Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Writer as Vagabond by Molly MacRae


Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

The word vagabond strolled into my head the other day. I’ve always liked the word so I was happy to see it and to have it stick around for a while. I like the sound of it—full and round but with concrete edges in the G and the D, and with that tiniest buzz you get from the initial V. Say it out loud; it’s completely satisfying. I also like the definition—vagabond: one who moves from place to place without a fixed home. But why did vagabond choose now to come calling? Because it’s summer and the word wanted to lure me to the open road and away from a writing deadline? That’s a distinct possibility, but here’s another. Vagabond arrived so that I’d have a word to describe what kind of writer I am. It turns out that, besides being a mystery writer, I’m a vagabond writer, setting my stories in place after place, staying for a while, and then giving in to wanderlust and moving on.

It all started with short stories set in an unnamed bookstore in an unnamed town. The stories are a series that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. They’re about Margaret, who’s a bookseller, and her sister Bitsy, who’s annoying. I knew the town was in northeast Tennessee, but that didn’t particularly matter to the stories. When Margaret and Bitsy appeared in the novel Lawn Order their (fictional) town gained the name Stonewall (not named for the general, but for the walls a man named Grundy built around his cow pastures).

From Stonewall, my stories travelled to Nolichucky, another fictional town in northeast Tennessee. Wilder Rumors is about a museum curator who might also be a burglar. The book didn’t pull up roots entirely, though. The curator makes a quick trip to visit his aunt in Stonewall—a trip with near-disastrous results.

Then comes Blue Plum, Tennessee, and the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries. Blue Plum is dear to my heart and based on my favorite parts of the small towns I’ve lived in. It’s also suspiciously like Jonesborough, Tennessee, where my family and I lived for close to twenty years. There are six books in the yarn shop series, starting with Last Wool and Testament, and any one of them will give a flavor of that beautiful area snugged up near the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

After travelling around northeast Tennessee, getting my writing feet wet as it were, my stories flew off to Scotland for the Highland Bookshop Mystery series. Scotland! The Highlands! A bookshop! What could possibly go wrong with a set up like that for my new set of characters? Well . . . dead bodies. Sorry, but that’s an occupational hazard in mystery novels. Starting with Plaid and Plagiarism, there are five books in this series, and the characters acquit themselves well, if I do say so.

As Margaret Welch (that’s Margaret from my Hitchcock short stories—she runs a bookshop and loves books as much as I do, so when I needed a penname, I figured why not let her take credit?) I’ve written about Cape Cod and Monterey County, California.  

Margaret and I are currently working on a book set in Ohio, but the vagabond in my writing is calling again. Where will I go when we leave Ohio? Shh, it’s a secret for now. I do have a destination (I’ve signed a three-book deal) and I’m very excited, but it’ll take a few months to get there. Look for news in the early spring!

Readers can be vagabonds, too, through the magic of turning pages. So do yourself a favor this summer; give in to the romance of the open road—read a good book (or five or seven or twelve). What’s on your TBR list?



  1. My recent reads have taken me to Tybee Island, Georgia, WW2 Los Angeles, the Dordogne region of France, and Australia.

  2. Happy travels, Margaret! Sounds like fun.

  3. I love traveling through my reading – and I’m only seven states away from completing the Goodreads 50 states challenge. Okay, it’s taken me years to get this far, but I have to admit, I’ve met some pretty interesting books through the challenge. Books I opened only because of their setting.

  4. These days reading books that take place in other parts of the world is the only way I get to experience travel. No wonder so many of my books are set in England. I miss going there.

  5. That sounds like a fun challenge, Kait. Maybe fodder for a post?

  6. Same here, Marilyn. One of the reasons I write my books is so I can "visit" places I love more often than in real life.

  7. I think we're all vagabonds at heart, some of us mainly in our minds and some of us in both our minds and reality.