Keith McCafferty is a Bozeman-based Survival and Outdoor Skills Editor for Field & Stream who has just released his second Montana fly fishing mystery, The Gray Ghost Murders, a follow up to his “wildly popular” first novel, The Royal Wulff Murders, just out in paperback. Both books are currently on the bestseller list at his hometown indie, The Country Bookshelf, where McCafferty will appear for a reading tonight, Wed, Feb 27. TCB interviewed McCafferty for its recent store newsletter.
TCB: How long have you been fly fishing?
KM: Since about four. By the time I was eight, I was tying flies for all the fishermen at Burton Landing Campground on Michigan’s AuSable River, the first fly fishing only stretch of river in the country. This would be the 1960s when fly patterns had as much to do with voodoo as insect imitation. One fisherman wanted me to tie a fly that looked like a baby grouse because he’d found a feather in a trout’s stomach; another had found a vole so he wanted that; I glued muskrat skin on a wine cork and added a tail.
TCB: What is your favorite fishing spot?
KM: I grew up night fishing on Michigan’s AuSable and Manistee Rivers. Give me a nocturnal hatch of the giant Hexagenia mayflies, trout rising that you hear but can’t see, casting by feel, the sound of the line whistling and a big brown trout walloping the surface, add in the smell of jackpines and 6-12 mosquito repellent, the river flowing through the cedar swamp, and, if I could turn back time, the cherry glow of my dad’s pipe leading the way — I’ve fished for everything from India’s golden mahseer to salmon in Scotland and tarpon in the Keys, but a Michigan trout stream at night is as good as it gets.
KM: It’s something I always wanted to do, but found an excuse not to: the kids were in college so I needed to make more money, and so on. The same story that keeps most aspiring novelists from writing. Woody Allen said the reason for his success was largely to due to finishing the projects he started, and novels are no different than screen plays—the middle part is the hardest. That’s why there are so many fifty page manuscripts in dusty desk drawers and forgotten word documents.
TCB: Who are your favorite mystery writers?
KM: Those who meant the most to me growing up were Raymond Chandler and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Among the current crop, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly and Alan Furst stand out. As well as those who have supported me — William Kent Krueger, C.J. Box and Craig Johnson. My most recent favorite is Nevada Barr, which I thought had to be a pen name. In fact she was born in Nevada, but her dad named her after a favorite character in a book.
TCB: Where did the character Martha Ettinger come from?
KM: I could say she was named for Karen Entinger, who was my best friend growing up (I just changed the spelling), and that she was partly inspired by an old friend, the cowboy poet, Gwen Peterson. But in fact she was a gift. I started chapter two of The Royal Wulff Murders knowing I needed a small town sheriff, decided it should be a woman, and Martha walked onto the page, fully formed. Of all the characters through three books now, she’s the easiest to write.
TCB: Have your books resulted in an increase in fly sales?
KM: I wish. An interesting question is: How many people who read the books have no interest in fly fishing? It’s more than you think. For sure, some are bought as gifts by the wives, girlfriends, and mothers of fly fishermen, but many readers, perhaps most, are women who have never wet a line of any kind, but are drawn more by character and story.