I am is pleased to interview authors Leona DeRosa Bodie and GE Gardiner about their new book Glimpse of Sunlight: Jonathan Dickinson Odyssey, Book One, with illustrations by Steve Witucki. But first a little about this creative team.
Leona DeRosa Bodie lived in Miami where she left her day job to write full-time and now calls the Treasure Coast home. Her first novel, Shadow Cay became an Amazon bestseller and won the Reader Views Literary Award for best Mystery/Thriller/Suspense in 2010. Since then, she completed her latest novel Seas of Fury, the high-octane prequel to Shadow Cay, featuring a professor addicted to boats turned amateur sleuth. And there’s no doubt being married to a forensic specialist influenced her. Leona’s husband, a Miami-Dade forensic specialist for twenty-one years, appeared in the pilot episode of the long-running TV series, CSI. Leona is the past vice president and current Treasure Coast Regional Director for the Florida Writers Association. Her website is www.leonabodie.com and she can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.
GE Gardiner spent his first career founding and running several small businesses. In 1997, a hemorrhagic brain stem stroke left him devoid of cognitive ability, memory, and other functions. Seven years later, he began writing to strengthen his brain, relying solely on his computer to record spoken words and convert them into text. This process led to his writing a short story Speed, which was published in the 2012 anthology, My Wheels. His young-adult, science-fiction thriller Legend of the Paribell will soon be published in four e-book formatted short stories. GE also leads a Florida Writers Association group that helps authors structure their novels, and he is actively helping youth enhance their writing skills. He currently resides in South Florida.
Steve Witucki spent much of his life navigating the waters of the Great Lakes. His current ship, the Edwin Gott, is a 74,000 ton cargo vessel that carries iron ore pellets from mines and fields to industrial areas. The Great Lakes are only navigable six and half months out of the year. While his ship is nestled in frozen ice, Steve is home where his glass etchings are popular among the locals in South Florida. Although, much of his art focuses on maritime and wildlife images, Steve explores a wide variety of subjects using various mediums, some of which are on display internationally. In 2008, the Domaci Gallery classified Steve as a “Nationally Acclaimed Maritime Artist.” His art and biography are featured in many publications including: Michigan History Magazine, True North Magazine, Great Lakes Mariners and Seaway Review, as well as on the front cover of the book, Lost and Found: Legendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks. Steve lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Some of his portfolio can be seen on his website www.oceans-of-art.com.
Welcome, Leona, GE, and Steve. It’s a real pleasure to speak to all of you today. For beginners, tell me a little about Jonathan Dickinson and what made you decide to write a trilogy about him?
Leona: Thanks for inviting us, Tyler! Jonathan Dickinson (1663–1722) was a colorful character and a highly respected Quaker merchant from Port Royal, Jamaica who shipwrecked on Florida’s southeast coast in 1696, along with his family, other passengers and crew members. Initially, Glenn and I were gung-ho writing a thriller about Jonathan’s harrowing voyage, shipwreck and captivity. However, once we dug into Jonathan’s life, lineage and Jamaica’s past, we discovered 17th century Port Royal was the wickedest city on earth, during an era when freedom fighters roamed the countryside and villainous pirates plundered the Caribbean seas. That’s when we realized our story could be so much larger than one book.
Glenn: Most of the main events in the story actually happened: the Jamaican earthquake, tsunami and landslides of 1662, constant storms and hurricanes, the dangers at sea, the maroon wars, and the enslavement of blacks as well as whites. Lots of what we take for granted today was life threatening to the people living in the Caribbean during the 17th century. Our readers will learn of many of these events for the first time.
I watched your book trailer at and I loved how you asked whether the reader would like a book with a hurricane, landslide, a city under water, pirates, etc. so it sounds like a really exciting story you are telling. What do you think it is about this type of action adventure that will interest readers so much?
Leona: Who can resist tales of the golden age of piracy and sunken treasure ships? The thrills, twists and turns, riveting illustrations and heart-stopping action hook them! Besides, a lot of people identify with the pirates’ freedom to do what they want. Another attraction, reviewer Richard Blake noted in his review, is that we “…skillfully combine legend and myth with historical fact.”
Your series is named for John Dickinson but it starts out with Oumar Seydou. Will you tell us a little about him and how he comes to meet John Dickinson?
Leona: Oumar as a young boy is taken from everything he holds dear. But first he had to survive. With few allies and many enemies, he had to forge himself into a weapon. Ten years later, a force to be reckoned with, he punishes the wicked, delivering freedom and justice outside the law. When his path crosses Jonathan’s, their lives are forever altered.
Glenn: Oumar Seydou represents thousands of Africans taken away from their homes and families. When Jonathan turns seven, Oumar is a freedom fighter whose reason for living is to free slaves from the bondage of English plantation owners. The Dickinson family workforce consisted of a large slave population.
I understand there are also contemporary characters in the book who parallel the seventeenth century characters. Can you tell us about the contemporary characters and their connections?
Glenn: The contemporary characters in the book are descendants of three main characters in Glimpse of Sunlight. In an effort to recover the sunken fortune, they have come together to share the stories that have been handed down through their families for generations since the 17th century. These characters will lay the foundation for the story structure in Sapphire of the Sea, the final book in the Jonathan Dickinson Odyssey.
Leona: Most of Glimpse of Sunlight occurs in the late 17th Century; however, we have structured our thriller much like the movie Titanic where the contemporary bookends frame the past. The modern-day characters are a brilliant marine archeologist, a needy college student, and a ruthless tycoon. Their quest for a boatload of riches eventually opens a window into Jamaica’s past with three unlikely and unforgettable adventurers — their forebears…an ex slave, a notorious pirate and an elite merchant.
Tell me a little about Port Royal, which in your promotional pieces you refer to as the wickedest city on earth. Why was it so wicked?
Leona: Ideally situated to attract trade, Port Royal was the bloody hub of the Caribbean, the world’s busiest shipping center, and the most important trading post in the New World. But the lawless port city was a haven of marauding pirates with twenty-four-hours-a-day drinking and debauchery. When the pirates weren’t plundering the high seas, they were back at their old trade of heavy drinking, foul language, and whoring. Imagine glittering wealth, then picture forty-four bars on thirty-three acres notorious for widespread mayhem, crimes galore and casual violence. That gives you some idea of Port Royal’s infamy.
Glenn: Following wars with neighboring European countries, England was left without the soldiers and fleet needed to provide its Jamaican colony with protection, especially from Spain or France. The Gov. of Jamaica licensed pirates to operate as privateers and gave them safe harbor at Port Royal.
With proximity to Spanish trade routes, the Port Royal base of operations allowed the privateers to decimate shipping between Spain and the colonies in the New World. The port city soon became one of the wealthiest in the English colonies, dominated by the pirate way of life. When England outlawed privateering, many privateers turned to piracy and continued to use Port Royal as their base. Pirate crews spent most of their free time drunk, carousing with prostitutes, gambling and murdering one another. Port Royal benefited from this lively, glamorous infamy and grew to be one of the two largest towns and the most economically important port in the English colonies. It was known to be the Wickedest City on Earth.
You must have done a lot of research for this book. What was that process like and did you find any surprises along the way, or anything you felt the need to take liberties with in writing the novel?
Leona: Yes, our research was comprehensive and in hindsight invaluable. Luckily, a plethora of facts, figures and documentation was readily available. However, I’d not worked on a historic fiction manuscript before, so I had no idea how time-consuming digging into the past could be. At first it was obvious what we needed, but I soon discovered even the simplest things like foods, dress, dialect and slang had to be ferreted out. During the process, we learned that ever since the Spanish conquered the peaceful Arawaks in the early 16th century, Jamaica has endured a painful history tinged with an undercurrent of violence. The biggest surprise for me was its epic tale of resistance to tyranny and passion for freedom. The history we unearthed showed us the challenges and the perseverance of the Jamaican people. We gleaned an insight into Jamaica’s multi-cultural imprint on the global community and came away with a better understanding of the human spirit.
Glenn: The Jonathan Dickinson Odyssey began as a novel about his adventure along the Florida coast. During our research, we found that the story of Jonathan Dickinson began during the second half of the 17th century. We spent six months processing our research.
Tell me how the three of you came to know each other and decide to collaborate together.
Leona: The international bestseller Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal was reprinted sixteen times in English, and three times each in Dutch and German translations, between 1700 and 1869. Glenn read it first, then envisioned an updated version. He invited me to co-author and the rest is history. More than that, however, Glenn deserves full credit for pulling our creative team together.
Glenn: I met Leona in 2010, when she founded the Palm City Word Weavers. We both read the Journal of Jonathan Dickinson in the spring of 2012. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to write an article about a local artist. When I interviewed Steve Witucki, I was amazed at the depth of his portfolio. Each year, he creates more art than most artists do any year. The amazing fact is six and half months of the year he spends navigating the waters of Lake Superior aboard the Edwin Gott. Steve was immediately excited about the concept of the Jonathan Dickinson Project.
How did your writing process work? Did one of you do the actual writing and the other give ideas, or did you each write different sections of the book?
Glenn: Leona and I created the structure for Glimpse of Sunlight utilizing Christopher Vogler’s Heroes Journey structure. Next, we outlined the entire novel individually, then merged our two versions into one detailed roadmap. We wrote different sections of the first draft, factoring in our strengths and preferences. In general, Leona concentrated on the bookends, the Oumar and Blair characters, the word painting, the romance, and the 1692 action and catastrophe scenes. I focused on Jonathan Dickinson’s character arc, the maroon raids, the scenes at sea and treasure sequences. Once we polished our draft, we turned our final version over to our content and line editors. A bit of backstory here, we literally auditioned twenty-one editors by having each one critique our first chapter. That’s why we’re convinced we hired the best.
Steve, how did you decide which scenes to illustrate? Did Leona and GE tell you what they wanted, or did you just read the book and look for inspiration?
Steve: Leona and Glenn gave me descriptions of people and scenes. This, coupled with my own research, enabled me to illustrate the characters as well as deliver the historic details and the elaborate tapestry for each scene.
Can you give us any information about the second book in the series, what will happen in it, and when we can expect it to be released?
Leona: Jonathan, our book # two based on Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal, delves into his internal goals, the harrowing tale of his voyage and its aftermath. Expect publication around Fall 2014.
Great, we’ll be watching for it. Thank you all again for the opportunity to interview you today about Glimpse of Sunlight, and I hope you’ll join me again when the second volume of Jonathan Dickinson’s Odyssey is released. Before we go, will you tell us a little about the book’s website and what additional information our readers can find there about this book and the series?
Glenn: Our website www.jonathandickinson.org offers more information about us and the entire creative team. It’s also an opportunity to view the artwork, purchase art, get pre-purchase discounts, see the trailer, sign up for email updates and enter contests and giveaways.
Thank you again, Leona, Glenn, and Steve. I wish you much success with the series.Powered by Sidelines