Florida author Deb Sharp is like the main character in her “Mace Bauer Mysteries,’’ Deborah Sharp’s family roots were set in Florida long before Disney or Miami Vice. As a native and former reporter for USA Today, she knows the spots not found on maps: Molasses Junction. Muse, and now, Himmarshee, her own tiny slice of “Authentic Florida.’’
To create Himmarshee, Deborah borrowed from the present-day ranching town of Okeechobee, and from the south Florida of her family’s past.
Not far from Ft. Lauderdale, her dad used to walk to town, leading the family cow. A generation later, Deborah rode her horse over the same citrus- and ranch-dotted terrain. Now, it’s all interstates and strip malls.
The difference between Mace’s hometown and hers: Deborah will never let Himmarshee be spoiled by sprawl.
Q. You’ve written a number of hilarious mystery novels in your Mace Bauer series. How did you come up with the concept for your novels?
I wasn’t a fiction writer. I was a journalist, but I always wanted to write a mystery. I saw so many sad stories as a journalist I wanted to write a funny mystery. I saw a full page ad of a woman in a turquoise convertible in the Miami Herald. I started to think about the type of character who might be riding around in a turquoise convertible and what could happen. That woman is MAMA and I decided to write a story about where she goes in the convertible. From there I figured she would be from an obscure part of Florida and that she would have three girls. The book started with MAMA discovering a body in the trunk of the convertible. That started the whole series.
Q. You spent a number of years as a reporter for USA Today. Was the transition to novel writing a challenge for you?
It was a lot harder than I thought. I figured I’d been a professional writer for twenty-five years, how hard could it be? Journalism teaches you to leave out what the people you interview are thinking or feeling. I had to learn to put emotion in my fiction. It actually took me a couple of years to get it right. I took a lot of workshops, went to Sleuthfest conferences and joined a critique group. All of those things helped to become a fiction writer.
Q. Do you consider writing an art, or a craft, or a mixture?
Some people are artists when they write. I always thought of it more of a craft. For me it was a profession with the journalism. I felt like saying “I’m an artist” didn’t describe the kind of writing I did, so to me it was more of a craft. There can be artistic feelings that go into writing, but I believe it’s a craft. People have a talent for observation or expression, but to put it all together is something that you have to develop. You can’t just sit down and paint a masterpiece. You have to cultivate your talents and work at them.
Q. You’re really good at marketing. What do you feel are the most important aspects of marketing?
I got a lot of reviews from newspapers in the beginning. The platform has changed since then. Physical newsprint has scaled back and social media has increased. I think something that a lot of people overlook is just being a nice person. Helping out and volunteering gets the word out that you’re willing to give back and that opens people up to you. A lot of people think they need to work to build their brand. I think you can build your brand by being kind to other writers even though it’s old fashioned and low tech. I’ve always felt more comfortable helping someone else rather than pushing ME-ME-ME on social media.
Q. You are good at asking questions on social media that draw many responses from your fans. How do you go about it?
I think it’s because I’m curious. I’m interested what other people think, and I guess it’s easy for me to formulate questions because I did it with the journalism.
Q. What are you reading now?
HaHa! The mystery writers out there might be disappointed that I’m reading chick lit at the moment. I like Jennifer Weiner and I just got something by Sofie Kinsella. I do have a new Michael Connelly novel that I picked up, but I’m enjoying the chick lit right now. I don’t know that I’ll ever do anything in that genre, but it’s light and it’s fun for me at this point.
Q. As you know, we are a critique group. Do you participate in one?
I’m not in a critique group at the moment. I am a huge advocate of critique groups. I was in the Thursday night critique group run by Joyce Sweeney. What was beneficial to me, was hearing from other writers who didn’t have a journalism background. They could pinpoint exactly where I needed to punch things up on emotion or description, things I was scant on from my previous training. In a critique group I think a person should find something nice to say, not be a slash and burn type person. A good critiquer can tell you what’s wrong in a manner that helps you learn and that is so beneficial.
I laugh and say I’m the Goldilocks of critique groups. The first one I went to was too hard, the people were mean. They said they didn’t like my writing, but they really didn’t care for the genre. The next one was too soft. They liked to sit around and drink wine rather than critiquing. Not that drinking wine is bad, but I wanted feedback. Then I found the Thursday group and it was just right. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for the Thursday critique group helping me. I am a big fan of critique groups.
You can find out more about MAMA and her antics at DebraSharp.com