Please welcome my guest today author Rosemary McCracken.
Hello Rosemary, please let us know a little about yourself including where you are from?
I’m a Canadian journalist born in Montreal, and now based in Canada’s largest city (but not its capital), Toronto. I’m married, and my husband Ed Piwowarczyk is the first editor of my fiction.
Tell us about your mystery series and how it got started?
I’d like to promote my Pat Tierney mystery series. Safe Harbor, the first in the series, was shortlisted for Britain’s Debut Dagger Award in 2010. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012, followed by Black Water in 2013, and Raven Lake which launches today (June 1). I’ve written a number of short stories featuring Pat Tierney. One of them, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” in the crime fiction anthology, Thirteen, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award. Jack Batten, The Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”
How did I come up with my Pat Tierney character? I first considered creating a woman journalist central character for a mystery series. But on second thought–been there, done that. I knew it would be too much like reliving my own career. But since the mid-1990s, I had been writing articles about personal finance and the Canadian financial services industry. I was interviewing financial advisors and investment managers, and attending their conferences. I knew the issues they faced and the concerns they had. Suddenly, Pat Tierney appeared fully-blown in my mind. A Toronto financial planner, she has the traits of the people I admire in the industry. She cares about her clients. She’s a champion of small investors. She has sleepless nights when markets are down.
What made you decide to write books?
For decades, I’ve earned my living by writing. I worked at newspapers across Canada as a reporter, editor and reviewer, but I’ve always wanted to write ficiton. I wrote several stories when I was a child. They were pretty dreadful, and I had no idea how to make them better. So I stopped writing fiction and became an avid reader, and went on to study English literature in university. After university, I decided to get into journalism because that involved writing. But deep down, I wanted to write fiction instead of relating facts. I wanted to create my own stories. Ironically, getting into business journalism also pushed me into fiction writing. When I started work at The Financial Post in Toronto, it was highly recommended that I take the Canadian Securities Course, an intensive self-study course that’s a basic credential for financial planners and stock brokers. So for six months, when I wasn’t at work, I was studying and doing assignments for the course. It was gruelling, and it hit me that if I could sit down and apply myself learning about stocks and bonds, I could sit down and apply myself to learning to write fiction. When I finished the course, I began to do just that.
What was your inspiration for your books?
I initially aspired to write mainstream/literary fiction, but I needed to learn more about plotting. I knew that plot were very important to mystery and crime fiction, so I started reading novels in this genre, including your wonderful British mystery writers: P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. And then I fell in love with the mystery/suspense genre.
As I said in response to a previous question, I created my central character, Pat Tierney, after years of writing articles about the financial services industry. I wanted to write about a female financial planner.
How do you create your characters?
I’m a characer-driven writer so it’s important that I create believable characters. I know my Pat Tierney character very well by now, but when I introduce new characters to a novel, I’ll write detailed character profiles of each one of them. Much of these backstories will never make it into the novels (or short stories). It’s information for me alone, to help me to create fully rounded, engaging characters.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I’ve written about some of the financial crimes that make their way into the Pat Tierney novels in my work as a journalist. But so many things can spark a story idea. A cottage rental scam that was in the news in Canada a few summers ago appears in Raven Lake, my latest mystery. In my part of Canada, summer vacation homes, which are usually beside or near a lake, are called “cottages.” (I’m off the the cottage for the weekend.) Fraud artists were putting photos of real cottages on internet vacation home sites. Would-be renters would wire their money, and when they turned up at the cottage for their vacation, they found that they’d been taken. I decided that I was going to include that (and a few other crimes, including murder) in my mystery.
If you have a publisher, what has it been like working with them?
All three Pat Tierney mysteries were published by Imajin Books, a small press based in western Canada, which also publishes British and U.S. authors. They are terrific to work with! They ask authors how they envision their book covers, and try to come up with covers the writers will like.
Do you have an agent?
I don’t have an agent, and I don’t feel the need for one at this point.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
Raven Lake is the third mystery in the series,a nd like its predecessor, Black Water, I faced the usual challenges of writing a sequel. I already knew many of the main characters–Pat, her daughters, her adopted son Tommy, and Bruce Stohl, a friend of the Tierney family. They were old friends, so it was fun to create new characters for them to interact with. And it was great fun to continue with Black Water’s setting–a rural community north of Toronto that is based on the Haliburton Highlands where I have spent many summers. An area I love.
A big challenge in writing a series with the same central character is always staying faithful to that character’s traits. Pat’s fierce loyalty to her family and her friends has to drive all her decisions.
And because the mysteries will not always be read in the order in which they are published, I need to make sure that new readers feel comfortable in the world I’ve created in Raven Lake, even though they have no idea what adventures Pat went through in her previous books.
What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?
Ideally, I like to write for about four hours every morning. When I say write, I really mean sitting at my desk in front of my computer, but the writing may mean creating character profiles. And certainly I don’t set myself a certain number of words per sitting.
However, my journalism work gets in this way of this. If I have an interview (usually a telephone interview) for an article, I write that day off for fiction writing. A find it too difficult to change gears in one day.
And I’ve started teaching novel writing at a college in Toronto. My teaching day and the day before it are reserved for class preparation and critiquing students’ work.
How do you cope with writer’s block?
I create an general story outline before I start writing a novel. This outline has all the big plot points, so I know in what direction I should be going.Even if I don’t feel terribly inspired, I can still plod along creating scenes that will get my main character closer to her goal. This material may have to be scrapped, but the process keeps me going, keeps me writing. The next day, my creative juices my be flowing again.
Lastly, can you tell us about your plans for future books?
I have at least two more Pat Tierney novels planned. I’ll be starting a follow-up to Raven Lake this summer. And there is another Pat Tierney mystery in a desk drawer. Titled Last Date, it’s actually the very first in the series and was shortlisted for Crime Writers of Canada’s inaugural Best Unpublished Crime Novel Award in 2007, but was never published. I’d like to take another run at it, change a few things including when it takes place.
And after that…who knows?
Thank you for being my guest today and good luck with future books