BMH: What is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest thing about writing?
MP: The hardest thing about writing is making yourself do it when you feel as though your plot has collapsed and your characters are like crash test dummies who leap up to perform some action, blurt some words, and fall flat again. That’s when it’s hard.
But if you can persevere through the hard spots, the joy is finding the zing in it again. The easiest thing in writing, well, I pondered this question and can’t say I find writing mysteries easy at all. The most satisfying part is rewriting your first draft. You’ve worked your plot through from a snappy beginning, through the sagging middle, to an exciting conclusion and resolution. Now you can polish it and make it gleam.
BMH: What’s your view on social media for marketing?
MP: I am active on Facebook and Twitter because I enjoy it. I spend so much time alone that interacting with “friends” and real friends is fun. I like seeing what the other mystery writers I like are up to.
BMH: Of the many sub-categories of mysteries, such as cozies, police procedurals, amateur detective, what sub-genre describes your book and why?
MP: I write police procedurals, which are stories told through the point of view of the detective solving the crime. In my case this is Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department, and in the second series, Detective Dex Stafford of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. I never wanted to be a cop or date a cop, but their life is exciting and I like the thought of putting bad people in jail.
BMH: Which comes first the characters or the plot?
MP: I wish it were the plot because I struggle making things come out right. My plots don’t often include explosions or car chases so character comes first for me. I have an ensemble cast of series characters and they live inside my head in quite a real way.
BMH: There are lots of mysteries out there. What makes yours different?
MP: Santa Monica is home to the homeless, a city of haves and have nots, ripe for dirty politicians, psychopathic homeowners, and celebrity troublemakers. It’s rich in ideas. The Sierra Mountain Village series is somewhat like the village where I live in the mountains in central California. It’s tranquil on the surface and boils with grudges and feuds beneath—like any small town.
BMH: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
MP: I chose the self-publishing route because I am not young and I couldn’t wait around for someone to choose me as a dance partner. I decided to go to the dance by myself and I don’t regret it.
BMH: What kind of research do you do?
MP: I worked as an academic researcher for most of my working life so formal fact-finding techniques were well known. More difficult was finding out how law enforcement people talked to each other, the informal rules of policing, what a patrol officer said on meeting the chief in the bathroom. I’ve learned some of that from the Citizen Police Academy in Santa Monica and the Writers Police Academy in Appleton, Wisconsin. I’ve cultivated the police officers I’ve met for information. I find most law enforcement people love to tell war stories.
BMH: What do you read?
MP: Mystery fiction foremost but I belong to two book clubs who read literary fiction and I enjoy that as well. I’ll read the printed word in almost any format, backs of cereal boxes, aircraft parts catalogues, hunting and fishing magazines if there’s nothing else.
BMH: What have you never written about, but want to some day?
MP: I’d like to write a sadomasochism plot because it’s so strange to me. I just don’t get being hurt and hurting as a turn on. But then do I want to live with these ideas in my head for the year or so it takes to write a novel?
BMH: What is something you wish someone would have told you before you became an author?
MP: I wish I’d known the first one comes pretty easy, but by the fifth or six one, it’s mental manual labor. But by then you love your characters and you want to see what happens to them next.
BMH: Tell us about your first public appearance as an author.
MP: My first public appearance talking about my book was stark terror. I had no idea afterward what I had said and my face hurt from smiling. My first conference I stood on the mezzanine and watched the opening night cocktail part from up above. I was astounded that people actually bought my book at the first signing. My confidence grew as I forced my way through these firsts and made friends with other mystery writers and readers. We all feel this way.
BMH: Do you have a writing routine?
MP: My routine is to write first thing in the morning when I have all my wits about me. I can focus well for about 3 hours and then I begin to fiddle and dither and play on Facebook. That’s when I answer emails and do my so-called marketing. I may come back to it later in the afternoon but the evenings are mine.
BMH: What do think about the new faces of publishing?
MP: I’m delighted that it’s provided new voices a way to enter the marketplace. It’s discouraging that writers at any tier in the marketplace must hustle to find their place. I’m a much better writer than I am a marketer. I wish an agent and publisher would choose me and take me away from all this self-promotion, but I hear you still have to hustle even then.
BMH: How do you promote yourself?
MP: Social media, speaking engagements, and the occasional paid publicity promotion. I enjoy engaging with readers and fellow writers and work at finding speaking engagements. The payoff is never clear, but once again I’m fortunate to be able to do what I like doing.
BMH: How did you celebrate when your first book was published?
MP: It wasn’t really a celebration when I discovered all the typos. I yanked it back so fast Amazon went spinning.
BMH: Do you have some hard learned advice for new authors?
MP: Hire a professional editor and two proofreaders. More proofreaders if you can afford it. Worship the ground a good proofreader walks on.
BMH: Pick three words to describe your writing style/voice.
MP: Colloquial, quirky, thoughtful.
BMH: What other books or authors do you believe have influenced your writing?
MP: Margaret Atwood is my heroine. John Irving, John Sanford and Charlaine Harris.
BMH: Tell us about your hometown as a child. What influence did your upbringing have on your writing?
MP: I grew up in small town northern Ontario. Winter and the cold formed my character, in that it drew me to live in sunny California. Alice Munroe writes about people I know and knew then.
BMH: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
MP: I really don’t know. Probably from books, which are my major entertainment. I’m not much of a television or movie watcher. People surely. I’m a watcher and an observer. If you were to fall dead in front of me I’d probably take notes.
BMH: How do you know where in time to start the story?
MP: I start where something interesting happens. Usually the murder comes within the first few pages.
BMH: How do you know when it ends?
MP: That was a struggle in the last one. I spent what felt like months playing the what if game trying to bring it to a conclusion end and tie up the loose ends. Sometimes it ends when you simply can’t stand working on it any longer.