Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Visit With Mara Purl

I had a chance to talk with the beautiful and talented Mara Purl, author of the Milford-Haven Novels, this past week. Her newest release, What the Heart Knows, will be out this September. Mara starred in Days of Our Lives, wrote scripts for Guiding Light, articles for Rolling Stone, and is an award-winning novelist.

You can visit Mara at to read more about her and pre-order What the Heart Knows. Be sure to check out the preview to book one while on the site, When Hummers Dream.

Mara shares with us how she started writing and important mentors in her life, as well as some tidbits about the cast of characters in What the Heart Knows. Here's what she had to say:

LSW: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing.

MARA: I’m what’s known in the entertainment business as a “hyphenate”—in my case, a writer-actor-producer. Both the writing and the acting started very early. At about 3, I thought the hearth in front of the fireplace was a stage, so I did a show every night for my parents. I thought everyone did! I started actually writing stories down on pages over the next couple of years, and I remember doing illustrations and getting help from Mom “binding” my first book (with red yarn) when I was about 5. And one of my favorite things was visiting my Grandmother Dorothy. In her attic, I always found empty notebooks and filled them all up with poems and stories. Years later, I found out she “planted” those for me to find.

I’ve written in many different formats and genres. My first job as a journalist was at age fourteen, when I started writing a column for a newspaper in Tokyo, where I grew up. Later I was a staff reporter for the Financial Times of London, and then a freelancer journalist for Rolling Stone and the Associated Press. But I also always wrote scripts for theatre and for television. And eventually created an original radio drama, which became a hit on BBC radio. When I started writing books, I began with non-fiction, but always had it in my heart to write fiction. So I feel now I’m in the “sweet spot”, writing narrative voice in Women’s Fiction.

LSW: Your Milford-Haven Novels were broadcast by the BBC. Tell us how the books were transformed into the radio series.

MARA: Actually, the radio drama came first. (I tend to do things backwards sometimes.) Milford-Haven U.S.A. was a half-hour serial created about life in a small town. Underlying issues were pitted against one another to create the drama: the environment versus development; corporate greed versus artistic endeavor; social-climbing affairs versus true love. When the radio drama was contracted by the BBC, we didn’t know whether or not this American show would find an audience in the U.K., but indeed we had a bonafide hit with 4.5 million listeners. My radio show followers began asking “When will there be novels?” That was my cue to get started writing them. At first, I was published by a small press and early editions were developed to test the waters in the U.S. As I began to attract a following in America, a New York publisher picked up the series. So we’re all very excited that book one will be published in hardcover next month!

LSW: You've had a series of mentors. Can you tell us a little bit about them and how they influenced you?

MARA: Mentors have always been a very important part of my life, particularly when it comes to writing my novels. One primary mentor was Louis L’Amour, the great Western writer. He confirmed for me the vital importance of research, something I’d learned as a journalist. He also showed by example that an author must find his or her theme, something so inspiring and compelling that he or she can build their fictional world upon it. For Louis, it was the old West. For me, it was California’s Central Coast. Our topics are then not limited to this region, yet it becomes foundational, the fixed foot of the compass. Two other mentors were teachers, Don Carlo taught history, a brought it vividly to life. Bill Dixon was a world-class musician and taught us to “play every note to change the world.” His focused not only on technique, but on intention. “Intents and Purposes” was the title of one of his seminal albums, and it was an important premise he shared. So I always ask myself why I am writing something, and what its purpose is for me and for my readers.

LSW: Your newest release, What the Heart Knows, is coming out in September. Tell us a little about the story and your cast of characters.

MARA: Much as I adored the radio drama, the story as it is evolving in the novels is so much richer and deeper! The protagonist is Miranda Jones, a painter who’s just started achieving good success in San Francisco galleries. However, while her head tells her she should stay there and ride the money-and-fame wave, her heart tells her she should establish her own roots in a small coastal town she finds called Milford-Haven. Meanwhile, she befriends Samantha Hugo, twenty years her senior, a PhD who runs the local environmental planning commission, but who years earlier gave up a child for adoption and is now haunted by her decision. There’s a rather large cast of characters: Sally, who runs the local breakfast-and-lunch place and loves to eavesdrop; Zelda, who runs Miranda’s career but has ambitions of her own; Zackery, a wealthy young man who stumbles across a painting of Miranda’s and feels compelled to buy it, and maybe to buy her too; Cornelius, an astronomer who grew up in this little town but now works for NASA; Jack Sawyer, a builder-developer who’s Samantha’s ex and wants to run things his own way; and Chris Christian, a television journalist who gets in serious trouble. Throughout this whole first book, each character is wrestling with some issue of the heart . . . and what the heart knows.

By the way . . . one of my favorite places to write is in little cafes, and I sometimes think I could live on lattes!

LSW: Thanks for the great interview Mara! We look forward to your next release What the Heart Knows. I will be enjoying it with a latte myself.

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Proverbs 16:3

Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.