Thursday, February 4, 2016

An Interview with Mary Ellen Hughes

Mary Ellen Hughes

MM: Mary Ellen, please tell us the backstory on your how and when you became an author?
I crept towards becoming an author, inch by inch. My first byline was for a humorous 12-line poem in the Saturday Evening Post. It paid only $15, but it encouraged me enough to try short stories. Before long, two were published with one winning a local award! After that I stepped up to writing full-length novels, and two were accepted by a small publisher, which eventually led to my getting an agent and a contract with Berkley Prime Crime. Berkley published my Craft Corner Series, then followed that with my Pickled and Preserved series.

MM: When do you have your most productive writing time?
Mornings, definitely. I might do a little editing later in the day, but I think the most creatively in the morning.

MM: How many books have you written and what genres have you written?
SCENE OF THE BRINE is my eighth book. They’ve all been cozy/traditional mysteries. You can see the full list at Mary Ellen Hughes Author Page

MM: In 2016 what do readers have to look forward to and what are you personally looking forward to doing or taking the time to do?
SCENE OF THE BRINE was released February 2. I’m also working on a  proposal for a new series but can’t say too much about it yet. I’d love to take a trip to somewhere new, perhaps something a little exotic.

MM: Without it being a convention. If you were going to have nine authors to lunch. Who would they be and what would you discuss? Of course we want to know what season and what meal you would serve?
Nine authors? I’m not sure I could handle that many, LOL. Since you didn’t say they’d have to be alive, my dream guest authors would be Agatha Christie and Jane Austin. I’d pick Agatha’s brain to learn how she came up with all her clever plots, then Jane Austin’s about creating memorable characters.
The meal would be a cream tea (they’re British, you know) and I’d serve lovely crust-trimmed sandwiches outdoors in the garden, where we could enjoy my summer blooms. I’d also offer a variety of tasty pickles to go with the sandwiches and homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream for their scones.

MM: What advice do you have for novice mystery writers who want to write a mystery series?
Read  as much as you can of what’s out there to get a good feel for the genre. Then write, write, write. A good critique group is always a plus for immediate feedback on your writing.

MM: What do you love about writing mysteries?
Since I write cozies, I love creating characters, whether victims or murderers. I feel a little like a sculptor as the person slowly takes shape on the page. It’s hard work, but it can be so satisfying.

MM: Some fun questions for you. Where is your favorite place to vacation?
I like to see new places, so I don’t have a favorite place to go to more than once, other than visiting those family members who live away from us.

 Do you ever binge watch television shows or movies? If so which ones?
No, I’ve never binge-watched. It’s not my thing.

 Do you have a favorite meal?
Again, I like variety. My husband could eat the same meal for days, but not me. I don’t like to eat a certain meal more than once a month, and my “favorites” change often.

 Be our tour guide and tell why you love living where you live?
I live in Maryland, where I moved after college. I love being close to so many great places. D.C. is minutes away, with its great museums and entertainment. Baltimore and Annapolis have their historic places and wonderful restaurants. Then, the beach at Ocean City is reachable in only three hours, with many quaint Eastern Shore towns to drive through or visit on the way. Did I mention mountains? Not that far away, either, in the other direction. I could go on for hours…

MM: Do you ever reread your favorite books?
I do! I’ve reread Jane Austin’s books and love them. But I put a few years between rereading.

MM: They say it takes a village to be a published author. Who is in your village?
I was lucky to join a terrific critique group early on, and I learned—and still learn—a lot about writing and publishing from them. My local Sisters in Crime chapter was another wonderful resource, filled with lovely people.

MM: Are you a member of any writers group?
Besides Sisters in Crime, I’m also a member of MysteryWriters of America.

MM: Who has encouraged you the most in your life?
My husband has always been wonderfully supportive, in so many ways.

MM: Tell us about your latest book. Are you a person who outlines their books/series? Do take it as the words come and then rewrite if you need be?
Here’s the blurb that appears on the back cover of SCENE OF THE BRINE:
Business is booming at Piper’s Picklings in Cloverdale, New York. But not all is sweet in the life of Piper’s number one customer and friend, local caterer Sugar Heywood. Sugar is dating wealthy realtor Jeremy Porter, but his family doesn’t approve. After their unscrupulous accountant finds some dirt on Sugar, the family quickly urges Jeremy to throw her out like rotten fruit. 
 Things are further spoiled after the accountant is found poisoned, and all evidence points to Sugar’s son, Zach. With the Porter family determined to avoid scandal, it won’t be easy for Piper to preserve Zach’s innocence. And after someone falls victim to a poisoned jar of some of her brandied cherries, Piper’s got a peck of trouble to deal with herself…

I don’t outline but have a pretty good idea of my plot, suspects, and solution before I start. I like being surprised as new ideas appear while I’m writing. I’ll edit the previous day’s pages as I go along, but also do editing at the end, if needed. It usually is, LOL.

MM: I imagine that when a book is released there is a lot of stress. How do you combat your stress?
Stress, yes, but the good kind that comes from excitement. Exercise relaxes me, and I love to play tennis if I have the time. That game takes my mind off things very well.

MM: Leave us with either a quote by your protagonist or leave us with your favorite quote?
Someone gave me a collectible bookmark, once, with a quote of Winston Churchill’s that I love: “Never, never, never quit.”


  1. Mary Ellen - I love the sculptor analogy!

    1. Thanks, Terri. And thank you so much for having me here. It's been fun!

  2. Thank you for the interview. I should have asked where all you have traveled to but didn't think of it. LOL


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