An interview with author Mary Anne Moore . . .
Mary Anne Moore’s greatest joy is traveling the world and telling its people’s stories. She’s visited every continent except Antarctica, and she has no plans for a trip there. She spent her 20s as a professional violinist, her 30s getting a Ph.D. in physics, and the next 25 years teaching physics-related courses at various institutions of higher learning. Since retiring from academia, she has concentrated on writing fiction. Paranormal and cozy mysteries in exotic lands are her specialties.
Since the pandemic has curtailed her wanderings, she does yoga daily and continues writing. Short essays documenting her interactions with the local wildlife can be found on her Mary Anne Moore author page on Facebook. She continues to edit a book she began twenty-five years ago, and insists she needed the time to figure out the ending.
For more information on her semi-autobiographical series, The Amy Mohr Chronicles, please check out: ShaggyDogProductions.Online. There you can find links to her books and those of other Lady Writers in the Poconos.
Interview by BWG member Ralph Hieb
Bethlehem Writers Group: You gave up the violin to become scientist and educator. What caused you to give that up to become a writer?
Mary Anne Moore: I didn’t give up the violin until I retired from being a physics professor at East Stroudsburg University. For fifty years, I still performed in orchestras and then chamber ensembles highlighting women composers. The decision to stop playing wasn’t my idea. A shoulder injury made it impossible for me to hold the bow, and the healing process took almost three years. This left me with plenty of time to write. Teaching consumes a great deal of energy, and I was grateful to be able to retire from the education business when I did. I’d been teaching physics and astronomy at various institutions of higher education for almost thirty years, and quite frankly, doing science is much more satisfying than teaching science. Retiring let me get back to writing fiction.
BWG: When did you start writing?
MAM: I’ve actually been writing since my teens, starting with plays and television scripts (I was a diehard Trekkie), and some awful poetry inspired by teenage angst. I can never give up being a scientist. Science is more of a method for looking at the world, and it inspires aspects of my writing. Although I started my first novel (a pirate adventure) while in high school, I did not complete one until after I retired from ESU. I’m in the process of finishing one I started twenty-five years ago and left hanging due to the time restraints of having to earn a living and needing some inspiration (and putting some distance between me and the subject matter).
BWG: What helps you to concentrate when writing?
MAM: Focus can be an issue. My travels around the world, the countries where I set my novels, and the people I’ve met are often my inspiration. Setting goals and doing research helps me concentrate. Sometimes you just have to sit and write. It may be complete garbage that you toss out, but practice on a regular basis makes for better writing skills.
BWG: Do you find it easier to write during the day or night and why?
MAM: At night I sleep, perchance to dream. I often work out plot details at night, but I write best in the mornings. I do extensive research for all of my books. If my writing muse is on break, I use the time to investigate places, peoples, and events. My plots may be fictitious, but the places and events are often based on real situations. I want to be as accurate as possible.
BWG: Are you a plotter or a pantster when writing?
MAM: I started out as a pantser, writing episodes that then needed to be woven together. My first novel, The End of a Lie, was written that way, and it is, in my opinion, my weakest. Now I develop a general plot outline. I know my characters and their stories in detail, even if those details don’t show up in the story line. But on many occasions those characters tell me what needs to be written and take on lives of their own. They often insist on deviations in my carefully devised plans, and I always accommodate them.
BWG: What genre do you prefer to write in?
MAM: I’ve always had difficulty defining my genre. There are elements of mystery, adventure, romance, travel, and the paranormal in various degrees in all of them. Lately I’ve settled on paranormal mystery, or maybe paranormal adventure? Or maybe . . . Can you tell I need some help here?
BWG: What do you use to research your books—the internet, public library, personal home library, or some other form?
MAM: I’ve traveled to all the places in my books: Africa, Turkey, India, Egypt, Morocco, even Central America. I don’t set my stories in places I haven’t experienced first hand. I read books and travel blogs, watch movies, and use both public and personal home libraries to expand the personal experience. I keep a journal when I travel, noting down ideas that I think may make it into a story. Then I go home and get details and history I couldn’t get from just being there. As an example, in my most recent publication, The Sands of Marrakech, I wrote about riding a camel in the desert. I actually rode my camel (which I named Felicia) across sand dunes in the Sahara’s 90-degree heat. When I got home, I researched the type of animals I might come across if I traveled it at night.
BWG: Do you find it difficult to put your ideas on paper the way you see them in your mind?
MAM: I have a rather active imagination; some people would say too active. I’m getting much better at getting my ideas on paper. I do think cinematically. Writing is a skill that needs to be developed and refined constantly. While a physicist and science educator, I was good at writing articles for peer-reviewed journals and textbooks for my students. Those didn’t help me write action scenes in my novels. Reading good writers, emulating some of their techniques, and taking workshops on writing have all helped me improve as an author.
BWG: How did you improve at being an author and what it took for you to publish?
MAM: At being an author? Practice, practice, practice. And not being afraid to toss bad writing in the trash. I’ve taken several online writing courses and workshops, adapting what works for me, and disregarding advice that didn’t fit into my writing style. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but each author needs to find their own voice. And sometimes that means trying on several hats before you find the one that fits you best.
The ease of self-publishing made me go that route. I like to design my own book covers, and I am fortunate to have friends who will beta-read my efforts and give me feedback. Line editing is my greatest weakness (that and marketing). My brain fills in what it expects to see.
BWG: Did you go through a publishing service?
MAM: I have gone the self-publishing route. My early attempts at finding an agent and publisher did not go well, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing and because competition is very high. My understanding is that the publishing industry has changed drastically over the last decade. The bigger houses have fired copy editors because, frankly, people still bought books with egregious errors. Authors are expected to do their own marketing, and it can take up to two years for a book to come out in print. I write because I have stories I want to tell, and my biggest challenge now is how to get more people to read them.
BWG: Do you have any tips or suggestions for someone who is starting in the writing field?
MAM: Absolutely. First, find something you are passionate about. If you bore yourself, you’ll bore your readers. Second, get a day job that you don’t have to take home with you. Don’t expect to be able to make a living from writing novels. Over two million come out every year just in the United States. You still need to eat and pay the rent. It’s the difference between having a job and a career. Careers rarely give you much time for writing your own stuff. If that’s your goal, find a job where you still have energy to write when you get home from work.
Lastly, read, read, read. Find writers you admire and learn lessons from their works. Take workshops, find a group of fellow writers (or readers) that you can trust to give you honest feedback. We all have egos, and you’ve got to toughen yours up. You need to accept and appreciate valid criticism, and not just look for a pat on the back. Aim high but realize your limitations. Every book you write just needs to be better than the one you just wrote.