Mary Lou Santovec – Wisconsin Gardens and Landscapes

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is Wisconsin Gardens & Landscapes, a travel book about 120+ of the most unique public and some private gardens in the Badger State.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m originally from a small town north of Madison, Wisconsin called Waunakee. I’ve had an eclectic career beginning as a schoolteacher and transitioning to a college admissions officer, a short stint as a human resources benefits manager, and work at several publishing companies. I currently run my own freelance writing business and have clients in banking, higher education, nonprofits, lifestyles and health.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was chosen to do the book when the original author, whose idea the book was, died. Because of concerns about copyright, I did not get any of the original author’s notes, lists or research. The entire book is my work although the idea belongs to someone else.

How did you choose the title?

My publisher chose the title.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

There weren’t any obstacles getting it published, but there were a few getting it written. I’m not a master gardener by vocation although I do know a little bit about plants (and a lot more since the book was done). The original author was a master gardener. So I had to develop credibility among all those in the gardening industry and fortunately I had written stories on gardens for a well-known state lifestyle magazine so I had some clips to back up my work. And I’ve written for a variety of industries so I know how to research. The main reason, I think that I was the one asked to do the book is two-fold: I had done other books in the past and was a “known quantity” and my background as a college admissions officer gave me a thorough grounding in the state of Wisconsin and its history. When you’re driving all over the state looking for high schools and putting 1,000 to 2,000 miles a week on the car, you get a “boots on the ground” feel for the state.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I actually started editing my 7th grade class newspaper and was on the newspaper staff for my high school paper. But I had other career plans that didn’t include writing. I liked to write and doing term papers was easy for me unlike it was for others.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Coffee, coffee and more coffee. And when I’m bogged down, I like to get up and do some exercise (ideally walking or swimming). And the Solitaire game on my computer gets a workout when I’m stuck.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned an entirely new industry — gardening, nurseries, greenhouses. I met some wonderful people and my Rolodex expanded exponentially.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Knowing what I know now, I would have done more advance planning in seeking out sites to visit. My husband, who did much of the driving, expected — rightly so — for me to be the navigator. And I could have run off more and better maps to places that weren’t well-known sites.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I read mostly nonfiction on a wide variety of topics. My favorite fiction authors are an eclectic group — Nicholas Bantock, Clive Cussler and Kathleen Neville.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I am researching several travel books for Wisconsin/Minnesota although I don’t have signed contracts yet. I have my regular magazine and newsletter clients that I write for either monthly or every other month so I sneak writing books into that work.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Read everything you can get your hands on no matter what the style or whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Writing a book is like eating an elephant — you have to take it one bite at a time or else it will overwhelm you.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

People who want inspiration for their own garden, who want to know more about the state of Wisconsin or who just like to travel and look at nature are the key readers for my book. But because I wasn’t a master gardener, I wrote it so those who don’t have that depth of knowledge can still enjoy it.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My Web site: or my publisher’s Web site: Or you can get it on or