Q&A with author McKenzie Rae
In your own words, how would you describe your book?
I would say that My Dark Passenger is like Stranger Things meets urban legends. The main character, Kevin Wolf, finds out that there are supernatural monsters in the world that he had no idea existed, and because you’re reading the story through his eyes, you’re not entirely sure what’s real and what isn’t.
Kevin is on a long road trip back to his hometown. What is he thinking about moments before he picks up the mysterious hitchhiker?
This trip back to his hometown is very significant for Wolf. It’s a trip that he used to make with his daughter who is no longer in his life (which you find out more about as the book goes on). So, he’s already in this dark and emotional place by the time he comes across this hitchhiker. The hitchhiker is a teenage girl, the same age that his own daughter would be, so when Wolf sees her on the highway by herself at night, he goes into the mindset of concerned parent.
What can you tell us about the dark and mysterious passenger?
I can’t say too much about her without giving out spoilers! However, I will say this: I purposefully left the mysterious girl’s motives to be somewhat ambiguous. So, whether she is a good guy, a bad guy, or neither is open to interpretation.
Your novel involves a town-wide Halloween festival. What is one of your favorite Halloween moments as a child or adult?
Well, first of all, I grew up near a town called Anoka, which has claimed the title of Halloween Capital of the World. As far as I can tell, the only thing the city did to earn that title was host one of the first Halloween parades back in 1920 (thank you, Google). So, when I was a kid, my mom used to run in the Anoka Halloween Gray Ghost 5k Run & 1 Mile Walk. My dad, my sister, and I used to go and watch the race and the parade so that we could cheer her on. Another cool thing that the cities in my area used to do was have some businesses participate in trick-or-treating a week or two before Halloween. A bunch of kids would dress up in costumes and go around certain shopping centers where employees handed out candy.
As an adult, my best friend and I have a tradition of watching scary movies on Halloween night while we wait for kids to ring the doorbell. I also may have dressed up as a clown a few years ago just to scare her, and she still hasn’t forgiven me. (Worth it, though!)
If you could place yourself in your book, which character would you be? What would you be doing?
Hm… Realistically, I would probably be the character named Sharron, who stays in this small town and ends up volunteering for events specifically geared toward kids. If I was going to be adventurous though, I might make myself the mysterious hitchhiker. I think it would be fun exploring a supernatural world that’s usually invisible to everyone else.
What surprised you most about your book as you were writing it?
This is one of the few books that I’ve written that didn’t make me feel uncertain. Usually when I write a book, I go back and forth between thinking that my writing is great and thinking that it’s terrible. But as I was writing My Dark Passenger, and after I finished it, I could honestly say that I believed it was a good story without feeling any kind of doubt or self-consciousness.
What are writing must haves for you? Coffee, background music?
A story playlist is a must-have for me! Music plays such a big role in my writing. It really helps me set whatever mood I’m trying to create in the book, and it can help me get into the mindset of different characters. I don’t necessarily listen to these playlists while I’m writing, but I’ll listen to them when I’m in the car or out on a walk, which is when I do a lot of my mental planning.
What are you reading now?
I’m only reading three books at a time right now! (It’s been as high as five in the past—shh!) I’m reading Anastasia: The Lost Princess by James Blair Lovell, Darkansas by Jarret Middleton, and The Survivors by Jipsi Lee.
And because I’m a movie person, I have to ask, name a movie you could watch over and over and over again and still find merit in?
I feel like there are SO many movies that I could put down for this question (I’m a movie person too—high five!). Well, my favorite movie is The Princess Bride. I have been watching it ever since I was a little kid, and it’s still one of the funniest movies I’ve seen. A funny movie that I believe needs to be watched more than once in order to appreciate it is Fantastic Mr. Fox. The humor and the timing in that movie is so strange that you miss so many little details the first and even second time you watch it.
I tend to watch movies most often with my sister, and two more serious movies that we watch relatively frequently is Coraline and The Dark Knight. I think Coraline especially is very psychologically intriguing. My sister and I have had a few late-night discussions about how the uncanny is used to create tension and fear in that movie, as well as the psychological implications of having a mother figure be the villain of the story.