Canadian journalist and mystery author Rosemary McCracken is here today to talk to us about her latest suspense novel, Black Water, just released by Imajin Books. Born and raised in Montreal, she has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance and the financial services industry.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Black Water. When did you start writing and what got you into the mystery/suspense genre?
A: I began writing as a journalist, and I’ve been writing for newspapers and magazines for the past 30 years. I started writing fiction about 15 years ago. At first, I set out to write so-called “literary” novels, and I soon realized I needed to learn more about plotting. I thought the exercise of structuring a mystery novel, which I knew relies heavily on plot, would be a good learning experience. I began reading crime fiction and I started writing it. And I fell in love with the genre. A problem is set out at the beginning of the novel, and by the end some sort of resolution, however temporary it may prove to be, is arrived at by the end.
Q: Do you have a mentor who encouraged you?
A: Veteran Canadian crime writer Gail Bowen has been a wonderful mentor. I met her a few years ago, and showed her the manuscript for Safe Harbor, the first book in the Pat Tierney mystery series. It was written in third person and she suggested making Pat a first-person narrator. “The reader has to be inside Pat’s head all the way through,” she said. And it worked! As soon as I started rewriting in first person, I knew it was the way to go. She’s been enormously supportive of Black Water—and she came up with the title.
Q: Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
A: I was a newspaper journalist for many years, and when I began writing fiction I had to learn to loosen up—to use my imagination and learn to write description. Imagination can actually get in the way of good journalism because accurately reporting facts is what’s called. And description is kept to a minimum in newspaper articles. A fiction writer, on the other hand, has to describe characters and settings.
Q: What was your inspiration for Black Water?
A: 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 that they left their children 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?
Q: Do you have any plotting secrets?
A: I’m a character-driven writer, so I have to know my characters well—which I do in the Pat Tierney series. For my next book, I’ve decided where it will be set, the time of year, the main mystery that Pat has to solve and a couple of subplots. Next month, I’ll start writing the first few chapters, put them aside for a few weeks, and loosely outline the steps Pat will take to solve the mystery, and how the subplots will fit into the story. But I won’t create a detailed outline because that would take the sense of discovery out of the process for me.
Q: What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
A: I tell her to take the day off, and I keep on working. I know from my journalism writing that some days are pure drudgery, but I can still get a lot done on those days, bringing the story from point A to point B, sentence by sentence and page by page. The day’s results will no doubt be plodding and workmanlike, rather than inspired, but I can come back to these parts later when the muse is with me and enlist her help in adding some magic to them.
Q: Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
A: No, because I try to end a writing session at a point where I know exactly where the story will go next. I call it “unfinished business.” So when I sit down to write again I will be immediately caught up in the events of the novel.
Q: Do you have a writing schedule? Do you set yourself weekly goals for your writing?
A: I am 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 newspaper and magazine 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 novel. I can often complete a first draft of the work and work on subsequent drafts over the fall and winter.
Q: How do you celebrate the completion of a novel?
A: I like to do something special such as going out for a special dinner with my husband when the final draft of the novel is completed. But I know there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of editing and proofreading. When the novel is just about to be released, I feel like my baby is about to be born. On publication day, I’m incredibly excited, but there’s a lot of marketing work to be done that day, and on the days that follow. And then there’s the next novel to plan. It’s a moving target.
Q: What do you love most about the writer’s life?
A: I love holding my brand-new novel and inhaling its scent. What an exhilarating feeling! And I am really touched when readers tell me they’ve enjoyed my book. That’s why I write—so that readers will enjoy my books.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: For those of you who are writers, keep on writing. Take advantage of every opportunity to get your work published and launch your writing careers. Enter writing contests, attend conferences for works in your genre and network with other writers. And don’t let negative comments about your work get you down. They may just be sour grapes.
Black Water is available on Amazon.