Today we sit down for a chat with cozy mystery author Marlene Anne Bumgarner, who also writes nonfiction and memoir. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
When I was writing my memoir, I realized that I enjoyed the storytelling and wanted to do more.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I was fortunate with my first book, The Book of Whole Grains, which I pitched directly to St. Martin’ Press. They published it in 1976 and revised and republished it again in 1997 as The New Book of Whole Grains. I self-published my second book, Organic Cooking for (not-so-organic) Mothers, and my third, a textbook, was commissioned by Pearson. Back to the Land in Silicon Valley was published in 2020 by a small publishing house. I am looking for an agent to represent my cozy.
Where do you write?
I do most of my writing on my laptop, sitting at the kitchen counter. I also like to write in coffee shops.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I often play classical music when I write, but sometimes I prefer silence. And sometimes I prefer the clanking of a busy coffee shop.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
My characters and their names are definitely drawn from real life, but I usually combine characteristics from several different people into one character. I was born in England and raised in an ex-pat community in San Francisco. Harriet is a younger version of me.
Describe your process for naming your character?
I wanted a main character whose name I would never forget as I wrote, so I named her after the midwife who delivered my youngest child. The real-life Harriet was a kind and gentle woman, a champion of women’s rights, and a joyous singer. She passed away in 2022. To the best of my knowledge, however, she was not an amateur sleuth.
Real settings or fictional towns?
I enjoyed reading a series of mysteries by Lee Goldberg that he set in the community where he lives. I live in the same town and enjoyed knowing where the action was taking place, so I decided to set my mystery there also.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
My main character, Harriet Palmer, is a recent transplant from England. She keeps several tea bags in her handbag and is likely to request a cup of boiling water from whomever she is interviewing or being interviewed by.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I have six granddaughters and enjoy purchasing art supplies or toys for them whenever I travel. Instead of buying typical souvenirs for my home, I brought a pink octopus puppet from Greece, Noddy and Big Ears books from England, a board book in Dutch from the Netherlands, and a handmade parcheesi game from India.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
What an interesting question! I wish I had written Little Women. It’s such a satisfying read, and I’ve re-read it many times.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I had worked harder at saving my first marriage. Of course, that means I wouldn’t have married my second husband or met our two youngest daughters or their three daughters, and that would be very sad.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Writers who self-publish books that haven’t been edited.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
A copy of Henry David Thoreau’s complete works, a crisp new bound journal with pen attached, and a vibrator.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
Working for the Villa Hotel in San Mateo, hand addressing envelopes by the hundreds. Or, equally awful, selling magazines by telephone. I did both to earn enough money to buy a wedding dress and host a reception.
Who’s your all-time favorite literary character (any genre)? Why?
Jo in Little Women. She felt like my best friend the first time I read the book, then years later I realized I had fashioned myself after her in some ways. I still think of her as a real person.
Ocean or mountains?
Both. That’s why I live in California.
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Definitely a country girl.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Finish my cozy and write a second one, then return to the trilogy I started many years ago but didn’t have the skills to finish.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I enjoy writing essays about my life and sharing recipes on my blog, but I only manage about one post a month because I also love spending time with my grandchildren and working in their classrooms. I spend hours each day walking with my Border Collie and thinking about my characters and the plot, then I go home and write. Even though I’m retired from teaching, there never seems to be enough hours in a day.
Back to the Land in Silicon Valley
We all worked together. Ate together. Sang together. Learned together. We had a good life. After living close to the natural cycles of the earth year after year, good and not good, we grew stronger and more resilient and learned to manage our occasional conflicts with tolerance and love.
When Marlene Bumgarner and her husband moved to a rural plot of land in 1973, she thought of herself as simply a young mother seeking an affordable and safe place in which to raise her child.
By the time she left the land nearly a decade later, she had written two books and a weekly newspaper column, served as contributing editor to a national magazine, a college instructor, and a sought-after public speaker. Her natural food store The Morgan Hill Trading Post was the first one in her community.
Follow Marlene and her friends as they live on the land, coping with the challenges of rural life as Silicon Valley evolves into the high-tech center it is today, and the world in which they live transforms itself culturally, economically, and politically.