In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by picking which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer. Mary Simses’s novel, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe, tells the story of a Manhattan woman who flees her engagement and pending nuptials to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish. Here is what Mary had to say about reading, writing, and receiving title help from James Patterson.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
I grew up in Connecticut, where my mother’s family has some fairly deep roots (several generations). I’m an only child and we lived in Darien, a suburban town on the Connecticut Coast. When I was young I was always writing short stories and poems and my teachers encouraged me to write – especially my ninth grade English teacher, with whom I’m still in touch.
By the time I started college, I decided I’d better take up a “practical” career, as I didn’t think I could ever make a living writing fiction or poetry. I decided to major in journalism because at least that way I’d still be writing, although doing a very different kind of writing. I spent a couple of years after college working for a small trade magazine in Connecticut (fortunately, an interesting one that covered the field of magazine publishing) and then ended up going back to school to get a law degree. I worked for a law firm and then spent fifteen years working in the legal department of a large corporation in Westchester County, New York.
It was during that time that I realized I had to start writing fiction again. I kept imagining scenes and thinking of dialog and I figured I’d either have to write or I would drive myself crazy not doing it. I enrolled in an evening fiction writing class at Fairfield University in Connecticut. And that was it. I was totally hooked again – but now, as an adult. I wrote “on the side,” whenever I could – late at night, on weekends, traveling, any time I could squeeze it in.
Over the next few years, several of my stories were published in journals and literary magazines. Then my husband, also an attorney, was transferred to South Florida, so we moved there. After that, I had our daughter, Morgan, and I put the writing away for several years, during which time we opened our own law firm. But, once again, I came back to writing fiction and began to work on more short stories. A close friend and author kept telling me I needed to write a novel, and, finally, I took the big leap and wrote what became The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café.
My stories, and my novel, are all relationship-driven. The characters define the stories. Locations are important to me as well, however. I tend to set my stories in small towns and my favorite small towns are those on the New England coast. I like to use fictional towns, so I can create them from the ground up, exactly the way I want them to be. In Blueberry Café, the location is Beacon, Maine, a small coastal town where Ellen, the protagonist, goes to deliver a letter for her recently deceased grandmother who wanted to set something right before she died. I guess small, coastal New England towns and characters dealing with “unfinished business” in their lives are my themes. Those two elements are also in the new book I’m writing.
Can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you through the writing process?
This is hard. My only real routine is probably the lack of one! Actually, that’s not quite true. One thing I find is that I like to write in the same place, at least when I’m home. There is a little “nook” in our bedroom with a banquette against two of the three walls and there are windows in two of the walls, making it a nice, bright spot. I usually sit on the banquette with my laptop on a small laptop table and that’s where I write. We do have a home office but I use that to pay bills, sort mail, work on photographs (I love photography and have been taking pictures since I was a child), and that sort of thing. I don’t write there.
I also find that my best schedule (when I can stick to it) is to write in the morning, before I get distracted and the day gets away from me. To do that, I really have to “x” out time on my calendar for myself. Otherwise, it will get filled in with appointments and things I could, at least for the most part, just as easily do in the afternoon. If I’m getting really distracted by being in the house, I just pick up my laptop and go somewhere else to write – preferably somewhere outside, if it’s not too hot.
That said, I don’t always write in the morning and there are periods when I don’t write at all. Then I’ll have several days where I really knock out a ton of pages. It’s also not unusual for me to write until the wee hours of the morning, when I really get going.
I usually have something to drink next to me, such as my one cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea. Cinnamon, one of our two cats, is typically hanging around, looking to be petted or threatening to walk on my laptop keys, which he loves to do. (Sometimes he sleeps on the keyboard!) He’s not the best writer, though, so I try to discourage him from coming too close.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
I just finished reading That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay, a novel I received as an advance reader copy from my publisher. The story involves letters, food, and love – three things that are also critical elements in Blueberry Café – so I was intrigued from the start. It’s a delightful read and I enjoyed every page.
I’m now reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, also published by Little, Brown. It’s an amazing novel and, because of that, it’s hard to put down. So if anyone in my house thinks I’m cooking dinner or anything like that . . . .Some of my favorite books are: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd; Angle of Repose by Wallace Steigner; The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr; Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson; The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve; The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies; The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; David Copperfield by Charles Dickens; A Room with a View by E.M. Forster; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.