I first became acquainted with Mary Ellen via Facebook, and discovered she and I share the same publisher, Black Rose Writing. We write in different genres, however. Mary Ellen writes Women’s Fiction, while I stick to thriller-crime-mystery.
Mary Ellen has written for a local magazine, and has written newsletters for a company that markets them for school districts. It’s always nice to meet a fellow educator. She and I also share some similarities when it comes time to sit down and write. A fascinating person and author, I think you will find the interview entertaining and insightful.
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
Since I was young, I found I could express myself in stories. I have short stories, articles, and half-finished thoughts in notebooks and on computer disks dating back many years. But I never thought of publishing a book. When my youngest child entered school, I was looking to reenter the workplace, which was a discouraging journey. My husband finally said to me, “Just write.” His encouragement made it possible.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
I strive to create books that live beyond the final pages. In contrast, when a mystery is solved, the story is over. But when you have characters that enter your heart and your mind, they live on. You, as a reader, want to wish them well, even send them a birthday card. And with those real characters, I want to uplift my readers without ever being preachy.
What genre do you write, and why?
Most of my books would fit in Women’s Fiction, but they often have some mystery thrown in. I am drawn to books about people caring for one another and lifting them out of their trials. And you end up writing the book you want to read.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak had a huge impact on me. It was captivating and deeply emotional, but it was also so clever. I love the idea of the narrator being death. How does someone come up with that? As an author, it makes me stretch my thinking and imagination.
Watership Down by Richard Adams was my favorite book in high school. It doesn’t hit me the same way now, but at the time it struck me with the out-of-the-box approach to an adventure story with non-traditional characters, even beyond them being rabbits.
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
My go-to authors used to be Michael Connelly, John Grisham and Michael Crichton, which is odd since I really love Women’s Fiction, and their books are definitely not that. So, lately I’m drawn more to Kate Morton. But in reality, I’ve evolved into reading stories that intrigue me regardless of who wrote them.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
This is a great question. Years ago, my husband started his “lunch list” of who he’d love to talk with. So, it’s something we regularly discuss. Here’s my list, if I have to narrow it down to five:
- Kate Middleton. She approaches life with such grace. I want to know how she smiles amid the criticism and how she finds the balance necessary to give her kids as normal an existence as possible.
- Agatha Christie. I would never ask her how she came up with her ideas. I would just want to listen to her talk. Her agile mind must have been quite something to dream up so many unique mysteries. She was never a formula author like you see with some best-selling authors.
- Tom Hanks. He is always portrayed as such a nice person, despite his fame and fortune.
- George Washington. He had a sense of how important the United States of America was, but he also had the good sense to not become its king.
- Harriett Tubman. That woman had hutzpah. She faced life without fear, or at least she didn’t let her fears deter her.
What is your writing routine? When you write, are you a planner/outliner or are you a “pantser”?
I write Monday through Saturday from morning until dinnertime. I start by rereading the previous day’s writing to edit it and get into the groove of the story. That creates a nice flow into the day’s new writing.
I’m definitely a planner. When I get ideas, I jot them down on 3×5 index cards. When I have enough cards, I sort and organize them. Then I write from those cards. One card might translate into a paragraph or maybe several pages. Then I’m on to the next card.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
Reading is critical to writing. And I read almost all genres. I learn how to be a better writer from that diversity. However, when I’m really engrossed in my writing, I don’t read much. It’s too hard to divide my thinking.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In terms of writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I find the timing of some things isn’t always what I’ve wanted. I’ve written a series of children’s books (It Was a Dark and Squeaky Night; To Pee or Not to Pee, That is the Question; among others),but I have yet to have them illustrated, which is the next step before publishing them. It will happen. I’m just not sure when.
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
It’s trite, but read, read, read. The other advice is to seek feedback about your novel before publishing it, and then don’t take the feedback personally. View it as a means to improve your book.
How do you handle a negative critique?
I first attempt to see if there’s anything I can learn from it, areas that I need to improve. After that, I dismiss it. Often, when it’s extreme or off-the-wall, I find it hilarious and share it with friends.
Is there a type of writing/genre that you find difficult to write? Why?
Non-fiction. I become concerned with accuracy, so I’m hesitant to put words into people’s mouths or motives in their heads. That’s why I haven’t written a non-fiction book yet.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
They help tell the story. If you’re baking brownies, the aroma heightens the anticipation of how delicious they’re going to taste, thus spreading out the enjoyment. Like that, all the parts of a story should advance and enhance it.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
Partly. I don’t identify with the whole package of my characters, but I definitely like their resilience or their journey to learn to forgive or love. I’m always trying to be a better person myself, so I hope my characters are doing the same—despite their stumbles.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
I have some that stay with me for a time, but they’re often replaced with a new one. I was really invested in Mira, the main character of In Search of Sisters. But then Brea (in The Apple of My Eye and The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far) took her place. I guess I’m a fickle friend as an author.
Tell us about your most recent book. How did you come up with the concept? How did you come up with the title?
My newest book is The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far. It’s my fifth book, but it’s a stand-alone sequel to my first book, The Apple of My Eye. I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, even though several readers had asked for one. Then Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing asked me to consider writing one. I let that percolate in the back of my mind for a while before the journey of the characters emerged. I wanted the title to tie in with the first book yet not be too cheesy (like mentioning Apple Pie).
From your book, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
My favorite character in that book is probably Martha Fereday. Although she has passed away by the time the book starts, she leaves behind some instructions for the main characters to follow that produce a lasting legacy.
Has your writing led to work other than being an author? And if so, has that helped your novel writing?
Yes, I’ve written regularly for a local magazine and for years I wrote educational newsletters for a company that marketed them to school districts. My newsletter editor taught me much about the effective and appropriate use of words.
Lately, I’ve been editing other’s books. It’s very enjoyable, and honestly, it’s so much easier to edit a book you haven’t read dozens of times already. I have a mathematical brain (my college major was computer science), so looking for plot holes and consistency in the narrative is like a puzzle I’m just itching to solve. There’s no doubt that shifting to an editing mode in my head helps my own writing in those many rewriting phases.
You can find more information on Mary Ellen and her books at the following links:
Mary Ellen’s links to her newest book (which releases 10/21/21) are: