Interview with author Debra Mares

Debra_scaled upI met Debra a few years back when we were both enrolled in the UCLA Extension Writers Workshop. I have enjoyed watching her progress, and I admit it, love the fact that the two of us have actually PUBLISHED following the great training. I am actually searching out other members of the class to see what they are up to . . . in the meantime, here is my interview with Debra.

Tell us about yourself.

Since 2004, I have been a county prosecutor in Riverside, California. You name it – I’ve prosecuted it – homicides, gang murders, domestic violence, sex cases, political corruption, major fraud and parole hearings for convicted murderers. I am  also the co-founder and Executive Director of Women Wonder Writers, a life-skills and mentorship organization targeting at-risk youth and their families.

What inspired you to start writing?

After I started prosecuting homicides, writing gave me the outlet I needed to deal with the emotions stemming from the cases.  There was one case in particular, a DUI homicide trial, where the victims were particularly young; Molly was 18 and Nicole was 19.  Listening to the accounts of neighbors who tried rescuing Molly and Nicole who were pinned inside a truck and their parents who received news of their deaths from the deputy coroner was a lot to process.  I learned firsthand how bad things can happen to good people.  This case inspired me to give victims and their families closure through my writing.  Over the next couple years, I participated in writing workshops practicing my craft.  In 2012, I released my first novel The Mamacita Murders, featuring Prosecutor Gaby Ruiz who searches for closure in her own mother’s death at the hands of her abusive stepfather.

My most recent release, The Suburban Seducción also was an outlet.  While writing the novel, I had been spending the year handling prison parole hearings for convicted murderers.  Listening to the first-hand accounts from these murderers, understanding what lead them to kill, and hearing about their unresolved issues from childhood, I was inspired to write this novel.  Main character, killer Lloyd Gil, harbors a rage dating back to childhood that he begins to understand as the novel and the investigation of two  murders in his neighborhood unfold.

I know that your career influenced a lot of your stories, but what else has influenced the way you tell a story?

I once heard that as writers, we tell the same story over and over again in different ways throughout our books.  I didn’t fully appreciate this until completing my second novel; like my first novel, the driving force is for the lead character to gain closure and stop the cycle of violence.  The supporting characters help in this process.  Essentially, it’s the story of my family and my life.  Having grown up in an alcoholic and abusive home, it has become my mission to break the cycle of violence.  Also, my real-life friends and colleagues in Women Wonder Writers, a nonprofit organization I co-founded in 2011, largely influenced my first novel, The Mamacita Murders.  My challenge as a writer now is to keep the readers entertained through dynamic characters, storytelling, and nonstop thrill.  Through the help of literary agents, writing coaches and teachers, fellow authors, colleagues in the criminal justice system, friends, family and Women Wonder Writers, I have been able to craft stories that will entertain my readers.TMM_Cover_PPRBACK 5-1-1.5 X 8.25

How do you approach the art of writing?

I write in different places with different schedules depending on the stage of the book.  In its initial phase when I’m outlining the entire story, doing character sketches, and beginning the first draft, I write in the mornings, at home, everyday, without exception.  Once I have the flow down, know where the story is going, and understand the characters, I typically move my writing to spaces with noise, like coffee shops, restaurants, or hotel lobbies.  Writing is very isolating for me, so usually by the time the story is well underway, I need some background buzz, music, and people to keep me energized.  When I’m in the final copyediting phase and doing those re-reads, I usually return back to the quiet of my home to focus on inaccuracies, typos, or other things out of place.  I wouldn’t be able to complete a book when I’m writing on a whim or at-will; I work better under deadlines, even if they are artificial ones I create for myself.  Often, I’ll enter short story and novel competitions because they have deadlines and keep me accountable.

What do you read for pleasure? Growth? Latest recommend? Favorite author?

I enjoy legal thrillers, self-help books, books on the nonprofit world or social entrepreneurship, books that empower women and youth, true stories of resilience, and fiction with love twists.  Some of my favorite authors include Gillian Flynn, Scott Turow, William Landay, Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dave Pelzer, and James Patterson.  I recently finished Gone Girl and am excited about its upcoming adaptation to film.  I’m going to reread The Long Walk, written by one of my favorite people I knew personally, Ruth Treeson, a Holocaust Survivor who recently passed away.  Her novel accounts her real life story of survival from World War II and the Nazi concentration camps.  She inspired so many young women from my nonprofit organization, Women Wonder Writers, and I love real life stories of resilience like that.

Your books seem to follow the golden rule – you write about what you know. Is your life as county prosecutor as adventurous as the characters lives? Do you have a favorite scene or excerpt to share with the blog readers? What are you working on now?

I love my job as a prosecutor.  There is never a dull day and I’d have to say yes, real life work as a prosecutor is sometimes as or even more adventurous as the characters’ lives in my books.  There is a thrill of showing up to a crime scene and watching some of the best detectives investigate a homicide and follow clues to a suspect.

Right now, I’m working on marketing The Suburban Seducción.  I am about to begin writing Book 2 of The Mamacita Murders, which I’m very excited to return to.  I’ve missed those characters and am excited to see what they are up to and what new adventures they will have, especially in Gaby Ruiz’ love life.

One of my favorite characters in The Suburban Seducción is Lloyd’s high profile defense attorney Richard Hill, who is also his estranged step-brother.  This excerpt is from a scene in Richard’s home office where Richard and his firm partner are confronting Lloyd about the murders:


JPEG The Suburban Seduccion in Goldenrod“Lloyd, what are you doing with all your spare time right now, or your ‘life’ as you say, that is causing it to feel upside down?” asks Richard suspiciously.

“That’s none of your business,” snaps back Lloyd.

“No, Lloyd, you’re wrong.  It is my business, don’t you understand?” says Richard.

Lloyd glares at Richard.

“Now that we’re having this discussion, let me ask you a couple things.  I’d like us to think about what is going on in someone, mentally, that might lead them to kill innocent women; good-looking, pregnant, suburban housewives?” asks Richard.

Richard’s partner stays quiet as Lloyd studies his face, noticing his high cheek bones glistening in the light.

Lloyd doesn’t respond.

“Never mind.  Don’t answer that, especially if it’s gonna take you this long.  We’ll let the psychiatrist answer that during trial,” says Richard.

“That’s one thing we’re gonna need to work on—the way you answer questions.  You look like a deer in headlights.  You need to articulate responses for any question that’s going to be thrown at you, Lloyd.  Do you understand?” asks Richard, frustrated.

Lloyd stays quiet.

“Answer this, Lloyd,” says Richard.  “Why were you searching the depth of Canyon Base Lake from your computer?  Why is Marty Kaplan saying that’s the smoking gun?” questions Richard, with concern.

“Why, Lloyd?  Why?  That’s the trick question.  And what you need to know is that Richard is just doing this to prepare you for the obvious questions that are going to be brought up at trial.  The jury will need explanations to things like this.  Richard’s right.  So, listen to him,” says the partner.

“Come up with something, anything, to every question you can think of.  I don’t have all the answers.  That’s the whole point of this exercise.  And when you’re answering me, make it seem like it’s coming from the heart.  Fake it if you have to.  I don’t want you to have any surprises.  It’s a long way from here—trial—but this is the start.  Every time we meet, I wanna see that you’ve made further progress in coming to terms with it all.  There’s no reason you can’t,” says Richard.

Any upcoming events?

The Suburban Seducción is now available on Amazon in Kindle and in paperback.  I’m in the midst of securing dates for book signings/readings in 2014 in both Orange County and Riverside County.  Check out for upcoming events.

 Final words of wisdom?

Everyone has a story within them burning to be told and I love when people have the courage to craft and share them.  Hearing stories can teach us lessons, entertain us and even release endorphins that make us healthy and happy.  When told well, stories are amazing gifts.  So keep reading, keep writing, and keep sharing stories for generations to come.

 You do a lot of work with young women in the community – please share the latest.

I work daily with young women on The Youth Accountability Team, a collaborative intervention and prevention County program where I mentor them and visit them at home and school.  I also currently teach The Write of Your Life, a 10-week after school program where I teach self-expression, empathy and tolerance through writing, arts and public speaking.  For the first time, I started coaching high school mock trial this year in Orange County, where our team just made it to playoffs.  Fingers crossed!

Thank you Debra!

Be sure to visit Debra’s links below:

Twitter: @DebraMares

 Book Trailer The Suburban Seduccion

Book Trailer: The Mamacita Murders


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