By REBECCA LEFTWICH
It’s not unusual for a journalist to put a hand to novel-writing, but Angela McRae’s “Emeralds and Envy” was an unusually long time coming.
“I would still have it sitting in my computer if one of my friends hadn’t said, ‘Finish the book already!’” said McRae, who logged a nearly 30-year career as a reporter for The Newnan Times-Herald and editor of Newnan-Coweta Magazine.
Sometime late in that career, she started what would be her first “cozy mystery” – the type of book McRae said her younger self never would have envisioned writing.
“I didn’t read much fiction,” she said. “As a journalist, I was kind of a snob about it – nonfiction had more truth. I don’t think that way anymore.”
That’s partly because two lifelong obsessions – tea and books – once intersected at a local bookstore, and McRae took notice.
“One day I was at Scott’s Bookstore waiting to cover an author’s book signing and I picked up a book, ‘Death by Darjeeling’ by Laura Childs,” she said. “I was fascinated that someone had written this little fluffy mystery about a tea shop. And one day I started thinking I could do this.”
It would be a while before she got around to it, though. McRae first drew on her lifestyle and tea knowledge to write “Dainty Dining” – a book of vintage recipes, memories and memorabilia from America’s department store tea rooms – in 2011. “A Year of Teatime Tales,” 52 tea-themed short stories, followed in 2016.
“Emeralds and Envy” – released in March – is a sharp departure for the author, who estimates the project took six solid years of work from start to finish.
“In reality, I bet I wrote it in three months and took five years to edit it,” McRae said with a laugh. “I fiddled and fiddled and fiddled until I couldn’t fiddle no more. Because of my journalism background, I’m a very fast writer. But I’m a very slow editor of fiction.”
It’s Book One in McRae’s “Junkin’ Jewelry Mysteries,” because like all cozy mysteries, it needs a hook – crochet, baking, tea rooms, etc. McRae’s heroine, former journalist Emma Madison, is busy launching her new career as a jewelry designer in a small Georgia town. A sales clerk is murdered and the police have few leads, so Emma decides to use her newspaper reporting experience to help find the killer, even if it puts her in danger.
“People say they’re very formulaic, to which I say, “Yes! That’s what I love about them,” McRae said. “They’re soft, gentle mysteries.”
Naturally, readers have drawn some parallels between Emma and McRae. How much of herself did she write into her main character?
“I hope not much, but in truth – some,” McRae said. “But people are reading more of me into it than there is.”
There’s more direct inspiration for a Newnan restaurant featured in the novel.
“I made up a few details, but it’s definitely inspired by Mother’s Kitchen,” McRae said.
She primarily works as an editor now, drawing on some skills she learned in the newspaper and magazine industry. But nothing, McRae said, prepared her for giving up control of her own work.
“It’s interesting when you come from a publishing background, and know a few of the technical things,” she said. “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. Fiction is a whole different world. People have said, ‘You probably didn’t need an editor – you are an editor.’ I laughed and laughed.
“I have a very good editor, Neila Forssberg, and she gave me some things to work on,” McRae added. “It made me a little nervous, turning my work over to somebody, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s no such thing as a perfect novel. You just work at it, and get better.”
McRae said she’s moved on from her rigid early days and strict nonfiction reading diet.
“I find truth in all kinds of places these days, even in novels,” she said. “Now that I edit books for others, I’ve learned that I enjoy any well-written book. Some things I’ve read, I’ve been surprised I liked – regency romance, horror, dystopian. We like what we like. Some days I like a cozy mystery, some days I want a police procedural that will keep me up all night. Good writing is good writing.”
While McRae said she hopes she has a literary novel in her, she’s not there yet. She’s not under contract for a second Junkin’ Jewelry Mystery, but she has been approached about her progress on the next book, which is well underway. But, as she cautions aspiring writers when encouraging them in their pursuits, it does take work.
“Some people are born storytellers – I am not one,” she said. “I have to work at it. Writing to me is a skill that can be learned. I don’t think I’m particularly special,” she said. “I think anybody can do it who is willing to put in the hard work.”
Series: Junkin’ Jewelry Mysteries (Book 1)
Paperback: 254 pages
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing (March 24, 2019)