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Monday, December 21, 2009

Author Interview: Margaret Maron

I am overjoyed and deeply honored to have this interview with Margaet Maron.  Ms. Maron is a bestselling author and winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity awards.  She is a founding member and past president of Sisters in Crime and of the American Crime Writers' League, and a director on the national board for Mystery Writers of America.  Her works have been translated into a dozen languages and are on the reading lists of many college course in contemporary Southern literature.  You can read my review of her book, Sand Sharks here. Please give a warm welcome to Margaret Maron.


Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I usually start by choosing the North Carolina setting where Judge Deborah Knott will be holding court, i.e., the landscape around her, whether she's in her home county, at the coast, or out in the mountains. I look at issues pertinent to her surroundings and then let the plot grow organically out of that setting and those issues..

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail - use a strict 3 act structure or not) before sitting down and writing?
I have never been able to outline. I wish I could, but the few times I've tried it, I overthink and wind up getting so bored that the story dies. I compare my style of writing to someone who lets loose a boxful of rabbits. Every rabbit is a character or plot point. I set them free and watch them scamper around for about 55,000 words, then I spend another 15,000 words getting them back into the box. I usually have no idea where they're going and am often delighted to see what briar patches they've wandered into, from which I must extricate them.

I love Judge Deborah Knott, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?
My characters seem to stroll into a scene or onto a page as they are needed. They are created out of necessity and whimsey. While they often arrive merely to further the plot, I usually get so interested in them or their backstories that I probably flesh them out more than is strictly necessary. After 16 books, I now have several hundred that I can tap to play a role and all of them are quite vivid in my mind. Deborah herself was created to be the direct antithesis of Lt. Sigrid Harald, NYPD, the protagonist of 8 earlier novels set against the New York art scene. I wanted to differentiate the two completely. Because Sigrid was a loner, I made Deborah gregarious. Because Sigrid was awkward in relationships, I made Deborah comfortable in her skin. Sigrid is an only child and has very few relatives, so Deborah has 11 older brothers and many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Because Sigrid was this, Deborah was that, etc. Readers often tell me that the two voices are so different they would never have guessed that both series were written by the same person.

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?
I discovered long ago that one makes time for what one wants to do and for what is important to that person. When it's time to write, I quit doing all the other stuff and just write. Because I'm not a morning person, I find that I accomplish my best writing between five p.m. and 1 a.m.

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing -
do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I'm not going to accuse that romance writer of saying something provocative just to interest her interviewer, but most of the writers I know go to their keyboards in pajamas, sweat pants, or a comfortable pair of jeans. Sexy lingerie? Oh, please! The writing doesn't happen for me until I'm sitting at a keyboard facing an empty screen that demands that I fill it with words. I don't have to work in a cork-lined room with absolute quiet, but I do concentrate better if I'm alone in a room with the door closed between me and whatever interesting that's happening beyond that door. I cannot write and listen to music though. The music gets between me and the screen.


I particularly enjoy how you create a sense of place. Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?
Be specific. Don't say there are trees. "Trees" is generic. Are they pines? Palms? Mighty oaks or graceful dogwoods? Are the "roadside flowers" red poppies, blue asters, or goldenrod? Get away from the sense of sight and let your characters smell, taste, touch, and hear their surroundings.

What is on your bedside table to read?
Nothing. I fall asleep too quickly to read in bed. But on my breakfast table might be a history of everyday life in Rome, a classic mystery, a manuscript an editor has asked me to give a cover quote to, and of course a newspaper and some periodicals: The New Yorker, The Saturday Review of Literature, Newsweek, etc.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?
Either The Franchise Affair or Brat Farrar, both by Josephine Tey. She puts you immediately into the scene and even her animals have personalities.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?
Dogged persistence. I began with short stories sent in "over the transom" and put up with a year of rejection until the then-editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine bought one. Then two, and I was off to the races. After several years of short stories, I tried my hand at a novel and sent it to an agent that one of the magazine editors had recommended. He wasn't able to do much for me, but that book led to a second agent and finally, by a very circuitous path, to the agent I have now

Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?
No, I never have. When I began writing, I knew of no other writers, so I learned my craft on my own and never saw the point of them, therefore I can't give advice on their usefulness. I know that many writers swear by them, but I've heard that some groups are downright toxic. I've also heard that it's too easy to try to write to the group rather than to one's own sense of rightness, but I know none of this from personal experience.

THANK YOU Ms. Maron for this wonderful interview.  It has been a delight interviewing you and I look forward to your next books.
 
Until Thursday's next book review, I  wish you many mysterious moments and happy holidays.
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3 comments:

stacybuckeye said...

Wonderful interview! I've got a book of hers on my shelf, I need to get busy reading it :)

Tina said...

Thanks so much for this holiday treat. I'm a great fan of Maron, and her characters. It's always interesting to see what went into the makings of such great reads.

A.F. Heart said...

Stacy and Tina,
I am so glad you enjoyed the interview. Ms Maron really is adept at her characterization and bringing a place vividly to life. I recommend her. Now I know a bit better how she does it (personally taking notes).

Thank you so much for you comments!

AF Heart

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