Award-winning writer, Mary Trimble lives with her husband on Camano Island, Washington. A prolific writer, Trimble draws on personal experiences including purser and ship's diver aboard the tall ship, M.S. Explorer as well as two years with the Peace Corps in West Africa; and a 13,000-mile South Pacific sailing trip with her husband aboard their Bristol 40, Impunity. The couple has also made extensive overland RV trips. Trimble is active with the American Red Cross and responds to national and local disasters. Her latest novel, Tenderfoot, a romantic suspense with a sub-plot of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, was a finalist in the Western Writers of America Spur Awards in 2010. Her coming-of-age novels, Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff have been well received and McClellan’s Bluff was the EPIC 2004 Winner for Young Adult Fiction. Her 400-plus articles have appeared in a variety of magazines and her work-in-progress is a memoir of her two-years in Africa.
You have a fascinating background, Mary. Tell us about your job as purser and ship’s diver aboard the tall ship, M.S. Explorer and your 13,000 mile trip aboard the Impunity.
My job as purser aboard the tall ship M.S. Explorer involved handling the ship’s finances. In early 1976, before the ship left for New York to participate in the Bicentennial Tall Ship Parade, we stopped at many sea-ports along the west coast to welcome people aboard the ship. We didn’t charge admittance, but many people donated money and goods. As ship’s diver I often performed repair work under water, using SCUBA gear, caulking the old wooden hull. The ship, built at the turn of the century, required constant repair.
Our cruise throughout the South Pacific was a dream my husband Bruce and I held for many years. Our sailboat, Impunity, a Bristol 40, served us well for the 13,000-mile voyage. There were just the two of us for the entire fourteen-month trip.
Could your Peace Corps service in West Africa compare in any way with existence in the Old West?
We were in the Peace Corps from l979 – 1981. Living in “the bush” in The Gambia was a strange blend of old and new. Like in America’s old west, we hauled our own water from a well, could only purchase fresh produce in season, and had no electronic communication, not even telephones. The various government projects, sponsored by Americans, Germans, Chinese, etc., had trucks and other equipment, but the “common person,” including us, mostly walked everywhere we went.
Your novel Tenderfoot was a WWA Spur finalist and Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff have been well received and earned an EPIC award for young adult fiction. Which book was the most difficult to research and write?
My first novel, Rosemount, was the most difficult to research. All three of those books are contemporary westerns. I found I had a lot to learn about modern ranching in the State of Washington. How many acres does it take to support “X” number of cattle? When you vaccinate, what are you vaccinating against? I am a great believer in authenticity and I won’t just “fake it.” Also, my protagonist, a teen, runs away to Oregon and I had to have her stop at towns. Although we’d been in that area several times, I found when I wrote the book I needed to really know the territory in detail, describe the landscape, experience the terrain from a walker’s perspective. We returned to Oregon to trace my character’s travels, and those of her brother’s, who searched for her. The sequel, McClellan’s Bluff, was easier in that regard.
In Tenderfoot, my research involved Washington’s Mount St. Helens and the eruption of 1980. Washington is my home state and Tenderfoot was a fun project with plenty of material to draw from. I spoke with many people who had been directly involved in the incident either on or near the mountain. Every mention I make of Mount St. Helens is true.
My work-in-progress, Toubobs, is a memoir of our days in Africa with the Peace Corps. Our families saved all our letters home and I had that rich material to draw from this past year as I wrote.
You’ve written more than 400 magazine articles. Which do you enjoy most, short nonfiction or novels? Why?
For ten years, most of my writing consisted of travel destinations and articles of interest to homeowners, but once I started writing novels, my true love surfaced. For awhile I wrote both, but now I only occasionally write a destination piece, usually something that I’ve discovered while researching a novel.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you outline and aim for a certain amount of words per day?
We begin our day early. Up at 4:30, we go for a three-mile walk, then Bruce leaves for work by 6:00. So I have the luxury of a quiet house in a rural setting where all I see from my office window are our own trees on a wooded five-acre piece of land on Camano Island. What I do first depends on my stage of writing. If I’m creating, I do that before looking at email. I often write ten or more pages a day when I’m in that mode. I do follow an outline, but always feel free to deviate. If I’m editing, I check email and take care of other matters so that I can concentrate. I recently chaired the Women Writing the West 2011 Conference, so that took a lot of my time, but now I’m back into the swing of my normal routines.
Who do you consider the best ever writer of the West? And which author has most influenced your own work?
I look more at single works to determine my favorite. Larry McMurty’s “Lonesome Dove” is high on my list; Edna Ferber’s “Giant” is way up there, Stephen E. Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage” is stunning. I’m awed with Jane Kirkpatrick’s meticulous research, superb characterization and the sheer volume of books she churns out.
Advice to fledgling writers?
Read! Especially in your genre of choice. You simply must do both, read and write. It keeps the juices flowing. Try to keep to a schedule, though I realize that isn’t always possible. Join a critique group, or form one yourself. Writing is a business; keep the meetings businesslike. Join writers associations, such as Women Writing the West.
Anything you’d like to add?
I am so grateful to the many generous people who have helped me along the way. The best way to honor this kindness is to “Pay it forward.” Also, writing as a career requires a lot of self-education. Speaking for myself, I need to get up to speed on social media. That’s one of my immediate goals.
You can visit Mary at her website, which also contains her blog: www.MaryTrimbleBooks.com .
She's also on Twitter and facebook.com/mary.e.trimble