A Conversation with Author Mary Cunningham

IR– What inspired the idea for your book?

MC– Keeping with some excellent advice I got years ago, to “write what you know’, Andi‘s character and job are loosely based on a horrifying stint I had in North Miami Beach as a travel agent. I was truly awful and would duck down behind my computer whenever a customer came in the door. 

Fortunately, I worked with a fabulous agent named Ellen who recognized my fear and would usually jump in to help when I got stuck. In honor of Ellen, Andi’s sidekick and true manager of Graves Travel Agency is Ellie. She saves Andi’s backside in the same way Ellen saved mine. 

I hope writing the book helps exorcise the experience from my memory by giving Andi a positive outlet for her curiosity and love of a good mystery.

IR– Can you tell us a bit about the story and its main characters? 

MC– Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will include the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby might be the main suspect.

Andi, with an inferiority complex about her job, her looks, and her single status, discovers her “inner sleuth” in Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder. While her “love-hate” relationship with her stepmom is ongoing, she can’t shake the responsibility of her father’s last request, to take care of Ruby—the firecracker redhead he met at the Hialeah Bingo Palace. 

Five years after Andi’s dad dies, she’s still trying to figure out his attraction to a woman the polar opposite of her late mother. Especially since Ruby drives her crazy!

IR– Tell us about a favorite character from the book.

MC– Naturally, Andi is my favorite character since her story is “loosely” based on my own experiences. I feel compelled to add, however, Andi leads a much more dangerous and exciting life. 

IR– What does it mean to you to be called an author? 

MC– I don’t really use the title, “author” much. I prefer to be called a writer. My definition of author is a writer who is published, which I am. However, “writer” sounds more inclusive and adventurous. Although I have 8 traditionally published books, I’m still a work in process. Always learning, making mistakes, struggling with marketing, and worrying whether the next book will be accepted. 

IR– How do you define success as an author?

MC– Well, it certainly isn’t the money! Since most of us don’t make a living wage as an author, my idea of success is praise and enjoyment expressed by readers. When readers tell me they laughed out loud at certain passages, it makes my day. 

IR– Can you share a day in the life of an author?

MC– I wake up and have some coffee. Turn on my computer. Have another cup of coffee. Open e-mails. Hit delete 75 times, or so. Have another cup of coffee…well, you get the idea. I try to write every day, but don’t like to force it. If the words aren’t flowing, I do something else and then go back to it. I love writing when my brain is working so fast, my fingers can barely keep up. I guess my only ritual is that (oh, this is going to sound really weird) I must have my shower and be dressed before I can write. I have a friend who writes in her jammies. Not me! Oh, and my teeth must be brushed.

IR– Where did you come up with the names in the story?

MC– Andi Anna Jones evolved through a number of incarnations. From N. Diana, to Andeanna, I finally settled on the perfect (I think!) name for an amateur sleuth. 

Ruby just popped in my head when I began writing dialogue for her. I usually picture the character, get to know their personalities, then add their name.  

IR– How do you avoid or defeat writer’s block?

MC– I walk away and leave the project for a few weeks and start on something else. Reading other authors also helps, in some cases; not to copy, but to see how someone else handled a similar circumstance or moved along their story. You can also ask someone else’s advice on getting past the block. This is where a writing partner or group can come in handy. I belong to a writer’s group that meets twice a month for critiques. 

IR– What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

MC– Two bits of advice have stuck with me for many years. 

1. Write what you know. Or, at least start out with something familiar. I love writing about my hometown or places I’ve visited. 

2. It doesn’t matter how your writing makes you feel. The only important consideration is how the reader feels when reading it. (Paraphrased from late, great Georgia author, Terry Kay) Readers are your best critics. Not your mother, father, great aunt, or goofy cousin. Actual readers. 

IR– What are you working on in the near future?

MC– So glad you asked! I’ve completed the second book in the series; working title: Sazerac, Sleuth & Slay. It’s going through the editing process as we speak and will be released in early 2023. I’ve also completed a biography about an Army brat/college and professional basketball player. Trial & Triumph: The Journey of a Military Brat – Ketia Swanier, is out now and available on Amazon and other online outlets. 

IR– What has been your favorite reader feedback?

MC– I love hearing when a reader can’t put the book down, or that they laughed out loud at a character or scene. That’s high praise for a writer. 

IR– What is your all time favorite book or author? Do you think this has influenced your writing?

MC– I’d have to say Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and Cannery Row are three of my favorite reads. Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit are also favorites, along with To Kill A Mockingbird. 

IR– What is the first book that you remember reading?

MC– Teddy and the Mystery Dog. In fact, I still have the original copy I received as a Christmas present from my grandfather! 

IR– What do you look for in a story as a reader?

MC– While much of my writing is plot driven, I love reading stories with evolving characters

IR– What is an underrated book, series or author that you think everyone should read at least once? 

MC– While not underrated, in the least, I enjoy books by Hank Philippi Ryan (mysteries and thrillers), Jaden Terrell (private detective, crime mysteries, and cozy mysteries), Regan Black (action/romance), Stephanie Baldi (thrillers). Oh, I know you asked for one, but I could go on and on. I have so many favorite authors, I could go on and on. 

IR– What are you reading now?

MC– Believe it or not, I downloaded a Kindle copy of Great Expectations by Dickens. My freshman Eng./Lit teacher, Mrs. Elam, read that book to us with such power and expression, I’ve never forgotten it. She was also one of two teachers who encouraged me to never stop writing. I’m also reading cozy mysteries by Carolyn Haines, Nancy Cohen, and Lucy Burdette. 

IR– Who is your audience?

MC– Since my books are cozy mysteries, I have a very broad audience. While I add a touch of murder or romance, I leave out graphic scenes and language. 

IR– What is your author spirit animal?

MC– Although I’d hate to meet one in a dark alley, I’d say wolf. They are smart and keenly aware of their surroundings. Writers aspire to those traits. 

IR– What comes first for you — the plot or the characters?

MC– Usually the characters. I’m an unrepentant pantzer (I write by the seat of my pants). Give me an idea and a great beginning paragraph and I’m off and running. I’ve even been known to let characters introduce other characters into the story. I admire writers who outline, create storyboards, and know exactly how their book will end. I’d never write a word if I had to follow those guidelines. 

IR– Aside from writing or reading, what are your hobbies or interests?

MC– Golf, swimming (mainly water aerobics) and watching sports, especially college basketball, on TV

IR–  Describe yourself in as few words as possible.

MC– Honest, empathetic, sensitive, creative

IR– If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?

MC– I’d cast Emma Stone as Andi. I’d love Annie Potts to portray Ruby. She’s a little shorter than Ruby, but not with 6 inch heels. Sheriff Manual Gonzales could be Juan Pablo de Pace. (If you don’t know him, look him up!)

IR– If you had a secret room that opened by pulling a book on a shelf, what book would you choose? 

MC– The Time Machine, H. G. Wells

IR– If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

MC– I’d love to be an astronaut on the first spaceship to Mars. (As long as I had access to tons of Dramamine!)

About The Book

Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder (An Andi Anna Jones Mystery)

Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent and amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a sixtieth birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will include the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby might be the main suspect.

Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with the charming local sheriff, Manual Gonzales. An embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, can’t quell her determination to clear the name of her ex-stepmother.

While gathering clues and interviewing witnesses, however, she suspects dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.

Purchase Link – Amazon – B&N

About the Author

Author, Mary Cunningham, grew up on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn.”

Through the author’s horrifying stint as a travel agent, Andi Anna Jones sprang to life. The adult/mystery series gives extra meaning to the phrase, “Write what you know.” Cunningham has several books published, including Cynthia’s Attic, a five-book middle-grade fantasy, women’s lifestyle/humor book, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, Ebooks, Christmas With Daisy and Ghost Light. A biography of an army brat, turned UConn and WNBA basketball player, will be published in the spring of 2022.

She is a member of Sisters In Crime, Sisters In Crime-Atlanta Chapter, International Thriller Writers, Inc., and the Carrollton Writers Guild.

When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, Mary enjoys golf, swimming, and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.

Author Links

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