Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sarah Stewart Taylor

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

Taylor's second Maggie D'arcy mystery is A Distant Grave.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

A Distant Grave comes from the elegiac poem "A Final Offering at a Distant Grave" by the Roman poet Catullus, which serves as the epigraph for this novel. The first murder victim in the novel is an Irish humanitarian aid worker and my detective is trying to figure out why he was in a deserted marina on Long Island, late at night, when he was killed. The title, especially in the context of the poem, captures many of the themes of the novel: a death far from home, the concept of brotherhood, grief, the idea of paying tribute.

What's in a name?

My main character, Maggie D'arcy, is Irish American, an identity that's important to her and to the plots of the books. Her name would be quite common in Ireland, and yet its spelling marks her as an outsider. (It would be spelled D'Arcy in Ireland.) I liked the idea of a little signifier like that, that would signal her difference, even in a place where she has so much family history. I like the nickname Maggie -- there's something approachable about it, down-to-earth, no-nonsense. She originally had a different name — Amy — but I decided I wanted something a bit more timeless and that signaled her Irish American identity more strongly.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Definitely beginnings! I often start with a beginning and an ending in mind, but it's the beginning that I often find I need to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. The trick is finding the right place to enter your story and like many novelists, I often find myself deleting the first few chapters, realizing that they were just warm-up and that it's always better to dive in at a moment when my plot has already picked up some momentum.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters are amalgamations and every single one of them probably has a little bit of me in them. Even characters who, on the surface, are very different from me, often share a life experience with me or someone close to me, or are consumed by a passion or motivation that I can stretch to understand. I always try to find a point of connection and I love that moment when I get inside the character's head and can see why they are the way they are.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was a journalist before I started writing fiction and I find that the stories I wrote many years ago are constantly inspiring characters and storylines in my novels. Interviewing real people and transcribing their *actual* words is such a great way to learn about dialogue and motive. And the things that real human beings get up to are so much more interesting than anything I could ever dream up. I'm also inspired by parenting. There's nothing like watching the emergence of essential character and the formation of personality to help a writer understand what makes human beings tick. And the intensity of the love and protectiveness I feel for my children is kind of terrifying: As a crime writer I'm always looking for the source of that intensity that makes people do things they never thought they'd do.
Visit Sarah Stewart Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Distant Grave.

--Marshal Zeringue