Mary Simses is a novelist who grew up in Darien, Connecticut, and spent most of her life in New England. She has worked in magazine publishing and has experience as a corporate attorney. During her career, Mary wrote fiction in the spare time and many of her short stories were published in literary magazines. She is the author of “The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café” which was turned into a movie for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. She also wrote “The Rules of Love & Grammar.” She enjoys photography, listening to old jazz standards, and escaping to Connecticut in the summer. Mary lives with her husband in South Florida, their daughter is in college and is also a writer. Recently, Mary discussed her experiences as an author.
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: What influenced you to become an author?
Mary Simses (MS): I started writing stories when I was very young, seven or eight, and I continued through grade school. Although I loved writing fiction, I never had the confidence that I could actually make a living at it, so I had two other careers before becoming a full-time author. I worked in magazine publishing and then as an attorney. It wasn’t until I was working as a corporate attorney that I decided to try my hand at fiction writing again. I took a night class at a local university, was hooked, and began writing short stories “on the side.” It went on from there.
MM: Growing up, what books and illustrations inspired you?
MS: That’s hard to say because I’ve forgotten so much of what I read when I was a kid. I do remember loving “A Wrinkle in Time” when I was very young and, later, “A Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” All very different books, and I’m not sure that any of them specifically inspired me, but they’ve certainly stuck with me as books I admire.
MM: So far, how many books have you published?
MS: Two. My first novel, “The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café” was published in 2013 and my second novel, “The Rules of Love & Grammar”, was published this past June. I’m working on a third.
MM: How did you come up with the concept for your novels? What are they about?
MS: “Blueberry Café” is about a fast-paced New York City attorney named Ellen Branford, who agrees to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish by delivering a letter to a man in a small town in Maine. It’s a story of discovery for Ellen – about her grandmother’s past and Ellen’s future, as she ends up having to make some major decisions about her life. I came up with the idea after hearing a woman on the radio talking about how her grandmother had just died and how, right before she died, she said, “Erase my hard drive!” I kept wondering what was on that grandmother’s hard drive, and that led me to the idea of a grandmother with a secret. Rather than a computer, I used the idea of a letter to get the story going. My second novel, “The Rules of Love & Grammar” is about a woman named Grace Hammond who is at a crossroads in her life, after losing her job, her boyfriend, and her apartment. She returns to her home town in Connecticut to stay with her parents, and while there she finds that her high school boyfriend is back in town, directing a feature film. She also finds that she has to come to terms with a tragedy in her family’s past. The idea for “Love & Grammar” started with something that happened to me – a boy I had a huge crush on asked me to dance at a ninth grade dance. He already had a girlfriend, so I knew he didn’t have any romantic intentions (unfortunately!), but I’ve never forgotten that event and I knew it would end up in a story one day.
MM: You had one of your books made into a movie. That is so cool! How did this come about?
MS: It was very cool. My agent sent the book to her contact at an agency in Los Angeles and the book got to Alison Sweeney, the actress/producer. She read it and immediately thought it would be a great movie, especially for Hallmark. She’s produced and acted in other films for them. Ali and I talked by phone in June of last year and the movie just premiered on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel in October. It happened very fast.
MM: What was your role in the process of translating your book into a film? Did you enjoy working with Hallmark?
MS: My only role with Hallmark was selling them the rights to make the movie. I never seriously entertained the notion of trying to write the screenplay. At the time, I was working under a deadline to finish my second novel, “Love & Grammar,” and I couldn’t think beyond that. Plus, I’d never written a screenplay and I didn’t feel it would be the best use of my time. That said, if I ever get another opportunity for one of my books to become a movie, I might give the screenplay a shot. One thing that was really fun was going to Vancouver, Canada in August and spending two days on the set when the movie was being filmed. Ali and the other actors, the director, producers, and everyone in the crew were so nice. And seeing my characters come to life was the experience of a lifetime. I even got to do a little cameo. I’m still waiting for my Emmy Award! Maybe they sent it to the wrong place?
MM: What is your “dream project”?
MS: Hmm. Good question. I guess I’d have to say that seeing another one of my books turned into a movie, writing the screenplay for it, and being one of the producers would be my dream project.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of being an author?
MS: It’s always been the knowledge that I’ve touched someone emotionally with my writing. I’ve received many emails from readers who have told me some amazing stories about how one of my books affected them. One reader, who hadn’t read a book in the two years after her husband died, picked up “Blueberry Café” loved it, and wrote me the most beautiful email. Another reader told me of the many similarities between her own life and the life of Ellen in “Blueberry Café”. A woman who read “Love & Grammar” and had experienced her own family tragedy told me how much the book meant to her. It means the world to me to know that readers connect with my stories and my characters in this way.
MM: Career wise, where do you see yourself ten years from now?
MS: I’d love to have a few more books published by then. I just plan to keep writing and we’ll see what happens.
MM: What advice would you give someone who is aspiring to be an author?
MS: Take a writing class, if you can. You’ll not only get advice on structure, voice, character development, and other elements of writing, but you’ll also get to read the work of your fellow students, which I always found inspiring. Also, start small, by writing short stories. It’s far less daunting than writing a novel and you’ll learn the basics in a much more manageable platform. And remember that even if you have a full-time job, you can be a part-time writer. Last but not least – send you work out! Try to get it published. It will never get published sitting in a drawer. There are a lot of great literary magazines out there and a very helpful directory called “Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market” that I used to identify publications I thought could be good matches for my stories.