Inquiring Minds III (Borneo) – Mark of the Spider

Without Borneo, there would be no Mark of the Spider.

My supernatural suspense novel, the first of the Black Orchid Chronicles, follows nature photographer Sebastian Arnett, who is cursed with the power to kill with his thoughts but has no control over this lethal ability.

That curse had to come from somewhere, and I wanted a location far from the American experience in time, distance and culture. The more remote, the better. And if it was still wild, or at least untamed, even better still.

After all, the guy is going to think of people dying — as we have all done from time to time — and THEY DIE! That’s outside the normal American experience.

The opening location in the book also needed to have orchids, lots and lots of orchids. I call the series The Black Orchid Chronicles for a reason.

Worldwide, there are about 28,000 species of orchidaceae. And Borneo alone has about 1,500 species. That ought to keep a nature photographer busy for a few months documenting all those flowers for a wealthy Middle Eastern patron.

Sounds like my kind of place.

One Island, Three Nations

So, Borneo, orchids, native tribes, headhunters and demons.

The island is the third largest in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea. (Australia swamps them all, but is considered an entire continent rather than just an island.)

Still, Borneo is big enough to house (parts of) three different nations — Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Much of the action in The Mark of the Spider takes place in the Malaysian section in the north and northeast. Rural towns with names like Kota Kinabalu and Tenom host some tense scenes, and the book opens in Taman Pertanian Sabah, the Sabah Agriculture Park, with its collection of hundreds of native Bornean orchids.

As in other resource-rich parts of the under developed world, outside forces imperil the orchids and the people who live among them. Illegal logging, fires and forest damage have reduced the natural habitat of many species, and gold mining and illegal burning has led to the extinction of hundreds of orchid species.

In his travels into the Heart of Borneo, Sebastian has a fateful encounter with Dyak tribesmen. More than 200 ethnic subgroups living along the rivers and in the mountains of Borneo, each with its own dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture, make up the Dyak (also spelled Dayak).

One ancient Dyak woman presents him with a black orchid, starting a chain of events that will have Sebastian running for his life.

Borneo. Cool place. A lot happening there. Check it out.

The Mark of the Spider, Book 1 of the Black Orchid Chronicles, is available from Amazon in digital and trade paperback (5.5 x 8.5″, 334 pp.) formats.
Enjoy it today; review it tomorrow.


Book Parts (Dedication) – Mark of the Spider

Book dedications are special. You should read them.

After all the work the author has put into writing the book, he or she devotes a few words to one or more special people.

Dedications are not acknowledgements, which simply let the reader know that more than one person helped out.

Paraphrasing the Free Dictionary definition, a dedication is an announcement to the world of affection or esteem.

In my Viet-Nam era memoir, HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos, I went overboard and dedicated the book to half of the people I knew at the time. Every one of those people deserved the dedication.

With my latest book, The Mark of the Spider, I point out two people who were special not only in my life in general but were special to all the work I did on the book.

My wife, Elizabeth, leads this exclusive list. She has encouraged me to write books almost since the day we met 50 years ago this summer. I could write a lot more about her, but you get the idea. Fifty years.

John Morrow-bw vert_IMG_8947

John Morrow, nature photographer. Photo: Sharon Lerner

The other dedication goes to John Morrow, (1947-2009).

We knew each other only a decade. We shared a few similarities, like our dirty hands blue-collar backgrounds, but were in most ways very different people.

John did a handful of things to perfection — construction, photography, shooting, cooking, mentoring —  and I like to watch people doing the things they love.

He made things, at first small things like leather goods and later much bigger things, like the U.S. Institute of Peace on the National Mall.


U.S. Institute of Peace model. Photo:


John loved to grill, and my wife and I enjoyed watching him tango around his wife, Sharon, in the kitchen he built for them.

Like so many self-made people, he had endless curiosity but a determined ability to focus on one thing at a time.

When he died (far too young) at the age of 62, John was devoting more and more of his time to photographing wildlife, in particular bears, moose and other potentially deadly critters.

It is no coincidence that Sebastian Arnett, the protagonist in The Mark of the Spider, is a nature photographer.

Almost ten years after delivering a eulogy for his life, I find myself still missing the evenings we spent together, drinking red wine, listening to music and arguing over who played what instrument on the arrangement.

I am fascinated that our differences enhanced our friendship. I think readers might recognize that theme in The Mark of the Spider.

The next time you take up a book, I hope you will read the dedication and find a little something that you can identify with. I’m pretty certain that is what the author intends.

Inquiring Minds II (Black Orchid) — Mark of the Spider

At the beginning of the adventure chronicled in The Mark of the Spider, the protagonist, nature photographer Sebastian Arnett, would definitely say, There is no such thing as ghosts. Or demons. Or a true black orchid.

You’ll have to read the book to see whether he changes his mind about the demon thing. He will never change his mind about black orchids, however.

‘Cause there ain’t no such thing as a black orchid.

There is a Black Orchid perfume. A Black Orchid comic book character. A double mystery by Rex Stout. A Black Orchid movie starring Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn and an earlier one from 1953.  There are Black Orchid music albums and an Australian goth band.

But no black orchid flower.

As Celeste Booth notes on the Web site:

There are two shades, however, that orchids do not naturally blossom in: a true blue or a true black. They simply do not have the genetic makeup to make these pigments. There are some varieties of purple orchids that look very blue, but upon close inspection are really a shade of purple. Similarly, black orchids have an extremely rich pigmentation that looks almost black but is not a true black color.

So what’s that black orchid pictured on the cover of The Mark of the Spider?

Dracula vampira orchid. Photo: Eric Hunt

It is a deep purple bloom of the Dracula vampira species. And how cool is the name?

I sent several photos of dark (but not black) orchids to my book designer (Damon Freeman of, and he liked this one best. I agree.

What drew me to the idea of a black orchid?

Obviously, it’s not original to me. Black connotes something dark, mysterious, potentially dangerous. And orchids are complex, incredibly beautiful plants. The two words combined — black orchid — convey the dangerous allure that I needed to entice my protagonist into doing something he normally would never do.

And since I plan to write more than one Sebastian Arnett adventure, I wanted an intriguing name for the series. Black Orchid was an obvious candidate, and my son suggested that the series be chronicles.

And so they are, the Black Orchid Chronicles.

Order your copy of The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle from Amazon today and start enjoying.