I’m pleased to have Bill Prentice with me today on Moving Target. Bill is a Toronto-based writer who specializes in international trade, investment marketing and economic development. He’s also a crime fiction writer. His debut novel, Why Was Rachel Murdered?, has just been released.
Q. Why Was Rachel Murdered? is a thriller that throws former RCMP financial crimes specialist Neil Walker into a web of Ponzi schemes, backroom politics and corruption stretching from Toronto and New York to earthquake-shattered Haiti. Bill, why do you write financial thrillers and what does the sub-genre mean to you?
A. Of the seven deadly sins, I think greed poses the most dangerous threat to our society.
The 2008 global financial meltdown devastated the savings and dreams of millions of people worldwide. As I watched the investigations unfold, I was struck by both the heedless greed of the handful of fat cats who were responsible for the debacle, and the aura of entitlement around them as they climbed in and out of their limos. Their greed was criminal yet nobody went to jail. They were Teflon-coated, and they knew it. Many of the same players are still running things today. It makes me mad. And, for a writer, anger is a powerful inspiration.
Why was Rachel Murdered? throws a harsh spotlight on that ugly reality. From the reader feedback I’ve received, it also succeeds as a fast-paced thriller.
Q. What research did you do for the novel? It’s fiction so can’t you just make it all up?
A. Money-laundering has become a global scourge, so there is a wealth of credible information available online. What became clear during my research was that the hands of Canadian bankers and politicians are not as clean as one would hope. Statistics Canada reports that, from 2000 to 2016, there were only 316 convictions for money-laundering in Canada. By contrast, in the UK during 2017 alone there were 1,435 convictions. That disparity demonstrates the reluctance of Canadian politicians to write and enforce effective anti-money-laundering laws.
Why was Rachel Murdered? plays out partially in the political realm. Several readers have commented on how authentic it feels. Research for that came not from online sources but from life experiences. During my 30+ years as a freelance writer, I often worked in the fields of international investment marketing and public policy. I have helped craft trade policy documents and participated in the closed-door briefings of cabinet ministers – the good, the bad and the stupid.
Q. Let’s talk about the writing process. Do you have a plot nailed down before you start writing?
A. If the writing world is divided between plotters and pantsers, I definitely fall in with the plotters. I work out key events in the overall story arc and sketch the main characters before I begin a first draft. I’m also a big believer in getting the structure right, probably because I started my writing career in television scriptwriting where structure is God.
Q. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
A. BIC-HOK – bum-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard. There is no substitute. It’s often frustrating, sometimes painful and occasionally intensely rewarding but you can’t beat it as the route to better writing. It’s also the only way to get the book finished, so you can start the next one.
Q. You were a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Best Unpublished First Crime Novel award in 2015. Did being a finalist help your writing career?
A. Being nominated for that award was transformative. It was a huge validation. Even though I had made my living for several decades as a writer, Afghan Silk was the first novel I had written and shown to anyone outside my family. The fact that other crime writers thought it had merit gave me the confidence to sit down and write what became Why was Rachel Murdered?
While I was hugely flattered by the response to Afghan Silk, the novel is set in the fast-changing global medical marijuana industry. It would require time to update and re-write, and I would prefer to spend that time on a new story. So for now, it sits on my hard drive but, in the future, who knows?
Q. Speaking of the future, will there be a sequel to Why Was Rachel Murdered?
A. Yes. The sequel will explore the international art world in which talent plays second fiddle to high stakes, smoke-and-mirrors hustling, and where the market value of an odd-looking sculpture can rise over a two-week period from $28 million to $64 million. It’s outrageous, ridiculous and dangerous, which makes it perfect fodder for storytelling.
Thank you, Bill!