Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. September Interviews 9/1 Carol Perry 9/8 Nupur Tustin 9/15 Maggie Pill 9/22 Veronica Bond 9/29 Rhys Bowen Guest Blogs 9/18 Mark Leichliter -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

An Interview with Mary Feliz By E. B. Davis

Mary Feliz can’t like her main character, Maggie McDonald, very much. In the first few chapters, Mary throws so many problems at Maggie, she should be in a catatonic state. The cozy element in Address To Die For, released on July 17th, is in Maggie MacDonald’s mind. She yearns for a simple lifestyle for her family, a comfortable place to live (a few hundred miles away from her mother), being a supportive wife and mother, running her own business, and a porch rocker in which she can sit to plan and organize.

I can identify with Maggie. Since I just moved and started the construction of an addition to our home, chaos abounds. But unlike Maggie—we are body free—so far. Welcome to WWK, Mary.                                        E. B. Davis

Thanks for hosting me here, E.B. I just completed a remodel myself, so I can sympathize!

Maggie McDonald, your main character, is a professional organizer. I have a hard time comprehending that there is such a thing as the professional organizer profession. Does the National Association of Professional Organizers have an estimate of how many professional organizers practicing in the US? NAPO is a wonderful organization that works hard to make sure that their certified POs really know what they are doing and adhere to a high standard of ethics.  Their membership exceeds 4,000. POs don't all do the same thing. Some specialize in helping a move or downsizing effort go more smoothly, others will jump in and help you organize a big project--like going paperless or digitizing your photos or getting your garage, kitchen, closet, or attic under control. Or finding an organizational system that works for both parents and kids -- and minimizes arguments! Organizing is a skill that all of us are "supposed" to have, but many of us just don't -- or don't have the time to manage properly. POs can help streamline and guide the process.

Is Orchard View a real place? Orchard View is a mash-up of a number of Silicon Valley towns,including Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Parts of Mountain View, Parts of Palo Alto, and parts completely fictional. I wanted to use real roads and landmarks to orient myself and the story, but I needed to make the town, businesses, police department, school system, politics, and characters completely my own. No person or organization in the book is meant to represent anything that exists in reality -- though I hope they seem very real. Even the landmarks that are real are placed in a fictional geography. For example, if there's an element of a small own that I want in Orchard View, I may pluck it from another location and set it down where I want it. I've placed Maggie's house and the public land behind it closer to Stanford University than reality might indicate.

The home Maggie McDonald’s family moves to, the house, barn, and two acres, is worth fifteen million dollars. Is this typical of the Silicon Valley area property prices? How does anyone afford to live there? I'm afraid so. You can check that on any one of a number of real estate apps. Relatively ordinary and modest homes on small lots can easily cost more than $1 million. It's one of the nightmares of Silicon Valley. Parents wonder how their children will ever be able to settle nearby. High-tech salaries and a lack of available land and housing drive the prices, but communities can't live on high-tech alone. Many people commute two hours or more to get to work. Many more may share housing locally and work long hours three days a week before returning to their homes many hours away.

Is Officer Paolo Bianchi suicidal or just a manic sports enthusiast? Hah! He's one of my favorite characters, and outfitting his Subaru was such fun. Paolo is typical of active young men in the area. The weather is conducive to outdoor activities year-round, with beaches and mountains easily reachable. Silicon Valley homes may be small compared to similarly priced housing in other areas, but we don't spend much time indoors!

My favorite character, Stephen Laird, seemed like Maggie’s fairy godfather. Tell our readers about him. Stephen and his dog, Munchkin, are both wonderful. But their story unfolds slowly and carefully as the plot progresses. I fought my editors to keep every bit of their story in the book, so I'd hate to spoil that balance by revealing any of it outside the confines of the book.

You start each chapter with professional organizer tips. Where did you come up with those? Apparently my mother, father, and grandmothers could have been professional organizers! All of the tips are things I grew up doing. I assure you, however, that between Maggie and me, Maggie is the organized one.

The gas company in Silicon Valley has the final word on where kids go to school? Not really, though it sometimes seems that way. Where you live determines which school district you attend. But the school district boundaries meander with no regard to town lines. So, the best way to make sure that students are in the right place is to require parents to bring their gas bill with them when they register. The school then verifies that the addressee matches up with the parent of the student and that the address is within their district.

If there is so much money in Silicon Valley, why aren’t school programs fully funded? California school funding is very complicated and has a number of problems, with an exponentially larger number of spirited political opinions regarding how to solve it. It would take an expert volumes to explain and I'm no expert. But I'll try. Back in the 1970s, California underwent massive tax reform with Proposition 13. Prop 13 limits property taxes and limits the rate at which they can grow--so the property tax base in "Orchard View" is much smaller than you might expect based on the price of housing. Prop 13 also raised the bar for establishing new taxes, requiring 67% approval, so those who'd like to increase school funding face an uphill battle. Education taxes are collected by the state and distributed via a complex formula that means small wealthy bedroom communities like the fictional Orchard View often receive much less funding per pupil than neighboring districts with more businesses might receive. The original intent of the laws was to eliminate inequities in funding between districts, but that's apparently a very difficult problem to solve and still requires a great deal of work. Whether the problem rests with Prop 13 is a matter of debate, but California public schools went from nearly the best in the nation to near the bottom in less than a generation.

Is Tess Olmos a Gemini, she seems to have a split personality? In an early character sketch, I noted
that Tess's birthday is in December, so she's not a Gemini. (I had to look that up.) I know a number of people whose work persona is very different from their "at home" personality, and I wanted Tess to be someone that Maggie would originally be turned off by, but who would eventually become her dearest friend. I played with those ideas to create the barest skeleton of the character who would become Tess. Tess ran with the idea from there...and, as she is wont to do, took it to an extreme.

How did Maggie’s cats, Watson and Holmes, get their names? Maggie and Max are big fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Masterpiece Mystery. Cats have personalities that match up well to the discerning persnicketiness of the great detective and his sidekick.

You had me guessing, Mary. I thought I had a handle on the case when the first body was found, but when Maggie finds the second body, I couldn’t fathom a connection between the two. Do you use any particular method to plot? Have you plotted your series? I plot each book one at a time, which is required by my publisher. Authors often make distinctions between whether they are "plotters" or "pantsers," but I think that both designations end up describing a similar process. Plotting, writing, and editing are all important steps that take place at various times throughout the creation of a novel. 

How did you obtain a publishing contract, Mary? Kensington was looking for cozy mysteries and accepting direct submissions. I submitted and they accepted. That makes it sound easy, but I assure you that I have a large collection of rejections and a resoundingly rejected manuscript that resides in a box in my closet. I hope at some point to revise it based on all I've learned in the fifteen years since I originally wrote it. It's a young adult historical.

Are you a beach or a mountain woman, Mary? I love both, but if I had to choose only one, it would definitely be the beach. I recently moved close enough to the beach to have the waves lull me to sleep at night and to have permanently sandy floors! 


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

congratulations! I find organizing books relaxing, because for me, they're represent a fantasy world where every piece of paper is correctly filed (if not electronically), properly cleaned and oiled gardening tools are lined up in the garage, and the pantry is organized by category, each long-term item dated with a sharpie.

When we lived in Georgia, we had to present a notarized statement of residency plus a current utility bill before the kids could start the school year.

Looking forward to reading your book.

Warren Bull said...

Great interview. My wife and I are trying to leave the kitchen counter not overflowing with stuff. If you can do that maybe we can get other spaces organized.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Vicki, for your interesting interview.

This is my year to clear my house out and get better organized. I recently attended two estate sales. Seeing how their possessions were spread out for sale made me realize that if my husband and I don't deal with all our excess stuff, our children will have to. We'd rather make it easier for them.

I've found that the key to being organized is having a place for everything, and if space can't be found, then we have too much stuff. So much of what we keep falls into the category of items we save just in case we need them someday. Much of it we can give away to someone who needs them today.

carla said...

That's amazing that Kensington accepted you without an agent. It shows that your work was very high quality. Congrats!!

KM Rockwood said...

Your characters sound fascinating! I will have to take a look.

As for organizing--sometimes when I start to sort through things, it amazes me that each separate item had to have been, at some point, deliberately acquired. Either we bought it or someone gave it to us. And now they are part of our lives! What were we thinking?

I've started to look at things with an eye toward whether I want to stick my kids with the task of dealing with each thing. I love some things that aren't particularly useful, so I guess they should go. And I've just given a daughter permission to sell a doll collection on e-bay if she wants to.

Gloria Alden said...

Mary, I think I'd like your books although maybe not with the organizing bit. I have a sister who always is giving me advice on how to organize. Need I say, I don't pay any attention to her? :-)

My youngest daughter moved to California first as a travel nurse in the LA area, and then worked her way up the coast on her own taking positions at different hospitals, so I'm quite familiar with that section of California, and how expensive it is to find a house. Several years ago she bought a house in Benicia, a small historical town 30 miles north of S.F. She lucked out because a flipper from out of state wanted a quick sale at a reasonable price for California, but seems astronomical to me. The previous tenants, renters had pretty much trashed it, but she's worked hard turning it into a lovely home with a large back yard with trees. I fly out to California at least once a year and will be flying out in Sept.

Kait said...

Hum, my ISP just deleted my comment! I'll try again:
I'm not sure which I liked better the interview or the story premise. Having read the interview, I am off to buy the book! Well done, Mary. I am thrilled for you. All the best with the book.

Mary Feliz said...

Thanks, Kait! I hope you enjoy the book. It was lots of fun to create and work with Maggie and her friends!

Mary Feliz

Mary Feliz said...

Thanks, Margaret!
I like your comment about the fantasy nature of organizing books. I feel the same way.
Maggie is much better at organizing than I am, but I've had to do a lot of it lately since I was moving. And just learned that now that we're settled, we need to pack up everything again because there is a broken pipe under the slab. I think Maggie is exacting her revenge on me because of all the things I did to her in the book! I can hear her snickering, I think.


Mary Feliz said...

Hi Warren!

Maggie says that keeping the kitchen counter clean is a great goal -- but the solution may be a chicken and egg kind of thing. It might be easier to clean off the counter if all the other places were organized and you had somewhere to put the kitchen counter stuff. She suggests getting seven cardboard boxes and labelling them with the days of the week. And sweeping everything that's on the counter into the box at the end of each day. The trick? You've either got to throw away or put away everything in the box before the next day of "sweeping." Ideally, you'll gradually have less in the boxes and a better idea of where to put them. OR, you'll have learned that you LIKE having things on your kitchen counter and it's part of who you are. And learning that is good, too!


Mary Feliz said...

Great observations, Grace!

My parents cleared out their house by moving frequently for my father's work. But they took on their downsizing efforts in stages...getting everything out of the attic first, because they were too old to climb the ladder, then tackling the basement and garage. They moved about 20 years ago to a great retirement complex.

But...last year they had to pack up everything because they had a broken water pipe under their slab that needed to be repaired. I asked my mom whether, at 89, it was easier because they'd learned not to collect so much "stuff". She laughed and said, "fat chance!"

She got rid of stuff as she packed and as she unpacked, just like we do at any age. The process is ongoing! And advertisers spend gazillions of dollars every year to convince us to accumulate more. And not everyone is good at it. That's what Professional Organizers tell me anyway. At some point, we got it into our heads that having a messy house was a moral failing. It's not. For some people it's easy and intuitive and even fun. For others...not so much. If someone with other great skills has the money to hire someone to help them deal with something they aren't very good at, then it helps everyone.

Mary Feliz said...

Hi Carla,

I hope that's why Kensington picked me up, and I hope you'll buy the book and decide for yourself what you think of my writing. :-) A big part of becoming published is just being relentlessly stubborn and continuing to write even when it seems like no one is interested in what you write. A big part of "luck" is being prepared to nab an opportunity when it presents itself.

Mary Feliz said...

I hope you'll check my characters out!

Marie Kondo's book is very controversial among organizers. One of the things I like best about her book is NOT that she suggests we thank all our belongings for their contributions to our lives, but that she gives everyone permission to thank an item "for teaching me that items like you don't look good on me, or don't work as well as I thought they would, or are a pain to keep clean, etc. etc. etc."

I have a hard time admitting that I "wasted money" on something or made a bad decision when I bought it. But MK's philosophy is that I didn't waste money -- I just spent money to figure out that I don't need that thing -- which in my mind is not quite so lame as wasting money. I think that clearing out "stuff" is all about finding the right way to let go.

Her "giving joy" thing? Maybe it makes me joyful to unclog my toilet, but my toilet plunger doesn't really give me joy. I'm going to hang onto it anyway.


Mary Feliz said...

I love Benicia. What a great place to visit your daughter!

I don't think the "organizing bits" in Address to Die For would bother you. Most of the hints and suggestions are short bits of chapter headings that can be easily skipped. And Maggie is very low key with her suggestions. She does NOT believe that "one size fits all" when it comes to organizing. Nor that one person's ideas will necessarily work for someone else. And she, like most organizers, is not as organized with her own stuff as she'd like to be.

I asked a group of San Francisco organizers whether they'd ever invite their clients into their homes. They all looked at me in horror and shook their heads. My guess is that their homes are pretty well organized and it would take them a minimal amount of time to dash around and tidy them up. But no one can be perfectly organized 100% of the time. And no home that people really are able to live in will remain camera-ready for long.

I hope you try the book and are able to skim over the organizing bits. On the other hand, if Maggie reminds you too much of your sister, you may never become a fan. But I hope you'll give us a chance!


E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for the interview, Mary. Good luck with your series!