quit your day job.” I find time to write by promising myself a dozen or so hours each week, and then simply putting off all other work, hobbies, and chores during that special time. I write creatively in the morning when I’m fresh and do my research in the afternoon. Other than writing, I spend my time on my day job, learning ballroom dancing, and fiddling.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My writing quirk is how I come up with story ideas, which is always a vision that pops into my mind: a submarine covered with jungle vines for Death in a Carolina Swamp, a man who can smell evil in Scent, and a lonely black cat who is also a beautiful woman in The Jumbee’s Daughter.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to design miniature submarines to explore the ocean. So in a way I got my wish, because I served in a submarine and bathyscaphe, and now I get to design ships.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Yes, for other aspiring writers: write because you love to, and treasure your readers.