Margaret Fenton grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and moved to Birmingham in 1996. She received her B.A. in English from the Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her Master of Social Work from Tulane. She spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist for the Department of Human Resources before focusing on her writing. Hence, 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, a software developer. Her first novel is Little Lamb Lost and is available at bookstores and through Amazon.
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
Never thought about being an author until 1999. I was living here in Birmingham and had been a rabid mystery fan all my life. A lady at the Little Professor bookstore asked if I had read Anne George. She was a local author, cozy, and very funny. No, I hadn’t. She sold me her first book, Murder on a Girl’s Night Out. Well, that was it, I was hooked, and I had to meet her. Went to one of her book signings and we got to know each other. She encouraged me to join Sisters in Crime and one day in the car on the way to a SinC meeting she asked me if I’d ever considered writing a mystery. I was working as a social worker at the time and she said she thought a social worker would make a good protagonist, since they come in contact with some “evil” people. I agreed and as they say, voila, Claire Conover was born.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
Honest answer. There are things I love and hate about it. I love writing and making up stories. I hate promoting myself. It feels like bragging and as a southern girl I was taught not to brag on myself. And I don’t make any money. I am very lucky and have an awesome husband who supports me in every way so I don’t have to work a day job.
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
I’m hybrid, a term I love. My first novel, Little Lamb Lost, is traditionally published by Oceanview Publishing. It came out in 2009. It is an amateur sleuth novel. I wrote the second book, Little Girl Gone and submitted it to them. They had decided sometime after my first book that they are only going to publish thrillers, and asked me if I could make it a thriller. I tried. I couldn’t. So they passed. Then I sat on it for about five years, wrestling with what to do now. Find an agent? That takes forever and is very discouraging. And I suck at writing query letters. Self-publish? Maybe. Finally I got tired of waffling and decided I’d just do it myself. I hired a company to do the formatting and that was a great decision. I don’t have any complaints about being self-published, except I missed my publicist terribly. She was the most important person on my team at Oceanview. She is doing freelance work now so I hired her. BEST decision ever and she’s why I’m doing this interview.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
I am a cancer survivor and because of that disease I can’t have children. So I just have a husband and three dogs and a lot of free time. So time isn’t the issue. I have invested a lot of money into being a writer. I’m a sucker for book giveaways and gave away 500 stuffed lambs with the launch of Little Lamb Lost, and with Little Girl Gone I gave away 500 stuffed white teddy bears (read the book and you’ll get why). That’s a little source of conflict sometimes when you add the cost of the publicist and the formatter and the cost of books to give away.
This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
My three Papillons won’t let me write until they are fed. And they cry when they have to go out which disturbs the concentration, so they come first.
This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
Ha! I am the worst plant parent. If there was a plant protection agency (PPS?) I’d be reported and my plants taken to foster care.
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
When I had a day job I worked on the novel on the weekends. I can ignore the phone and the family can feed itself. Working without a day job is much easier, so thanks honey!
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
Getting dropped by my publisher. That really sucks.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I am a Facebook addict. Seriously I need a 12-step program. I love being on there and seeing everyone’s news. Whether it equals sales, I have no idea.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Yeah, publicists are the best thing in the world. They really help.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
I don’t know that jumping on the rooftop screaming would do any good, but I wish the publishing industry were different, maybe like it used to be in the past. More supportive. I wish I hadn’t had the fantasy that I was going to get published and have a great publisher who really supported me and really wanted to help me grow my career. That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s sad.
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
Everything in the above statement is true. I wouldn’t do it any other way and I love what I do. I love Claire and I hope you do too.