My bio feels like a crazy quilt rather than a normal person’s timeline. Maybe I should go from back to front? Currently living with one husband, two daughters, and three cats in a hundred year-old house in St. Paul, Minnesota, a place we’ve recently moved to that I thoroughly love. Have become involved here with The Loft Literary Center—a writer’s dream organization—and am in a writing group that’s an off-shoot of one of my classes. I have one Middle Grade children’s book that has made it to the editor’s re-write process at Knopf—this has been going on for a long, worrisome while—it’s called Green Wing, and is about a family that moves from New York City to a farm they’ve inherited, hoping to get back to basics. They discover they’ve inherited a few extras—the farm is infested with fairies, and the fairies think the oldest son, Patrick, is destined to lead them as they “come out” to humans. It’s exactly the kind of thing that can wreak havoc on your social life when you’re a new kid at school. I have also finished another book I’m trying to peddle, called Trout Lily. This is a YA mystery, a sort of Veronica Mars meets National Treasure, about a fifteen-year-old girl, named Cassie, who discovers after a hit and run accident that her historian mother may have made an important discovery about a lost civil war treasure. The problem is, her mother has been in a coma since the accident and a creepy, shadowy someone thinks that Cassie—who is hobbling around on crutches and trying to keep what’s left of her world together—knows a lot more about her mother’s discovery than she actually does.
That’s the “Now Part” of my biography. Before this, I lived most of my life in New York City, where I graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. While a student I worked at lots odd jobs, including jack-of-all trades stuff for a boxing promoter; research for Cappy Productions, a company that made documentaries on the Olympics; and eventually I went on to a real job at ABC, the television network, where I was something called a Field Operations Manager in News, Sports and Entertainment. That was fun and took me all over the world. Tough to work eighty-hour weeks and travel with two kids, though. Which leads to another perfectly good reason—besides it being what I crave to do every morning when I wake up—to work at becoming a writer. You can still put in eighty-hour weeks, but squeeze those hours in between doing things like driving someone you absolutely adore to her piano lessons."
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the top ten in our Spring 2013 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
Margaret: I really admire the concept of your publication--it gives a new writer an approachable forum, plus it's been fun to read what you have on line.
WOW: Thanks for the kind words about WOW! What was the inspiration behind your story, "Birds of North America?"
Margaret: Oh, the whisper of time, passing. It goes whoosh every once in a while.
WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?
Margaret: I like to fill up three ring binders with loads of ideas, bits printed off from the Internet or things acquired from letters. Even pictures of rooms. Then I visit them. They help provide the mood needed to make a story cohesive. For organizing a book, I've learned to put the plot points--when the first draft is done--on index cards. Then I spread them out on our dining room table for a day or so and play around with the order of things. Sometimes it takes a while to get to know your characters and their story before you make your storyline work, so a significant plot point might not arrive in your first draft until page sixty when really it should be closer to page twenty. I can move the cards around and see how to best work out the rhythm of the plot that way.
WOW: Sounds like a good strategy. You mention that your middle grade novel has made it to the editor’s re-write process at Knopf (impressive!). What has the path to publication been like so far?
Margaret: I need an agent! You really need someone official to ask your questions for you, I think. Everything feels in limbo. I've written a second book and am shopping for an agent now, hope to then back track with Knopf to get the issues with the first book smoothed out.
WOW: We hope it all works out for you. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Margaret! Before you go, can you share your favorite writing tip or advice with our readers?
Margaret: First of all, believe in yourself. Secondly, listen to other people's reactions to your writing. I know those two sound as if they work at cross purposes, but they don't. For the longest time I believed the subtle points I was trying to convey in my writing should be understood by the reader, and if the reader didn't get it, then it was his or her fault. Finally I realized it's my responsibility to find the way to make my point universally clear.
If you can get a good writing group together, it's amazing how much you learn from your group. You might think you've produced a passage that's elegant, or vintage you, or whatever it is that is why you wanted to write in the first place, and then when your readers start sending it back with question marks, you have to take a dispassionate view of what you've created and read it with fresh eyes. My writing group is terrific and I would walk through fire for them. I really trust them and have learned so much from their supportive critiques.
Find out more about WOW's quarterly writing contest:
Find out more about WOW's quarterly writing contest: