OCALA STAR BANNER Sunday, December 16, 1990
To Mix Opium and Love by Rima L. Firrone, Staff Writer
Gay Courter is a reader’s writer. She tells compelling stories that combine her fiction with a credible amount of fact. A Crystal River housewife, mother and businesswoman, Courter spends every spare moment as a Guardian ad Litem for the 5th Judicial District. 5th Judicial circuit. Her career, though, is writing.
Her first book, The Midwife, chronicled the medical work of a young woman in a New York tenement. Following was River of Dreams” which took readers into the heart of the Amazon and into a woman’s turbulent life in Brazil. Code Ezra was a departure. It plunged into the world of spies and caused Courter some trouble with trusted sources.
“It got inc in trouble,” she said. “People in the spy business were very nice but left out important details. I made up those details and they told me they were very accurate.”
Her latest book is Flowers in the Blood. Published by Dutton, it’s $19.95. Set in 19th-century India, it’s about the opium trade, the Jewish population and colonialism. When she was researching Code Ezra in Israel, she passed Lod Airport and was told the Jews who emigrated from India lived nearby. Flowers in the Blood is based on an 1858 incident that Courter read about at the Judaica library in Gainesville.
“They were cataloging a new book on the Jews in Calcutta and one section dealt with the murder of Leah Judah,” Courter said. Leah, married to an opium trader, was slain by a lover. “I began wondering who found the body and how did they cope, and that was it,” Courter said. “Plots can come swiftly, but then you spend years writing and sorting information.”
Courter visited India as a child but did not return for the research on this book. She wanted to, but her husband ref used. “I went down the Amazon with you. I went to he Gaza Strip with you, but I’m not going to Calcutta in August with you,” he said.
After talking to experts on India and Jewish history, she realized that modern India would not answer her questions about the colonial era. Historians sent her to London and the Raj exhibits; she spent months researching the topic. She later returned to Florida to complete her work at the university. “About 90 percent of what I wanted was available in Gainesville,” she said.
Flowers in the Blood is filled with great romance and bitter disappointment. Dinah Sassoon is a beautiful girl who is coping with her mother’s murder an~ her father’s involvement in the opium trade. Frantic at encroaching spinsterhood, Dinah marries Silas, a stranger from Darjeeling. Later, the truth about Silas emerges. Courter handles the delicate relationship with a fine touch and admits that Silas was a favorite character.
“The thing about novels is that people assume you know where you are going, but I keep writing to find out what happens next,” she said. “I didn’t know my story would have an earthquake In it until I read about one In Darjeeling and knew my characters were there at that time.” The earthquake was later integrated Into the story and turned the plot around.
Dinah’s second marriage, to Edwin Salem, is romance personified. Instant love unites these two and the specter of opium will haunt readers who don’t suspect the impact it will have on the characters’ lives. She said the moral aspect of opium is what drew her interest. Dinah is vehemently opposed to the drug but makes her fortune on it.
She writes for hours every morning and in the afternoons, she works with her husband in their film business — preparing documentaries for public broadcasting networks. In the evenings, it Is back to her writing, where editing and rewriting occupy her time. Raising her two sons and living a peaceful existence on the Crystal River Is all she wants.
“Why buy a lottery ticket?” she asked. “I’ve won the lottery of life.”