‘Anger is a powerful inspiration’: author Bill Prentice

Bill Prentice

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!

Why Was Rachel Murdered? is available on Amazon and Kobo.

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Only 99¢ — Canadian!

SAFE HARBOR, the first book of my Pat Tierney mystery series WITH A BRAND NEW COVER, is only 99¢ — and that’s Canadian — on Amazon today.

Check it out here!

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Short Story Contest!

The Mesdames of Mayhem are holding their second short story contest for unpublished Canadian crime fiction writers. The winning story will be published in the Mesdames’ fourth anthology, In the Key of Thirteen, in 2019. This is a terrific opportunity to become a published fiction writer!

Entries must be about a crime — a murder or a significant theft or a scam.

Music is the theme of all the stories in the anthology — hence the title, In the Key of Thirteen. Contest entries must be based on a work or works or music, or the words of a song. Music from any time period is permitted. But please note that song lyrics are under copyright and cannot be quoted in a story unless permission has been received from the songwriter. And this can be expensive.

Stories should run between 2,000 and 5,000 words.

Stories will be judged blind, so no personal identifiers are permitted anywhere in the header, footer or body of the story. Include the story title and page number in the document header on each page.  Story file in .rtf format, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point and one-inch margins.

Maximum of two submissions per writer. All submissions must be electronic. Deadline is March 1, 2019, so you have five full months to write a story.

Send submissions to mcallway1@gmail.com.

The winning author must sign a contract with Carrick Publishing. Royalties will be shared equally between all contributors to the anthology after the publisher’s expenses are recovered.

Good luck!

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“Dining Out” in Mystery Most Edible

Thrilled to have “Dining Out” included in the Malice Domestic 2019 story collection! Stories will appear in Mystery Most Edible, published by Wildside Press and released in time for the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland, in May 2019.

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Waterdown, Ontario, this Saturday!

Madeleine Harris-Callway and I will be selling and signing books at the Flamborough Book Fair in Waterdown this Saturday!


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It’s Word on the Street time again!

Visit me at Word on the Street tomorrow, Sunday, at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

12 noon until 2 p.m.: I’ll be at Writers Block 7, the Mesdames of Mayhem’s table, close to the Toronto Book Awards Tent.

3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m.: I’ll be at #329, Crime Writers of Canada’s table.

Hope to see you there!

Word on the Street, the 29th annual celebration of Canadian writing, is also being held in Lethbridge, Alberta, tomorrow.

With 2 Mesdames of Mayhem (left to right): Lynne Murphy, Cathy Dunphy and Sylvia Warsh in profile.

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Writing about financial crime

Last night I joined the Mesdames of Mayhem at a meeting of the University Women’s Club of Mississauga. This particular branch we visited keeps a keen eye on international affairs and the Mesdames talked to them about about mystery writers around the world whose stories focus on a plethora of social issues: racism, immigration, chemical warfare, child abuse, sex trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.

I spoke on financial corruption.

I started my Pat Tierney novels when I was a journalist writing about finance. I was interviewing financial planners and investment managers, and attending their conferences. I understood the issues they faced. There was – still is and always will be – a lot of concern bad apples in the financial services industry: corrupt advisors and money managers. Because the industry industry revolves around money, it provides an opportunity for people who are clever and greedy enough to challenge the system.

I was horrified when I heard about Bernie Madoff, the New York money manage who swindled his clients out of $65 billion in a massive Ponzi scam. And we had scumbags of our own in Canada, such as Patrick Kinlin, a charming—and most of them are very charming—Bay Street financial advisor who operated a classic “confidence scam.” He’d get close to seniors, dazzle them and their families with his interest and concern. Then he’d sell them bogus stocks and bonds, and drain their bank accounts.

I worried that the people who were managing my money might be up to the same tricks. (And just a few days ago, the CBC reported on illegal investment fees that DIY [online] investors are being charged. No-frills investors should not be paying trailer fees because they don’t receive financial advice.)

All this resonated with me. And when you’re starting a novel that can take anywhere from three to 10 years to complete, you need a topic that resonates, that keeps you motivated. So I decided that my central character would be a financial planner, and before long the character of Pat Tierney took shape in my mind. She has the traits of the people I admire most in the financial services industry, people who want to see tougher penalties for fraudsters and maintain that the system is currently too soft on offenders. Pat is a champion of small investors. She has sleepless nights when stock markets are down. She hates to see ordinary people, people who’ve worked hard to pay off their mortgages and build up retirement nest-eggs, get ripped off.

And I started writing in the financial thriller sub-genre. Which I had never heard of back then. But I soon discovered a whole group of authors who were writing about financial crime. Readers around the world can relate to their stories because they have to do with money. We all need it but some people will do anything to get more of it. Rob banks, skim money from  clients’ investment accounts. Steal identities in order to write cheques and take out mortgages and credit cards in those people’s names. Some people will even murder for money.

And big financial crimes can have big repercussions: flash stock market crashes, and veteran financial institutions disappearing almost overnight.

One of my favorite financial thriller writers is Michael Sears, a former Wall Street bond trader. I met Michael in 2013 when we were both on a panel titled Easy Money at Bouchercon, the big international mystery conference that was held in Albany, N.Y. that year.

Michael’s series features protagonist, Jason Stafford, who was once a Wall Street bond trader, but made some very bad moves and landed in jail. After two-years in federal prison, Jason is prohibited from taking work that involves handling money—which is a basic requirement for any job on Wall Street. But due to his financial crime expertise, one firm wants him to quietly look into irregularities in the books of one of their junior traders. A guy whose body was just pulled from the Long Island Sound. Soon Jason is facing threats, and more people are dying.

This is from the opening of the first Jason Stafford mystery, Black Fridays:

I was the first alumnus from my MBA class to make managing director. I was also the first to go to prison.

Two years. For an accounting shuffle! Ridiculous. You pay a fine and you move on. But the Feds wanted my scalp. Well,  it was a half-billion-dollar accounting shuffle, which had come close to bringing down a major investment bank. The stock had plummeted. Investors were outraged. The president’s mother-in-law had lost close to $10,000. The Feds needed someone to put in the stocks, and get pelted with stones. I was their man.



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