Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Mary Zinda

American Gyspy Girl

I’d like to welcome Mary Zinda to talk with me today about her B.R.A.G. Medallion book, American Gypsy Girl. Mary writes from the beautiful Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin. She has been studying and practicing her craft for over a decade by attending conferences, critique groups, and writing classes. After learning many valuable lessons from other talented writers, Mary feels her novels are ready to see the light of day. Mary has a passion for all things old and forgotten and has a habit of pulling over to read roadside historical markers. She loves to (RV) camp with her husband, three sons, and various cousins and friends, and she would not be opposed to becoming an “RV gypsy” in her retirement. She is the author of the middle-grade historical fiction novel Lark of Yesteryear, its companion book Owen’s Journal, and her adult fiction novel The Making of Mathilda MacGregor. Her latest coming-of-age novel, American Gypsy Girl, is an Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.

You can visit Mary Zinda at her website

Mary, please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG?

I do a lot of research, some of which is keeping up with what other indie authors are doing, what they find helpful, and things to avoid. I came across an author’s blog post that mentioned IndieBRAG, but I was skeptical. Some of the awards for writers that I’ve seen have a large entry fee, and I never want to feel like I paid for a review or award, so I pass those up. But when I looked into IndieBRAG, I noticed the fee was small and thought, “What the heck! Might as well try it.” It was the first time I have ever thrown a novel in the ring anywhere, and I sure was surprised when it was chosen to be among the other fine indie novels they have selected.

I love the title for your book, American Gypsy Girl. Please tell me a little about your story?

This novel took me close to eight years to complete. I wrote about half of it, and when I didn’t know where it was going, I walked away and wrote two other books. When I came back to it, it was almost like it wrote itself. Charlene Bucher, the main character, was born to young parents who lived a very different way of life—living in an Airstream camper at campgrounds with a band of like-minded friends who love to party. All very non-conventional, dysfunctional, and downright difficult to rise above. The main idea came to me almost 25 years ago when I actually met and hung out with some people who lived very much like the Buchers in my story, though they were very hard-working and kind people and not at all dysfunctional partyers. Some reviewers have called it a “modern-day fairy-tale,” and I guess I have to agree. I do love a happy ending…

What is an example of the dysfunctional aspects that Charlene faces early on in her life? How does she struggle with that?

Without giving away too much, I will say that growing up in a 28-foot camper gives a young girl a disadvantage from the beginning. Charlene’s dad is a real renegade whose favorite pastime is drinking beers by the fire and avoiding the police at all costs. Her mother is an alcoholic who is rarely coherent and often needs to be tended to. Neither one of them pay too much attention to the young girl who shares their camper, which is why Charlene is on her own to find out what life and love is all about. Early on she meets up with people who steer her in the wrong direction, which leads to an unplanned pregnancy that complicates her already complicated life.

Please give me a little insight to Charlene’s strengths.

Charlene is one of those characters that I missed the minute I typed the final period. She is wise enough at a young age to recognize that the way they live is not normal and makes a promise to herself to find her own “normal” and strive to get there, even though she has no idea how to accomplish that. She has a heart of gold, but like many teens, she falls prey to “fitting in with the cool girls” and pays a price for it—which makes her very real (who hasn’t done something just to be “cool”?) What I love most about Charlene is she never abandons her parents, even if they deserve it. Her love for them is very forgiving, and I like to think that’s why she is able to rise above her upbringing.

Tell me a little about Delbert Littman.

Oh, how I love this man! Delbert is a retired Baptist minister who summers at the campground where Charlene and her family live. A lonely widower with an eye for spotting a lost soul in need, Delbert becomes a beacon of reason for Charlene. I love his fiery preacher ways when Charlene does something stupid and she needs a good “sermon.” Del also provides the love, attention, and fuss that every young girl needs to feel special (and who doesn’t love PB&J sandwiches cut into butterfly shapes?) Delbert is an awesome guy!

Your story takes place in Wisconsin and most of the book is set in the 80’s. Why did you choose the time and place for your book?

As an avid Wisconsin camper and lifetime resident, the setting was already implanted in my head. The location of River’s Edge Campground is also where I met the real-life “gypsies” I once knew, so it seemed I ought to stick with what I already knew. And as for the timeline, Charlene is born the same year I was—1969, so the 80s is when I was a teen bent on big hair, blue mascara, and had a crush on a new boy every eighteen seconds. I noticed that a lot of the horrible fashions from that time seemed to be popping up here and there, and my own teen boys have taken a liking to songs I’d rather forget about—Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, to name one—so I thought the young adult reader might enjoy reading about that time. And for those of us who lived through the 80s, it’s always fun to go back and visit.

Is there a message in your story you want readers to come away with?

I like to say that “Gypsy Girl” is a book about a young girl’s triumph over adversity, but I like to add that it’s a humorous tale and not to be taken too seriously. I wrote this book to entertain, to uplift the reader and introduce them to a way of life that few know exists. Really, the only thing I want them to walk away with is this: “Geez! I should laugh more often!” Laughter is, after all, the best medicine. And, of course, I hope to inspire someone to get out there and try some camping. You never know who you’ll meet at a campground!

Where do you like to write?

I can write from anywhere, as long as my muse is with me. I wrote the entire novel The Making of Mathilda MacGregor and a good share of American Gypsy Girl in notebooks while camping. The problem with that is retyping it into the computer later—a tedious experience! So now, I write on my laptop, and any old place will do. Couch. Bed. Camper. My favorite spot is in my gazebo on warm afternoons —before the mosquitoes come out to suck the creativity out of me.

What is your writing process?

When I’m working on a novel, I dedicate days to it, during which I don’t do much else. Once the ideas stop flowing, I take a break and do other things (like clean my house and cook), and that’s when the ideas come to me. Writing takes a lot of time, and my mind has to be submersed in it fully when putting it to page, so I am the sort who is either writing, thinking about writing, or feeling guilty for not writing. I will say that I need two things to make anything at all, good or lousy, come out of my fingertips: coffee and music that goes with the theme of what I am working on. I wrote American Gypsy Girl while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Greatest Hits album.

Who designed your book cover?

My very talented brother, Dan Petry of Design Cellar Creative, designed the cover for American Gypsy Girl. I am one of those authors lucky enough to have a graphic designer right there in my family tree! He sure did a beautiful job with this cover, too. I gave him the meager directive that I wanted an Airstream and the American flag on the cover, and what he produced was nothing I could have ever dreamt up! I can only dream up words, the rest I leave to the pros.

What are you working on next?

Just answering this question makes me smile. Fans of American Gypsy Girl will be pleased to learn that there is another (but different) American girl in the works. I am ten chapters into American Rebel Girl, the story of Elsie Hammond, a trouble-making teen sent off to Wilderness Therapy for the summer. This book is also set in the 80s because who doesn’t love reading about big hair and big trouble at the same time?

Do you stick with just genre?

For now, I am sticking with the humorous fiction genre that American Gypsy Girl fits into because I feel most comfortable in it. That’s not to say I will never write anything different. My previous book, The Making of Mathilda MacGregor is serious fiction that tackles the heavy subject of losing a parent to cancer. Lark of Yesteryear, my middle-grade historical fiction book, is a ghost story surrounding the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. I don’t think I want to limit myself to one genre or another, but I’m smart enough to know that an author should stick to what is selling and give the readers what they want. However, having the freedom to write what you want is part of the joy of being an indie author, and I can promise you that I’m not done writing ghost stories!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Mary Zinda who is the author of, American Gypsy Girl our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, American Gypsy Girl, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


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