Underwater, three-minute rants from the Council podium become murmurs.
Federal Way City Councilmember Dini Duclos slips away from the dais and her fellow Council members become a school of butterfly fish, skirting along the corals.
The warm water seeps through Duclos’s body and her pain goes away. She is no longer an elected official or anything else.
“It’s so quiet because you’re there and you’re in another world,” said Duclos, a master scuba diver whose first book about her underwater adventures was recently released. “You’re just floating. You’re just gliding along and you’re seeing all sorts of stuff that you don’t see on land. That’s the only time in my life that I block the rest of the world out and I’m at one down there with the ocean and with what’s underneath there.”
Her book “Danger from Fifty Feet Below” details her 500-plus diving adventures that she’s done over the years. But her book also has a twist of science fiction.
The book’s main character, Gina, offers readers an insight into Duclos’s persona.
“She is basically me, we are very connected,” Duclos said. “All of those dive experiences are mine.”
While scuba diving off the coast of Hawaii — the main place where Duclos dives — Gina comes across what appears to be a little rock. However, she discovers the rock has unique qualities after her chronic pain suddenly goes away. When a big pharmaceutical company becomes interested in the rock, the lives of Gina and her roommate — Duclos’s roommate in real life — are shaken.
Duclos said there are only a few fictional elements in the book, including the pharmaceutical company and the rock.
Her idea for the book emerged last summer while she was in an airplane heading back to Federal Way from one of her diving trips in Hawaii.
“My roommate has arthritis in her back and, having been out diving, we were both complaining about pain because I’ve got a nerve problem and it would be nice to get rid of it,” said Duclos of her chronic pain that she takes medication for.
Then one night, the science fiction enthusiast was watching a sci-fi movie that she said was terrible.
“Pardon my language, I bitched the whole way through it,” she recalled, laughing. “Finally (my roommate) said if you think you can do better, why don’t you? Don’t ever challenge me to do something.”
She began writing a few hours a day, at her homes in Ocean Shores and Federal Way, crafting out her plot during her drive back and forth.
Then her plot thickened during a workout.
“I was at my health club one night on the treadmill and I saw this show on ancient aliens,” Duclos recalled. “And I was watching it and they had all the tombs and people thinking it came from outer space and they found some minerals that they couldn’t identify. So I’m trying to remember all this by the time I got home and look it up.”
She consulted a professor at Highline Community College as she researched different types of rocks.
“Danger from Fifty Feet Below” also chronicles Duclos’s move from her hometown New England, Mass., to the University of Connecticut, where she earned a master’s degree in social work. She moved to Federal Way to work as the executive director of the Multi-Service Center, a position she held for 18 years.
Her book also details her experience as an elected official, and the pain she experiences from her nerve condition.
“ … There is a lot of sitting as a Council member, and I try to brace myself,” Duclos writes. “Since we are up on a dais so that the audience and TV cameras can see us, I try not to fidget too much but sometimes it is hard. I try to have a leg massage the morning before these meetings to loosen up the tendons and muscles that the nerve sets off to help me not look like a fidgeting preschooler who has been told to sit down and be quiet.”
It was during one of those Council meetings in the book when the main character realizes that her pain goes away. She had walked into a packed Council chambers at City Hall.
“My guess was they were there to voice their displeasure at the potential of having ‘red light’ photos installed at some of our major intersections and school zones,” she wrote, noting, “My pain hadn’t appeared, but looking at over three hours of sitting, I wasn’t confident it would stay that way. Pain can lull you and then strike back with enough power to make you cry uncle and beg for mercy. You begin to wonder what you did to bring this upon yourself.”
Federal Way is also outlined in the book, from the city’s history and incorporation, to its rich parks, the Federal Way Aquatic Center, businesses and Olympians, including speedskater J.R. Celski. But Duclos also doesn’t hold back on criticizing the city with some humor.
“I became a frequent guest of the mall, but on all of those trips to Federal Way, I never did find the city center,” she wrote.
Duclos said it’s best to write about things you know, and aside from Federal Way, what she knows best is diving.
While working towards her master diver status — the highest non-professional certification a diver can achieve — she got into the Pacific Northwest water and “I (darn) near froze to death it was so cold,” she said. “Then I had these lobster claw gloves on, and you’ve got to take your mask off and all this stuff and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’”
So she ended up finishing her certification in the warm water along the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.
Duclos has seen many anomalies underwater. One of her favorites is the garden eel. “They’re at depth about 70 to 120 feet and you go down and I like to play games with them because they come up from a hole — they’re slender things with little heads — and they’ll come up and if you get close to them, they all go down,” she said. “And if you back off, they come up. So I go back and forth with them and play.”
She has seen a shipwreck in Cozumel, parrot fishes in Kona that make themselves cocoons at night to protect themselves, groupers, butterfly fish, white and black striped sergeant majors and barrel-shaped sponges that “are open in the middle like huge pots,” Duclos writes.
She also enjoys the ocean’s ever-changing environment. She recalled during one dive, she and a friend went down during the afternoon and it was unremarkable.
“Then when it got dark, we get back in with our lights and the place was like the Copacabana,” she said. “I mean, the reef was crawling with all sorts of eels, crabs and lobsters.”
Though Duclos says this book will probably be her one and only, she hopes the book will take readers on an adventure. “I just hope they enjoy it and have a good time. Maybe somebody will get interested in diving.”
“Danger from Fifty Feet Below” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.