The Friends of the Pine Island Library invited local author Marty Ambrose to speak at its Wednesday luncheon at the Pine Island Elks Lodge.
Ambrose lives on Pine Island with her husband, Jim McLaughlin, and has just completed her sixth book in what she calls her "Mallie Series," named after her main character Mallie Monroe. The title of her latest book is "Coastal Corpse."
"Before coming here today I kind of thought about why I became a mystery writer," Ambrose said. "I just finished my sixth book, 'Coastal Corpse,' it should be out by the end of this year. That one took me a long time to do.
"I didn't really start out wanting to be a mystery writer, I really wanted to be a poet," she continued. "But I was always curious about everyone and everything and I was always trying to figure out what was the story there. I didn't think of myself as a mystery writer but a mystery solver. I grew up in a middle class suburb of St. Louis and we had Alice, the woman that never came out of her house; Bob, the guy that talked to himself as he walked past the house every day; and an ample woman that was in an old burned out house across from the elementary school who would hand out apples to the kids on their way home."
"I would think, 'Was Alice a refugee on the run? Was Bob a retired bank robber?'" she went on to say. "I think growing up there were still these undercurrents of what were these people really like? Added to that my two favorite writers were Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie. Poe is the master of suspense and I learned the essence of mystery from him. And then there's my dear old bud Agatha and her intrepid sleuth Miss Marple and Hercule. They were the epitome of the amateur detective. They lived small lives but solved big crimes. I learned from Christie that the amateur sleuth is capable of figuring out a complex puzzle and beat the police at their own profession and Miss Marple is knitting a sweater the whole time."
Ambrose continued, "They were my first acquaintance with mystery and I really never forgot that. I wrote my first little mystery story when I was 12 and then I just dabbled. I went to college, went to graduate school and I wrote poetry. When I moved back here I started teaching and wrote some mysteries for Women's World which is really a nice publication to get started, but I really was not serious about writing. Then I got melanoma when I was 30 and I thought OK, I need to get serious here.
"I took a continuing-ed workshop with Prudy Taylor and she's just a fabulous, fabulous writing teacher. She taught me the big thing is the craft and I've always said it's not 'witchcraft' but it is a kind of craft. I wrote romances but wanted to write mysteries so I took writing classes. I did write five romance books but I just wasn't where I wanted to be as a writer. It just never seemed to fit... I wanted to get back to killing somebody but I couldn't figure out how to get there.
Continuing her discussion, she said, "What really changed for me was when we moved to Pine Island. I had this kind of deja vu experience back to my neighborhood in St. Louis and the neighbor that never came out of the house, the dog walker who passes by every day talking to himself and the woman who hands out mangos and I couldn't stop thinking about all those stories. That's what I was missing for writing mysteries. So about 10 years ago I went back to the basics and joined I Mystery Writers of America where I found a home and the Mango Bay series was born. I was actually in the dressing room of my favorite boutique (Mallie Montgomery Boutique, since closed) when the whole book came to me. But it took me a couple of years to write the first mystery because it's very different from romances as it's more plot driven. That was 'Peril In Paradise'. Now my agent, Roberta Brown, she sent it to every New York publisher and... nothing. Thrillers were in and cozy mysteries were just about dead. So I wrote book two of the series and I kept remembering Edgar and Agatha. But the thing that actually changed the market was 9-11 and the market has been strong ever since.
"One thing I can say for those of you interested in writing is that it's a very long process," she continued. "You don't really tell people when you're writing a book because they keep asking. It takes a year to write it, a year to edit and revise, and then another year before it's published.
"I think the publishing world is undergoing the biggest changes with what I call the Amazon hammer chipping away at the big time publishers. To be honest no one knows where it all is going. You've got traditional publishing, indy publishing, and we know people have bought lots of Kindles.
"When I got my book published 1 in 90,000 got published so the odds are not good and it's a very tough business today and people get discouraged. So I like that the author today has a few more options to get published.
"So the digital age has taken over. It used to be you had a book come out, you have your signings, you do your postcards. Now you have to manage your website, you have your blog, you do blog tours, you're on Facebook and you have to Twitter. So the old-fashioned author world is being replaced."
One audience member asked the author about her support system. "How do writers get that system in place?"
Ambrose responded, "Everyone has a different experience but I started going to conferences and I met my agent at a conference. Mystery Writers of America has a big Florida Chapter. These conferences are a great way to get started."
Another in attendance said, "I have a book coming out and I can recommend the concept of a "book shepherd" that are like life coaches but are book coaches. She edited, revised and kicked my butt when it was needed and my book is going to be published soon."
Ambrose responded, "I have not heard that term before but I think there are new and interesting ways to get published today.