Martini Regrets by Phyllis Smallman

Martini Regrets by Phyllis Smallman

By Cathy Perkins

With MARTINI REGRETS, the sixth installment of the Sherri Travis series, Phyllis Smallman brings you Sherri’s most frightening and spine tingling
misadventure yet. The story transports you from a gritty
crime scene in the Florida Everglades to a black-tie masquerade
ball in Sarasota before reaching its shocking conclusion on a
remote island in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s almost midnight and Sherri Travis is about to take Alligator Alley across the Everglades when she realizes she’s low on gas. She turns off the main road and into the swamp to find a service station on Last Chance Road. Her pickup is carjacked and Sherri is left alone at night in the Glades. Hiding from dangerous men and in fear for her life, she stumbles across the body of a man. From alligators and snakes to the men called swamp rats, evil comes in many disguises and offers no second chances for Sherri.

Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, MARGARITA NIGHTS, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur award from the Crime Writers of Canada.
Her writing has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine.
The Florida Writer’s Association awarded CHAMPAGNE FOR BUZZARDS a silver medal for the best mystery and her fifth book, HIGHBALL EXIT, won an IPPY award in 2013.
LONG GONE MAN won the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Gold Award as best mystery in 2014. 
The Sherri Travis mystery series was one of six chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010.
Before turning to a life of crime, Smallman was a potter. She divides her time between a beach in Florida and an island in the Salish Sea.

Although you’re Canadian, several of your novels are set in Florida, more specifically the Everglades. What is it about this state and this area that makes for intriguing mystery settings, and why particularly for the Sherri Travis series and MARTINI REGRETS?

Thirty years ago my husband Lee and I took a little holiday in Florida and bought a house. Well, actually we bought a trailer, and while other properties have come and gone from our lives, we still have our little shack near the beach. I fell in love with Florida, not least of all because of the characters. The state is like a giant bug light for crazy people. They all rush down there with their schemes and dreams and start creating havoc. You just have to open the paper to read about grannies selling drugs out of the baby’s stroller or a developer cutting down a tree to get rid of an eagle that’s holding up a new condo site. Honest, I don’t make this stuff up. Pretty much any writer who sets a book in the Sunshine state is going to deliver eccentric characters.

Did you find that you had to conduct research to write MARTINI REGRETS? And if so, did your research affect the direction of the plot or characters?

MARTINI REGRETS opens in the Everglades. Sherri is carjacked and left alone in the swamp at night. She uses a canoe to escape, so I decided that I had to kayak in the Everglades—at night. I wanted to hear the night sounds. Not the best decision I’ve ever made.

I told my Lee that he didn’t have to come but he couldn’t think how he would tell the kids that a gator got Mom while he was home watching sports.

Down in Everglade City, we found a guide to take us out about sundown. The plan was to paddle out to a rookery, watch the sunset, and then paddle back in the dark through tunnels cut into the mangroves. “The problem is,” said the guide, “that the gators use these tunnels as a freeway to go from pond to pond.”

I asked in my perkiest voice, “What happens if we meet a gator in the tunnel?”

The guide replied, “The most important thing to remember is not to panic. Things go wrong when you panic.”

Oh, really? I can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong.

The guide said, “Let the gator decide how it’s going to unfold. If there’s enough water, he’ll go under you. If not, he’ll push your kayak aside or…” The third option was left to our imagination.

There was just one other problem that no one mentioned. Not only do gators use the tunnels, but so do spiders. They form what looks like one continuous web, the length of the tunnel, maybe twenty feet long, and there’s a big spider about every twelve inches. The smaller ones drop on you as you pass. Lee hates spiders.

And just in case you’ve been wondering, alligator’s eyes do glow red when you turn a light on them at night. Oh, and the swamp was very quiet that night. In the end I made the Everglades noisy in MARTINI REGRESTS, the way I had imagined them to be.

MARTINI REGRETS is the sixth in a series. While many readers enjoy continuing storylines with favorite characters, how do you handle continuity from prior novels and freshness for the next installment’s adventure?

The books happen in real time and have an overreaching story arc, from the first book to the last. And things do not always work out for Sherri. People come and go from her life, the recession happened, money is tight and people sometimes betray her. With each book I write, I look forward to seeing what twists and turns fate will deal her but what I like about Sherri is her ability to pick herself up and get on with her life.

Although your series is primarily a mystery, I noticed Sherri’s fiancé is a continuing character in the series. Clay’s a goal-driven businessman while Sherri is a party girl. On the surface that makes an interesting conflict. How tricky is it to balance the aspects that drew them together into a believable relationship with such different approaches to life?

The problem between Clay and Sherri is that Clay thinks money is the most important thing in life and Sherri doesn’t. While Sherri realizes it’s time for a change, she isn’t ready to go as upscale as Clay would like, to give up her trashy clothes and her friends in low places. Nor is she ready to waver on her basic ethics just to make more money.

As a follow up, do you try to balance the relationship issues against the mystery or use the internal conflict as a foil?

Plot is always the most important part of any story for me. I don’t want the action to stop for relationships.

You mention a former career as a potter. How has that artistic endeavor impacted your writing? Do you think you’ll ever feature a potter as the heroine of a story or series?

Funny you should ask. I do have an idea for a story about a potter. I’m not quite sure there is enough for a book but it would make a great short story.

Okay…enough with the business questions! How about some fun stuff? You know, just between the two of us. The opportunity to go on a surprise vacation arises. You have ninety minutes to pack and get to the airport. Where will you go and what’s the one item you absolutely must pack?

Paris, and I have to take my e-reader. I can’t live without something to read, not even in the City of Light.

Tell us one thing about you that might surprise us. It can be a secret. We won’t tell.

I was sixty-two when my first book was published. I want to tell everyone out there not to give up on their dreams. Persistence is just as important as talent. And besides, it’s all about the writing, the journey and not the destination. While holding your book in your hand is wonderful, there’s nothing like that first glimmer of inspiration, that moment when you know you have a great idea for a story. So enjoy the ride, every bit of it, and I hope your dreams come true.

*****

Phyl by Jen MacLellan CWCPhyllis Smallman’s first novel, MARGARITA NIGHTS, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Her writing has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine. The Florida Writer’s Association awarded CHAMPAGNE FOR BUZZARDS a silver medal for the best mystery and her fifth book, HIGHBALL EXIT, won an IPPY award in 2013. LONG GONE MAN won the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Gold Award as best mystery in 2014. The Sherri Travis mystery series was one of six chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010. Before turning to a life of crime, Smallman was a potter. She divides her time between a beach in Florida and an island in the Salish Sea.

To learn more about Phyllis, please visit her website.

 

Cathy Perkins

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories. A contributing editor for International Thriller Writers' The Big Thrill, she also coordinates the prestigious Daphne du Maurier contest.

When not writing, Cathy does battle with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

To learn more about Cathy, please visit her website www.cperkinswrites.com

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