Has your experience as a journalist affected your writing style when it comes to fiction?
As a newspaper journalist, I was trained to write clean, factual copy, and I aim to write clean, crisp fiction. I hope I succeed. And years of interviewing people for newspaper articles certainly helped with dialogue. It fine-tuned my ear to the nuances of how different people speak.
But description is where newspaper articles and fiction differ dramatically. Description is kept to a minimum in newspaper articles; photos show readers what a person or a place look like. A fiction writer, on the other hand, has to describe characters and setting. But I try to keep descriptions brief—with a few brushstrokes rather than detailed portraits. I give every character in my novels and short stories a short physical description. Pat Tierney, for example, is in her mid-forties, and has short blonde hair and green eyes. But what characters say and do reveals much more about them.
Settings, so important in crime fiction, also need to be described. Black Water is set in cottage country north of Toronto. When Pat first arrives in the town of Braeloch at the beginning of the novel, she notes that it was “postcard pretty that morning with a fresh dusting of snow sparkling in the sunlight.” The entire township is breathtakingly beautiful with its lakes and rugged, rocky landscapes, which has drawn wealthy cottagers to the area. They have built million-dollar vacation homes, while some local residents have difficulty making ends meet.
How much of your expertise in the financial services industry finds its way into your stories?
I’m a journalist, not a financial professional, and I’ve written about personal finance and the financial services industry for the past 20 or so 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 of small investors. She has sleepless nights when markets are down.
What compelled you to make the leap into fiction? Is it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction. 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 I really wanted to write fiction. I wanted to create my own stories instead of relating facts.
Ironically, my entry into business journalism pushed me into fiction writing. When I joined the Financial Post in Toronto in the early 1990s, it was “highly recommended” that I take the Canadian Securities Course, an intensive self-study course that is the starting point for becoming licensed to work in Canada’s investment industry. So for six months, when I wasn’t at work, I was studying and doing assignments for the course. It was a gruelling exercise, and it eventually hit me that if I could hunker down and learn about stocks, bonds and mutual funds, I could apply myself to learn to write fiction. When I finished the course, I did just that.
Could you describe your novel-writing process for us? For example, do you work from an outline? How many drafts do you go through before you submit the MS to your publisher for editing?
I’m a character-driven writer, so I need to know my characters well—and by now I’m pretty intimate with the main characters in the Pat Tierney series. For the third book in the series, I’ve decided on the setting, the time of year, the mystery Pat has to solve and one of the subplots. I hope to start writing the first few chapters in June, put them aside for a few weeks, and loosely outline the course Pat will take to solve the mystery, and how the subplots will fit into the story. But I don’t want a rigid outline because that would take the fun—the sense of discovery—out of it for me.
I’m still a working journalist, so I find it difficult to carve out a set chunk of time for fiction writing every day. My days are often shaped by interviews for articles and publication deadlines. But because I’m now a freelancer, I have control of my schedule and I try to keep my summers free for writing fiction. I spend most of the summer at my cottage in the Haliburton Highlands north of Toronto (which bears a strong resemblance to the fictional Glencoe Highlands in Black Water). I hope to get to the point where I can start moving through the novel by the beginning of July 1. If I do, I should be able to get a lot of work done on the novel in July and August.
If that happens, I’ll work on subsequent drafts—two or three—in the fall and winter. I have a writer’s group that I regularly run chapters by. Then I’ll give it final self-edit and turn the manuscript over to my husband, Ed, who’s a newspaper editor and has done editing for Harlequin. He’ll go through the manuscript, editing and making suggestions for rewrites. After that, I’ll find another person with an editing background to look at the “big picture,” which Ed and I sometimes have difficulty seeing.
If all goes extremely well, I could be ready to submit the manuscript to Imajin Books next April or May. If it’s accepted, it will go to one of its editors. The talented Todd Barselow handled Black Water and he was a treat to work with.
Black Water is the second Pat Tierney novel, following your debut novel, Safe Harbor. What kind of challenges did you face in writing a sequel?
Black Water is a continuation of Safe Harbor’s story. The premise of the novel evolved quite naturally out of the first book because there’s unfinished business at the end of Safe Harbor. Pat’s daughter Tracy makes a surprising announcement, and Tracy isn’t at all happy about her mother’s reaction to it. When Black Water opens about six week later, Tracy has moved out of the Tierney family home. She returns one evening to ask Pat to help her find her sweetheart, Jamie Collins. Feeling she has let Tracy down, Pat heads off to Ontario cottage country where an elderly man has been murdered and Jamie is the prime suspect.
When I started the book, I already knew many of the main characters—Pat, her daughters, her adopted son Tommy, and Sister Celia de Franco. They were old friends, and it was fun to create a new set of characters for them to interact with. And it was great fun to move the story out of Toronto and into a rural community based on an area I know and love.
The big challenge in writing a series with the same central character is always staying faithful to that character’s personality. Pat’s fierce sense of loyalty to her family and those she loves drives all her decisions. At the end of Black Water, for example, Pat has to decide whether to stay in cottage country or return to Toronto. I had to let Pat’s character make that decision, which wasn’t necessarily the one that I as a writer would have chosen.
Will there be more Pat Tierney novels, or will you strike out in a different direction in the future?
I enjoy writing about Pat, and I have at least two more Pat Tierney novels planned. As I said, I’ll start the third novel in the coming weeks and hope to get a lot of work done on it over the summer. I also have another Pat Tierney mystery sitting in a desk drawer. Titled Last Date, it’s actually the very first in the series and it was shortlisted for Crime Writers of Canada’s inaugural Best Unpublished Crime Novel Award in 2007, but it was never published. I’d like to take another run at it, change a few things, and hope it becomes the fourth book in the series.
And after that…who knows?
How active are you in online social media? Do you find them useful in promoting your work?
Online social media is must for writers today, and I try to take as much advantage of it as I can. E-readers and the Internet have made it possible for book lovers to shop online. They find out about the books that interest them on Facebook, on Twitter and on blogs such as yours, and they buy them in the comfort of their own homes. Readers are in every country of the world, and they are combing the Internet for books like ours.
Social media is all about being sociable, and writers have turned this to their own advantage. They’re teaming up on social media platforms to promote one another. They’re joining tweet teams to shout out about their books and those of their fellow writers. They’re hosting other writers on their blogs, as you are doing today, and on podcasts. All this produces good karma and very positive results.
Do you feel that Canadian crime fiction authors are under-appreciated?
We have some very fine crime writers in Canada, and some of them like Louise Penny and Peter Robinson are well known outside this country. There are also a lot of relatively unknown Canadian writers, including crime writers, but there are many unknown writers in the United States. Unfortunately, we have a small publishing industry, and it has become even smaller in recent years, so fewer Canadian books are being traditionally published. Many good books are overlooked simply because publishing companies can only afford to publish a handful of books every year. But e-books may change the profile of Canadian crime writers. More writers are turning to e-publishers, and many are publishing their works independently. Readers around the world are buying these books, and I’m certain this will have positive results for Canadian writers.
We also have some pretty amazing organizations such as Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime that do a great job of building the buzz for Canadian crime writers. The CWC’s Arthur Ellis Awards raises the profile of writers, and Sisters in Crime Canada recently published The Whole She-Bang, an anthology of Canadian crime fiction, with the intention of promoting its members who write crime fiction. Two other Canadian crime fiction anthologies are in the works, Nefarious North and the Mesdames of Mayhem’s Thirteen for 2013, and are scheduled to come out this fall. I’m fortunate to have stories in both!
When Pat Tierney's daughter, Tracy, asks her to help find Tracy's partner, Jamie Collins, their mother-daughter relationship is stretched to the limits. Pat heads out to cottage country where an elderly man, who killed Jamie’s sister in an impaired driving accident years ago, has perished in a suspicious fire. Unfortunately, Jamie is the prime suspect.
Pat takes charge at the new branch her investment firm has opened in the seemingly idyllic community where Jamie grew up, and her search for Tracy's missing sweetheart takes her through a maze of fraud, drugs, bikers and murder.
Once again, Pat proves that her family can always count on her.
Purchase Black Water at a special introductory price of $0.99 through the following Amazon links:
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.
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