Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An Interview with Micki Browning by E. B. Davis

Marine biologist-turned divemaster Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back
life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after the regimented schedule of an
Arctic research vessel, but when she rescues a diver who claims to have seen a ghost,
she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.

News of the rescue goes viral—not welcome notoriety for a researcher trying to
obtain a new position. A team of ghost hunters descends on the Keys and Mer is
pressured into serving as a safety diver for a documentary crew in search of
paranormal activity. When Ishmael, the crew’s charismatic leader, vanishes during a
midnight dive on the Spiegel Grove shipwreck everyone but Mer is convinced that
things really do go bump in the night.

Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer launches her own investigation,
but how to find a dead man wasn’t covered in grad school and the local
law enforcement consider her involvement in both diving incidents criminally curious.
Relying on skepticism, discipline, and logic gets her nowhere. The victim’s life is as
shrouded in mystery as his disappearance. Insurance fraud, business debts and
illicit love further muddy the waters. Reluctantly, she considers employing
less scientific means. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is
about to surface. Maybe dead men tell tales after all.

I knew Micki Browning was a retired police captain so I figured that her main character would be a police detective and the book would be a police procedural. Wrong! Her main character, Meredith (Mer) Cavallo, is a research scientist specializing in octopuses (not octopi!). I was also surprised to learn that Adrift, Micki’s first published novel, won the 2015 Daphne du Maurier Award in the mainstream category, an award bestowed by the RWA. Although Adrift has romance, which isn't required in the mainstream category, it doesn’t have the traditional HEA ending. All in all, my response to Adrift/Micki Browning is unanticipated, delighted surprise. Not that I don’t like reading police procedurals, but Adrift isn’t a dry novel, which typifies cerebral police procedurals. Instead it has all the elements of adventure: Key Largo, shipwreck diving, physical exertion, ghosts, hidden identities, tenuous romance, sibling debate, legal action, and workmate comradery. Released yesterday, Adrift, set in Key Largo, will give readers the perfect place to escape the weary winter. Please welcome Micki to WWK.                                                                                                    E. B. Davis  

An event in Mer’s childhood affected her life. What happened to her and how did it change her?

As a child, Mer drowned--an experience that would keep most people from ever returning to the water. Because of that, she’s afraid of the water. Obviously, it’s a fear she works to overcome, but it occasionally surfaces. For seventeen minutes, she was considered dead, but there was no white light, no one waiting for her. Add in her scientific background and Mer has a difficult time believing in any form of afterlife.

All pictures from
Although Mer is a research scientist, she is currently working for a dive shop in the capacity of a dive leader for tourist groups. I see from your website you dive. One of your specific settings is under the waves aboard the USS Spiegel Grove, which was a Navy transport ship purposely sunk as an artificial reef. Even if no one died in the wreck of this vessel, isn’t it creepy to dive shipwrecks? Do you believe in ghosts?

After retiring from law enforcement, I relocated to Key Largo and earned my professional divemaster credential. The USS Spiegel Grove is my favorite wreck dive. No one died on the vessel while it was commissioned, but sadly, several divers have lost their lives while exploring the ships inner rooms. Wreck diving is exciting and challenging, but it requires additional training and equipment. There is a huge difference between exploring a corridor where the diver can see his or her way out and penetrating a wreck beyond the point where natural light serves as an exit sign. The Spiegel offers divers both choices. I enjoy diving on wrecks because it offers a glimpse into history (I’m a medievalist by education). The writer in me imagines those lives. Do I believe in ghosts? Like Mer, I’m a skeptic, but there are too many unknowns to discount the possibility.

How did you determine Mer’s specialty. Are octopuses your favorite underwater species?

I have a couple of favorite underwater species, but after reading Sy Montgomery’s fascinating book The Soul of an Octopus, I realized octopuses had the intelligence and personality tics to be good characters. It seemed appropriate that a character as complex and intelligent as Mer would study an equally intriguing subject.

I figured that Mer would wear an octopus necklace, but her pendant is of a seahorse, which she never takes off even when diving. What is its significance for her?

Part of the challenge of writing is to take what the reader expects and twist it. I play with names. There are a couple things going on with the seahorse. First it was a talisman given to Mer by her grandmother with the promise that as long as she wore it, she’d be safe in the water. I also like to play with the meaning behind names. In French, the word for sea is mer. Cavallo, in Italian, is horse. So if you use both languages and squint, her name is seahorse. On another note, the last name of her ex is Phillips, which means lover of horses. Coincidence?

Mer has the perfect apartment in an oceanfront house that is currently unoccupied. One of her brothers, an LA police detective, found it for her. When she finds her ex, Ian, living next door, she deduces how her brother knew about the place. Why didn’t she break bad on her brother?

This is an inside peek at the editing process. Originally, her brother had nothing to do with finding the apartment, but the original setup was too coincidental. The revision brought in her brother.

Ian and Mer were involved years before, but Ian disappeared, essentially dumping her. Ian disappears again and at a time when Mer would appreciate his presence. But now she knows that his secret military job requires him to disappear without notice. When will Mer dump him?

Will she? Trust is problematic in their relationship. Their ability to address the issue will ultimately decide how it plays out.

What is confirmation bias? As a police captain, did you have to remind yourself about it?

People often find what they search for. It’s a risk in law enforcement because if investigators jump to premature conclusions, they may interpret subsequent evidence so that it supports their belief and also discount anything that contradicts it. Every officer, regardless of rank, must guard against it. Writers too.

Is/Was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a real person? Would you explain why Mer’s other brother, the priest, brings him into the conversation (which I found fascinating and pertinent to your story)?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was a Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, and taught physics and chemistry at the college level. The dogma of religion and the observations of science can be difficult to reconcile. Many people in both professions struggle to accept the tenets of the other. Teilhard de Chardin bridged that chasm, and was the perfect example for her brother to share with Mer as she struggled with her own crisis of faith. This was one of my favorite scenes to write.

Mer says, (Loc 2364, Chapter 20) “All my life I’ve based my decisions on data….I find comfort in absolutes.” I’m surprised Mer says this. If anyone, I’d think her priest brother would be comforted by absolutes. Mer seems like a brilliant and complicated woman, who wouldn’t succumb to simplistic thinking. Isn’t it out of character?

There are few absolutes in science, and those are rigorously established. When Mer refers to absolutes, she doesn’t mean blind faith, she means Truth (with a capital T). Mer loves the thrill of discovery. She loves it even more when the results of an experiment align with her hypothesis. But even when she’s wrong, that information is used to enhance the new hypothesis and brings her a step closer to the truth. And that is what drives her and why she has such a hard time accepting paranormal explanations. It can’t be replicated, and her childhood experience contradicts the presence of an afterlife.

At first I thought Amber was just a fluffy flake. But she turned out to be true of heart, tenacious, but not particularly honest. Tell our readers about her, if you would.

I really like Amber. She’s far more complicated than she initially appears. She gets caught up in a situation, but when things become difficult for her, she rises to the occasion.

The plot revolves around a ghost-hunting documentary. Mer has been enlisted as a safety diver but
lends a scientific skeptic’s voice to the show. Do you have a theory as to why reality TV shows, which we all know are staged, are popular?

 I suspect this closely parallels confirmation bias. If enough people believe something, it must be true, right? I’m not convinced that everyone in the audience knows or believes that the show they are watching is staged and to them, these shows offer proof that their dream of something beyond this life is a possibility. The program sells hope.

I never heard of a square grouper. What is it?

A square grouper is slang for a bale of drugs—typically, but not always, marijuana. The Keys were a hotbed of smuggling in the eighties.  Even today, the occasional square grouper washes up on shore or is found floating in the waves.

What’s next for Mer in the second book, Beached? How about in the third, Chummed?

In Beached, Mer gets more than she bargained for when she is on the LunaSea and discovers a square grouper. By pulling it onboard the dive boat, she propels herself into the middle of a storm of historical intrigue involving an obscure legend, an 18th century shipwreck, and a modern pirate who wants to claim the booty first.

Chummed finds Mer embroiled in the shark feeding controversy –a hot conservation issue along the Florida coast and in the Caribbean. Mermaids, mayhem, and mystery. Stay tuned!

Before you retired, did you know that you wanted to write crime fiction?

Absolutely. I belonged to a writer’s group and we used to meet weekly in my office at the department. My first crack at a novel was a police procedural. I had to get it out of my system.

If you had the chance to go around the world, would you choose a ship or a jet?

As long as time was no object, I’d choose a ship. It’s all about the journey, right?



  1. Thank you for inviting me to Writers Who Kill! I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on Adrift.

  2. congratulations! pub day at last. Looking forward to reading Adrift.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Your book sounds interesting.

  4. Fascinating! Your background provides a rich depth on which you can base your novels.

  5. Adrift sounds like a fascinating book and series that I want to follow.

  6. The idea of going diving gives me chills. Throw in a murder and intrigue, and I would need a blanket around me to read it. But your book sounds like a terrific read.

    The information about octopuses is interesting. I once heard at an aquarium that they are so intelligent that the staff tried to keep them challenged all the time. They even placed their food in screw top jars to allow the creatures to work out how to get to the food. The octopuses would actually unscrew the jars to get their dinner.

  7. Choosing a character's name is always a challenge, and I really like how you chose Mer. Clever move. Thanks for the insights into the story, and best wishes for great sales. Marilyn Johnston (aka cj petterson)

  8. Margaret~ Thank you so very much! I hope you enjoy the story!

    Warren and KM ~ Thank you both as well. My background in both law enforcement and diving really paid off in this story.

    Gloria ~ Beached is right around the corner!

    Grace ~ I understand. Diving isn't for everyone, but I'm glad you still think it sounds like a terrific read! Your information is correct about octopuses. They must have stimulation or they quickly become bored, and bored octopuses become very challenging for their handlers.

    Marilyn ~ I love naming characters, which is funny considering how title-challenged I am. Thanks for the well wishes!

  9. I hope you're working on the second book in the series, Micki! Can't wait, and thanks for the interview. I hope you know Kait--you are close in location and in hobbies!

  10. Beached is done and Chummed is on the drawing board! I have "met" Kait through the various listservs and she has always been gracious. It's wonderful to find fellow divers!

    This has been a wonderful experience, thank you for having me. I'm so glad you enjoyed Adrift, and thank you for helping me get the word out!

  11. Love it, Micki. Can't wait to dive in to the book. I dove the Grove the first week she was open for diving. Breathtaking. And's she's only gotten better. Looking forward to reading Adrift. So excited! WIll I see you in Key West this year? It would be fun to meet in person.

  12. Thanks Kait! I don't know yet if I'm going to be able to make the Key West Fest. If I do, you are the first person I'll track down. Last year's conference was a hoot!