Meet the Mesdames, Rosemary McCracken ~ by Joan O’Callaghan

Joan O'CallaghanAuthors, teachers, business-women, and so much more…

Our own Joan O’Callaghan presents a series of interviews with each of our Mesdames.

Born and raised in Montreal, Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts writer and reviewer, and editor. She is now a Toronto-based freelance journalist, specializing in personal finance and the financial service industry.

Rosemary’s short fiction has been published by Room of One’s Own Press, Kaleidoscope Books and Sisters in Crime Canada.

Joan O’Callaghan interviews author Rosemary McCracken:

JO: What have you written?

RM: Safe Harbor and Black Water are my two mystery novels featuring financial advisor Pat Tierney, and are published by Imajin Books. I’ve also written a number of short stories, the most recent of which was “The Sweetheart Scamster” that appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s 2013 crime fiction anthology, Thirteen. Other short stories have been published in Nefarious North, in Sister in Crime Canada’s The Whole She-Bang, in Mother Margaret and the Rhinoceroses Café and by Room of One’s Own Press.

And I’ve made my living, and continue to do so, writing non-fiction in my decades-long career as a journalist. Working on daily newspapers across Canada, I covered everything from courts to entertainment (specializing in dance) to religion and business; the only beat I haven’t covered is sports. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a freelance writer, focusing on personal finance and the financial services industry.

JO: When did you start writing?

RM: I wrote several stories when I was a child. They were dreadful and I knew it, but at the age of ten or eleven I had no idea how to make them better. So I stopped writing fiction.

I became an avid reader and went on to study English literature in university. I wrote many, many academic papers, including a master’s thesis on the Canadian novel. After university, I decided to become a journalist because that involved writing. And I’ve been writing and editing newspaper and magazine articles ever since. I edited my first book (non-fiction) this spring.

But all along, I wanted to write instead of reporting facts. I wanted to create my own stories.

Ironically, my entry into business journalism nudged 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. For six months, when I wasn’t at work, I was studying and writing assignments for the course. It eventually hit me that if I could hunker down and learn about stocks, bonds and mutual funds, I could learn to write fiction. When I finished the course, I did just that.

JO: Why do you write mysteries?

RM: When I began writing fiction as an adult, I wrote mainstream literary fiction. Somewhere along the way, I realized I needed to learn about plotting. I hadn’t read a lot of mysteries up to that point, but I knew that this genre was known for its plots. So I started reading. I read Ruth Rendell and P.D. James and Elizabeth George, and some of our fine Canadian mystery writer such as Howard Engel. And I fell in love with the genre.

Mysteries encompass many sub-genres—cozies, thrillers, historicals, police procedurals, to name a few—and this gives writers a lot of scope. I’m a character-driven writer, and there is plenty of room to build great characters in the mystery format. I will never compromise character for the sake of plot; my characters always have to act “in character.”

JO: Why do you think people like to read mysteries?

RM: What readers enjoy most about mysteries—and this also applies to thrillers—is the sense of resolution at the end of the story. The world—or the small community—is thrown into chaos with the discovery of the body, the ticking time bomb or whatever mischief has been cooked up by the villain(s). At the end of the story, some sort of order is restored, although it may only be temporary and incomplete. Readers find this comforting. They relate to the chaos because their own lives and the world in which they live are often chaotic and unstable. They want to see order restored in the story they’re reading, just as they would like to see it in their own lives.

JO: Is there a favourite place where you like to write?

RM: As a working journalist, 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 am now a freelancer, I have more 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, an idyllic part of Ontario that bears a very strong resemblance to the fictional Glencoe Highlands in Black Water. And I generally manage to get a lot of fiction writing done there.

JO: How do you balance writing with the demands of a day job and/or family?

RM: As I said in my answer above, I’m a working journalist and assignments from newspaper and magazine editors mean that I can’t write as much fiction as I would like in the fall, winter and early spring. But even then, there are days when I can put on my fiction hat. I spend the first two or three hours at my laptop (I use my “big” PC for non-fiction writing) plugging away at a novel or a short story. I find mornings more productive for writing fiction. At noon or 1 p.m., I take a lunch break and move on to other work.

And my “day job” of writing articles about money has nurtured my Pat Tierney stories. I interview financial professionals for these articles and I attend their conferences. I know the issues they face in their work and their concerns. They are in a challenging business. Investment markets have been murder in recent years.

So when I was looking for a central character for a mystery series, Pat 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 when markets are down.

“The Sweetheart Scamster” is one example of a Pat Tierney story that evolved from my work as a journalist. I’d written several articles about “sweetheart scams” in which fraudsters target vulnerable wealthy people, pretending a romantic interest in them. It was a perfect fit for Pat, who would recognize the red flags of a sweetheart scam from her vantage point as a financial advisor.

A second Pat Tierney story, “Antonia,” will appear in Carrick Publishing’s
anthology World Enough and Crime, which will be released later this fall.

JO: What awards or other forms of recognition have you received for your writing?

RM: “The Sweetheart Scamster” in Thirteen was shortlisted for a 2014 Derringer Award.

Safe Harbor, the first book in my Pat Tierney mystery series, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award in 2010.

Last Date, my very first and still unpublished Pat Tierney mystery, was shortlisted for the inaugural Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Novel (A.K.A. The Unhanged Arthur Award) in 2007.

JO: What are you working on now?

RM: I’m writing my third Pat Tierney novel. Its working title is Red Kayak but that could very well change in coming months. It is summer and Pat is still in the Glencoe Highlands. She’s rented a cottage on Black Bear Lake and she’s looking forward to a blissful summer of R&R. Until trouble come to paradise.

JO: As a writer, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

RM: When I was a reporter at The Calgary Herald, I overheard a conversation between an editor and a fellow reporter. This reporter was a terrific newshound. She could sniff out a good story and track down wonderful sources. But she had trouble writing it all up, building an article out of her wealth of information. She’d get stuck on the first sentence and be unable to continue.

“Jump in and start writing,” the editor told her. “Don’t worry about the lede paragraph. You can come back and fix it. Turn off your internal editor, and write the story as though you’re telling it to me.”

Turn off your internal editor. The words resonated with me. As a journalist, I never had problems with my internal editor; I was too busy dealing with my editors in the newsroom. I had to write to deadlines, and at daily newspapers, those were usually daily deadlines. I had to submit an article as quickly as I could and move on to the next.

But I realized I had listened to that internal editor when I was writing fiction as a child. I realized how vulnerable I had been to that voice when I working completely on my own.

I decided to take another run at fiction. I tuned out my internal editor while I was writing. I focused on getting my stories out, sentence by sentence, page by page. Later, the following day or the following week, I revisited these pages with my editor’s voice turned on but firmly in check. I worked on tightening sentences and paragraphs, discarding entire pages if necessary.

I joined a writers’ group that meets once a month, providing deadlines. In the early days, I sometimes had to tune out the “editors” in the group, but they often provided excellent feedback. I joined networking groups such as Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime. Finally, I left my full-time job at a Toronto newspaper and became a freelance journalist to free up more time for fiction writing. I submitted work to literary contests.

And, slowly, I made progress.

JO: What do you like about being one of the Mesdames of Mayhem?

RM: The idea of a collective of writers—in our case, crime fiction writers—is a brilliant one. It allows author members to cross-promote our works. Over the past several months, Joan, you have organized a wealth of speaking opportunities for us at libraries, book clubs and theatre events, and I have tried to participate in as many as I could.

By sheer good fortune, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” the story I submitted to the Mesdames’ anthology Thirteen, featured Pat Tierney, the protagonist of my novels. Reading from “Scamster” at the Mesdames’ events provided a natural segue into speaking about my novels. Sometimes I even read a page or so from them.

And that’s been perfectly fine and dandy with the Mesdames!

Black Water, a Pat Tierney mysteryRosemary’s second Pat Tierney mystery, Black Water, (Imajin Books, 2013) is available in Print and e-Book format.

Her story “The Sweetheart Scamster” published in THIRTEEN, an anthology of crime stories (Carrick Publishing, 2013) was shortlisted for a 2014 Derringer Award.

Safe Harbor, the first book in the Pat Tierney mystery series, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award in 2010.

Joan O’Callaghan is the author of educational books and short stories, including Sugar ‘N’ Spice in the anthology THIRTEEN (Carrick Publishing, 2013). Her short story George is available for e-readers everywhere, including Amazon Kindle.

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