Friday, June 24, 2022



I want to thank MS Spencer for taking the time for this interview!


Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents, she spent thirty years in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, policy wonk, non-profit director, and parent. After many years in academia, she worked for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in both public and academic library systems, and at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia. 

She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, a diploma in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo, and Masters in Anthropology and in Library Science from the University of Chicago.  All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.

Ms. Spencer has published fifteen romantic suspense or mystery novels. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She now divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.

When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

From the time I could hold a piece of chalk in my stubby 5-year-old fingers. I have an urge, a need—a feature of my personality I guess—that requires that I write. Like kryptonite (see below) only in reverse. I’m drawn to the page.

Did you have any influencing writers growing up?

I read anything and everything. If a book was called a classic, I’d snap it up, figuring it was a classic for a reason. 

My favorites were the English romantic writers like the Brontës and Thomas Hardy, although Jane Austen tops the list as far as influence goes.


Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

Not really, although many characters have backgrounds or quirks that resemble real people (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent).


Where do you draw your book inspirations from?

I usually start with a setting. Some of my books are set in Florida; others in Maine or DC. 

The setting of The Pit & the Passion: Murder at the Ghost Hotel, is the ruins of a luxury hotel begun by John Ringling of circus fame in the 20s. Called the Ghost Hotel by locals, it was a perfect place for my heroine to find a ghost! 

Mrs. Spinney’s Secret is set in a small town in coastal Maine—and arose after I read about a naval disaster there in the Revolutionary War. Naturally the British left a treasure in gold when they left which our heroes search for😊.


Do you use have a basic outline when starting a new story or do you let the characters lead the way?

VERY basic outline, from which I create a first draft of about 30,000 words. Then I flesh it out to a full-length novel over a series of drafts.


When you are picturing the characters in your book, do you have a cheater photo for inspiration?

No—I never thought of that. 

I relate the hero/heroine’s features to their personality (a clever professional woman will have short hair e.g.). 

I also keep a file of descriptions of my main characters, to ensure that everyone isn’t raven-haired and blue-eyed.


Many people read as a form of escape and relaxation.  What is your favorite way to sit back and relax?

I love to read or watch adventure movies, swim and kayak.


Who are your favorite current authors to read?

Confession: I love thrillers. I’m reading a lot of Lincoln & Child and James Rollins. Those, and classic English mysteries.


What are your favorite books by others?

Too many to list!


Do the locations in the stories have any meaning to you?

They are always places I’ve lived or traveled in. 

Orion’s Foot is set in the Peruvian Amazon, where I went with my son on a thrilling expedition. 

I try to have the characters pass through Paris at least once a book.


Do you write in single or multiple POV?

Single. Unless you’re super careful head-hopping can be very confusing to the reader.


What do you find to be your best research tool?

The internet! I have a large library of reference works as well (I was a librarian in another life).


Do you write under a pen name?  Also, do you write under more than one name?

M. S. Spencer is a pen name.


What genre do you write and why is this your preference?

I started out with romantic suspense—so spicy that my family refused to read them. 

But dead bodies kept showing up in the story, so I finally gave in and went with cozy puzzle mysteries.


Tell me something about yourself outside of writing.  Jobs, accomplishments, family, quirky trait...what led to you being you?

When I was growing up, we lived abroad for many years. Even through graduate school I roved around a lot. So my education was very eclectic. That meant I didn’t really fit in with more sedentary people, and also that I was happy in my own company. 

Oddities: I have studied at least 8 languages (I’m probably forgetting one) and I have 3 graduate degrees in Arabic, Anthropology, and Library Science. When I ended my career as perpetual student, I landed a job as assistant in a US Senate committee and witnessed history in the making.


What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Edit, edit, edit, edit. Then polish, polish, polish. And don’t forget to submit!


How do you deal and process negative book reviews?

I’ve never gotten a nasty review. Inevitably some readers prefer a different style, or less humor, or less complicated plots (my stories have lots of red herrings and strawmen), which is fine. I try to learn from every comment.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Probably the first 3 chapters of the first draft. I’m feeling my way as to plot and characters and it seems to take forever. It’s much easier to work with words already on paper.

What do you need in your writer’s space to keep you focused?

I have a separate study. I do not work anywhere but there.

What is your naughty indulgence as you are writing?

Surfing the news sites—I’m a news junkie.

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?  And why?

If he were alive, I’d spend it with Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I like to laugh!

What is your schedule like when you are writing?  Do you have a favorite writing snack or drink?

I usually sit down to write about 9:30 am and go to 1:00 pm (with breaks for web surfing and peeing). I come back to writing between 4 and 4:30 and write till 6:00.

Do you listen to music when you write – what kind of music is your favorite?

I’m afraid I can’t multitask. I like it quiet as the tomb. In fact, I get so absorbed that someone can come into the room & I won’t know they’re there.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

Pets never get in the way! Sadly, I have no pets at present. I miss my cats and dogs and hamsters, and even Phoebe the snake.

What is your kryptonite as a writer?  What totally puts you off your game?

An uncomfortable chair.

Have you ever killed off a character that your readers loved?

My victims are generally people who deserved it. If they didn’t, then I try to kill them off early on before the reader gets attached.

How do you celebrate after typing THE END?

Since it’s never really finished (definition of when your book is finished: when your editor pries it out of your clinging hands), I hardly ever get to celebrate. As a result, I have about 5 bottles of champagne in the refrigerator.


I hope you enjoyed this interview!

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