My experience pursuing the publication of my first novel is a tale of four countries, three children, two decades, and one relentless quest for U.S. stamps. In 1984 my husband, a journalist with the Voice of America, was transferred from Washington, D.C., to open a new VOA bureau in Geneva, Switzerland. I quit my job as economic advisor to a U.S. Senator, we packed our things, rented our D.C. co-op, and moved overseas with a one-year-old son. It didn’t take long before I was at loose ends after leaving my job on Capitol Hill and staying home as a full-time mom. So in addition to finally learning French, I decided to write a novel. How hard could it be? I’d written non-fiction for years. I could knock this out in no time.
For as long as I can remember I have been captivated by India, a country I romantically envisioned as a spiritual place of vivid colors, capricious deities, squint-eyed snake charmers, multi-hued temples, and fiery food. Growing up I devoured novels about the tumultuous history of Hindustan, a land ruled by sultans and emperors whose names included “the Great,” a vast almost-continent where hennaed women in saris danced sensuously, noble-looking men wore jeweled turbans and rode elephants, and hump-backed cattle roamed freely along dusty, narrow streets.
My husband always marvels at how I (or any writer) can sit down at a computer with nothing but an idea for a story in my head and a year later or, in this case, two years later, he can hold a book in his hand that is the result of that idea. Of course he has listened to me moan, wail, and gnash teeth when the process isn’t going so smoothly, so he does have some idea how the baby is birthed–but still.
Searching for a long-lost botanical treasure in GHOST IMAGE, Sophie Medina visits the famous Chelsea Physic Garden, the second oldest garden in Britain located in a quiet corner of London not far from the Thames River. Founded in 1621, the garden was originally established by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. The word “physic” refers to the science of healing since all of the plants grown here were used for medicinal purposes.
I am grateful to have had a tour of this magnificent garden–which is now open to the public and well worth a visit–by its curator Christopher Bailes, who was an immense help with research for GHOST IMAGE.
In GHOST IMAGE, photojournalist Sophie Medina has been hired by an editor who works for the Smithsonian Institution’s publication division to take photographs for a book on the history of the National Mall. On her way out of the Castle she passes by a small room which holds the crypt of the museum’s founder, James Smithson. Later she returns to the Castle when she realizes her editor might know a key piece of information that will lead her to a 200 year old botanical treasure that Sophie believes was the reason Brother Kevin Boyle, a Franciscan friar who was her good friend and a well-known environmentalist, was murdered on the grounds of the Franciscan monastery in Washington, D.C.
Washington can be a dream city to photograph with so many iconic monuments and buildings, but sometimes those of us who live here can take the sites for granted. I happened to be with my husband and son on Constitution Avenue at twilight the other night, heading to a basketball game at the Verizon Center and bemoaning the utter gridlock of D.C. traffic during rush hour as we sat at light after light. Then I looked out the window as we stopped across from this lovely view of the Washington Monument framed by a couple of trees and a solitary empty bench. The two winking red lights at the top of the monument blinked on and I took the shot with my phone . . . and then the traffic light changed.
In GHOST IMAGE, photographer Sophie Medina meets her good friend Brother Kevin Boyle, a Franciscan friar who is an internationally known environmentalist, at the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin where he confides that he has made an important botanical discovery potentially worth millions. Hours later his body is discovered in the gardens of the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, setting Sophie on the trail of a murderer and a search for a long-lost treasure.
If you live in the Washington, D.C. metro area or you’re visiting over President’s Day weekend, you can take advantage of two unique opportunities: admission to Mount Vernon is free on President’s Day (you might find long lines, but it’s worth the wait!) and the gorgeous Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress is open to the public for the day.
As promised, I am posting a weekly photo previewing GHOST IMAGE, which will be released on April 21, 2015. This picture—Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent 1,000-foot vegetable garden—was taken during a visit to Monticello while I was also attending the annual Virginia Book Festival, which is held every March in Charlottesville.
In GHOST IMAGE, Sophie’s good friend Brother Kevin Boyle, a world-famous international environmentalist and a Franciscan friar, is is found dead in the gardens of the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. Convinced Kevin’s death was no accident, Sophie remembers that Kevin recently spent time doing research at Monticello and decides to pay a visit.
For the past few weeks my publicist at Scribner and I have been busy arranging events for the upcoming book tour for GHOST IMAGE, the second Sophie Medina mystery which will be released in hardcover on April 21. And a month before that—on March 17—MULTIPLE EXPOSURE will be out as a trade paperback.
Because Sophie is a photographer and because I always take photos of the places where my books are set, please check this blog often over the next twelve weeks to see pictures from some of the scenes in both books.