Margaret Maron interview with David Alan Binder

posted Jun 19, 2018, 3:57 PM by David Alan Binder

Margaret Maron interview with David Alan Binder


Bio from her website:  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 before a summer job at the Pentagon led to marriage, a tour of duty in Italy while my husband was in the Navy, then several years in his 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 said of the silly verses I write to celebrate various friends “It's doggerel, Margaret. But inspired doggerel.” I was immensely flattered.)

Eventually, I backed into writing novels about NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald, mysteries set against the New York City art world. Living there let me see how the city is a collection of villages, each with its own vitality and distinct ambiance, vibrant and ever-changing. But once I had settled back into North Carolina, 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.

Why mysteries? Quite honestly, when I first chose this genre, it was because I thought I had nothing to say and the classic mystery novel had a form that would let me write without any burden of trying to be profound. All I had to do was entertain. But once I began writing about North Carolina, I realized that there was nothing I couldn’t say in this most flexible form.


I'm on FaceBook and my website is


1.     How do you pronounce your name? 

          Maron rhymes with baron


2.     Where are you currently living?

Eastern North Carolina


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

I try to remember that my readers aren't here for a sermon, a lecture or an information dump. They are here to be entertained.


4.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

                    Have never self-published.


a.      Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?

                   Grand Central/Hachette, NYC


5.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

There are very few secrets in the publishing world. (Or maybe there are, but I don't know them because they really are secret?) Sisters in Crime has a "guppie" (Great Unpublished) chapter that's open to everyone who's a member of SinC. They share their experiences, and offer support and encouragement. Mystery Writers of America also has chapters all over the country that sponsor writing workshops and conferences. Joining a group of like-minded hopefuls can be a helpful motivator.


6.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton is supposed to have said "Because that's where the money is." If you want to meet editors and agents, then go where they are and sign up for one of the major writing conferences that they attend. For mysteries, that would be Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, New England Crimebake, Sleuthfest, etc. Do your homework and know what the agents and editors who attend have published and what they might be looking for. An editor who only publishes hard-boiled noir is not going to be interested in your cozy sleuth who runs a bakery. Polish your 60-second "elevator" pitch. Don't try to land an agent unless your manuscript is finished and ready to submit. If you do get the opportunity to speak one-on-one with an editor or agent, send them an email after the conference, thank them for their time, and then make your pitch.


7.     How many books have you written?

          32 books and a few dozen short stories.


8.     Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be so specific that this most likely will not have been seen elsewhere)?

Try to remember that you have five senses; not just sight, but taste, touch, smell, and sound. I try to get at least one of the other senses in every scene to help ground the setting.  When your sleuth steps outside, what does s/he hear? A fire engine, a bus pulling away from the curb, a helicopter, a distant John Deere tractor, bullfrogs, jackhammer? What does s/he smell? Flowers, diesel exhaust, wet pavement, bacon frying? What about the surface underfoot? Polished hardwood, rocky pebbles, beach sand, lush grass, marble tile?  


9.     What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

I don't claim to be the first write a regional mystery series but I do think I've helped popularize the notion that a mystery doesn't have to be set in the mean streets of urban America or in a cozy English village. My readers say they find my contemporary take on North Carolina refreshing.


10.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I can't think of anything I'd do differently because I did a lot at the beginning. As one of the founders of Sisters in Crime, we were among the earliest to see the benefits of bookmarks, postcards, and networking with libraries and bookstores to promote our books. Indeed one of our first booklets was Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies because publishers didn't want to do much advertising for midlist female writers.


11.                        What saying or mantra do you live by?

The closest thing I have to a mantra is "Stop procrastinating!"  There's always going to be an oven that needs cleaning, grass that needs cutting, a sinkful of dirty dishes. Ignore them and do your daily quota for writing first.