Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An Interview with Mary Daheim

By Pamela James

MM: Mary, give us the backstory your writing career?

I started telling stories before I learned how to put them on paper. I never think of myself as a writer or an author, but as a storyteller.

MM: Where is your favorite place to write?

Here in the basement.

MM: Writing two very different mystery series but equally entertaining to your readers. What advice do you have about writing a series?

Let's get real. Who plans to write a series unless you intend to self-publish? What I did back in 1989 was to turn a parochial school auction item into the B&B mystery series. Our three daughters all attended a Catholic grade school. They held an annual auction and my contribution was putting together a murder mystery overnight at a local B&B. The year that our youngest daughter was going graduate, it dawned on me that I should use one of the plots I'd put together to my own profit. It took me a full month to organize the overnight event and provide the script--a term I use loosely because it was 50% spontaneous on the part of the participants. I'd been writing historical romance novels for several years, but it wasn't a good fit for me. I told my agent I wanted to switch to mystery, but he emphatically told me NO--romance paid better than mystery He was right, but I didn’t care. So I went behind his back and gave the 87 pages of what would become Just Desserts to a publisher's rep who was headed back east for a sales conference right after Thanksgiving. On Dec. 15 I got a letter from a senior editor at Avon offering me a 3-book contract.

Before 1990 was out, I would hear via the grapevine that an editor at Random House/Ballantine with whom I had worked earlier in my career was interested in having me write a series (yes, that word was there from the start) for him. I called to make sure it wasn't just one of those weird publishing rumors and I found out it was not. When asked what the series would entail, I said I'd always wanted to write about a lost logging town here in the Cascades. My family members had lived there before I was born and they spoke of it with such affection that I wanted to make sure it wasn't completely lost to time. As for my agent...he got used to the idea.

MM: Tell us how you plan your books, ideas, characters, plots, settings?

I don’t plan my books. I have a vague idea, type up a graf alluding to what I think it may be about--and then I start writing. I did map out the updated town of Alpine, though I took at least one liberty by placing the Skykomish River going through the middle. As for the B&Bs, the basic setting is my own neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. I never call places by their real names, however. Frankly, at the time I started writing the books there were already several local writers setting their own mysteries in the area. I feared a glut on the market and how many people around the country really knew much about Seattle in 1990? Okay, so all that changed--but so did the city and if I'd actually identified my hometown, I'd have to keep updating what was going on around her. It's hard enough to keep up with when I'm living in the middle of all the chaos and change.

MM: Where will we find you when you're not writing?

Working out in the garden or doing something with my kids and grandkids.

MM: Do you have favorite shows that you like to binge watch on television?


MM: What is your favorite meal, dessert, classic authors and place to vacation?

Cracked Dungeness crab. I've never eaten dessert--I don’t see the point. My husband always ate dessert though. Then he had a pastry snack before going to bed. I always figured he was making up for me not wanting any of that stuff.

MM: It's 2016 what are our plans for this year?

Nothing special, really. I think I've gotten over the travel bug. We took so many long vacations over the years, including by car. One year we had all 3 girls stuffed in the backseat and covered over 5,000 miles across Canada to Manitoba, into Minnesota (Dave's home state) and then headed west and north and finally home. We certainly packed a lot into that trip. We also visited relatives in Minnesota, Nebraska and California.

MM: What would Judith and Renie tell us about you? Let's ask them and then ask Emma what she can add to what Judith and Renie tell us about you as their creator? Oh I should mention Emma Lord is from your other series.

Judith and Renie have already told you about me. Judy was 4 years younger, but we grew up two blocks apart and always were very close (both of us were only children). In fact, there were four families of us in the 2-block part of Seattle. Judy was a nurse by trade (she suffered a massive stroke 3 years ago and died), but I figured running a B&B wasn't all that different, since both jobs require some of the same characteristics--good communications skills, a desire to make people comfortable, etc. I'm not quite as bratty as Renie. At least I hope not. I should add that all the adventures the cousins allude to in the past actually happened to us, no matter how bizarre, including getting tossed out of St. Peter's in Rome as potential terrorists. I'm still mad about that.

MM: What I your most challenging part of writing the book?

I'm not sure "challenging" is the right word. Maybe "frustrating" works better. It almost always happens when I get about 75% through the book that I semi-panic and think I cannot pull all of this together. (That happens when you don’t plan or outline or whatever other people...). And then somehow it does and it all turns out fine. Or at least seems to make sense.

MM: Okay if either of your series were to be picked to be a made for television movie or television series. Who do you think should play the main characters?

That's an exercise in futility, as my husband told me early on. Before I met Dave, he had worked for 3 years in production at MGM. He taught cinema at the college level. Successful casting is a skill in itself and best left to experts. Not to mention that in The Business (as it's always known to insiders) the making of movies has become so very different since the demise of the old studio system that held talent hostage. Thus, I'll have to pass on that question.

MM: Give us the information on your website?

MM: Do you ever pick reader's names to put in your books?

I've contributed "Be A Real Character" auction items to various charities (other than my girls' parochial school). I use the winning bidders as characters, especially in the Alpine books. Many of them have gone on to play a fairly big role. 

Like run a contest an draw a readers name?

Never did that.

MM: Lastly, who would you like to thank for their support?

I'd like to pass on this. The danger of leaving out someone over the course of going on 40 years is too great. And so many of the people who were helpful to me early on are now dead.  

Tell us about your latest book and tell us how many books you've written?

I think the total comes to 66, counting the new B&B, Here Comes the Bribe, due out in early April. (I'm terrible at math, even simple addition.) Judith's latest crop of guests are even weirder than some of the other people she's hosted over the years. But one of them really rocks her world when he insists he's her long-lost son. Meanwhile, I'm working on the new Alpine, as yet untitled, but it should assure readers that Emma & Company's story doesn’t end just because the alphabet does. And by the way--one of my earlier historical romances--Destiny's Pawn--was released earlier this year.


  1. Mary, I am glad your persistence with publisher's and agents paid off and you were able to do what you wanted to do!

  2. Mary,
    I wish you every success. Thank you for the interview.

  3. Always a pleasure to listen in when you talk about your career. All the best with Here Comes the Bribe!


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