Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Maron’

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Marianne Gingher On “Long Story Short”

September 13, 2009

Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers offers a concise, comprehensive, and compulsively readable collection of short-short stories. Concise on two counts: In total, the stories number less than 200 pages, and the longest of the stories is less than 1,700 words (the shortest is a mere 95). Comprehensive: The authors featured here make up a who’s who of writers with ties to the Old North State, including Russell Banks, Doris Betts, Will Blythe, Wendy Brenner, Orson Scott Card, Fred Chappell, Angela Davis-Gardner, Sarah Dessen, Pamela Duncan, Pam Durban, Clyde Edgerton, Philip Gerard, Gail Godwin, Randall Kenan, John Kessel, Michael Malone, Doug Marlette, Margaret Maron, Jill McCorkle, Lydia Millet, Robert Morgan, Michael Parker, Bland Simpson, Lee Smith, June Spence, Elizabeth Spencer, and Daniel Wallace, just to sample the list of contributors. And as for compulsively readable: Despite the pile of books I should have read first, as soon as Long Story Short arrived in the mail, I couldn’t resist reading at least one of the stories. Since that one was so short, I tried another. And then a third. And, as with a box of bon-bons, before I knew it….

The anthology, edited by Marianne Gingher (who also contributes a story) and published by the University of North Carolina Press, is a timely one. While Gingher points out in her introduction that short-shorts are as old as Aesop, there seems to be a growing trend toward the popularity of very short fiction in all of its forms: flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, even twitter fiction and hint fiction. While many of the stories in this collection tend toward the traditional, to my mind, the book as a whole offers an array of different storytelling strategies and narrative structures, and they’re short enough that you’re able to re-read them easily to figure out how they work. Pam Durban’s “Island,” for example, struck me as so marvelous when I read it the first time that I turned around and read it again, aloud, to my wife. (And the stories are ripe for discussion too: Tara (a flash fiction writer herself) and I disagreed about whether Durban’s piece was as effective as it could be — where the heart of it was, where it might have been cut further, how it all played out.)

Today (Sunday, September 13), Gingher debuted the new collection on the closing day of the North Carolina Literary Festival, and tonight the book will be the focus of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation’s 50th anniversary, but even if you miss those events, there are plenty more opportunities to catch readings by the contributors. (See a full list at the bottom of this post.) In advance of the NCLF, Gingher and I talked about the book via email, and I’m grateful for her time (especially in the midst of all the festival’s busy-ness!) and glad to share our interview here.
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Margaret Maron Talks About “Sand Sharks”

September 8, 2009

After tackling immigration issues in Hard Row and the crisis of rampant residential and commercial overdevelopment in Death’s Half Acre, Margaret Maron’s latest Deborah Knott mystery, Sand Sharks, finds series heroine Judge Deborah Knott taking a vacation of sorts to a summer judge’s conference down in Wrightsville Beach — and Maron herself seemingly taking a break from some of her exploration of North Carolina’s most pressing social and political issues. But when Deborah discovers the corpse of a fellow judge, her beach trip takes a dark turn. As potential motives for the murder emerge — with a wide range of suspects among the other judges attending the meeting — so too does another pattern take shape: an examination of ethics both personal and judicial and of the costs for letting those ethics lapse.

Sand Sharks has already enjoyed a wave of strong reviews: from the Winston-Salem Journal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and even the New York Times. Over Labor Day weekend, I’ve finally had a chance to read the novel myself, and not only did reading the book offer a quick holiday beach trip but it turns out that a character with my name shows up as a witness in the novel, so I was “there” in more ways than one. (Check out page 221 for my cameo appearance.)

As Maron prepared for a quick vacation of her own, she indulged me with a quick email interview about Sand Sharks, which I’m happy to share here.

Art Taylor: I enjoyed the novel’s set-up — reminding me in many ways of some classic Agatha Christies: A vacation destination, a group of characters who each have a motive for the killing the victim, all of them together in one place when the killing happens, opportunities and motives abounding.… You even include scenes of investigators charting who sat where at the restaurant where the murder occurs, and who left when, and who saw who last. How consciously were you exploring that classic form?

Margaret Maron: I’m very conscious of writing a traditional fair-play mystery, which means that I have to show the reader everything Deborah sees. I was not consciously trying to echo Christie, but have always resisted trying to plumb the depths of my subconscious, so it’s quite possible.  Playing fair with the reader is harder than keeping things up my sleeve, but I can always misdirect the reader by showing them more than is actually relevant.
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N.C. Events: Margaret Maron’s Sand Sharks & Pamela Pease’s Pop-Up Tour de Frances

August 13, 2009

Sand_SharksTopping the list of this weekend’s literary events is an annual favorite: the debut of Margaret Maron‘s latest Deborah Knott novel. The new book, Sand Sharks, takes Judge Knott down to Wrightsville Beach — and wouldn’t we all like to be there right now?! But it can’t all be sun and fun, of course. Soon our intrepid heroine stumbles upon a murder, and quickly Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington seem much more dangerous places for a vacationing judge with an inquisitive mind. A recent email exchange with Maron found her hard at work on her next novel, but she agreed to an interview about this latest book, which should be posted at this site soon. In the meantime, don’t miss the Sand Sharks launch party on Friday, August 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books. (Please note that this is one of Quail Ridge’s signing line events; get your ticket with purchase of the new book. And if you can’t make it, Maron has more area readings planned soon; check out the MetroBooks Calendar to the right for more information.) 

While we’re on the subject of Wilmington-Wrightsville Beach mysteries, I just got off the phone with Wanda Canada, author of the delightful Carroll Davenport mystery series, including Island Murders and Cape Fear Murders. That interview is slated to appear in the North Carolina Literary Review next year, but I did want to take a moment now to recommend those books as well to anyone looking for a little beach reading — in any sense of that phrase (a book for the beach, a book about the beach, etc.). 

TourdeFranceBack to the schedule of weekend readings, another fun author also has an event this Friday: Pop-up artist Pamela Pease will unveil her latest creation, Pop-Up Tour de France: The World’s Greatest Bike Race, at the Cary Barnes & Noble on Friday at 7 p.m. For an behind-the-scenes look at how she crafts these books, check out my interview with Pease here about her previous books, The Garden is Open, Macy’s On Parade, and Derby Day.

Sorry to be off of my interview schedule lately, but plenty coming up, including the Maron interview above, and talks with Fred Chappell, Marianne Gingher, and Jessica Anthony. Stay tuned!

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It’s Not Just That I’m Sick Of Cats…

December 4, 2008

…but I’ve been reading and rereading a few mystery stories about dogs recently — specifically the kind that don’t bark.

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After interviewing Margaret Maron recently, I tracked down her Agatha Award-winning short story “The Dog That Didn’t Bark,” first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in December 2002 and then reprinted in Suitable for Hanging, Crippen & Landru’s second collection of Maron’s short fiction (the collection’s cover image depicts the story, in fact). The story is about a missing woman, a distraught husband, concerned neighbors, and a number of dogs, one of which helps reveal the secret to the mystery despite (of course) that lack of a bark.

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An illustration by Sidney Paget for "Silver Blaze," The Strand, 1892

Perhaps the first time that a non-barking dog played a major role in crime fiction was in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” published in The Strand in December 1892 (exactly 110 years to the month before Maron’s story) and then collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. In this outing, Holmes and Watson travel into the moors to find the missing racehorse Silver Blaze and solve the murder of the horse’s trainer. Here too, a dog provides a pivotal clue.

“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” [asked Inspector Gregory, a local officer.]

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

[This exchange, of course, provided the title to Mark Haddon’s bestselling 2003 novel.]

3911fAnother of the stories I’ve been perusing comes from Donald J. Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series. “The Case of the Growling Dog” centers around the theft of an electric drill and the incomprehensible behavior of a guard dog who had been specifically “trained to bark at strangers and to seize their sleeves and trousers in his teeth” but who did nothing to prevent the theft. Since the crime, the dog had been left whimpering and unable to eat. (Advance warning to anyone interested in looking it up: The solution to the mystery is among the most absurd in all the Encyclopedia Brown stories.)

Why so much attention to these non-barking dogs? Well, a couple of dogs — one that can’t bark and one that doesn’t — play small roles in my own novel-eternally-in-progress, and I’ve suddenly had the sense that it’s all be done, redone and overdone too much before. 

To what extent are we, as authors, undone by all the plots already out there? all the ones that came before us? all the ones that are being written even while we toil away in front of our own computers? Forewarned is forearmed, I guess — at least that’s what I’m aiming for here by my reading and rereading.

As a postscript, here’s another, more dire thought: Is it futile to talk about “craft” at all in the midst of the publishing industry meltdown?

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An Interview with Margaret Maron

November 30, 2008
Margaret Maron and Charles Fraziers, winners of the 2008 North Carolina Award in the field of literature

Margaret Maron and Charles Frazier, winners of the 2008 North Carolina Award in literature

Margaret Maron is no stranger to awards. Her 1992 novel, Bootlegger’s Daughter, famously swept the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards — the only time in history that a single novel has won all four — and since then she’s won the Agatha for two more novels in her Deborah Knott series: Up Jumps the Devil in 1996 and Storm Track in 2000 (and that doesn’t include her awards for short fiction). In her native North Carolina, Maron also won the 2004 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction for a standalone, non-series book, Last Lessons of Summer

In mid-November, Maron was recognized with a special prize for the body of her work: the North Carolina Award — the state’s highest civilian honor. The award, nicknamed by some the “Nobel Prize of North Carolina,” is presented in several fields: the fine arts, literature, public service, and science. Maron was one of two writers honored in the literature category this year, sharing the stage with Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain. The awards were presented on Monday, November 17, at the Sheraton-Imperial Hotel in Research Triangle Park. The following week, Maron took some time to discuss the honor and her work.

Your novels and stories have already amassed a fine collection of honors. What does this award mean to you?

It’s a very heady to be given my state’s highest award.  It is an amazing honor to be so rewarded for doing what I love to do.  It’s also a validation of the work that was totally unexpected.

n252700The Deborah Knott books offer a portrait of a state undergoing sometimes rapid change, and each new title seems to tackle an important, often controversial issue: immigration in Hard Row and development in Death’s Half Acre, just to look at two recent books. What do you see as your role as a novelist: to capture on the page the reality of that quickly changing world? to offer enriched perspectives on those changes? or even to effect change — the novel as an instigator for action or activism perhaps?

First and foremost, I write to entertain. I just happen to also find the changes and the clash of cultures endlessly entertaining (and at times infuriating) so that they are natural topics to write about.  I do want my readers — especially my North Carolina readers — to think about the changes and to think where we’re going, to be a part of it and not just mindlessly swept along. But I try very hard not to let my soapbox show.

Not trying to pull you up on that soapbox, but what do you think is the most pressing issue facing North Carolina today?

I really don’t feel qualified to say what I think is the most pressing issue. I’d love to see real planning for sensible growth and a better public transportation system instead of building more roads. I wish we felt more charitable to the strangers among us and could afford (and want) to educate everyone, especially the children. It troubles me when the haves act as if they have no compassion for the have-nots. But these are my own worries, not necessarily pressing issues for the state as a whole.

I recently taught Bootlegger’s Daughter to a college literature class, and my students found similarities between the primary race between Obama and Clinton and the run-off between Deborah Knott and Luther Parker in the book. Do you think that the challenges that Deborah faced a decade-and-a-half ago remain similar to the ones that women face today (political or otherwise), or has there been some fundamental shift in attitude?

I do think many of those attitudes were the same until this past year when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton definitely moved the goalposts. They have indeed created a fundamental shift in attitude. As so many of my Democrative friends have said, “It isn’t that I wanted a woman president.  I wanted THAT woman as president.” Same for Obama: “I just wanted a smart, intellectually curious, non-isolationist for my president. The fact that he’s black is just icing on the cake.” I don’t know if we’re finally getting to MLK’s dream of judging people on the basis of character and not by race or gender, but I certainly hope so.

Finally, a quick question touching on an old, almost worn-out topic (one that you and I’ve discussed before, of course): Charles Frazier, also honored with this year’s North Carolina Award, writes what some might term “literary fiction,” whereas those same folks might call you a “mystery writer.” Does this award — this pairing — help to level that distinction? to prove that great literature is great literature, no matter how you label it?

I sure hope so! I really have quit worrying about how people label my books as long as they buy them! Here’s my current attitude, Art: It seems to me that all fictional writing falls into one genre or another. If it has a horse, dusty trails and an Winchester, then it’s a “Western.” If there are bug-eyed aliens, space ships or alternate universes, it’s “Science Fiction.” If it’s witty, funny, and everyone goes shopping, then it’s “Chick Lit.” Ghosts and vampires and spooky woo-woo?  “Supernatural.” Ghosts and spooky woo-woo and heroines running around in wispy nightgowns? “Gothic.”

Other genres are Romance, Fantasy, Historical…. The breakdown into subsets goes on and on. Only if it doesn’t fall squarely in one of those easy categories is it called “Literature,” which is neither more nor less important than any other genre and usually partakes of aspects of the others. There is excellent writing in that category; there is also pretentious navel-gazing.

Same for all the other categories. Every subset has its classics that have stood the test of time as well as the duds that were remaindered two weeks after their pub date.

— Interviewed by Art Taylor

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