A friend of mine sent me an email the other day saying she’d read my novel, SUNSHINE SKYWAY (published 2019). She read it in June last year and was mystified. She asked me whatever made me write such a grim story. She assumed articles about the Ghislaine Maxwell/Jeffrey Epstein case had been my inspiration. This was not so. I started writing this novel over twenty years ago. Maxwell was found guilty of trafficking under age girls for sex at the beginning of 2022.
Why write such a grim story? The short answer is that, as a writer of realistic fiction, my stories reflect the kind of world I live in. Many readers seem to be attracted to dark themes. The most popular genre is crime, especially murder cases. Exploring why people behave as they do appears to interest authors and readers alike.
My initial inspiration was the bridge over Tampa Bay, Sunshine Skyway, that I discovered on a trip to Florida in the 90s. There was a steep ramp that looked as if it ended in the sky. The skyway itself had a history of disasters and I wanted to devise a plot in which someone’s life changed when they crossed it. I liked the irony that a story set in sunny Florida should be a dark one. At that point, I had no idea what the story would be about. On the same holiday I saw a couple on honeymoon who looked and sounded unhappy. Had their marriage been a mistake? The seed of the story about a naive nineteen-year-old young woman prone to make mistakes was planted She became my protagonist, Roz.
By the time I came to re-write SUNSHINE SKYWAY in the late 21st century, there had been a lot of articles in the media on the subject of human trafficking and the exploitation of young women. The entire MeToo movement had emerged. There was also an increasing realisation that some wealthy people considered themselves above the law and lived their lives with no moral compass. My characters, Jolene and Theo, fit this description. In addition, they are good-looking, seemingly friendly and generous, but manipulative. When things don’t go their way they become ruthless and violent.
What interests me as a reader and a writer are character-based stories that have both internal and external conflicts. All my characters are flawed. In SUNSHINE SKYWAY, Roz has been damaged as a child. She adored her father, but couldn’t relate to her mother. She doesn’t realise until near the end of the book, that her father’s “love” for her led to her making a lot of bad decisions in subsequent choice of relationships. His death unsettled her. On her honeymoon in Florida, becoming increasingly aware that her marriage is ill-conceived, she is attracted by Theo. Influenced by Jolene, she goes with them over Sunshine Skyway to their Folly near the Everglades. An escape that proves disastrous. Another mistake.
Jolene, will do anything for her brother/lover, She is the procurer. She traffics and grooms Roz to satisfy Theo’s lust. The tradition of older women grooming and manipulating younger women for men is not new. What happens in life is referenced in literature. Think of LIAISONS DANGEREUSES. Don’t let’s blame men for everything! Women have often been complicit with men in helping them fulfil their desires.
Spoiler: Roz survives and develops as a person. Jolene remains unchanged.
The novel can be read as a psychological thriller, but it touches on deeper truths about human nature and the world we live in, as do most novels worth reading. Enjoy!
If you do read it, please be kind enough to write a short review on Amazon.