Born and bred in North Carolina where the piedmont meets the sandhills, I grew up on a modest two-mule tobacco farm that has been in the family for over a hundred years.
Tobacco is no longer grown on the farm, but the memories linger - the singing, the laughter, the gossip that went on at the bench as those rank green leaves came from the field, the bliss of an icy cold drink bottle pressed to a hot sweaty face, getting up at dawn to help "take out" a barn, the sweet smell of soft golden leaves as they're being readied for auction. Working in tobacco is one of those life experiences I'm glad to have had. I'm even gladder that it's something I'll never have to do again.
After high school came two years of college until a summer job at the Pentagon led to marriage, a tour of duty in Italy, then several years in my husband's native Brooklyn. I had always loved writing and for the first few years, wrote nothing but short stories and very bad poetry. (The legendary Ruth Cavin of St. Martin's Press once characterized my verses as "doggerel. But inspired doggerel.")
Eventually, I backed into writing novels about NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald, mysteries set against the New York City art world. But love of my native state and a desire to write out of current experiences led to the creation of District Court Judge Deborah Knott, the opinionated daughter of a crusty old ex-bootlegger and youngest sibling of eleven older brothers. (I was one of only three, so no, I'm not writing about my own family.)
We've been back on a corner of the family land for many years now. My city-born husband discovered he prefers goldfinches, rabbits, and the occasional quiet deer to yellow cabs, concrete, and a city that never sleeps. A son, a daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters are icing on our cake.
More about Margaret here:
The Past Revisited
by Margaret Maron
Once upon a time in the not-too-far past, publishers used to have warehouses where they stored their print overruns and bookstore returns. It was not unusual to keep unsold books for 25 or 30 years before finally sending them to that great pulp mill in the sky.
Then, in 1979 Congress passed an inventory tax law. Its aim was to close a corporate tax dodge and make it more expensive to carry a large inventory from year to year. As with so many of Congress’s laws, there were unintended consequences. Congress had not meant to destroy publishers’ warehouses or authors’ backlists, but that’s exactly what happened. Despite heartbroken pleas to exempt publishers, the tax was applied to them, too, and you know what happens when bottom lines crashes head-on with the public good. The warehouses emptied out and backlists went into oblivion.
With the advent of electronic readers such as Kindle, Nook, and the iPad and SmartPhones, however, the backlist lives again. No longer does an early book have to vanish down that bottomless rabbit-hole, never to be seen again.
My first novel, One Coffee With, was published in 1981, an astonishing (to me, anyhow) thirty years ago. It introduced Lt. Sigrid Harald, NYPD, 5’10, mid-thirties, single, skinny, hair worn in a frumpy bun, no clothes sense, uncomfortable in her skin, and totally incompetent when it came to personal relationships. But she had a wry sense of humor few people suspected, cool silvery eyes, and an unerring knack for solving murders.
The eighth and last in the series, Fugitive Colors, was published fourteen years later—fourteen years for me, but only one short tumultuous year for Sigrid. She begins in early April and ends the following April. During that year, she learns to accept herself and the possibility of love, she cuts her hair, she buys a book to learn about makeup (typical Sigrid behavior), she gains a gay housemate who wants to pick her brains so that he can write a mystery, and she learns the true story of her father, who died when she was barely more than a toddler.
Leif Harald was a police detective, too, and was killed in the line of duty. At least that’s the official story. The circumstances surrounding his death form a mystery that arches over the entire series, with the reader learning a little more in each book.
When they were first published, the books got good reviews, but never seemed to find their audience. The average reader tended to take her at face value, to see only the surface and not what I had hinted was underneath. They went out of print as quickly as they were published. Now, fifteen years after the last one saw daylight, they are going up online as eBooks and I am delighted with the feedback as my readers have finally begun to “get” her. (One wrote to me, “I began the series not liking Sigrid because she was so different from Deborah Knott, your other series character, but I finished the last book in tears because there are no more.”)
In getting the books ready to be digitized, I have had to re-read them and it’s been an odd experience. A writer is seldom happy with the finished product. As someone once said, “a creative work is never finished; it’s abandoned.” There were patches of roughness I wanted to correct, motivations I wanted to strengthen, and outdated attitudes that jumped out at me. It was a real temptation to rewrite and bring everything up to date. But you start down that road at a perilous cost and in the end, I contented myself with smoothing a couple of cowlicks and tucking in a shirttail or two.
Over and over, I kept bumping up against things that have changed. Thirty years ago, a female officer would find it tough to take over a homicide squad, male chauvinism was rampant, and secretaries were still expected to fetch the coffee, and tattoos were definitely not the norm for “nice” people.
When the series begins, Sigrid is typing her reports on a typewriter, by the last book it’s on a computer, yet we never see her taking a computer class during that single year. Pregnant women smoked and drank alcohol without anyone waving a finger at them, she couldn’t know the sex of her unborn baby unless a doctor stuck a needle in her abdomen and drew out some of the amniotic fluid. Cell phones were nonexistent in that first book. No Internet. No CDs or DVDs. People could buy airline tickets and board at the last minute without having to go through security or show a photo ID.
The list goes on and on.
Happily, love and greed are timeless and there is always someone ready to kill for one or the other.
Or for both.
What about you? Does it bother you to realize that your past is now “historical”? Do the differences between the recent past and current present interfere with your enjoyment of a book?