Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Talking About Safe Harbor With Rosemary McCracken

Toronto author Rosemary McCracken dropped by to talk about her debut mystery, Safe Harbor. Shortlisted for The Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger in 2010, Safe Harbor has just been released as an ebook and will be available in paperback in April.

Your debut novel, Safe Harbor, just came out. Can you tell us what it’s about?

A frightened woman barges into financial advisor Pat Tierney’s office with the shocking request: “Look after my boy. He’s your late husband’s son.” The next day, the woman is murdered, and the police say the seven-year-old may be the killer’s next target. Pat rallies to protect the boy. Her search for his mother’s killer uncovers a deadly scheme involving money-laundering and illegal immigrants.

What was the road to getting published like for you?

I started writing fiction several years ago and I’ve had a few short stories published. In 2007, I entered Last Date, my first mystery featuring Pat Tierney and the predecessor to Safe Harbor, in Crime Writers of Canada’s inaugural Best Unpublished First Novel Competition. I was astonished – and overjoyed – when it was one of five entries that made the shortlist. The judges liked my book! That honor did not lead to publication. Despite my many attempts, Last Date never found a publisher or an agent, but being on that shortlist built my confidence.

I continued writing. I completed a second Pat Tierney mystery, Safe Harbor, which I reworked to stand as the first book in the series. In 2010, Safe Harbor was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger. Winning or shortlisting for this competition launched the careers of many established writers, including Louise Penny and Alan Bradley. The CWA makes shortlisted entries available to British publishers and agents, and several asked to see my full manuscript. But Safe Harbor is not a British mystery, and none were willing to commit to it in today’s uncertain publishing world. Much as I love the works of British crime writers, the world I know and write about is North America.

After returning from the awards ceremony in England, I shopped Safe Harbor around in Canada and the U.S. Again, publishers and agents were hesitant because they didn’t know how to categorize it and therefore how to market it. They couldn’t decide whether Safe Harbor was a mystery or women’s fiction – it has a murder mystery plot, and it also tells the story of Pat’s personal journey of coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity and getting on with her life. One agent liked the premise, but she didn’t like stories set in Canada.

Then Imajin Books entered the picture. Its savvy publisher Cheryl Tardif thought Safe Harbor was a good read and she was sure that it would sell books. An hour after I sent her my query email, she asked to see the manuscript. A week later, she sent me a contract. Cheryl is known to be at the forefront of the book marketing game.

Pat Tierney, your protagonist, is a financial advisor. What do you know about the world of financial advisors and investment management?

I’m a journalist, not a financial advisor or an investment manager. Years ago, when I started working at the Financial Post, I took the Canadian Securities Course, the course that many financial professionals sign up for as an entry-level credential. So I’ve had a little bit of their training.

I’ve also spent years interviewing financial services people and attending their conferences for the articles I write. I know the issues they face in their work, and their concerns. They work in a challenging business. Investment markets have been murder in recent years.

White-collar crime and investment fraud have been hot news topics in recent years. Do these crimes figure in the plot of Safe Harbor?

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot to those who haven’t yet read Safe Harbor. But the story involves several different types of crime, one of which is money-laundering. Subsequent Pat Tierney books will look at other forms of white-collar crime.

The financial industry deals with money, and therefore provides an opportunity for people who are clever and greedy enough to challenge the system. There are definitely some bad apples in circulation – and there always will be. There are also a lot of terrific financial professionals. They are committed, caring people who help their clients realize many of their dreams. They want to see tougher penalties for fraudsters, and maintain that the system in Canada is currently too soft on offenders.

These people sparked the character of Pat Tierney. Pat cares about her clients, and she has sleepless nights during down markets. She’s a champion of small investors and doesn’t want to see them get taken. Bad apples give the entire financial services industry a bad name. Good advisors want to see them weeded out and punished. They are understandably sensitive about recent scandals involving people like Bernie Madoff. When the ebook version of Safe Harbor was released on March 7, I spread the word to a number of financial professionals I know. I told them the book’s central character is a financial advisor. Concerned, one advisor asked whether this character was the hero or the villain. I assured him that Pat Tierney is an advisor with integrity.

As a journalist who has written non-fiction for many years, how did you make the transition to writing fiction?

For years, I wanted to write fiction instead of relating facts. I wanted to create my own stories. I just didn’t get around to it. Ironically, it was the Canadian Securities Course, which I mentioned above, that pushed me into writing fiction. The CSC is a self-study course, so for six months I spent just about every evening and weekend at my desk at home boning up on stocks, bonds and mutual funds. I’ve forgotten a lot of it, and much of what I learned is now out of date.

But the hours I spent at that desk taught me discipline, the ability to hunker down and get something done. I’m tapping this skill right now to market Safe Harbor. Even more important, that six-month grind caused me to cry out in frustration one day, “When I’m through with this, I’m going to knuckle down and do something I really like. I’m going to write fiction!” And I did. As soon as I’d finished the course, I signed up for a creative writing course at George Brown College in Toronto. That got my creative juices flowing, and I formed a writers’ group at the end of the course with some of my fellow students. We met once a month to critique our work, and that provided me with monthly deadlines.

I’m a believer in the bum-in-chair school of writing. It comes from years of working on daily newspapers where a reporter has to write an article, hand it in and move on to the next assignment – quickly. You only get that writing done by sitting in your chair and pounding on your keyboard. And the Canadian Securities Course reinforced lesson for larger-scale projects that take longer to complete. Such as writing a novel.

These days, I try to carve out time to sit at my laptop and pound out scenes and chapters of my current novel. I try not to listen to my inner editor while I’m doing this. I just keep tapping away at those keys.

Who are some of your favorite writers and what are you reading at the moment?

As I said earlier, I’m a fan of British crime writers. They are so damn talented. My favorite is the marvelous Kate Atkinson and Andrew Taylor.Right now, I’ve just started reading Hilary Davidson. I picked up this Canada-born writer’s first two books, The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall, at her Toronto book launch earlier this month. I’m half-way through The Damage Done and loving it.

When can we expect the sequel to Safe Harbor?

I’ve nearly completed the first draft. Then I’ll have to go back and do a rewrite. Then I’ll have my husband do an edit. Hopefully all that will be done by the end of the summer. The rest will be up to Cheryl Tardif – if she likes it.

So, if all goes well, the sequel could be out in about 18 months. Still have to come up with a title, though.

Find Safe Harbor on Amazon

And be sure to visit Rosemary's website

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