Today we sit down for a chat with mystery author Mary Feliz. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’m not a natural writer. My first college essay came back with the notation, “Did you sprinkle the commas in with a pepper grinder?”
For me, writing a novel seemed like the ultimate challenge. Some people want to win the lottery. Others want to climb Mount Everest or become president. I wanted to try to write a novel that was good enough to be traditionally published. I’m not sure when that goal first seized hold of me, but it was when my children were small, my days were long, and my imagination kept me sane. I’ve often thought that knowing what you want is one of the hardest things in life, but when you know, getting what you want is relatively easy. It still requires a lot of very hard work, but the path becomes clear. Everyone’s path is different, and many may be windy and uphill, but those who stay on the path tend to get published.
How long did it take you to get published?
How long depends upon when you start counting. In 1999, I began a YA historical trilogy centered round California statehood and the early Spanish settlers. I found an agent for them, but they were never published. In 2014, I tried again with mysteries, and my first mystery was published in 2016. So, did it take me two years or seventeen? I’ll let you decide.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author. I’m published by Kensington’s Lyrical Press, which focuses on e-books but also offers print-on-demand and mass market paperbacks.
Where do you write?
Anywhere. I’m writing this in the dentist’s office while waiting for my 91-year-old mother. I’ve written in coffee shops, in cars, on airplanes, and in hospitals. My favorite spot is the guest room/office in our tiny condo at the beach on Monterey Bay in California.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by?
I prefer silence. I can tune out the noise of a crowded coffee shop if I have to, but I always travel with earplugs, just in case. I love music, but I’m unable to let it float in the background. I find it distracting.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
“None of it” and “all of it” are both true. Everything gets filtered through the lens of my real life and real events. But first it goes into a blender where it is mixed, sifted, and changed so that all the pieces fit together in an order that serves the story. Story always wins, regardless of which pieces are fictional and which are factual. None of my characters are based on real people, but all of my locations are plucked from real locales.
Describe your character-naming process.
Many of my characters come to me with names already attached. I don’t know how that happens. Frequently, they’ll all come to me with names too similar for a reader to keep straight, so I need to try different names on them until we get a proper fit. It becomes a negotiation between me and my character, but when it’s right, we know it. Some poor characters may spend most of the book being known as “dead guy”, “strange woman”, or “motorcycle dude,” before I finally discover their given name.
Real settings or fictional towns?
Orchard View, in which the first four books are set, is a fictional town that’s a mash-up of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and other Silicon Valley towns. It contains many real locations and landmarks, including the house the McDonald family lives in, which is based on the historic Griffin House at Foothill College. I try not to have anything bad happen at a real location. Although I blew up a building at Stanford University in Scheduled to Death, the building doesn’t exist and real campus security would have easily thwarted the plan if fictional students and staff had followed real university safety protocols.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
That’s a difficult one. Tess, Maggie’s best friend, has two sides to her life and personality, with completely separate wardrobes for each one. She and her husband have a happy successful marriage with a unique living situation. So, Tess might win, but some of the other characters give her a run for her money, including Paolo, who always arrives at crime scenes with a new and different piece of athletic gear strapped to the roof of his car.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Everything I do is completely normal and expected, of course. J
If you could have written any book, which one would it be? Why?
Time Magic, because it’s a great pun and a great book that entertained me endlessly as a child.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I’m not a big one for do-overs, because I see even the most dismal of experiences as a learning process. There is usually something positive to be gained. To get a do-over would mean giving up the good things along with the bad. It’s tempting, but once the bad situation is behind me, I’d hate to go through it again, in case it turned out worse than it did the first time!
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t take the time to be polite. It takes so little effort and makes life so much more enjoyable for everyone.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Assuming it can’t be a desserted island, which would be much more fun, and that it has clean water and shelter, I’d love to have writing materials, reading materials, and a dog.
What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
We called it “The Prayer Factory.” And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Today, I’m going to say A Wrinkle in Time, because I loved Meg, her mother’s lab, and the kitchen. But tomorrow, my answer might be different. There are so many varied and wonderful books, with plenty to satisfy every mood and personality.
Ocean or mountains?
I like the mountains, but I love the ocean so much that I moved to the beach.
What’s on the horizon for you?
After the sixth book in the Maggie McDonald series, in which she heads to the mountains, I’ll be working on a new series set near Monterey Bay. The McDonalds and their animals may return, but I think the poor people of Orchard View need a break from the spate of murders that have beset them since Maggie and her family came to town.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I have the best job in the world and I love it. I’m also infinitely grateful to all of my readers, especially the ones who love the books and say so to other readers! You’re the best!! Thank you!
Book 4 of the Maggie McDonald Mysteries
Professional organizer Maggie McDonald balances a fastidious career with friends, family, and a spunky Golden Retriever. But add a fiery murder mystery to the mix, and Maggie wonders if she’s found a mess even she can’t tidy up . . .
With a devastating wildfire spreading to Silicon Valley, Maggie preps her family for evacuation. The heat rises when firefighters discover a dead body—the husband of Maggie’s best friend Tess Olmos. Tess becomes the prime suspect in what's shaping up to become a double murder case. Determined to set the record straight, Maggie launches an investigation more dangerous than the flames approaching her home. When her own loved ones are threatened, can she catch the meticulous killer before everything falls apart?