Interview with Margot Zalkind Mayor



Interview with Margot Zalkind Mayor


Margot Zalkind Mayor discusses her career in publishing, publicity, and rowing. She discusses how the COVID pandemic has changed publishing and author events. She talks about hno She mentions her experience during Hurricane Irene and a memorable Thanksgiving when power was lost. She talks about how the Vermont "brand" is represented in contemporary literature, and shares her enthusiasm for the goodness of living in Newfane, even as the commercial sector of the village has diminished in the years she has lived here. The interviewer's puppy makes some noises in the background.


February 18, 2021


Margot Zalkind Mayor


Erica Walch




Margot Zalkind [00:00:00] My name is Margot Zalkind, Mayor. And today's date is the 18th, I believe, of February.


Erica Walch [00:00:10] 2021. Yes. So how did you come to live in Newfane?


Margot Zalkind [00:00:16] Well, I came here because the short answer is because of Archer Mayor, I was living in Northampton years and years ago, I'll give you a slightly longer answer than I was living in Northern Vermont. I had moved up from New York City to originally Moretown, Vermont, lived there, moved up to Worcester, Vermont, and lived there for many years and had decided that Vermont was wonderful, but was really not a place for me because I love being around people. And Worcester was very far up and very isolated where we lived. Moved from there to Boston, moved from there back to New York City for many years, moved to Connecticut, moved to Arlington, Virginia, then moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, and lived there for many years and was very happy there. It met my criteria for being near people. And I had I was doing freelance work and I was also working for United States rowing at the time remotely. So everything was great. I then met Archer Mayor, which I can elaborate on if you'd like, and started first to edit for him and then started to do publicity for him, started to get his website more contemporary, got him onto Facebook. This is some years ago and we worked together and started then to date and that led to being more serious. And he said he had lived here for like 30 years and never wanted to move and said, would you move up here? And at first I said no. So I spent some time doing like two days here, two days in Northampton, going back and forth.


Margot Zalkind [00:02:10] And eventually we got married and I moved up here.


Erica Walch [00:02:17] I want to say 2011. Yes, and what was your.


[00:02:28] That was such a bizarre weekend. I had gotten as part of what I was doing was creating events for Archer to get him more widely known. And Waitsfield, Vermont, was doing a literary and art festival that weekend. And we went up to a B&B in Warren, and they were talking about a storm coming. And I was still living in Northampton, I think I'm not sure. But I come up for the weekend and we drove up to a bar and went to this B&B like on Friday. And Archer had events that he presented all weekend and they were terrific. Nice turnout Friday sort of and Saturday. And he was talking about forensics. We had done a really enjoyable presentation about forensics and television and we called it enhanced this. And it was the truth and the not truth about what you can do. And I put together film clips of somebody holding up a spoon and saying, wait a minute, can you enhance this? And they then showed somebodies reflection and the spoon in the diner through the window. So things like that or when somebody's eye. And so it was great fun. And then Archer would talk about because of his years of experience, what really is true. And you couldn't have done that, but you could have done this. So that was fun. So that was the weekend and the weather forecasts kept getting sort of more dire, but they still were talking about a big storm. So finally, I think it was the second day. The the forecasts were getting bad and people were leaving, so we thought this is ridiculous. So we left and came back and it was so quiet, it was so weird.


Margot Zalkind [00:04:18] But the stream behind our house was so high and it was almost at that point up to our back porch. So we went in to sort of slight panic mode. We had a lot of books on the floor of the barn that were like old books and storage books and stuff.


Margot Zalkind [00:04:38] So moved a lot of cartons of books and I was more nervous. Archer's archer tends to be sort of be all right. And I'm more like, we better be ready. We better be ready. So we moved a lot of things up a whole level. And in the night there was this sound that I think I'll never forget. It was almost prehistoric. There were huge boulders tumbling down the stream. And so they were hitting each other the way they were, the rocks were. And it was quite wonderful. And the next morning we walked up to the house above ours, which had been I don't think Heidi Ballantine was in there yet. I think it was still for sale. So we walked up there and as we approached, a tree fell. So that was everything was quiet and surreal. But you were very aware of this rushing of water. And then we walked around town and we saw cars in ditches and all the result of the flooding that had had. And concurrently, Archer got called in on a case he was still a detective at that point, and there was a young man who had gone missing Andy Marble, a teenage boy.


Margot Zalkind [00:06:00] So he got called in. Was it related to Irene? Was it not? Did the boy just leave the area? And that just got that case just got reopened. So that's sort of a side story.


Erica Walch [00:06:15] So the water didn't wind up going into your house.


Margot Zalkind [00:06:17] It came within about an inch of the floor level and then it started to recede. Yes, very dramatic.


Erica Walch [00:06:26] Have you had any other weather events or natural?


Margot Zalkind [00:06:34] Just power outages and the usual snow and ice, but nothing really unusual. We had a Thanksgiving, which was somewhat dramatic a few years ago. My daughter and her whole family had come up for a few days for Thanksgiving and it snowed like crazy and we lost all power. And of course, when that happens, you can either freak out or you can go into a sort of adventure mode. And we did. And we put candles out and we had a good time. But then and we're trying to figure out how to cook Thanksgiving dinner without power, but it came back on. So that was the closest we really came to anything dramatic.


Erica Walch [00:07:19] You mentioned that you worked for US Rowing. In what capacity?


Margot Zalkind [00:07:24] I was their director of membership and marketing for many years. And as a volunteer, I was chair of their safety committee for about 20 years.


Margot Zalkind [00:07:37] Are you a rower yourself? Yes. And do you row now?


Margot Zalkind [00:07:42] I do it, but not here, I like to throw in big boats, and that's down in Holyoake or in Northampton here there are smaller boats and I'm just not used to those.


Erica Walch [00:07:54] So is your work now that you live here in Newfane.Archer Mayor-related and the marketing.  What else do you do?


Margot Zalkind [00:08:05] I well, we own the rights to the first 18 books of archers, which means that I publish them. I put them into e-books. I had them made into audio books. When you have them all and you're not part of a publishing other group, then I do all that. I get them distributed, printed everything for that. The newer books are published by St. Martin's Press down in New York. So I work with them. We work together because it's one long stream of books. And so I do handle, yes, all that stuff, a newsletter, Facebook, the website events. Now I'm doing a lot of virtual events for him. I put together a group called the Stone Cold Writer's Stone Cold Mystery Writers, and I put together four authors who are Northeast New England writers who write about this area as a way to enhance the brand of why, let's say a library in Utah may want to have an event. So it's not just one writer, it's for. And so that's been very, very successful. And we've been doing events for California and Texas, and that's been great. That's part of what I do then about three, four years ago, I started to publish other authors. And I did a book of Ed Corones cartoons, um, mostly about ex urbanites. I did that. I formed an imprint called Button Street Press. And so I do that with a friend who's up in Warren, um, Kitty, who's also had a book published. So we do that together, and I just wrote a book on farrowing, which is it called Water Ready, and it's about if you have to close your boathouse for any reason, like summer off season virus, whatever it is. Here's what you think about for your you're building your equipment, your people, your safety, your launch, your dogs, everything. So that just got put out in the last few weeks. So I did that. And I also did a manual for toxin's on how to be a cox and how to be safe. So I'm doing that and now I'm trying to figure out what to do next and. So I'm doing all those things at the same time. And then I wrote a column about safety in the sport. It's part of a group called Rowing News, which is the only rowing magazine in the US now, so he publishes that and then he's doing a catalog and he's trying to position that like the Patagonia catalog, so that its editorial and informational and helpful. And so he wants to include safety as part of that.


Margot Zalkind [00:11:11] So my first one is it should have been titled Don't Be Stupid, because a lot of people, you see what they're doing on Facebook, and so a lot of people are like, oh, yeah, I didn't know which used to wear because the duck was so icy, but I had a great row. I'm like, oh, no, no, no, you're really being stupid. I talk about hypothermia and ice and all that stuff.


Margot Zalkind [00:11:33] Zero year round, I used you foolishly and no, no, no, I have a rowing machine that I use.


Margot Zalkind [00:11:43] No, I learned some things as I got older.


Erica Walch [00:11:49] So you said that you were hesitant to move to Newfane, because you were so happy in Northampton and it was different from your experience up north in Vermont, have you come to feel comfortable?


Margot Zalkind [00:12:03] Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, I love it here. I didn't know anyone here except Archer, I met Castle and Alice Freeman, and that helped a lot because they are so dear and so warm and merry. Hill became a really good friend. I used to go down to the bookstore and just sit there for hours talking with her and we did some road trips together. And as I got to know people, which for me was harder if I didn't have children here. So there wasn't a school network and I didn't have a job. So I was working in such isolation that it did take me a little while to get to know people. I had gone down to North Hampton every week for at least a couple of days. I have grandchildren down there.


Margot Zalkind [00:12:53] And, um, and that helped you and Archer is a very.


Margot Zalkind [00:12:59] He's he is a writer, is a classic writer, and he loves to just go whole up and I I'm not I'm very outgoing and love to be with people and love to hear about them.


Margot Zalkind [00:13:13] And so it took a little while, but with Mary and with Alice and Castle, it gradually grew. And then I realized, too, I formed something called the Vermont Author's Project, and I tried more and more to create things that would get me into networks of people. And so that was good. I got started trying to get involved in that. And a guy named Bill Schubert, who's a writer up in, um, Burlington area, a couple of bookstore owners, one Mike DeSanto who has Phenix books and the one who is beer pond, just as a way to try again to expand who was being marketed outside of the state. And so I would go to Montpelier almost every month to meet with them. So that was good. So I was trying to really. Beat essentially build my own network of people that I could interact with because I love to collaborate on things.


Margot Zalkind [00:14:17] So that helped.


Margot Zalkind [00:14:23] Sir, they are, they are I stepped back from it just because I am trying to actually be smart and focused and not get too so even slightly before the virus, I step back from that.


Erica Walch [00:14:40] So you mentioned the virus, how has that?


Margot Zalkind [00:14:47] Well, I  don't go to Northampton every week, and so I, I miss seeing family and friends and it was a lot of my social life.


Margot Zalkind [00:15:00] And I do get to see Alice distanced, um, and every September, Archer's new book comes out and I arrange anywhere from twenty to thirty, thirty five events and we can't do those.


Margot Zalkind [00:15:19] So some places. Yeah, we did virtually.


Margot Zalkind [00:15:22] But again, this has become part of my network of people that I care about, that I enjoy seeing.


Margot Zalkind [00:15:30] So we would go up to Bellows Falls and have dinner with the owners and catch up with them. And then we'd go to Montpelier and spend some hours there and catch up with old friends of mine and then also go out with the bookstore owner. And so all that's gone and no more meetings and things.


Margot Zalkind [00:15:49] And so it's very isolating. And Zoom is all right, but not the same. And so for me, I mean, Archer's fine with it. I'll tell you when you interview. Yeah, I don't have to travel.


Margot Zalkind [00:16:04] The good news is, though, like I was saying earlier, if I want to get an event with Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, it's not like we have to spend money and fly and take three days. He just gets on the Zoome call at seven and he's done by eight thirty and they reach now hundreds more people then asking people to come out at night in Austin. When you go to an event, you get 40 people, maybe 50, maybe 60, but now you get three hundred or more. And so that's a good advantage in terms of works death.


Erica Walch [00:16:41] Do you think you will keep any of those remote options once the pandemic is over?


Margot Zalkind [00:16:48] I hope so. I'm trying to build up a lot more like in the the northwest. And yeah, I am trying to to get a lot more. So no, we wouldn't go to those, but yeah, I'd love to build those up.


Erica Walch [00:17:04] And you said you represent four Northeastern authors and try to get them to events in the rest of the country. Yeah, thinking of the Northeast in general and Vermont in particular. How do you think how do you think we in our area are seen by the rest of the US?


Margot Zalkind [00:17:26] Yeah, that's a that's a good question. It's a it's one that I grapple with a lot because did you see the movie Baby Boom years ago now? Oh, you should watch it because it struck me. I saw it years after I had lived up in Worcester in the middle of nowhere.


Margot Zalkind [00:17:44] And it was one of the more authentic representations of the good and the bad. You know, there's this great scene. She's selling baby food and a little store, which is like every classic Vermont country store. And this guy walks in with his wife and and she says, oh, should we get this? And he says, it's cute. It's really cute. Vermont is cute. The whole state is cute. And it was sort of that New York perception of, oh, they have gardens and they have cows. And and in Archer talks about how when he writes about the things he writes about, people are sometimes surprised.


Erica Walch [00:18:28] They're surprised, like there's crime in Vermont?.


Margot Zalkind [00:18:30] Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. Because they don't they don't see it. They don't hear about it.


Margot Zalkind [00:18:36] To me, when you mention Vermont outside of New England, people love it. They just oh, I love Vermont. And it does represent an integrity and a caring and a a real honest way of life in general, a very healthy way of life.


Margot Zalkind [00:18:59] And so, yeah, they think we we make cheese and we make maple sirup and and it's we only eat healthy food. There is a wonderful perception.


Margot Zalkind [00:19:11] And so these writers that I put together, well, three of them write about Vermont, the other one is Maine, and one of them is sort of writing Ireland a little bit. But I'm bringing her back. So when I position those two bookstores, they love the idea because people want to know about Vermont. So it is a good I jokingly call it the brand, and it is.


Erica Walch [00:19:39] And do you think that the writers represent that image or that they push up against it a little bit? Are they all crime writers?


Margot Zalkind [00:19:51] Yeah, they're all mystery writers. Yeah, they do both. Yeah, they do. But because. Yeah, they were writing about something bad that somebody did to somebody up here. Yes. And to a lesser or greater degree. Archer wrote a book years ago that I think was called The Dark Root, and it was about the home invasion. And it's the only book of his that I don't like. And he gets that a lot. And after I read it, I it was very early on in the series and I said, you know, it seemed like such a reach. And he said this was based on things that had happened here. And I was sort of horrified by it. So he does sometimes peel back. Sometimes it's one on one. There's jerk. Hate somebody else. OK, I'm going to kill you. But sometimes it's it's more widespread and that's when it gets sort of appeal back factor.


Margot Zalkind [00:20:56] Have you yourself experienced any crime firsthand here in Newfane?


Margot Zalkind [00:21:03] No, not anywhere in the state, actually. No, not at all. And Archer does you know, he's medical examiner and he goes out on cases and he'll tell me some of them. But oral tell me some of the stories of when he was a detective and. But not no, not myself at all. Fortunately, no. It's been it is wonderful to live here.


Margot Zalkind [00:21:29] And that's the thing. You know, I talk to Winnie and she just talks about how comfortable she is here and especially now.


Margot Zalkind [00:21:38] It's better for me because I'm in the village now in Worcester. I was six miles up a dirt road. And it was it was hard, you know, to mayonaise.


Margot Zalkind [00:21:51] You said, you know, I don't need the mayonaise.


Erica Walch [00:21:57] What would you say to any sort of budding author who is interested in writing about Vermont?


Margot Zalkind [00:22:11] I think there's so many ways to approach what that means, that it's it's a multi-faceted question.


Margot Zalkind [00:22:24] I just read a book, I think it's called Up The Country or Going up the Country or something. It's about back to the landers coming to Vermont. And that was during. She writes about the time that I lived here. And so I was up by Goddard College and I worked with bread and puppet theater and I experienced all that that she writes about. And and yet it was one prism, one facet of what Vermont was like, because concurrently other things were happening. But I didn't know a lot about them because I was up there and I had to see this universe and so one could write if one wanted to. I'm thinking, too, about the book Hometown by Tracy Kidder. Did you read that? It's an interesting book. I read it before I decided on Northampton and it's nonfiction. And he writes about the police chief and the police force. And there's one police officer who's being accused of some things. And then there's a woman who's coming to Northampton to be a Ada Comstock's scholar, which is their program for older students. And so it's he's writing about this town through these different perspectives. And it was fascinating to me. It made me really mostly like the town. And so I think about telling a writer, I think about writers I know, like Cassol wrote about sort of the gather around the woodstove, kind of Vermont and the real characters here. And then I think about Galway Kinnell, who came here. Galway had been a neighbor of mine in New York, and we used my then young son and I used to come up to the Northeast Kingdom to visit with Galway and his family. And Galway's perspective of Vermont was so sort of sheltered beyond sheltered. He had a cabin half the size of this room and he would go up there and he'd write about whatever it was, but it was just very myopic. And then Bill Schubert writes a lot about Vermont and he writes about coming here as a child from New York City and moving here and and his are much more realistic presentations at the state. So if someone wanted to come here, I guess well, I guess the first question would be how will you make a living? And my second question would be, what aspect do you want to write about? Because somebody has been talking to me about a project they want me to publish about business in Vermont. And I think. All right, again, like in the back to the country, you know, back to the land book, they talk about Ginny Kallon, who was a friend in Montpelier, a Goddard graduate, and she started this of the Moon Cafe. And it was so charming and personal. And all of us who were her friends toddle down the street, Montpelier, and had her wonderful foods that were so healthy. Well, it became a big deal. And then she did a cookbook and then she did another cookbook. And yet if I were a writer new to Vermont, I wouldn't have a clue where to start. And then when you think about Vermont business, it's anywhere from IBM and GE making Gatling guns down to socks or Ginny Callan's Little Horn to the Moon Cafe. And and so Vermont is interesting that way, but yet Vermont does not imply Google and an urban high rise and anything else. So, yeah, I think it would be part of our research at the Vermont author's project was to try to identify every writer of any ilk in the state. So there's cookbook writers and crafts writers and garden writers and we found over two hundred people. But of course, they're in varying degrees of intensity or professionalism. But there's a lot. And then there's Chris Bohjilian, who's some of his. Books have nothing to do with Vermont is just here.


Margot Zalkind [00:27:13] And so that happens to just happens to be here.


Erica Walch [00:27:21] Those are all the questions that I have for you is there, anything that I didn't ask that you wished I'd asked you or that you were sure I would ask you and I did.


Margot Zalkind [00:27:34] Oh, no. I, um.


Margot Zalkind [00:27:38] I guess since this is about Newfane, um, I've been thinking a lot about what you might ask me. And one of the things that has been a slight source of frustration for me is when I first came here, Marilyn just Tilburg ran the store in town and she asked me to get involved in this business association that was sort of ebbing. And I think she had said they were going to have their last meeting quite soon after she spoke to me and Maryhill and I decided we were going to take this on. And so we went to the last meeting of the then Newfane Business Association. And it was in a way, it pointed out, um, the two sides of any place in a way in Vermont except maybe Burlington, which is that Mary and I came in and said, all right, here's what we can do.


Margot Zalkind [00:28:48] And we then quickly got Asher involved, who was running four columns in who was totally gung ho, what can we do? And so I tend to jump into things, maybe to the fear of others. I don't know. But I do I like to sort of grab things and do them. And so I started to meet with people up in tourism. Yeah. And talk to them about the Byways project and what we could do. And at first Marilyn was very gung ho about this too. But then they had decided to really leave the store and so her interest went down. But Mary and I tried to really energize with Asher. And so I got a welcome center designation here through the state for four columns in because I thought people stop and they want to get information. It's a way to broaden interest in the town. But the town has had a struggle. You know, the deli is certainly gone through iterations since I've lived here. One, two, three, four owners, I think at least that I can think of. And they're having a hard time, I imagine. And so here I am saying let's promote Newfane. But concurrently, you know, Marilyn left the deli struggling. The creamery burned down. So a lot has made it a different kind of town. So do I see the potential and I got the greenhouse involved, too. But again, he was struggling. And here I am saying we can do this and they're like, I don't know that I want to. So part of my involvement with Newfane has been wanting to do that. But then I've stepped back because I'm not sure what other people want. And Asher left four columns. And so all that has evolved. So it will be interesting to me to see, OK, where do we go after this? What happens?


Margot Zalkind [00:30:57] Mary's bookstores now shuttered at least, and the Enfield's Jonathan is gone. So, so much has really made us more just of a residential place. I guess not business there. OK, sure. But different.


Margot Zalkind [00:31:17] So in terms of what you would ask me, but part of that answers your question, too, about my networking here, who who am I working with or in contact with and why and how? And so I grapple with that sometimes because it's an isolated life for me, not others. I see people, you know, they get together and they do stuff or they have jobs elsewhere.


Margot Zalkind [00:31:49] But for me, I don't. And so I'm almost always looking at, OK, what can I do to collaborate or help or do so that I have people in my life? Archer's wonderful, but he's an isolated writer.



Margot Zalkind Mayor


Erica Walch


Erica Walch, “Interview with Margot Zalkind Mayor,” Newfane/Brookline Community Memory, accessed January 20, 2022,