Marcia Muller: with something to say
Excerpts from the interview by Lynn Kaczmarek in the June/July 2003 issue of Mystery News
I met Marcia Muller once. It was in the book room at a Bouchercon in some unremembered city. She was with her husband, mystery and western writer Bill Pronzini. They were strolling around the room just like normal folk, chatting with friends as they passed. Two of the finest writers of mystery fiction, surely two of the most prolific, and they were just wandering the book room unnoticed, unremarkable. I remember trying to decide if I should interrupt their conversation with Gary Warren Niebuhr, and decided I would stand by on the edge of things, waiting for an opportunity to tell Muller how much impact her early work had on me. What is was like to discover that a mystery didn't have to be set in a small English village and feature a quiet grandmotherly amateur sleuth. How exciting it was to realize that not all female characters in mystery novels were the victims, or the secretary, or the curvy dull-witted dame. How encouraging it was to read about someone who was more like me only braver, smarter, more independent...and a better shot.
I thought about all those things, but what came tumbling out of my mouth was something much less articulate. Something like "I love your work..." or "I've been reading your books forever..." I remember she replied graciously and I couldn't get another word out of my mouth. I was a less than stellar first meeting. And when I talked to Marcia Muller on the phone recently, I didn't mention it.
So what was it like to talk to the first American woman to write a hardboiled P.I. series featuring a female detective? It was wonderful -- like talking to a friend. One who's bright and funny and sporting a comfort with herself that only comes with a life fully realized...
Muller went to school here in the midwest -- University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. From a very early age she knew she wanted to write. "...from about the age of 12. I wrote a mystery about my dog and I'm not sure what came first -- the writing or the illustrations. In college, in my junior year, I took a creative writing course. And at the end of it the instructor said 'You'll never be a writer. you just have nothing to say.' And I believed him, so I went into journalism and got my MA in journalism. I wasn't a very good journalist. And then I started reading mysteries in my late 20s and after a while they just seemed so wonderful to me and I felt that there was a framework where I could say something."
Read the complete interview in theJune/July 2003 issue of Mystery News