“Cocoa Beach” by Beatriz Williams is a historical novel that blends a riveting mystery with a bit of romance. The story goes back and forth within a five-year period, from 1917 to 1922. The meat of the suspense has Virginia trying to find out if her husband was really killed in a fire or did he just disappear. Now during the early days of prohibition she travels with their daughter to Florida to settle his affairs and find out the truth, including the possibility that he was a rum smuggler. Unwilling to listen to the warnings of a prohibition agent she begins to unravel the evidence.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Beatriz Williams: I was reading a non-fiction book about the 1920s. It focuses on why it was such a transformable decade in America. There is a whole chapter on Florida including bootlegging and the real estate grab. Then during the spring break my family and I went to Florida. I got these Gothic vibes with the entire wilderness. I thought, “What a great place to hide a body.” This was clearly my most challenging book to write technically and creatively because I could not figure out the damaged characters.
EC: What was the process?
BW: I first wrote the WWI sections and then the Florida sections. I needed to write the narrative in a linear fashion. I even had trouble coming up with a name for the main male lead, Simon. I kept changing it. This is the wonderful part of Google where you can find all these names. Once I figured out that Simon made sense I knew where I wanted to go with the story and characters: Simon is the personable one; his younger brother Samuel always lives in his shadow; Lydia, the other woman, was promiscuous; and Virginia, the female lead is one traumatized woman who does not easily trust people or open up her feelings. Remember none of the characters seem to be who they are.
EC: You allow the readers to get a glimpse of the era. For example, you put in how women could not marry their brother-in-law in the event of their husband’s death?
BW: I do not want to lecture, but try to weave it into the narrative. Women took the names of their husband, and their family in essence became her family. So if someone married her brother-in-law it was seen as a form of incest. I think this act was repealed in England in the 1920s because there were so few men left at the end of WWI.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
BW: In the fall of 2018 I am collaborating with authors Karen White and Lauren Willig. Although we do not have a proper title yet we do know that it is set on the last voyage of the Lusitania. It goes back and forth between the perspective of someone in the present day and two characters on the ship. It will have intrigue, romance, and espionage.
I am also writing a domestic and social drama set in New England in the 1950s. It will have a conflict between the rich summer families and a lobster fisherman.