TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has its base in the literary world, and in writings centered on mystery and crime. One of the great joys that we have is to be able to introduce a renowned writer from that genre to all of our readers. Our northern neighbor, Canada, has been the source of many of the great writers, and entertainers for that matter, that we have presented to our readers in our past. Author Michael J. McCann is another example of the talent that lives just north of our country’s border.
Michael, please tell our many readers about where you live and the beautiful countryside that you view everyday.
MJM– I live just outside Oxford Station, Ontario, which is a little crossroads about forty miles south of Ottawa, our nation’s capital. Our property totals seven acres in the Limerick Forest. I’ve cut a few walking trails behind our house, and in the afternoon when the weather’s good I love to take my border collie for a walk through the woods after I’ve finished writing for the day. It’s very relaxing and helps to clear my head. In the summer I often smoke a cigar on these walks, as it helps keep away the ninety billion mosquitoes who also enjoy the property!
TAEM- Please tell us about your education, as we have many students of the Liberal Arts who read our magazine as a tool towards their own careers.
MJM- I completed an Honors B.A. at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, with a major in English literature. I then went on to complete my Master of Arts in English at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. My area of specialization was American literature, and my M.A. thesis was entitled Symbolic Imagery in the Fiction of Sherwood Anderson. I’ve always had a special affinity for American culture, and American fiction in particular. There’s a freshness, an energy, and a spirit that has always appealed to me.
TAEM- Tell us about your career background and how it influences your writing.
MJM- After completing my M.A. I did a year’s course work toward a Ph.D. but quickly realized my future lay elsewhere. I found a job with Carswell Legal Publications in their Calgary office as a proofreader and copy editor, before becoming Production Editor of Criminal Reports (Third Series), a biweekly periodical. This job taught me the fundamentals of publishing and engrained in my brain the importance of being detail-oriented when it comes to the printed word. I still remember some of the errors I allowed to escape into print back then, and I’ve never made them since. I’ve made other errors — but not those ones.
I then spent fifteen years with Canada Customs, now the Canada Border Services Agency, as a training specialist, project officer, and national program manager at headquarters in Ottawa. I worked with some remarkable, experienced officers from whom I learned not only the basics of law enforcement but also what kind of people dedicate their careers — and their lives — to this work. It takes a special kind of person to be a law enforcement professional, and it can take a definite toll; a large part of what I’m doing in my series focuses on this theme.
TAEM- What first interested you to take up the pen to write ?
MJM- When I was a kid I was a book reader and a daydreamer. I devoured every juvenile novel the library had on their shelves back then, and I always wanted to be able to tell the same kind of stories myself. Science fiction, sports, historical fiction, you name it. After leaving Carswell I wrote literary fiction for a while, mostly short stories, and sold a few to periodicals such as Fiddlehead and Quarry, but once I went back to work full time with Customs I had to set the writing aside until I was able to take early retirement. By that time, Donaghue and Stainer were ready to burst out onto the scene.
TAEM- Why does the genre that your writing represents hold such a fascination for you ?
MJM- I’ve always been a sucker for a good story. The power of narrative over us as human beings is remarkable, really, and in genre fiction a strong story is very important. As a crime fiction author I have an opportunity to use the power of narrative to grab my readers’ attention and move them forward through my story. Once I have them, crime fiction allows me the opportunity to work with certain themes more freely than other types of fiction might allow. Themes relating to our search for justice as a society, the need to explain the existence of evil in the world, and the toll that a career investigating violent crime can take on a person, as I mentioned above.
TAEM- Please give us an overview of the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel Series and what influenced it.
MJM- The series is set in the fictional city of Glendale, Maryland, and focuses on the homicide investigations of Lieutenant Hank Donaghue and Detective Karen Stainer. Donaghue and Stainer come from very different backgrounds, and their approaches to investigation and enforcement are at times very different. Donaghue tends to intellectualize, while Stainer is more of a butt-kicker. As the series progresses, they will grow closer, and the reader will see why law enforcement officers often bond together for mutual support and protection. Donaghue and Stainer will become very tight, although not in a romantic way, as both will develop relationships with other people as the series moves forward.
I’m not sure I could point to specific influences, as I’m trying hard not to plow the same old ground as other crime fiction authors who’ve come before me, but I’ve been encouraged, shall we say, by the successes of such authors as Georges Simenon with his Chief Inspector Maigret, Ross Macdonald and his private investigator Lew Archer, and of course Michael Connelly and his police procedurals featuring Harry Bosch.
TAEM- The first book in this series is titled Blood Passage. Tell us the theme behind it and the main characters in the story.
MJM- Blood Passage was inspired by Life Before Life, a book by Dr. Jim B. Tucker. Dr. Tucker is the director of the child psychiatry clinic at the University of Virginia, and his book details his research into the phenomenon of past life memories by young children. There are more than 2,500 documented cases in which small children have spontaneously recalled memories of a previous life, and as I was reading this book I thought, “what a great premise for a mystery! Imagine a young boy talking about having been murdered in his previous life, a murder which is still unsolved. How would homicide detectives react to receiving information about a cold case of theirs from such a source?”
Donaghue and Stainer are reluctantly pulled into this cold case as the boy, Taylor Chan, supplies the names of the men who supposedly shot him in his previous life. Karen Stainer in particular is skeptical at the outset, but organized crime figure Peter Mah, cousin of the murder victim, believes what Taylor is saying and uses his “memories” to hunt down the killers on his own.
TAEM- The second novel is titled Marcie’s Murder . How is this related to the first book, and tell us how the main protagonist connects these two stories.
MJM- In Marcie’s Murder, Hank Donaghue is traveling through southwest Virginia while on vacation, about four months after the events of Blood Passage. Falsely accused of having murdered a local woman in the town of Harmony, Virginia, he calls Karen Stainer to come down and help him find the real killer. In this novel readers can see the growing bond between the two, and laugh as Stainer churns through the local investigation of Marcie Askew’s murder like a bull in a china shop. On a more serious note, she has a chance to question the abbot of a local monastery and makes it clear that her disquiet over the past-life memories of Taylor Chan in Blood Passage has not yet been resolved.
TAEM- Your third book is titled The Fregoli Delusion. How has this been written to connect with the other novels ?
MJM- In The Fregoli Delusion, Donaghue and Stainer are back home in Glendale, Maryland investigating the murder of a local billionaire, the fifth-richest man in the state. Donaghue is given additional supervisory responsibilities in Homicide just as one of his detectives burns out and leaves the job. For the first time, there’s friction between Donaghue and Stainer as the investigation takes them into upper class society, where Stainer is distinctly uncomfortable but Donaghue is right at home, as the investigation involves friends of his own mother.
As you can see, each of the three novels is written so that they are independent in terms of the story line and may be read in any order, but the development of the relationships among the central characters is best followed if the novels are read in order.
TAEM- Where can our readership find your work ?
MJM- Any bookstore with access to the Ingram Book catalog can order the books in paperback, or they can be ordered online through Amazon.com (), Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s, for example. They’re also available in e-book format for any device, including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and any Apple device through iTunes.
TAEM- Do you have more books for this series, or are you planning on a new theme or genre ?
MJM- Yes to both questions, actually. The fourth Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel is now underway, and hopefully will be available in June 2013. There will be plenty more to follow!
I also write supernatural fiction and recently re-acquired the rights to my first novel, The Ghost Man. I’ll be reissuing it soon under The Plaid Raccoon Press imprint and hopefully will follow up with another novel in the genre, also set in eastern Ontario, by the end of next year.
TAEM- Michael, as one interested in this same genre, it has been a real pleasure to introduce you to our many readers. We want to thank you for your time with the interview with our publication and we hope to hear more about you in the near future.