Today’s installment of 20 Questions features fellow Floridian and author, Marcia Meara. Marcia fulfilled her lifelong dream to be an author and sat down to tell us about her work, her inspiration and a bit about herself.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was five years old, filling yellow legal tablets with penciled poems about cowboys and horses and cats. I was going to live on the beach in a house full of cats, and write best-selling books. In fact, I went all the way to my senior year in high school, sure that was how my life would go, but my parents thought writing was impractical, and insisted I get a business diploma and a “real” job. Back in those dark ages, most of us did what our parents told us to do, and I was no exception. I cast aside my dreams, and followed a different course for about 64 years, before I got my head on straight, and wrote my first book at 69.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
So far, first word of draft to publication, eight to nine months.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I write all day, every day—sometimes from 7:00am until 9:00 or 10:00pm—with breaks for appropriate things, like meals, showers, and taking the dogs out, of course. I don’t have decades in which to tell my stories, so I’m currently driven to “write like the wind!” I expect to keep up this pace until I’m 75, or I fall face down on the keyboard, whichever comes first.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure I’ve been writing long enough (three years) to have developed any writing “quirks.” There are some things I believe in that I try to let shine through in each book, no matter the story line, but I think you’d call those messages, rather than quirks. For instance, I believe love is the most powerful force in the world, and I would like my readers to believe it, too, by the time they finish one of my books.
Q5) How are your books published?
I’m self-published all the way. Again, I can’t be wasting months and years submitting manuscripts to traditional publishers over and over. I also like being in control of what I do. With those thoughts in mind, I taught myself to format my books both for Kindle, and print, and I take part in cover design, marketing, and whatever else needs to be done. If something goes wrong, I know exactly who to blame, and I learn what I need to do to fix it.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
I’m 72 years old. I have a head crammed full of ideas for stories. I’d have to live to be 135 to even come close to telling them all.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you (or how many years ago was it)?
I’ll share. After all, my life is . . . wait for it . . . an open book! I wrote my first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge, when I was 69 years old. By the end of this month, my fifth book should be available on Kindle, and shortly afterward, in print. Plus I have a chapbook of poetry I wrote somewhere during those three years, and individual poems in six Silver Birch Press anthologies.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to garden, birdwatch, and get out on Florida’s rivers any chance I get. Visiting the mountains of North Carolina is high on my list, too. But best of all is spending time with my two grandchildren. And I read! Every spare minute I can find. The only bad thing about writing is that it has eaten into my reading time in a very serious way.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
I love many books, in many genres, but my hands-down, all-time favorite is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I read it the first time when I was 12, all those years ago, and it remains a profoundly beautiful, haunting love story, mixing noir elements of murder and mystery, capped by du Maurier’s trademark shocking ending. I loved the book so much, Rebecca is my daughter’s middle name. (And don’t think she wasn’t mad when she found out what a horrible person Rebecca was! I had to work pretty hard to convince her she was named for the book, and not the character.)
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They are all supportive, though surprised at how building a local readership for my Florida series has changed my life. My daughter reads (and, I think, enjoys) my books. My son says he’s going to. Probably. (He isn’t much into romantic suspense). My husband is happy that I’m happy. And he proofs for me, though he does not enjoy fiction. My friends are hugely supportive, and I’ve made many new ones at local venues, which is a wonderful bonus.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
During the actual writing process, it amazes me how difficult it is to catch small mistakes. Typos and skipped words are almost impossible for me, and I suspect for most authors, to catch, because we tend to read what we think we’ve written, instead of what’s on the actual page. After the writing process, the single most surprising thing I learned was how critical reviews are. With all the reading I’ve done over the years, I still had no clue. Now, I make it a point to explain this to audiences at every presentation I give. I’m on a mission!
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
C)See A & B
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have two series going, with two books out in each one.
The Wake-Robin Ridge Series
A Boy Named Rabbit is probably my favorite, because Rabbit is such an endearing character and so much fun to write. However, Finding Hunter is a very close second, because Hunter Painter tugs at my heartstrings. (And if you can’t tell, my characters are alive and well in my head, and talk to me all the time!)
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
First, read. All sorts of books, by all kinds of authors. Pay attention to those books you love. The ones that touch something inside you. The ones where you find yourself completely invested in the characters. Ask yourself what it is about those particular books that resonates with you so deeply. Then try to find a way to tell your stories that will create the same feeling in others.
Second, edit. Revise and edit yourself, but don’t rely on that, alone. You are too close to the words to see errors, and too close to the story to know if it’s working like you want it to. Use beta readers, proofers, and an editor. Shop around for one who has good recommendations, and an affordable price. They’re out there, and it will make all the difference in the world in your finished product. Readers will notice! Editing is worth the investment.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
Happily, I get lovely feedback from my readers. Personal emails, reviews, invitations to come talk to their book clubs, or go on eco-tour boat cruises with them, and all sorts of good stuff. It’s very rewarding! I’ve had readers become teary-eyed when talking about certain scenes, or tell me how much they love and understand a particular character. I’ve had a few tell me that I nailed PTSD in one book, and the North Carolina mountain dialect in another. And that in Swamp Ghosts, they felt like they were right there in the canoe with Maggie and Gunn, seeing the river and wildlife of central Florida spread out in front of them. This is why I keep writing. I’m new. I still have lots to learn. But finding out I’ve touched at least some readers in this way is everything I ever wanted.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
Why, I’ll let any ol’ body read my books! J And I’m always surprised at the variety of readers who come to meet me at various events. But I think with the types of stories I write, my target audience would probably be women over 40, who enjoy a strong love story, with elements of suspense and grave danger. (But I’m not forgetting how many much younger women, and even men, seem to be reading them, too.)
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
For me, as a reader, the very first thing I want are characters I love, and become invested in. People I believe in, who, even if flawed, are likable to such an extent, I remember them long after I’ve finished the book. Without characters I love or admire, the cleverest plot in the world won’t keep me reading long.
Once a book introduces me to a great cast, then of course, I want an equally great story, filled with a wide spectrum of human emotions, plenty of twists and turns, and moments of laughter, to make the sad bits easier to handle. I prefer life-affirming, positive endings. Happily ever after is best, but not necessarily for everyone in the book. Just don’t make me struggle beside the hero or heroine, through all sorts of sturm und drang, only to have it all fall apart at the end. When the book ends badly, the message seems to be, “Why bother? You’re just going to die, anyway.” I seldom trust that writer again.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
As mentioned above, I always wanted to write. I enjoy painting, too, and have done a lot of that over the years, sometimes making a living at it. But in my heart, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. And as I find myself making that happen, I try to tell others it’s never too late. You’re still here. You can still follow that long-deferred dream. Take that first step, and never look back!
Q19) Where can we find your books?
If you live in central Florida, my books are for sale at several local venues: DeBary Hall, DeBary Nursery, St. Johns River Eco Tour Ticket Office, and Enterprise Heritage Museum, among them. If you aren’t local, all of my books are available on Amazon, in both Kindle and print formats.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
Yes. I decided to share the prologue from my second novel, Swamp Ghosts, because it has a fairly high “creep factor,” and hints toward a lot of drama to come. The most dangerous animal in the swamp walks on two legs, and things will never be the same in the sleepy little town of Riverbend, Florida.
Swamp Ghosts: Riverbend Book 1 (Prologue)
THE CAR BUMPED and rocked as he drove down the rutted dirt road, steering by a wash of silver light from the gibbous moon. Only a few more nights until it was completely full, making the road nearly as bright as it would be by day, but there was still enough light tonight to see that the way ahead was clear—except for the tall grasses and weeds, indicating no one had driven the road in a long time. That was all the visibility he needed. Not much chance of meeting anyone along such a remote stretch of river, anyway, especially since the state had bought this entire tract of land a few years ago, and chained off all the roads, posting No Access signs everywhere. Still, he wasn’t going to tempt fate by turning on his headlights. Not with what he was carrying in the back on this summer night.
Should be nearing the old canoe launch any time now.
He squinted, peering at the road ahead, waiting to see moonlight on water, and sure enough, there it was. Slowing down, he pulled the SUV into the small turn-around, cut the engine and climbed out, stretching his arms and rolling his shoulders to release the tension from the long drive.
The drive’s always the most dangerous part. Too many ways for something to go wrong. Too many things I can’t control. But no need to worry about that now. No one stopped me. No one even noticed me. And here I am. Just me and the mosquitoes.
Of course, that wasn’t true. There were plenty of other things in his immediate vicinity, but he paid no attention to the sounds of a Florida river at night. Green tree frogs and narrow-mouthed toads sang in a shrill chorus, punctuated now and then by the loud “Kronk!” of the much larger pig frogs. Small animals slipping through the palmettos and underbrush rustled here and there. The high-pitched chirps of flying squirrels sounded from the trees, until the soft trill of a screech owl made them take cover. The night was full of noises, all ignored, as he walked to the rear of his vehicle and opened the tailgate. He eyed the bundle inside with irritation.
Hate hauling that dead weight, dammit! May as well get to it, though. It’s not gonna get any lighter while I stand here wasting time.
And with that thought, he dragged the bundle halfway out and lifted it up over one broad shoulder, bending slightly under the load. Then he walked down to the water’s edge and stopped for a brief moment, considering.
Nope. Way too shallow here. Too easy to spot, in case someone ever does paddle this way again.
Instead, he turned to his right and made his way down a narrow and heavily overgrown path that followed the curve of the stream. It was slow going for a hundred yards or more, with branches and palmetto fronds slapping him in the face and scraping at his arms. Sweat trickled down into his eyes, stinging like fury, but even as hot as he was, he was glad he had thought to wear long sleeves. They at least afforded him a bit of protection from scratches and the relentless mosquitoes, which swarmed his head in a hungry cloud. Repellent kept most of them from biting, but it was hard to breathe without sucking them into his mouth or nose, and their humming grew louder with every slow step he took.
Gritting his teeth, he shifted the weight on his shoulder, and plowed ahead.
Seems to be a longer haul each time, but it can’t be much farther now.
He pushed his way through the worst of the underbrush, and there it was—a small open area on a raised embankment, about four feet above the water. He walked to the edge and dumped his burden on the dirt beside him. Taking a deep breath, he stretched his arms, rolling his shoulders once more.
Damn. Ought to be an easier way to do this. Probably is. But not likely to be as efficient.
Untying the lengths of white rope from each end of his bundle, he opened up the blue plastic tarp. For a moment, he admired his handiwork, once again congratulating himself on his hunting skills, and his ability to outsmart the law. Those clowns had no idea who they were up against.
Snickering, he dragged the tarp closer to the water’s edge. He snapped it sharply toward himself, lifting up on the edge of the plastic, and spilling the contents down the bank, where they landed with a splash in the shallow water below. He stood there, folding up the tarp and watching the moonlit surface of the creek. Within seconds, ripples appeared on the other side, rushing toward him, but slowing as they neared his offering. He waited just long enough to watch the huge head come out of the water, jaws wide, before he turned and walked away. The sounds of thrashing and tearing followed him halfway back to his car.
Alligators. Nature’s best garbage disposals. Soon, there won’t be much left of that little package for anyone to find.
He tossed the folded tarp into his car, and climbed in, just as the first fat raindrops began splatting against his dusty windshield. Within seconds, the water was coming down like only a Florida rainstorm can, heavy and fast. It would be over just as quickly as it started, but not before wiping away all traces of his visit.
He snickered again. Right on time, and thank you, Mother Nature. No need to worry about evidence left behind now. It will all be washed away.
He turned the SUV around, and headed back to civilization, smiling the whole way, and wondering how much longer it would be before some sharp-eyed detective or reporter began to connect the dots. He almost wished they would hurry it up, so he could find out what they would call him.
After all…Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler, The Night Stalker…all the good ones have names.
About Marcia Meara:
Marcia Meara lives in central Florida, just north of Orlando, with her husband of 30 years, four cats, and two dachshunds. When not working on her books and blogs, she spends her time gardening, and enjoying the surprising amount of wildlife that manages to make a home in her suburban yard.
At the age of five, Marcia declared she wanted to be an author, and is ecstatic that a mere 64 years later, she finally wrote Wake-Robin Ridge, her first novel. Now, making up for lost time, she has published three more novels: A Boy Named Rabbit: Wake-Robin Ridge Book 2, Swamp Ghosts: Riverbend Book 1, and Finding Hunter: Riverbend Book 2. She is currently hard at work on Harbinger: Wake-Robin Ridge Book 3, due out in early June.
Marcia has also published a small chapbook of poetry, Summer Magic: Poems of Life and Love, and her work has been included in six Silver Birch Anthologies.