We’re looking at mysteries and thillers this week and we’re excited to welcome Mary Jane Clark to Romancing the Book. When JoAnne heard we had asked Mary Jane to guest with us, she jumped on the chance to interview her. So, ladies, the blog is all yours.
JoAnne: Will you share a short bio with us?
Mary Jane: Mary Jane Clark worked at CBS News for nearly three decades. Her twelve KEY News media thrillers were inspired by that experience. Envisioning the Piper Donovan/Wedding-Cake Mystery series, Mary Jane enrolled in cake-decorating classes and researched unique wedding locations. The daughter of an FBI agent and a mother who customized cakes for the neighborhood kids when she was growing up, Mary Jane has two grown children and splits her time between New jersey and Florida. Currently, she is at work on the next in the series.
JoAnne: I’ve read both of your series. Are there any more Key News books in your future? Piper Donovan Mysteries?
Mary Jane: So far, there are twelve KEY News Thrillers and four Piper Donovan/Wedding Cake Mysteries. I hope there will be more in each series.
JoAnne: That Old Black Magic really made me feel like I was in New Orleans. How did you research it to get it so real?
Mary Jane: Thank you. That’s a wonderful compliment! I love New Orleans and have reveled in my visits there. The people, the history, the architecture, the history, the food! Doing research in New Orleans, on so many levels, is an absolute pleasure.
I search out the places that I’m interested in seeing and experiences I am interested in feeling and go from there. In New Orleans, I was interested in touring the old cemeteries with their above ground crypts which serve, in effect, as crematoriums. Those really got the wheels in my head spinning. And a session with a voodoo priestess also served to inspire me.
It just so happened that I scheduled one of my visits in mid-March, not even thinking about St.Patrick’s Day until I got there and found out that New Orleans celebrates in a major way. NOLA’s parade is second only to the one in New York City. Colored beads, onions, carrots and an occasional cabbage fly from the colorful floats. Men walk the street with kissing canes covered with carnations, trading a flower for a kiss. The streets are filled with throngs of enthusiastic, green-clad, singing and dancing partyers. So much fun!
All of these experiences made their way into THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC in one form or another. Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without some sugar-powdered beignets, a thick muffuletta, a Sazarac and riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. So I just had to do live up to my responsibilities and partake. Hard job, but somebody has got to do it, right? Fortunately, I was able to get all those things into the book too.
JoAnne: How do you decide how to choose the location your book is set in? I’ve been to a variety of the places, many which I have visited in real life.
Mary Jane: There are so many fascinating places in the world. I choose locations that interest me, working under the premise that if I find a place intriguing, the reader will be intrigued too. Since I spend about a year on each book, I want to pick a place that will hold my attention and enthusiasm, hoping that will lead to holding the reader’s attention and enthusiasm as well.
JoAnne: How did you decide to have two strong female sleuths to solve the mysteries? Eliza Blake and Piper Donovan are so different from each other.
Mary Jane: Eliza Blake is a television news journalist and she is influenced by the three decades I spent working at CBS News. Piper Donovan is an actress and wedding cake designer and I think about my actress daughter, Elizabeth Higgins Clark, when I write about Piper.
JoAnne: How did you decide to incorporate a wedding cake baker in your stories?
Mary Jane: While I was watching TODAY one morning, Martha Stewart appeared to publicize her book, Wedding Cakes. The book featured more than 100 wedding cakes, each one beautiful, luscious-looking and incredibly creative. As I listened to Martha explain and describe various cakes, frostings and fillings along with her baking and decorating techniques, I was enthralled. Every cake was a work of art, a mini-masterpiece. I wanted to see more. I went to Barnes & Noble and purchased the book.
The pages were filled with the most mouth-watering and eye-pleasing visual images: Daisy Garden Cake, Lemon Grove Cake, Pink Lusterware Cake, Banana Orchid Cake, Garden of Sweet Delights Cake, Lily-of-the-Valley Cake, Pulled-Sugar Ribbon Cake, Meringue Monogram Cake, Devils’ Food Finale Cake, Tuscan Grapes Cake, Seven Tier Coconut Cake and on and on. Each cake was as colorful and whimsical as its name implied. Each was expertly designed and executed.
The cakes conjured up wedding themes and locations in my head. Garden weddings and woodland weddings and tropical weddings and seaside weddings. Traditional weddings, modern weddings, rustic weddings and whimsical weddings. Spring, summer, autumn and winter weddings, in the United States or out.
I started to think: How about a little murder and mayhem before getting to the happy ending? And I came up with the idea of Piper Donovan, a wedding cake designer who, in the course of doing her job, becomes entangled in distinctive sets of circumstances that lead to mystery and suspense. Every wedding cake Piper is commissioned to design means that a bride, a groom, their family and friends, and the individuals who populate the scene of the wedding all become the characters in the story and the suspects in the crimes which have to be solved before everything can be set right and the wedding can take place.
Each story happens in a different location and the wedding cakes correspond accordingly. Piper travels to another destination, exotic as a mountaintop castle or as simple as the bride’s home town, and finds another mystery there. Using her powers of deduction and her crime-solving training along with an occasional assist from her FBI agent boyfriend, Piper satisfies her innate desire for a happy ending.
JoAnne: Do you have another series in the pipeline? Do you see stand alone books in your future?
Mary Jane: At this point, I don’t envision another series, but one never knows. I do have a stand alone in mind which I’m researching now. This one is set in Kentucky.