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.
Claire Conover is back in the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. She has taken a 13-year-old girl into custody after she is 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.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I have been a big mystery fan all of my life. Never thought about writing anything until I met Anne George. She was a wonderful person and I adored her. She asked me one day, as a social worker, if I came into contact with anyone evil or villainous? I answered of course. She said she thought a social worker would make a good, realistic protagonist and I agreed. That’s how Claire was born.
I used to. I worked for about ten years as a mental health consultant to the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources, providing therapy for kids that were in danger of coming into foster care or who had come into care. That’s how I learned what the life of a social worker was like.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and quit my job to focus on getting well (I’m cancer-free now for 12 years). Then I started writing and never went back.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Very avid reader as a kid. I spent most nights under the blanket with a flashlight and a Trixie Belden book. I seriously think I went through elementary school on about four hours of sleep a night! Loved Agatha Christie, too. And Rex Stout. Then I found a Dick Francis book on my grandparents’ bookcase and he became my all-time favorite.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
My writing is almost all stream of consciousness. I have to have an idea of where I’m going for the next two or three chapters, but if I outline a whole book I never follow it. The characters have ideas of their own.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
My books are very character driven, and I hope the readers come away with a love for Claire and all her crew and care about what happens to them. I also want them to have an idea about what the life of a social worker is like and the challenges they face.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
In the shower. I have no idea why. That’s where my mind wanders I guess. I also get ideas from the media. I got the idea for Little Girl Gone from an article in the newspaper.
Describe your working environment.
I write on a desktop in my office. I have anywhere from one to three Papillions in here. I take breaks when they demand something, which is often.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I mean, if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. Better luck next time. What I hate are reviewers who post negative comments and they haven’t read it, because they don’t like the idea of children in danger or in mysteries.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I have been in a critique group for 18 years. They are wonderful. You do have to be careful to provide encouragement and support with honesty. We try to never say anything negative without adding a positive.
Title: Little Girl Gone
Author: Margaret Fenton
Find out more on Amazon
About the Book:
When Little Girl Gone opens, it’s September in Birmingham, Alabama, and Claire Conover is steeling herself. September—with its oppressive, unwelcome heat, back-to-school newness worn off, and skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect—is a time of year Claire has come to dread. As the crime rate increases, so increases the work load for Claire and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. Seems this year is no exception.
When she takes into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store, Claire is swept up in a case that turns out to be far more complicated, and far more dangerous, than initially meets the eye. Struggling to piece together the young girl’s identity, Claire finds herself with few answers and no shortage of questions. Is the young girl a runaway? An abuse victim? Or something else? But things go from bad to worse when the young girl’s mother is found murdered—and then the girl disappears. Claire soon discovers that the mother was involved in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham. But even with this clue, the case becomes more complicated. Could the young girl have pulled the trigger? Is that even possible? And where could she have run? Did she run at all? In the midst of all the questions, only one thing is certain: Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.
A swiftly paced, suspenseful, and shocking story, Little Girl Gone earns Margaret Fenton a solid spot among today’s best mystery writers. Masterful plotting, extraordinary character development, and a pulse racer of a plot combine to create an extraordinary mystery resplendent with twists, turns, and surprises. An unforgettable story informed by Fenton’s near decade of experience as a social worker, Little Girl Gone also shines a light on the plight of at risk children and the dedication of those tireless and compassionate workers who serve them. A stellar entry into what Booklist hailed “a promising new series,” Little Girl Gone is mesmerizing.