I’m so excited to have Stephen on my blog today. He’s here, talking about Return to Cooter Crossing (one of his Bennett Bay stories). I was lucky enough to interview Stephen about this story and life in general. Before we get into that, let’s get some info on his story.
Aidan Quinn is having a good day, possibly the best day of his life, at least since moving to Dublin. He just received word that his degree committee approved his PhD and he’s on his way home, with lamb chops, chard, and a bottle of wine. Time to celebrate in the little cottage he shares with his mentor and lover, Dr. David Stokes. But, something is wrong when he gets home. Dr. Stokes has found a new student to “mentor.”
Like any good Irish-American lad, he gets drunk and heads home to his mother. He hopes to find himself and make plans for a new future in the quiet backwater town of Cooter Crossing. But, he forgot what it’s like being part of a large family in an extremely small town. He gets off the plane in Tampa and finds his little sister is pregnant and won’t tell anyone who the father is. His next two older brothers, Danny and Dillon, are keeping secrets, and the oldest, Rory, shows up with his son, Sean, expecting Aidan to help him navigate Sean’s coming out.
Just as Aidan thinks he’s finally getting ahead of the family drama, and settling back into life in a small Florida village, someone shoots him. And people start dying. Will he find a way to put all the pieces back together? Will he find a new direction for his life? And, what really happened to Mrs. DeWitt’s prize rooster?
“Return to Cooter Crossing” is a contemporary southern family drama with strong characterization and set in Stephen del Mar’s rich world of Bennett Bay and Big Cypress County, Florida. Although not a part of the paranormal series “The Live Oak Tales,” this story takes place after the events in “Hunter Moon and the Red Wolf” and includes a few familiar characters from that series, such as Innes Callahan and his sister Fi, Allen Clark, Deputy JJ Jackson, Max Crawford and Marcus Murphy, among others.
You can find it for sale as of July 31st on Amazon.
#SampleSunday…check out this excerpt!
“Son, we’re going to land soon.”
Oblivion dissolved around him. Aidan opened his eyes. His face was stuck to the small airline pillow by dried drool. The nun gently shook his arm. He pealed the pillow from his face and pulled his glasses out of his shirt pocket. Everything was still blurry even with his glasses on. His head throbbed and his stomach churned. He eyed the vomit-bag in the seat pouch. The nun pushed something at him. She was holding a little plastic bottle of orange juice in one hand and a few tablets in the other.
She said, “Take these.”
Aidan was trying to wrap his mind around taking pills from a nun but his brain wouldn’t wrap around anything at the moment. Why was he on a plane with a nun? “Where am I?” he asked. The plan banked to the left. He looked out the window. Florida? Tampa Bay stretched out before him. The Gulf beaches raced below them and Saint Pete zoomed by. They were over the Bay. He saw the causeways connecting the peninsula of Pinellas county with Tampa. The plane descended. The water coming up to meet them.
“Take them, boy. It’s ibuprofen and vitamins. And you need the juice. Your blood sugar will be low. It will help with the hangover.”
He held out his hand and the nun dropped the tablets into his palm. She opened the juice bottle and held it out to him. He popped the pills in his mouth and took the bottle and drank the juice. He wasn’t sure it’d stay down. The plane jolted as it landed. He looked out the window. Bright blue sky with white puffy clouds. Palm trees. I’m not in Dublin? He looked back at the nun. He touched the empty seat between them. He asked, “Is David sitting here? Where is he?”
She reached up and touched his face. “Oh laddie. You talked in your sleep for a while. I didn’t mean to listen.”
“What… what did I say?
Her eyes moistened. She looked away from him.
Aidan swallowed. “Tell me, please.”
She looked back at him. “You found your David…” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”
His stomach tightened. It wasn’t nausea this time. “Tell me,” he whispered.
She sighed. “You found him… ”
“In bed with someone else.” He finished. He closed his eyes. He could smell the sex. He heard the moaning and slapping of flesh. The kid in his bed. He reached for the bag and held it to his mouth. Juice, bile and little tablets filled the plastic lined bag. Tears streamed down his face. He heard a dinging sound. He looked up. The stewardess made her way toward them.
“May I help you?” She smiled at them, then frowned when she saw Aidan with the bag. “Do you need assistance sir?”
The nun said, “Could we get two wet towels, dear?”
Aidan noticed the other passengers looking at him. He tried to ignore them by focusing on sealing the bag with the little wire tabs. He was alone now. What was he going to do?
“Here you go, Sister.” He looked up. The stewardess handed two towels to the nun. She reached out for the bag. Aidan handed it to her. She said, “Do you need anything else?”
He tried to smile. “Just my dignity back.” He knew his face was nearly as red as his hair.
She winked at him. “A lot of people get airsick. That’s why we have the bags.”
He nodded. She didn’t need to know what ailed him. The stewardess walked back to the front of the plane. They were pulling into the terminal and the passengers were getting jumpy. The nun handed him a towel.
“Now wipe your mouth.”
He did. She took it from him and handed him the other one. “Now your face and your eyes with this one.”
The warm moistness felt good on his eyes. He stuffed the towel in the seat pocket.
“Thank you, Sister. You’ve been very kind.”
She patted his hand. Then reached in her bag and pulled out a card and a pen. She lowered the tray table and started writing on the back of the card. She finished and handed it to him. “That’s my nephew’s number. I’ll tell him about you. I think sharing a pint might do you both some good, but not too many mind you.”
He looked down at the card. Marcus Murphy and a phone number. He turned it over. It was the Sister’s business card, Sister Mary Brigid Murphy.
“Thank you,” he said.
“You have someone waiting for you?”
He thought for a moment. “I think I called my sister.”
He pulled out his phone and turned it on. It started pinging. He had four voice mails and fifteen text messages. The voice messages were from his mother. His brothers and sister had texted him. One was from Patrick. Nothing from David. Pathetic, he thought. He opened the last text message from his sister. I’m on the parking garage roof. WTF?
He put the phone back in his pocket. Sister Mary Brigid reached out and took his hand again. Son, will you be okay?”
He didn’t know what to say. What did a nun know of heartbreak and regret? “I guess so. I mean break-ups happen all the time, right? Just a third of my life thrown away and my future screwed. Yeah… no job, no home. I’ll be okay. They say time heals right?” He bit down on the anger welling up. She’d been nothing but kind to him. He didn’t need to dump on her.
She nodded. “It’s going to be raw for a while. You need to find healthy ways to let it out. Rage can be good for the soul, just be careful how you express it.”
The plane came to a halt and the passengers jumped into the aisle and started emptying the overhead bins. He nodded at her. “Thank you, Sister. You’ve been very kind.”
She gave his had a little squeeze. “I’ll say a prayer for you tonight.”
He wanted to say, Don’t bother. Instead he said, “Thank you.”
* * * *
Interview with Stephen
Tell us about Return to Cooter Crossing.
At its heart, Return to Cooter Crossing, is a story about family. Aidan Quinn grew up in a large and prominent family in the little town of Cooter Crossing, on the banks of the Big Cypress River. He left for college and, in a way, never looked back. Then just as he’s finishing up his PhD, things fall apart with his lover and he finds himself back in the middle of big family-small town drama. There is some humor, a bit of romance, and people getting shot. All very southern you know. This is set in Bennett Bay/Big Cypress County, my little fictional corner of Florida.
Where did you get the inspiration for it?
I’m not really sure now. I’ve been working on this for a good two years. I was working on another story, “Swan Landing,” which was supposed to be the first Bennett Bay book, but things were going slow on that one and National Novel Writing Month came around. A friend challenged me to enter, so I needed something new to work on during November of that year. I wanted to stick with my Bennett Bay world I was building up but decided to go inland to a little town up river. And Aidan walked on stage and started telling me about what was going on. Along the way, I wrote a number of short stories and three other novels. It’s been fun because many of the characters and story elements have worked their way into Cooter Crossing.
Where is your story set?
Bennett Bay and Big Cypress County are on the central Gulf coast of Florida, somewhere north of Tampa Bay. I like to call it my concentrated Florida. I wanted some place that was a little bit Key West, a little bit Saint Augustine and everything in between. I wanted a historic beach side town and backwater hamlets. A place where regular folk lived and worked but you also might find a ghost or other mythical creatures. I also liked the idea of having a group of characters that can move through different types of stories, from a paranormal fantasy to something more mundane.
When you write, do you map out the story or go where your characters lead?
Nothing blocks me faster than trying to plan a story. I start with a character reacting to the setting and the other folk around them and go. I experience the story as it unfolds pretty must the way the reader does, just a lot slower and with a greater number of typos!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve wanted to write ever since high school. I did a lot of starting and stopping over the years. (Damn outlines!) Then I discovered the “pantser” method of writing (just writing as the story comes to you, by the seat of your pants, as it were) about three years ago. I published my first short story in May of 2013 and since then I’ve published a number of short stories and, as of the end of July, four novels.
Any current projects you want to tell us about?
At the moment, I’m working on Of Paradise and Purgatory. I’m only about a third of the way in, which is an awkward spot for many writers. You’re not sure where the story is going and this is where the first waves of doubt about the story start to hit shore. In some ways, it’s an anti-romance in it’s about a mature man going back home, reconnecting with former friends and a few lovers and discovering he’s very happy being single. Reaffirming that family comes in many forms and we can be fulfilled as individuals. Yeah, I don’t expect it to be a big seller. But I’m enjoying it. It’s set in southern Arizona, where I lived for a while when I was in high school. A bit more of my personal life may be sneaking into this one. I’m also getting more into faith and religion than I have in my other works.
What’s your favorite place to write?
Anywhere I can plug in a computer! Right now I’m at Starbucks. I write here a lot. I have a desk in my bedroom with my laptop. I have a home office with a PC and I know of a picnic shelter at the beach with an electrical outlet. I try to get down there to write when I can. It’s nice living in Florida.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Yeah, for like 30 years! See above. Anytime I try to force a story in a direction I think it should go, I get blocked. I’m slowly learning not to do this. Also sometimes a story, or a scene, just isn’t ready to write and I need to let it cook for awhile. That can be frustrating, but all stories come in their own time. Cooter Crossing took two years where as Dark Love took something like ten weeks.
What is your favorite genre to read and write?
I like fantasy. I practically live in Middle Earth in my teens and twenties. I like science-fiction. I used to devour Star Trek novels. I also really liked Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter detective series. That was the first gay fiction I ever read.
What was the last book you read?
Since I’ve started writing I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. I keep thinking, “I need to be working on my own stuff!” At the moment, I’m reading Angel Martinez’s Lime Gelatin and Other Monsters. I’m really enjoying it. I need to find time to finish it! The boys just had their first date I need to find out what happens.
What is the last movie you saw?
The last Avengers. You know the one where the world was threatened and they nearly destroy the world as they are saving it? But you know, Captain America and that Thor guy…
What will we catch you listening to (music-wise) in your car?
Music wise: the local classical music station. But right now, I’m making my way through the Harry Potter audio books again. Gotta love Harry.
Are we more likely to catch you reading a paperback book, hardcover book, or on an e-reader?
I love ebooks! I have moved so many boxes of books in my life that I never want to see another paper book. It totally blows my mind that I can store thousands (that’s thousands!) of books on my phone and they are synced with all of my computers and tablet. God that is amazing! And I can buy a book and read it instantly!
What is your idea of a perfect day?
Spending time over in Palm Bay, Florida, where I grew up. My folks still have the house over there. My writer friend Cindy and I go there on occasion for a writer’s retreat. Good food, beach time, homemade sangria, and lots of writing. Very good days.
You’re stranded on a desert island. What are the three things you can’t live without?
Water, sunscreen, and BBQ. Gotta have BBQ at the beach.
Coconut shrimp. [Excellent choice, Stephen!]
What will we absolutely never see you eat?
Lima beans. Really, who looked at those suckers and thought food? [Seriously, right!! We are totally on the same page *grins*]
What is your preference? Coffee, tea, or soda?
I’m a southern boy! Iced sweet tea, please.
Places you can find Stephen
- Web page:
- Link to upcoming work “Return to Cooter Crossing”: (This is a pre-order page)
- Twitter @stephendelmar
- Facebook: or
Thanks so much, Stephen, for stopping by and giving us some insight into Return to Cooter Crossing!