Mary 'Bailey Bristol' Schwaner

Coloratura Soprano, Artistic Director, Computer Guru, Author 

Mary SchwanerGranddaughter of a concert violinist, Mary began her musical career in elementary school with the family string quartet, but gave up the violin to study opera at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. There, she performed many leading roles for the School of Music's opera department before completing her Master’s Degree in 1971.  

Mary devoted much time in the past thirty years to performing, directing and promoting musical endeavours throughout Alabama, California and Nebraska. She spent four years as founder and Artistic Director of the Young People’s Pocket Opera in Alabama. A move to California resulted in four years as founder and Artistic Director of the Lake Forest Showboaters, a community theatre company in Mission Viejo.

Indulging her special interest in building audiences for the opera, Mary composed an opera for second graders called The Koala Bear Opera, a musical reading of James and the Giant Peach and has produced more than a dozen Summer Stage Magic music theatre workshops for children. Most recently, she appeared in her comic diva routine as Madame Goldentrill with world-renowned tenor, George Dyer. 

In Mary’s 'other life,' she is a computer tech support specialist and has worked as a Web developer for the Nebraska Legislature, for a major Omaha architectural-engineering firm, for The National Arbor Day Foundation, and as Director of Web and Media Arts for a local mega-church. 

In her retirement she is the owner of Prairie Muse Publishing and makes it possible for other authors to experience the joy of seeing their work published. She exercises her graphic arts skills by creating video book trailers and memorial videos. Her book cover design services are much sought after.  

the-devils-dimeWriting as Bailey Bristol, Mary has published two novels, both set in America in the 1890's. She debuted as an author with Love Will Follow and continued with book one in her Samaritan Files Trilogy, The Devil's Dime. Book two, The Gilded Cage, will be released in May 2012. She is a writer of historical romantic suspense. 

Mary's enduring motto has graced her refrigerator for many years: "May you have the vision and the voice to find new songs to sing." 


The Interview 

What inspired you to write The Devil's Dime 

Mary: I’ve always been moved and motivated by historic women of consequence, primarily due to my grandmother’s significance in my life. As a young woman at the turn of the century, she traveled by herself from America to Vienna to study violin. After three years’ study, she returned to the U.S. and concertized for ten years. She was a magnificent character and I intended to write her story. I had ninety letters she’d written during her time abroad, and with extensive research, I felt ready to write. And then the scenes began to pop into my head, scenes of daring, risky things that she might have undertaken (knowing her as I did, they didn’t seem so farfetched!). Images of young men captivated by her beauty and her ethereal talent seemed to dominate my thoughts. While some of these were alluded to in her letters, they were fast becoming pure fiction as they materialized in my mind. I knew it was just wrong to fictionalize her life, which was so exciting in its own right, so I put her story aside and began to write a novel, centering around a heroine who could have been my grandmother’s spunky twin. And with the mere opening lines, I was hooked.  

How did you come up with the title? 

Mary: After writing seven novels, and experiencing a wonderful literary agent who couldn’t sell my stories because they "fell between the genre lines," I hit on the idea for The Devil's Dime. But originally I called it The Samaritan Files because it all started when an investigative reporter tried to find out the identity of a good Samaritan who saved twenty girls from a violent street criminal twenty years earlier. I crafted a hero (investigative reporter Jess Pepper) who was just the kind of fellow to whom my grandmother would have been drawn. The heroine? Yes, you’ve guessed it: a young violinist just making her way in the big city with her outrageous women’s orchestra. I finished the book and was ready to publish when I realized I wasn’t done with the characters. They had more stories to tell! So I decided to turn it into a trilogy called The Samaritan Files. I titled book one The Devil's Dime because the story is riddled with corruption at a time in New York City’s history when half the population lived on the 'take'—on the “Devil’s dime.” 

Did you encounter any challenges in the writing process?   

Mary: Yes, I actually experienced a three-year hiatus from writing. When my agent was unable to sell my books, I admit to some disillusionment. The editors (according to her) loved my stories, but they fell between genre lines—not 100% romance because I don’t go into 'bedroom' scenes (with the exception of one book). I strove to build a relationship and sensual tension that left no doubt where the two leading characters would end up, but I just didn't follow them there. Hence, not a romance, but an historical suspense with strong romantic strains, because they spent just the right amount of time in one another’s arms. A tough sell to an editor looking for traditional romance, I gathered. At that time, my only choice was to change my stories to follow genre lines. But just then I was offered a job that I felt I wanted and needed to undertake, and withdrew from my writing. In those three years, independent publishing found its sea legs, and when I made the decision to return to my writing, because I was miserable without it, a new venue for launching my stories was primed and waiting for me. And I didn’t have to change my stories! 

What has the response been to this book?    

Mary: The Devil's Dime has received eight five-star and one four-star review on Amazon.com, and has a four-star average on Goodreads.com after sixteen ratings. But the response is much slower than the response to my first book, Love Will Follow. It may be the title, which I’ve considered changing, since some folks may not look past the word 'devil' to check it out. It may also be the American setting, which is slower to sell than an English or more exotic setting. Don’t know. It could be that folks wait for all three books of a trilogy to come out before they buy. Or it could be that Amazon’s new policies have turned the book business on its ear and made it harder for a new book to remain visible. ’Tis a quandary. But I take comfort in the fact that those who actually read it have gone out of their way to respond favourably to the book, so I will let it stand and see what the universe has in store for it!  

What has been the most exciting part of your publishing experience?     

Mary: Being contacted out of the blue by a reader is exhilarating. Love it! The idea of my story in the hands of readers halfway around the world is thrilling. Then, too, daily watching sales tick up can be the most exciting, and at the same time the most nerve wracking, element of the whole business. You know how some folks have a medical condition where looking at a strobe or blinking light can set off an epileptic seizure? Well, I’ve discovered that watching your sales numbers can do the same thing! Seriously, though, when they tick off to the tune of several hundred an hour, you’re in a state of euphoria that makes it tough to write. After all, who can type when dancing around the room? Then, when they tick off to the tune of ten or twelve a day, you’re in the dumps. Who can type when sobbing into a hanky? (Just kidding—mostly—about the dancing and sobbing!) So I’ve learned that even though it’s an exciting part of the publishing experience, I must stop watching my sales. My next book depends upon it. And really, truth be told, the most exciting part of the publishing experience for me is starting that next book! 

Any words of wisdom for first-time authors?  

Mary: They say "write what you know."And that’s true! But it doesn’t mean if you’re a medical technician, write medical stories, and if you’re a car mechanic, write for gearheads. It means, write about things that you understand on a visceral level, things for which you can describe in words the pain, the joy, the sheer whimsy and do it in a way that the reader can truly envision. Do this and your stories will leap with vigour from the page.  

I will also impart to you a piece of wisdom that was imparted to me: write and publish your first book but don’t worry about promoting it. Write and publish your second book and still don’t focus on promotion. Write and publish your third book. NOW you can promote. Because nobody wants to fall in love with an author and find out he or she is a one-book wonder and they’ll have to wait a year if not more before they can read anything of his/hers ever again. And with that, I’ll get back to preparing my third book for publication, because that’s the bottom line. Write, write, write! Dreams don’t make a book. Only words on the page make a book! 

 

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