From Waunakee, a Caribbean caper

Davin Goodwin sees publication of his first novel.
Goodwin And Book Cover
Davin Goodwin's first novel, "Diver's Paradise, is out now. (Photo by Leslie Goodwin)

I don’t know about anybody else, but amid all the current upheaval, I sometimes picture myself on a Caribbean island, rum drink in hand, toes in the sand, mind running on empty.

Well, we do what we can.

One evening last week, I found myself on my back deck in Madison, rum drink in hand, toes on a lounger, my mind engaged with a debut mystery novel set on the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire.

Davin Goodwin says he’s been getting a lot of that lately.

“People say, ‘I couldn’t go to Bonaire this year, but you made me feel like I was there.’”

Goodwin, 59, has just published his first novel, “Diver’s Paradise,” set on the island he and his wife, Leslie, have visited some 30 times over the past two decades, indulging their passion for the matchless scuba diving and laidback, soon-come vibe that define Bonaire.

The Goodwins, who live in Waunakee, came to the Madison area from Illinois in 2010. By that time, Davin — he goes by Dave — had a rough draft of a novel stuck away in a drawer. The move and Goodwin’s job as a software engineer kept it there for several years.

Goodwin has been writing stories since his school days in Rockford, and he’d published some freelance articles by the time he and Leslie made their first trip to Bonaire.

Neither had previously been in the ocean. Goodwin had made freshwater dives, including in Lake Superior, and when Leslie got certified to dive in 1999, they signed up for an Ottawa, Illinois, dive shop trip to Bonaire.

Bonaire From Above

The coast of the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire is a scuba diving paradise indeed. (Photo courtesy of Skyview Bonaire)

They loved it — a stunning coral reef encircles the island close to shore — and began regularly making the trip on their own. In the evenings, Goodwin would write “trip reports” describing that day’s adventures.

“I made a story out of it,” he says. “I put in dialogue, bits of humor and conflict.”

Those internet dispatches brought unsolicited responses from readers who enjoyed the stories. He was asked if he had he ever thought of writing a book.

Goodwin liked reading Tom Clancy, and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels. He thought, “I can do this.”

Goodwin sat down — it was 2008 — knowing only he was going to write a mystery set on Bonaire. He typed, “Chapter 1.” Goodwin stared at the page. Five minutes passed. Then 10.

“I finally got something down,” he says. After completing a couple chapters, Goodwin sent them to a friendly acquaintance, the author J.A. Konrath.

“He was rough on me,” Goodwin says, “but in a nice way. He referred me to a writers’ group in St. Charles, Illinois.”

He finished a draft but with the move to the Madison area in 2010, Goodwin, as noted, hit pause. The manuscript never left the back of his mind, though years passed. Finally, in 2017 — “I saw a John Sanford novel sitting on somebody’s desk” — he went back to the novel, rewriting considerably, eventually working with a professional editor.

He sent the finished manuscript — which focuses on a retired Rockford police detective who has moved to Bonaire, and whose past follows him — to agents and publishers. He got some nibbles, but it was Oceanville Publishing out of Sarasota, Florida, that offered a contract.

“They were my 75th attempt,” Goodwin says. Seventy-four agents and publishers had passed.

Bob Gussin, the Oceanview CEO, says Goodwin’s hero, Roscoe Conklin, reminds him of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford — high praise indeed.

Goodwin is an interesting character himself. He played violin in a semi-professional orchestra and banjo in a band that was invited to a music festival in Ukraine. He’s a pilot and part-time flight instructor who likes the fact F-16s regularly fly over his Waunakee home.

“I’m the only neighbor who goes out and watches,” Goodwin says.

And now, he’s a novelist, one without pretense. He says the early feedback from readers has been highly positive.

“It’s humbling,” he says. “I wrote it to be enjoyable. If people learn a little about Bonaire and scuba diving, I’ll be happy.”

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.