Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a Toronto-based freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance and the financial services industry.
Safe Harbor, Rosemary’s first published novel, and the first in her Pat Tierney mystery series, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010 and published by Imajin Books in 2012. Its sequel, Black Water, was released in 2012.
Rosemary’s short fiction has been published by Carrick Publishing, Nefarious North, Sisters in Crime Canada, Room of One’s Own Press and Kaleidoscope Books. Her Pat Tierney story, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” published in Thirteen in 2013, was a finalist for a 2014 Derringer Award.
Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat Tierney “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.”
I sat down with Rosemary to learn more about her, her books, and her writing process. Enjoy!
Pat Tierney, the protagonist in your mystery series, is a 40-something widow who balances a busy financial planning practice with a hectic family life. Obviously your background as a journalist specializing in finance lends credibility to her character, but what made you decide to write a mystery, and a character, in that field?
When I was looking a character for a mystery series, my first consideration was to center the books around a female journalist. I quickly rejected that idea. Been there, done that. But for the past several years I had been writing about personal finance and the financial services industry. I interviewed financial advisors and investment managers. I attended their conferences. I knew the issues they faced and their concerns. And, suddenly, Pat Tierney appeared full-blown in my mind. She has the traits of 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.
You were shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010, one of about 1,100 hopeful entrants, but I understand it wasn’t your first attempt. For all the hopeful Debut Dagger entrants out there, what did you change from your submission in 2009, to your submission in 2010, that you believe strengthened your novel?
In 2009, I entered an early draft of Safe Harbor, my first Pat Tierney mystery, in the Debut Dagger competition. The contest is open to English-language writers around the world who haven’t had a novel published. The CWA didn’t get back to me, which meant, in a competition that attracts hundreds of entries, that the manuscript hadn’t made the shortlist.
A few months later, veteran Canadian mystery writer Gail Bowen was in Toronto doing a stint as writer-in-residence at the Toronto Reference Library. I submitted the first 20 pages of Safe Harbor for a manuscript evaluation and met with Gail. “This book needs to written in the first person,” she said. “We need to know what Pat Tierney is thinking and feeling every step of the way.”
I felt like a light had been switched on in my head. Safe Harbor is a murder mystery, but it is also the story of Pat’s personal journey after her husband’s death. Yet, for some reason, I’d written the manuscript in the third person. I rewrote it in the first person, which involved a lot more than changing the pronouns; it meant getting into the head of my narrator to create immediacy and intimacy between the reader and Pat. But right from the start, I knew I’d made the right decision. I felt energy emanating from the story that hadn’t been there before.
I entered the rewrite in the 2010 Debut Dagger competition. Same title and same storyline as my previous submission, but this time told in the first person. That year Safe Harbour emerged as one of 11 novels—out of about 1,100 submissions—that were shortlisted for the award. Being on that shortlist has been one of the highlights of my writing life.
You’re also a successful short story writer. How do you approach writing a short story versus writing a novel, and do you work on both concurrently?
Short stories and novels are two different forms of storytelling. Short stories are not only much shorter than novels, they are also less complex, with a single plot line, fewer characters and one or two settings. I find short stories devilishly difficult to do well. An extended narrative and a large cast of characters comes more naturally to me, but I’m up for the challenge because a well-crafted story is a small gem with all of its facets shining.
I’ll work on a novel and stories concurrently, but I will put a story away for weeks or months before revisiting it, and repeat this process over and over again. I’ve spent years putting some stories together. They seem to need to ferment longer than a novel.
What is a typical day for Rosemary McCracken?
No day is typical for me, especially during the fall, winter and spring when I take on a lot of journalism assignments and often have to put my fiction writing on hold for days at a time. But in the summer when I take fewer assignments, and in lulls in the other seasons, I like to be at my computer around 9 a.m. and focus on fiction writing until about 1 p.m. Sometimes “fiction writing” means editing or stream-of-consciousness writing that will never appear in a novel or a story. But the very act of sitting there and focusing my thoughts on my novel or story allows me to dig deeper into it.
What’s next? Can we expect another book in the Pat Tierney series?
I’m working on the third book in the series, and the first draft is about two-thirds written. Its working title is Red Kayak, and it opens about three months after the end of Black Water. It’s the beginning of July and Pat is still is cottage country, looking forward to a relaxing summer on the lake. Then all hell breaks loose!
I love a good cottage country caper! Thank you, Rosemary, for taking the time to share your journey.