I want to extend a hearty welcome to thriller writer Mary Deal, my guest blogger today! Mary is a native of Walnut Grove in California’s Sacramento River Delta, has lived in England, the Caribbean, and now resides in Kapaa, Hawaii. (I’m insanely jealous). She has published three novels: The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret, an adventure suspense; The Ka, a paranormal Egyptian suspense; and River Bones, a thriller, which was a winner in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. A sequel is being written. Down to the Needle, her next thriller, is due out early 2010. Mary is also a Pushcart Prize nominee.
MA: You’ve got some impressive writing successes and credentials under your belt. Tell us how you got into the business.
MD: My writing career spans a lifetime, if you could call journals and diaries part of my writing career. I have always wanted to write novels and stories and started a novel from old notes when I lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the late 1960s. Due to family illnesses, I returned home to San Francisco and never finished that book. However, I have decided to rewrite and finish it set in the Hawaiian Islands instead of the Caribbean.
Much later, in 1990, I began to write a new novel. In 1991 my family and I were rear-ended in a car accident. I spent three years in therapy and couldn’t work. Yet, my mind never stopped spinning. I could sit at my computer. My physical problems didn’t flare up when I sat still. I wrote my first novel, and then went on the write another. The first novel will probably never be published. I used some of it to flesh out portions of River Bones, though it can be reworked.
Now I’m publishing my fourth novel, another thriller, in early 2010. Am also writing the sequel to River Bones, my award winning thriller.
MA: Did you start out writing novels, or do you have other writing experiences that preceded the novels?
MD: I first began to write short stories and novellas but found I wanted to make the stories longer still. Novels are a way of expressing a lot of ideas and feelings that a person doesn’t have in their life, not that mine is lacking. It’s a way of expressing uplifting denouements in situations that I and the readers may not find in life. Hopefully, the ends of my stories are enlightening, but not for the “bad guys.” I like to see them get their comeuppances.
MA: There’s a lot to be said about making bad guys pay…it’s so…satisfying! Do we find bits and pieces of Mary Deal in your fiction?
MD: A little of the writer can be found in everything they write, though many would never admit it. How else could we write about something if not what we already know? I’ve had a varied work-life over the years, so lots of different experiences. Then, in the case of my first novel, The Tropics, I used my own near-death escapades at sea and fictionalized them, turning them into dire situations for my characters. What could have happened to me I created actually happening to my characters. A writer’s life experiences are fertile ground for writing.
MA: Indeed! So tell us about your books.
MD: My third novel, River Bones, a thriller, was set in my childhood hometown area of California’s Sacramento River Delta. My friends there always asked, “Why don’t you set one of your stories here?” So I did. Then they asked, “Why did you place a serial killer among us?” To which I reply, “Never mind. He stays in the book. Just read it.” It gets a laugh. They read the book.
River Bones was a winner in the 2009 Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. My readers seem to love the main character, Sara Mason, and sub-character, Esmerelda. So now I’m writing a sequel, with yet another planned.
MA: Ah, fickle friends! Congratulations, by the way, on the award. Tell us more about Sara Mason.
MD: I must admit that I used one of my daydreams to flesh out parts of the character of Sara Mason. I once dreamed of moving back “home” and buying a Victorian along the Sacramento River, which Sara does. As the story progresses, when she is faced with dilemmas, I approached the situations with my mentality, my morals and ethics, and built those into her character. That’s what I meant when I said a little of the writer goes into all characters. How can we not use ourselves in building our stories? It is only we who write the story according to our own knowledge and emotions, and hopefully, with a distinct knowledge of right and wrong.
MA: So is Sara one of those perfect protagonists, or did you build some flaws into her character?
MD: Sara’s strengths are that she left home a weak teenager, fleeing from the drowning deaths of her family. It takes strength for an eighteen year old to strike out on her own to a place she had never been. Later, she comes back home as a mature woman with a mind of her own. She has made a lot of money and decides to help her closest friends and some local charities. However, she returns also to avenge her history of being down-trodden and poor, and her family’s deaths. When she realizes nothing can change the past, we see a great “character arc.” In the end, dealing with being stalked by a serial killer brings her face to face with both her strengths and weaknesses.
MA: I understand you have a particularly nasty psychopath in the story. Tell us about the nemesis.
MD: That, of course, would be the illusive psychopathic serial killer. Immediately upon returning to the Delta, Sara realizes she is being stalked. The reader learns why she’s the target as the story progresses. The original manuscript was read by a clinical psychologist to make sure I got the makeup of the killer correct. She said, “She [the author] accurately portrays the inner workings of a mind troubled by acute pathology.”
The US Review of Books review said the suspense builds to a “riveting ending.”
MA: Those are some nice kudos. What’s the backstory to the novel’s setting?
MD: This book is set in my childhood hometown area. I am sure the way I visualized some of the area, some of the people I used to know, the culture, and what I missed when living there are included in the life that Sara attempts to reclaim.
MA: You mentioned a sequel to the book…can you give us some hints about the next one?
MD: A sequel to River Bones is already being written. However, I already had another novel completed and in queue for publication. “Down to the Needle” is another thriller and due out very early 2010. My pre-readers said that when doing book signings, for anyone who buys, I should pass out little packages of tissues. Award winning thriller author, Brian Porter, said this is a “heart wrenching mystery that leads you down a very crooked road.”
MA: So will the sequel be the end of Sara Mason as a character in your stories, or will you find a way to widget her in to future novels?
MD: I have other novels in rough notes and outline form. I had already created some of the character names for those. Now that I’m writing a couple of sequels to River Bones, those novels in rough note form can be converted so that Sara Mason and other characters from River Bones take over the plots. After “Down to the Needle,” all my books will probably be labeled “A Sara Mason mystery.”
MA: I like the idea of branding a mystery series like that. My publisher is going to do the same for my protagonist, Patrick S. O’Donnell. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
MD: Readers can learn much more about me and how I write on my Web site. I provide information right there on site to help them get started writing, or to help them continue. I add new articles from time to time and each deal with a specific area of writing with which I’ve found writers struggle with the most. The advice covers all aspects of writing from short stories to novels to poetry to business writing and more.
MA: I want to thank Mary Deal for swinging by the Child Finder Trilogy website today to chat with us about her writing career and her stories. Learn more about Mary, read short stories, novel excerpts, writing tips and see video book trailers on her web site: www.writeanygenre.com.