The first time I saw Molly MacRae I was sitting at a table during Malice Go-Round, where authors go from table to table and pitch their books. It is exhausting for authors and for folks at the tables listening in. But when Molly came by and talked about her Haunted Yarn Shop series, she made laugh. I ran right to the book room to buy it. Later, when I got to know her, I was struck by how funny she is all the time. More than that, she’s very kind and a lovely person to get to know. I’m so glad she’s visiting the blog today.
Make it So? Writing as Wishful Thinking
Fabricating is fun. Both in the sense of creating tangible things—with needles, yarns, and threads, or with woodworking tools, or with mixing bowls and baking pans, and in the sense of producing something out of whole cloth—with words, ideas, and a keyboard. There’s nothing quite like the kick I get out of dreaming up characters, setting them down in a place I’d like to live, and then complicating their lives with problematic families and friends. Even more fun, I like dropping the poor things into “situations,” putting words in their mouths they’ll probably or ought to regret, and then stepping back to see what happens. Having fun at their expense might sound mean-spirited, especially knowing that I write crime fiction, but the crimes I write about are cozy, so the characters are fairly safe. Except for the occasional dead body. There’s almost always a dead body. Or two (and sometimes three). Apparently it can’t be helped.
I know I’ve done my storytelling job well when readers tell me they want to visit the towns I’ve created so they can hang out with my characters. One reader said, after reading the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries, “I want to live in your books.” But when another reader wrote to say she’d taken a trip to Scotland, and been confused and disappointed when she couldn’t find Inversgail, I felt terrible. Inversgail, the town in my Highland Bookshop mysteries, is pure fabrication. Darn, because I’d like to go there, too. I want to sit on the harbor wall on a sunny afternoon, then browse through Yon Bonny Books, stop for a wedge of Mull Cheddar in the cheese shop, and finish the day at Nev’s with a half pint of Selkie’s Tears. Darn.
But that reader’s disappointment (and my own) set me to wondering. What else have I fabricated for the yarn shop and the bookshop mysteries that I wish existed in real life?
Selkie’s Tears, for starters. It’s an ale you’ll only find in Inversgail. The local poetry form, too—Skye-ku. I’d like to find a volume of those poems at the library, or an illustrated edition for children that I could send to my grandsons. And then there’s the Haggis Half-Hundred. It’s an annual bicycle challenge/fun ride mentioned in Thistles and Thieves, the Highland Bookshop Mystery coming out in January. You ride fifty miles through the Highlands, with stunning views all around, and you’re rewarded at the end with a plate of haggis. I’d sign up today, if I hadn’t made the whole thing up.
Some details in the two series are only half-fabricated. They’re things I borrowed and modified. In the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, Joe Dunbar’s watercolors are really my husband’s beautiful little paintings. And Mel’s on Main, the café down the street from the yarn shop, is really the Main Street Café in Jonesborough, Tennessee. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop there for lunch. I plan to the next time I’m in town. I also borrowed the row house the yarn shop occupies, but the Weaver’s Cat itself exists only in the books. I know how the shop is laid out, though, how the wool feels and smells, how the window in the kitchen sometimes sticks, and how a particular step on the way up to the study in the attic squeaks, and I wish I could climb that stairway myself.
What I wish existed most of all, though, is not what, but who—Geneva, the ghost who haunts the Weaver’s Cat. I’ve never met a ghost, and I don’t believe in them, but I’m glad Geneva popped into the books, and I do wish I could meet her for real.
In thinking about real and unreal, and how wishing—or writing—doesn’t make it so, I reaffirmed for myself why I like mysteries, especially cozies. They might be fabrications, and they might be unrealistic, but they satisfy my need to set things right after upheaval, and to prove goodness does exist.
The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” Thistles and Thieves, book 3 in Molly’s Highland Bookshop Mysteries, will be out in January 2020. She recently signed a contract for two more in that series. Crewel and Unusual, book 6 in her award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, came out in January 2019. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990 and she is a winner of the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. You can visit her at www.mollymacrae.com and www.killercharacters.com.