Frequently Asked Questions

First FAQs that all writers get asked:

Where do you get your ideas?
From the world around me. They fall in my lap, literally, when I read the paper. Bodies floating in the river, people gambling all their money away, stupid people doing stupid things in funny and dramatic ways. They float in the conversation around me. I was in a bakery when I heard a teenaged boy say to a girl: “Well, it was like dancing with an alien,” I went home with the book forming in my mind. From my own concerns and thebissues I would like to examine more closely: land development, community involvement, women’s rights. How to look at these without it being a diatribe.

What is your writing schedule?
I have none, but I am very steady. When I am really cranking on a book, I try to write three pages every day. Because I live with another writer, I don’t need to explain what I’m doing. He’s writing every day too. Weekends aren’t any different for us, except maybe we go to the farmer’s market. I tend to write more in the mornings than I used to, but I think that’s just because I’m getting older.   Let’s put it this way: I spend a lot of my time in my office and I have learned to give myself credit for all the writing work I do as I go for a walk and think about my book, drive down along the Mississippi and think about what I’m working on, wake up in the middle of the night and figure out the next chapter.

Who are your favorite authors?
Too many to list here. But first and foremost, Pete Hautman. I’ve read all his books.
Then onto all my friends, who I valiantly try to keep up with as they publish constantly.

The mystery writers I depend on tend to be the early hard-boileds: Hammet, MacDonald, Chandler, with Ross Thomas thrown in; and many of the women British writers: Frances Fyfield, Minette Walters, Josephine Tey, with Elizabeth George thrown in (I know she’s not British, but she wants to be).

Favorite poets: Rumi, Ruth Stone, Yehuda Amichai, Anna Swir, Anna Akmatova, and bless them all.

Some favorite books: Daniel Martin by John Fowles, The Farmer by Jim Harrison, Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry, Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong, Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. I’d say Jane Austen, but she’s so in she’s out.

FAQs Specific to Mary:

How can you write poetry and mysteries at the same time?
Poetry is my base. Since all writing is word-play and image-making, I rely on the basics of what I’ve learned writing poetry to create the much larger world of my mysteries. In both I’m trying to understand the world we live in and give a chunk of it to my readers. I’m interested in how we live together and what place murder has in our communities. I think of my poems often as distillations.  In my mysteries, I’m also trying to hone in on what concentrated emotion would cause someone to take another’s life.

Why did you set your mysteries in a small town along the Mississippi River?
Because I love it. Because it’s a microcosm. I love the landscape of the rugged bluffs and secret coulees, the constancy of the water, the ever-changing seasons. Because I never tire of it.  Because I know it as well as I will ever know one place on earth.

What’s it like living with another writer?
A constant joy, sometimes interrupted with moments of pain and irritation. Pete is my best critic and my harshest. He feeds me and tells me to keep going. I make the bed and rub his head. We make our way together in the world.