Monday, May 27, 2013

Rosemary McCracken - Author of Black Water

Rosemary McCracken and I have a lot in common. We both write crime novel and are with the same publisher, Imajin Books, and are both members of Crime Writers of Canada. More to the point, we both have a background in journalism. This, of course, put me on my mettle for this interview.  Can't let the side down and all that.

Rosemary was born and raised from Montreal. She worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor before turning to freelance journalism and fiction writing.

Your primary character, Pat Tierney, is a financial planner and investment fraud is a component of Black Water. Tell us about that.

As a journalist, I’ve been writing about personal finance and the financial services industry for the past 20 years. I interview financial advisors and investment managers. I attend their conferences. I know the issues they face and the concerns they have. So when I was looking for a central character for a mystery series, Pat Tierney appeared full-blown in my mind.

She has the traits of the people I admire most in the industry. She cares about her clients. She’s a champion on small investors. She has sleepless nights markets are down.

Every Pat Tierney book will include a crime that involves money. I don’t want give too much away here, but Black Water explores the kind of fraud that bad apples in the investment industry such as Bernie Madoff have pulled off, bilking small investors of their savings. But the books also explore other kinds of crime—such as murder. Some people can never get enough money, and greed is a powerful incentive for all sorts of nefarious acts.

Family drama is a key component to your stories. In Safe Harbor, Pat finds out that her late husband had a son with another woman. In Black Water, she learns, rather abruptly, that her daughter is homosexual. What made you pick these issues and how important are they to the plots of your mysteries?

I’m a character-driven writer, so the family issues in my stories always spring from the characters themselves. When I began Safe Harbor, I’d already written a Pat Tierney book. (Titled Last Date, it was shortlisted for the inaugural Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Novel in 2007. It’s now sitting in a desk drawer, waiting to be rewritten into the fourth book in the series.) So I knew Pat pretty well, and I asked myself what would be the most challenging thing I could confront her with.

The answer was Michael, her late husband and the great love of her life, who still exerts an influence over her from beyond the grave. What, I thought, if she discovers that Michael had been unfaithful? And…what if Michael had a child with this other woman? That revelation, which rocks Pat’s world, comes in Chapter One of Safe Harbor. The mother of Michael’s son is subsequently murdered, and the police believe that little Tommy may be the killer’s next victim. Can Pat turn her back on this little boy?

At the end of Safe Harbor, Pat meets her daughter Tracy’s sweetheart. She’d been hearing about Jamie Collins for some time, and she’s shocked to find that Jamie is a woman. She had no inkling of her daughter’s sexual orientation. Why did I decide to make Jamie a lesbian? I didn’t. It’s part of her character. One day, I realized why Jamie isn’t hot for guys.

When Black Water opens about six weeks later, Pat’s relationship with Tracy is stretched to the limits. Pat has handled the Jamie thing badly. Shortly after introducing her to her mother, Tracy moved in with Jamie. And Pat threw herself into her work. She hoped Tracy would get over her infatuation. She made no effort to get to know Jamie.

Then Jamie goes missing, and Tracy asks Pat to help find her. Pat suddenly realizes that Jamie isn’t just a friend and that Tracy’s infatuation with her may not go away. For the time being, at least, Jamie is the special person in Tracy’s life. Her partner.

She also realizes that Tracy had been keeping things from her for a long time. She loves her children and she doesn’t want them to have secrets from her. Pat decides she has to get to know Jamie. And if she turns out to be the one for Tracy, she’ll stand by her daughter’s choice.

I have to ask, why use American spelling in a book set in Canada?

Imajin Books, my publisher, suggested that we use American spellings because the U.S. is our major market.

Ah... Should have figured that one out myself.

How close are you and Pat in tastes? For instance, Pat seems to like a good burger, fries and a milkshake. This is a meal that harkens back to her high school days. How about you? And are you like Pat in other ways?

Pat and I enjoy the occasional junk-food meal. But both of us realize that a steady diet of burgers and fries is not healthy. We both like drinking wine, probably too much so. But I favour red, while Pat drinks white.
We’re both middle-aged women, but beyond that our paths diverge. I’m not a financial planner, and I never could be one. I’d worry about the investments I’d put clients into. I’d have sleepless nights in down markets.
And unlike Pat, I have no children. I’d make a truly terrible mother. I haven’t a trace of the Mama Bear in me.

And I like writing, which is not one of Pat’s interests. I like creating imaginary worlds, while Pat is very much grounded in the real world. Funny, isn’t it that she’s a fictional character?

What’s next for Pat Tierney?

Black Water takes place in Ontario cottage country, and the third Pat Tierney book will be set there as well. The story will be set in the early summer, my favourite time of year in the countryside. I’m currently researching nudist camps for it; it can be a chilly business. But Pat will eventually return to Toronto, because that’s where her daughters are based and she likes to be close to family. The fourth book will be set in Toronto.

What’s next for Rosemary?

I like writing about Pat Tierney, and I’ll continue to do so. But I’d also like to write books that feature some of the other characters in the series. Such as Sister Celia de Franco, a Catholic nun, and Farah Alwin, the Tierneys’ housekeeper and a newcomer to Canada from Iraq.

I look forward to reading more about Pat and I'm especially curious about the nudist colony. Thanks for being on my blog and now, get back to writing!

Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a Toronto-based fiction writer and freelance journalist. Her first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010 and published by Imajin Books in 2012. You can buy it here.

Black Water, the second book in the Pat Tierney series, has just been released at the special introductory price of .99! You can buy it here.

To win a $50 Amazon gift certificate, enter the contest here. Deadline is June 15.

Visit Rosemary’s website at
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Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother Made Me Do It - Redux

How My Mother Drove Me to Murder

He's stone cold dead in the market
Stone cold dead in the market
Stone cold dead in the market
I killed nobody but my husband

My mother used to sing that ditty to us as children. While other families sang 100 Bottles in the car, we sang Frankie and Johnny. I've known all the words  since I was ten years old - maybe younger - so do my  daughter and nieces. (My son doesn't like songs with words.) Add shelves full of the collected works of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout -- some of which my mother had brought with her from England when she emigrated -- no wonder I turned to crime writing.

Mum, 1952, British Passport
The setting of my first mystery novel was inspired by an interview I did of Guelph's then Chief of Police. We talked about the future of police services and the evolution of community policing. Over the intervening decade, I've seen a lot of what we talked about come true. This has been problematic since I decided to set my series in the near future and that future has been coming faster than I anticipated. For instance, I gave my police officers law enforcement grade, personal communications and data management devices. This was before the Blackberry and I-Phone were household names -- let alone standard equipment for police.

The setting and characters kept evolving as I learned more about police procedure, technology, and life in general. I had pages of notes but I was missing an essential ingredient - a plot. I had an overall story arc for the key relationships, but I couldn't plot the mystery until I had a mystery to solve. I was a crime writer without a crime.

In the midst of this, mother died. For a while, everything was set aside while I dealt with my mother's estate, my sister's cancer and my father's failing health. (Add four kids ages 0-9 - two mine, two my sister's - shaken not stirred.) While taking care of my sister, I completed my first fantasy novel at her insistence. Editing the first draft of Cod Squad gave my sister something else to think about. But that's another story (see Joey and the Turtle, Canadian Voices Volume 1, Bookland Press, 2009 and NorthWord, 2012).

Aunty Yang, Nana and Mum - Family Matriarchs
Shortly after my sister's death, we were visiting my mother's sister. (Aunty Yang and Uncle D  are like my other parents.) Aunt Yang and I were talking about sisters - hers and mine. There are things you tell a sister that you don't tell anyone else. I learned things about my mother that she never revealed when she was alive.

I learned that Mum was more upset about my sister's marriage breaking up than she let on. Aunt Yang confirmed that Mum also considered leaving Dad, but didn't feel supported in her decision, so stuck it out "for the children". I always knew Mum and Dad weren't suited. They loved each other, but they didn't always like each other. I also know that neither Joey nor I knew what to do about it.

Having gone through postpartum depression, I understood, in retrospect, that my mother had been depressed for the last years of her life. Talking to my aunt, I learned that it had less to do with her health problems and weight issues than being forced to take early retirement. I started thinking about how engaged Mum was in her work -- how proud she was of what she did.

Mum at Work
Before coming to Canada, the woman who would become my mother was the first female insurance adjuster in England and the first examiner. When she emigrated, she became the first in Canada. After taking a dozen years to raise a family and go back to school, Mum returned to her old profession and swiftly rose in position until she was bumping her head on the glass ceiling. Typically, of the men she trained became her supervisor. When the layoffs came, he stayed and she was retired. She felt betrayed.

We (the rest of the family) never knew how she felt. She made the retirement package seem like it was her idea all along. Mum and Dad went on a trip to Spain and Morocco immediately. The golden years had begun. The downhill slide into depression went unnoticed by most, if not all of her nearest and dearest.

The conversation with Aunt Yang was illuminating. It confirmed my suspicions, revealed new aspects of my mother's situation, and - because writers need to be opportunistic - it gave me an idea for a murder. I looked to my mother and all those boring conversations about insurance I endured as a teen whenever Mum invited a colleague home for dinner. I thought about who my mother would like to kill (other than her husband, in the market, with a frying pan) and who I could get to do it for her. It was her legacy.

To Mum:
Thanks for Deadly Legacy.

Note: This is an updated post from 2010 - when I was still looking for a publisher for Deadly Legacy. Ironically, it wasn't until this year that I finally heard the full version of Stone Cold Dead in the Market which I will share with you.

(Mum only taught us the chorus.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the 4th be with you

4th, Force and Forth

When we were given a selection of dates for my father's memorial, there was no question. It had to be May 4th so I could say, May the 4th be with you.

A little too much levity you think? My father was 84 and in poor health. He was ready to go. More importantly, he had a great sense of humour. He would have appreciated my choice. In fact, I think he did.

I am not a religious person per se. But I actually do believe in the Force... or something like. When I walked out of the cinema, all those years back, having seen Star Wars for the first time, I thought, "George Lucas gets me." Lucas summed up one phrase the nebulous beliefs I had developed over years of exploring various religions.

There was a second connection. My favourite number is four. For a while it was three, but that was only rebellion against my mother who also claimed four as her number.

I now think there was another reason. With my father's death I was officially an orphan. Okay, not a Little Orphan Annie or a waif in the street. I also have a wonderful and supportive extended family, so I'm far from alone. But you're never too old to feel the loss of your parents.

At the same time, I had been taking care of my father for several years, during and after taking care of my sister before she died. My children were growing up, still needing me, yet also becoming more independent. It was time to go forth and live my life.

So, I go forth and may the Force be with you... Always.