Today Richard Audry is joining us at Ascroft, eh? to tell us how Mary MacDougall, the main character in his Mary MacDougall Mystery series, came into being.
Welcome Richard. Without further ado, I’ll turn the floor over to you and let you tell us about you and Mary MacDougall.
RA: I first tried my hand at writing novels back in the late ’80s, with an epic fantasy of 120k words that never sold. Next, I tackled a mystery. And not just any mystery, but a historical mystery. It wasn’t enough to confront the challenges of plotting a whodunit for the very first time. I had to add on the layers and complexities of a historical period I had not lived through and had not exactly studied deeply. But I was game for giving it my best shot. I knew I would have to do research—and I did plenty, in a nearby university library. No Google in those days; not even an Internet.
That first Mary MacDougall novel was inspired by an epiphany I had sitting in a movie theater. The film was Ivory and Merchant’s classic A Room with a View, based on the E.M. Forster novel. As I sat mesmerized by Helena Bonham Carter’s Lucy Honeychurch, an idea bubbled up in my head.
About that time, my wife and I had been watching Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes on PBS. (The best Holmes ever, IMHO. Sorry, Cumberbatch fans.) Hmmm, I thought. Why not mash up Holmes and Honeychurch? A young, lady sleuth with a steel-trap mind? And that was the book I wrote, set in 1903, complete with first-person narration by Mary MacDougall’s own Watson, her cousin Jeanette. I did my best to recreate a genuine period voice, as if the novel had indeed been written 90 years before.
Once again, agents and publishers weren’t interested. I ended up indie-publishing it in the early Oughties and learned that readers, mostly, didn’t like my Mary. Why? Because she was too much like Holmes—smart as a whip, but unemotional and somewhat cold. And readers, it turned out, didn’t really want period voice. Well, thought I, live and learn.
Flash forward to spring 2013. I ask my wife what she’d like for her birthday. She ruminates a bit and surprises the heck out of me: “What I’d really like is a new Mary MacDougall novel. I kinda liked her, and I miss her.”
Well, my better half didn’t get her novel. I mean, her wish came only six weeks before her birthday, and I’m not a quick writer. But she did get a novella (and a fancy dinner out, to boot).
The first “new” Mary MacDougall story was called A Pretty Little Plot. And Mary Version 2 is funnier, more amiable, more likeable than the first Mary—though still wickedly smart and full of herself. In this first story she manages to save the man who may, or may not, become the love of her life. She’s just not sure. These books aren’t romances, but matters of the heart do pop up now and again.
Three more Mary MacDougall stories followed, including the new novel, A Fatal Fondness.
This time around, Mary gets involved in an international plot in her hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. It’s my hometown also, so I had a lot of fun refreshing my research on turn-of-the-century Duluth. At times I drew on my grandmother’s stories of growing up in Duluth in that era. I even gave a character the name of a boy she remembered vividly. Beansie MacKenzie. I’ve always loved that name. They called him that—both the fictional and real boy—because he loved his pork and beans.
Another enjoyable aspect of this book was finally getting Mary’s Watson in place. Jeanette Harrison, Mary’s cousin, doesn’t do a first-person narration, but does, in her POV, express her traditional views about this young lady so willing to flout social conventions for the sake of truth and justice.
And that very first Mary MacDougall book, with the heiress/Sherlock mash-up that not many readers liked? What became of that? Well, the plot’s still a good one. And by and by, it will be rewritten and relaunched as the sixth in the series, with the new, improved Mary. I can hardly wait.
Thanks for introducing Mary MacDougall and the series to us, Richard.
The novel is available online at Amazon.
About Richard Audry: Richard Audry is the pen name of D. R. Martin. He is the author of the Mary MacDougall historical mysteries (four titles) and the King Harald canine cozy series (three titles). Under his own name, he has written the Johnny Graphic ghost adventure trilogy, the Marta Hjelm hardboiled mystery Smoking Ruin, and two books on some of his favorite authors: Travis McGee & Me and Four Science Fiction Masters.