Debra Bokur is the author of the Hawai’i-based Dark Paradise Mysteries series published by Kensington Books (The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and The Lava Witch), often favorably compared by Publisher’s Weekly and other reviewers to Tony Hillerman’s Southwest-based mysteries. She’s served as an editor on the staff of multiple national magazines, has been a feature writer for Global Traveler Magazine since 2007, and works as a book narrator and voice actor for Audible. Bokur divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine and is working on a new series set in the 160-year-old haunted inn in Maine that she and her husband are restoring.

The summer before my junior year of high school, I worked at the concession stand at the local drive-in movie theater in St. Augustine, Florida. The much-anticipated release of the film Jaws, based on the novel of the same name by author Peter Benchley, was underway.

It was 1975. Everyone had appalling hairstyles and wore bell-bottom denims held up by double-ring leather belts. We drove ridiculous cars (do a Google search for “Pacer,” and you’ll see what I mean). Those very cars came to be parked by the speaker posts in the sandy lot in front of the drive-in’s huge movie screen, and their passengers — locals and schoolmates — all found their way to the concession counter to gather enough popcorn, soda, and reheated frozen pizza to carry them through to the film’s big wrap-up.

By the end of the summer, I knew the entire script by heart, had acquired a deep interest in story arc, and found a best friend. Her name was Ally (changed to protect her privacy), and she, like me, was a smart-alecky New England transplant who loved writing, books, and films. She still does, and we’re still friends, and to this day, we exchange book recommendations and snippets from our own writing. And we can each still quote a shocking number of lines from Jaws.

The most important thing we accomplished that summer was not to memorize blockbuster scripts or earn money to stash in our small bank accounts (a lot of which was diverted to buying books); it was to create a story for ourselves that had nothing to do with sharks, or navigating challenging home lives, or deciding on which scholarship programs to angle for: It was all about becoming the successful women that everyone in our neighborhoods insisted on telling us we could never be.

Back then, I had a half-formed fantasy of my future as a successful author who lived a double life as an international spy, cruising on assignment through the Swiss Alps in a vintage Jaguar (British Racing Green, natch) or piloting a sleek wooden Chris Craft speedboat between small harbors in the Greek Islands, waiting for an impossibly sexy co-spy to meet me on the dock in front of a private villa. The co-spy always carried a secret document hidden in the pages of a Dylan Thomas poetry collection and always smelled like sandalwood and neroli. My efforts, of course, would save humanity from a dire end; and, depending on the fantasy details of any particular day, also rescue at least one puppy and several children from the path of a tsunami.

Not too long ago, one of those countless subscription television networks ran a Jaws movie marathon, endlessly playing the original film in the legendary shark-attack franchise back-to-back. I left the television on and the film playing in the background while I did a deep clean of my kitchen cabinets and drawers. In no time at all, I was speaking along with the actors, the script seemingly lodged forever in one of those strangely shaped little rooms in my brain.

Hearing those lines again reminded me of how words can so easily get under our skin and infiltrate our psyche; how some stories stick with us, and the memory of them becomes a powerful link to moments that we share with others.

Today, my secret fantasies have less dramatic details but are far more meaningful: Most revolve around book sales and good reviews; of meeting readers who found something engaging in one of my novels and who can’t wait to read the next one; of walking into a bookstore in a faraway town and seeing my books prominently displayed on the shelves.

Sometimes, those things actually happen. Maybe, someday, there will be speedboats, Jaguars, and clandestine meetings on villa docks, too. Perhaps my spy fantasies were really all about the longing to make some kind of positive mark; doing something — even undercover — might change the world in a good way. Making sure the imaginary killers in my mystery series get caught and properly punished is how I practice.

We all have our own concession stand memories, I think; people we meet along the labyrinth trails of our lives who, if we’re lucky, become enduring friends. For authors, readers who come back time and again to read our latest work are exactly like that: friends whose names we may not know but to whom we are nevertheless indelibly connected.

Connections matter. Today, Ally, a gifted vocalist, sings as part of a successful musical group. She has an incredible family and a happy life, and she still writes stories that take my breath away. In the process of getting my own work out into the world, I’ve met and become friends with some marvelous authors and equally amazing readers. Is there a movie or song or book that triggers one of your own most powerful memories that brings you back to a place and time that you had no idea would become a seminal moment in your own journey? I hope so, and I hope you’ll share it in the comments here. Thank you for allowing me to share my own.

Professional affiliations:
Society of American Travel Writers,
Mystery Writers of America,
Sisters in Crime (National, Colorado and New England chapters),
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers,
International Thriller Writers.

Here are links:
My website (all the purchase links are there):
https://www.debrabokur.com/

Facebook page on The Broadway Inn (our project in Maine has a nice, creepy cover photo): https://www.facebook.com/MachiasBroadwayInn/