Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m excited to have Mary Dodge Allen as my guest. When I lived in Florida, a sinkhole opened and drained a lake near our house. It was fascinating because it drained so fast that drained like a sink – with a whirlpool. What was left behind was A LOT of wildlife – including alligators, who suddenly had nowhere to go – and so much fish that got caught in the little puddles instead of going down the “drain”. If I’d been a little less paranoid about the alligators who suddenly lost their home, exploring the floor of that lake would have been SO MUCH fun. Consequently, I LOVE the premise of Mary’s latest release! You’ll have to read on to see what I mean — and to see how you can enter to win a copy for yourself!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Mary Dodge Allen has won two Royal Palm Literary Awards from the Florida Writer’s Association. She and her husband live in Florida, where she has served as a volunteer with the police department. Her childhood in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, sparked her lifelong love of the outdoors. She’s been a Counselor and Social Worker, and she worked as a USPS mail carrier during a college break. Her quirky sense of humor is energized by a passion for coffee and chocolate.
Tell us about your current release. Small towns can have secrets and skeletons… what happens when a sinkhole uncovers them?
Two years to the day after Roxy Silva’s husband was murdered, a freak sinkhole drains a retention pond, exposing the car used in his fatal hit and run. The skeleton of the presumed prime suspect, the car’s owner, is found inside the trunk, thrusting the investigation in a new direction.
Detective Kyle Ransom is determined to find his best friend’s killer, and Roxy is equally determined to help. As a mail carrier, she can remain invisible as she moves around town. Using her total recall memory, she observes activities and captures images of people, vehicles and license plates, as well as the addresses on mail and packages she delivers. Roxy has no idea her amateur sleuthing will place her life in danger.
Together, Roxy and Kyle uncover a shocking trail of deception and secrets. As they work on the cold case, their relationship heats up. Kyle’s wife died years ago, and he’s ready for a commitment. But Roxy is recovering from the depression triggered by her husband’s murder and other sudden and tragic losses in her life. She’s struggling with a deep-seated fear of loss, her faith, and finding meaning in a chaotic world. Complications arise when Roxy’s first love comes back into her life, wanting a second chance. Old feelings of attraction and bitterness surface, as she confronts a long-buried secret in her own past.
Kyle identifies a new prime suspect, and the killer drops out of sight. When Roxy leaves on a ‘wilderness women getaway’ camping trip with her wisecracking friends, she finds herself in danger as the killer stalks her. She returns home, and the killer follows. Roxy is plunged in a fight for her life when she’s taken captive, and she must use her wits to survive.
What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? Reading captivated me at an early age. I loved opening a book and immersing myself in another world filled with new characters and experiences. My best friend and I formed a book club of sorts when we were in grade school, sharing books and talking about what we liked about them. My love of reading sparked the desire to write and create my own characters and adventures.
What is the one thing you have done that you never saw yourself doing? There are actually two things:
1 – Working as a substitute mail carrier for the US Postal Service during a summer break from college.
The hourly pay was great, but it was hard work, lifting heavy packages and delivering mail in all kinds of weather, as described in the age-old motto: “neither snow nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers…” But I enjoyed the freedom of working outside and greeting the people on my route when I delivered their mail. As I drove around each neighborhood, I realized that mail carriers can observe people and activities, while remaining invisible in plain sight. (Who pays attention to the mail carrier?) And have you ever thought about how much a mail carrier can learn about you… by the magazines and newsletters you receive, the timing of your greeting cards and the return addresses on your packages, bills and letters?
When I was planning this novel, I decided that a small town mail carrier with a photographic memory would make a unique amateur sleuth – and that’s why my main character Roxy works for the US Postal Service in the small coastal town of Riverside Bay, Florida.
2 – Going on primitive camping/canoe trips with my close women friends in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota.
The humorous and suspenseful canoe trip chapters in this book were inspired by the trips I made in this beautiful wilderness area, an area so remote it lacks cell phone coverage. For a few days every summer we’d portage our packs and canoes from lake to lake and stay at primitive campsites. We worked together and laughed together, surrounded by the peaceful, pristine beauty of nature – a misty sunrise reflected in a lake’s calm surface… a sunset with vibrant colors… a stunning panoramic view of bright glittering stars in the night sky.
Florida’s Ocala National Forest has its own natural beauty, and more dangers – gators, bears, venomous snakes, and even monkeys. I enjoyed tightening the suspense in this book, by placing Roxy and her close friends in this challenging wilderness area, while the killer was on the loose.
Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book or do they develop as you write? I began writing Hunt for a Hometown Killer with an overall plot outline, but as I wrote I let my imagination run free. My characters often surprised me with actions and dialogue I hadn’t consciously planned. Quite often they added humor to a scene, and sometimes they added another layer of intrigue to the plot.
Do you have a pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? I have a general length in mind, but I prefer to focus on developing the characters and the plotline. As I begin writing, I do a lot of “What if?” thinking. In the book’s first chapter, I knew I wanted Roxy to discover the car that was used in the unsolved hit and run murder of her husband, two years earlier. I asked myself, “What if a sinkhole opens up right in front of her, nearly swallowing her mail truck while she’s on her mail route? And what if that sinkhole drains a retention pond, uncovering the damaged car?” My active imagination is a great help as I write each scene, but it can have its downside. The first draft of this book was much too long, so I had to spend time editing, combining and sometimes eliminating scenes.
Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful? Not at all. My goal is to write fast-paced compelling novels with surprising plot twists and a host of quirky, lovable characters… characters with emotional baggage that readers can relate to… characters who face conflict and overcome challenges on their faith journeys.
Here is where you can find Mary online:
Mary is giving away a paperback copy of Hunt for a Hometown Killer to a reader! See below how to enter to win: