My Tote Bag


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Margaret Maron

Margaret Maron grew up on a farm near Raleigh, North Carolina, but for many years lived in Brooklyn, New York. When she returned to her North Carolina roots, with her artist-husband, Joe, she began a series based on her own background. The first book, BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER, became a Washington Post bestseller that swept the top mystery awards for its year and is among the 100 favorite Mysteries of the Century as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Later Deborah Knott novels UP JUMPS THE DEVIL and STORM TRACKER each won the Agatha Award for Best Novel.


As family-owned farms and lush fields in North Carolina's picturesque countryside start to give way to shoddy mansions and housing developments, discontent begins to rile the inhabitants of Judge Deborah Knott's beloved Colleton County. Beneath the surface of her seemingly peaceful town a tide of corruption is rising, and even her strong-willed father might be led down a dark path.

At the same time, the murder of a controverisal high-profile woman commissioner pulls Deborah and her husband, Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant, into the shadows of the past, where even the most prominent townfolk—including the honorable judge herself—have something to hide. Intent on protecting those who love her most, Deborah must balance her own concerns with her commitment to justice, and the knowledge that a vicious killer is still on the loose.

Beyond The Book - Margaret Maron on DEATH'S HALF ACRE

Lee: Please tell us a little about yourself.

Margaret: I'm a Tar Heel born and bred in eastern NC. Unlike my character who comes from a large family, I was the middle of only three children. Loads of second cousins, however because my grandmother was one of 11. After several years of living "off" ( D.C., Italy, NYC), we moved back to the farm where I grew up. Although I had been writing short stories for several years, it wasn't until we were here that I gathered enough courage to try writing novels. Amazingly, Death's Half Acre is my 24th novel, the 14th in the Deborah Knott series. There are also two collections of short stories.

Lee: Your newest book, DEATH’S HALF ACRE is another Deborah Knott mystery. For our readers who might not be completely familiar with your work, could you please tell us the inspiration behind this full series? Why did you pick Deborah Knott as your key character?

Margaret: I wanted to write about the here and now of my life and of North Carolina as it lets go of its sleepy, agrarian past and moves into the bustling, hi-tech future. Police officers, reporters, and attorneys had been done to death, but to my knowledge, no one was writing about a female judge. It was a fresh hook and seemed to offer lots of possibilities. Making Deborah Knott a district court judge and sending her all over the state to hold court gave me the opportunity to explore various aspects of the state that interested me -- from the mountains to the coast, to the furniture industry and potteries in between.

Lee: Tell us more about the premise of DEATH’S HALF ACRE. What sparked the idea for this story?

Margaret: It was fueled by my dismay over the unchecked and almost totally unregulated growth in the area. The book is about loss: loss of land, loss of community, loss of a way of life, loss of innocence. Although there's a light-hearted scam woven into the main plot, there is a more somber feel of coming to terms with those losses.

Lee: Does Deborah Knott have any characteristic traits that are similar to yours?

Margaret: We both love this land that has shaped us. We both wish that national journals would stop touting this as one of the most desirable places to live, but we're both becoming reconciled to the fact that change is inevitable.

Lee: What I really enjoyed about this book is that while there was an excellent murder mystery at the core of it, you’ve also taken the time to explore the effects of corruption on the community and coupled with family values and a small town mind-set, it helps to paint a more intense and intriguing picture. Do you flesh out all your secondary characters before you start the writing process for each story or do they sort of take life as you write? Have any of the secondary characters ever surprised you by doing something you weren’t expecting?

Margaret: Because I don't outline, I am constantly surprised by where the story and the characters take me. Although the first victim remains constant, if there's a second victim, it's usually unplanned. I have written several books in which the killer keeps changing. Because that happened in the very first book I wrote, I quickly got over feeling uneasy about shifting characters. I usually start with an issue, the setting and the basic cast of characters and let the rest build organically out of those elements.

Lee: What’s your writing process? Do you have a set routine?

Margaret: It's very much like a bird building a nest: I take a piece of string, some straw, add a feather or two, some strips of plastic baggies, dandelion fluff, dogwood twigs, and somehow weave all those disparate elements into a cohesive whole. I'm not a morning person, so I usually piddle all day and only start writing for real around five in the evening. But then I'll go till one or two in the morning. I have seen more sunrises from working all night than by getting up early.

Lee: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t writing?

Margaret: Reading, gardening, some sort of home improvement project, just hanging out with friends and family.

Lee: What are you working on at the moment?

Margaret: Sand Sharks, the 15th in the series. After two fairly dark books, this one will be lighter. Deborah goes to a judges' conference at the beach and discovers a body in the Cape Fear River.

Lee: How may fans contact you?

Margaret: There's a contact button on my website; and I do enjoy hearing from my readers. I try very hard to answer all the nice letters within a couple of weeks. Nasty letters go immediately into my junk mail trash can! Life is too short to waste it on people who want to rail against my morals and my politics.

Lee: Margaret, thanks so much for your time. Looking forward to your next book!

Margaret: You are quite welcome, Leena. Thank you for inviting me over.