TODAY I’D LIKE to welcome an old friend, Marlis Day. I met Marlis several years ago when I began attending mystery writing conferences. Since our first meeting, our paths have crossed all too infrequently, but I’ve watched her progress from a single book to now five novels in print. Marlis says she comes from a family of storytellers … but rather than me telling the story, let me have Marlis tell it.
Mike: Thank you for joining us today, Marlis. Why don’t you pick up the story from there.
Marlis: Thank you. I did come from a family of storytellers. My earliest memories are of my mother reading to my brothers and me. I’ve always loved books; first as a reader, then as a writer. I taught middle-school English for over 30 years and read to all my students. When my own children left for college and the nest was empty, I began writing; first articles for magazines, etc, then my first novel.
MM: You have written two series … how did that come about?
MD: My mystery series includes: Why Johnny Died (1999), Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster (2002), and The Curriculum Murders (2004). I joined mystery organizations, went to conferences, and had a wonderful time meeting other mystery writers. However, when I retired from teaching in 2004, I truly missed the interaction with the young readers. I decided to write a set of middle-grade read-alouds, so I could visit schools and talk with children. Hence, The Secret of Bailey’s Chase (2008), and the sequel, Back to Bailey’s Chase (2011).
MM: With the two series, you have lead characters in each. Can you tell me a little bit about them? Let’s start with Grey Bailey, then Margo Brown.
MD: My most recent books are about Sparky and Grey Bailey, ten-yr-old cousins who now live together as sisters due to a tragedy. On the first day, they discover they have super powers, but only when they are together. Sparky is energetic, funny, and impulsive. Her cousin Grey is very polite, well-read, and calm. This duo can only use their “gift” for good and can never tell anyone or they will lose it. (A Gypsy sought them out and passed on this information.)
Margo Brown is a middle-school teacher who turns to sleuthing when one of her students dies at home, over the weekend, of an apparent accident. Margo finds clues in his writing journal that lead her to believe there was foul play. She enlists the help of her quirky colleague, Roxie, and the two seek justice for Johnny. Margo Brown is a wholesome, Midwestern, teacher, wife, and mother of two. In addition to sleuthing, she takes an active part in community activities and loves to cook.
MM: Can you give me a brief summary of their adventures?
MD: Margo and Roxie are something like Lucy and Ethel in their bumbling along, but they always get their man. In the first book, they find Johnny’s killer. In the second book, they dig into the past and solve a cold case of a teacher in their community. In book three, a student turned psycho, returns to town and begins stalking his former teachers.
Sparky and Grey solve mysteries (Nancy Drew style) and use a little magic when needed. They help clear the name of an innocent man, help the police find a cat burglar, find a kidnapped baby, warn swimmers of a shark nearby, expose a puppy mill, stop a bully, and bust a meth lab. Busy girls!
MM: Does each series appeal to a different group of readers? Or do you see an overlap between the fans of one and the other?
MD: Younger readers prefer the Bailey’s Chase novels, but adults seem to like them all. All the books are wholesome, set in the Midwest, include humor, and offer good role models to young readers.
MM: How do you develop your characters, and what is more important to you, the plot or the characterization? And, I suppose fair is fair: how do you develop your plots?
MD: All of my characters are created from combinations of people I have met. I see them in my mind as real people. I hear them talk and write It down. I find plot and characters equally important. Good characters need a good story. When you have both, the book writes itself. I get my plots from real life and from my imagination. I’ve always been a person who thought – what if? What if my dog suddenly talked to me? What if my bicycle could fly? What if one of my students died and I didn’t think it was an accident? What if I found a gun buried in my tomato patch and knew there was an unsolved murder on my property 50 years ago – might it be the murder weapon?
MM: What started you writing?
MD: I suppose listening to the stories my family shared. I knew if I didn’t write them down, they’d be lost forever. I enjoyed writing letters as a child, wrote for the school newspaper, wrote poems and stories for parties, plays for my classes. God gave me an unusual experience that I wrote about and sent to a Christian publisher. It appeared in church literature nationwide. I was hooked. I decided to write a mystery when I read Sue Grafton’s B is for Burglar. It was funny, short, and light. I thought: I can do this! Thus, Why Johnny Died was born. (I met Sue Grafton at the KY Book Fair and shared this story; she was most gracious.)
MM: What are your writing habits? In other words, do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?
MD: When I’m writing a book, I’m obsessed. I think of nothing else until it is done. When I’m not at my computer, dialogue and plots are running through my head. I’m a terrible conversationalist at those times. I slow up when it comes to the rewriting and editing. I’m a morning person, so I usually start my day at my computer.
MM: Anything upcoming?
MD: I’m currently editing my first three books for reissue by my new publisher. I’m thrilled to have the chance to go back through them and make them better. Also, I blog and tweet, and answer emails daily. Not sure about any more books. I have five books and they keep my busy with promotions and marketing. I attend state reading conferences, book fairs, and visit schools when invited.
MM: Any hobbies, etc. for spare time?
MD: Oh my. I mentor a child at the local school every week. I volunteer at the local community center where I organize the annual dog show, haunted house, and summer reading program. I have five grandchildren and love to attend their school activities. Two live near me and spend a lot of time at my house. I walk, swim, read, teach a Sunday School class.
MM: How can readers contact you?
MD: I love to hear from readers and always answer their emails. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at www.marlisday.com
My books are available at amazon, on my website, at www.echelonpress.com, most Barnes and Nobles stores. My newest ones are ebooks and they all will be soon.
MM: Thank you, Marlis … good luck with your ebooks.
MD: Thank you, Mike.