Today Mary Feliz is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Cliff Hanger, her latest novel in the Maggie McDonald mystery series.
Welcome, Mary. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
MF: Cliff Hanger is the fifth book in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series. Maggie, a professional organizer turned amateur detective, restores order to her tightknit and quirky community in these California-based, character-driven, cozy mystery novels. In book five, an ultra-light pilot is found fatally injured in the cliffs above Monterey Bay, and the investigation into his death becomes a cluttered mess. Professional organizer Maggie McDonald sorts the clues to catch a coastal killer before her family becomes a target.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
MF: I live in the setting central to the books, and ultralights cruise over our property daily, particularly in the summer months. They’re noisy, so we always look up, and one day I wondered what would happen if one crashed on the nearby cliffs. I felt terrible, of course, but the pilot navigated safely and the idea morphed into a book.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
MF: All of my books are built around the importance and strength of community. When tragedy rips a hole in the social fabric, humans pull together to restore hope and the status quo. So do the characters in my books.
Each of the books also touches lightly on local social issues. In Cliff Hanger, that means looking at the conflicts between the environmental and agricultural communities on California’s Central Coast. We all need to eat and we all want clean air and water, but what happens when those goals are in opposition to one another?
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
MF: I love all my characters, even the bad guys. Like a parent, if I have a favorite, I’ll never tell. For my first book, I created my characters by building a collage for each one focusing on their likes and dislikes, beloved books, quotes, and cars. I included what kinds of shoes they’d never wear, and how they’d get dressed up for a fancy party. Their pets made it into the books, although I’d not originally planned on creating a dog story. I’ve never written a scene requiring formal wear, but I learned a lot about each character by trying to dress them up for one. Some were much more cooperative than others.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
MF: I write about where I live. Sometimes, I’ll struggle with a location. In Cliff Hanger, that happened with the scene in the Beach Street Café. It was stiff – until I refreshed my memory of the vibrancy of the crowd by taking myself to brunch there, smelling their fabulous food, and eavesdropping up a storm.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
MF: I’m an information junkie and love research. In fact, I do way too much of it. That doesn’t mean I never make a mistake, but it does give me a rich tapestry from which to pull the threads I need to weave the story. Accurate research is important so that I can provide readers with depth and with confidence in the details. But story always wins out. I’m much more focused on what could be reality than what actually is reality.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
MF: I had so much fun writing this one. The first few books take place in Silicon Valley where I lived when I wrote them. Cliff Hanger takes place about an hour away in the real-life town of Watsonville, where my husband and I moved in 2016. We live in a condominium complex that sits between Monterey Bay and an inland slough system (think marshy wetlands) with hundreds of migrating birds and a wealth of other wildlife. We’ve become bird fanatics and love that we see new ones nearly every time we step out the door.
I hope readers enjoy the location as much as I do, and that they consider visiting this rich natural environment. I’m very interested in what locations they love, too. We have so many unique wildland locations in our country.
Thanks for answering my questions, Mary, and good luck with Cliff Hanger, the latest book in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Mary Feliz: Mary writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. Her first book, ADDRESS TO DIE FOR, received a Kirkus Star and was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews.