Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Mariam lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia with her parents as a child before they decided to settle in Germany. She attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen, where she met her husband. She lives in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons and two cats.
When did you first realize you needed to put pen to paper?
I don’t think there was one specific moment. It’s something that grows in you, something like a melody you hear in the background for a long time, until one morning you open your eyes and there it is, loud and clear, and you know what needs to be done. When that moment comes it’s like the crest of a huge ocean wave, and the urge to sit down and write is overpowering, inundating, and you just have to do it. I remember quite clearly how I started to write The Distant Shore—my first real attempt at writing—and nothing else mattered anymore. It was much the same when I started the sequel, Under the Same Sun. That actually surprised me a little, and pleased me. I had thought it was a one-time thing. But the urge doesn’t go away.
One of the most important aspects of any story, in my opinion, is description. Often either overdone or underdone, what is your best advice to writers on how to strike the perfect balance?
Close your eyes and picture the scene. Then describe what you think makes the image perfect. Often the atmosphere is more important than, say, the color of the couch.
It’s like looking at a stage: what makes the scene work, how will its mood influence the action that’s going to happen there? Is the place you’re about to describe an echo of one of the characters?
Personally, I like to describe settings as seen through the eyes of one of the persons involved in that scene. This gives it a subjective feel and makes it more intimate.
Let’s take, for example, the chapter of “Under The Same Sun” when Jon first sees Positano, where they go to visit Naomi’s maternal family. They drive across the mountains, and suddenly he sees the ocean, and the green hillsides, and the little town plastered to the cliffs. You can write just that: he saw the town on the shore, and the ocean was blue. Or you write what he really sees: serenity, Mediterranean beauty, a place where he knows he’ll find a few days of peace from his busy life. There are layers to a setting. And it’s our job, as an author, to find them.
I find much of my inspiration in coffee shops, and many of the conversations and interactions I have witnessed there have proved to be influential in my tales. Has anyone you’ve ever witnessed become the inspiration for a character, or at least a particular part of a character?
There is one character who is based on a photo of a real person, and that would be Sal. He is based on the one picture I’ve seen of Tom Catalano, a music producer who has worked with Neil Diamond, Helen Reddy, and others. I always thought he did a really great job, and he is kind of cute . But my Sal is totally invented. He’s more homage to Tom Catalano
Finding your voice in writing is one of the most important aspects of it. Some writers, myself included, wrote in a myriad of genres before discovering where our style was best suited. Is there a particular genre that speaks the most to you? Why? And how did you find it?
Well, The Distant Shore was my first attempt at writing a novel. I didn’t feel like I was done with the characters from that book and my publisher wanted a series, so that novel has evolved into a trilogy.
I have no idea why I’m writing what my publisher calls “contemporary fiction / romance”. They labeled it after I’d written and submitted it. I didn’t find it. It found me. The story was there, and I wrote it. End of story.
Speaking of voice, when you write, do you find that you become the characters, or are you more of a guest at their dinner party where they share their story with you?
I’m one of the characters—most of the time. He is pivotal, and the other characters react to him. Why I prefer seeing the world as Jon Stone, and not his wife, Naomi, I don’t know. It’s funny because I made him a musician and her a writer, and one would think I’d feel a greater affinity to the writer-character.
I think the secret is that I really don’t know anything about writing. It just happens. And that’s the way Naomi writes, too. She shrugs her shoulders at people who ask her how she does what she does, and just goes on. Jon, on the other hand, is the person who struggles with his creative processes, who dissects and prods and pokes.
I used to teach theater and musicals, so I know something of that.
Jon is the one with the doubts and fear. He’s my alter-ego. I see his world through his eyes, most of the time.
Tell us a little about your editing process.
Editing? What’s editing?
No, seriously. The first draft of The Distant Shore had an epic 400K words. I KNOW! I had to edit it down to 136K, which eventually ended up in the printed version. That was a major editing effort, and it had to be done with lighting speed, too, because I had this publisher waiting for the manuscript, literally drumming their fingers on their desk. I think I did it in less than three weeks, and after that I sort of collapsed.
Now, I edit while I write. It’s not something I really love to do, but the innocence of that first novel is gone, and the little editing devil sitting on my shoulder watches every word I write really, really closely. As a result, I don’t really have to do a whole lot anymore when I type “The End”. Well, at least not until the real editing and polishing begins once my publisher gets the manuscript.
What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
Oh gosh… I don’t listen to writing advice aside from my editor’s. I have no idea!
There really is only one, and it comes, again, from my editor: “Butt in chair, write!”
I would add, “Read a lot!” Seriously, you can only learn writing by writing. By doing it. There are so many “writers” on Twitter who talk about writing all the time but don’t DO it. That’s like reading cookbooks but never trying to cook. You’ll not get a meal by reading recipes! You’ll have to use those pots and cook.
For those writers who have not yet completed their first novel, what advice would you give them?
Be patient with yourself. It takes a long, long time to write a novel, you might not finish it in a month, or even a year. Just keep plugging along until it’s done.
Finish one project before you start the next. And I mean that literally: END the story. Find an ending! This is not as easy as it may sound. I know people who have thirty, forty projects lying around, all of them started, none of them finished.
Sometimes I think there’s a fear of finishing something, because that’s the point when you have to start submitting it if you’re serious about it. And submitting might end in rejection.
What is one book (besides one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
Everyone? I don’t think there’s ONE book for everyone. I don’t know.
I can tell you, though, which books are my favorites, the ones I consider masterpieces:
Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga, Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdottir, Naguib Mahfus’ Cairo Trilogy, and AlanGurganus’ Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells It All. I also love Sean Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife a lot.
If you could be interviewed by one famous person (besides me… ha!), who would that be and why?
Oy, what a difficult question! I really don’t know…I don’t think I know any famous people?
Besides you, of course!
On second thought, I’d really like a chat with a music star, like Bruce Springsteen, or Neil Diamond. I’d ask them about how they see the mix of fame, creativity and a private life. Oh wait, then I’d be interviewing them.
Can readers expect more from you in the not too distant future?
We’re celebrating the launch of my second book, Under the Same Sun, with this blog hop. It’s the sequel to The Distant Shore, and is book two in the Stone Trilogy. The third book is written and with the publisher, and the planned release is next summer. The working title of that book is Song of the Storm.
Right now I’m working on a new trilogy. It’s based in the same world as the Stone Trilogy but highlights other members of the extended family. The first one deals primarily with Naomi’s parents and how they suffer from the aftermath of 9/11. But you’ll also get to see Jon and Naomi again!
I’m a Kindle girl, myself. E-readers – love them or hate them?
When I’m traveling, I really love ebooks—so much more room in your bags for new things!
As an author, though, I have to say I really, really love print books. I’m not sure I’d really feel like an “author” if I couldn’t hold my own books in my hands. It’s a feeling that’s very, very hard to top!
My publisher tells me, though, that I’m selling more of the ebook versions of my novels than the paper books.
I guess there’s room for both.
Biggest problem in the publishing industry you see?
I have NO idea. For me, getting published was a breeze. See, I never submitted my first book to any publisher. My publisher found me on Twitter. One morning I woke up to find that black cat following me. That in itself was exciting enough, a REAL publisher, following me, a writing nobody! A short while later I posted page 99 of The Distant Shore on my blog. Moments later I got a message from Buddhapuss Ink, asking for the manuscript. It was so not ready to send, so I told them they would have to wait a few weeks. (Yes, I can hear your laughter! Now I know what a total no-no that is, but back then, who knew? They replied that they would wait, and patiently, but they didn’t, and kept asking. So I packed the entire, unformatted thing into an attachment and sent it off. I think there was no real synopsis either, and my idea of marketing my book was to “do anything but dance naked on tables”. Yes, that’s really what I wrote! A couple of weeks later I had my first book deal.
So, you see, I really don’t know about problems in publishing. I have no agent. I work directly with my publisher, and I adore my editor.
Weirdest unknown fact about you (that you are brave enough to share)?
I collect Starbucks City mugs. Is that weird enough?
Any other updates?
Not really. I’m waiting for the new Doctor Who season to come to Germany, hoping to be able to travel to the US again next year. And I’m writing, writing, writing. It’s basically all I do.
Oh! I’ve discovered a liking for Baroque opera! And it’s definitely time to turn on the furnace.
This was the second stop in Mariam’s Blog Hop celebrating the launch of her latest book, Under the Same Sun (Book II in the Stone Trilogy) which hit the Amazon.com bestseller list on its first day on sale and then sold out!
It will be back in stock soon, but while you’re waiting you can go to our blog and click the link to read the first two chapters, or you can leave a comment below about this blog post for a chance to win one of three copies of Under the Same Sun! You can get additional chances by following Mariam on every stop on her hop
and leaving comments after each post. And hey, while you’re here, why not follow this blog. You won’t regret it.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, 10/17, Mariam will be visiting Amberr Meadows’ blog. Join us there!
Check our blog for the full calendar and more details!
Jon and Naomi’s marriage is strained as she struggles with the aftermath of her near fatal shooting at the Oscars, a growing desire for a baby, and the realization that her father will never give up his plans for the family s hotel business. Alone with her fears, she falls right into the trap of a stalker…
Available on Amazon