I began writing the Sabrina Salter series when I was on vacation in St. John ten years ago. I was sitting at the dining room table in a lovely villa looking out at the hexagonal pool and the pergola beyond it. A hammock hanging from the pergola called me, but not to come lie on it. No, I wondered what would happen if someone stormed through the periwinkle blue gate and shot a man who fell back onto the hammock. I imagined that a woman discovered his dead body and became a suspect in his murder.
How Sabrina crept into my head.
That’s how Sabrina’s story began in my head. Soon I was more obsessed with Sabrina than the murder she was accused of. I began wondering what her story was. How had she come to live on St. John? What did she do for a living? Did she have a lover? Who were her friends? Did she have a pet? How was her relationship with family? What was her childhood like?
Getting to know Sabrina better
Sabrina lived in the crevices of my mind day and night. Her evolution was organic. She had a painful past. She had been abandoned by her mother when she was a toddler, left to be cared for by an alcoholic father. Her grandparents had ostracized her mother and never knew Sabrina. A stranger had rescued her from a dangerous situation and became her caregiver. Sabrina survived childhood and thrived academically, becoming a television meteorologist, who married a popular local sportscaster. She accidentally shot and killed him but was tried for first-degree murder because she shot him with his lover when they arrived at their summer home where Sabrina had fled after learning of his infidelity. She was acquitted by a jury, but the publicity of the trial killed her career. Sabrina arrived on St. John and started a villa rental business with her friend, Henry, who was fleeing Boston for reasons of his own. Sabrina has a boyfriend named Neil, and a chocolate lab named Girlfriend.
To understand why Sabrina does the things she does, readers need to know what Sabrina longs to know. Why did her mother abandon her? Why didn’t her maternal grandparents intervene after her mother left? How could her father leave her alone at night and endanger her safety? Why did she marry a cheating egotist?
As much as mystery readers want the answer to whodunit, they want to understand the protagonists they have become attached to. An author can tease out the information through a few books but at some point, readers are entitled to answers.
When I began writing Salt Water Wounds, the fourth Sabrina Salter mystery, I knew it was time. Sabrina Salter was the kind of woman who would demand answers and her faithful fans are no less exacting. The challenge was daunting because I didn’t want to disappoint either. Once I did, I appreciated the overused word, ‘closure’ better. I realized I had been holding those secrets Sabrina yearned to unfold for a decade. When the book is released this week, I set Sabrina and her readers free.
Closure can open new doors in a mystery
If I feared resolution of the mysteries of Sabrina’s history would end the series, I was dead wrong. The answers only raised new questions and introduced new characters and complications. The fun is just beginning.
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Oh Danny Girl and the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, Tropical Depression, and Salt Water Wounds. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.
Ooh, goody, Michele! I can’t wait to read the new installment.