Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Writers Born Today - Margaret Millar

It's the birthday of Margaret (Sturm) Millar, born February 5, 1915 in Kitchener, Canada. She had less than a typical childhood. Some of her earliest memories involve walking to school past a slaughterhouse, whose stench and sounds of bellowing, dying animals was impossible to ignore. She spent her reading time with the pulp magazine Black Mask, which she devoured with relish. “Some kinds of addiction are considered incurable,” she would say later.

After attending the University of Toronto she married Kenneth Millar, and they moved to California while he served in the navy. She began writing after she was forced to remain in bed following the birth of her daughter. At first, she typed her husband's stories, then began to create her own. Her first novel, The Invisible Worm, was published by Doubleday to critical acclaim. The New Yorker called her "a writer of considerable voltage". She plunged into her second book and never looked back. More psychological thrillers followed, The Devil Loves Me in 1942, Fire Will Freeze in 1944, Do Evil in Return in 1950.

Hollywood bought some of her stories, and she was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, who adapted two of her novels, including Beast In View, for his television series.

In 1956, she won an Edgar Award for Beast in View from the Mystery Writers of America. She was the group's President in 1957, and received a Grand Master Award from the MWA in 1983. Her short story, The People Across The Canyon was featured in the recently released anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. It was also reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the November 2005 issue as a Mystery Classic. You can listen to an audio broadcast of the story here.

Tragedy struck her family later in life. Her daughter died at the age of 31 and her husband suffered from Alzheimer's before his death in 1983. Macular Degeneration took her eyesight. She coped by writing. She told the Los Angeles Times in an interview, "If I couldn't write now I'd probably go off my rocker. Writing keeps me sane--or as sane as I am,"  She died in 1994.

You can read more about her in Kathleen Sharp's article from the LA Review of Books, The Dangerous Housewife, and Sarah Weinman's article in the National Post, Margaret Millar: The Original Canadian Queen of Crime.

Sarah also included Beast In View in a new collection of suspense novels which she edited. Women Crime Writer's of the 1940s and 50s was released last September by the Library of America.

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