ED- All writers have a beginning and this is particularly true for the latest writer that we are introducing to our Mystery lovers, Debbi Mack. Debbi we are thrilled to have this interview with you and want you to tell our legions of readers around the world what first interested you to delve into writing.
DM- Thanks! I’m thrilled to talk about my writing. (What author isn’t?) I guess like most writers, I started as a reader. I read voraciously as a child. My mother would also read to me when I was very young and told oral stories she’d learned in her own childhood.
I’ve been writing pretty much all my life – or, at least, most of it. I kept journals throughout my adolescence. In high school, I wrote poems (one of which made my school’s literary journal), song lyrics and a short story for a class on which I got an A-. That grade totally blew me away. It occurred to me that I might actually have a knack for telling stories.
Even though it took years, I eventually decided to put an effort toward writing in earnest and trying to get published.ED- We found out that you have a legal background that has supplied you with a backdrop for your stories. Please tell us about it.
DM- After I graduated with BS in Journalism, I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to work as a journalist. After spending one semester in grad school studying American history (a subject I loved, but a degree I didn’t really know how I’d use professionally), I switched gears and went to law school. It seemed like the right move, because law is intellectually challenging and requires good writing and communication skills.
I spent nine years practicing law in various settings. I worked for two agencies of the federal government (the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and a private firm, handling litigation and land use cases. Ultimately, I decided to open my own office – a general practice, much like the protagonist in my novel Identity Crisis.
DM- When I decided to stop practicing law in 1996, I found a part-time job with a business newswire, covering legal news. It was there I made a connection with an editor at a magazine for corporate counsel called Corporate Legal Times (the name has since changed to Inside Counsel). I used to write a monthly article for their Circuit by Circuit section, in which I covered legal developments within the D.C. Circuit. After a while, they reassigned me to do a round-up of legal news in several circuits.
Other work I’ve done for legal publications include updating treatises and writing practice guides on different subjects. I’ve also written summaries of health and disability case decisions.
In addition, I’ve written articles in community newspapers, trade journals and regional magazines, as well as case studies for an encyclopedia of advertising campaigns. I’ve also written for businesses and non-profits – things like brochures, Web content, grant applications and a script for a video.
ED- We understand that you covered Supreme Court rulings for the Dow Jones newswire as well. Can you briefly touch upon this for us?
DM- Covering the U.S. Supreme Court was probably the most exciting and interesting job I’ve ever held. It felt great to sit in the press section and hear the arguments, as well as the justices’ reactions to them. I feel privileged to have been able to do this. I really enjoyed taking the legal concepts they were discussing and writing about them so they were understandable and relevant to a business-oriented readership. In general, I like the idea of making legal concepts understandable to lay people.
ED- Tell us about the short stories that you contributed to the Chesapeake Crimes and Chesapeake Crimes: They Had It Comin’.
DM- The story “Deadly Detour” in Chesapeake Crimes was my first published fiction. I got the idea from reading one of Dashiell Hammett’s short stories. It was a Continental Op story in which the protagonist was waylaid by a woman who pulled a gun on him. That’s all I really remember about Hammett’s story, but the notion of being blindsided that way stuck in my head. I set my story in Ocean City, MD, and the Delaware beaches, so I could submit it to a contest run by a local Ocean City newspaper. It didn’t win, but it took third place, which really encouraged me. So, I revised it and submitted it when the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime took submissions for Chesapeake Crimes (the first anthology in the series). When it was accepted, needless to say, I was thrilled.
That anthology turned out to be the first of four (with a fifth currently being planned). I didn’t have a story in the next two, but I was working on one when submissions were requested for the fourth anthology. When the chapter announced that the theme of this anthology was “They Had it Comin’” (i.e., tales of revenge), I figured the story I was working on was perfect. That story is called “A Woman Who Thinks.” It’s about a psychologist who gets a harsh comeuppance when he becomes too attracted to a patient.
ED- You also had a short story nominated for a Derringer this year. Tell us about that.
DM- I wrote the short story “The Right to Remain Silent” and submitted it for consideration to the Mystery Writers of America’s legal mystery anthology. They didn’t accept it, so I decided to shop it around to other publications. I submitted the story to The Back Alley Webzine an online publication at http://BackAlleyWebzine.com, where it ran in August 2009. When the opportunity presented itself, I submitted it for Derringer consideration. I was absolutely dumbstruck when I was nominated. This seemed like a huge achievement in itself and I’m truly honored.
The story is about a prosecutor who has doubts about an alleged murderer who he’s successfully convicted. The defense has reevaluated the evidence, casting doubt on the conviction. However, his boss says it’s not the state’s job to attack a successfully prosecuted case. As a result, the prosecutor starts his own, off-the-record investigation to find the truth.
ED- You also just launched your first novel. Please tell us all about it.
DM- To be honest, the novel, Identity Crisis, was first published in 2005. Unfortunately, the small press that published it began having serious financial trouble about nine months after it was released. Given that most of the authors were cutting their ties with the publisher, I decided to ask for my rights back. The publisher granted that request. However, that meant my book went out-of-print less than a year after it came out.
Identity Crisis introduces attorney Stephanie Ann “Sam” McRae. A simple domestic abuse case turns deadly when the alleged abuser is killed and Sam’s client disappears. When a friend asks Sam to find Melanie Hayes, the Maryland attorney is drawn into a complex case of murder and identity theft that has her running from the Mob, breaking into a strip club and forming a shaky alliance with an offbeat private investigator to discover the truth about Melanie and her ex-boyfriend. With her career and life on the line, Sam’s search takes her from the blue-collar Baltimore suburbs to the mansions of Gibson Island. Along the way, she learns that false identities can hide dark secrets, and those secrets can destroy lives.
The book can be best described as a mystery/thriller – one that owes a lot to the hardboiled private eye genre. It’s the first book in a series of Sam McRae mysteries. (My former publisher had me under contract to write at least three Sam McRae books and I’d always intended my novel to be the first of a series.)
During the short time the book had been out, it had gotten some really great reviews and reader feedback. It seemed like a shame to just leave it out-of-print. I decided to re-release the book through Lulu.com. I reformatted the manuscript into page proofs and reviewed them again to find and make any needed corrections. An artist friend created a new cover. I was able to publish the book through Lulu in July 2009. About a month before the book was brought back into print, I made it available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords. One of the smartest things I’ve ever done, because I’ve sold thousands of downloads since June 2, 2009.
ED- Where can our readers find your latest work and who is the publisher?
DM- The publisher is Lulu.com, a print-on-demand press. Identity Crisis is in worldwide distribution through Amazon, BN.com and other online retailers. It’s also distributed through Ingram, a company that distributes to bookstores. So you can also order it from most bookstores.
The book is not only available as an ebook, but can be found as an app for Mobipocket, on iTunes and in the iBookstore.
ED- What new work do you have in progress, and when can our readers hope to see it?
DM- I’m preparing to publish the sequel to Identity Crisis. The book will be called Least Wanted. In this book, two of Sam’s toughest cases take a turn for the worse when a black juvenile client from the wrong side of the tracks is accused of killing her mother and a white, middle-class man suspected of embezzling is arrested for killing his boss. An odd link between the seemingly unrelated cases leads Sam to investigate in the ghettos near Washington, D.C. This move stirs up trouble for Sam, because the real murderers are willing to use brute force to keep her from learning everything – and, as the body count grows, Sam races to find out who they are before she becomes the next victim.
I’m aiming to have Least Wanted published in print and ebook format by Fall 2010. And I’ve started working on the next novel in the series.
ED- Debbi, this has been a real pleasure, and we wish you much luck with your new career. Please keep in touch so that we can let our readers know about all about your future endeavors. It is very pleasing to know that new writers, such as yourself, will give our readers more to read in the years to come.
DM- It was my pleasure. Thank you very much!