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‘absorbing second mystery . . . stunning resolution.’ [Stage Fright]

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Margot Kinberg

CoverForPastTenseIt’s a great pleasure to have Margot Kinberg as my guest on the blog today. Margot’s wonderful blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, is a must-read for me and many other fans of crime fiction. Her knowledge of crime fiction is encyclopaedic, she blogs every day – yes, every day! – and yet her standard never slips. I have picked up so many books for my TBR list from her and she has started some fascinating debates. She sets some killer quizzes, too!

She is also the author of the Joel Williams series of crime novels. The latest, Past Tense, combines two things I especially enjoy, a campus crime and a cold case when, during the excavations for a new building, the body of a student who disappeared forty years ago is discovered. It’s a splendid read.

Welcome to the blog, Margot.

Thanks so much for inviting me, Christine. It’s a privilege and an honour.

 The honour is all mine, Margot. Let me begin by asking how you carve out time to write fiction? What’s your writing routine?

I’ve found that I write best in the morning, so I try to commit some time each morning to my fiction. I must admit, there are days when I can’t. I’m in higher education, and, as you know, academia doesn’t really keep a regular schedule. But I do make an effort. And my thinking is, even twenty minutes and a few sentences is progress. I try to guard my writing time jealously, too; when I’m writing, I don’t answer email or check social media. I write. I also jot down notes if I get an idea when I’m not at home. Later, I look back on those notes when I’m actually writing.

Things are a bit different when I’m not teaching. Then, I try to focus as much as I can on my writing, because my non-teaching schedule is a bit more flexible. So, that’s when I do those major revisions that require a lot of extended attention.

What comes first for you, plot, characters, or theme?

For me, it’s always character first. I write crime fiction, so my first stop is always the victim. I think about who that person is, and what that person is like. That leads me, then, to the people in the victim’s ‘inner circle’ – those who might have the most likely motives for murder. Then, I move to other people who know the victim.

From all of these interactions and relationships, I can get a sense of what might have happened to cause the murder. And that’s where the plot comes in. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ often come once I’ve worked out who’s killed, why, and by whom. The better I get to know the characters, the better the plot works, anyway.

Who are your writing heroes? Whose books do you like to read and why?

I’m very fortunate that there are a lot of highly talented writers out there whose works I enjoy. It’s hard to pin down just a few, as I think I learn something from just about every author I read. But here are one or two.

I’m a fan of Paddy Richardson, whose characters are so beautifully done, and whose writing style I really admire. If it’s by Paddy Richardson, I’m sure I’ll love it. She really does deserve more attention than she gets. I admire Michael Connelly, too, on a few levels, not the least of which is his consistency. He’s been writing for twenty-five years, and has remained consistently strong as an author. There are plenty of other contemporary authors, too whose work I really respect – far more than there is space here. Going back to the classics, there’s no doubt that Agatha Christie is my hero. True, some of her books are stronger than others. But overall, the body of her work is so well done, and what clever plots! I could go on, but I won’t. Let’s just say I learn something new from her every time I re-read one of her stories.

A favourite bookshop?

Sadly, I don’t live anywhere near one of the ones I like best. It’s Baldwin’s Book Barn, located in rural southeastern Pennsylvania. It’s a converted barn – five floors filled with all kinds of books. A person could get lost for days, just browsing. I miss it very much actually.

I’ve another top shop, though, in San Diego, which is about 35-40k from where I live: The Mysterious Galaxy. Its specialties are crime fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy and horror. It’s an indie shop, so it’s got its own distinctive style. I also love the fact that the owners welcome authors – even those who aren’t ‘household names.

What are you writing at the moment?

Thanks for asking. Right now, I’m revising my fourth Joel Williams novel. It’s going well, but not nearly as quickly as I’d like. As you know, revisions can take time, and one small revision in one part of a story has a ‘cascade effect’ in others. I’m optimistic, though (most of the time!).

I’m also working on a standalone – quite different to the Joel Williams novels. In that way, it’s a bit like your choice to write Deep Water, which is different to your Cassandra James series. In the novel I’m working on, a fifteen-year-old homeless girl, Staci McKinney, witnesses the aftermath of a murder. The criminals catch sight of her, too. In part, the novel follows Staci as she tries to stay clear of the murderers and survive. As the novel goes on, she’s befriended by Leo Slater, a thief and fence who has his own past history. Staci decides to work with Leo, who in turn, gives her a safe place to live and some protection against the criminals who are looking for her. The novel follows the murder investigation as well as what happens in Staci’s own life. It’s a bit of a departure for me, as it’s a slightly darker novel than what I usually write. But I’m very much enjoying the process, and it’s ‘stretching’ me as a writer.

And finally: how do you do it, Margot? How do you manage to post every day and keep up such a high standard?

First, thank you. It means a lot to me that you enjoy what you find on the blog. I’m really glad you do. For me, crime fiction is utterly fascinating on so many levels. There’s always something new to discover, always some new perspective from which to look at the genre. And there are so many fine crime novels out there that there are always other talented authors to try. What’s not to love? Besides, keeping a blog is good writing discipline for me. And, I enjoy sharing my passion for the genre, so for me, it’s not an onerous task. It’s more along the lines of excitedly talking about a much-loved film or book with a group of friends.

And that’s the other thing that keeps me blogging: the wonderful group of readers and writers, such as yourself, who share an interest in crime fiction. I learn so much from everyone! The comments I get on my blog are so informative, and I treasure the online friendships I’ve made.

Thanks again for hosting me!

It has been a pleasure, Margot. Good luck with your writing and I look forward to visiting you many more times at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

 

26 Comments

  1. Tell Us What You’ve Seen* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...
    May 3, 2017

    […] come pay me a visit at Christine’s terrific blog, where I’ll be answering a few questions about my writing and blogging. And, as you’ll be […]

    Reply
  2. Margot Kinberg
    May 3, 2017

    Thanks so much, Christine, for having me!

    Reply
  3. Patti Abbott
    May 3, 2017

    Margot is a wonder. I can’t imagine how she comes up with a new (and interesting) topic every day and then finds books that will illuminate it. Yay. Margot! Plus teaching and writing novels.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 3, 2017

      I can’t imagine how she does it either – but I am glad she does!

      Reply
    • Margot Kinberg
      May 3, 2017

      Thanks, Patti – that’s very kind of you. And you’re pretty amazing, yourself!

      Reply
  4. Marina Sofia
    May 3, 2017

    One of my favourite book bloggers and I simply don’t know how she manages to combine writing, academia and regular blogging! She is an inspiration for me – and she is very supportive and encouraging of others too.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 3, 2017

      Yes, she is generous in her judgments and encouraging of other writers. That’s one of the things that makes her one of my favourites too.

      Reply
    • Margot Kinberg
      May 3, 2017

      Thank you so much, Marina Sofia. That’s awfully kind of you. I’m really glad you enjoy the blog, etc… 🙂

      Reply
  5. Patricia Stoltey
    May 3, 2017

    I’m in awe of your ability to write such detailed and perceptive posts every day, Margot. Thanks for doing this excellent interview, Christine!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 3, 2017

      I feel the same! It was a pleasure.

      Reply
    • Margot Kinberg
      May 3, 2017

      Isn’t Christine a great interviewer, Pat? I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And thank you for the kind words!

      Reply
  6. Jan Morrison
    May 3, 2017

    Hi Christine! Thanks for hosting Margot. Like may of her fans I long to hear more about Margot. We’ve been blogging pals for many years and I’m gobsmacked by her discipline, her attentiveness, her kindness and her knowledge. How does she do it? Is she five people? And never mind the exertion on keeping her own writing life going – she always fins time to drop by the blogs of her huge circle of friends to leave meaningful responses. Whew!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 3, 2017

      She is a force of nature, certainly! I did once ask her if she ever slept and she assured me that she did.

      Reply
  7. Margot Kinberg
    May 3, 2017

    Thanks so much, Jan, for the kind words. It means a lot to me. And I’m honoured that we’ve been blogging friends. My visits to your blog always enrich me.

    Reply
  8. Sue Coletta
    May 3, 2017

    Like you, I’m in awe of Margot. How she blogs every day remains a mystery.

    Margot, I loved learning more about your writing process. I agree with you. Any progress is still progress. Write on!

    Reply
    • Margot M Kinberg
      May 4, 2017

      Thanks very much for the kind words, Sue. And you’re right about progress in writing. Even small amounts are important. The key is, I think, that you keep making some progress, even a little at a time.

      Reply
  9. Cleo @ Cleopatra Loves Books
    May 5, 2017

    What a great insight into Margot’s writing process, love how she starts with the victim and builds the story from there.

    Reply
  10. Margot Kinberg
    May 5, 2017

    Thanks very much, Sue. And you’re right; even if it’s a few sentences, it’s still progress. And that, in the end, is what really counts.

    Reply
  11. Moira, Clothes in Books
    May 6, 2017

    Two of my favourite bloggers together – terrific. Very interesting interview, and, like everyone else, I am always amazed by Margot’s quantity and quality of output, and her generosity to and encouragement for others.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 6, 2017

      Nice of you to say so, Moira! Your quantity and quality of output is also highly impressive.

      Reply
  12. Margot Kinberg
    May 6, 2017

    Thank you very much, Moira, for the kind words. And Christine is such a terrific interviewer, isn’t she?

    Reply

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