Mary Ellen Hughes is a Wisconsin native currently living in Maryland with her husband, who has long provided her with bounties of home-grown vegetables for preserving and pickling as well as unique inspirations for mysteries. She has raised two children and five cats (the cats were easier) and in between written six mysteries. Her latest is The Pickled Piper, first of her new Pickled and Preserved mystery series.
R: Meow, hello MaryEllen! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Hi Rocco, thanks for inviting me! I was always interested in writing but it took a while to believe I could do it professionally. Until then, I worked in a medical lab (different kinds of mysteries there) and raised my two kids (and several cats). When things calmed down a bit, I got serious about writing and little by little became an actual published author.
R: Tell us about your new series, Pickled and Preserved. How did the idea for that come about (We also hear the dog has more face time in it than the cat??????)
I credit my husband for coming up with the idea of a pickling mystery. At first I laughed, but the more I thought about it the more a story grew around the idea. His reward is getting to enjoy the various pickles I test out.
The Pickled and Preserved series begins with The Pickled Piper and
centers around Piper Lamb, a young woman who left a going-nowhere relationship and an unfulfilling job to return to the small town in upstate New York where she’d spent many happy childhood summers on her aunt and uncle’s farm. Piper sets up a shop for all things pickle and preserve-related but quickly gets involved in a murder investigation .
Piper’s Aunt Judy’s dog, Jack, gets around a bit more, so yes, we do see more of him. The cat, Gracie, is very sweet and loveable—of course!—but prefers to stay indoors at the farm, so her “on-screen time” is limited. Introverts (like most cats) often sacrifice face time for thoughtful solitude.
R: Tell us a little bit about your other two series.
My Craft Corner mysteries—Wreath of Deception, String of Lies, Paper-thin Alibi—are set in a small town in Maryland, where Jo McAllister has moved after the sudden death of her artist husband. She runs an arts and crafts shop there, often teaching classes on wreath-making, beading, or paper crafts, and she and her class regulars work out solutions to murders that have hit close to home.
The Maggie Olenski mysteries center around a young high school math teacher on vacation. In Resort to Murder she comes across the body of a former student who had been working as a waitress in the mountain resort. In A Taste of Death, a developer who’d been trying to buy a family-owned New Hampshire ski resort is poisoned, revealing a private life that hid many motives for his murder.
R: You got your start in writing with a humorous verse. Is writing poetry a secret ambition of yours?
No, I’m afraid actual poetry is probably beyond me. Humorous verse, on the other hand, is fun, and it got me my first byline (in The Saturday Evening Post).
R: Do you have a “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
My first book was sold without an agent to a small publisher who didn’t require submissions through one. I was over the moon when I got that first call!
I got my agent after having two books published with the small publisher. That made me more credible as an author, and my agent was able to place my next book with a much larger publisher – Berkley Prime Crime.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
A game of computer solitaire J. For some reason, playing solitaire helps settle me down and pull me away from the real world and into the fictional one. I start with a game or two when I first turn on my laptop and go back to play occasionally when I feel stumped on a plot point. Some might call that procrastination J but it works for me.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
Hmm. Interesting question. Maybe The Revolutionary War? I read a wonderful biography of Martha Washington and would love to meet her (and George, too!)
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
Perhaps that this cozy mystery writer is a fan of Stephen King, particularly his latest books.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
Probably something in my teens that I’ve carefully blocked from memory J I’ve since led a sensible and calm life with most of the drama occurring in my books.
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
A satisfaction that bad things can be put right if enough good people take action. I hope they’ll enjoy my characters, who have strong relationships—and plenty of fun, too!
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
I’ve sent in book #2 of my Pickled and Preserved series – License to Dill and have begun book #3 – Scene of the Brine.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A little of both. I do broad plotting and then work out the details as I write. Sometimes my original plot changes as new ideas occur.
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Join a critique group of writers whose judgment you trust. Exchanging chapters for feedback on a regular basis will keep you writing steadily and help you improve tremendously.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Cat, of course!
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Iced tea
Favorite Book? Pride and Prejudice
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska (I love snow!)
Folks, you can find MaryEllen here!
Next week: Dawn Eastman!