Born and raised in Montreal, 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 specializing in personal finance and the financial services industry. Rosemary’s short fiction has been published by Room of One’s Own, Kaleidoscope Press and Sisters of Crime Canada. Rosemary’s first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010, and was published by Imajin Books in 2012. Its sequel, Black Water, has just been released.
Find the author on the web:
Rosemary’s website: http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/.
Rosemary’s blog: http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/.
Great to have you here, Rosemary! Tell us a bit about your latest book, Black Water, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Black Water is the second book in the Pat Tierney mystery series. When it opens Pat’s relationship with her daughter Tracy is stretched the limits. She realizes she has to do something to set it right. So when Tracy asks her help in locating her sweetheart, Jamie, Pat heads out to the rural community where Jamie grew up. An elderly man was been killed in a suspicious fire, and Jamie is the prime suspect. Pat’s search for Jamie takes her through a maze of fraud, drugs, bikers and murder. And she proves to daughter how strong a mother’s love can be.
Something my late mother-in-law, Helen, told me was the inspiration for Black Water. When Helen was a young mother in the 1950s she lived in the small Canadian town of Timmins. Once a week, she and some other young mothers met for coffee and cake at the local five-and-dime. When the weather was warm, they’d leave their babies outside the store in their carriages while they gathered at the lunch counter inside. I was astounded to hear that they’d left their infants unattended. “What if your baby had been taken?” I asked Helen. She smiled and told me that those were different times. “We never locked our doors at night back then,” she said. But it got me thinking. What if one of those babies had been taken from a carriage?
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I had the storyline clearly mapped out when I started to write Black Water. However, the novel took two years to complete because during that time I had journalism assignments to write and I was also getting Safe Harbor, the first book in the Pat Tierney series, ready for publication.
I’m a character-driven writer, so I have to know my characters well—which I do in the Pat Tierney series. I decided where Black Water would be set, the time of year and the main mystery that Pat had to solve. Then I wrote the first few chapters, put them aside for a few weeks, and loosely outlined the steps Pat had take to solve the mystery, and how subplots would fit into the story. But I didn’t create a detailed outline because that would have taken the sense of discovery out of the process for me.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
Back in high school, I was told by teachers to “write about what you know.” Good advice, but it doesn’t apply to most crime writers. Like many writers, I lead a safe, relatively uneventful life. I’ve never met a killer, a money launderer or an arsonist, but I’ve written about all of them. I’ve never been hit by a stun gun, but Pat Tierney, my protagonist, has. Pat is an ordinary woman who gets herself into some pretty extraordinary situations, and I am constantly on the outlook for adventures for her. But they’re not fantasies, they’re possibilities and they are backed up by research. It’s amazing what you can find out about many things on the Internet, in newspapers, on a visit to your local police station, and by keeping your eyes and ears open. In Black Water, Pat has to ride a snowmobile over open water. I got the idea for this scene when I watched a snowmobile skipping competition in Ontario cottage country.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. Where do you get your best ideas?
Like Agatha, I find that water stimulates ideas. I’ve had ideas come to me in the shower and in the bathtub, while swimming in the lake at my vacation home, and out on lakes and rivers in my kayak. Maybe that’s the reason my novels have “watery” titles—Safe Harbor and Black Water!
I also try to keep my eyes and ears open for ideas. Newspaper articles are an excellent source of story ideas. And so are the people you know. The stories your friends, family and colleagues tell you about themselves, such as my mother-in-law’s story, can sometimes be embellished or exaggerated, and turned into a scene in your novel.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
It takes me at least a year to write a novel. I’m a working journalist as well as a fiction writer so it’s 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 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 country cottage in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands north of the city of Toronto, where I can get a lot of work done on a first draft. I can then work on subsequent drafts over the fall and winter months. The editing will take another three to four months. And the production period will take a few months after that. So it’s a minimum of 18 months to see a book through to its publication.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I try to read only positive—four- or five-star—reviews. Reviewers who won’t disclose their names and stand up for the opinions they give don’t deserve to be read.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
As a journalist, I specialize in writing about personal finance, and Pat Tierney embodies the traits of those in the financial services industry that I most admire. She’s a champion of small investors, and she has sleepless nights when stock markets are in a downturn. Pat and I both realize that the world of finance provides opportunities for those clever and greedy enough to challenge the system. There will always be some bad apples in circulation, but we want to see tougher penalties in place to deter them.
What is your opinion of critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I’ve been part of a small writers’ circle for the past 14 years. There are six of us who meet once a month to critique one another’s writing. This provides me with monthly deadlines, and I work well to deadlines, and some good advice. I know the strengths and biases of the five other members, and I can cheerfully disregard some of their comments. But a beginning writer needs to be careful about what kind of group he or she joins. Do members provide support rather than critiques? Are their critiques constructive? Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing what kind of group you’re joining until you are actually part of the group. But if the group doesn’t feel right, my advice is to leave it. I’ve done that.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Keep writing. The more we write, the better we get at it. I know I have. I only wish I’d started writing fiction years ago—when I was in my 20s.
Do you have a website and blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
I certainly do. My website is http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/ and my blog is at http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/. Blogs are important platforms for an author. They allow us to announce our milestones and network with other authors by hosting their guest blogs on our sites. Hopefully, they will return the favor and provide us with similar opportunities.
Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I’ll start a new Pat Tierney adventure this summer. It will be set in cottage country again, this time in the summer. Beyond that, I’m still gathering ideas. I’m looking for an idea or two that really resonates with me.
As an author, what is your greatest reward?
A wonderful reward is having a reader say he or she couldn’t put my book down until it was finished. That, after all, is why I write!
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!
BLACK WATER is available at http://www.amazon.com/Black-Water-Tierney-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00CWF2X8S