by Diana Hockley
This week we are reviewing the debut mystery novel of one of our own, Margaret Mendel. We also have a fun interview with her and details on how to win an ebook copy of the book at the end of this post.
Fish Kicker By Margaret Mendel
Review by Diana Hockley
Sharon is a woman whose emotional and physical life is in the balance. An alcoholic, she has had her daughter removed from her care and placed by Social Services with her own mother, who has no time for Sharon and swears that Tasha will never be hurt again.
Acknowledging that she has been less than a prefect mum, Sharon has drifted through jobs, trying desperately to stay sober. When we meet her, she is working at a job which is considered the lowest of the low – a fish kicker. Her elderly employer has enough to worry about beside his business. His son, Herb, is less than well behaved – a vicious, nasty tempered youth, whom no-one wants to cross, least of all Sharon.
Currently living in the bush on the crest of a cliff, Sharon’s temporary camp is smashed up and she is forced to leave to find other work and somewhere to stay before the unforgiving Alaskan winter sets in. Urgency kicks in as her money is running out, but unfortunately for her, she has seen something she shouldn’t, which could ultimately cost her life.
It is not acknowledged by some, that we take our problems with us, something which Sharon soon discovers…a murderer who believes she saw his crime is tracking her.
This unusual, well-written short novel has it all – foreboding from the first page – and a heroine in whom this reader was happy to invest care. The people she meets along the way are well drawn in every respect – the dogs are splendid and add even more depth to this unusual novel. Sharon’s triumph over her addiction and her struggle to accept help from the quirky, but strong people of Nowhere, is brilliantly shown.
I enjoyed this and would be delighted to read more by this talented author.
Interview With Margaret Mendel:
KRL: Did you start writing from a young age and are you a dedicated reader?
KRL: Writing has always fascinated me. I remember being a very small child playing in the dirt with a stick, having a great time scratching out make-believe words, or scribbling with my fingers on the back bumper of our old dusty car, writing my stories. However, you see, I am dyslexic and could not really read or write well for many years. But the Gods played tricks on me. They gave me the burning desire to write. Unable to decipher the written word, to read, or to make sense of what my eyes could see, my mind only saw jumbled letters. I felt cursed and dreamed of the day when I could write; really write. I never stopped working at what I thought was the magic of the written work. Then one day, I could read. I could write. I do not take this gift for granted, and cannot help but believe that books are born of a miracle.
I read all the time. But when I am immersed in the initial writing of a short story, article or novel I cannot read fiction. During those times, I read travel journals or nonfiction books about cooking.
KRL: What or where did you find your inspiration for the plot?
Margaret: There is no telling where inspiration for a story or a novel will come from. It could be as simple as a shadow crossing a busy street, or as complex as a very troublesome relationship from my past. Inspiration is magical in my mind and I’m always waiting for that next unexpected magical moment to occur.
The inspiration for my novel, Fish Kicker came from my sister who lives in Alaska. She told me about a woman she met who worked as a ‘fish kicker’ in a fish cannery. That set my imagination off and running. The next think I knew I had a main character, Sharon Wolf, and a short story emerged. Several readers were not satisfied with only a short story and wanted to know what happened to Sharon. So, the next stage was to write a novel.
Though I had a great kick-start for this novel, I would say, don’t wait for inspiration. Write, is my motto!! If you don’t write, inspiration will not be so inclined to visit you.
KRL: How do you plan your books and for how long before you actually start writing?
Margaret:I get an idea and just run with it. Once I’m so entangled in a plot, a cast of characters and when I begin to forget what it was that I’d started out to accomplish, that’s when I slow down and take stock of what it is that I’ve created.
KRL: What research do you do for your novels?
Margaret:It depends on the topic of the novel or short story. Most issues that I’ve written required some form of research. Books, articles on line, library research, and even trips to exotic places have all be an aspect of my digging deeper into plot, location, character, time frame, historical prospective.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for writing?
Margaret:I write every day mostly in the daylight hours with head phones on, sometimes listening to music, other times just blocking out the street sounds of NYC.
KRL: Do you set yourself a goal of so many words per day?
Margaret:I’d like to do that but my goals are often wordless. There are so many aspects to writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. Concepts and intent of a story cannot always be measured in words. If I don’t have a good idea of what it is that I’m writing about, what does a lousy collection of words mean!!
KRL: How do you go about planning your novels?
Margaret:I live by the saying: The Gods laugh at any plan. Some days this is so true and sometimes I can see that if I just keep on a particular track, it’s not a plan, but an intent, a feeling, a course of action that can be managed. And then some days ten or twenty written pages must be discarded because they totally took me off track. I like to think of what I really do is periodically evaluate what it is that I had set out to do.
KRL: How do you cope with writer’s block?
Margaret:I don’t think I really believe there is such a thing as writer’s block. Being an author is such a complex experience that I think the spirit to continue to write, the complete blanking out of a working story line, the anger at things not working out the way that you’d intended becomes more why authors become unable to finish novels, short stories or memoirs. I’ve had stories stop dead short, mid activity, dangling in front of me dead and limp, and aborted plots. At that point, even after many attempts at reviving the story, if I cannot get it going again, it’s put aside and I start another project, hoping that someday these unfinished projects will open up to me and I’ll be able to finish them. I do not dwell on any blocks. To me they do not exist. The only thing that lives for me is the next project, and there is always another one waiting for me around the corner. But if I perseverate around what I cannot do, nothing will ever get done.
KRL: Do you have a mentor – someone you can ring up and bleat too if necessary?
Margaret: I have a variety of people I hangout with to talk about creative efforts, whether I’m having trouble with a plot, a character or a setting, we discuss it all, the good and the troubled. If I only went to these people with only the nasty stuff in my creative life I wonder if they’d answer the phone when my number came up on caller ID.
KRL: Does someone else check you plot as you go along, or do you keep it a secret until you have finished the first draft? Or finished altogether?
Margaret:I don’t like to talk too much about each project until I have a pretty good handle on what it is that I’m writing.
KRL: How do you keep track of the characters and what is happening at any given time in the story?
Margaret:I keep a character list and try to make some kind of outline of what is going on in a story, whether a short piece or a novel.
KRL: If you had a choice – and you may well have – what time of the day do you like to write?
Margaret:Any time I can find peace and quiet in my head. Or any time I find the story is so compelling that I could not possibly ignore the words rushing around inside my head.
KRL: What are the titles of your other books?
Margaret:At this point, I only have one published novel, Fish Kicker. I am in the final stages of editing Pushing Water the next novel that will soon be ready to send off to the publisher for consideration.
KRL: Future books?
Margaret:Yes!! The next novel is titled Pushing Water. It’s based in Vietnam in 1939 to 1941with a female protagonist working as an archivist in Hanoi. And there is another novel in the works about wild mushroom hunters in the Pacific Northwest.
KRL: When did you start seriously writing and what did or do you do other than writing?
Margaret:I probably started to seriously write 20 or 30 years ago. But it’s taken me this long to get a novel published. And I’ve done many other kinds of work besides writing. Most of my working life has been as an MA Psychologist working with either a schizophrenic population or with adults with intellectual deficits.
KRL: Any advice for new writers?
Margaret:Keep writing. Don’t stop. Find time. Find classes. Play with characters. If you really want to write, don’t just talk about it, do it!!!
KRL: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years?
Margaret:From what I see as a result of having my first novel come out as an e-novel, more publishers are going to be producing e-books.
KRL: A little about yourself: e.g. do you have pets (KRL is very pet friendly)
What do you like to do with your spare time? Hobbies?
Margaret:I’ve had cats and fish. Now that my children are grown my husband and I do a lot more traveling and pets do not fit into that kind of lifestyle. Though we are considering getting another fish tank. But that’s still in the discussion stage.
I am an avid photographer and I’m almost as involved with taking photos as I am with writing. You can see some of my photos on my Flickr.com site.
KRL: What is one thing readers might like to know about you?
Margaret: I am a wonderful pie baker and when I’m not all caught up in either writing or out on a photography expedition with friends, I love to cook.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Margaret: I will be visiting Washington State in May and on Friday, May 16, I will have a reading from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Latte Da Coffee House and Wine Bar located at 205 East 39th Street, Vancouver, WA.
You can learn more about Margaret and her writing on her website.
To enter to win an ebook copy of The Fish Kicker, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Fish,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 5, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.