Two weeks ago I told you about some of the research I did for my upcoming novel, A Family of Strangers. Last week Proman and I had the pleasure of doing some on-site research for my next book. I thought it would be fun to share some photos.
The last time I was in Tarpon Springs, Florida I was in elementary school, and I clearly remember watching a sponge diver suit up to sink down to the floor of Florida’s Gulf Coast and retrieve sponges. Divers from the Greek Islands have been doing this since the early part of the twentieth century, and before that, native Floridians and men from the Caribbean floated over the sponge beds in boats, peering through a bucket with a glass bottom and when locating a sponge, hooking it. Not surprisingly, they were called “hookers.” Yes, they really were.
In the early twentieth century Greek divers, who were already using diving suits in their native islands, brought that technology to Tarpon Springs. Using the suits they could dive deeper and for longer. The sponge industry took off.
I’ve often wondered if that one field trip intrigued me so much that when I later heard about Australian pearl divers, who used similar suits, I knew I had to find out more and Beautiful Lies was born. Whether it did or not, that field trip certainly intrigued me enough that when I returned to Florida to live, I knew I wanted to set a book in the Tarpon Springs area.
Obviously lots of time had passed since my last visit. So I was surprised to find the town, a mixture of Victorian and Floridian architecture, is still charming, and still bordering on quaint. We parked downtown and I took lots of photos, including the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The statue behind me represents one of the many boys who have retrieved the cross thrown into nearby Spring Bayou during the January celebration of Epiphany. I’m happy to say I’ll see that in person in 2020.
Research often has its serendipities. One of the day’s best was meeting Renee Sousa, coordinator of the Historic Train Depot Museum, who could tell we were trying to figure out where to go next as we stood on a corner reading smartphone maps. She gave us great advice and later in the day we went back to talk to her at the museum, where she spent time with us touring and answering questions. While I was there I met Bonnie, an original Weeki Wachee mermaid. Just for the record, becoming a mermaid was my first vocational plan. Of course the moment I dipped my toes in icy cold springs, I decided to pursue something a bit warmer.
We spent most of the day at the Sponge Docks. I love Greek food, and I’d been looking forward to eating on the docks for weeks. We got scrumptious takeout sandwiches on homemade pita bread at Limani and sat behind the restaurant and watched sponge divers cleaning a recent haul.
Afterwards on a short walk to the beginning of Dodecanese Avenue we encountered serendipity #2. We were asked if we wanted to take a short cruise along the Anclote River to see a sponge diver garbed in traditional suit dive for sponges.
How could we say no? Frank and the rest of the crew were fantastic, with tons of information about the way sponges were gathered both historically and now. Frank dives for the tour boat during tourist season, so we caught his last day on that job. The next morning he was heading out on a commercial sponge vessel into the Gulf where he’d stay, possibly for weeks, and harvest sponges with scuba gear. However the divers are still tethered with air hoses to the boats above. That hasn’t changed.
We wandered afterwards and then went back to the Depot Museum before we finished at the Sponge Docks with dinner at Hellas. We’d already bought a box of the most incredible baklava at their bakery next door so we knew we were in good hands. Even though the temperature had skyrocketed to 90 as the afternoon progressed, we chose to sit outside under ceiling fans and eat the fried shrimp that Renee had recommended and moussaka, which is truly one of my weaknesses.
Our day was close to perfect, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m glad you could come along, too.
Last week we promised to give away a copy of Kylie Logan’s new mystery, The Scent of Murder, to one lucky commenter.
I’m delighted to say that the winner of the book, chosen by random.org, is Linda Hengst. Linda, contact me here with your address and we’ll mail a copy of Kylie’s book to you.
Don’t forget, The Scent of Murder is now for sale everywhere.
I’ve linked to Amazon here and above because I am an Amazon Associate and get a tiny royalty if you click on my links, and also because Amazon does links so well.