Mary Monroe, the daughter of sharecroppers, is the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty novels. She began making up stories before she started elementary school and taught herself how to write. Mary spent the first part of her life in rural Alabama and Ohio and moved to California in 1973. The winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, the Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award, and the J. California Cooper Memorial Award, Mary likes to travel and watch true-crime TV shows.
-For those unfamiliar with “Mary Monroe” please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a full-time Oakland, California-based author. My main characters are African-American females, but I write about universal subjects that appeal to a culturally diverse audience. My books are for adults, but I have a lot of teenage fans because they can identify with my younger characters.
-Your first novel "The Upper Room" was published in 1985, but when did you actually sit down and designate your profession to be writer?
Despite the great reviews in major publications and a lengthy Associated Press interview that appeared in dozens of newspapers in the U.S. and Great Britain, "The Upper Room" didn't do well. My second novel, "God Don't Like Ugly," was an immediate international success. But I didn't think of myself as a "professional writer" until five books later when I was able to leave my day job as a secretary and write full-time.
-“God Don't Like Ugly” and “The Upper Room” were my introduction to your literary work. I'm curious to know how were you able to write so convincingly about tough topics such as child abuse, murder, and kidnapping while keeping your readers entertained?
I write about what I know. My books are based on my own personal experiences and my characters are composites of people I know. As dark and grim as some of my stories are, I keep my readers entertained by including some humor.
-Let’s talk about your latest project, “One House Over.” Please tell our readers what inspired you to write this book.
The subject of people being best friends with someone and worst enemies at the same time has always intrigued me. And since I know a few people like the ones in this book, it was easy to come up with all sorts of ideas.
-You’re an award winning, New York Times best-selling author! In your opinion, what does it take to write a New York Times best-selling novel?
It takes perseverance, stories that appeal to a large audience, and luck.
-Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard?
I write something every single day from a few lines in a couple of minutes, to several chapters in a few hours. When I begin a new novel, I start with a handwritten, chapter-by-chapter outline. I complete four or five drafts of the entire book on my computer before I submit it to my publisher. Before computers came along (thank God!) I wrote my outlines and the drafts in longhand. When I felt comfortable, I sat down at my typewriter. It was very difficult to produce a professional-looking manuscript on a typewriter. Now I have several computers! However, I still carry a notepad in my purse in case I want to jot down a few sentences in longhand when I'm away from home.
-How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
For me it was extremely hard to even get my foot in the door. I never took any courses in writing so I had to learn everything on my own. I read publications like Writer's Digest, Publishers Weekly, Writer's Market, and I received great advice from some major literary icons: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Anne Rice and Danielle Steel. I keep up with the market and I interact with my readers in person and on social media. I get some good feedback from some of them and I'm always willing to take advice as long as it's constructive.
-You've received hundreds of rejection letters before landing a contract for your second novel “God Don’t Like Ugly.” What advice would you give to aspiring authors reading this who have become discouraged due to rejection?
Reading is extremely important. You can learn a lot by reading other authors' books (and newspapers, magazines, etc.) because it is creative nourishment. Learn as much as you can about the business and get the most current edition of Guide to Literary Agents so you can get an agent. It is very difficult to get your material to the right people without one. Be patient, ignore the naysayers, and keep your mind on your goals. Also, look at every negative experience as a detour, not a "rejection."
- If “The Upper Room” were ever to be turned into a movie, who would you want to play Mama Ruby? Why?
I think it would be a great vehicle for Mo'nique, Queen Latifah, or Gabourey Sidibe. Not only are they extremely talented, they have the closest physical characteristics to be a convincing Mama Ruby.
-How can readers stay connected with you?
Readers can reach me at marymonroe.org.
Click below to check out the complete interview in Writer's Life Magazine...