Blog by VONNIE DAVIS -- International, Award-Winning Romance Author: Adventurous...Humorous...Amorous.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks

I've got a special treat today. A mystery writer from my literary agency, Mary Marks. Her debut release from Kensington--FORGET ME KNOT--has been burning up the charts, especially at Barnes and Noble. She's a lady of sass and great wit--and we know how I love that!

Writer Mary Marks was born and raised in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. After retirement from UCLA Administration, Marks became an award winning quilter. Writing about her quilts led to writing cozy mysteries. Forget Me Knot is the first novel in her new quilting series. The author also contributed a chapter to an anthology based on Jewish mysticism, From Ashes to Healing. She has also been published online and in various newsletters.  Marks is currently a reviewer of cozy mysteries for The New York Journal of Books

Mary, tell us about your writerly journey. I think it's fascinating.
I have to confess up front that I came to writing fiction late in life (like in my mid sixties). Another confession: I have never been what you’d call a voracious reader, although I do love books (especially a good mystery). And finally, I never thought of myself as a story teller.

So what happened?

In 2008 I took a mystery writing class at UCLA and out popped a cast of characters with a compelling story to tell. For the next six months I worked on a first draft—it was pretty bad. Then I found a teacher and mentor and joined her workshop. I also met informally with another group of fellow writers to weed out the bad prose and weak plot points. Out of all this effort Forget Me Knot was born.

I entered my unpublished manuscript in the 2011 Malice Domestic competition just to see what would happen. Imagine my surprise when I became a finalist. That experience gave me the courage to look for an agent, and was lucky enough to find someone who believed in my book. She sold it to a New York Publisher in 2012, just four years after I took that writing class.

Now, to my utter amazement and contrary to the opinion of my seventh grade creative writing teacher, I’ve published my first book in the Martha Rose quilting series. (Book two, Knot In My Backyard, will be released this November, and book three is more than halfway written.)
Tell us about your writing process.
Well, it's not as organized as, say, the fabulous Elizabeth George. I don’t plot every scene beforehand. I find that while I need at least a vague idea of where my story is going, I don’t always need to know the details before I sit at my computer. I just let my characters start talking to each other and they take me where they need to go. In this way I discover the story the same way the reader does, one page at a time.

I have the most fun when I write a scene that makes me laugh. The humor may come from developing a quirky character, or from sarcastic dialogue. But whenever those moments come, I thank the goddess of cozy humor, Janet Evanovitch, for inspiration.
I love that woman!!!

Me, too. Judaism is also a theme I like to weave lightly into my stories. Jewish women and Jewish practice are underrepresented in cozy mysteries. So I find great satisfaction in showcasing a character like Martha Rose that any woman can relate to (smart, sympathetic, likeable, yet fallible). I hope that my non-Jewish readers will also appreciate a glimpse into a world they may not know.

I am a very fortunate seventy-year-old to be starting a new career as a cozy mystery writer. I’ll keep writing as long as I have stories to tell and as long as I’m having fun doing it.
I'm glad you brought along a copy of your cover. It's so colorful like all quilts.
FORGET ME KNOT is the hilarious and irreverent adventure of a woman of a certain age and her two friends as they try to solve a murder and decode secret messages left behind by the murder victim.
Martha Rose and her friends Lucy and Birdie have been quilting together every Tuesday morning in the San Fernando Valley for years.  This particular Tuesday they are on their way to quilt at the house of an acquaintance, a potential fourth member of their little group.  When they arrive at the woman’s house, they find her dead on the floor with blood on her hands.
Four days later, Martha’s, Birdie’s, and the dead woman’s prize-winning quilts are stolen from the quilt show.  Is there a connection between the theft and the murder? 
The mother of the dead woman turns to Martha to find and decode secret messages that her daughter sewed into her quilts.  When Martha starts digging into the dead woman’s life, she is warned to stop interfering by the handsome Detective Arden Beavers of the LAPD.
But the sassy, sarcastic Martha is in too deeply to give up.  And when she finally does break the code and reads the disturbing messages, Martha puts herself directly in the path of the killer. 
           “See if you can open the door.” I stared at the body on the floor.
            Lucy turned the knob, but the door was locked. She rushed over to the window. “Let me see.”
Birdie came over, too, mashing her nose against the glass. “Good heavens. Is that Claire?”
I pulled my cell phone out of my bag with shaking hands. “I’ll call nine-one-one.”
Before I could punch in the numbers, a slender blonde in a red halter top and white shorts came out of the house next door carrying gardening shears. I hurried over to her yard. “Do you know the woman who lives here? Claire Terry?”
“Of course. Why?”
“I think something has happened to her.”
“Nobody answered the doorbell, so I peeked in the window. Someone is lying on the floor.”
“Oh my God. I know where she keeps a spare key.” She threw down the gardening shears and ran over to the corner of Claire’s house, reached through a locked wrought iron gate and took a key from somewhere on the side of the house. Then she sprinted like an athlete to the front door and opened the lock while I power walked right behind her.
She stuck her head inside the door. “Claire?” No answer.
“Over there.” Birdie pointed to the red shoes.
We rushed forward and stopped suddenly at the sight of Claire Terry, lying on her back with a ring of dried yellow vomit around her mouth.
The blonde gasped. The whites of her eyes showed, and the skin of her face turned green. Her voice, small and high-pitched, squeaked. “Is she dead?”
Claire lay on her back with one arm at her side and the other resting on her stomach. She wore a red cotton sundress and those red shoes. Faint freckles dotted her pale pretty face turned slightly to the right, and her eyes stared vacantly at the wall. Her long dark hair spread out behind her head in a tangled fan. Under her right cheek her hair was crusted with vomit. She looked like a delicate porcelain doll discarded by a careless child.
I got on my knees and put my fingertips on her neck. Her flesh felt cold and wooden, and she smelled sour. I shuddered and felt lightheaded. Tiny polka dots danced before my eyes and I thought I might faint. I blinked rapidly, took a deep breath and quickly pulled my hand away. “No pulse.”
Birdie clutched Lucy’s arm. “Oh dear. What about CPR?”
The blonde looked at the vomit on Claire’s face. “You don’t mean mouth to mouth….”
Lucy pointed. “Look at her eyes. People don’t sleep with their eyes wide open unless they’re dead.”
She was right. This pretty young woman was gone. Pity squeezed my heart.
Birdie’s voice hovered on the edge of hysteria. “Well, put a mirror under her nose. Does anyone have a mirror in their purse?”
I looked at Birdie and shook my head. “We’re too late, Birdie. She’s gone.”
Lucy put her arm around Birdie’s shoulders. “Come on, hon’. Let’s go outside and wait while Martha calls nine-one-one.”
I reached over and pushed her eyelids closed. Then I got on all fours, grunted and stood up butt first; there was no other graceful way to do it. Being overweight was a such a bummer.
I pulled my cell phone out of my tote bag and dialed 9-1-1. One recent T.V. muckraker reported the emergency lines in Los Angeles were often so busy a person could wait several minutes to get through. This must have been one of those times. How long would Claire have laid there if we hadn’t come along? Who would have been the first to discover her? How awful to end your life alone.
I thought about how I wanted to die:  in my own bed, surrounded by sobbing family and friends. My ex-husband, Aaron, would grab my hand and tell me tearfully, “I was so wrong to leave you. I was a total jerk. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Can you ever forgive me?”
Tears stung my eyes as the poignant scene played out in my head. I’d look at him and whisper with my dying breath, “It’s too late, moron.” I smiled.
Then a voice came on the line. “Nine-one-one Emergency.”
“I want to report a death.”



Dixie Lee Brown said...

Excellent interview, ladies. Mary, something about that cover just draws me, and with the excerpt, I'm sold! Best of luck!

Calisa Rhose said...

Hi Mary! *waves crazily* It's so nice to meet oyu somewhere other than FB!

Hi Vonnie!! Thanks for introducing me to a new writer I know I'll like!

I totally laughed out loud at the last line in the excerpt, Mary. "It's too late, moron." Hahaha! I need to get this book. The humorous element keeps the morbid from being so, well morbid. :) I LOVE that cover. So bright and cheery. I tried to make a quilt once. Disaster. lol But I adore that the heroine is overweight and it's not skimmed over to make her 'look' skinny to readers. Good job. Congrats on your debut and best wishes for great success. :)