By P.J. Parrish
When Sharon Potts was a small child, her parents terrorized her with threats that she would be eaten by a large gorilla, kidnapped and possibly eaten by gypsies, or abducted and yes, eaten, by an escaped convict. Most children would have been traumatized by such stories. But not Sharon. Turns out she found inspiration in the monsters. As an adult, after leaving the business world, she became a crime fiction writer building on the fears from her childhood. Her first thriller, In Their Blood, about a young man who searches for his parents’ murderer was called a “red-hot suspense novel” by Publishers Weekly in a coveted starred review, and won the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Mystery/Suspense.
Her latest thriller, Someone’s Watching, will be out this month and has received excellent early notices from Publishers Weekly (“shiver-rich”) and Booklist, which said “the plot twists are stunningly well handled.”
Someone’s Watching, a domestic drama set in a glittering but treacherous South Beach, takes Sharon back to another personal experience, this time from young adulthood.
Sharon, can you tell us a bit about the incident that inspired Someone’s Watching?
Have you ever done something incredibly stupid and possibly life-threatening that haunts you for the rest of your life? I suppose most of us have, especially when we’re young and reckless and believe we’re invincible. We survive, if we’re lucky, but the episode leaves its mark. Years later, we may remember it and get that sick feeling as we consider, ‘I could have been killed.’
I was down in Miami at the time, back in the 70s. A girlfriend and I decided to drive down to the Florida Keys for the weekend. It was great—she had a brand new Firebird with T-tops that we’d taken off. We drove out of Miami leaving behind the billboards and tract houses, down US 1 past the Last Chance Saloon. I remember feeling giddy from the salty air and sense of freedom. We made it to Islamorada before sunset. There’s a popular outdoor tiki-hut bar right on the ocean. We had a few drinks and danced. My friend went off and came back with a couple of drinks and two guys who said they were med students. We danced some more. Drank some more. Things got blurry. Very blurry. I vaguely remember going with them to an extravagant house with an indoor swimming pool. At some point, I realized the “med students” had drugged our drinks. I’ll tell you that in real life, nothing horrendous happened to me or my friend, but that experience became the trigger for Someone’s Watching.
And how did you then turn that into a plot?
I knew from the setup that the story would involve the underworld of South Beach—scams, drugs, and prostitution. I decided that Robbie Ivy, a character from In Their Blood, would navigate through this unfamiliar world for me. But first I needed to learn a bit more about Robbie, who I only knew from my first novel as a hyper-competent CPA on a successful career track, who helps Jeremy solve the murder of his own parents. When we meet Robbie in Someone’s Watching, she’s left the business world to become a bartender on South Beach where she’s hoping to avoid commitments. Then her father, whom she’s been estranged from for eighteen years, shows up with the shocking news that Robbie has a half-sister she never knew existed. This sister, Kate, has disappeared with a friend while on spring break on South Beach. Robbie doesn’t want to get involved with the family that had turned its back on her for so many years. Then Kate’s friend’s body washes up in the creek near where Robbie lives. Robbie realizes she has to find her sister, before it’s too late.
Both In Their Blood and Someone’s Watching have a strong emphasis on relationships and family.
Yes. I believe we’re very much shaped by our parents and the experiences we have growing up. In both books, I attempt to explore the impact of Jeremy’s and Robbie’s parents on the type of people they have become and the choices they make.
Which I suppose brings us back around to you and those gorillas, ogres and gypsies.
It sure does. And I’m very grateful to my parents for teaching me the thrills of imagination. The best part, of course, is that we get to control exactly how things turn out. At least, we do in our novels.
Sharon Potts worked as a CPA, business executive, and entrepreneur before turning to a career of murder and becoming a crime fiction writer. Sharon’s Miami-based thrillers are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her debut novel, In Their Blood, won top honors in the Mystery/Suspense category of the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Awards. Her latest thriller, Someone’s Watching was called “shiver-rich” by Publishers Weekly, and “stunningly well-handled” by Booklist. She lives in Miami Beach.
Visit Sharon’s website, www.sharonpotts.com and read an excerpt from Someone’s Watching.