Sandi Hoover and Jim Tritten began their separate writing careers penning nonfiction. Both members of SouthWest Writers and Corrales Writing Group, Sandi and Jim published their first collaborative short story in the 2018 anthology Love, Sweet to Spicy. The novella Panama’s Gold: A Tale of Greed (Red Penguin Books, 2021) is the writing team’s sixth collaboration. Visit Sandi on Facebook and Amazon, and Jim on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. You’ll find them both on the Corrales Writing Group Facebook page.
What is your elevator pitch for Panama’s Gold?
Lanny Mitchell, a youthfully-retired environmental lawyer, and amateur birder, revisits Panama to test her idea of becoming an ex-pat. Chen Zhou represents his company and a Chinese gang whose objective is to secure an economic advantage for his country with raw materials critical in manufacturing smartphones, digital cameras, computer parts, and technology for renewable energy. Lanny unexpectedly encounters ecological issues and the activities of the gang. A dormant volcano leaks gases that kill local birds and threaten humans. The finding of Spanish gold and artifacts are linked to events before the Panama Canal was excavated, but also hint that perhaps governments hid deaths, using Yellow Fever as the cause of mortality. The Chinese gang-master does not tolerate failure and Chen Zhou is the target of his wrath after Chinese attempts to corner the world rare-earth market are thwarted by Lanny and local Panamanians. Finding the answer to environmental and economic concerns and helping friends who want the ownership to stay in Panama’s hands, drive the action to a satisfying conclusion.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Using a setting as a character in the book was a first for Sandi, but having fallen in love with Panama, it was a wonderful reason to mentally revisit the country. Jim was charged with making sure that male dialogue was accurate. We challenged his writing about flying with the helicopter crash; it needed to be realistic and yet understandable by every reader.
Tell us how the book came together.
The idea started with Sandi’s excitement over her lengthy trip to Panama and how we could use it for a story. Jim created a basic outline and Sandi wrote to fill it in. Jim created more detail and we just batted it back and forth until we decided to forge ahead. All the chapters were sent to the members of the Corrales Writing Group for critiques and then more rewriting.
Who are your main protagonists and why will readers connect with them?
The protagonist who drives the story is Chen Zhou, although the reader and the characters in the book do not realize that at first. Readers are likely to be surprised at the Chinese presence in Panama and will more likely connect with the book’s antagonist and main Character Lanny Mitchell. This would be similar to the James Bond novels and films where Bond is always the antagonist against the latest evil person in that one story. We think the ending will satisfy the reader when Chen Zhou gets his just reward.
What is the main setting, and how does it impact the story and the characters?
Panama’s location, its landscapes, forests, and volcanos let us create scenes that couldn’t be done elsewhere. This story wouldn’t happen without this setting. It would also not have happened without the assistance of our favorite SWW Panamanian ex-pat, Brinn Colenda. Living in Panama, Brinn was able to research and report on many critical details in the book. He is our unindicted co-conspirator.
Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
The first helicopter flight with Lanny and Jorge. It could be dramatic and beautiful and teasing with low level flight to show off the forest and the pilot’s skill.
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the book?
Who knew there were so many attempts to create a way for trade to cross the isthmus. The Spanish, of course, crossed and left a hint of a trail behind. Didn’t know at all about Stevens’ attempt at a railroad in the mid 1800s. Then the French tried and gave up, and finally the American effort succeeded with a high cost of lives lost.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Working with a publisher and learning from each other.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.