Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Countries you have visited: Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Gibraltar, and Norway
Country you wrote about: The Caribbean Islands
Destination you would most like to visit: Kenya or Peru
Why did you choose to write about the Caribbean?
I have been to many places in the world, but my years in the Caribbean were when I felt most at home. The warmth of the people, the sense of family, the love and pride in their islands felt incredibly real to me and made me never want to leave. When circumstances forced me to return to the States, I knew that there would always be part of me left behind in the Bay Islands. To write about that part of the world was like reuniting with an old love, and I enjoyed every minute of my time with Marina and crew.
What was your favorite place to visit in the Caribbean? What was your favorite food? What was your favorite souvenir?
I’d have to say my favorite place to visit in the Caribbean was about 60-90 feet below sea level. My time on land—cruising through iguana-filled mangrove tunnels in tuk-tuk boats, dancing barefoot until dawn in beachside discos, getting the occasional “key card” while slapping dominoes with the best-of-the-best during a hog fry—was incredible, but nothing compares to the beauty of the underwater world.
My favorite food was probably the Bay Islands McCoy and Tapado cooked in a giant kettle over a fire on the beach. But it was more of a sense of community and everyone adding something into it that made it so great—it always turned into an impromptu party.
I brought my favorite souvenir from the Caribbean home with me. His name is Nakoa.
What was the most surprising/memorable cultural difference you noticed?
I really loved how accepting everyone was where I lived in the islands. They didn’t judge based on how you looked or what you did for work; they seemed to look for the person you were based on how you acted and how you treated people. I loved that.
What was your funniest experience?
I once danced the Macarena for a Fijian chief who claimed to have tasted human flesh in his youth . . . but most of my really funny stories probably shouldn’t be shared in too much detail.
Have you traveled anywhere “off the beaten path”? If so, what brought you there?
Everywhere down in the islands where I lived was “off the beaten path.” What brought me there? Usually a boat of some sort or a taxi held together with duct tape and a prayer, where you had to grab onto the other passengers while hurtling around curves as the door was likely to fly open at any given moment. But seriously, whenever I traveled I would head for the non-touristy areas because that was where you could really make connections with locals and get a feel for the soul of a place.
Is your main character like you in any way? Are your characters based on anyone in your “real” life?
I don’t think Marina is much like me, other than being from Stowe, where I once lived. She’s more like a diver friend I worked with in Maui. We worked on humpback whale–watching cruises and snorkel trips and plotted our escape from our boyfriends—who were total drags—to Bali. As too often happens, our plans were thwarted by those total drag boyfriends. (Never let a boy stop you from running off to Bali, girls!)
Several other characters were also based on friends I made while traveling. Si and Kris walked into the tiny Caribbean beach café where I pretended to work (but mostly just sat and played dominoes and took hourly dips in the sea out front). They were passing through town and searching for cheap lodging. The following day I was heading up to the States for a few weeks, so for whatever reason—twenty minutes after meeting them—I tossed them the keys to my house. Turns out I had good instincts. They are still great friends and so cool that I even forgive them for being a disgustingly cute couple.
Link . . . sigh, ah Link . . . Lincoln remains a gorgeous white water raft guide from Australia, but last I heard he is now running rivers in Japan. We were part of a circle of scuba instructor, skydiver, and raft guide friends living on the Great Barrier Reef. We’d all comp our friends on their days off to come to work with us and argue about who had the best “office.”
What made you want to become a writer?
Beats working at a bank. (Which I also used to do.)
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?
Travel wide and with an open mind. If you have to go with someone else, try not to insulate yourself in your own little group—get out there, try new things, let go of attitudes from home and see things from a different perspective. I think it’s made me a happier person back home here in the States.