Exploring the Alienation Created by Extraordinary Abilities with Matty Dalrymple

Matty Dalrymple is my first return guest to It’s a Mystery Podcast and I’m thrilled to talk to her today about her new book, Rock Paper Scissors.

Matty is fascinated by the alienation that can be created when people are different or extraordinary. Both her spirit sensing sleuth, Ann Kinnear, from her first two books, and Lizzy Ballard, from the new release, Rock Paper Scissors, are characters who are set slightly apart from the average person. For me, what was interesting about this chat with Matty was that she has written two female protagonists who have reacted very differently to their respective situations. You’ll hear us explore how Ann Kinnear, from The Sense of Death and A Sense of Reckoning has reacted to her abilities by withdrawing from the world. Whereas, Matty’s newest protagonist, Lizzy, has a greater need to connect with the world.

This episode of the podcast is sponsored by my cozy mystery novel, Horse With No Name.

Would you risk your life simply to be yourself?

Julia Thom is new to the small town of Horse, but she’s not new to trouble. When reclusive watchmaker James Hunter is beaten, but has no memory of the event, Julia vows to find the culprits. Even if Hunter hadn’t saved Julia herself from being assaulted, she would still be on the case; meddling helps keep her focus off her own complicated life. Julia is fast becoming a thorn in Police Constable Jack Merrick’s side and he flounders as he tries to figure out how to deal with such a headstrong woman.

When the attackers strike again and the violence escalates, Julia’s determination redoubles, putting herself in more danger than anyone could have anticipated. While Julia and Merrick grapple with finding unknown assailants, they must also find a way to come to terms with one another.

This novel is free for a limited time at all online vendors:
KOBO
Amazon
iTunes
Barnes and Noble

You can find out more about today’s guest, Matty Dalrymple, and all her books on her website MattyDalrymple.com. You can also find her on Twitter @MattyDalrymple.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Matty’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcription of Interview with Matty Dalrymple

Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers. Welcome to “It’s A Mystery Podcast.” I’m your host, Alexandra Amor. And I’m here today with Matty Dalrymple. Hi, Matty.

Matty: Hi, Alexandra. How are you doing?

Alexandra: Very well, how are you?

Matty: Very good, thank you.

Alexandra: Good. Well, let me give everyone an introduction to you.

Matty Dalrymple is the author of the Ann Kinnear suspense novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning, ” and the Lizzy Ballard Thriller, “Rock Paper Scissors.” She lives with her husband and her dogs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death” and also for “Rock Paper Scissors.” Matty also blogs, podcasts, and speaks about independent publishing as The Indy Author. And we’ll touch on that a bit more at the end of the interview.

Matty has spoken to me previously. She was on episode 26 of “It’s a Mystery Podcast.” She was talking about her Ann Kinnear suspense novels. And, today we’re going to focus on her new book, “Rock Paper Scissors.” So welcome back to the show, Matty. It’s great to have you here.

Matty: Thank you. This is fun.

Alexandra: Oh, good. First of all, give us a spoiler-free overview of Rock Paper Scissors.

Matty: It continues the theme that I started with the Ann Kinnear novels about someone with an extraordinary ability making their way in the ordinary world. So in the Ann Kinnear novels, that is Ann’s spirit-sensing ability. She has a business, sort of a consulting business based on her spirit-sensing ability that her brother Mike runs.

In the Lizzy Ballard thrillers, it is similarly a person who has an extraordinary ability. And it would be much of a spoiler to say exactly what that is. But I will say that when I started out, I thought that it was going to be, the ability for this new girl, Lizzy…the book starts out, you know, when she’s a child and then follows her through until she’s 16, which is when the majority of the action takes place. And I was going to have her have the ability to create heat or start fires.

And I was talking to a friend of mine about that. And she said, “Have you ever read the Stephen King novel, Firestarter?” And I said, “No, I haven’t.” And she said, “Well, you should, because you just rewrote it.”

So she saved me many months of work if I had gone down that path, and I did then read it, and I realized I had read it decades ago. And there must have been just a brain cell that was still holding that idea. But, yeah, I found a different skill for Lizzy to have so I wouldn’t be treading on Stephen King’s territory.

Alexandra: Oh, good, okay. Well, and that brings me to one of my questions, which was in several of your reviews, people mentioned Stephen King and how it reminded them a little bit of “Firestarter” or “Carrie.” People also mentioned Robin Cook and Michael Crichton.

Are those the kind of books that you feel you’ve been influenced by as a writer?

Matty: I’ve definitely been influenced by Stephen King. There are probably not many people in the suspense-thriller-horror genre who haven’t been. Although, I’m quick to add that I don’t have the gory aspect that Stephen King has. I think, actually, Stephen King is even moderating that a little bit.

I think his more recent books are sort of more palatable to me now because they’ve toned down the gore a little bit and are focused more on the plot and the characters, which I really like. So people should not be put off if they read early Stephen King and were a little creeped out by it. It’s not quite that. But the theme of the “Firestarter” and “Carrie,” of someone who has this ability to influence the people around her, a dangerous ability, is certainly one that ties in.

And then Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, I think there’s a little bit of a tie-in there because Lizzy has come by her ability because the villain, who is the head of a fertility clinic in Philadelphia, is playing with the fertility treatments that he’s providing his clients. And that’s what results in Lizzy’s ability.

There’s not a lot of delving into the scientific side of that. It’s really more of the back story, so less like Robin Cook and Michael Crichton in that sense, where I think, you know, the science is really sort of the draw for their books.

Alexandra: Right, yes. I’m curious why you branched out from the Ann Kinnear novels.

Did you feel like you reached completion with them, or do you think you’ll go back to them?

Matty: Oh, I’ll definitely go back to them. In fact, I’ve written a short story, an Ann Kinnear short story to tide the Ann Kinnear fans over until the next Ann Kinnear novel. And that’s available to people who subscribed to my email list. So I definitely see many, many more adventures in Ann’s future.

It was really just the idea that I had…I wanted to pursue a someone who felt a little bit differently, not necessarily about her ability, but about her role in the world. And so I think the difference between Ann and Lizzy is that Ann has this spirit-sensing ability. It makes her very uncomfortable. It makes her uncomfortable in her relationships with other people. And she responds by withdrawing from a lot of relationships.

Whereas, Lizzy has this ability that probably should make her withdraw from society, but she’s a much more people-centric person. You know, she wants to connect with people and sort of does it despite her ability. And so that was a different spin on the situation that I wanted a different character to be able to explore.

Alexandra: Oh, okay, got it, yeah. You’ve mentioned then that you wanted to explore this different aspect.

Was there anything about the story that really was compelling you to tell it? Like, was there a part of the idea for the story that really grabbed you and you had to get it told?

Matty: Well, as with “The Sense of Death,” the story for “Rock Paper Scissors” started out with me having a very clear idea of a particular scene, actually, a couple of particular scenes, none of which actually made it to the final version.

At one point, when I was still focused on the idea of someone who could create heat or create fires, I had this great scene in my mind of a woman who is lying in wait in a New York restaurant for the person who gave her this undesired ability and how she wreaks her revenge on that person. And I had to ditch that because of the Stephen King problem.

And the other scene I had in mind, I must have come up with when I was…my husband and I like to go to Sedona, Arizona, in February, when it’s not so nice in Pennsylvania, for a week. And we usually are in Phoenix for a day at either end. And I’m sure there are different parts of Phoenix, but the parts of Phoenix we always saw just on our way to and from the airport were a lot of chain motels, a lot of generic shopping centers with the same stores you would see anywhere. You could really be anywhere if you were in one of those neighborhoods outside Phoenix. And I thought, “Well, if someone were hiding from someone, that would be a perfect place to go,” because it’s all very anonymous. It’s all very, you know, without an identity.

But as I started writing that, I realized that maybe that that might be a good place to hide, but it’s probably not a very gripping scenario for a reader to be reading about these very generic circumstances. And by that time, I was also back in Pennsylvania. And I thought, “Now, I really want my books to be focused in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, Chester County, where I live.”

So I moved that scene where Lizzy’s hiding out to a place called Spruce Lane Lodge and Cottages in Smoketown, Pennsylvania, which is outside Lancaster and the kind of place where you often have to wait for the horse and buggies that the Amish people drive to pass through the intersections. And I felt that was a better choice because certainly much more atmospheric than generic hotel and generic shopping center area outside Phoenix.

So both of those were sort of triggers for me, but scenes that didn’t make it to the final version.

Alexandra: That brings me to one of my other questions too, which is how big a role setting plays in your books? And you seem to be really inspired by setting, which speaks to my heart, because I am as well. And last time you were on the show, we talked about the fire on Mount…now, you pronounce it dessert, right? Even though it’s spelled desert?

Matty: Yes, yes. I think most of the people there too. Although, you find locals who pronounce it both ways. So I think either way is correct.

Alexandra: Oh, okay, good. So, yeah, we talked about the 1947 fire on Mount Desert Island that was inspiring to you.

Tell us a little bit more about then the settings that play a role. I noticed you had a blog post about a train station, and a very specific train. So tell us about that.

Matty: Yes. Well, you know, the reason I like writing about Chester County in the Philadelphia area is I live here, and so it felt very immediate to me and following to write what you know advice. And I had written a scene that takes place in the Exton Amtrak and SEPTA train station, SEPTA being the Philadelphia area regional transit system.

It’s a quite modern train station. And Lizzy and her father, they’re on their way to New York City for a trip that Lizzy has wanted to take. They park their car in the parking lot, and they go to the kiosk where you pay for the parking for the day. And then they go stand in a nice covered platform. And then the story evolves. It made more sense to move it further west on…as they call it…the main line, the train line that runs west from Philadelphia. And so it turned out they were getting on the train in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. So I basically just searched for Exton and replaced it with Parkesburg.

And then when I was quite near the end of the editing phase, I thought, “You know, I’ve never been to the Parkesburg train station. I should really go.” Well, thank heavens because anyone who knows the area knows that Parkesburg is not the same as Exton. It is in the middle of a neighborhood. If you went there, you wouldn’t even really know if it was an active train station. It’s broken down.

There’s a charming building there, but it’s been closed for years. So I thought, “Oh my goodness, I would’ve gotten in a lot of trouble with my local readers if I had not fixed the description of Parkesburg.” But, again, it was more fun because it’s a much more atmospheric scene, and some sort of stressors occur at the Parkesburg train station that sets Lizzy up for the sort of the climactic scene that takes place on the train as it’s going into 30th Street Station.

And then the 30th Street Station scenes, I based a lot of that on the fact that for about six weeks last year, I was commuting from my home into Philadelphia because I was on a federal trial jury. And I was commuting through 30th Street, and so I was able to use a lot of the scenes from 30th Street.

If anyone has ever been through 30th Street or even seen pictures, there’s a big old train information sign that’s got those clacking letters and it goes, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk. And then the information comes up, which is great. And then shortly after I finished the book that referenced that sign, I heard that they were gonna be replacing it with, like, an…you know, LED panel or whatever it would be. And I thought, “Oh, that’s a shame.” But at least I got the scene in before that change was made.

I just really enjoy it. When I read books, I really enjoy reading those kind of local flavor, the local flavor of the area. It really sets the scene for me. I’m definitely someone who has a high tolerance for a little bit of description. I think a lot of books now are really cut to the bone and only have the, you know, sort of the barebones of the plot. And those books don’t interest me as much as the ones where the atmosphere is created a little bit through the setting of the scene.

Alexandra: Yeah, I feel the same way. And I almost like the locations to be a character in the story.

Matty: Exactly.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah.

Was there one other example of a setting you can think of for this book, “Rock Paper Scissors,” that was new to you or was fun for you to explore? Just something interesting that you might want to share with us?

Matty: I might say the thing that pops to mind isn’t so much a setting, but the topic, because there’s not only the back story of Lizzy’s ability being triggered by the fact that her mother, unbeknownst to her, underwent these fertility treatments that the bad guy had been playing with.

But there’s also a scene in an emergency room. One of her allies, her godfather, Owen, is a neurobiologist. And so one of the things I really enjoyed was talking to willing supporters. I was able to talk with a couple of physicians, a couple of people who were in the research world, someone who’s an ER nurse, and really delved into some of those details, which, again, I think there’s not a lot of that, but just enough hopefully to make the theory realistic and draw the reader into those aspects of the story.

Alexandra: Right. And because this was all new characters to you and you had written two books in the same series previous to that, tell us a bit about the writing process.

Was it more difficult, a little more challenging? Did it take longer?

Matty: It took a little less time, because I know where the pitfalls are, so I can catch them before I really go too far down that path. So that was a little bit easier. I got a beta read from my editor that I had with my first book. With my first book, I pretty much finished it and then gave it to an editor and then had to fix all the things at once. Having that earlier beta read was really valuable to me.

I also played a little bit with the fact that there is one character that makes a cameo appearance, a carry-over from the Ann Kinnear books. And people who like the Ann Kinnear books, they can look for that person.

There are also two unnamed cameos, uncredited cameos from the Ann Kinnear novels. I have a contest running at the moment saying, “Send me who you think those people are and in what scene they appear.” And those people are gonna get a Friends of Ann Kinnear mug.

Alexandra: Oh, nice.

Matty: I enjoyed having that little Easter egg of a little bit of overlap. And I wouldn’t discount that, way down the road, maybe those books will become more intertwined. But right now, they’re completely separate. And it was fun to come up with a totally different set of characters and populate a totally different world.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly.

What are you working on now? Are you working on an Ann Kinnear book?

A Sense of ReckoningMatty: I’m actually working on a second Lizzy Ballard book. So my dream would be to have two of each. So I have the two Ann Kinnear books, the two Lizzy Ballard books, I’m working on the second one of the Lizzy Ballard books now.

And then I’d love to alternate between them and do, I mean, ideally one one year, one the next year. I think that might be a little bit ambitious at the moment. But I am also working on short stories to tide fans over.

Long term, I’d love to collect the short stories into… What I’d like to do is have 12 Ann Kinnear stories and have one story set in each month of the year. So that’s also a long-term goal.

Alexandra: Oh, that’s a great idea.

When you did the Ann Kinnear short story to tide your fans over, were you writing that at the same time as you were writing the Lizzy Ballard book? Or were they completely separate?

Matty: That was after I had finished the Lizzy Ballard book, and I hadn’t really seriously started on the second one yet. I went up to Maine in January, because I’ve never been to Maine in January and I thought, “Well, I should probably see Maine in January.” And it’s very, very quiet.

I was eating dinner in a restaurant there in Southwest Harbor and came up with the idea for the story and sort of very quickly wrote a rough draft while I was there and then worked on cleaning it up and worked with an editor after I got back. That was actually from an actual experience because I got done with dinner at the restaurant. And if you can imagine, it gets dark very early there.

And so the restaurant is Sips. If anyone knows Southwest Harbor, the restaurant is Sips. And it’s not on the very main drag, but near the main drag. And then if you walk down the road where Sips is, I think it’s called Clark Point road, at the end of that road is the Claremont Hotel, which is the hotel that the hotel in “The Sense of Reckoning” is based on.

So I thought, “I’m gonna walk down and see what it’s like. And I thought, “I’ll just stop at the beginning of the driveway” because the hotel is closed now. I thought I’ll just walk down the pathway a little bit. And there must have been a moon out because at least I could kind of see where I was going. But it was dark dark.

I got down there, and I said, “I’ll just walk around the grass a little bit.” I ended up, you know, walking down the drive, walking all the way around the hotel, and walking back. And by the time I got back, I said, “Yeah, that’s where the story is,” because it was just…you know, it kind of gives you chills.

You walk by a graveyard as you’re walking to the hotel. And so the short story is a scene based on the docks that are right across the road from the hotel and following some people from the restaurant to the docks and then what happens at the docks as a result.

Alexandra: Did you find it more challenging or less challenging to write in a shorter form?

Matty: I found it less challenging in the sense that there were less moving parts to coordinate. And it’s not a short, short story. I can’t remember what the word count is, maybe 8,000 words or something like that. Flash fiction is never gonna be my thing. But, yeah, it was fun.

It was sort of like a fun palate cleanser because you could get through it pretty quickly. There weren’t so many storylines to juggle. It was more a matter of maybe pairing back and getting it all out there and then pairing back a little bit. Yeah, so it was fun. It was a fun different experience. I hadn’t written short stories for many, many years. So that was fun to get back into that.

Alexandra: Do you feel like you’ll do some Lizzy Ballard short stories as well?

Matty: I think I will. The stories I have in mind for Lizzy, probably what will happen is that when I get back to the Ann Kinnear books, then I’ll write a short story for Lizzy Ballard, write a story or two for Lizzy to tide the Lizzy fans over.

Alexandra: Right, yes.

When you started out writing the first Lizzy Ballard book, the one we’re talking about, “Rock Paper Scissors,” did you imagine that it would be a series as well? Was that what you had envisioned right from the beginning?

Matty: Yeah, yeah. I wanted that, series.

I think that’s going to be interesting because, whereas the Ann Kinnear books follow Ann’s development of her spirit-sensing ability – at the beginning of the first book, she just has a very general sense of a spirit as a light or a scent. And then by the end of the second book, there were certain spirits that she can actually communicate with. So I picture her professional talent expanding over time.

With Lizzy, I think it’s going to be interesting because “Rock Paper Scissors” starts out with some scenes when she’s very little and then culminates when she’s 17. And I think it will be really interesting to have a character that’s not only progressing in their ability, but progressing in age and we’ll see what happens there.

Pretty soon Lizzy should be going to college, and that’s probably not going to happen based on the ability she has. So, you know, what is she and her family going to do about that? I’m looking forward to that aspect about following her as she grows up.

Alexandra: It occurs to me now, as you’re speaking too that both Lizzy and Ann are outsiders in a way. Ann keeps herself separate, and it sounds like Lizzy may have to do a bit of that as well.

Do you think that was a conscious decision on your part, to write about outsiders, or did that happen accidentally?

Matty: It was fairly conscious because the thing that interests me about the extraordinary ability in the context of the ordinary world is what does that do to a person? And in any scenario I can think of, it seems like it would be alienating.

I’m sure in another writer’s hands, it would be the opposite. But, to me, anything that sets someone apart in a very dramatic way like that is something that sets them apart, you know, that’s gonna make it harder for them to relate to other people, either through their choices with Ann or through the circumstances, as with Lizzy.

This is a scene that sprung to mind for me long ago. I hope I didn’t mention this in the first podcast episode. But if you were driving to work and it was a dark and foggy night and somebody ran in front of your car and you hit the person and you screech to a stop and you pull over and you get out of the car and you run back and it’s a deer.

But what you saw in the moment was clearly a person. I think that that kind of experience is…if you described it to someone, they might think you are crazy. Or you might start thinking, “Well, maybe I’m crazy. That was so clear to me that it was a person I hit.” And I would just think that that whole experience would tend to set you apart more than it would draw you into other people. So I think that’s why both Ann and Lizzy are more outsiders.

Alexandra: Yeah. And Ann has her brother who she’s fairly close to.

I imagine that she feels maybe closer to him than possibly anyone because he supports the business side of things, so he understands her to a degree, I’m assuming.

Matty: Yes. Mike, Ann’s brother, is a very important person in her life as is Scott, who is Mike’s partner. And Mike is really the only person who, through his whole life, has never doubted that Ann had this ability and is always ready to leap to her defense when anyone questions whether it’s for real or is she making it up or is she crazy?

There’s an example of that where Ann’s boyfriend, who is a scientist, finds out about her ability. She hasn’t told him, and it ends up ending the relationship, because he’s feeling as well, you know, “Did you ever see a psychiatrist about that problem?” Mike is the first one to leap to Ann’s defense in that scenario.

So Mike and Scott are both really important characters. Scott in “The Sense of Reckoning” is the person who accompanies Ann to Maine to help her out with some of the issues she’s facing. So, yeah, there are those people in “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning.”

And then for Lizzy, there are a couple of very important allies. One is her godfather, Owen McNally, who turned out to be…it seems like there’s always a couple of minor characters, they start out as minor characters and then I fall in love with them, and they become major characters.

In the first two books, that was Garrick Masser, who is Ann’s mentor. And in “Rock Paper Scissors,” that’s Owen McNally, who is Lizzy’s godfather and Lizzy’s most important ally. And then she picks up another ally, but I don’t wanna say who that is because that would be a spoiler too.

Alexandra: Okay, good. Good, well, I feel myself feeling relieved that she has some allies too. So okay, that’s good. I don’t have to worry about her.

Matty: We don’t want her going it alone.

Alexandra: No, exactly, yes, yeah, exactly. Well, this has been amazing, Matty. Thank you so much. And so why don’t you tell everyone where they can find out more about your books and also about The Indy Author.

Matty: Sure. Well, they can go to mattydalrymple.com, so that’s M-A-T-T-Y-D-A-L-R-Y-M-P-L-E. So when in doubt, use a “Y.” Also on Facebook and Twitter under Matty Dalrymple. And also if they’re interested in the nonfiction side, that’s The Indy Author, as you said, and that’s also with a “Y,” I-N-D-Y, and they can go to theindyauthor.com or also Facebook or Twitter for The Indy Author.

Alexandra: Very cool. Well, this has been great. And I’ll put links to everything in the show notes and links to your books as well. And you said that if people sign up for your newsletter, they’ll get a free Ann Kinnear short story.

Matty: Yes, yes. You’ll get to find out what happens at the docks in Southwest Harbor, Maine, to Ann.

Alexandra: Cool. Okay, great. Well, awesome. Thank you so much, Matty. It’s been great chatting with you.

Matty: Great chatting with you, Alexandra. Thank you.

Alexandra: Thank you, bye-bye.

Matty: Bye-bye.

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