Margaret Millar on Words and Writing

Some words of wisdom from Margaret Millar about her own writing, as well as collaborating with her husband, Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald).

"I loved writing dialogue. He [Kenneth] used to like writing action. And I hate writing action. When somebody has to go someplace, I say: 'He went someplace.' That's the most action I want to write. Because to me, it's irrelevant. What's relevant are the words: the mood, and the words that are exchanged. Because you can be driving a Chrysler, or a Jeep -- who in hell cares? What matters is what you say when you get there!"


"He's always been tactful. I'll show him something I've written and he'll say, 'This is marvelous, but it would work even better if you did thus-and-so.' Then I know I'm in for a major job of rewriting. He edits me with positives instead of negatives… I did teach him to write better dialogue, so that everybody didn't sound like him. In his first two books, all the characters talked like Ken! I don't even know anybody who talks like Ken. And I told him he had to listen... And we went around to a lot of places: pawn shops, low bars... And he realized how different people talk."

--Margaret Millar, from "Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar: Partners in Crime" by Tom Nolan, (Mystery Readers Journal, Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall 2001)


  1. Love those quotes. I see they're from a magazine article. You want to read a terrific biography? Check out Tom Nolan's on Ross MacDonald. Reads like a suspense story, I'm not kidding. It's a page turner. Of course, you kinda need to like MacDonald's work to appreciate the man behind it all.

  2. I think she may well be my favorite writer. Yes, the Nolan books is very good. And I adore Ross. But Margaret wrote a different kind of story-ones that showed more psychological depth.


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