This time last year I travelled to New York with my niece, to support her in the NY Marathon. We arrived in the middle of a blackout, in the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The marathon was cancelled, and my niece was very disappointed. (That’s an example of British understatement :) ) But despite everything, we had the most marvellous time. The New Yorkers were so tremendously friendly and cheerful, in spite of everything they had just been through.
So I’m absolutely delighted to welcome author Margaret Mendel, over here from NY, and to be able to return the hospitality.
Lovely to meet you Margaret! Whereabouts in New York do you live? I live on the Upper Westside of Manhattan. I’m a city dweller with roots stuck deep in the soil of a quiet rural community in Washington State where I grew up.
Where’s your favourite place in the world? That’s a hard question for me to answer because it depends on my frame of mind. There are days if you asked me that question, I’d say sitting alone in the dappled sunlight under a tree next to a quiet country stream. Other day’s I’d say traveling in an exotic country like Vietnam or Cambodia. Then other days, I’d be totally content sitting on our terrace with my husband, drinking a chilled glass of white wine watching the busy street below our apartment building.
I’d join you on that balcony any day!
What is the worst job you ever had? My working life has taken many directions. In my teenage years I had summer jobs picking strawberries and blackberries. After graduation I worked as a shoe cobbler in a large department store in Portland, Oregon. For five years I worked as a power sewing machine operator piecing together swimsuits. For less than a year I sewed zippers onto sleeping bags for a large sporting goods company. Eventually I got a degree in psychology and worked in what was called a re-socialization program for the chronic schizophrenic population that was coming out of the institutions in California in the ‘70’s. Later I worked with adults with Intellectual Disabilities. My last 9 to 5 job was as a director of a day program for adults diagnosed with Intellectual Disabilities.
There were days during that work-a-day life when my mind went numb and I’d have given anything to walk off the job, go home, take a hot bubble bath, wash away the particles of the working day and never go back. The interesting thing is that every one of those jobs I’ve listed, and even some lousy short term work I didn’t stick with long enough to add to my resume, have all brought me characters and plots for my stories. Ah, everything is fodder for the writer!!
You’re so right there, Margaret.
What book do you wish you had written? I must confess that though it’s appealing to have the capability to write a major Pulitzer Prize winner, I wish I’d written a small, unassuming nonfiction natural literature book, The Outermost House by Henry Beston. It was written in 1928 and covers a one-year period in which Beston lived alone in a cottage on the edge of Cape Cod beach. It takes the reader through the daily experience of living isolated with nothing to do but take notes about the large and small aspects of beach life. Benson didn’t write the book until he retuned back to civilization, bringing his notes with him. There is something appealing about becoming so immersed in a subject that it becomes the life, the breath of each minute of the day and then be able to build a written document that brings it all to life.
That sounds a totally intriguing book!
What’s your favourit song? I’m a blues fan. I like the old stuff. Right now I’m listening to Memphis Minnie on iTunes. The “Weary Woman Blues” just started to play. She sings, “give me cake when I’m hungry, lightening when I’m dry”. And then there is Muddy Waters, he’s cued up to play next. These funky musicians keep my fingers clicking on keyboard. I put on my earphones, blocking out any extraneous sound, crawl into my private world and some days my fingers fly across the keyboard as I keep time with the beat. That’s when the writing is really going well. I love those days.
There are other days when I’m into classical music. Bach’s Cello Suites are fantastic and frequently help set the mood for a special aspect of a story. Some days it’s Vivaldi’s whispers in my ear that tells me where I should go next with a plot.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t have a straight answer because now as I think about this question, Janice Joplin cries out, “Hey, don’t forget me”.
I know, it’s a terrible question :) I love your choices, though.
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them? I’d like to spend more time with my maternal grandmother. She left us with so many contradictory stories about her life that even my mother, her daughter, did not know the full details of her life. The photos of grandma as a young woman, a beautiful, fun loving woman dashing about in a long, woolen bathing suite at the sea shore or nestled next to a group of friends at a country picnic, look nothing like the severe straight-laced lady we knew as children. I’d like to know what happened to her? She immigrated to Canada from Russia as either a child or a young woman. She lived through the Great Depression and spent years traveling across the country as a migrant worker with grandpa and a car full of kids. I’d love to be able to sit with her and hear about her life.
She sounds a fascinating person to get to know.
What’s your happiest memory? Picking wild flowers in the Northwest woods with my sisters.
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be?
This might sound crazy but I’d like to be married to Philip Marlowe. I know this character is a loner, would probably never marry, and certainly never stick with one woman for very long. But I’d like to give it a try just to be able to follow him around, listening to that dialogue, watch him confront the criminal with wit and sometimes confusion, though always leaving the reader satisfied.
A quote from THE BIG SLEEP:
General Sternwood, “How do you like your brandy?”
Philip Marlowe, “In a glass.”
A quote from MURDER, MY SWEET:
Philip Marlowe, “He died in 1940, in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.”
Now how fun would that be to hear this kind of dialogue on a daily basis.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you? Keep at it!!! No matter what it is, if you want to learn something, don’t give up!! There will be ups and downs, but if you give up there is no chance of ever accomplishing what it is you set out to do.
And finally, please tell us about your latest book, where can we find it, and where we can find your blog/website.
Against the unforgiving landscape of Alaska, Sharon Wolf, a single mother, struggles to reclaim her life from alcohol abuse and regain the custody of her daughter. But first she must overcome dwindling funds and find a place to live before the harsh winter sets in. She gets a job as a fry cook in a backcountry bar, aptly named The Nowhere, and begins to reconstruct her life. Her struggles are further complicated when she is stalked by a murderer who thinks she witnessed him kill an associate of his. In order to get her life back on track and regain custody of her daughter, Sharon must call upon her inner strength and learn to accept help from unexpected sources. Ultimately she learns to trust herself when the murderer kidnaps her daughter and Sharon finds herself in a life and death struggle.
Margaret Mendel lives in New York City and is a past board member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, NYC. She has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence. Many of her short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. For more than twenty years she worked in the mental health field, though now she devotes herself to writing full time. She is an avid photographer and not only drags a laptop, but a Nikon D7000 camera wherever she goes. You can learn more about Margaret Mendel on her blog/website at: http://www.pushingtime.com/home/
Or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.mendel
I love the title of your book, Margaret – and it sounds terrifying! Thanks for coming today to tell us about it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Margaret’s interview. If you have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!