NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Mystery writer Mary Daheim says the best advice she received when she embarked on a writing career over 20 years ago was to not confuse her work with literature.
Daheim, a native of Seattle, Washington, has gone on to write over 40 books, with the 23rd in her bed-and-breakfast mystery series, “Scots on the Rocks,” just released and appealing to people who prefer a twist of humor with mystery.
She has another series on the go, the Alpine mysteries.
Daheim spoke to Reuters about her love of writing and balancing the practicalities of the industry with writing:
Q: Your first published book in 1983 was a historical romance. Why did you switch to mysteries?
A: “I got into the romance business in 1980 and 1981. It was at its peak and I lucked out. I was extremely ill suited as a writer of historical romance but I was told if I wanted to get published I would have to write bodice rippers ... I knew what was happening in the mass marketing field and I ended up writing seven of those. But I got to the stage when I thought I was not doing that well in sales because true readers of romance realized I was a fraud. I decided to try to write a mystery to try to cheer up my mother who was ill.”
Q: Where did you get the idea for the bed-and-breakfast series?
A: “I’d been putting on a series of overnight bed-and-breakfast mystery events at a Catholic school here which were a huge success but a lot of trouble to run. I decided to take one of those plots and turn it into a mystery. I decided to stay with mysteries as I was lot more comfortable with them.”
Q: You based a lot of the characters in your books on your family and friends. Do they ever get offended?
A: “Not really. Saying I base my character on them is really a literal term. You start out with a person who has inspired the character but once they get onto paper they develop their own idiosyncrasies .”
Q: Have readers changed over the years?
A: “People simply aren’t reading as they used to. They tend to read more non-fiction - self help books, how to get a job, how to save their marriage. I can’t imagine not reading but people say they don’t have time. People lead such hectic, busy lives that they are just worn out at the end of the day.”
Q: What are you reading?
A: “I read a lot of non-fiction. Right now I am reading a book called ”Grace and Power“ (by Sally Bedell-Smith) about the Kennedy years in the White House.”
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: I write two books a year. There was a period in the early 1990s where I wrote four books a year which sounds horrendous but back in those days the books were shorter.”
Q: You seem to have a matter-of-fact approach to writing?
A: “My overall approach to writing is that I can never remember ever wanting to do anything else. But there has been a certain calculation in how I have gone about my career -- and a lot of luck. If I go more than two or three weeks without writing I get really cranky. A lot of writers are the same.”
Q: What was the best advice you had?
A: “Years ago my then agent Donald MacCampbell, who ran a small agency, told me: ”Don’t ever confuse your book or your work with literature. Consider it a Campbell soup. Booksellers have to fill slots on a shelf. You are chicken and someone else if chicken noodle.“”