Molly MacRae also took part in the “Me and My Dead Shadow” panel at Malice Domestic 2013. She gives the cozy mystery genre her own paranormal twist with her Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries, Last Wool and Testament and Dyeing Wishes. As you might guess from the titles, these stories have a humorous bent, as well. Molly told me how she came to branch out into paranormal plots:
Q. What’s the basic premise behind your two Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries?
A. Kath Rutledge, a textile preservation specialist, inherits her grandmother’s fiber and fabric shop in Blue Plum, Tennessee, and also ends up with a depressed ghost on her hands. This is hard on Kath because she doesn’t – or hasn’t – believed in ghosts and she’s the only who sees or hears the ghost.
Q. You’ve injected a bit of paranormal into a classic cozy mystery series. What inspired you to add a ghost to the mix? What do you think attracts you to this combination?
A. I was offered a contract with Penguin and the editor asked if I could do something light paranormal, maybe with a ghost in it. Of course I said yes; who wouldn’t? It turns out a ghost is a fun, versatile character. She’s a good, if sometimes frustrating foil for Kath and she adds a layer of questions, perhaps unanswerable, to any discussion of death.
Q. Have you had any psychic experiences of your own, and if not, did you do research to make this aspect of your fiction believable?
A. I’ve had experiences I can’t explain. Second sight type things that probably happen to everyone. When I was a kid I was sure I saw ghosts a couple of times. Those ghosts are easy enough to explain away as a child’s imagination, but I had another experience thirteen years ago (an appropriate number, don’t you think?) when I heard ghosts – in the back seat of my car. But they weren’t just in my car. I was on my way to the airport to catch a plane to New York. The ghosts came with me to the airport, on the plane, and then rode into Manhattan with me in a taxi. They had a great time and laughed and talked the whole way – to the point that I actually asked them to please keep it down in case they attracted attention. Imagination? Maybe. But they were my mom and dad and I was on my way to New York for my uncle’s memorial service and they were so excited to be meeting up with him again. When we got to Manhattan they knew where they were and where to find Uncle Vin and they took off. It was a weird, but happy experience that I can’t explain.
Q. It used to be that mystery readers disliked “real” paranormal situations in their stories because they wanted everything to have a logical explanation. How do you keep a paranormal story believable enough to satisfy the typical mystery fan?
A. By making the rest of the world – the small town of Blue Plum, Tennessee – as real as possible. I hope that works, anyway. The books have a fairly light touch of the paranormal about them, which might help, too. Plus, small town mysteries can only be so “real” in any sense – normal or paranormal. Anyone reading them regularly pretty much has to be good at suspending disbelief for a few hundred pages.
Q. Until recently, a mystery story with paranormal elements was at least eerie and sometimes terrifying. You take a lighter approach. Do you find your readers enjoy the mixture of humor and the supernatural?
A. So far.
Q. What extra dimension do you think the paranormal can bring to a mystery? Can you add a ghost – who supposedly can know things the living sleuth can’t – without giving away too much too soon?
A. This particular ghost isn’t such a big help. She has a slippery grasp of time and her memory is spotty. Plus she spent years watching television day and night and has a hard time separating reality from shows like Gunsmoke, Dragnet, and Oprah. The other problem is that if she does know something that no one else does, and she tells Kath, then how can Kath use that information? It’s the old problem of the tree falling in the woods. If a clue falls in a room and only a ghost hears or sees it, does the clue exist?
Q. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and when did you start writing fiction?
A. The first time my brother Andy read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to me. I loved it and I’ve loved everything about stories and books – what they do and what they stand for – ever since. I played around with stories at school and in letters to my grownup sisters. I wrote my first series of mystery short stories for a French class in high school. But I didn’t get serious about trying to get anything published until the late eighties.
Q. How did you connect with your publisher?
A. My agent made the contact.
Q. What do you know now about being a professional novelist that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
A. That there’s a sort of postpartum depression after finishing a manuscript and sending it off to the publisher. That there’s danger of too much navel-gazing after a book comes out. Keep your head and keep moving forward.
Q. What is one thing your heroine would do that you wouldn’t?
A. Punch someone in the nose.
Q. What authors do you admire?
A. Oh my gosh, how do I begin to narrow that down? Really, there are too many. But if I look straight ahead at my bookcase and pick out six of the authors sitting there, it’ll be a start (and by no means an end.) Charlotte Macleod, Dorothy Cannell, Dick Francis, Richard Peck, Reginald Hill, Agatha Christie.
Q. Where will you be appearing to promote your new book?
A. Killer Nashville in August, Buffalo Mountain Writers’ Workshop in September, and Magna Cum Murder in October.
The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She is the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries for NAL/Penguin, and her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly now lives with her family in Champaign, Ill. Her website is www.mollymacrae.com