Rosemary McCracken turned the tables on me, interviewing me about my memoir for her blog. Now it’s my turn. Seriously, Rosemary has created a likeable and believable mystery protagonist – a financial advisor – who keeps running into crime, and not just financial misdeeds, but murder. Today Rosemary is my guest and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pat Tierney was nearby.
Sharon: Welcome Rosemary. Let’s go back a bit. You started your writing career as a journalist and you still do some freelance writing in that area. What made you start writing crime fiction?
Rosemary: Well, Sharon, I always wanted to write fiction, but I knew that very few writers are able to earn a living from their fiction. So, I did a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English literature and became a journalist because I could earn a living writing, albeit not writing fiction. About 20 years ago, I started writing mainstream fiction on the weekends. At some point, I was exploring plot and plot structure, and I decided to take a closer look at crime fiction, which is known for its strong plots. And I fell in love with crime fiction. It can offer wonderful insights into society and human behaviour, and, in the best works in the genre, has a tight cause-and-effect structure.
Sharon: How did the Pat Tierney mystery series evolve? Is Pat based on a real person or is she a composite?
Rosemary: I was a financial journalist when I started to write my first mystery novel. I decided on a woman in her mid-40s as my protagonist. At first, I considered making her a journalist, but I’d lived that role for many years, and I hit upon the idea of making her a financial planner instead. At the time, I was interviewing financial planners and money managers for my articles. I attended their conferences, and I knew the issues they were grappling with. The Bernie Madoff investment scandal had just broken. Madoff, a New York money manager, had defrauded his clients of $64.8 billion in a massive Ponzi scheme. And in Canada, we had financial scamsters of our own such as Patrick Kinlin, the Bay Street financial advisor who stole millions from his elderly clients. Kinlin died in Kingston Penitentiary in 2001 where he was running a pension cheque scam using a prison computer.
Pat is appalled by people like Madoff and Kinlin who ruined countless lives without remorse. She wants much tougher penalties for financial fraudsters. The anger and outrage she feels is how I would react if I was in her shoes. But Pat is clearly not me. I’m not a financial planner. I’m not responsible for clients’ financial wellbeing. I don’t have sleepless nights when stock markets are down.
Sharon: I am impressed with the plots you have come up with. Do you get these ideas from real life or does real life spark ideas?
Rosemary: All the crimes I write about are real crimes that have been committed at some point. And I’ve written articles about all the financial crimes in the Pat Tierney books. Because Pat is a financial professional, it is essential to have financial wrongdoing (which often leads to other crimes including murder because greed is a powerful motive for all sorts of bad behaviour) in her stories. And she has to use her knowledge of the financial world to recognize and solve these crimes.
So, I generally decide on the financial crime that will figure into my story, and how Pat becomes aware of it. One of her clients may have fallen victim to it, or it could be someone else she encounters. Because the books are murder mysteries, the major crime will always be a murder, the most heinous act humans can commit. But the financial crime will be tied to the murder or the murderer’s world in some way.
Sharon: In your Pat Tierney novels, you give brief explanations of what financial advisors do. This background information blends well with the characters and plots. Why do you use this approach?
Rosemary: I write to entertain readers, not to instruct them. My target readers are mystery readers over the age of 25 and all the way up to 125, who enjoy good stories. Some of these readers may know a little or a lot about personal finance from the work they do or from managing their own investments. Others know next to nothing about the financial world, and I need to show them—rather than tell them—the basics of what Pat does for her clients through her interactions with them. But readers don’t need to know the details of how Pat goes about managing and investing clients’ money; that is backstory and I keep it way back, out of sight for the most part. However, they need to understand the importance of the trust clients place in her and the accountability she has to them.
Sharon: Please give a brief summary, with no spoilers, of each Pat Tierney mystery, including the timeframe and setting of each?
Rosemary: The four Pat Tierney novels, all of them contemporary stories, take place over one year in Pat’s life. Safe Harbor, the first, opens on Dec. 30 when a distraught woman bursts into Pat’s Toronto office and tells her that Pat’s late husband was the father of her seven-year-old son. Pat is stunned by the revelation, and even more shocked when the women bolts from the office, leaving young Tommy behind. When the woman is found murdered in her Toronto home, the police tell Pat that the boy may be the killer’s next target. Searching for the truth, Pat uncovers a deadly scheme involving illegal immigrants and money laundering.
Black Water opens in March when Pat’s daughter Tracy tells her that her sweetheart, Jamie Collins, has gone missing. Pat heads up north to cottage country where Jamie grew up. An elderly man has recently died in a suspicious fire, and the missing Jamie is the prime suspect. Pat takes charge of a new branch that her investment firm has opened in the area. Her search for Jamie Collins takes her through a maze of financial fraud, drugs and murder.
Raven Lake opens in late June. Pat is still in cottage country, and plans to spend the summer in a rented cottage by a sylvan lake. But her dream vacation turns into a nightmare when the body of an elderly woman is discovered in a storage locker. Bruce Stohl, the woman’s son and Pat’s friend, is pegged by police as their prime suspect, and Pat rallies to find his mother’s killer. Meanwhile, a con artist has targeted cottages in the area, and vacationers are arriving only to learn that they are victims of a rental scam. When disgruntled renters show up at the door of her rented summer home, Pat fears for her family’s safety.
Uncharted Waters takes Pat back to Toronto in September. She has left the big investment firm, and plans to open her own financial planning practice in the city. She has found a small practice that looks like a good fit for her. Its purchase means taking out a large loan, and she has no idea whether the clients she acquires will stay with her. It’s risky, but she’s willing to proceed. But the one thing she hasn’t factored in is murder. Dean Monaghan, the business’s vendor, is found stabbed to death in his office shortly after the sale document is signed. To protect her business’s reputation, Pat searches for Dean’s killer, and the reason why he was killed. When Dean’s sun, Lukas, tries to put her out of business, Pat finds herself living her worst nightmare. She has ventured into uncharted waters that are teeming with sharks.
Sharon: Pat has to overcome a personal hurdle in each novel, which ties in with the main plot. What was your purpose in doing this?
Rosemary: This is what is called creating a character arc for the protagonist: giving her an internal goal and well as an external goal to work toward. Pat’s external goal is finding the murderer and the reason for the first murder in each story, and this is what drives the plot forward. Her internal goal involves overcoming a weakness, or getting around an obstacle that threatens her on a personal level such as Lukas’s attempt to put her out of business by spreading a terrible lie. An internal goal adds dimension to a character; without one, a protagonist may come across as flat. And working toward an internal goal adds more conflict to the story.
Sharon: Do you create a detailed outline of your plot before you start writing? If so, how closely do you keep to it, or does Pat take over at any point?
Rosemary: A major assignment in Novel Writing 2: How to Develop Your Novel, the course I teach at George Brown College, is creating a detailed plot outline for students’ novels-in-progress. The purpose of this exercise is to familiarize students with a novel’s major plot points—the Inciting Incident, the Point of No Return, the Midpoint, It Looks Like All is Lost, the Climax and the Resolution—as well as subplots. These classic plot points form the structure of most successful novels and movies. They can be compared to the poles holding up a tent. Without them, the story would sag.
I don’t create a detailed outline before I start writing. Rather, I list my plot points on a chart on my wall, and fill them in as I go. And I keep checking the list to see if I’m on track.
And I refuse to let Pat take the story in new directions. If I find her trying to do this, I give some serious thought to why she’s doing it. Getting her back on track usually means rewriting earlier parts of the book.
Sharon: Jack Batten, who reviews crime fiction in the Toronto Saturday Star, has called Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.” He has also reviewed the Pat Tierney novels. How did this come about?
Rosemary: I sent Safe Harbor to Jack at the Star when it first came out, and he was gracious enough to read and then review it. And he did the same with the following three books. I’ve been very fortunate, as his review column now only runs once a month.
Sharon: You also write short stories, some of which have featured Pat Tierney. Can you elaborate on them?
Rosemary: Many of my short stories were written in response to publishers’ calls for anthologies they were compiling. They announced a theme, a word count ceiling, and other rules for submissions. I work well to guidelines of this kind—it must be my journalism background—which narrows my focus and gives me direction. For example, three of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s four anthologies had specific themes: stories in 13 O’clock involved time in some way; 13 Claws was a collection of crime stories involving animals; and In the Key of 13 featured stories about songs or music.
You can check out the complete list of my short fiction and where it appeared on my website at www.rosemarymccracken.com.
Sharon: Which do you prefer to write and why – short stories or novels?
Rosemary: I like to write both in tandem. A Pat Tierney mystery novel takes me at least three years to complete, so it’s good to have a story or two to work on as diversions.
Sharon: You belong to a number of professional organizations for mystery writers. Which ones are they and how have they helped you with your writing and publishing?
Rosemary: I’m a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto, Sisters in Crime International, Crime Writers of Canada, the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Mesdames of Mayhem. They offer opportunities for promoting members’ works, educational opportunities and the fellowship of other writers. In non-pandemic times, Sisters in Crime Toronto https://www.facebook.com/groups/SinCToronto/ holds monthly meetings featuring speakers on a variety of crime fiction topics. These meetings, and pre-meeting gatherings at a local restaurant, are attended by members who are both writers and readers, providing great opportunities to network with other writers and potential readers. During the current pandemic, monthly meetings are held online. The mothership organization U.S.-based Sisters in Crime International https://www.sistersincrime.org/ hosts webinars on a variety of crime fiction and literary topics, often hosted by famous American writers; it also sends out monthly e-newsletters with timely articles on the publishing world.
Crime Writers of Canada’s local chapter organizes readings and panel discussions at libraries and other venues—great opportunities to meet readers. Check out more about the CWC at https://www.crimewriterscanada.com/.
The U.S.-based Short Mystery Fiction Society, the organization that confers the Derringer Awards, posts members’ publishing news on its blog at https://shortmystery.blogspot.com/, and members exchange information about markets for short stories and guest blogging on its Listserv.
And the Mesdames of Mayhem, a collective of Canadian crime writers, post members’ publishing news on its blog at https://mesdamesofmayhem.com/, and organizes reading and discussion opportunities at libraries and book clubs.
Sharon: Some authors decide early on that they will limit their series to a certain number of novels. Will there be more Pat Tierney mysteries in your series? If so, have you decided just how many?
Rosemary :I’m gathering ideas for a fifth Pat Tierney mystery, but I can only think about this work right now, and not too far into the future. I’m sure that Pat will let me know at some point that the well is dry—and her stories are over. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Sharon: And that’s good news for your readers. Thank you, Rosemary for stopping by my author blog and sharing information about your novel and short fiction writing story. We get to know both Pat and you, her creator.
Rosemary McCracken is the author of the Pat Tierney Mystery Series. Safe Harbor, the first novel in the series, was a finalist for Britain’s Debut Dagger Award. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012, followed by Black Water in 2013, Raven Lake in 2016, and Uncharted Waters in 2020. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney short story in the anthology Thirteen, was a finalist for a Derringer Award in 2014. Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, calls Pat “a hugely attractive sleuth figure.” Born and raised in Montreal, Rosemary now lives in Toronto. She teaches novel writing at George Brown College.
Rosemary’s Blog, Moving Target
Mesdames of Mayhem
Rosemary’s books are available at:
Sharon A. Crawford
Author of The Enemies Within Us – a Memoir and the Beyond mystery series.