PW: Your first series character, NYPD lieutenant Sigrid Harald, made her debut in One Coffee With in 1981. How did you come to write about a New York character and location when you're from North Carolina?
MM: Yes, born and bred in the briar patch! Well, when I was a college student I met my husband, a young navy lieutenant, in the Pentagon, and he was from New York. He was later stationed in Naples, and after that we lived in New York.
PW: Eventually, though, you moved back to North Carolina, home of your second series character, Judge Deborah Knott.
MM: Yes, my mother cut off a piece of the family farm for us, and we moved down to North Carolina. One of the themes in my books is how "progress" comes along and changes the landscape and our lives. The state has changed beyond recognition since the '60s and '70s.
PW: What part of North Carolina is the pottery-making area described so vividly in Uncommon Clay?
MM: It's pretty much the dead geographical center of the state. There are potteries in other areas, but this is where you'll find a huge concentration of them.
PW: Have you tried potting?
MM: David Garner, one of the potters I acknowledge at the front of Uncommon Clay , gave me the chance. One day when I was talking to David at his pottery he said, "You need to get your hands dirty." He took me back to the wheel, gave me an apron and a lump of clay and said, "Tell the clay who's in charge." Well, the clay didn't think I was the boss. I eventually got the clay centered, and I said, "I'll just make a peanut bowl," and David showed me how to work my fingers into the clay. Immediately I got what looked like a tube pan. This experience really gave me a deeper appreciation of the potter's work.
PW: It sounds as if you learned a lot.
MM: This is what's so fun about writing this series. There's so much to learn and there are so many different parts of the state. I've lived here most of my life and I thought I knew all about it. But I don't.
PW: How do you go about getting information on an area that's unfamiliar to you?
MM: Believe it or not, one of the best ways is to subscribe to the local newspaper, especially if it's one of those weeklies, and read the letters to the editor.
PW: Do you have a favorite between your two series characters?
MM: No, I really don't. But I've noticed as I've gotten older and "mouthier" I've given these more self-confident character traits to Deborah. Sigrid is painfully shy. I feel more protective of Sigrid because Deborah is like the younger, prettier sister.
PW: Who are some of your favorite writers in the genre?
MM: Not to step on any toes, but I like and was formed by Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. They're the Triple Crown of my models. I like their plotting and their language. I must say, I care very much about the English language. I can easily "waste" an hour looking through Roget's trying to find just the exact word that will suit. Not necessarily the 50-cent word, but the exact word for the situation. And I love Fowler. He's so opinionated and so idiosyncratic. So non—politically correct.
PW: Are you working on another book now?
MM: Yes. I don't have a title yet, but it's going to be set in Colleton County when these shabby little carnivals come in to do the Harvest Festival. Deborah Knott has a personal connection to it. I'm learning all kinds of "carny" terms. I also discovered that I have a third cousin, once removed, who used to be in the carny business, so how can I not use this marvelous resource for a book?