“Keep Left” Provides Comedic Window Into World of Island Villa Development

“Keep Left” book cover.

There’s no question that the issue of development on St. John is at its peak, and the release of the new book, “Keep Left: The Open Air Asylum Called St. John” by Mike Mullen could not have come at a more appropriate time.

The book provides an open, mostly factual account of Mullen’s own encounter with development in Love City. In “Keep Left,” the author shares his experience — mixed in with a few fictional adventures — of building Villa Tesori in Rendezvous and Ditleff.

“I started building a house down here in 2004, and I decided that each day, when funny incidents occurred, I’d sit down and write about them,” said Mullen. “This helped me keep my sanity, and prevented be from becoming a total alcoholic. Then, after about three or four months, I had all my notes on the computer and I thought, ‘this might make a good book.’”

Eight months after first deciding to compile his notes, “Keep Left” was completed. Unfortunately for Mullen, his journey to becoming an author would take several more months. He worked with a writers’ group in Aspen, Colorado, where he has a home, on editing the book, and then began the arduous task of searching for an agent to help get the book published.

Clearing Out the Garage
“Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, they really don’t want to talk to someone who is putting out their first book,” said Mullen. “After going to literally 150 different agents either by phone or letter, I went into business mode and decided to print the book myself. I got the jacket cover done, then found the printer I wanted out of Canada.”

One thousand hardback copies of “Keep Left” were printed, and Mullen is working to quickly sell them — partially to appease his wife.

“My wife told me, ‘it’s a good book if the garage is empty by the end of February, and it’s lousy if there are still books there and I can’t park my car,’” he said.

So far, Mullen has been happy to receive positive feedback on his book.

“The lady who runs the place where I’m staying on St. Thomas and her daughter read the book and they loved it,” said the author. “I sold 10 copies last night sitting at the bar.”

Those who know and love St. John will enjoy speculating over which island architect’s philosophy reminded Mullen of a “born again Christian who immediately found religion after axe murdering 15 people,” or who is the “dreadlocked rastaman” from Dominica who did an excellent job laying stone at Villa Tesori, despite he and his crew’s habit of smoking a joint at the beginning of the day and again at lunch.

A Few Downsides
Keep in mind, however that the book is “80 percent fact, 20 percent fiction,” said Mullen.

Readers who love the Virgin Islands for its people and natural beauty may be turned off by Mullen’s references to littering on St. Thomas — “Like Daniel Boone marking a path, I flung empty transmission containers out the window along the way, with horns blowing after each throw. One container landed squarely in a trash dumpster, another a direct hit into an unattended tour bus; others had close calls narrowly missing pedestrians” — and the book’s tone, which at times comes off as elitist and somewhat arrogant.

And if Mullen’s referencing the airport on St. Thomas as the “Cecile E. King Airport” bothers you, be forewarned that “Keep Left” does have its share of misspellings, errors and other typos.

While some St. John residents and visitors may not be happy with those who come to St. John to build a villa and ultimately make a quick buck off the island’s beauty, Mullen’s obvious love for the island does have a certain redeeming quality.

“For me, St. John is perfect with isolated beaches, small shops, quaint bars, excellent restaurants, lots of snorkel locations with each one more enticing than the one you just left,” Mullen writes. “The populace consists of the most down to earth individuals, both rich and poor people that you could possibly meet. It is difficult to find anyone who has visited St. John and does not yearn to return or prolong his stay.”

The first-time author and St. John villa developer, who sold Villa Tesori in May 2007, is currently constructing a villa on Maria Bluff which should be finished by September, and anticipates construction of his third villa, located near Tesori, to begin in March. Mullen has plans to construct two more villas after his second and third St. John villas are completed.

Second Book in 2009
Helping to keep his sanity throughout construction of his second and third villas is a second book — another comedy about St. John — which Mullen expects to release in 2009.

“Keep Left” is currently for sale at St. John Spice, Big Fish, Dockside Bookstore on St. Thomas and www.keepleftbook.com, and the book will be for sale at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and Borders by the first of March. Mullen will be at the Beach Bar on Sunday, January 20, signing copies of “Keep Left.”