Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome today Phyllis Smallman, author of the Sherri Travis mysteries. The fourth book to feature the Florida beach town bartender is Champagne for Buzzards (McArthur & Company, September 2011 print and ebook editions).
The Sherri Travis series was one of six mysteries chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in June 2010. In the summer of 2011, Zoomer Magazine picked the most recent book, Champagne for Buzzards, as its summer cottage read.
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"As a writer, for me character always comes first," says Phyllis, "and when it comes to an interesting personality Sherri Travis definitely holds her own. I like Sherri. She's a person I'd love to have a drink with at a beach bar down in Florida. Here's Sherri to tell you about herself."
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Don't listen to what people say about me, here's what you really need to know. I grew up in a trailer park on the edge of a swamp down in Florida. It was a pretty rough place but not without its rules. The rules went something like this: if you drink beer outside your trailer you share; if you are doing alright keep it to yourself because no one else is or they wouldn't be there; and you never, ever squeal. The last rule was the most important. If the cops showed up you knew nothing and saw nothing. This rule has come back to haunt me.
Ruth Ann, my mom, was pretty much a single parent and kept us alive by working every hour God sent. A good mom, she had one fatal flaw … she was a woman in love with love. For Ruth Ann, love was everything. She believed in romance: lived for it, even sacrificed her children for it. While watching her moulded me into a cynic at a very young age, lately I've found myself admiring her unfailing tenacity and devotion to hope, hope that survived reality and experience. Each new love of her life had her trusting absolutely that this time it would work out…this time he wouldn't cheat on her, or beat on her, or leave her. This time her affair would be the culmination of what all those bodice rippers she devoured told her love should be.
Growing up I never had any idea of what I wanted to be. I only knew what I didn't want: I didn't want to be like my mother, living for a man. My life would be more ordered, more controlled and safe. I pretty much blew that resolution when I married Jimmy Travis. A guy like Jimmy will quickly destroy your faith in true love and leave you thinking Cinderella is dead and the prince is gay.
One night, out on the beach at the Sunset, I am tending bar when this cop walks in and tells me my god-awful husband is dead … kind of a good news bad news situation, the downside being I'm the prime suspect. Having friends in low places can come in handy and in the Sunset a girl can find lots of those. They helped keep me out of the electric chair.
The other thing about a bar, besides the guys always coming on to you and getting you thinking that moonlight and roses likely only hides muggers and thorns, is you get to hear all sorts of things … who did what to whom, and how many times … who has the door open and is peaking out of the closet … and these days, so many times it could make you weep, who is about to lose everything. And in a bar you hear different versions of the same tale. It's hard to hide secrets behind a vale of alcohol so stories just naturally come unravelled in the Sunset.
I try not to get sucked into any of this but good intentions and I never have been the best of friends. Caring too much and not being able to look away is another bad example Ruth Ann set for me. Like the time I got trapped on an island with a dead body and a murderer just as a hurricane hit Jacaranda. That was all her fault, her voice in my head telling me to be nice and making me feel sorry for that tourist. And when Ruth Ann's old boyfriend, the guy who abused me when I was a kid, comes back to town with another single mother and her young daughter, well, how do you look away from that state of affairs? How could I not help the kid out? One of the things which drove me crazy about that situation was wondering if things would have worked out differently if Ruth Ann and I had told the cops what that dog-turd did to me back when I was a kid? Would we have saved other young girls from heart ache? Staying silent is not always a good thing no matter what the rules say.
What I really want you to understand is that nothing that happened was my fault. It just all sort of happened right there in front of me but I'm getting better at minding my own business. Most of the time, I just pour the drinks and listen to the stories with a deaf ear, but sometimes … well what's a girl to do?
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For more information about Phyllis Smallman and her books, visit her website at PhyllisSmallman.com.
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About Champagne for Buzzards:
With seven foot snakes and nasty horses, Florida ranch country can be as dangerous as the mean streets of any big city. Sherri Travis doesn't do country. She likes it even less when she meets Clay Adam's psychotic neighbors and finds a dead man in the back of her pickup. With fairy lights dancing through the Spanish moss and violent men closing in, the surprise party Sherri plans for Clay turns deadly. And while it isn't the party Sherri hoped for, it's a good one just the same.