Meow, today my guest is author Mary Feliz!
Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She's worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character's stead, but Maggie's skills leave her in the dust.
Welcome, Mary! Tell us a little about your background
I've lived in five states and two countries but currently live on Monterey Bay in California. It's a marine sanctuary and extraordinarily captivating and distracting!
Tell us a bit about the Maggie McDonald mysteries
Maggie McDonald is a professional organizer in Silicon Valley who routinely discovers the skeletons in her client's closets with the help of a golden retriever with separation anxiety. Whenever murder and injustice throw her world out of whack, Maggie dives in to restore order.
Tell us about the animal characters of your series. Are they based on real life ones?
I've shared my home with cats, dogs, fish, and birds all my life and aspects of my real-life pets live on in my animal characters. Many of the main characters are dog or cat people, because I find that an individual's pets (or lack thereof) and how they're treated reveal often hidden aspects of a person's inner psychology and motivation. It's a tricky balance though, because the pets tend to steel the show.
How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I've adopted a practice that I initially thought belonged only to authors who were complete crackpots. For each main character, I create a poster board collage of their favorite clothing, chores, shoes, quotes, and cars. I note what they avoid doing and who they admire. I include what they'd wear to a fancy party and what they do on a quiet night home alone. What they like to do for exercise or relaxation, and the sort of people who rub them the wrong way.
How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I start with the characters and the things that are important to them. Then I try to imagine conflicts that would disrupt their world so dramatically that they'd be forced to take action. I add in a villain who makes the conflicts worse, and secondary characters who act as helpers, red herrings, or both. Once all those elements are in place, it's not difficult to create a rough working outline and the synopsis required by my publisher. But nothing is locked in stone at that point. I'll write as much as I can and as far along as I can balance between the outline and whim of the characters or new plot elements that I uncover as I go along. Eventually, the manuscript and outline diverge to an extent that I need to regroup, so I'll do a quick redraft of the existing manuscript, add more conflict, and redo the outline, which becomes a roadmap to what lies ahead. I may have to stop and redo that roadmap a few times before I finish the first draft. I guess the short answer is that I'm both a plotter and a plantser, but I think that's the case with most writers--creativity requires both.
Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
One can't exist without the other. A static character -- or my character s I've created her on my collage board -- isn't very interesting until she's faced with great challenges. And a plot, no matter how compelling, is nothing without a character we can care about. That said, I always start with character, which means the character is at least the driving force in creating the story.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Time management is my nemesis. My books come out every six months, which creates grueling deadlines that don't leave me with a lot of extra time for the inevitable unexpected life events. Last year, my dad was diagnosed with dementia, my husband and I downsized and moved to a condo we'd just remodeled, and I broke my foot. I had to be very stern with myself to get the third book finished. I thought that marketing and promotion would be difficult for me, but I like meeting readers and talking about my books. Perhaps I enjoy it more than I should -- after a month of promoting Scheduled to Death, the deadline for the fourth book (working title: Disorderly Conduct) is stalking me.
Do you have a “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I pitched Address to Die For to Kensington directly so I don't currently have an agent. There are a couple of projects I'm considering that might require one, so I'll have to hope that comes with a great story to tell in my next interview.
What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I've finished the page proofs for Dead Storage, which releases July 18, 2017. Books four, five, and six exist in outline form, and I'm drafting Book four now.
What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Don't be afraid to ask for help or ask questions. Most authors are very generous with their experiences, probably because they asked those very same questions of the authors who came before them. No one's path is exactly the same, though; so don't worry if yours looks different from that of your favorite author. If you don't like the process, give up. The process is too long and too uncertain to endure if you consider it torture. If publication is your dream, don't give up. The only difference between published writers and never published writers is that the never published gave up too soon.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I'll never tell!
What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I was a member of a whaleboat racing team.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
Question: What personality trait do you have that serves you best as an author: Answer: My sense of humor. Much of this business is so completely nutty that you either have to laugh or cry and laughing is always better.
I'd also like to be asked a question that would enable me to tell people that my first college English paper came back with a notation scrawled by the professor that said, "Did you put these commas in with a pepper grinder?" It's being a resilient and empathic human being with a strong imagination that makes a good writer--grammar, punctuation, and narrative structure can be learned and taught.
If you entered the witness protection program and had to start over, what job would you want to do?
I've had a large number of unusual jobs, but as a teenager and young adult I shied away from jobs in "traditionally female" fields. As a result, I never considered becoming a teacher, nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician's assistant, and I those are fields I think I'd enjoy. I have the utmost respect for nurses and teachers, and think both careers are woefully under compensated and appreciated.
What would you love to have a never-ending supply of?
What’s the last TV show that made you laugh?
This is Us. It makes me laugh and cry--sometimes both at once.
What store could you browse in for hours?
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) So mean to make me choose!
Beach or Pool? beach
Steak or salad? salad
Favorite Drink? Coffee Latte
Favorite Book? Anything by Louise Penny
Favorite TV Series? The Walking Dead
Favorite Movie? Princess Bride
Favorite Actor: Michael Kitchener
Favorite Actress: Phyllida Law (Emma Thompson's mom)
Dirty Martini or Piña Colada? Chardonnay
Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii
Thanks for a great interview!
You can find out more about Mary at:
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