Mary Flynn is the author of “Disney’s Secret Sauce–the little known factor behind the business world’s most legendary leadership, which took honors in the 2019 Royal Palm Literary Awards. Her recent book, Wishbones and Other Short Stories, is an eclectic and imaginative mix of humor, pathos and irony that explores the human experience -usually with a surprising twist.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
Born and raised in Brooklyn. Irish, Italian Catholic. Those values, cultural aspects and neighborhood settings show up in my novels, which take place in the fifties. I like to write about times before technology when people could not easily or quickly reach each other. I believe it offers more opportunity for tension and suspense. Did you even notice in many dramas or comedies how the lead character somehow manages to lose or destroy their cell phone – out the window, down the toilet. They know something. They know that tension really heightens when there are no bars.
I traveled extensively and lived in Turkey years back as an Air Force officer’s wife. Great and wonderful experience, which dribbles into my writing. In one of our locales, Kansas City, I managed to land a full-time job at Hallmark writing greeting cards, a gratifying and extremely useful experience that has stayed with me. A great training ground living the creative life day in and day out.
Many years later, I believe that experience made me a better writer and speaker in my role as an international conference speaker for Disney Institute, where I presented Disney’s approach to leadership and service excellence. I now do speaking engagements on the business side, as well as my humorous “Confessions of a Hallmark Greeting Card Writer,” both of which have proven to be excellent ways to promote my writing.
It’s been an interesting life journey straddling the fence between business and creative positions. I was on editorial staff of the leading publisher of guided reading materials used in the U.S. public school system; became a senior staff consultant with the two largest companies, respectively, who conducted downsizing and career transition programs for more than sixty industries; became certified in Neuro-linguistic Programming by that methodologies creator, Richard Bandler, who was Tony Robbins instructor; became a certified phobia counseling aide.. I now do a live radio show for Salem.
I believe this eclectic mix shows up in my writing, a hop, skip and jump across genres – children’s rhymed and illustrated, middle grade novella, novels, non-fiction business, poetry and just recently the release of my book of short stories. I love to write and to coach newer writers…and I really enjoy my associations with others in our vibrant writing organizations and culture.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Unlike longer forms, short stories satisfy in me those “little” ideas that tickle around in the imagination. Unlike the driving force behind a novel, short stories typically come from what I call the little dodgy thoughts that can be so easily overlooked.
That early Hallmark experience taught me on a daily basis not to overlook any idea…but to drill into it. So, it becomes truly a what if game—what if a thug finds a new way to settle an old score? What if the harried looking shopper whom the good-hearted woman gives a ride to is not what she seems? And, like O’Henry’s delicious tales, what if there’s a twist at the end? Ha.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
My biggest obstacle over the years was trying to do serious writing while maintaining a full-time job. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I am not the kind of person who can sit in a coffee shop with, let’s say, a child in a stroller and write an epic novel. Then, of course, husband and kids must come first. So, before long, years go by.
One of the very first stories that I wrote then I retired from Disney seven years ago was “Jeremiah’s Orchard.” I had told that story to my father…the idea, that is. He died in 1978. So, that whole time, this story-to-be sat in a folder on a shelf. I’m so gratified to say that story, which is in my latest release of short stories, first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post’s 2014 Anthology of Great Fiction.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
A little hard to say. Definitely, having “Jeremiah’s Orchard” selected for that Saturday Evening Post anthology. I mean – that’s where Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald were published. But then, I recall how dazzled I was when an observational humor essay I submitted to The New York Times appeared on their Sunday Lifestyle cover page. Yikes. Then again, I truly was blown away when my debut novel Margaret Ferry took home the gold medal in Fiction, the silver medal in Christian Writing, and the silver medal in Religious writing…even though it’s mainstream fiction. Hard to pick one.
What people or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I credit my mother, first and foremost, who read to me every single night when I was a child. Then…I’m Irish, after all…my Aunt Katie would hold me spellbound with the oddest, most delightful story-telling. She was quirky and funny, and I know I carry that inspiration with me to this day. Also, importantly, I attended Catholic School where, by God (literally, I think), the nuns wouldn’t have it any other way but that every child would speak and write well. When I entered public high school at the age of thirteen, I didn’t know what an atom was, but I could write for The New York Times.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
Yes, every single day. But “writing” for me doesn’t mean necessarily sitting at the computer or with a pad in my lap. I abide John Hersey approach: he liked to go fishing to do his back-of-the-head work. I don’t go fishing, but I definitely do a lot of back-of-the-head work. I wouldn’t dream of sitting down to a blank page to “create.” I believe this is where the concept of writer’s block comes from. People sit down to that blank sheet of paper and get frustrated trying to make something up. I make it up elsewhere…until I actually get into the writing of it.
What are your interests outside of writing?
People, friends, faith, food, going out, staying in—I have no trouble spending time alone—a true blessing from God. I favor the woods over the ocean, small gatherings over large groups (imagine a Disney retiree not liking crowds. Ha.). I’m a big movie buff. I learn from movies—how much or little a character uses to express an idea or emotion teaches me something about writing and about character. My all-time favorite movie is the original King Kong—the special effects for that time are astounding. I think silent films are brilliant.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
Allow me, please, a little list:
- Stop letting the idea that you’re not good enough keep you from writing. Nobody is quite good enough in the beginning. By the way, that’s what good editors are for. Without Max Perkins, Hemingway and Fitzgerald might not have gotten into print.
- Find the industry. May sound odd, but writing is a complex industry with vast resources, and there is much to learn. Join a critique group. If it doesn’t nourish you with respect and encouragement, find another that does. Take the feedback; it’s a gift.
- Pay attention to the tiniest of ideas, drill down, ask what if. If it’s a common, everyday kind of thought, look at it from every angle. Imagine if you could think one brand new thought every day.
- Please don’t follow the advice of writers who think self-publishing or indie publishing means you don’t need outside professional help. To be perfectly candid, if you’re planning to publish, it’s going to cost money. It doesn’t matter that you taught English, you cannot edit or proof your own work. And the tragedy is that a reader who catches your mistakes in those first pages or chapters will never buy another one of your books.
- Don’t buy into the idea that you should only write what you know. It’s all about what you can know. That’s what research is for. Otherwise, how could Shelley have created Frankenstein’s monster? How would Moby Dick have come about? Get comfortable making stuff up…but do it the smartly.
- Get used to research…even for things you assume to be true. Authenticity is paramount. I was writing a story in which a grove had to catch fire. I called a grower to ask a question and was shocked when he said the grove would not burn—the trees are fresh. “Burn something else,” was his advice. I’m glad I did.
- Get in the habit of entering contests. They are a great proving ground. Plus, if you happen to win, place or show, it will be a good way of beginning to build your platform. Agents, editors and publishers…even festival coordinators…want to see what you’ve done. First chance you have to brag on paper, do it.
- Skip the long descriptive openings. Get your reader right into the action.
- Skip the long passages of backstory. It slows the pace and bores people.
- Don’t be afraid to say, he said or she said, instead of silly things like, he cajoled, she bemoaned.