Many have tried to capture the essence of the Silicon Valley in movies, TV shows and books.
However, author and former Los Altos resident Mary Feliz said these stories focus on the lives of the Silicon sultans and not the majority of those living here – average Americans. Feliz has set her series of Maggie McDonald murder mystery books in Silicon Valley – specifically in and around Los Altos – but the characters are “ordinary people here or who are extraordinary in their own way,” she said.
Her most recent book, “Maggie McDonald: Disorderly Conduct,” is slated to be released by Lyrical Underground Tuesday. It’s the fourth book in the series, which also includes “Maggie McDonald: Address to Die For” (July 2016), “Maggie McDonald: Scheduled to Death” (January 2017) and “Maggie McDonald: Dead Storage” (July 2017). The final two novels in the series are set to be published within the year.
Feliz said her favorite genre is mystery, citing the “age-old battle between good and evil” as the main reason.
Her series follows Maggie McDonald – new to Orchard View (a fictional town based on Los Altos) – as she works with members of the community to solve crimes plaguing the town.
“I really like that in the old-fashioned, traditional mysteries, there’s a community that’s solid, and when something goes wrong, the people work together to bring it back to normal,” said Feliz, who recently moved to Watsonville after 20 years living in Los Altos. “There’s this tension (that), yes, this is a great little community, but anything can go wrong at any time.”
Feliz credits her outsider perspective as a reason for her ability to appreciate the area.
“Los Altos and Mountain View really fit that concept of an imaginary idyllic town,” she said. “When you read in the Town Crier that we have to preserve our ‘village’ atmosphere ... it seems people have built a fantasy world around that. I think there’s a lot boiling under the surface.”
Motivation and inspiration
One particular moment in the area’s history stood out to Feliz and served as one of her main motivators.
“At the time I was writing this, the Bullis Charter School debate was going hot and heavy, and people were writing (and) basically vilifying anybody who didn’t agree with them,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘What if what people said about the opposition, they really believed and put into action?’ It ended up branching off from that, but that was the idea.”
Another specific aspect of Los Altos that inspired Feliz’s books is the sense of community and passion she has noticed among its residents.
“I think one of the hallmarks of Los Altos is that people care about the schools, they care about where they live, they care about traffic ... and they care more than any other community I’ve ever lived in,” she said.
Feliz said her favorite aspect of her books is how her characters’ traits are revealed through their treatment of the animals they encounter. The importance of dogs is evident on her books’ covers – all feature a golden retriever.
“In the same way how what someone wears, or what car they choose to drive, or what home they live in, I think what kind of animal they have, and how they live with that animal, says a lot about them,” she said.
However, Feliz wouldn’t refer to her series as “dog books,” stressing that there are many other important aspects of her books and characters. She said she created her protagonist, Maggie McDonald, because she had grown tired of “dizzy heroines in high heels” and wanted to write her main character with “more depth and broader interests.”
According to Feliz, the best things about being a writer are when someone tells her they love her book, and that “magical feeling” she gets when the story comes together.
“There’s a moment in the writing … where I think, ‘This is just awful, nothing is going to come together, I’m not a writer, my other books were flukes,’” Feliz said. “Then, all of a sudden it starts to come together, and the characters start to jell and I really have a solid idea of where we’re going from here on out.”
Feliz noted that her family supported her throughout the entire writing process and provided her the time she needed to write the books.
“My kids and my husband never once doubted that I would publish a book,” she said. “I kind of feel like we all wrote the books together.”
Feliz is also a member of several writers groups, which she said has enabled her to grow as a writer and provided her with a support system outside family.
Although Feliz said she did a lot of writing in her previous job at a money-market firm, she never considered herself a natural writer. Prior to beginning her first book, she took several online classes through local community colleges to become accustomed to fiction writing.
Feliz’s books are available at Books Inc. in Mountain View. To order them online, visit amazon.com and type “Mary Feliz” in the search bar.