In this interview with author Matty Dalrymple, she describes a scene that caught my imagination and reminded me why writers write. I loved hearing more about Matty’s amateur sleuth, Ann Kinnear, who, Matty explains, isn’t really even a sleuth in the first two books of this mystery series. Ann is someone with psychic gifts who, by accidents of timing and location, lands in situations that require her to use her gifts to help solve two crimes.
And isn’t that the way most of us would or could get embroiled in a murder investigation? I love that Matty has created a character who is growing into her role as a sleuth, rather than arriving on the scene fully formed. It seems so true-to-life.
When you hear her describe the scene on the battlefield you’ll know what I mean about why writers write. So beautiful! And it all came from her imagination. ;-)
You can find out more about Matty and her Ann Kinnear series on her website MattyDalrymple.com. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook. And, for those of you who are interested in writing, Matty shares information and resources about her journey as an independent author at TheIndyAuthor.com.
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcript of Interview with Matty Dalrymple
Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, I’m Alexandra Amor. This is It’s A Mystery Podcast and I’m here today with Matty Dalrymple. Hi, Matty.
Matty: All right. How are you doing?
Alexandra: Very well. How are you?
Matty: Good, thanks.
Alexandra: Good. So, let me introduce you to our listeners.
Matty Dalrymple is the author of the Ann Kinnear suspense novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning.” Matty lives with her husband and her two Labrador retrievers in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death.”
In the summers, they enjoy vacationing on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where “The Sense of Reckoning” takes place. Matty is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Brandy Wine Valley Writers Group. So, welcome, Matty. It’s great to have you here today.
Matty: Thank you. This is very exciting.
Alexandra: Oh, well.
Let’s talk about your main character, Ann Kinnear, and she’s a little bit special. So tell us about her.
Matty: Okay. Well, Ann has the ability to sense spirits. And at the beginning of the first book, it’s a very basic skill. She can just sense a spirit through lights or maybe a scent. And she has a consulting business that her brother runs for her, where she would go to people’s homes or different places and tell them whether they had a spirit or not, and could tell them, in general, whether it was a friendly spirit or an unfriendly spirit. And then, in the process of the novel, she becomes unintentionally involved in a crime and her ability to sense spirits is instrumental in the outcome of that crime being solved or not.
Alexandra: Has she always known about this gift from childhood?
Matty: Yes. She’s had the skill for her whole life. And one of the themes of the story is Ann’s progression and how she feels about her skill. So, when she’s a child, it just seemed very normal to her. She has a friend, an imaginary friend, but in her case, it’s the ghost of a child who died in the home where she lives. And her parents think that she’s just having an overactive imagination, her classmates think that she’s kind of crazy, and her brother’s really the only person who believes what she’s saying.
And so, as she becomes older, I think society kind of teaches her that owing up to this ability to sense spirit is not always a positive thing. And so, part of the story is her going back and forth about appreciating her skill and sometimes feeling that she would just assume not to have the skill.
Alexandra: Right. I noticed one of your reviewers mentioned that she liked it that Ann had a lot of acceptance about her skill and she noticed that she had struggled with it a little bit.
But for the most part, it was kind of something that Ann not took for granted but she accepted about herself.
Matty: Well, I think that she does accept it about herself but she sort of responds to it by withdrawing a little bit. It ends up bringing about the end of an important relationship to her man in her life, who is a very scientifically-oriented person and hears these stories about her abilities, and thinks that it’s really…probably not spirits, there’s probably some scientific explanation.
I think that Ann sort of responds to that by withdrawing, and she and her brother formed sort of a tight rope when their parents died while they’re in college, and it becomes sort of insular because it’s the way Ann protects herself from having to deal with society’s reaction to that ability.
Does her brother have the gift as well?
Matty: No, her brother doesn’t have that gift but he’s a good businessman. So, he helps her run her business. And one of the things that intrigues me about the story is the idea of something like spirit sensing being treated as a profession, in the same way that you would be a CPA or a painter. That there is a small group of people who would have the skill and there are various levels of expertise.
And so, as I said, Ann’s skill was quite basic at the beginning and yet she becomes friends or at least becomes acquainted with a person with much more advanced skills. And over the course of the two books, he becomes a mentor to her as her skills also expand.
Alexandra: Okay. Is that Garrick?
Alexandra: I saw him mentioned in one of your descriptions and I wondered about his impact on her and if they had been friends for a while, but he’s new to her, it sounds like.
Matty: A person who is doing a Discovery Channel documentary finds out about Ann’s skills and he’s interviewing and testing several people who have this kind of skill. And then at the end, there’s a cast party, and Ann and Garrick meet at the cast party and sort of exchange both an understanding of each other and also a little bit of a professional rivalry.
I never expected Garrick to be a big character, but the more I wrote about him, the more I loved him. And he plays a really pivotal role in the second book, “The Sense of Reckoning.” So, if people read the first book and liked Garrick, then they can get more of Garrick in book two.
Alexandra: Nice. Oh, that’s great.
We should talk about location a little bit. The first book is set in the Adirondack Mountains and the second one on Mount Desert Island, Maine, which I had never heard of before.
Matty: Yes. Actually, oddly enough, Mount Desert Island. [Pronounced like ‘dessert’.]
Alexandra: Oh, it is?
Matty: You wouldn’t expect, but yes. There’s a little part in the second book where Ann and Scott, her brother-in-law, find out about Mount Desert. Although I did talk to some of the people, even some of the people who live there, there is a little bit of a debate about how you pronounce it.
The first book does take place partially in the Adirondacks but more around Philadelphia, which is where I live. And so, the crime that it’s concerning takes place in Philadelphia, in Rittenhouse Square.
There’s a scene at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, a very posh hotel in Wilmington. So, it was fun for me, and I think fun for local readers too to read through there and some of the places I call out. Some of the places are a little bit disguised so people enjoy reading it and seeing if they can guess what those places are.
Alexandra: I noticed on your blog, recently you had photographs from Mount Desert Island, is that right? You and your husband had gone to stay there.
Matty: Yes, yes. Well, the back story of “The Sense of Reckoning,” which is the second book, is that we spent some time up there every year. We honeymooned there 10 years ago and we spent some time up there every year since. And several times we stayed in The Claremont Hotel, which is an old hotel in Southwest Harbor and it’s just one of those places that had to have a ghost. If it didn’t have one already, I had to give it one.
I used a much more decrepit version of The Claremont Hotel as a location in “The Sense of Reckoning.” And then the other thing that ties it to Mount Desert Island is that there was a fire there in 1947 that burned a lot of the island.
Mount Desert Island is not only Bar Harbor, but it’s also where Acadia National Park is. And there was a fire in 1947 after a very long, dry summer that burned thousands and thousands of acres of the park in the island, including part of Bar Harbor. In the period leading up to World War II, Bar Harbor had been a very popular vacation destination for the Rockefellers and the other celebrities of that era, and it burned a lot of those homes.
And so, that fire plays a pivotal role. In the second book, there are flashbacks between modern day Mount Desert Island and flashing back to the fire. So that was exciting to research and to go to the island and see where the fire burned because the trees, they were originally pines, and then when the fire burned the area, it was replaced with deciduous trees.
And so, in the fall, when the trees turn yellow and orange and red, they sort of create this path, where you can see where the fire went and the leaves of the trees are sort of reproducing the effect of the fire. So it’s a very gripping way of seeing an illustration of where the fire hit.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s amazing. It’s funny that you say that about the fire on an island. I write a series of mysteries that are set on the Gulf Island, which is here in British Colombia. The island I write about is fictional. And one of the things I talk about in the first book is how devastating and dangerous fire can be on an island, and our islands, too, become very dry in the summer and it’s a really dangerous thing.
I can only imagine what a fire like that must have been cutting through the island in 1947.
Matty: Yeah, there was a lot of concern. I think some people did leave the island by boat. I think a contributor to the fire maybe a little bit of both was that there were these huge winds that were whipping up the sea all around the island. And so, if they’d really have to do a mass evacuation by the water, it would have been much more damaging in terms of human life than it was. But yeah, I’m curious now. I’m gonna have to read your books about your island because I always like to see how people treat those things and how much is fictional, maybe how much is real.
Alexandra: Exactly, yes, no kidding. And so you sort of modified this favorite hotel of yours.
I noticed, I think in the blog post you said they’re renovating it now.
Matty: Yes, they’re just doing painting. I think if any place that’s on the water like that has this constant round of maintenance that has to go on. So, they were doing some painting when we were there.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah.
Another thing you’ve mentioned on your website and on your blog is that your husband is a pilot and you’ve taken flying lessons as well.
Matty: I have.
Alexandra: Are you a licensed pilot at this point?
Matty: I’m not. I had to stop taking lessons when I published my first book because I learned the truth of the fact that writing the book is only part of the effort and the promotion was just taking a lot of my time and a lot of my energy. And what I found was, that if I took a flying lesson, then my brain was on that for days and I couldn’t switch quickly between the flying mindset and the writing and promotion mindset. So, I sort of put that on the backburner but I enjoyed the time and I enjoyed sometimes going back and having a lesson just to keep my hand in.
Alexandra: Yes, nice. Does Ann get involved in any kind of flying as well?
Matty: She is a passenger. So, at the beginning of the first book, Ann lives in the Adirondacks and often commutes from Adirondack to West Chester, Pennsylvania, which is where her brother lives and sort of where her business is based. And she has a charter pilot that she used his name Walt Federman.
Walt Federman, oddly enough, flies a plane that’s exactly like my husband’s plane, and my husband’s name is Wade Walton and the character’s name is Walt Federman, and people said, “Well, of course, it’s your husband.” I said, “No, no, it’s not my husband. It’s a totally different character.”
Ann is mainly a passenger but I have been thinking about using an aviation theme for the next Ann Kinnear book because, you know, the aviation world, I think, is very interesting and offers all sorts of opportunity for mayhem. It was also interesting to me because when I had my plane, which is an old plane, it was 1946 Stinson, and I kept it at a place called Smoke Town, which is in Lancaster County, near west of Philadelphia. And I started thinking that would be a great place to set a novel that involved some kind of aviation incident.
And then I found out that a couple of years ago, there was a situation where there was some drug dealer who was flying massive quantities of drugs into Smoke Town airport, which is this tiny little airport in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Amish Country and Lancaster County. And I thought, “Ah, well, you know, some fictionalized version of that is gonna be a promising suspense story.”
Alexandra: Oh, that’s great. Truth is always stranger than fiction, right?
Matty: Yes, it is.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly. I was giving some thought this afternoon before we got on line about the idea of an amateur sleuth, I guess, is what we would Ann Kinnear, being psychic. And I’ve talked to several authors who have such a character in their books. I wondered what your thoughts were about that skill and how it combines with our, and I mean readers’, need to solve mysteries, to have things tied up at the end.
That’s one of the reasons I think why we like this genre. We find a puzzle and then it gets wrapped up neatly, hopefully, in a way that life doesn’t, you know, very often. I just wonder if you have any thoughts about the parallels that are between…
A psychic can be somebody who might have access to information that the rest of us don’t and how that ties in with mystery novels. Does that question make sense?
Matty: Yeah, yeah, it does. Well, both of the novels are not mysteries in the “who done it” sense. So in the “Sense of Death,” you know right away, the reader is right there when the crime is committed, the murder is committed early on in the story and the suspense aspect of it is, how is this going to get resolved?
Is the person going to get caught? And Ann, as a sort of innocent bystander to the situation, who unintentionally gets involved in it, what is going to be the outcome for Ann because as the story progresses, her storyline and the killer’s storyline start to merge. And obviously, Ann is being pulled into this situation that she doesn’t even know is a dangerous situation when she meets him. So, it’s more of the, ‘will he get away with it and why did he do it?’ sort of mystery.
And similarly in the second one, it’s not a murder/mystery from the beginning, in the sense of someone dies and there’s an effort to figure out who it was. But there are some cases of mistaken identity and some questions about the true motivation of some of the characters that culminate in the end in a crime that Ann either is or not able to have heard based on her skills. So, in both of them so far, it’s been more Ann getting drawn into something that she never realized this was a crime.
She’s not entering it as someone who is investigating. She’s just entering it as a professional, who is bringing her skills to bear and unknowingly becomes involved in a crime. And I think that in the future books, it may be more of her intentionally going into a situation, looking to solve a mystery. Because as the books progress, she gets more and more examples of how she can bring her skills to bear for good. And she goes from at the beginning of book two being so disillusioned with her skill that she is really considering just not doing the consulting business at all, to the end where she can have quite a dramatic impact as a result of her skills.
And so, I see in a future book, her evolving to say, “Okay, if this is a skill I can bring to bear and that very few other people can, maybe I need to be more proactive about going after these situations, where I can really make a difference beyond just saying to someone, “Oh, yeah, the ghost that’s haunting your garden shed is friendly or unfriendly.” Know that she can have a more significant impact on people’s lives.
Alexandra: Right, yeah. And her businessman brother will probably be happy about that, too.
Matty: Yes, I think he would.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah.
What was it that helped you to create Ann or that drew you to her? Have you known somebody like her with those skills?
Matty: Well, my husband has had a couple of situations, where he’s had sort of paranormal experience. My favorite one that he’s told me about is that he and his family, years ago, were visiting Gettysburg, the Gettysburg Battlefield. If ever there is going to be a haunted location, it’s probably the Gettysburg Battlefield. And they had gone out to one of the sites at night and they were going back to their car and he was walking down a path with his family members and he felt a hand on his back sort of pushing him along the path. And he turned around, expecting his father to be behind him, and there was no one behind him.
So, that kind of thing I just think is very fascinating, and I feel bad that I’ve never had that experience myself but I’m willing to enjoy it vicariously through other people.
What really interested me was the idea of someone who, in every other way, has a totally normal life and yet has this one abnormal characteristic. And it could have been being able to read minds or it could have been being able to levitate, I don’t know.
It could have been all sorts of things, and yet the idea of seeing ghosts landed so nicely to a suspense theme. But what really intrigued me was just the idea of how do you deal with that skill and how do you participate in society in a way that accommodates that skill but also lets you just be one of the gang when you want to get together with the gang.
Alexandra: Does she see spirits all the time or is it more occasional for her?
Matty: It’s more occasional, though it becomes more common when, as the story progresses and I think she taps into her ability and learns how to use it a little more.
There is a scene with Garrick, where they’re at this cast party for the documentary they’ve done and he sort of says, “Come with me, I need to show you something.” And they go outside and it’s at night and he hears a battle going on but he can’t locate it, and he knows that Ann has the ability to see spirits as lights, and he wants to see what’s going on.
So, he goes and gets her and says, “Follow me, I think there is something in this direction.” And then they come through a field, and what Ann sees are these two sets of lights about six feet off the ground sort of moving back and forth as if they are a wave and she’s thinking, “Oh, that’s so attractive and soothing,” and is getting lulled into it.
And so, then she says to Garrick, “Well, what is it?” And he said, “It’s men in battle.” Because what I see are men in uniform and what Ann was seeing as a beautiful light display was actually the movement of the soldiers, moving back and forth as they gained or lost ground. And so, you know, that was just something that presented to her in that way as the light. Sometimes she still just sees them as dim light. Sometimes, as the story progresses, she actually can communicate with them to an extent. So, it’s maybe sort of hit or miss for her.
Alexandra: I love hearing how though that her character is evolving through the course of the books and you’re working on book three now. That’s something that as a mystery reader myself, that I love; when a character doesn’t stay static, that they change and grow and evolve, it sounds great for your readers, they can follow in on this journey, kind of a journey of self-discovery for her.
Matty: Yes, very much.
Alexandra: And you’ve got an excerpt, I noticed, of book three on your website, on your blog, so I’ll put a link to that in the show notes so that people can read it. I read it and it gripped me right away and I wanted to know more about what was going on.
Matty: The clip that is on there is actually not a third Ann Kinnear book. I had started that with the aviation theme I talked about before and then I got this other idea…it’s another theme of a woman, in this case, a young woman, in the beginning of the story, a child who also has a different kind of supernatural ability, but this one I think is going to be a little more thriller, a little more action-oriented, whereas the Ann Kinnear books are a little more suspense-oriented.
So, there is actually, in that excerpt, there are two characters from…two unnamed characters from the Ann Kinnear novels that I’ve gonna…will be an Easter egg for the people who have read the Ann Kinnear books to try to identify, but I’m hoping to get that next book out probably in the beginning of next year, and then I’ll return to the Ann Kinnear books after that.
Alexandra: So, that is the one you’re working on right now?
Matty: Yes, I’m working on this one at the moment. It’s either going to be stand-alone or it’s going to be the first of a second series, depending on whether there is more story to tell when I’m done with it.
Alexandra: Yes. I just thought you were so brave to put it out there before the book is ready. I don’t know if I could do that.
Matty: It might give a little teaser to people, let them know I’m working on something.
Alexandra: Yes, right, exactly. There is stuff going on in the background.
Alexandra: Yeah. Well, this has been great Matty. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. Why don’t you let our listeners know where they could find your books?
Matty: Sure. They can go to mattydalrymple.com, so that’s M-A-T-T-Y D-A-L-R-Y-M-P-L-E, and I’m also getting started on the non-fiction platform on independent publishing. And so, if anyone’s interested looking into that, they can go to www.theindyauthor.com, and that’s indy with a y, I-N-D-Y. So just think Ys when you’re writing my name out, and they can get my books on Matty Dalrymple, and they can get some insight into my work on the Independent Publishing at the Indy Author.
Alexandra: Very cool. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here with me today. I really appreciate it.
Matty: Sure. Thank you so much, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Bye, bye.