Margaret Fenton spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist before quitting to focus on writing mysteries. Her work tends to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. She is the planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Margaret lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover with her husband and three super adorable Papillon dogs.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Little Girl Gone. When did you start writing and what got you into mysteries?
I have been a mystery fan all of my life. I started with Hardy Boys (meh) but fell in love with Trixie Belden. I think over the course of my pre-teen-hood I must have read eighty of those. Then onto Agatha Christie and Dick Francis and so many more. I never considered writing until one day I was in a car with the legendary Anne George. She said as a social worker I must come into contact with a lot of bad people. True, I replied. She said she thought a social worker would make a great protagonist. True again, I thought. And so I wrote Little Lamb Lost and it was published by Oceanview Publishing in June 2009. Little Girl Gone is the sequel.
What is your book about?
A thirteen year old girl is found sleeping behind a local grocery store. She hasn’t been on the street for long, and looks like a runaway. She refuses to give her name. Shortly thereafter a woman’s body is found on a golf course that’s under construction. The woman is the girl’s mother, and then the girl disappears. Claire has to find the girl, and the secret to why the woman was killed, fast.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
I wrote this book and submitted it to my editor at Oceanview Publishing, and they responded by stating that they were only publishing “thrillers” now and this book wasn’t “thriller” enough. Could I make it a thriller? I went through it again but the answer was really no. I write amateur sleuth mysteries, and that’s what this is. So they let me go.
Then the question was what now? I don’t have an agent, and was chilled at the thought of trying to find one because it can take years. I sat on this book for a long time, wrestling with feelings that I wasn’t good enough and I might as well quit. Then I decided I’d just do it myself. I put it out through CreateSpace and Amazon. It was a real risk and I do miss having a publisher, but I’m considered a hybrid author and I’m okay with that.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
I hope readers will walk away with a greater understanding of what social workers do on a daily basis and the challenges they face. There are a lot of kids in this country facing mammoth problems like parental addiction and sexual abuse and hunger and neglect. Not enough resources are available to help these kids deal with these issues. And, of course, I hope the readers love the characters as much as I do.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Oh, she’s absent a lot. I find when I get stuck, it’s usually time to go research. I’ll look online for answers to questions or call one of my former co-workers for answers. I would never put a true story in a book, because that would be unethical, but I can get ideas from real stories and real kids. Sometimes I just read, too. That’s a big motivator, to go back to a book or an author I’ve read over and over and get re-inspired.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I write best when I first get out of bed. So it’s out of bed, pour a cup of coffee and hit the keyboard. I read an article some time ago about the creative process and how it’s stronger in the morning. That’s true for me. I’m not disciplined, and many days can find a lot of excuses to not sit in the chair. Then I’ll have a few days where I’m just on fire and that helps with the motivation. I’m also very picky about where I write, and almost exclusively need to be in my office on my desktop computer with the ergonomic keyboard. And yes, I have a favorite coffee mug, too. It says “Mystery Readers Rule”.
What was your publishing process like?
I went to Killer Nashville in 2007. I highly recommend that conference for yet to be published authors (YTBP authors). For a bit of extra money, you could talk to either an agent or a publisher. I chose the agent. Went to my meeting, sat down and gave her my mostly rehearsed pitch for Little Lamb Lost. She hated it. I don’t mean a little. She HATED it in capital letters, and essentially said she didn’t understand why anyone would want to publish that.
So I went to the bar and ordered myself a large, extra large really, gin and tonic. I was halfway through with it and a bit buzzed when my friend Don Bruns approached me and asked if I’d talked to Oceanview Publishing. I explained what happened with the agent, and he said he was going to get the rep from Oceanview. She came over, and I pitched, pretty sloppily. She wanted to see it and about two months later I had a contract with Oceanview. So my secret to getting published? Gin. Lots of gin. By the way, Little Lamb Lost is an Amazon bestseller.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Pyjamas. Really. I spend most of my day in a t-shirt and shorts and no bra. It’s the best. I love being able to be creative and comfortable all day. And I love the readers. Nothing better than finding a mystery fan who enjoys the same authors I do. I am also the coordinator of a conference called Murder in the Magic City here in Birmingham every February and that is tremendous, tremendous fun. Tickets go on sale December 1, 2017 and our website is MMC Mystery Conference
Where is your book available?
Print and Kindle editions are available at Amazon. You can purchase the first book here and the second book here. There’s an audio version of Little Lamb Lost and I hope to get an audio version of Little Girl Gone out soon. My website is Margret Fenton and there’s info about the books there, too.