Local author Mary Daheim has just published “Clam Wake,” bringing her total to more than 60 books. She writes at night in her Queen Anne home and includes the essence of the neighborhood in one of her series.
Her first seven books were historical romances. Her first agent from New York encouraged her to go the “bodice-ripper” route — a genre she didn’t even know existed — and they ended up cutting out a lot of the historical aspects.
“I had never even read one,” Daheim said of the bodice-ripper genre. “I thought, “This is a way to get my foot in the door in publishing, and that’s fine.’”
That genre did get Daheim’s name out there and established her as a writer. Eventually, she switched to writing mystery books, and since then, she’s been a prolific writer. Daheim created two series, including a bed-and-breakfast series about two women running a B&B on Queen Anne. She has written 29 books for that series, with the latest releasing this month.
She’s also written a historical series about the logging town her family lived in years ago, called the “Alpine” series; that series has 25 books so far.
Some of those “bodice-rippers” she wrote are also being re-released locally, with “less ghastly covers and new titles,” Daheim said.
The B&B series started as a fundraiser for St. Anne’s School in Queen Anne, where Daheim’s three daughters attended during the ‘80s. For a school auction, Daheim donated a dinner and mystery night for four couples. She dived in to creating characters with extensive backgrounds. This came about the same time she was getting tired of writing the romances and decided that maybe she could turn the mystery night’s plot into a book.
The B&B series, published by Avon, has always been the more whimsical series, with more humor. In the books, Daheim never mentions that the B&B is in Seattle, but someone who is familiar with Queen Anne would recognize some local sites, she said.
The protagonist in this series is based on Daheim’s cousin Judy, who was like a sister to her growing up. The sidekick, who is a bit “weird and awfully lippy,” is based on Daheim herself. Judy died a year ago, but Daheim has kept her in the books because “it’s my way of keeping her with me.”
Eventually, she met with another editor, from Ballantine Books, who agreed to publish a series on Alpine, a turn-of-the-century logging town east of Skykomish. Daheim’s grandparents and parents lived and worked in the town for several years. She had heard all of their stories about Alpine, where Daheim’s parents lived until about 1928, but the town was eventually abandoned. There wasn’t even a road when she began writing the series.
The Alpine’s series main character, Emma, is a journalist at The Oregonian, who inherits enough money to buy a small weekly newspaper and move to Alpine. Daheim had never used first-person narrative before, but she wanted the readers to connect immediately with the character.
These books are a little more serious and rough, she said, but they include that same humor and small-town essence that seems to pervade small towns.
“Once you create a character, they do what they want,” Daheim said. “They’re very willful and go and do things you’d rather they wouldn’t do, but they do them anyway because that’s their character.”
In her series, Daheim pretends Alpine never went away, and in truth, it didn’t. Some of Daheim’s fans eventually tracked down and rediscovered the town. One of the readers who found the town eventually passed away, and his ashes were spread on the site.
“Honestly, it astounds me that they found it,” she said. “And it astounds me that they did it because of the books.”
Still more writing to do
The Seattle native attended the University of Washington to study communications and work as the Daily’s first female editor. She started her career working for a five-day-a-week daily newspaper in Anacortes. She married her husband in 1965 and eventually moved back to Queen Anne in 1969.
After all of these years, the writing hasn’t changed much, Daheim said. She still writes two per year, with her latest Alpine book releasing in March 2015 and “Clam Wake,” her latest B&B book, out this month.
Copy-editing and page-proofing is probably the most difficult part, Daheim said: Once you go through it so many times, you become convinced “you couldn’t have written a worse book if you tried,” she joked.
But she loves writing: “I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun,” she said.
Daheim is a strong supporter of local bookstores. The Queen Anne Book Co. has carried Daheim’s books since it opened in 2013, said co-owner and manager Janis Segress.
Daheim was one of the local authors who attended the bookstore’s opening weekend to do a signing and show support, Segress said.
Daheim is unique both in her “carriage and character” and her experience in the profession, Segress said.
“Prolific authors have the benefit, I believe,” Segress said, “because their readership base always has something to choose from.”
As a result, Daheim has sold millions of books. She hears from her readers every day and plans to keep writing, “until I drop dead, I suppose.”
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