Interview with Mara McHugh

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have an IPAD leased through my master's degree program that I will have to give up in May 2015. If I am reading something as an ebook, I typically read it on that. I will have to replace it when I graduate from my program! But - I am someone who still loves the feel of holding an actual book in my hand and when it is possible to purchase an ebook in a printed format I will do that as well.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Interesting question and at this point - I am not sure that I have been effective with marketing my books. I think there are a few interrelated reasons for that answer. I decided to start out with KDP select, which I know regret. I published my first two novels under the pen-name Carys Cooper, which I do not regret, and will continue to use that pen-name for those genres. The reason I did that was to keep my work life and writing life separate. The down side to using a pen name is that you insulate yourself from the potential contacts/readers you have through your personal or professional networking. For now, I am going to stick with that policy.

I definitely underestimated the issue of not having a professional cover artist create my cover. I published with my home made cover and then with a very inexpensive cover, both which were not exactly right - and those decisions were made purely from a financial stand point. It is one of my top goals to have two, new, professional covers created when I re-launch the novels.
Describe your desk
A leather couch over looking the forest in the dunes. I can hear the waves crashing on the beach.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Burlington, Vermont. My family lived in State College, Pennsylvania for a short time during high school and then moved to the Chicago area. I had an idyllic childhood. My Dad was a volunteer ski patrolman at a big area outside of Burlington and in exchange for his volunteer time, our whole family skied for free. We would ski from before Thanksgiving until the end of April, every weekend, with few exceptions. My Mom would pack a big cooler with sandwiches and leave it in the lodge. As soon as we arrived in the morning, even as very young children, at the age of about six, we were allowed to be on our own for the whole day, all over that mountain. Of course, everyone knew who we were, but there was a lot of wilderness there and we definitely had a lot of adventures. For two weeks every summer, we would rent a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, in New Hampshire, and that has had a huge impact on everything I think and everything I write. I continued the tradition when I started having children. My grandparents lived in the seacoast area of New Hampshire, in Dover, and my parents eventually moved to Durham, New Hampshire. Growing up there and in the era that I grew up - 1960 through 1975, things were so different than today. We were allowed to have a lot of freedom and a lot of adventures. We don't allow our children to do that anymore. Our society lives with a lot of fear.
When did you first start writing?
When I was about five years old. My grandparents had an old roll top desk where my grandfather kept dozens of blank 3 x 5 inch pads. Every time I visited them I would get a new pad out and begin a story. In the beginning they were more about drawings then words, but that is how it all started.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The story behind "How to Save A Life" came as a combination of my childhood and an experience I had when I was working for a company about ten years ago. I was working in sales and one of the many contests that they used as incentives was a fishing trip to Canada. I only wanted to win so that I could say that I was that good. I didn't really have any desire to go fishing for five days. Sometimes, those things that happen to us are so unexpected though and I had no idea how much that trip would impact my life.

We were in a small group, about a dozen people from my company, and we were staying at a fishing and guide resort called Tinker's in Nestor Falls, Ontario. We would wake up every morning about five a.m. and fly out on float planes to remote lakes to go fishing with our guides. The people who live up there and do this for a living have very different values from what many of us have, although I could relate to that from my childhood. There is a trade off they make for being able to live in nature and it often involves loss of life. One of the women who worked at the lodge had a story that stuck with me all these years later. She had been married to a pilot/guide and they were flying some supplies out to someone who was living in the wilderness. When her husband landed the float plane on the lake where they were to meet their friends, the airplane hit something submerged in the water and crashed. The woman broke her back and her husband drowned in the plane. She was saved by the people who they were meeting who jumped in a canoe and came out to the crash and saved her from the wreckage. I have known - unfortunately - a number of people who have died prematurely and I think that we always are hugely impacted by those events and that kind of loss. Those events find a way into everything I write.

The second novel that I have written called, "Redemption" was a completely new genre for me. There is definitely a religious undercurrent in the novel and I'm sure that has a lot to do with my belief system.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
If there is only one thing I have known in my life it is that I am a writer and I was meant to tell stories. Until the Indie publishing phenomenon occurred in the past decade, I had imaged that I could be published, but also knew it was a long-shot. I wrote a novel that I have not self-published yet, and tried like so many of the writers before me to get an agent or a 'read' and after a pile of rejection letters set that novel to the side. I suppose the good news about being a writer for so many years is that I have a virtual treasure chest stories that I've written and only need to be be edited, formatted, and have cover art created before I can publish them.

I love having the control over the things that I write. I love being my own boss. I love that I do not have to jump through hoops for an agent or publisher but can create and publish on my own terms.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I am very new to Smashwords. I started out on KDP Select and I now think that was a mistake. There is no reason I should have given Amazon all of that power. I am going to take my two novels off of the Select Program, have professional cover art designed, and publish them again using Smashwords and every other avenue I can find.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I write because I have to write. If I were confined to a prison for 20 years, the two things I would want above all else would be a pen and paper. I hope that at some point I write something that touches someone deeply and they feel as though they are not alone while they are struggling with one of the challenges life can bring to us. I write to express all of the things I observe and experience. I would feel the greatest joy if a reader read something that I wrote and laughed out loud, or were brought to tears, or felt a sense of camaraderie with one of my characters.
What do your fans mean to you?
I am not sure if I have any fans!! But anyone who would take the time to read something that I wrote and who enjoyed it would mean a lot to me!
What are you working on next?
A non-fiction guide to figuring out if graduate school is a good decision for you and if it is, how to select a school or program that will give you the most bang for your buck. I work in graduate school admissions and I think I can bring some clarity to people who are exploring that process.

My next work of fiction ? I'm not sure. I simultaneously work on a lot of different things. I have a sequel I am working on and then several things I have previously written that I think I should edit and publish. And of course, there are many new ideas that hit me all the time.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love so many different genres and so many types of stories. My favorites, that I could read again and again are:
Bel Canto by Anne Patchett, The Last Time they ever Met - by Anita Shreve, Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, any of the Scarpetta novels by Patricia Cornwell, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Ernest Hemingway, The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien, ....James Patterson is fun while traveling - there are too many books and not enough time.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I need to pay the bills!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm almost finished with a graduate program, so at this time in my life, there is a lot of school work. Otherwise, I live at the beach and love taking long walks, going for a run, reading, doing yard work and cooking. I love long conversations with good friends over a dirty martini. I love successfully planting a rose bush that survives more than one season. I pouring through my collection of cook books and finding something challenging to make for dinner. I love spending time with my children when they are home on breaks from college. I love to travel. I love to ski and I love to swim in clear, freshwater lakes.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Every now and then I get a recommendation from a friend or I read a review of an author or book and then search for the book and either order it as an ebook or as a printed copy. Sometimes I simply browse the covers and descriptions on line.
Published 2015-02-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.