She deejayed on South Florida radio stations Y100 and I-95 in the late 1970s and early ’80s, but now Jo Maeder is primarily an author — and arranger of doll adoptions.
“Oh, I spend a lot of time trying to find good homes for my mother’s doll collection,” she said, laughing, during a recent phone conversation from her home just outside of Greensboro, NC. There’s even a website (http://www.rubylane.com/shop/mamajoshouseofdolls) set up for that purpose.
Maeder, 53, first became a published author when she recounted her late matriarch’s many colorful idiosyncrasies in her first book, When I Married My Mother, a lively and revealing memoir of her life and family, centered on her idiosyncratic namesake mother.
Mama Jo amassed a collection of hundreds of dolls of all styles, sizes and shapes. But she was also a hoarder of almost everything else, and Maeder’s book revealed the painful process of sorting through the debris of her mother’s life and disposing of most of its effluvia and ephemera. She was also forced to cope with her parent’s precarious physical and mental state, which resulted in Maeder’s move from the New York City area, where she’d relocated after leaving South Florida in 1984, to North Carolina to be with her mother.
Telling the difficult story also proved to be cathartic for others.
“I still hear from people who tell me that my book helped them understand and deal with their own elderly parents and their stuff,” she said.
Indeed, though the subject matter is serious and the story is at times starkly visceral, Maeder’s fluid prose lightens the path considerably. Her new book, Opposites Attack is the tale of a lovelorn young woman heading to France after a romantic break for total-immersion language lessons. It’s a light, fun tale in stark contrast to her earlier book and a nice testament to her versatility.
But how did this former fixture of South Florida radio transition to becoming an author?
“I was always attracted to writers,” she said. She married former Miami Herald People columnist Jay Maeder, now retired from the New York Daily News, on Valentine’s Day 1985. (She kept his name after they subsequently divorced.)
Before publishing her first book Maeder said she wrote several other novels and contributed shorter pieces to a number of publications including the New York Times.
When I Married My Mother, published in hardcover by Da Capo Press in 2009, was recently issued in an expanded paperback edition by Beulahland Books, Maeder’s own publishing venture, and also became a Kindle bestseller on Amazon.com. Beulahland is also the publisher of her new novel.
“I learned a lot about promotion and PR when I worked in radio,” she said. “The South Florida radio market was very competitive. You can market something but you cannot make it a hit, though people have to know about something — a book, a song, whatever — before they can buy it."
To that end, Maeder is active in social media but also speaks frequently to local groups and makes as many appearances as she can at brick-and-mortar bookstores. “Online is important,” she said, “but I’ll always love real bookstores and respect booksellers. We’re all in it together!”
These days, Jo Maeder still does a bit of voiceover work on radio and continues to write — and sell her mother’s dolls. Next up, she said, is “an autobiographical novel about radio.” She also has a prequel to When I Married My Mother in mind.
Regardless, she acknowledges that writing is just the beginning.
“Authors have to promote,” she said. “It’s part of the job. But fortunately, I love getting out there and meeting readers and potential readers — and doll owners.”