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
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!