Today I welcome fellow International Thriller Writers member, and award winning author Bryan E. Robinson to NOT EVEN JOKING. His debut novel, LIMESTONE GUMPTION: A BRAD POPE AND SISTERFRIENDS MYSTERY, was released as a paperback this month, and today, he tells us what inspired it. Today also happens to be his birthday! Happy Birthday, Bryan!
What Inspired Me to Write My Debut Novel, Limestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery
By Bryan E. Robinson
For many years, I had a vacation home in north central Florida on the Suwannee River. Divers come there from all over the world to explore the primeval under water caves and beautiful marine life beneath the Suwannee River. Some of the caves are as tall as ten-story buildings, wide as three football fields, carved for thousands of years by the Suwannee rushing through limestone that yields to the Suwannee’s force.
At night, river dwellers sit around campfires on the river’s sandy shores telling stories of lost divers drowning in the twisted, turning underwater caves, stretching miles beneath the earth—cavers running out of air, stabbing each other with dive knives to steal a last breath from their partner’s tanks. Tales of corpses wrapped in tangled guidelines, entombed like mummies, arms tightly pinned against their stiff bodies. Stories of bodies so bloated that rescue teams have to pry them out of narrow passageways. And of goodbye messages hastily carved in limestone walls during final dying breaths.
It occurred to me that the underwater limestone caverns were the perfect setting for a novel because it’s one we don’t hear much about. I remember sitting around the campfires, listening to the harrowing tales, watching campfire shadows dance like ghosts against the white sand, trying to ignore my thudding heart and the chills that lifted the hair on the back of my neck, thinking, “I have to write about this.”
I read or re-read all of my favorite Southern novelists among whom are Pat Conroy, John Hart, Flannery O’Connor, Fannie Flagg, and Zora Neal Hurston, just to name a few. Plus, being a researcher by trade, I researched cave diving and actual cases of divers drowning in the caves. I listened and watched the people and customs of locals with the ardor of an anthropologist (Margaret Mead would’ve been my best friend). I read the history of the area, including a 1948 novel, Seraph on the Suwannee by famed novelist Zora Neal Hurston. I frequently kayaked the Suwannee, tubed down Itchtuknee Springs, and listened to locals’ tales about the history of the area. I read books about the Florida laws and dangers of underwater cave diving, conducted Internet research, and interviewed local expert dive outfitters about the technical aspects of their underwater treks.
The protagonist in my novel is a psychologist who has the ability to see beneath the obvious. When 35-year-old Dr. Brad Pope returns to his boyhood hometown to settle a debt with his long-lost father and reconnect with his cantankerous Grandma Gigi, he becomes a prime murder suspect. Limestone gumption is a metaphor for when Pope—after being accused of cutting the guideline of a popular local cave diver who drowns—must call upon his limestone gumption to deal with overwhelming forces.
The whole concept of “limestone gumption” comes from solid theory and research—that yielding to the forces we cannot control empowers us—that grass grows through concrete. Since childhood, Brad Pope’s nemesis Voodoo Sally, an old black medicine woman living in a dilapidated shack on the banks of the Suwannee River, doled out her version of wisdom that she called “limestone gumption.” In psychotherapy, having limestone gumption is equivalent to being in your resilient zone—that place where you feel confident, calm, clear, and courageous. Ultimately, they connect on this common ground.
I use the Suwannee River and underwater caves as essential inter-workings of the unconscious minds of the characters. I use the river and caves as threads to weave parallels to the plot and character development. For example, the title of the book originated from the fact that for centuries the Suwannee River has cut through limestone, forming huge under water caverns. The limestone yields to the force of the river instead of resisting it. Through yielding, the limestone becomes a powerful feature of the river, a beautiful and smooth, well-polished cavern, and the strength of its true character is revealed.
It was a challenge to strike a balance between the beauty and brutality of small-town Southern life without idealizing it, yet without vilifying it, either. For example, the paradox (or Tao, if you will) of the townspeople of Whitecross (my fictional small town) doddering along in their pickups, throwing friendly hand-waves at strangers, their shotguns perched firmly behind their heads or the church ladies planning a reunion under the shade trees in the churchyard while shunning outsiders because they’re “different.”
The paperback version of Limestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery was released this month. I just completed the second book in the Brad Pope series, set in Asheville, NC, titled, She’ll Be KILLING Round the Mountain.
BRYAN E. ROBINSON’s Limestone Gumption is the 2015 New Apple Book Medalist Winner for Best Psychological Suspense. It won the Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery, the Silver IPPY Award for outstanding mystery of the year, and the Bronze Award for best mystery from Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. He is the Coordinator of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Author Forum, a consulting editor for The Big Thrill, a member of Mystery Writers of America, and author of thirty-five nonfiction books. His books have been translated into thirteen languages. Robinson won two writing awards for his nonfiction work which was featured on 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, The CBS Early Show, CNBC’s The Big Idea. He hosted the PBS documentary, Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself. Robinson maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Asheville, North Carolina and resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his spouse, four dogs, and occasional bears at night. His latest books are Don’t Murder Yourself Before Finishing Your Mystery for writers and the thriller Bloody Bones. He is working on his third mystery/thriller, Michael Row the BODY Ashore. Connect with Bryan on his WEBSITE or on FACEBOOK.
LIMESTONE GUMPTION by Bryan E. Robinson
When Brad Pope returns to his boyhood hometown to settle a debt with his long-lost father, the 35-year-old psychologist becomes a prime suspect in the murder of football legend turned cave diver, Big Jake Nunn. Perched high on the east bank of the Suwannee River, the sleepy town of Whitecross, Florida is known for its natural crystal-clear springs and underwater caverns. Locals are online and computer savvy, but if asked about blackberries, they think cobbler, not wireless. And townsfolk die of natural causes, not murder. Until now… Available on AMAZON.