Asking the questions adults stopped asking

Posted:  Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 7:30am

Winning an Edgar Award is the mystery writer's equivalent of earning an Oscar or a Grammy. The awards, sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and named for Edgar Allan Poe, are given out each year. Former winners include Stephen King, John LeCarre, Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard,  Patricia Smith, Patricia Cornwell and South Bristol's Robin Merrow MacCready, an integrated studies instructor at Edgecomb Eddy School. 

MacCready won a 2007 Edgar for her debut novel “Buried,” a Young Adult (YA) mystery. She credits Edgecomb mystery writer Lea Wait for encouraging her work and for suggesting she submit the book for Edgar consideration. When MacCready found out “Buried” had been nominated, she was shocked. 

“I didn’t take it seriously until I was told what type of gown to get and to have a winner’s speech ready,” she said. She took her husband, her editor, and her agent to the ceremony at the Grand Hilton in New York City. That night, Stephen King was given The Grand Master Award for his body of work. Al Roker from “The Today Show” was the master of ceremonies. Writer and humorist Dave Barry handed MacCready her award. “It was surreal, but fabulous,” she said. 

After “Buried,” she took a 10-year break to raise her two boys, to teach, and to help with caretaking duties for her ailing father. After a long illness, her father passed away. “When you go through an emotional time, you reserve all your energy for that. Now, I feel I’m back,” she said. One of her sons lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, the other in New Orleans, Louisiana. MacCready still teaches. And she has just had a new YA mystery published by Henry Holt, an imprint of the Macmillan publishing group. “A Lie For a Lie” features anxiety-ridden Kendra Sullivan, who is trying to navigate the slippery causeway of adolescence while holding onto a devastating family secret. 

MacCready hails from a family of teachers, artists, musicians and writers. “Everyone in my family is one of those things. It was a messy and creative childhood. I was shy, and when it got too loud in my house, I would go up to my bedroom and play music and write poems and stories,” she said. Comments on her report card pegged her as a daydreamer. “As a kid, I was just apt to watch and observe. That's how I took in life. Now, even if I write one page, it's years of observation.”

She grew up living across from the Kennebunkport library, and read every horse book there. As she got older, she gravitated toward historical on-the-moor type books, and she loved Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” MacCready is attracted to characters who grow into their strengths. “They're not sure they can do it, they don't want to do it, they're scared to do it, and then they find their power and do it,” she said.

Regarding her own writing she explained that first, she has to care about her main character, who has a problem to solve. She empathizes with every character, even the ‘bad’ ones. “I hope I show that even when bad things happen, or the people you love do bad things, you can get through it and there is support for you. Life is complicated and the solutions to problems aren’t always black and white.” She leaves her endings open in case plot twists arrive in the middle of a story and change everything.  

Her colleagues at Edgecomb Eddy are very supportive, MacCready said. She loves what she does there. “We're on a three-year rotating social studies curriculum. Whatever the theme is that year, my teaching revolves around it. Art, library, language and culture, gym, to the best of my ability,” MacCready said. This year’s theme, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” focuses on how cultural regionalism blends into nationalism in the U.S. “We’re trying to bring back songs many of us learned, and the playground chants, jump rope songs, and hand games. We’re talking about the power of words and how they’re tied to different regions. We can have separate stories, yet we’re protected with the freedom to speak our words,” she said. 

How did MacCready come to write mysteries in the YA genre? “I wanted to write early chapter books, but everything came out with a voice that was a little dark and intense. At first, I was intent on changing it, but I realized I was writing about things that still make me wonder. I still have to ask important questions, the ones we ask when we’re teens. Who am I? What do I want? Am I okay? Are my parents okay? Who is right and who is wrong and what kind of action am I going to take? Many adults stop asking those questions. But teens ask them out loud and remind us every day that we adults stopped.”  

For more on MacCready’s books, visit Her books are available at Sherman's bookstores. MacCready will be appearing at the Books in Boothbay festival at Boothbay Railway Village on Saturday, July 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.