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Author Interview: Mary D. Brooks Chats about Where Shadows Linger

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Get ready to learn more about the book Where Shadows Linger in this discussion with sapphic author Mary D. Brooks.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz Mary D. Brooks about Where Shadows Linger, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Set in Australia / New Zealand category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Where Shadows Linger?

I was inspired by two people who shaped how I saw the world. My 14th year on the planet was a watershed moment. My adopted German grandmother (she survived Auschwitz-Birkenau) finally relented after my many attempts to ask her about the numbers on her arm; she said that the only way I was to find out was to read (since I was a bookworm). She gave me a book called “I Am Rosemarie” by Marietta D. Moskin. It changed my world completely. I didn’t know anything about the Holocaust.

The other person responsible was my Greek grandfather, who told me stories of WW2 Greece and his part as a Greek partisan. I soaked it all in, and the idea took root. My grandmother passed away when I was 15 years old, but I didn’t think I was capable of writing her story to do it justice. My grandfather died when I was 35, and his passing spurred me to shine a light on the Holocaust in Greece and the Greek Resistance and write about the Holocaust, WW2 Greece, and Post-War Australia. That’s how Eva Muller and Zoe Lambros came into being.

My first novel was In The Blood of the Greeks (a line from the Greek National Anthem) was published in 2001. The sequel Where Shadows Linger (spoiler alert, they survive WW2) was published in post-war Australia in 2007. It was republished when I opened my own publishing house “AUSXIP Publishing” in 2015, and the following sequels.

Their journey is part of a bigger picture of post-war immigrants and their struggles, prejudices, and fears. Added to that was the fact that the main characters are lesbians. Australia was described as the “land of milk and honey” for post-war immigrants, but in reality, it was difficult to survive even if you were straight!

Added to that mix was that homosexuality was punishable by death in one State and prison in other States. I wanted to shine a light on that dark period of Australia and have two characters who could navigate it and thrive.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

It’s like asking which child is your favourite! Every writer puts elements of themselves (consciously or subconsciously) into their characters. Seeing my friend’s initial assessment of the characters’ traits “borrowed” from me is fascinating. I would say that both characters have some elements of my personality.

What inspired the idea for Where Shadows Linger?

WW2 Post War Immigration was something I was interested in; what happened after the war ended. Who ended up where and why? What was it like and how did they survive?

I’m an immigrant (migrated to Australia when I was 4 years old) and it was extremely difficult for my parents without friends, family and language skills and that was in the 1960s (20+ years after WW2). I wanted to delve into how it was for Eva and Zoe; what haunted their dreams; what shadows lingered for them. They both suffered from what we now know as PTSD. How could you not have it having gone through hell.

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

Doing it justice; making their day to day life as real as I could get it.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

Zoe in full battle mode. She cracks me up! It’s also fun to write Eva’s quiet and equally powerful ways of dealing with obstacles.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

The novel was originally published under the title of “You Must Remember This” but it was my second publisher who suggested I change it to “Where Shadows Linger”. I liked the name and it stuck.

How much research did you need to do for your book?

Research is my superpower. I love research. I went to the largest library “Sydney City Library” and looked up microfiche (for you youngsters reading this, microfiche were bits of plastic sheets that you could view with a microfiche reader (google it) of old newspapers and beyond. I studied everything from 1947 that I could find including the price of milk to immigrant wages. Names of refugee ships, when they arrived, what migrant camps they were sent to etc.

Today we have the incredible site TROVE (The National Library of Australia) and what a treasure it is for researchers. It was launched in December 2009. I don’t have to go to the library to find information on the microfiche reader. It’s a brilliant tool for researchers and authors in particular.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

I’ve written a whole series based on these characters after Book 1 and 2 (Where Shadows Linger) and a couple of prequels: (Enemy at the Gate (Zoe’s origin story) and The Enemy Within (Eva’s origin story).

3. A Widgie Knight
4. Promise is a Promise
5. Hidden Truths
6. Awakenings
7. No Good Deed
8. Nor The Battle To The Strong

I’m currently working on book 9 and 10 (these books are set in 1958 / 1959). 2023 saw me take my foot of the pedal for family reasons but I’m hoping to release both books in 2024.

What is your favorite line from your book?

I have a lot of favourites but I cracked up writing: “Is this foreplay? Because it’s taking a long time.”

What is your writing process like?

I’m a pantser. I have a general idea of where I want to go, but my characters take me wherever they want. I have zero control over my characters. I’m happy with that arrangement. I tried plotting (and six versions of one book later and an amused editor) but gave it up. It was too rigid for me. My “plotting” is a list of ideas for the novel I want to write. Forrest said it best: It’s Like a Box of Chocolates; You Never Know What You’re Going to Get.

Where do you usually write, and what do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I write at my desk in my home office or on my laptop. I’m extremely focused, and nothing interrupts me when I’m in the zone. I admit to procrastinating like a boss when I have to write an emotional chapter, but I bow to the pressure and get on with it.

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?

Wow, there are so many to choose from! My mum passed away on December 12, 2023, and she was an avid bookworm. She introduced me to Little Women when I was 13. I would LOVE to spend the day with Louisa May Alcott.

What’s your favorite writing snack or drink?

I don’t eat or drink when I’m writing but if I’m thirsty I will have a Lime Mineral Water.

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

I love that I created something out of nothing and give myself a pat on the head. I also celebrate with homemade banana cake (my next-door neighbour has banana trees and is a great cook.)

Is there a particular genre you would love to write but only under a pseudonym?

I would love to write a PWP story, but my editor would probably hurt herself laughing if I tried that. In her opinion, I wouldn’t be able to write one without creating a mini plot within the PWP. One day, I may try and hope my editor doesn’t fall off her chair and break something.

Do you have any odd writing quirks?

Not really other than having my favourite keyboard (at the moment it’s a Predator keyboard with a short key travel). The keys make just the right amount of noise as I type. It’s a soothing sound.

Do you have a pet who helps/hinders your typing?

Oh yes, indeed. I have a majestic Maine Coon / Russian Blue Cross who thinks she owns me. When I’m not paying her enough attention, she reaches up and (gently) paws at my arm or jumps onto my desk and lays over my keyboard if annoyed.

Her name is Miss Tessa. She’s 8 years old, and she adopted me when she was 5 weeks old.

She doesn’t like rain, thunderstorms, and strangers. Does have a bit of a drug problem and tears apart my peppermint tea bags.

What animal or object best represents you as an author or your writing style?

The Phoenix. She rises even when everything goes to hell.

What are three words that describe your personality?

Unrelenting: I don’t let anything stop me when I want to achieve something. I will always find a way without stepping on anyone to get what I want. If one way doesn’t work, I’ll try another way. Giving up is never an option.

Acceptance: I’m blind to colour, religion/no religion, political views, sexual orientation (with consenting adults). I don’t care. I will accept you for who you are UNLESS you do something that crosses my red line.

Forgiving: I don’t hold grudges and forgive rather than let it fester and waste precious grey matter. Life is too short to waste on keeping score or perceived sleights.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing, and by whom?

“Don’t be afraid to tackle dark or emotional chapters, but always give your readers a chance to breathe.” It was given to me by an author I loved and respected, my dear friend, LJ Maas. LJ passed away in 2005.

I write some gut-wrenching stuff. Sometimes, I go places that make me want to walk away from my keyboard but I don’t until I’ve written it. I give myself a chance to breathe by watching silly cat videos). I always give my readers something light after the dark to let them take a deep breath and relax. I don’t shy away from difficult topics. One of these days I will write a PWP story!

What has helped or hindered you most when writing a book?

Even though I’m a pantser, I still have this need to know the map of where I’m going. Once I’ve written that list, it’s a case of opening the gates and letting it ride. It probably won’t mean everything on that list will be in the story, but there is a list! I like lists.

When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?

I know where I want to go and I’m not hesitant about doing it. I’m a touch typist, so I can visualize and type without staring at a white screen and taking me out of that head space. It’s emotionally draining, but it’s one hell of a ride.

What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?

Close my eyes and imagine myself in my character’s situation. I can feel her fear, anger, or whatever emotion I’m trying to evoke.

What author in your genre do you most admire, and why?

Kristin Hannah. Her story telling is INCREDIBLE.

Have you ever cried when writing an emotional scene?

Oh I cry all the time when I write emotional stuff; I get into their heads and feel what they feel and by the end of it, I’m drained. It’s awesome.

Do you feel bad putting your characters through the wringer?

Oh, hell no! It makes them human with all their frailties. A character must have some darkness because humans are a mixture of dark and light. I don’t think I’ve ever felt bad about putting them through the wringer. Emotional, yes, but never bad. The reader needs to get emotionally involved, and exploring the character’s pain is a way to connect. The only glee I get is when it affects the reader who tells me how it made them feel. That is worth whatever I did to the character. Fictional life is hard.

I think the only time I felt “bad(ish)” is when we were filming scenes from my first novel and I have to say seeing it being acted out got me feeling I went a little too deep but I soon got over that and was back to my bad old ways!

Have you ever hated one of your characters?

Yes, one but not because she did something evil. No one is pure evil, even when their actions are evil. They weren’t born like that. There is light and dark to every human. I WANT the reader to hate them but also give them an insight into the character without the murdering genes. Writing characters that provide a visceral response to them is GOLD. They don’t have to be redeemed. The only characters I’ve disliked writing are the wishy-washy types. I wrote one character that bored me stupid and I yelled at my screen, “do something!” It surprised me that some readers saw her frailty but also her strength. Again, to me, that is manna from heaven. I got a reaction.

Have you ever fallen in love with one of your characters?

Yes! I’m not telling you which one! That’s a sneaky way of asking which is your favourite character.

What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I enjoy reading books with strong female characters. I dislike wishy-washy characters – they drive me nuts. Murder mysteries, police procedurals, historical fiction. My tastes haven’t changed a great deal over the years.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

There were a lot of authors I admired, but I wasn’t inspired to write because of them. I became a writer because I wanted to tell a story that had the potential to touch readers hearts. I’ve been writing stories since I was eight. I love stories about friendship, love, redemption, strength and resilience. Just so happens that’s what I also write about.

What books did you grow up reading?

They not only shaped me as a writer but also as a human being, they influenced my choices and the characters I wanted to write.

Charlotte’s Web – accepting everyone for who they are

Little Women – have the strength to be you no matter what society or someone wants you to be

A Christmas Carol – Redemption is always possible and never too late to change

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – Bravery, Friendship, Redemption, Good over Evil

Student Nurse (and all the books in the series) by Sue Barton. Made me want to be a nurse (alas I did not become a nurse)

So many more.

What books have you read more than once in your life?

Comfort food for the soul. I’ve read A Christmas Carol, Little Women and Charlotte’s Web so many times. It’s always about the underlying themes that get me coming back. I just love them.

What book do you wish you had written?

Little Women. Jo’s strength, love for her sisters, and willingness to be herself despite society telling her how to behave.

Describe your favorite reading spot.

When I was a kid it was up a tree. Now I’m way too old to be climbing trees. I like reading in my comfy chair.

Do you only read books in one genre or do you genre hop?

Multiple genres: Historical fiction, murder mystery, cozy mysteries, police procedurals, crime fiction.

Have you ever thought you’d hate a book, but ended up loving it?

No. If a book grabs me, it will do it in the first chapter. Time is too precious to waste on stuff that doesn’t grab my attention. Sometime a book grabs me from the first line (Lilla Bruce’s The Hint of Jasmine did it by the first line). I laughed so much my head hurt. That was an excellent novel. Best first line ever.

Meet Mary D. Brooks

Mary D. Brooks (aka AUSXIPMaryD) lives in Australia and has been writing stories for fifty years. Two inspirational people (WW2 Holocaust survivor grandmother and WW2 Greek Partisan (grandfather) shaped her life and inspired her to write about two extraordinary women during WW2 Greece and postwar Australia. Mary has won multiple awards for her fiction but her biggest honour was when The Jewish Museum of Greece chose her first novel, “In the Blood of the Greeks,” and the non-fiction book that goes with it, “In the Blood of the Greeks: The Illustrated Companion,” to be part of its collection about the Holocaust in Greece.

Visit Mary’s Website

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