Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Her latest Highland Bookshop Mystery is Heather and Homicide.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My titles are teasers. It’s just barely possible someone will see the title Heather and Homicide and mistake the book for a nonfiction case study of botanical criminal activity. More likely they’ll recognize it as something lighter, and maybe even for what it is, a cozy mystery. It’s the fourth book in the Highland Bookshop Mystery series, with the title following the pattern of the other books – two alliterative words separated by the word “and.” The first word is something recognizably Scottish, the third suggests something nefarious. The beauty of only three words is wiggle room. Heather could have been the plant that turns whole hillsides purple. Instead, Heather is a true-crime writer who says she’s arrived in seaside Inversgail, Scotland, to research recent murders for her new book. But if that’s true, why does she seem more interested in a shadowy lawyer who had nothing to do with that crime? And why is she seemingly being stalked by death? I love coming up with titles, and for this book, and this series, titles come first. They’re teasers for me as much as for readers. They’re clues to the puzzle of where is this story going to take me?

What's in a name?

Heather and Homicide takes place in the west coast Scottish Highland town of Inversgail. Here’s the origin story for that name.

A small river, not much more than a wide burn, flows from the green sheep- and heather-covered hills and spills into the sea at Inversgail. The river is the Sgail on modern maps, although the name has been spelled Sgail, Skail, and Sgeul on older maps and since maps of the area have existed. The spelling of the river’s name has led to a debate over its meaning and the meaning of Inversgail. There’s no question about the inver part – inver means either “river mouth” or “confluence of waters.”

The “sgeul” camp say that sgail is an Anglicization of sgeul, a Gaelic word for story. A family of noted storytellers and bards lived in the area and the sgeul camp believes the river was named to honor them. And because stories and storytelling and mouths all go together, they find the name Inversgail particularly apt.

The “skail” camp say “sgail” is a misspelling of “skail,” a Scots word meaning to spill. Rivers naturally spill their waters at their mouths, and thus the name Inversgail.

A third camp believes that “inver” holds the key. The town’s name results from a confluence of meanings. The storytellers lived and told their stories beside the river. The stories spilled from their mouths, just as the river spills into the sea at Inversgail.

NB: The above language information is real and the debates over meanings plausible, but if you go looking for the seaside town of Inversgail, or its river, as one of my readers did on her long-awaited trip to Scotland, you’ll be as disappointed as she was. You’ll only find them in my books and I write fiction.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be tickled. I lived in Scotland at the tail end of my teens. I fell in love with the people, landscape, colors, food, smells, accents, language, islands, sheep – and the bookstores. My teenage self would be glad, almost fifty years on, that I still feel that love. Also that the book is a mystery. She wanted to write mysteries.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don’t look in a mirror and see my characters looking back. They bubble up out of the soup in my head, though, so they can’t help but carry bits of me with them. Some of those bits are obvious. Janet Marsh and I are both retired librarians. She and her three business partners are running a bookstore, now, and I ran one before joining the library. Janet is short and afraid of cliff edges. Check and check. Some of the bits are only wishful thinking, because the four bookstore women are much better versions of me – braver, more quick-witted, better at darts, willing to take bigger chances. Some of them play Scrabble better, too. That’s part of the fun of writing books like this – vicarious living through imaginary friends. I hope that I’m a world apart from the murderer in the book. Villains walk among us in real life, though. They certainly walk among the characters in mysteries, and this one bubbled up right alongside the other characters in the story.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

The Page 69 Test: Heather and Homicide.

--Marshal Zeringue