Today Mary Feliz is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Snowed Under, her latest novel in the Mary 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.
Snowed Under is the sixth book in the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series. It takes amateur detective to a Lake Tahoe ski resort to help her friend Tess clear out her family’s cabin for sale. An epic High Sierra blizzard hits, and they’re snowbound. Maggie, who lives in the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay Area, is out of her depth. Things go downhill when they stumble on a body frozen in a drift.
The entire series focuses on Professional Organizer Maggie McDonald and her family, including a golden retriever with separation anxiety. Helping clear out neglected storage areas gives Maggie access to all the places people hide their secrets, including the skeletons in their closets. In each book, a dead body trashes her detailed organizational plan. Her investigation takes her to some of the most beautiful places in the area and touches lightly on some of the problematic issues of California living.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
I’ve always been fascinated by the power of storms, and love the tropes of traditional mysteries that strand characters in remote country houses far from help in terrible weather. One of my favorite books is Storm by George R. Stewart. published in 1941. While the technology is dated now, it follows the development of a storm far out in the Pacific Ocean and follows it as it grows and makes landfall, wreaking havoc across California.
Another building block of this adventure was an article called Winter Warriors about the heroic efforts of the transportation workers who keep the Interstate 80 corridor open in weather akin to the storms that stopped fated Donner Party. https://www/sierrasun.com/news/winter-warriors.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
Most of the story is a light-hearted romp through the beauty of the Lake Tahoe area in winter, and the coziness that comes from being indoors when the weather outside is treacherous. But there are hints of danger introduced by the weather, a murderer, and a variety other nefarious forces. In any international resort like Tahoe’s ski areas, you have people coming and going quickly. Some have great wealth. It’s adjacent to a private airport and a major interstate freeway that means bad guys can come and go quickly. Smuggling and fraud of all kinds create a complex law enforcement problem I can’t begin to resolve or understand in detail, but it adds creepy backdrop to an otherwise pastoral story.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
Most of my favorite characters developed like that Pacific Storm in George Stewarts book, from a small blip in my brain to a full-blown personality that I sometimes forget is fictional. Their quirks aren’t always ones I planned. The antagonists are created to become the perfect foils for the characters I love so much. But I try to make them well-rounded with reasonable explanations for what they are doing. No one in my books is all bad or all good. I think there’s a very interesting line between good and bad, and like to look at the reasons that good people do bad things and bad people do good things.
My favorite characters to write about are Stephen Laird, one of Maggie’s best friends, and his mastiff, Munchkin. They both suffer from PTSD and look after one another, but are also strong, courageous, and eager to help others.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I write about the places in California that I love, most of which aren’t portrayed accurately on the screen. Lake Tahoe in winter was a favorite vacation spot for me and my boys when they were growing up. We spent many weekends and holidays watching the weather reports and wondering if we’d be able to get home, even with the snow chains we always carried. But a holiday in an area doesn’t shed much light on what it’s like to live there. For that insight, I consulted a dear friend whose family has a house on the North Shore, has spent decades visiting in the winter, and also lived there year-round.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I do far more research than ever ends up in the books. I’m an information junkie and love wallowing in tiny details told in books, magazines, newspapers, and the people who live the experience. But only the most interesting details that serve the progression of the story make it into the book.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
I have no idea where the car mechanic and his unusual garage came from, though I did once enjoy a gourmet meal elegantly served in a former roadside service station.
Thanks for answering my questions, Mary, and good luck with Snowed Under, the latest book in the Mary 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.