... Mary Elizabeth Fricke
1.Tell me about your book, Birds in Peril (Boxed Set), and where you got your inspiration for it?
My latest publication is the republishing of the first four stories of my ‘Birds in Peril’ Series under one cover. I’m not sure where the story comes from. Initially, I wrote the first one, Pigeon In A Snare, in the 80’s as a contemporary romance. However, I suffer from the infernal ‘what then?’ inquiring mind. So, after I wrote Pigeon, but long before it was published, I began to think of it as the beginning of a series.
I wondered about the character, Jani, who was introduced in Pigeon (Lisa’s story). After I drafted Roses for the Sparrow (Jani’s story), I wondered about Susie who was introduced in Sparrow. Originally, Plight of the Wren was two manuscripts with the second title being something like ‘Spirit of the Dove’. However, as the story evolved, it grew beyond just Susie’s story to include history of the evil Humsler and Susie’s yet-to-be-discovered connection to him. Eventually, because both manuscripts contained the same characters, I combined them into Birds #3 Plight of the Wren. And then, out of the blue, Robin Unaware became number Birds#4.
The ghosts of Julia and Beatrice just suddenly appeared to fill in vital information for Wren and Robin…Perhaps, it’s all in the spirit…
2. Did you learn anything from writing this book? If so what was it?
I have learned that stories will evolve in their own way in their own sweet time. Pigeon began in the late 80’s but it was late 90’s before I seriously drafted Sparrow and began research on Wren. In the meantime, I also rewrote Sweet Pea umpteen times and managed to publish my autobiography and a fairly long list of non-fiction articles. None of the fiction stories sold until 2010. I wrote Robin after 2014 and published it in early 2017.
3. What is the longest you’ve gone without writing?
I have gone long periods of time without writing anything constructive and never thought about it because I had other duties to worry about. I was reading, or studying or teaching or was occupied raising my sons or working on the farm. I knew I would get back to writing sooner or later and just didn’t think about it. In between times, there were letters to friends or lists, or projects for the boys’ school or 4H. Unfortunately, in 2016 after I had heart surgery, I found myself unable to develop new ideas. Partly, because I was exhausted and frightened, not knowing what was next. The heart thing caught me totally by surprise and completely disrupted my entire life.
I had the manuscript that has developed into the Sweet Pea Trilogy that needed serious editing and reconstructing. I discovered I could rewrite; and so, finally published Sweet Pea I (Demise of Innocence), Sweet Pea II (Time to Deceive) and Sweet Pea III (Price of Passion) the fall of 2017. February 2018, I released Sweet Pea Gift set with all three titles under one cover as a Valentines’ Day special and for Christmas 2018, the Sweet Pea Trilogy in paperback.
But all of that was editing, rewriting, just ‘polishing’. I struggled to write anything from scratch….anything new and inventive…..
In March of 2019, I underwent parathyroid surgery and a lumpectomy. Both of these problems had been developing for some time, actually endangering my health before the heart surgery in 2016. Even though, after the surgery, I was declared cancer free, there are residual problems concerning my spine I continue to deal with. It’s difficult to sit for long periods of time. I find that I tire easily--or more easily than I used to.
My mind reels with ideas; yet, I’ve managed very little toward actual written pages. Even answering these questions is a struggle. For some reason, my ‘muse’ remains an allusive creature who waves at me from a distance now and then. I long for the days when ‘Musey’ was a pesky aggravating entity that kept flooding my mind with ideas, treasures, thoughts that I scrambled to write down on paper before it whisked them away to some storage unit deep the depths of my brain only to let them loose again in the middle of the night when I desperately needed to sleep.
I joke about it. But, honestly? It isn’t funny. I cannot keep just writing and rewriting the same things over and over. I need to build fresh and open and exploring ideas.
Answering these questions is the most ‘new’ I’ve managed to create in a very long time. But, these are truths about me, not a riveting, spine-tingling, romantic, suspense novel.
4. What is your best childhood memory?
I am a country girl raised next door to a thriving dairy farm. My stepfather owned his own construction business and farmed on the side. My mother was a seamstress who also added to their income by working as a store clerk or in factories. I am the youngest of three children, my sister is five years older, my brother eight. There was enough difference in our ages that I spent a lot of my childhood pretty much on my own. By the time I was a teenager, my brother had joined the Air Force and my sister moved away from home. It seems I remember my teenage years the most. The one thing that stands out in my mind, throughout my young productive years, is riding my bicycle on the county roads. As a teenager I had friends who joined me on bicycle excursions. Sometimes we would just take long walks.
Those were peaceful years. Yes, as it was the late 60’s, there was a lot of turmoil going on elsewhere in the world. But we lived in the Midwest where the countryside seemed relatively inactive, except for the normal daily farm occurrences. It was a gentle time and is a place I go back to mentally when I need to rest.
The countryside I remember, the roads I walked, or rode my bicycle on, are rapidly becoming non-existent. The small family farms I remember are growing less and less. I would like to preserve some of this memory in my writing.
Another prominent memory is frequent family gatherings. My mother had fourteen brothers and sisters who would get together on Sunday afternoons several times a year. Before I was thirteen, those gatherings were at my maternal grandparents’ home. After my grandparents’ died, the gatherings became summer barbeques and fish fries at my parents’ home. Mom was very close to most of her siblings. It seems she was the glue that kept them all connected. So those backyard parties continued into the 1990’s. My sons were grown by then- one in college, the other in high school—and most of my cousins had moved on. Several of the sibling aunts and uncles had died. So those extended family gatherings can be thought of as life progressing year to year in cherished memories.
5. What was your most defining moment in life?
Life is filled with ‘defining moments’, both happy and sad. Without getting into the sad moments (such as the loss of two babies at birth or our parents’ deaths) those moments began with certain religious stepping points, My First Communion, Confirmation, etc. There were also times like when I received my driver’s license. And the euphoric things like our wedding, our sons’ births and the births of our grandchildren. It’s difficult to distinguish between those times because all were so life changing.
As to defining moments as a writer…I’ve written all of my life, excelled in classes where my grades were determined in some written form, essays, reports or papers. I’ve kept journals since childhood. My first article, in 1991, was titled, “Unpublished Does Not Mean Unwritten’. I wrote it because someone angered me when they claimed that ‘as I was not published, I was not really a writer’. The article was 363 words. I was paid one penny per word. A grand total of $3.63. Thanks to that article I was now a published writer! By golly….so there! A copy of that article and the check I was paid for it are encased in a frame on display in my office.
6. What motivates you to succeed as a writer?
For me, writing is the same as breathing. It is how I express my thoughts, feelings, actions, keep myself organized with lists, reminders, to remember life moments or silly stories. It is so essential to my life, for anyone to accept me, they must accept my need to write. I’ve met people who ‘looked down’ on me because I didn’t earn a teaching or journalism degree before I began to write, or publish; because I’m not inclined to write what this or that person believed I should write. My first published article was written after someone told me I wasn’t a ‘real writer’ because I had not had anything published. So, to succeed as a writer I feel the need to express to these people, through my written word and recognition as a published writer, they should not be so judgemental. Success in writing is not shown by dollar signs or pieces published. Success is determined by the degree of reception and acceptance through the people who read what a person writes.
7. What genre do you write in and what draws you into this genre?
I tend to read romance more than any other genre, which, I think is a lot of why I’m also inclined to write some form of romance. The problem here is that romance is included in just about every genre in some small form or another. Perhaps that is really why I’m drawn to romance. Romance is everywhere, in everything!
8. Have you ever considered collaborating with another writer? If Yes who, if no why not?
Yes, it wasn’t a good idea. The person I was just going to ‘spend time writing together’ had no interest in anything that I wrote. In fact, I felt that what she really wanted was someone to do the writing for her and allow her to take all the credit. That didn’t set so well with me. I suppose if two people have a mutual idea they can work ‘together’ to form that idea into a story. I’ve read that when two people write a book, usually, one writes a certain section or concentrates on one character while their partner concentrates on another character and perhaps another section of the book, then they work to meld all the pieces into one story. It sounds like a good idea if two minds are thinking in the same venue. I didn’t have that positive experience.
9. Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages a day?
I don’t limit myself so many words a day. When I’m rough drafting a novel, I aim for ‘one section’ a day. Sometimes that’s a few paragraphs. Sometimes that’s several pages. Oftentimes, achievement of that goal depends on how well the story is coming together. After I have the first draft written with chapters divided out and in sequence, I then strive to edit and perfect one chapter a day until the manuscript is ready to submit, or to publish.
10. Do you let a book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
Yes, in fact I believe that is the best practice for everything I write. No matter how small. I draft it out, perhaps work on editing right away, perhaps not. But then I let it set at least for a few hours, if not overnight, before I go back to it again. I have let portions of manuscripts sit for months without looking at them because I was working on another idea, or chapters, of that same manuscript. Letting work ‘rest’ so to speak, even to work on something else for a while, allows one to return to edit that work with a fresh mind and maybe even brand new ideas.
11. Do you think the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
The cover is very important. I know from my own buying experience. If I don’t like a cover of a book I’m not likely to even read the blurb on the back. Likewise, if a cover draws my attention, I’m very likely to see what the blurb on the back is, what is written inside the jacket. I may even read the author’s acknowledgements or bio. I assume that other people do the same when they purchase books.
12. Have you written any other books that are not published? Do you intend to publish them?
Yes. I do not intend to publish the first book I ever wrote. It’s a historical romance and I worked so hard in getting the historical value of it correct, I feel I really screwed up the romance value of it. With the writing knowledge I have gained over the years, it would take a lot more time and effort than I want to spend on it to ‘fix’ it.
I have one story I started at least ten years ago. I finished three-quarters of it and could not figure a way to end the story. Even after all this time, that ending is elusive. I do not know what I’ll do with that story at all.
I have one other that I wrote so long ago that the only copy I have is a typewritten hardcopy. I’ve line edited the story a couple times and believe it is worth updating with the goal of publishing. I will have to literally rewrite it because I don’t have a computer copy…..that should be fun….the ultimate form of editing.
13. What has your experience been like as a new Indie Author? Bruises, Highlights, and lessons?
Oh, it’s been a trip. More good lessons than bad. I’ve definitely learned a lot more about what it takes to market books and try to get them on the front burners in book stores.
14. Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I tend to let my characters ‘have their head’ so to speak. I’ve found that characters will go their own way whether you want them to or not. In fact, I’ve eliminated characters who didn’t turn out to be what I wanted them to be when I first began a story. Other characters were so charismatic I deliberately built them into prominent places so the plot became ‘their’ story.
15. What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
During a friendly criticism session, years ago, a fellow writer (much published romance writer who is also a dear friend) told me the main character of Pigeon in a Snare was a ‘wimp’. That hurt more than I ever admitted to her. It also caused me to re-evaluate the character ‘Lisa’. I ended up rewriting her completely. I’m not going to say Lisa became a super woman type character….she didn’t. She was spoiled and pampered, then literally ostracized from her father and she had to learn how to deal with that both emotionally and financially. She had to grow strong in spite of her father’s criticism, to become a woman he admired….and she did.
Five women met, fell in love with and married men who aided the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Sheldon Humsler. Even though the events that disrupted their lives, did not necessarily involve Humsler, they certainly invoked the conviction that one-day Humsler would find a way to enact his revenge. All of these women and the men they married are in some way closely connected to Humsler’s arch enemies, Benton Cromwell, T.J. Harvester and Thad Hunt. Because of Humsler, Benton Cromwell’s life and livelihood have become so precarious he now lives as an invalid on borrowed time. However, his friends, T.J. Harvester and Thad Hunt, continue to grow in family, and in deed. Both are well-loved by many. The time is near when a final confrontation with Humsler must occur. Humsler has an accomplice…someone closely connected to Hunt….but who could that possibly be?
About Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth Fricke has lived her entire life within five miles of the Missouri River. She and her husband of thirty-nine years have lived thirty-six of those years on a farm that has been consistently owned and operated by his family for five generations. They have two grown sons married to wonderful women and two beautiful grandchildren.
A graduate of the Writer's Institute of America and a member of the Heartland Writers Guild, she has published a number of articles in various forums and magazines, as well as her autobiography, Dino, Godzilla and the Pigs (My Life on Our Missouri Hog Farm). More recently, she has begun to concentrate on publishing romantic fiction with the Birds in Peril Series and the Sweet Pea Trilogy. She is also a prolific ghostwriter.