Interview with Mary Pat Hyland

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in upstate New York. It's where my ancestors settled—particularly around the Finger Lakes region—when they arrived in America from Ireland. Every summer of my life I have visited Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes and the birthplace of the local wine industry. Keuka is to my family as Innisfree was to the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Three of my novels are set on Keuka's sparkling shores, including my latest, The House With the Wraparound Porch. I began writing that book during a stay there in 2011.
The Southern Tier where I have resided most of my life was once a bustling industrial area. IBM began here. Endicott-Johnson Shoes manufactured every pair of boots worn by our troops in World War I here. The shoe factories drew immigrants from Europe, particularly Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. Irish coal miners moved up to the area from Pennsylvania. They all came here looking for George F. Johnson's promise of a "square deal" in the mini utopia he created. He built parks for his employees, homes that he sold them for low cost, gave them free medical care, built theaters and donated much to the local churches.
One of his lasting gifts was six carousels. When he was a child in Massachusetts, he was denied access to a carousel ride because he had no money. He built the carousels here under the mandate that they always be free of charge (which they are to this day).
The carousel in Binghamton's Recreation Park was inspiration for a writer whose work influenced me: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone.
With the economic downturn of the Seventies, most of IBM's offices left. E-J Shoes was sold to a foreign company. There are a lot of abandoned factories and down on luck personal stories remaining. Parts of the economy flourish, but the industrial base was ravaged by corporate greed and economic calamity, leaving a sort of Edward Hopper-like landscape.
Both places in upstate are fertile ground for a curious mind prone to storytelling—a dimension of the imagination. Yes, you could say that I indeed live in the Twilight Zone.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote parodies in high school, influenced strongly by MAD magazine. I also wrote a lot of angst-filled whiny teenager songs. Call it my Blue Period.
My first job was paste-up artist at an offset press company. Our work included carburetor manuals, pesticide guides and monthly magazines about Holstein cows. (John Lennon & Yoko Ono were reportedly subscribers, so that was cool.) I was bored out of my gourd. That was when my imagination began framing my first novel—still unfinished—about an artist who works at an offset printing company and is bored out of her gourd.
Hey, ya write what you know, you know?
What's the story behind your latest book?
It's a family saga about four generations of an Irish-American family living in the Finger Lakes. The story begins in 1920 and ends in 2006. Some of the story is connected to real-life historical events, including one that happened to my grandfather on Keuka Lake. That said, it is not autobiographical, though the sense of belonging to a big family is definitely inspired by my own.
Researching the family tree, I've found it fascinating that what happens in one generations ripples through to the next few that follow. That's what I've tried to create with this tale.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
When my first novel was ready, I tried the traditional route of writing queries to publishing houses that seemed to match the genre. It became apparent with the returned form letters that no one was reading my query. Of all the letters I wrote, one received a handwritten reply that they weren't looking for books in that genre at the moment.
A friend in the industry gave me a tip on an agent who was looking for my type of story. Again, form letter rejection.
It was so frustrating because no one had read a single word of the novel. I believed in the story and felt that it would appeal to readers.
At a Fourth of July party, I met a man who self-published with Lulu. I'd never heard of the concept. I went home and Googled it and discovered CreateSpace. It sounded like a good deal, so I self-published my first paperback through them. It's been great. I've learned SO much about the industry since The Cyber Miracles was published in 2008. My latest book is my sixth novel published.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords is great because it offers my readers one-stop digital shopping. People have different types of digital devices at home and it's nice to be able to offer them such a wide variety. I also like that Smashwords publishes the work for me to all of the different vendors, too. It saves an author so much time from going around uploading to different sites.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
My greatest joy comes when a reader believes the story I've written and is genuinely moved by the characters created in my imagination. If my writing can transport someone from the dreariness of life, or make them laugh, or make them cry, I feel I've done my job well.
What do your fans mean to you?
There would be no reason to write without an audience. I love when a reader gets as involved with my characters as I do, and asks why they did this or that. Their honest feedback has helped my writing improve so much. Simply, they mean the world to me.
What are you working on next?
My second parody, which will be a scathing portrait of modern society.
That's all you're going to get from me now!
I was awarded an artists residency for the fall of 2013, and that is when it will be officially started. Ideas are in the bouncing-around-my-head mode right now.
Who are your favorite authors?
Eudora Welty, Anne Tyler, Flannery O'Connor, Frank McCourt, John Irving & Maeve Binchy
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Curiosity. Also the promise of fresh-brewed coffee.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Gardening, mainly perennials and also a container vegetable garden.
Performing traditional Irish music.
Teaching the Irish language.
Wine tasting around the Finger Lakes.
Reading novels and poetry.
And, I hate to admit it, slaving away at the next level of Candy Crush. Blerg!
What is your writing process?
I write longhand using cheap notebooks. This provides the quickest vehicle for brain to paper ideas. The first draft is written straight through with the least amount of editing. It's so critical to get the ideas, characters and basic plot on paper as soon as possible.
Next I input this onto the computer.
I do several edits before sending it off to my teams of editors and proofreaders. The more eyes on a manuscript the better. For several years I was an editor at the local newspaper. That experience showed me there are three basic levels of editing: grammar/punctuation; content and visual (from typos to weird paragraph returns). It's impossible to take in all on a single read through. Hence the need for two teams.
Once I get the return manuscript, I go through several more edits as I lay it out. If enough has changed, it goes back to my content/grammar editing team.
Titles for novels come in all stages of the book. My recent work and my next book had the title before any words were written. My second novel's title came to me while on a long walk.
How do you approach cover design?
A cover is not unlike a billboard. You have mere seconds to attract a reader's attention and make them curious. My cover artist for all of my books except the latest, The House With the Wraparound Porch, were designed by Jocelyn Bailey. I like the look she created to tie together my Maeve Kenny Series so nicely.
I took the photos for 3/17, The Terminal Diner and The House With the Wraparound Porch. The cover for 3/17 had to symbolize the way Americans view St. Patrick's Day in the tackiest fashion. After much discussion, I decided that nothing said it better than a mug of green beer! Created the green beer and did the photo shoot on my patio.
I baked the pie on the cover of The Terminal Diner as well as handpicked the cherries! I was also the pie stylist for the photo shoot (that is, brushed the excess crumbs away carefully and drew the cherry juice out to make an interesting design).
The House With the Wraparound Porch is the first cover I designed on my own completely. I PhotoShopped a picture of my grandparents' house and added a necklace that is important in the story. It was a lot of fun to do and I'm happy with the way it turned out.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
In no particular order...
1. Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger: I love the voice of Holden Caulfield, the fast clip of the storytelling, the way it evokes a particular era in my mind and the way it made me laugh out loud so much!
2. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty: This was a huge influence on my writing. Previously I thought that stories had to be about big themes. She taught me that quiet, everyday things, such as the settling of an estate, could tell so much about humanity.
3. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler: Her work is great. She was also inspired by Eudora Welty, and it shows in her focus on the everyday foibles of normal people.
4. The World According to Garp by John Irving: What a treasure trove of great characters in this quirky tale, Roberta Muldoon especially.
5. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt: This memoir is poignant, terribly sad and hilarious all at the same time. McCourt's writing is masterful, and his ear for dialogue, perfect. The scene in the sanitarium is one of the most powerful things I've ever read.
Published 2013-09-12.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Curse of the Strawberry Moon: A Caviston Sisters Mystery
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 101,120. Language: English. Published: October 8, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths
When an aging rock star is found dead in a New York vineyard, the Caviston sisters are drawn unwittingly into solving the murder of a member of a band they once idolized. Named after a Seneca Indian fable that haunts the story, The Curse of the Strawberry Moon blends eccentric characters with a riveting plot that delves intimately into the Finger Lakes wine industry.
In the Shadows of the Onion Domes ~ Collected Short Stories
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 70,210. Language: English. Published: January 19, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Cultural & ethnic themes » Cultural interest, general, Fiction » Women's fiction » General
These eighteen stories take place in an ethnically diverse river valley along the Southern Tier of New York State. They are tales of modern love, nosy neighbors, meddling friends, and the challenges of aging all set against within Edward Hopper-like landscapes where hope and dreams linger in the shadows of Orthodox Church domes.
The House With the Wraparound Porch
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 129,610. Language: English. Published: July 28, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Family sagas, Fiction » Women's fiction » General
When Mame McGrath's family moves in across the street from a magnificent Queen Anne-style house, she notices a catatonic young man rocking on its wraparound porch. Mame proclaims boldly that she will restore his psyche—devastated by a drowning in Keuka Lake. What she doesn't anticipate is that he and this house will become the heart of her existence.
A Wisdom of Owls
Series: Maeve Kenny, Book 3. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 66,600. Language: English. Published: June 8, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » Chick lit, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
Fergal & Brídgeen Griffin face a tough deadline for making the Finger Lakes winery they manage for their cousin profitable. The date collides with the onsite wedding of their best friends, Maeve & Andy. In honor of the Griffin's successes though, they give them a barn owl box with a webcam. It draws in the world as the winery fails & all realize there's much to be learned from the wisdom of owls.
A Sudden Gift of Fate
Series: Maeve Kenny, Book 2. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 83,040. Language: English. Published: June 8, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » Chick lit, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
Irish newlyweds Fergal and Brídgeen Griffin receive an interesting proposal to manage a Finger Lakes winery his cousin bought as an investment. They accept the gift of fate, but when they see the run-down Keuka Lake property and meet its surly winemaker, they realize it will be a challenge getting from grapes to glass. Can they keep hope alive?
The Cyber Miracles
Series: Maeve Kenny, Book 1. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 55,260. Language: English. Published: February 18, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » Chick lit
Maeve Kenny loses her bright Manhattan career and soap star boyfriend suddenly through a run of bad luck. She's forced to move back to her parents' upstate N.Y. home where she befriends their quirky, computer-hacking neighbor, Andy. When he creates a website to help her get re-employed, Maeve tells him she needs a miracle. Who would have thought the whole world would be watching when it arrived?
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 64,360. Language: English. Published: August 13, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
In this loose parody of Dante's "Inferno," four Irish traditional musicians get lost in the backwoods of upstate New York the week before St. Patrick's Day. On the journey, the band descends through nine hellish circles of American-style March 17th revelry: Step-dancing princesses. Bobbing shamrock headbangers. Green beer bacchanals. Shillelagh-wavin' geezers. O'Fun, not!
The Terminal Diner
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 61,730. Language: English. Published: August 5, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Psychological thriller, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
"Men like pie." Elaina Brady's mother shared that bit of wisdom with her shortly before hitching a ride West with a trucker from Missoula. Elaina takes on her mother's job making pies at the family diner—a dull existence. Then on the eve of Sept. 11, people she meets expand her horizons, inspiring her to be impulsive like her mother. Will she survive the consequences of her actions?