Award-winning author A.J. McCarthy is one prolific woman. She’s been writing since 2004, when she wondered if she could write a better book than the one she just read. Indeed, she did, and she hasn’t looked back. Her fourth novel, By the Book, released November 12, and she’s all set for her fifth, Faux Friends, to come in June 2021. By the Book has a unique premise: “A serial killer uses a novel as a guide, and neither the author nor the detectives know who is next on the list or if they are the intended targets.” I read the book in one sitting, and I’m certainly looking forward to more suspense mysteries from her. A.J. is a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Canada, so I suspect her plan is to keep writing as much as her readers will keep reading.
Christina: Writing books is a definite departure from a career in finance. What did you learn from the
financial world that you apply to your writing?
A.J.: What I’ve learnt is that I want to keep them as separate as possible. I’ve discovered through the years that when you have experience in finance or accounting, you are always elected to be treasurer of any committee, activity, or organization for which you volunteer. You can never get away from it. I think that’s part of the reason why I love writing so much. It’s completely different from what I’ve been doing all of my adult life.
Christina: You mainly write suspense mysteries. What about that genre appeals
to you? Do you think it can do something that other genres cannot?
A.J.: It was the first genre I fell in love with, and though I read a wide variety of genres, it remains my favorite. When I began writing, there was never any question in my mind that I would write anything else. I think it evolves from my love of solving puzzles and math problems, so mysteries are the natural next step. I have toyed with the idea of writing women’s fiction, but I’m not quite ready to make the leap yet.
I don’t believe one genre is better or can do more than any other. Everyone has different tastes, and fortunately there are plenty of books in so many different genres to satisfy all those tastes.
Christina: You are a mother and a grandmother. Does parenting work its way into your writing at all? Has
becoming a mother/grandmother influenced your writing or writing process?
A.J.: In my published writing, all of my protagonists are childless. I don’t think I chose them purposely. It was simply the type of character I felt was needed for the plot. I do have a couple of unpublished manuscripts involving children or teenagers that were influenced by being a mother, and they may see the light of day at some point.
I know that as a mother/grandmother, or just as a human being, I could never write or read about cruelty towards children. The same for animals. It sickens me to even think of it.
Christina: Your blog is full of pictures of places you’ve traveled. What is one place you haven’t traveled to
that you’d like to visit and why? Do you only write about places you’ve physically experienced?
A.J.: My husband and I love to travel. We’ve been fortunate to visit many places we’ve enjoyed. Of course, with the pandemic, all travel plans have come to a standstill. Last year, we visited Ireland and had a wonderful time. My dream is to visit Scotland and possibly Wales. It’s probably at the top of my list. Greece is another destination that’s vying to be at the top. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to at least one of those spots within the next couple of years.
So far, my novels have been largely set in Canada. We live near Quebec City, so that’s been a setting for two novels. Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver Island have also been used as settings and are places with which I am familiar. In Sins of the Fathers, I featured a trip to Ireland before I had actually been there myself. Last summer, I had to take measures to correct that omission.
Christina: Character names are very important, and it seems that each writer has their own process in
choosing them. How do you choose character names? Have you ever been disappointed with
A.J.: Most of the time, I picture a character in my head and a name will pop up that suits them, and I can’t imagine them with any other. This often works for given names. Family names need a bit more research. On my tablet, I have an app called Name Dice. It just keeps throwing names at me, and when I see one I like, I will tag it onto my character’s name.
In By the Book, my protagonist inherited her name from a waitress that served us in a restaurant in Syracuse, NY, many years ago. When I heard her name and the story behind it, I made a silent vow to myself to use it some day in one of my novels.
Christina: Writers love to hear about other writers’ writing process. What is your process like, and what
does it entail?
A.J.: My process is a bit all over the place. First of all, I’m a pantser. An idea will come to me or I’ll check my notes for a good one that may have come to me years ago. From there, I’ll know how I want to start the story and I’ll have a general idea of how I’d like it to end. The rest is a hope and a prayer.
I’ve tried writing an outline, but it doesn’t work for me. For this reason, I probably take longer to write a book than would a plotter, but it’s better than having no book at all.
So, basically, my first draft is a brain dump; a mishmash of whatever I can come up with. In the second draft, I try to make sense of everything I had thrown at the wall. By the third draft, if I’m lucky and haven’t decided to trash everything and start over, it will start to resemble a finished product. Needless to say, I still have at least seven or eight more passes before the resemblance is acceptable.
I don’t have any ritualistic dances that I do. Nor do I have a special pen or chair. I write where I’m comfortable, sometimes at a desk, but most often on my laptop in a comfy chair, on a couch, outside in a patio chair; wherever I can be happy, relaxed, and quiet.
Christina: What is your writing kryptonite?
A.J.: There is a long list. I’m easily distracted by emails, social media, the news, the food pantry, the dog, the wind that’s rustling the trees outside, a speck of dust on a table. You name it, it can distract me. I need a deadline. If I don’t have one from an external source (publisher, beta-reader, etc.), I will self-impose one. “You need to be at 50,000 words by the end of the day,” “Your draft has to be done by the end of the weekend.” I will use my harshest mommy voice to deliver the message to myself. As with kids, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Thanks to A.J. for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.