Palm Beach author Mary Simses, known for her heartwarming stories about families and all their quirks and imperfections, has tackled sibling rivalry in her newest novel, The Wedding Thief, releasing July 7, 2020 from Little, Brown and Company. Named a Costco “Pennie’s Pick” for July, The Wedding Thief tracks a love triangle between the Harrington sisters, Sara and Mariel, and Carter Pryce. Mariel, who stole Carter from Sara, is about to marry him. Guess who plans to sabotage the wedding?
Originally from Darien, Connecticut, Simses started her career in magazine publishing and later went to law school. While working as a corporate attorney, she took a fiction writing class for fun and discovered a new passion. After writing a number of short stories, some of which were published in literary magazines, she began work on a novel that ultimately became The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, published in 2013, also by Little, Brown.
A launch party with wedding cake, Champagne, and a book signing will take place on Tuesday, July 7, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Classic Bookshop in Palm Beach. PBI caught up with Simses ahead of the launch to chat about inspirations, the creative process, and writing without fear.
You’re a lawyer by profession. How did writing become part of your life?
I always wrote as a child. I’d write little stories and sometimes I’d draw pictures to go with them. In college I thought I should do something “practical” with my writing though, and I decided on journalism. I never considered the idea that I could be a fiction writer or write a book of any kind.
The Wedding Thief takes place in your native Connecticut, as does your novel The Rules of Love and Grammar. Why is it important to you to write about that part of the world?
I’m just so intimately familiar with it. My husband and I both grew up there and still have a home in Fairfield. It seemed easier for me to write about Connecticut and New England while living in Florida. Living here, I miss being there and I want to write about it. It’s a way for me to stay connected.
Now that you live in Palm Beach, will you set a book in South Florida?
Well, that’s not out of the realm of possibility. That’s all I’ll say!
I saw on your blog that The Wedding Thief came together differently than you’d originally envisioned. What was the book you were planning to write?
One of the things I had trouble with, or wasn’t dealing with, was a serious enough conflict with the sisters. My original idea was that Sara would be in love with Carter, the man her younger sister is about to marry, but that Carter’s feelings for Sara would have always been platonic— an unrequited love situation. As I got into it, I noticed I was losing a lot of heat by missing the opportunity of having two sisters have a romantic relationship with the same guy. When I realized that had to be part of it, it became easier to write.
Did that end up becoming a lesson on writing without fear?
Yeah, I think so. I’ve done the same thing in other situations as well. There’s always something gnawing at me, telling me this isn’t quite working. Or, it’s an idea in the back of my mind but I keep saying “Oh no, I can’t go there.” But that in itself is a good lesson. When that little voice is saying “I’m not sure about that,” that’s when you should go for it.
You’re also a serious amateur photographer. How does your photography influence your writing, and vice versa?
I don’t know if it helps me as a writer, or if I’m a visual writer anyway, but I visualize as I write. I think there’s a huge relationship between the two mediums. I’ll use photos to inspire me or give me a foundation for something. For The Wedding Thief, I have photos of everything in the book: Mariel’s wedding gown, the covered bridge, the police station. Whether it’s my photos or photos I find, it gives me a basis to work from.
Part of Simses’ creative process is to take photos that can serve as inspiration for her novels. These images of downtown Litchfield, CT (above, left) and the Fairfield, CT farmers market (above, right) inspired scenes in The Wedding Thief.
James Patterson has blurbed all your books. Tell me about your relationship to him.
Our kids went to school together for many years at Palm Beach Day [Academy in Palm Beach]. I had met Jim at birthday parties, and [his wife] Sue and I had worked together on many things for the school. One day I mentioned to her I was writing a novel, and told her what it was about, and she said she’d read a draft, if I wanted. A couple of weeks later I dropped off a copy and she read it, and then gave it to Jim. He called and said he wanted to talk to me about it. I felt like I was going to see the Oracle of Delphi! He gave me some really good tips plotwise and said he’d take it to his publisher [Little, Brown] after I made the changes. He did, and I ultimately got an offer. He’s amazing. As busy a guy as he is, he still took the time to do all that. I’m very, very grateful.
Your debut novel, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, was adapted for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. What was that experience like?
It was a great experience. I didn’t have much input because at the time I made the deal to do it, it was really [actress/producer] Alison Sweeney’s project. She wanted to star in it and exec-produce it. But I was happy with what they did with it. I got to spend two days on the set in Vancouver and watch these people I dreamed up with famous actors playing the part. It was surreal—in a really good way.
I read somewhere that you’re a really bad dancer. What other little-known quirks should we know about you?
I have a terrible sweet tooth. And I’m a frustrated actor! I’d love to try acting, even in community theater. It my dream.