GERRI BOWEN with guest, Polly McCrillis, aka Isabel Mere.

A little bit about my guest today.

Polly writes contemporary romances using her real name, Polly McCrillis, and historical romances her penname, Isabel Mere. She is the author of the Almost series, all historical romances. She has short stories in several Highland Press annual holiday anthologies and Detours, an anthology of holiday stories. Next year, Charades, the first in a new contemporary romance series, Games People Play, will be released. She lives in southwest Missouri.

 What led you to write your first novel?

I’d written short stories and poetry since forever but really wanted to write a book. The problem was I couldn’t figure out how to shape a plot idea and characters into a full length novel. Then came spring break, my daughter’s junior year in high school, St. Augustine, Florida. I’m the Mom on Duty at a condo with eight, sixteen-year-old girls who spend their time frolicking on the beach which left me with beaucoup time on my hands and opportunity to get serious about this book writing business. Using the advice, “write what you know”, I chose New Orleans as the setting (city of my college alma mater) and a street musician and children’s cardiologist as professions. I’m a pianist and had recently obtained a cardiopulmonary technician degree so I figured I could talk the talk. Words led to sentences to paragraphs to chapters until I completed Water Music by the end of that summer.

 Do you have a particular writing schedule?

Until I opened a secondhand bookshop (Bookmarks, LLC), three years ago I handled my writing schedule as I would any out-of-the-house job. I kept specific hours and wrote every day of the week. Now I spend Wednesdays through Saturdays at my shop so I’ve had to cut back on those hours but still write every day and go as long as I can on Mondays and Tuesdays.

This is Bookmarks, LLC, to the left.

Is there a routine you follow when you write?

Before I sit at my desk my house has to be clean, laundry done, kitchen sink empty, bathrooms scrubbed, pets taken care of, car tuned, crops mowed, house painted….well, maybe not the last three but pretty much everything else! You get the point. All the yucky mundane stuff has to be behind me or I can’t sit down to write without thinking about all the things I need to get done.

I’m the same way, Polly.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to?

I used to listen to music while writing, the selections based on the emotion of the scene I was working on. Classical, movie soundtracks, Il Divo, tangos. But lately, listening to music has become distracting, especially if there are vocals. I tend to sing along or try to harmonize which can interfere with the creative process that’s supposed to be getting my story written.

What do you like to read?

Broad answer is anything with words, from novels to encyclopedias. Reading time is precious which is a nuisance when I have so many favorite authors I follow. I always have at least two books going, usually three; something light and fun, a heavier fiction and something non-fiction. Depends on the day as to which one I’ll pick up first. I just finished reading Dee Henderson’s Full Disclosure while reading David Baldacci’s Taken and a reference book about the solar system and night sky.

Is there any genre that has no interest for you?

True Crime and Horror

Do you write in the genre you like to read?

One of them, yes. Romance and romance suspense. I have in the works a non-romance and a biography about my father.

Who is your favorite author? Or do you have many favorite authors? Are any of them auto—buys?

I have lots of favorites: Anita Shreve, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Robin Schone, Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon, Richard North Patterson, O. Henry, Nelson DeMille, Wallace Stegner, Daniel DeFoe, Pearl S. Buck, Sandra Brown, A.A.Milne (gotta love Pooh!)…to name a few.  Several are auto-buys for me.

 What kind of stories appeal to you?

Whatever the genre, it has to have natural sounding dialogue. Mysteries with unpredictable plot twists, more than one candidate for the BG role, and if it’s a romance I want a Romance, not  two people who barely make it past “Hi, oooh, you’re hot, I want you,” before jumping into bed in the second chapter. I mean, I get the whole instant chemistry thing, but it can’t be the backbone of what I like a romance story to be.

In books, do you have any favorite series?

Oh yes, many favorites. Cindy Gerard’s Black Ops and Bodyguard series; Maya Bank’s KGIs; Mary Balogh’s Bedwyns; Catherine Mann’s Elite Force and Dark Ops series; Shelly Laurenston’s Pride series; Laura Griffin’s Tracers; Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers; Suzanne Brockman’s Troubleshooters; Dee Henderson’s O’Malleys;  Jill Shalvis’s Animal Magnetism and baseball players series and Marie Ann Rice’s, Dangerous series.

In terms of your publishing, do you have a goal for this year? Next year? Five years from now?

My goal is the same every year. Finish at least one book and one short story and make my writing even stronger than the previous year. In 2013 I’m determined to complete both a historical and a contemporary romance novel.

Ambitious and positive goals!

Do you like to travel? Have you traveled outside of your country?

If there’s such a thing as a gene that carries travel DNA then I’ve got one. Very handy thing to have as an “Air Force brat” since saying “No, Dad, I’d really rather not have to pack and move again, thank you,” wasn’t an option. I’ve been in every state in the USA except Hawaii, a couple Canadian provinces and a tiny corner of Mexico. A trip to London six years ago was the first time off the North American continent and last year my husband and I took a road trip through Scotland and Wales. Our goal was to walk through as many castles as we could squeeze into ten days and I especially wanted to visit Anglesey, Wales, which is the setting for Almost Taken,  my first historical romance.

I loved that story.

Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Angsley, N. Wales.

Polly on Cardiff Castle walkway.

Is there a favorite place you like to return to?

I could make an annual trek to Great Britain every year and not tire of it but before I do that again, I’ve have to go to Italy, from the top of the boot to the bottom. As for this country I’d love to revisit New England and Cape Cod as often as I can and traipse around Mendocino, CA and on up into the northwestern states.

I love this photo, Polly!

How do you relax?

I live in what I call “cow-growing country,” with few neighbors and a lot of quiet. I walk the farm roads and work out in the home gym. When I’m not feeling that ambitious, I garden, play and/or practice whatever classic piano piece I’m working on and read. My bookshop which is in an 1870’s bank building on the main street of a small town, is a place that is always relaxing. It’s a cozy space.

Do you have a favorite time of the year, or favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?

Favorite time of year is the fall because temps are cool and Mother Nature shows off her brilliant colors. The Christmas season is hands down my favorite. I love everything about it. The music (as a piano teacher I get the added bonus of hearing it longer than most people!), the decorations that are so unique to that time of year, delicious scents coming from the kitchen, sparkly lights on homes and a cheeriness in people’s moods that’s almost tangible.

Do you have any pets? If so, any funny stories you’d like to share?

A bit of an indoor menagerie, actually. Two dogs―Colby, an American Eskimo and Stewart, a Shih-poo, both only a year old. Funny little fellows with endless energy and lots of acreage to use it. Then there’s Pepperoni Mac ‘n Cheese, Pepper or Pep for short, (her fur is a combination of  those food’s colors), a 3-year old cat I rescued from under a truck when she was seven weeks old. Pepper’s a blanket hog. If there’s a blanket around she has to be under it, even if it’s already in use. Then there’s Piper, a five-year old parakeet who thinks he’s a mockingbird. The dog’s whining, cat’s meows, coffee pot burbles, microwave pings and all the bird calls he hears at his window has helped him build up quite an extensive and exact repertoire. He imitates everything so perfectly, for months after we got the dogs poor little Stewart kept getting scolded for whining when most of the time it was the bird!

They are adorable, Polly.

Do you like to self-promote yourself and your books?

Self-promoting is my least favorite aspect of being an author. In November and December at my bookshop I display holiday anthologies that have my stories in them. The rest of the year, even as the owner of my own bookshop I don’t think to tell my romance-loving customers that I’m an author of romances. And that they’re right here in my store! Free shipping and handling! I added what I call Marketing Monday to my schedule this year, that way I do something every week to make my books and name visible.

What do you think of all the social media connections such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.?

Great way to stay informed about someone’s everyday life, if you have time to do the shout outs.

Do you belong to any of the above?

Facebook:, a page strictly for authors and  for my bookshop. I don’t Twitter although I started an account a couple months ago. I follow and respond to favorite blogs every week and write one or two book reviews a week on Amazon and B&N  websites.

Is there a review you’ve received from a stranger that made you smile and air pump and shout YES!!!! Would you care to share a sentence or two of that review? If so, please leave a link for us to go back and read the entire review.

Several reviews have surprised me, in a good way. I like this one for Almost Silenced, the 3rd  book in my Almost series.

If you are looking for historical romances check out those written by Isabel Mere. She captures the thrill and romance of love and attraction. Makes me yearn for my dating days with my husband. Brings back some wonderful memories. Each book I have read so far has wonderful stories behind the love.

How can readers connect with you to tell you they love your book?  

Through my website, or directly to, Facebook as already mentioned or any of the below:

Would you like to tell us about the excerpt you’re about to share?

Renovation Road is one of six stories in Detours, an anthology released December, 2011. I’m proud of this book because it’s the only anthology I’ve been involved with that is solely my stories.

Renovation Road is about Darby Walcott, an 18-wheel trucker who pulls a car hauler. She’s traveling from Florida to Wyoming to spend the Christmas holidays with her brother and discovers a man hiding in one of her cars. It’s a sleety,  bitter cold morning so despite her Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers rule, she offers him a ride. After a full day together all she’s learned is that his name is Jamison. His evasive answers to questions about himself and circumstances makes Darby worry that he’s a criminal, possibly even running from the law.

Knowing that he’s making her nervous, Jamison plans to disappear at her next stop. There’s no way he’s going to confess to a total stranger, no matter how much he likes her.

“Okay. On to Blue Hill. It’s only a few miles north of here and that’s where we stop for the night.” She tapped her dashboard computer awake and logged in current time and place for her records. “Two stops tomorrow and then Cheyenne here we come! Yippeeee!” She turned up the volume on the stereo and cheered. “My favorite!” She’d sung to her Christmas CDs off and on all day but her Here Comes Santa Claus was by far her most energetic performance. Sleigh bells jingled, ornaments on the dash lit up, red and green lights glowed underneath the dash. She had her own personal Santa’s workshop in the cab.

Jamison looked on, declining the invitation to join in. This would be his favorite memory of her. Unrestrained celebration. Adorably girlish, baseball cap off, her wild curls bouncing, cheeks pink, eyes shiny and bursting with all the joy the season inspired in her. He grinned when she held the Ohhh going into the second verse long and loud.

He hated to break the mood and interrupt the Christmas karaoke show but he had to tell her sooner, not later.


She shoved the gear stick into first and inched forward, then slammed on the brake.

“Shit. Did you see that? I almost hit him. Just what I need, plowing into a cop car.”

Jamison whipped his head forward. A gray car, RCPD lettered in black on the side, had stopped perpendicular to the truck, directly in front of the grill. The rooftop lights silently flashed red and blue. A uniformed officer stepped out of the driver’s seat.

As he approached Darby’s side of the cab, her muttered string of expletives barely registered in Jamison’s mind. He’d seen the police car parked at the back of the lot while Darby arranged her car load, but because no one had been sitting in it, he assumed it was there for mechanical work. Logic told him he’d done nothing to warrant law enforcement attention, but guilt and the feeling of inevitability zeroed out logic. Somehow, he hadn’t paid enough for his failures.

Darby switched off the stereo and reached for a slim leather portfolio above her visor as she opened the door.

“Good evening, officer,” she said cheerfully. “You can’t be stopping me for speeding since I haven’t left yet. Is there something wrong with my rig? Or one of the cars?”

Jamison resisted the urge to slump in the seat. Trying to hide wouldn’t improve the situation. His stomach twisted with guilt and shame and then twisted even more at the realization that Darby would now learn the truth. He didn’t want to see her look of disappointment and betrayal once she knew.

“You and your passenger step out of the cab, please, ma’am.”

“Uh, sure.” Darby looked at Jamison and rolled her eyes. Hick, she mouthed.

He joined her in front of the truck with the officer, hands behind his back to hide their trembling. Every muscle in his body quivered as he watched the man flick through papers from the portfolio she’d given him.

“I need to see some identification,” the officer, M. Blankenship, said, pointing a ballpoint pen at Jamison.

Don’t. Run. He’d never have the chance to defend himself if he took as much as one step.

     He met the man’s pale brown eyes. “I don’t have any identification.”

A wiry gray brow slowly rose. “That right?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

Darby shot him a look of disbelief.

“And just how did you come to be riding with, er―” he scanned one of the papers he held―”Darby Teresa Walcott?”

Jamison cleared his throat. “Well, sir. We were at the same―”

“Waitwaitwait,” Darby broke in. “Isn’t it like our right or something to know why we’ve been stopped?”

Officer Blankenship’s gray moustache twitched. “Detained.”


“Why you’ve been detained. Not ‘stopped’. And yes you do have that right and I’m getting to it. After Mr.…what’s your name son?”

“Jamison Henry.”

“After Mr. Henry tells me where he came from.”

Great excerpt, Polly.

Thanks for being my guest today, Polly.

If you have any questions for Polly, now is a good time to ask.

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7 Responses to GERRI BOWEN with guest, Polly McCrillis, aka Isabel Mere.

  1. Learned lots about you that I didn’t know…like your bookstore!
    I too can’t listen to music when writing because it distracts me.
    Your schedule sounds like it works for you, and the goal you set per year is something I’d like to strive for!
    Good luck with your writing!

  2. Hi Marianne,
    If you’re ever in Missouri’s southwest Ozarks, stop into my shop and feel free to leave some of your books to sell. I opened Bookmarks, October, 2009 in one of the town’s original bank buildings, circa 1870s. My original inventory of 2500 books has grown to over 15,000 thanks to store credit policies and dozens of donations. I’d hoped that readers, like myself, were tired of driving 35 miles to the west or 45 to the east to get to a bookstore, and my hopes have paid off!

  3. Tess says:

    I love an author that knows exactly what they like and what they do not. It definitely shows itself in their writing style from how they know their characters to the details in their stories. You sound like a very driven and focused writer and that you devote yourself to everything you love in life. I wish you all the success that you righfully deserve.

    • Hi Tess,
      I agree with you about how much more enjoyable a book is when the author clearly embraces hers/his characters and their story. Write what you love, love what you write and your readers will never be disappointed!

  4. Sydney says:

    Hi Polly!! I am a McCrillis and was looking at some of our family history and discovered that My family actually owned the McCrillis Castle! I was looking on google and saw your pictures of it, and came upon your blog. It is so cool to get to know you!

  5. Sydney says:

    I live in P.A and its pretty cool to here that You are enjoy writing. I’m 16 and love to read, and write. I almost am curious if we would be related at all. My mom was a McCrillis, and that is the side of the family were close to. I would love to visit Scotland some day and visit the castles! What was your favorite one while you vacationed there?

    • Hi Sydney! My family’s history goes back to a great grandfather from Scotland, and my parents are from Massachusetts. Who is your mom? I’m not familiar with the McCrillis castle and didn’t see one during my trip to Scotland but there are SO many castles over there, I could have passed by it and not even know. I’m a fan of underdogs, the not so celebrated people and places, so in keeping with that, I would have to say that Dumbarton Castle was my favorite castle I saw. So ancient and….determined to stand as testimony to the strength of the people it protected.

      So good to hear from. Check my website and blog so we can keep in touch.

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