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‘In my own back yard’

Mills uses a familiar setting for new mystery, ‘Cayo Costa Cross’

March 25, 2020
By PAULETTE LeBLANC ( , Pine Island Eagle

John Mills has always been an avid reader. His inspiration for writing in a localized setting came largely from reading books penned by other authors, in which the scenery was familiar.

"It was such an amazing feeling," said Mills, "to have a mystery set in my own back yard."

Mills says "Cayo Costa Cross" is his favorite among the books he's written for two reasons. First off, he said, unlike his other books, the prologue is set in 1910 Cayo Costa, ironically enough, during a quarantine at the dock, which lasted from 1870 to 1920.

Article Photos

John Mills


"All ships," said Mills, "coming into U.S. ports during that time span, had to be quarantined for 14 days."

Mills explained the reason for this was that the diseases prevalent at the time would manifest after 14 days, so a doctor would inspect everyone aboard a ship and then come back two weeks later, and issue a bill of health. The ship would announce this bill of health by flying a flag above the ship, which, if it were not present, would bring a death sentence, by shooting, to anyone trying to disembark the ship.

He further explained that there had been a quarantine set up at Boca Grand Pass, across Cayo Costa, which meant all boats coming in at Boca Grand Pass had to anchor at Cayo Costa where the doctor would be taken by boat to make his inspection and pronouncement. If anyone got sick during quarantine, all of the passengers were left to die aboard the ship. If, after quarantine, every passenger aboard was found healthy, they were awarded a bill of health, and allowed to unload and disembark.

According to Mills, the old piling rocks left from the quarantine, which don the cover of his book, are still visible, although he said Hurricane Irma took out quite a few. The cemetery, which is used for part of the story, still stands on the island today, which is another part of the book Mills says he finds interesting.

Another reason this book is unique, according to Mills, is that he allows the reader to view the perspective from the "bad guys" viewpoint; something he admits was a first for him as a writer.

"It's one thing to write about the bad guy," says Mills. "It's another thing to get inside his brain."

Practicing law for over 30 years has only served Mills as an author, as he admits he's often able to incorporate his experience in the courtroom into his stories. When he saw fellow novelist John Grisham's Bar Association photo on the wall in a small town in Mississippi, Mills said he thought, well, if he can do it, so can I.

His book, "Cayo Costa Cross," he said, took about a year. Mills said with each new pair of eyes and point of view, his stories get better and better, so he's learned to share his work with different people of varying demographics to get the best end result.

According to Beacon of Hope Board member Elsie Stearns, Mills also shares the earnings from his books, by donating 100% of the proceeds earned at Holiday House of Hope to the Beacon of Hope each year to help raise funds.



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