by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest book by Mary Feliz, and an interesting interview with her. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an EBOOK copy of Dead Storage, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Dead Storage: A Maggie McDonald Mystery by Mary Feliz
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the owner of Orchard View, California’s Simplicity Itself Organizing Services, Maggie McDonald prides herself on helping her clients to declutter their homes and simplify their lives. That requires the cooperation of everyone in the household, so Maggie is reluctant to begin reorganizing Stephen Laird’s home without the presence of his partner, Jason Mueller. She’s willing to make an exception since Jason has been deployed to Texas to implement his new rapid-response law enforcement project, but Stephen’s absence is more inexplicable. When Maggie discovers their beloved mastiff Munchkin bleeding from a beating and stab wounds, she’s understandably alarmed and desperate for news of what happened.
What Maggie learns is nothing she wanted to hear, as she discovers that Munchkin was covered in blood and Chinese food, the owner of a Chinese restaurant has been murdered, and Stephen is in jail after being discovered cleaning up the crime scene. Maggie knows that the retired Marine would never have committed murder, but without Munchkin as support, Stephen will not be able to cope within the confines of prison. Stephen’s mandate that she not contact Jason dumps a heavy load of guilt upon her shoulders, which doesn’t alleviate any of the pressure Maggie feels. As she questions those in their Silicon Valley neighborhood, Maggie discovers a deep divide between how the homeless are treated. While some storekeepers and police officers do what they can to help out those in need, others see them as a blight discouraging customers and only being a threat to everyone’s safety. Stephen and Munchkin were well known amongst the transient community, and having the friendly mastiff around will do much to lessen their fears as Maggie attempts to question the witnesses. The protective Stephen had his reasons for delaying the police and attempting to cover-up the crime scene, as bureaucracy has made even those who belong in the country wary of the authorities.
The author could never have predicted that her novel would have been so timely. There are no easy answers, and Maggie acknowledges that if there were, there would be no immigration or homeless problem. The novel never becomes preachy or one-sided although it does convey the frustration caused by the labyrinth-like regulations of the government.
Maggie always has the support of her husband Max and her thirteen- and fifteen-year-old sons, the latter of whom have picked up her exasperating habit of issuing rapid-fire, often unanswerable, questions. This is a mystery that delves into complex, topical issues, and while it doesn’t provide answers it will have readers feeling sympathetic and wanting to do more. Maggie’s own golden retriever Belle provides entertainment and support for Munchkin, which will delight animal lovers and leaven the tone. This third in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series perfectly captures the high-tech lifestyle of Silicon Valley, as well as it’s a town populated by Google self-driven cars deeply divided between the haves and have-nots. Deeply rewarding and with organizational hints at the start of every chapter, readers will be inspired to clean up both their homes and their communities.
Interview with Mary Feliz:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Mary: I’ve been writing for decades. First in commercial applications explaining the exciting world of vacuum tubes, then in a variety of communications materials for nonprofits.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Mary: My first novel, Address to Die For, was published in July 2016 by Kensington’s Lyrical Press. It received a star review from Kirkus and features a professional organizer and her Golden Retriever sidekick. The main character, Maggie McDonald, is unlike most amateur investigators in that she’s a happily married mom. On the plus side, she has a wide variety of other smart and experienced people to help her. On the down side, she has all the schedule-juggling issues of a working parent with two active children. Her role as a professional organizer gives her access to all the places that people tend to stash their secrets: sock drawers, attics, basements, closets, etc.
Mary: My first books were two young adult novels of historical fiction, focusing on the lives of refugees from the Mexican-American War, who were evacuated to California just prior to the Gold Rush. Agents and publishers seemed to like them, but no one quite knew what to do with them, so they were never published.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Mary: Maggie McDonald lives in Silicon Valley. I lived there for more than 30 years and didn’t think the recent spate of movies and television shows about the area did a very good job of describing the lives of ordinary people. So I wanted to take a stab at that. Also, after the problem of what to do with the first books I wrote, I wanted to write books with clear marketing plans built in. That led me to genre books, and mysteries are my favorite. More specifically, Maggie’s old house is one that I’ve often admired. It’s falling to pieces and needs someone to look after it, even if that person is fictional.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Mary: Both. My primary job is to entertain. Doing my job well is the only means I have of convincing people to read to the end. I don’t set out to write about social issues, but they have a tendency to sneak in. I write about that sense of community that we all need, and what happens when violence stabs a giant gaping hole in the fabric of that community. Touching lightly on current social issues tends to flow naturally from that process, but the books aren’t meant to be political. The most recent book, “Dead Storage,” features a hot-button topic that became suddenly timely when the book was in production. One of the characters is an undocumented teen who witnesses a crime and is conflicted. Should he report the crime and risk being deported? Or stay mum and let the bad guys run amok? His dilemma is a plot device, however, not a political treatise!
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing, or just write whenever you can?
Mary: I try to write every day. And I try to get 10,000 steps a day. Doing both is a tricky. Much depends upon the tide, since it’s easier to walk on the beach near my house when the tide is low. Early on in the evolution of a book I work for two to three hours in the morning. Close to the deadline, I may find myself working from dawn to dusk, after dinner, and in the middle of the night! What I discovered after my first book was published is that marketing is a huge part of any writer’s job. It’s easier than writing, so it has a tendency to vacuum up whatever time I allow it to. I may need to hire Maggie to get my own life in order!
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Mary: I do outline, though I have to re-outline a time or two in the middle of the book when the plot shifts. I also do visual character sketches by making collages of what the characters look like, wear, read, fear, drive, and what issues they are passionate about. The collages give me a good sense of who the characters are and help make them behave more naturally when I write about them. In my old house, I had a room with old kitchen cabinets built in on every wall, and I taped the collages on the fronts of all of the cabinets. I recently moved to a tiny condo and now alas, they live under the bed. Halfway through each book I reach a stage I refer to as trying to put socks and sneakers on a squirmy toddler octopus. Creating a timeline helps wrangle those issues.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Mary: Definitely morning, with the occasional middle of the night. Other ideal elements would be a giant bowl of peanut M&Ms that had no calories, and a self-refilling latte mug (nonfat milk, full caffeine, no sugar).
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Mary: Yes and no. Those first books still aren’t published (though I have plans to rewrite them, possibly as romances). For the mysteries, I sent out more than 100 query letters to agents and though I received a few offers of representation, I didn’t think the agents proved a good fit for me and my books. (I did have some great conversations with some fantastic agents I will definitely approach with any subsequent series. Agents are such great people.) I told myself that I wasn’t trying to find an agent or publisher for the first book. I was merely “honing my list” to use when I finished the second book. But the first publisher I sent to, Kensington, phoned me and offered me a three-book contract before I’d written more than a chapter or two of the second book. “Shock” would be a mild word for my reaction.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Mary: I was in a critique group early on in the development of the first book. One writer, wrote me a scathing note. Maggie (my main character) was relocating to Silicon Valley and she was worried about a great many things. Some of those things were rational, some weren’t. Among them was a fear of mountain lions, since her new home backs up directly on an Open Space District in which mountain lions occasionally get too close to the humans. My critiquer insisted that she was an expert on Silicon Valley because she’d lived there for six months in the 1970s, and there were NO mountain lions there. The following week, a teenaged mountain lion found himself in downtown Mountain View, very confused, and decided to take a nap in a nice cool parking garage under an apartment building that housed one of my son’s friends. I wished I could send the critiquer a copy of the article, but by that time she’d dropped out of the group. On the flip side, I just received an email from a woman whose husband is a war veteran much like one of my characters, and got a little teary over my authentic portrayal of many of the issues surrounding wounded vets. I love the character, but often worried how real-life veterans would receive him. That email made my day.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Mary: I think that would be the woman who told me she thought I was a wonderful writer—good enough to write the story of her grandmother. That’s all she told me. But then she handed me a pencil as if she expected me to stop everything and start writing immediately. (The bookstore had a public bathroom that was frequently used by street people, and I suspect she was one of them and had never read one of my books.)
KRL: Future writing goals?
Mary: I’m under contract now to write books four, five, and six in the Maggie series. After that, I’d like to take a break from Maggie’s stories to devote to rewriting my YA historical novels about pre-Gold Rush California. I’ve learned so much about writing since I tackled those first books and would like see whether revamping them can find them a home.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Mary: Louise Penny. I love her characters so much that I miss them between books and wonder what they are up to. If my characters seem even half that real to readers, I’d be thrilled.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Mary: Lots. Way more than necessary. I talk to experts, visit locations, read books, dive headfirst down online rabbit holes. It’s mostly a waste of time, but I’m an information junkie and half the fun of writing a book is that it’s a perfect excuse to wallow in research.
KRL: What do you read?
Mary: Everything. Including cereal boxes. When it comes to reading, I’m promiscuous.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Mary: Mysteries. Costume dramas. I’m probably one of the few people who watched both Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead. They were both on late on Sunday nights where I lived at the time, and both were the sort of show everyone wanted to talk about the next day. I was a little afraid to leave the house or go online until I’d seen them both. Such pressure! I’m not otherwise a fan of zombies or Apocolyptic stories, but The Walking Dead has fabulous writing. I started watching because it was something to discuss with one of my kids, and I became hooked right away.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Mary: Take it slowly. There’s plenty of time. Just keep writing. Most important? Find a writers group, preferably one with lots of women who are willing to be completely honest about how goofy the process is. They will give you sympathy when it’s hard and a kick in the pants to keep [you] going when you’re glum. They’ll also help you celebrate teeny, tiny professional milestones that would bore anyone else. It’s impossible to do this without support. Also…if you don’t love the process, do something else. Because the process is everything.
KRL: Anything you would like to add? What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Mary: Hmmm. I once raced whaleboats, did synchronized swimming, and wind-surfed. I went to a women’s college.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win an EBOOK copy of Dead Storage, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “storage,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 19, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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