An Interview with Margaret Maron
By Joan Leotta
Margaret Maron is the author of two award winning series. The Lt. Sigrid Harald mysteries (began in 1981) takes place against the backdrop of New York's art scene. Her Judge Deborah Knott series (first out in 1992) draws on the people and habitat of semi-rural North Carolina, the landscape of Maron's childhood, present-day home and her heart.
She is the author of twenty-six novels in total (at this writing) and two collections of short stories. Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into 16 languages. She has served as president of Sisters in Crime, the American Crime Writers League, and Mystery Writers of America. Readers can join her Facebook page, or contact her at MargaretMaron@nc.rr.com.
Her latest book, THREE DAY TOWN, officially a Deborah Knott, (2011) sets up a meeting between Judge Deborah Knott and Sigrid Harald in New York City. This year, Maron has revisited her writing path in another way as well. She has reissued the first book in the Knott series (BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER, originally out in 1992) and is putting all of her Harald books and the Knott series in e-form as well.
Another Knott book, THE BUZZARD TABLE, is scheduled to be released in 2012.
She has agreed to talk to Overmydeadbody.com readers about her work and writing process.
1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and what other job were you doing when you started out with Sigrid?
A. I was probably 8 or 9 when I realized that walking-around human beings were responsible for putting words on the pages of my library books. Becoming a writer seemed like a wonderful thing, although I began by wanting to be a poet. When no one wanted to buy my poems — and earning a living as a writer was my goal — I segued over to short stories. Was totally intimidated by the length of novels and had no desire to try one till the short story market began drying up.
2. What inspired this character? (Sigrid)
A. I knew I wanted to write a series and I didn't think I could come up with logical reasons an amateur would keep stumbling over bodies. If my sleuth were a police detective though, I could simply chronicle her more interesting cases. Her housemate frequently comments on how open and shut and very dull most of her cases are. ONE COFFEE WITH, the first book, began as a short story with a male protagonist. Once I decided it could be a book, I knew I'd be more comfortable writing from behind a woman's eyes than from behind a man's, so Peter Bohr morphed into Sigrid Harald. I visualized a character that was very competent in her professional life and very insecure as a woman. Early on, I postulated a story arc that would take a full year of her life to play out. The series begins in the spring of one year and ends the following spring. During that single year, she comes to understand how her father was killed and how his death affected the people closest to her. She also falls in love. Her journey is from intellect to emotion whereas Deborah Knott's journey is from emotion to intellect, so to speak.
3. I see that the Sigrid Harald series came first. Your last novel in that series came out in 1995. Does Sigrid's meeting with Deborah in THREE DAY TOWN signal a return of this character's series?
A. Not really. I've used her in some short stories and she is integral to THE BUZZARD TABLE, which comes out in November, but that will probably be the last time she appears in a book. (On the other hand, I'm learning never to say never, so who knows?)
4. You are a prolific writer of short stories. Do you use short stories to try out characters you may want to develop into novels? Or do they simply stand alone or is it some of each?
A. Some of each, actually. I've used series characters in the short stories, but more often the stories arise out of "what if?" situations that don't fit into the books.
5. What inspired the Deborah Knott character/series?
A. The series came because I wanted to write out current experience, i.e., my life in NC. Deborah Knott herself? If Sigrid is the thesis prototype, Deborah in the antithesis. Sigrid is a professional crime solver, therefore in order to differentiate the two, Deborah could not be a police officer. Sigrid is a loner, almost no relatives, uncomfortable with emotion, uneasy in relationships. Ergo, Deborah would be social with lots of friends and family. She would be prone to dive into emotional entanglements and would be comfortable in her skin. Others had made their sleuths lawyers, detectives, or reporters, but I wanted something different. No one else was writing about a female district court judge, so that's the profession I gave Deborah. As an officer of the court, she would hear about more murders than most amateurs, and coming from a small town, she would know most of the players.
6. The Deborah Knott series seems very close to your own heart and upbringing. Your Knott series characters are especially real to me — are they more closely drawn from real life than those from other series and stories — or am I simply projecting my own family?
A. I think most writers write from the heart, but yes, we both grew up on farms and we've both watched the state transition from largely rural to increasingly urban so we've had similar experiences. So much of southern fiction is about dysfunctional families — redneck trailer trash or the prideful rich who still lament losing the Civil War — that I wanted to show a large rowdy functional family whose members love each other and who range from high school dropouts to Ph.D's. They are farmers, tradesmen, and professionals, all living out their version of the American dream. I didn't go to law school or ever run for any public office, but I'm lucky to have friends who did and who are willing to answer even the most trivial questions. I only have two siblings, but my grandmother was one of eleven, most of whom all stayed right here, so I grew up amid tangled family connections similar to Deborah's.
7. Why did you wait so long to allow Deborah marry again?
A. I didn't plan it that way. I just assumed she'd keep playing the field until we both retired. I was floored when I realized Dwight wanted to marry her. Honestly, I had no idea.
8. Why did you choose to reissue BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER and put all books in e-format?
A. Once upon a time, children, publishers kept books in print forever. They stored unsold books in warehouse. Then the tax laws changed and one of the unintended consequences was that it became more expensive to keep slow-moving inventory on hand. As a result, when a book went out of print (OP) and the rights reverted to the author, unless the author's agent could find someone who wanted to buy reprint rights, the author would receive no more income from that book. (Incidentally, authors get no income from used book sales, so please don't write us and tell us about the wonderful swap site you've found online!) Like other authors, I have bills to pay every month and those OP books were not helping. Suddenly, though...eBooks! Our books live again and they help pay the bills.
All of the Sigrid Harald books are now available on Kindle or Nook and the first few Deborah Knott books will be there soon as well.
Oconee Spirit Press recently published ONE COFFEE WITH as a trade paperback for readers who still want a physical book and the rest of the Sigrid Harald series will soon follow.
9. Can you give some advice on this to other writers whose books are out of print and to fans who want authors/publishers to reissue beloved books?
A. I really don't. There are so many options open, I can only say what has worked for me. On my own I hired someone to format the books and upload them to the internet. I might could have done this myself, but I didn't want to learn how and then spend the time to do it. I also hired someone to create covers to which I have all the rights. This way, I have complete control and receive all the proceeds. There are companies who will do this for you for a percentage of sales, but I prefer to pay a flat fee instead.
10. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about these two series, writing in general or any other topic you feel is relevant?
A. I think you've covered it, Joan. My main advice to would-be writers is to finish the book! Don't worry about agents, markets, editors or anything else until the book is finished. After that, workshops and conferences can be helpful for networking and for exploring market possibilities. I highly recommend the Sisters in Crime Guppy program.
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