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 taking a break to focus 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.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about Little Girl Gone, and what compelled you to write it.
Margaret Fenton: Little Girl Gone is the second in the Claire Conover mysteries. I was inspired to write the story based on a newspaper article I read several years ago about teens and sexting. Claire is also continuing her relationship with Grant Summerville, the man she met in the first book, Little Lamb Lost.
M.C.: What is your book about?
M.F.: Claire Conover is back in the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. She has taken into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store. The girl’s murdered mother is found at a construction site owned by a family friend, then the girl disappears. Her mother worked in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham. Things only get more complicated from there. Is it possible the girl pulled the trigger? She doesn’t have a lot of street smarts, so where could she have run? Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in Little Girl Gone?
M.F.: Claire is a child protective services social worker, so all of my books explore kids in danger who come into the foster care/adoptive system. As I said above, there is a bit about sexting in this book and the effects that cell phones have on everyone. Information is instant now, and that’s part of what I touch on in this book.
M.C.: Why do you write?
M.F.: I had a wonderful mother who instilled a love of reading in me at a very early age. I loved mysteries most of all. I loved Trixie Belden, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown as a child, and then read a lot of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. After I moved to Birmingham in 1996, I got to know the late Anne George. She was the wonderful author of the Southern Sisters mysteries and she really encouraged me to give writing a go.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
M.F.: First thing in the morning. I grab a cup of coffee, stay in my p.j.’s and write until lunchtime at least.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
M.F.: Not very. I write based on rhythm and feel. Sometimes the grammar isn’t totally correct, but it’s dialogue so I think it’s okay. I wish I had a broader vocabulary sometimes.
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
M.F: Absolutely. When I was writing Little Lamb Lost, I was really struggling with the all-important opening paragraph. I hated what I had written and needed something new. I grabbed a drink and went and sat outside on my porch and cleared my mind. Then it came to me. The perfect opening sentence for that book. I’m convinced it was a gift from someone, somewhere.
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
M.F.: After Little Lamb Lost came out in 2009, my publisher decided they were only going to publish thrillers. Little Girl Gone is not a thriller. They asked me to rework it, but it just wasn’t going to happen, so they passed. Not having a publisher after you’ve had one is really hard. It was tough dealing with that feeling of rejection and trying to decide what to do next.
M.C.: Your best?
M.F.: Oh I love this story. I had the most amazing and inspirational English teacher in high school. When I got published, I really wanted to share that with him. I started to look for him, as he wasn’t teaching at my high school anymore. I searched a while and even heard a rumor he had died. Then one of my friends tracked him down. I wrote him a long, gushy letter and sent him a copy of the book. He loved it! We are in touch again and even friends on Facebook. He influenced me to major in English in college and start writing.
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
M.F.: Catastrophic head injury, maybe. Maybe.
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
M.F.: The story above about my teacher.
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
M.F: It’s just something I really enjoy. I have to work not to get too obsessed with the story at the expense of everything else in life.
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
M.F.: Claire and I do have a lot in common. We are both social workers, although she is a lot more of a workaholic than I ever was. I dealt with the mental health side of things at DHR, while Claire is an actual social worker. And of course, she’s younger and prettier than I am! I think most authors create protagonists that are younger and better looking and tougher.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
M.F.: My writing, at least, is fed by darker points of reality. The thing I love about any good mystery is that justice is always served. That doesn’t always happen in reality and that’s disappointing. So it’s nice to get drunk on fiction.
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
M.F: I do. www.margaretfenton.com Thanks for this interview, it was fun!