With snowbirds flying north and sunlight hours stretching, the pace of life seems to slow in Southwest Florida this time of year, leaving time for leisurely reading. Several authors live among us in Estero, finding their inspiration amid palm trees swaying in the Gulf Coast breeze. Their writings are diverse — some whimsical, some suspenseful, some scholarly. There are memoirs, romantic trysts and even some serious stargazing. Before heading out to watch the sunset, grab a good read by one of Estero’s own published authors, and delve into the imaginations and experiences of your neighbors.
FROM FLORIDA WITH LOVE
A new anthology from the Southwest Florida Romance Writers offers a blast of local tales and talent, each set on a gorgeous Southwest Florida beach. The anthology includes 11 short love stories of various genres. “It goes from a little historical to a little futuristic, so you have the whole range,” says Estero author Sonja Gunther, president of the writer’s group.
“There’s even a love story from the dog’s point of view.” The Romance Writers group meets once a month at the Fountain Lakes library. Half of the anthology authors are from Estero, with the others living nearby. They decided to do the collection of short stories as a fundraiser, challenging contributors to spin a romantic tale including four elements: a sunset, a Southwest Florida beach, romance and a pink flamingo, just for fun. Published last summer by Melange Press, “From Florida With Love: Sunsets & Happy Endings” includes a range of characters, from an international spy to rambunctious senior citizens and a lovesick flamingo.
Gunther’s contribution, “First Class All the Way,” centers around a romantic 50th birthday surprise, which Gunther relates to, having recently celebrated her big 5-0. Fellow Estero author Karen Dean Benson penned two stories for the anthology. The Spanish heroine of these historical romances also is featured in Book Two of her “Ladies of Mischief” series, which was recently purchased by Melange.
The first book, “Devil’s Grace,” is scheduled to be released in July and follows the adventures of a young girl who is put on an orphan train and finds romance amid the battlefields of the Civil War. “I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always had an imagination,” says Benson, who started writing on a Royal portable typewriter as an escape while raising six children. “I took years to write. I’m over the moon with this.” Doris Lemcke, another Estero author featured in the anthology, has two other books in print.
“Passion’s Secret” is set on a southern plantation, where two unlikely lovers must fight together for survival. “Passion’s Spirit” follows a half-Apache orphan raised by Santa Fe missionaries, determined to avenge the murder of her parents. The plot for Gunther’s latest novel, “Wanted: Girl I Once Met,” centers on a 20-year-old promise to marry made on an airplane. Currently, Gunther is deep into writing a three-book series starring championship barrel racers. The first of these western romances, “I Don’t Want to Be Married,” is scheduled for release in September.
When asked where she gets her inspiration, Gunther says, “I take real life things and twist them around and make them into fun things.”
TINA WAINSCOTT/FALLING FAST
Tina Wainscott is the pride of the Southwest Florida Romance Writers. A founding member, Wainscott’s 30th book comes out in June. “Falling Fast” is a contemporary romance, the first in the “Falling” series, featuring rocky beaches, shaky pasts and second chances. It’s a break from Wainscott’s supernatural thrillers, written under the pen name Jaime Rush (taken from the names of two of her favorite characters).
Her popular Justiss Alliance Series stars sexy Navy SEALS who deliver “hard justice and hot bodies.” Wainscott was first published in 1995 and is a USA Today Bestselling Author, with books published through St. Martin’s Press, Harlequin, Harper Collins and Grand Central Publishing. “I had five books out in a period of seven months,” she says of her prolifi c pace. She draws inspiration from many places — love songs, documentaries or true crime investigations. She’s always been fascinated by the paranormal and the darker side of human nature. Alfred Hitchcock is among her favorite authors. Yet as a romance writer, her stories always have a happy ending.
“I love romance because you do get that happily ever after,” Wainscott says. “Whatever hardships and whatever baggage they have, I like that at the end of all of that, my characters love themselves and find love.” In the 20 years Wainscott has been producing fiction, she’s seen the publishing industry change. With the advent of self publishing companies, the door has been opened for many authors — good or bad. While it’s easier to get books into print (or on Kindle), it’s harder to market them and stand out in the online marketplace. There are fewer traditional book signings, but more daily blogging and tweeting. “Now everybody can publish, so it really has made it harder to make an impact in the industry,” Wainscott says. “There’s a lot of pressure on authors because of the internet.”
Luckily, Wainscott has built up a fan following over the years. Now she is preparing a place of solace, building a new home along the Estero River. “I can’t wait to get there and get all the inspiration,” she says. “I love it.”
BELLA T. ALTURA/GOLDEN AMERICA, A MEMOIR
Bella Altura grew up fast. Her childhood came crashing to a halt two weeks after her seventh birthday. On Nov. 9, 1938, her world was forever changed when Nazi soldiers broke down her family’s apartment door, beat her father and hauled him off to prison, for no other cause than his religion. Altura was born in Solingen, Germany, “at the wrong time in history,” as she declares in the opener of her memoir, “Golden America.”
She wrote it for her grandchildren, having never related these painful memories to her own daughter. “I never told any stories to my daughter, which might have been a mistake; she didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell,” Altura recalls. “I never wanted to remember it after I got over it all. For 10 years I was scared. Even after we came to America, when I saw anyone in a uniform, that scared me.” The memoir is dedicated to her parents, who suffered and sacrificed greatly before finally making it to “Golden America.”
Her mother died of brain cancer just a few months after setting eyes on Lady Liberty. The family repeatedly fl ed across borders — from Germany to Belgium to France to Switzerland — seeking refuge. There were stays at internment camps, and even foster care for young Bella. The family of three finally landed safely on American soil when Bella was 16. “Only in this wonderful, beautiful country could I have done what I accomplished,” says Altura, who became a cardiovascular research scientist.
She started working in a biology lab, earning her doctorate at night, and married another scientist, Burt Altura. For 53 years of marriage, the couple has worked side-by-side, most recently at Suny Downstate Medical Center. They now have a home in Bella Terra. “I love this country so much,” Altura says. “It gave me everything.” While she had some post-traumatic stress to overcome, eventually Altura came to feel safe in America, becoming a citizen at age 23. Lately, however, she worries about the direction of her adopted homeland — a secondary reason for writing her memoir.
She speaks passionately against racism, partisan politics and the stripping away of personal freedoms. The concluding words of her book are this: “It is up to us, each and every one of us, to return to the right path and retain the greatest of treasures: freedom for all.”
SARAH JANISSE BROWN/WINDOWS TO OUR WORLD
How do you write a book while globetrotting through Europe and raising 10 children? In pieces. “I started writing it when I was 16,” explains Sarah Janisse Brown of her recently published memoir, “Windows to Our World: Growing Up, Crossing Oceans, Finding Love & Giving Life to 10 Children.” “The chapters are a collection of my journals and writings from the last 22 years.”
The story begins with Sarah’s family of origin — four sisters, an artist mother and a dad who worked for NASA and later became a pastor. It ends with Sarah and her husband, Joshua, evacuating their family of 11 from the Ukraine in 2013, temporarily leaving mission work behind, with more adventures ahead. “We were two blocks away from the Russian embassy where they had riots,” Brown recalls. Undaunted, the family now plans to return to a safer region of the Ukraine, resuming missionary work with orphans. “We always wanted to raise our kids on the mission field.”
The Ukraine wasn’t the Browns’ first international home. In November 2012, they moved from Fortville, Ind., to Montebelluna, Italy, chasing a longtime dream to raise their large family at a slower pace in a beautiful place. The move even landed them on an episode of the reality show “House Hunters International.” “As we answered question after question about our lives and why we had moved to Italy, we were reminded of all that had happened in our lives to bring us to the point of boarding a plane and crossing the ocean with nine children, the littlest one inside,” Brown writes. “Faith. Risk. Adventure. Love. Courage. Destiny.”
The Browns have always dreamed big, followed their hearts, taken risks and trusted God to provide. After evacuation and before landing in Estero for half a year, the family traveled through 14 countries in three months — but that’s fodder for a future book. This memoir includes falling in love, homeschooling a herd of children and developing Dyslexia Games, an innovative system for teaching kids with learning disabilities (which is how the Browns support their globetrotting ways).
There are also reflective journal entries interspersed with chapters, on topics ranging from “Keeping the Love Alive” to “Passing the Paintbrush” — Brown’s penchant for creating a mural wherever she lands in life. Amazingly, this mother of 10, with a newborn in her arms, in the midst of packing for yet another move across the ocean, seems serene. “My life doesn’t feel busy to me,” she says. “‘God, use me to the fullest,’ is what I always say.”
SCOTT FLAIG/ COSMOLOGY
Raised Presbyterian and gazing through his telescope at the stars every night, Scott Flaig spent his childhood oblivious to the conflict between faith and science. “I would go outside and observe the stars every night,and every Sunday, we would go to church,” he recalls. “I was always interested in science and in faith. There was no crisis of faith or contradiction in terms. I didn’t question much until I retired 20 years ago.” He still finds it odd when Christians divide over what biblical creation means, whether the universe was created by God in a literal six days, or if God used evolution or the Big Bang to form the earth over thousands of years.
He has friends on both sides. Personally, Flaig is a “theistic evolutionist,” believing God used natural evolutionary processes to bring life to its current form. The one thing he can’t believe is the assertion there is no God. The universe is too orderly, the odds against human life too staggering. In his recently published book, “Cosmology: Faith and Science Reveal Universal Truth,” Flaig delves into the scientific evidence for the existence of God.
“I would suggest people read it to form your own personal conclusion on either affirming your current thought, modifying that thought, or actually creating a new one,” advises Flaig, who also shares his scholarly studies as an instructor with Florida Gulf Coast University’s Renaissance Academy for lifelong learning. Flaig’s work tackles the big questions in life: How and when did space and time begin? Was the human race created by an intelligent designer? Are we alone in this universe? How will it all end — or will our universe go on forever? “I’ve read 40 books and thousands of articles, so I thought I’d write down what I learned,” Flaig says of deciding to publish a book. “I give all sides and let readers form their own opinions.”