Friday, August 21, 2020

Today in the Loft: Author M. S. Spencer!

Joining me today in The Loft is M. S. Spencer. The author of 13 cozy mysteries and novels of romantic suspense, M. S. has lived or traveled on five continents, but spent the last 30 years in Washington, D.C. She has worked in academia, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and various public and private library systems. Now retired, the mother of two and proud grandmother of one, devotes her time to writing, her family, kayacking, and birdwatching. M. S. currently resides in Maine and Florida.

Author M.S. Spencer

S:  Good morning, M. S. Thanks so much for joining me today!  

What's your favorite thing about writing romance?

M. S.:  That’s easy—the happy ending. When I was young, I sought out tragic, dark stories and movies. Like most youth, I wanted—needed—some vicarious experience of pain and grief. Thomas Mann, Evenly Waugh, the Bront√ęs, provided me with emotions I hadn’t experienced myself. As I grew older and actually did suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I no longer needed the outside stimulus. I turned to books that would make me laugh and feel good. Books that made me forget my own life and just enjoy someone else’s happiness. Writing romance myself allows me to ensure that outcome.

S:  What was your worst date ever?

M. S.:  After my husband died and I moved to Florida, I thought I’d try an online dating service. Oh, the stories I could tell! One date never happened at all. An hour before I was to meet him, he emailed that he’d found the love of his life and wanted me to be happy for him. Another fellow turned out to have a history of swinging, which left me wondering just how healthy he was. He dumped me for my political views, which I considered really funny.

S:  (Smiles.) Not every man is a night in shining armor. I keep asking myself, "Where are the flowers? The chocolates? The consummate gentlemen?"

Do you write full or part-time? 

M. S.:  You could call it full-time in the sense that at disparate times of the day I will write for an hour or so. I don’t think I’m unusual in that I take a lot of breaks when I’m writing. Lucky for me I’m retired and can follow my own schedule, which I’m much more comfortable with. Still, I probably put in a good six to eight hours a day of thinking, writing, and editing.

S:  Did you undergo any sort of educational or other preparation to become a writer?

M. S.:  Ho boy, more than you’d expect. Not book learning or school--my degrees are in Anthropology and Library Science--but in life. That has been an adventure. From my first flight at the age of four across the world to Turkey  to my latest trip to the Peruvian Amazon, I’ve been very lucky. I sailed the Queen Mary across the Atlantic to France, and rode a stallion under the stub of the Sphinx’s nose in the Egyptian desert. I lived on or traveled five of the seven continents, and attended four of the best schools in the country. I worked on Capitol Hill, helping to shape energy and natural resources legislation. I wrote speeches for Senators and stood in the Rose Garden when Margaret Thatcher came to visit. I toured the great dams of the West--even the tunnels under the Hoover Dam. But it was a casual question from my son that set me on the path to writing—“So, Mom, what have you done with it all?”

S:  (Nods.) I think our life experiences shape us as writers. I know my adventures as a lawyer and journalist weave their way into my stories. They are too hard to ignore.

What is your writing process?

M. S.:  I usually start with a setting. For example, my current WIP is set in St. Augustine, Florida. My father lived there, on the oldest street, for many years, and I would visit when I had the chance. It’s a fascinating city with incredible history. For Orion’s Foot, I used my experience in the Amazon as a backdrop. My second step is to find an intriguing fact or event to build the story on. In the case of The Mason’s Mark, I rooted it on the true story of a renegade mason and charlatan. In "Mrs. Spinney’s Secret," my upcoming release, I used the production of a movie in my little village in Maine as a backdrop for treasure hunting and murder. Third, I plunge in, writing up to the third chapter. By then, my characters are forming. Once their outlines are set, the plot begins to write itself. I may go through 10-12 drafts after that. Since most of my books are murder mysteries, it’s important to memorize the story, otherwise I may miss inconsistencies or glitches.

S:  Why did you write "Orion's Foot?" What was your inspiration?

M. S.:  My son went to Peru during his junior year in college, and I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t get to travel much anymore, when a friend remarked, “Well, why don’t you go visit him?” So I hopped a plane and 11 hours later he met me at the Lima airport. Just like Petra Steele, my heroine in "Orion’s Foot," we had a whirlwind tour of Lima, the capital city, a flight to Iquitos, a city set in the midst of winding waterways and dense jungle, and a boat ride deeper into that jungle. Like Petra, I was greeted by a menagerie of exotic creatures, including capybaras, tapirs, pink dolphins, and monkeys—hundreds of monkeys. It was a great adventure. I couldn’t wait to turn it into a story.

S:  Is there anything about this book that makes it special to you? To readers?

M. S.:  The trip to Peru with my son was one of the most memorable I’d ever taken, and I had traveled and lived in countries across the globe, from Egypt to France to Morocco to Turkey. I was used to historic sites and colorful sights, but I’d never plunged into such an incredibly exotic environment. The array of birds, animals, fish—and even a tarantula at my door-- was awesome. It was rendered even more special by having my son as a companion. According to reviews, readers really enjoy the rainforest setting, not to mention the array of rare and dangerous creatures, in the midst of which a very unexpected romance blooms.

S:  The Amazon is such a colorful, mysterious setting for a book. Tell me more about "Orion's Foot."

M. S.:  The book combines myth, mystery, and romance. Here's the blurb--

Petra Steele is wallowing in self-pity after being dumped at the altar, when her brother Nick invites her to come to the Peruvian Amazon. Before she even sets her suitcase down, she's confronted with a murder victim. Mystery piles on mystery in a research station peopled with a quirky assortment of scientists. She is drawn to Emory Andrews, the ornithologist, a gruff, big man with a secret past, until his beautiful ex-wife shows up. More murders, more secrets, more mysteries ensue, all in the deeply romantic, sizzling jungle.

S:  I love a good mystery! Where can readers buy your book?

M. S.:  It's available at all major booksellers, including--

S:  M. S., thanks so much for joining me today! If you'd like to learn more about M. S. and her books, please visit--


  1. Thank you so much for letting me teeter on the ledge! I hope your readers enjoy the interview and look for the book.

  2. What an interview and what a life! I loved reading about you--now, to your book...

  3. Oh please let me know if you like the book!