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Mount Ayr author inspired by lighthouses, middle-schoolers in new novel

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 8:46 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013 11:41 a.m. CDT

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MOUNT AYR – Mary Martsching has proved writing can come from anywhere.

Martsching, 65, of Mount Ayr self-published her first novel, “Finding Heath,” which was completed in April. It is available in e-book, paperback and hardcover at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

“Finding Heath” is about a 14-year-old boy named Heath who lives with his estranged grandfather on Block Island, R.I. Heath struggles with a bully at school and pressure from his basketball coach, before he suddenly finds himself in a difficult position.

The book also contains a table of contents, glossary, further resources, reader’s guide and afterword about Block Island’s school system compared to schools on mainland United States.


Martsching was inspired by many things when it came to writing. She based Heath on the growth and change middle-school students go through during school.

“There’s so much going on in their life at that time,” said Martsching. “No one likes the way they look; nobody thinks they’re going to be manly enough, or beautiful enough, or whatever. So, and I try to write with their interests in mind.”

Martsching was also inspired by lighthouses she visited on vacation. “Finding Heath” was based on Mohican Bluffs, Block Island, R.I. Her second and third unpublished books are mysteries based on lighthouses located in Connecticut Harbor, Groton, Conn., and Navesink, N. J., respectively.

“I just love lighthouses,” Martsching said. “Christ is very important in my life, and he’s the lighthouse of the world. And, so, I know He led me in a stormy time, … and, you know, lighthouses are beacons that warn ships and bring them to the shore safely, so I see the symbolism there.”

Several authors who inspired her were Carolyn Keene, author of the “Nancy Drew” series; Susan Cooper; Gary Paulsen, author of “Hatchet;” Edgar Allan Poe, C.S. Lewis and Elizabeth George Speare. Carol Gorman and Christy Hull are Iowa authors who also inspired Martsching to write.

“But, my favorite inspiration is the Bible, and I’ll tell you why,” Martsching said. “It’s got everything. It’s got romance, mystery – mysteries all over the place – promises, hope, beginning, ending. I don’t know, I just love it. And, all the heroes in there in the Old Testament, and then those in the New Testament, I just think, ‘Wow.’ If I could write and keep those plots and what made character, if I could do that, develop character like that, I feel like I would be impacting the students in a very powerful, but positive, way.”


Martsching began writing in 2007.

“I took a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature, and that was writing for magazines,” said Martsching. “I took that, and I did okay with that. But I really wanted to write novels instead of articles. They (Institute of Children’s Literature) contacted me and wanted me to take another course on writing and publishing children’s books.”

Martsching was paired with the author Louis Foley, who challenged Martsching to write a full novel.

“She was really encouraging, and felt it was a worthwhile novel to pursue,” Martsching said.

Martsching then went through the revision process, revising the draft multiple times before sending copies to publishing houses. She received all rejections, but felt the need to pursue publishing.

“I have no experience in marketing. I’m not good at promoting myself,” said Martsching. “I can write, but to push myself out there, that’s not me. I’m over my comfort level.”

She took courses on marketing, involving social media, like Facebook and websites, platforms and brands, and attempted to get an agent. She wasn’t able to, after seeing the cost of one, and, instead, began looking at self-publishing.

“I got online, and I just kept searching, and WestBow Press was one of them,” Martsching said. “WestBow Press was a Christian publishing company, so I thought, ‘I’ll try that.’ And, they’re wonderful. They are wonderful.”

It cost Martsching $3,300 to self-publish “Finding Heath,” which is a package that included rights to Thinkstock for images for the cover, help on formatting the text, a first critique and professional editor. After getting the images for the cover, and perfecting the text, Martsching officially signed off on the book.


Originally from Burlington, Martsching was a reading specialist and helped students learn to read better in Burlington and Columbus Junction school districts.

“I loved every grade I taught,” said Martsching, “but I have a soft spot for those middle grades. I know they’re the most volatile. I know they’re puberty-ridden, can-be-demonic children, but I love them.”

Martsching began working for Area Education Agency 14 (now Green Hills AEA), which brought her to southern Iowa. Area 14 serviced Mount Ayr and Diagonal school districts. The head office was located in Creston, and the office Martsching worked in was located in Osceola.

“I talked to the teachers and principals that I served that I really wanted to do this, so they allowed me to take over a sign-up paper, and they signed up for copies of some of my books,” said Martsching. “Another thing to market myself, I just met with the Mount Ayr librarian ... and I’ll be doing a book signing over Mount Ayr Days.”

Martsching’s first book signing will be June 15 at Burlington by the Book, during Burlington Steamboat Days. Her second will be at the Mount Ayr Library July 20. She also has a book launch set for Aug. 3, at the REC building in Mount Ayr.

Martsching is currently a substitute teacher in Mount Ayr.

For more information, visit Martsching’s Facebook page and her website

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