Welcome to my interview with Michael J MCann, Canadian Crime Writer and author of the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, including Blood Passage (2011) and Marcie's Murder (2012)
Hey Michael!, I'm so excited to spend a little time with you. Having been married to a police officer I'm always intrigued with the kind of stories you write. Thank you for taking time to answer a few of my questions for my readers. Let's get started!
Explain a little about why you decided to write murder mysteries?
I worked for fifteen years with Canada Customs as training specialist, project officer, and national program manager. During that time I was fortunate enough to be able to work closely with many experienced law enforcement officers who were willing to share their experiences and knowledge with me, and I've been able to use much of what I learned from them in my fiction. At the same time, crime fiction gives me an opportunity to work with certain themes in my books related to the search for justice, the toll that law enforcement takes on the men and women who dedicate their careers to it, and the attempts people make to understand why people do the things they do. Finally, I've always liked crime fiction as a genre. I love the characters, the gritty settings, the non-stop action.
What makes a good assassin character? Do they have specific traits?
It's a challenge to develop this type of character without falling into stereotypes, but then again there are many different kinds of murderers. There are the psychopathic murderers who kill because of an irrational compulsion that gives them pleasure, there are others who kill because it's business, or their job to do so, and there are still others who kill because they're desperate, feel they have no choice, and act in a moment of fear, rage, or other such impulse. So far I've worked with organized crime killers for whom it's business to kill people for their own warped reasons, and with characters who've killed out of desperation. Eventually in the series I'll work with the psychopathic serial killer type, but I'm not looking forward to it. I have a natural tendency to flinch from that kind of mentality. I've read John Douglas's books on profiling and behavioral analysis and I've taken a lot of notes, but I haven't enjoyed it very much....
As for creating a good character, I try to make all my characters, whether primary or secondary, as round as I can make them. I think if I can bring the reader to have mixed feelings about the character, even if it's a combination of loathing and pathos, then I've given them something to think about. For example, Peter Mah, as a rising figure in organized crime in the series, is not a cartoon character. I want readers to think about his motivations and try to figure them out, rather than have me explain them. But make no mistake, my sympathies are with law enforcement officers and not the perpetrators!
Then how do you create tension for the reader?
Lee Child had a really good comment at this summer's Thrillerfest convention, if I can borrow it to answer this question. "Creating suspense," he said, "all boils down to asking a question and making people wait for the answer." My novels start off with a homicide that will form the basis of the plot, and so in that regard I guess you could say I'm writing a "whodunit," since that's the question forced on Donaghue and Stainer, and the reader isn't exactly sure of the answer until the end. But I take different approaches in the novel. They're police procedurals, so there's the systematic collection of physical evidence and witness testimony, but I won't hesitate to undercut this process to create reasonable doubt. I'm not so much into the puzzle-solving process that you'll find in some mysteries, which often depends on clues and confessions. I'm much more interested in the psychological processes and failed relationships that ultimately make it clear to Donaghue and Stainer who it is they're hunting.
Then with the books you’ve written thus far, who has been your favorite character and why?
Among the secondary characters, I have to say my favorite so far is Detective Hall in Marcie's Murder. He's such a tragic figure. Memory loss is a subject that's very important to me, and his point of view was one I needed to work through. However, I have to say that Karen Stainer is by far my favorite character in this series. I know readers are having a very positive reaction to her, despite her obvious flaws, and I'm very glad to see that. I've never created a character before that I understood as completely as I understand Karen. I don't know why. I can slip into her point of view without effort, see things through her eyes, know her reactions paragraphs before I get them down on the page. With her, I don't have to think while I'm writing the scene, I just have to hurry to get it all down on the page before it goes away.
We understand your great character now, let's change it up. What is your favorite setting for your kind of story?
I've set the series in the fictional city of Glendale, Maryland, because I wanted a large American metropolitan setting, but I didn't want to have to do the research required to become intimately familiar with a real city and its various neighborhoods, so I decided to invent my own. I'm doing enough research as it is! I wanted a dark, gritty atmosphere, an urban center hard-hit by the economic downturn, a city dominated in some districts by organized crime elements and in others by the rich and successful, a place where violence ebbs and flows but never goes away.Having said that, I will take the series on the road occasionally, as I did in Marcie's Murder, when Donaghue goes on vacation and ends up in Tazewell County, Virginia. That was fun, because I'd done some family history research for a friend of mine that centered on southwest Virginia, West Virgina, and Kentucky, and I had a lot of information on that area I could use.
Wow! You make me want to pick up both books! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about your book! I hope you'll visit us again soon! Where can our readers purchase your books?
Blood Passage, Amazon paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Passage-Michael-J-McCann/dp/0987708708/
Blood Passage, all e-book formats: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/72770
Marcie's Murder, Amazon paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Marcies-Murder-Michael-J-McCann/dp/0987708724/
Marcie's Murder, all e-book formats: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/143300
Do you have a blog?
How about Twitter?
How about your website:
And Your Goodreads:
Thanks Michael and visit again soon!