Take Five: An Interview with Mary Feliz
This blog post first appeared on July 10, 2019 at An Indie Adventure Blog Spot
Welcome to An Indie Adventure, Mary Feliz. Tell us, what inspired you to write your book CLIFF HANGER?
Cliff Hanger is the fifth book in my Maggie McDonald Mystery series. While it focuses on many of the familiar and favorite characters, the setting is new. Maggie travels to the California Central Coast on Monterey Bay, where I now live. I wanted to highlight the beautiful and fragile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary while maintaining the mystery and character elements that fans have enjoyed in the previous books.
How do you construct your characters?
When I was creating the original recurring characters, my home office had lots of old cabinets. I mounted poster board on the doors and created large collages for each main character with smaller ones for the secondary characters. The collages started of celebrities who resembled the characters, but branched out from there including their cars, pets, hobbies, sports, favorite quotes, what they’d wear to a fancy party, and what they wear when they are at home. I continued thinking about and exporting the characters until each poster board was full. By that time, I had a great handle on who each character was and how they’d respond to conflict and to each other.
Years ago, I heard about an author who used this technique and thought it was bonkers. But it works for me!
For the new books, I review the original poster boards for the main characters and create online collages for the new players in each book. (I moved and don’t have nearly as much wall space for my poster boards!)
How is your main character completely different than you?
Maggie is very organized, and I’m a mess. My friends think I’m organized, but the truth is that I’m desperate to try to remember everything in my schedule and to bring what I need to every event. If I weren’t a bit organized, my whole life would fall apart. Despite my best efforts, I’m always losing my keys, misplacing my purse, and checking and rechecking my calendar. Maggie’s also thinner, braver, younger, and more energetic than I am. I’m happy to let the police do their job and have no interest in investigating murders or chasing bad guys!
Tell us something about yourself we might not expect!
I’m a certified California Naturalist. That means I’ve taken a course to learn about the flora and fauna of my area, along with the geology, climate, hydrology, and other elements of the state’s natural history. The California Naturalist program is run by the University of California in an effort to create “citizen scientists’ with broad-based knowledge of the “greatest hits” of the natural world. Part of my certification is a commitment to performing at least 40 hours of volunteer work with natural history organizations every year. Can I answer every question you might have? No way! But I’m definitely a nature nerd and know how to go about discovering answers to questions.
If you were not a writer, what vocation would you pursue?
Answer: I’m not sure that I could survive without some kind of writing, because I’ve always sorted through feelings, information, and plans with pen in hand (or fingers on a keyboard.) If I weren’t writing fiction, however, I think I’d be involved in some kind of science education for teens—a fragile, funny, and underserved portion of our population.
How do you create internal and external conflict in your characters? I find conflict often the hardest to create when I start planning a book.
There are two kinds of conflict in real life and in fiction.
Internal conflict is something we all experience and represents the challenges and problems we create for ourselves. For Maggie, that involves worry about whether she’s doing the right thing, neglecting her family, worrying her husband, or short-changing her clients. She worries that her amateur sleuthing is taking up too much time and risking everything.
External conflicts occur on a daily basis in both fiction and real life in the form of unexpected weather, illness, traffic, disagreements, schedule changes and the complicated logistics of our busy lives.
Where fiction takes a sharp detour from reality is in the bigger conflicts we throw at our characters: finding bodies, running into bad guys, plane crashes, frivolous lawsuits, and unwarranted criminal charges. None of those things has ever happened to be. They aren’t something most of us need to plan for. But that’s what makes fiction writing fun—finding a balance between the believable and unbelievable in throwing larger-than-life unexpected conflicts in the paths of our characters.
When you’re brainstorming for a new story, what usually comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
Truth to tell, I have no idea which comes first. There’s a period of daydreaming about the next book when I should be focused on the one that’s due to the publisher. After I meet the deadline and start sketching out the ideas for the plot, the bad guys, the people I want readers to THINK are the bad guy, and select my setting, I discover I’ve already thought about all of it a lot more than I probably should have. Most of those elements are developed concurrently.
I worked on the characters first for the first book, Address to Die For, but prior to that I already had a sense of the house where I wanted to set the story and the conflict that I wanted to focus on. Fleshing out the characters really helped the rest of the story ideas to come together.
Give us a brief summary of CLIFF HANGER :
When a hang-gliding stranger is found fatally injured in the cliffs above Monterey Bay, the investigation into his death becomes a cluttered mess. Professional organizer Maggie McDonald must sort the clues to catch a coastal killer before her family becomes a target . . .
Maggie has her work cut out for her helping Renée Alvarez organize her property management office. Though the condominium complex boasts a prime location on the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, aging buildings and the high-maintenance tenants have Renée run ragged. But Maggie’s efforts are complicated when her sons attempt to rescue a badly injured man who crashed his ultra-light on the coastal cliffs.
Despite their efforts to save him, the man dies. Maggie's family members become the prime suspects in a murder investigation and the target of a lawsuit. Her instincts say something’s out of place, but solving a murder won’t be easy. Maggie still needs to manage her business, the pushy press, and unwanted interest from criminal elements. Controlling chaos is her specialty, but with this killer’s crime wave, Maggie may be left hanging . . .
Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. Maggie is like Marie Kondo with heart—she’ll never make you get rid of your books. Mary is a certified California Naturalist and delights in introducing readers to her state’s natural beauty. Her fifth book, Cliff Hanger, is set on the shores of Monterey Bay.
Address to Die For, the first book in the series, was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. For more information about Mary and her books, visit her at https://www.maryfeliz.com/
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