Joseph Valentinetti, one of bookpleasures' reviewers is talking today with Margaret McLean. Margaret  was born and raised in Rome, New York.  She graduated magna cum laude from Boston College and earned her law degree from Boston College Law School.  McLean practiced law as a criminal prosecutor and currently teaches law at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.  Her first novel, Under Fire, was released in 2011. Recently, McLean launched an internet radio show focusing on law and crime. McLean lives in Norwell, Massachusetts, with her three children.

Joseph:

Welcome Margaret. Can you start by giving us an idea about your philosophy of writing?

Margaret:

Writing a good story is a creative form of communication.   It opens a vast opportunity to entertain, educate, and invite people to see the world in a different light.  I like creating complex characters who must overcome challenges and make changes in their lives. 

Joseph:

Is your writing an art or craft, or a combination of both?

Margaret:

My writing is a combination of art and craft.  I’ve been passionate about expressing myself through art since an early age.  I used to haul my wooden easel around to paint people and places.  Now, I paint those vivid scenes and characters on the pages of my novels. Under Oath is about an artist who painted street life and death.  The play, Under Oath, which is being developed with the Actor’s Studio in New York City, features life-sized detailed oil paintings of the code of silence murders.  The craft of writing is a skill-set which is developed over time.  Craft includes character development, plot, and the overall structure of a novel.  It’s important for a writer to improve his or her craft.  I hone my skills by attending writing seminars and reading.

Joseph:

If you could go back ten years and give yourself one piece of advice what would that advice be?

Margaret:

Spend less time on the first draft!  It’s important to keep writing everyday with the goal of producing that manuscript.  The story and characters are developed in subsequent drafts.

Joseph:

Please give a brief synopsis of the plot of your novel, Under Oath.

Margaret:

I like the following synopsis from Publisher’s Weekly: “Boston prosecuting attorney Annie Fitzgerald takes center stage in McLean’s rousing courtroom drama, while defense attorney Buddy Clancy, featured in her 2011 debut, Under Fire, provides a wily and unscrupulous foil. On trial for murdering promising Charlestown artist Trevor Shea is the despicable Billy Malone, notorious even in Charlestown, a one-square-mile area with “the highest unsolved murder rate in the country.” For Annie and Boston homicide detective Mike Callahan, convicting Malone would be a coup, since they believe him responsible for many deaths. Clancy is willing to shred reputations and demolish witnesses to win the case for Malone. The Honorable Conrad J. Killam, the judge presiding over the trial, gives both sides wide latitude. Missing witnesses, surprise witnesses, reluctant witnesses, brutal cross examinations, disputed exhibits, and a hodge-podge of jurors keep the outcome in doubt.” 

Joseph:

Who is the audience for Under Oath?

Margaret:

People who enjoy reading legal page-turners from Scott Turow, Michael Connolly, and John Grisham also like my novels.  My police investigations appeal to fans of Law & Order and CSI.  Readers say they learn something from the forensics parts, and they like the dramatic courtroom scenes, especially Buddy Clancy’s grueling cross-examinations.

Joseph:

Is Under Oath part of a series?

Margaret:

Under Oath is the second book in the Boston-based legal thriller series featuring defense attorney Buddy Clancy.  Under Fire from June of 2011 is a courtroom drama about an arson and the murder of a fireman in the line of duty.  I’m busy writing the third book, Under Treason.

Joseph:

Describe your protagonist and describe the challenges the protagonist needs to overcome and the motivation for overcoming them.

Margaret:

Protagonist Annie Fitzgerald is the prosecutor in charge of the unsolved murder cases; thus, it is incumbent upon her to break the age-old code of silence in Charlestown.  Annie is half-Asian and an only child.  She’s from Charlestown, but never fit in with the other children in the predominantly Irish neighborhood.  At age eleven, Annie witnessed a tragic event in her family’s mystery bookstore involving her father and the code of silence, which forced the family to close the store and move out.  Years later, Annie comes back to Boston with a personal vendetta to change Charlestown and extinguish the code of silence.  As the trial unfolds against crime boss, Billy Malone, Annie becomes consumed with convicting him, exploits her prosecutorial power, and a lead witness ends up dead.   Annie has to acknowledge her mistake and forge ahead in this impossible case for the government.

Joseph:

Describe your antagonist fir us and talk about his motivation.

Margaret:

Billy Malone is an intelligent and ruthless crime boss who intimidates others and knows how to beat the justice system.   He’s similar to Annie in that he also has a tragic past involving Charlestown’s code of silence when he was seventeen.  Malone witnessed his father dying from a gunshot wound in front of dozens of witnesses who never came forward.  This experience hardened and shaped him into a ruthless killer. 

Joseph:

Please quote a passage that you love from your book.

Margaret:

This is Annie cross-examining Billy Malone:

Therefore, you knew exactly what Jennianne was going to say on the witness stand.”

I knew it was all lies.”

That’s why you had her killed!”

Clancy leaped up, knocking the table off balance.  “Objection!”

Sustained.”

You were afraid the truth would come out!  The truth that you murdered Trevor Shea!”

Objection!”

Overruled.”

You’re wrong.”  Malone pointed at Annie.  “Dead wrong.”

Annie stared into his eyes…she had power over him at this moment.  They both knew it.  Without removing her gaze from Malone, Annie lifted the playground painting, revealing another giant canvas underneath.  She placed the first painting on the floor, and leaned it against the legs of the easel.  Annie grabbed the edges of the new painting with both hands and hovered over it.  Malone blanched.

The judge and jurors leaned forward, studying Trevor’s artwork.  The painting revealed… a teenaged boy, obviously Billy Malone, kneeling over the body.  He cradled the man, his hands and arms were stained with blood.  Inside the bar, dozens of faces peered out the large plate glass window. 

Annie shivered when she regarded the dead man’s eyes.  Trevor had painted them dead center.  They nearly popped out of the canvas.  So vibrant, so lifelike, so terrifying.  Annie shivered again.

Mr. Malone, have you seen this painting before?” 

Why are you doing this?” Malone finally made eye contact with her.

You’re in both of these paintings, aren’t you?”

10. Please elaborate on the meaning of the passage.

This cross-examination scene represents a dramatic arc where Annie pierces Malone’s armor, and forces him to relive his tragic past through the victim’s artwork.  She exudes power over him for the first time.

Joseph:

How has your upbringing influenced you writing?

Margaret:

My parents encouraged me to read, write, and pursue my artistic talents.  They spent a lot of time with my brother and me, attending all of our scholastic and sporting events.  I have a very supportive family.

Joseph:

Where do you live and how does that influence your writing?

Margaret:

I live near Boston, which provides a historical setting and diverse characters for my novels.  Boston is composed of a number of close-knit neighborhoods, like Charlestown, with varying complexities.

Joseph:

If you have a career outside of writing how does it fit into your life as a writer?

Margaret:

I teach law at Boston College, host a radio show called “It’s A Crime” in the LA market, discuss the law as a legal analyst for a Boston television station, and I’m a playwright with a courtroom drama in development with the Actor’s Studio in New York City.  These pursuits rob me of time for writing, yet they force me to be on the cutting edge of the law.  I also meet people from all walks of life.  The media exposure provides me with ideas about entertaining people.

Joseph:

Do you have a special routine you go through before you begin writing?

Margaret:

When I’m working on the first draft of a novel, I have to force myself to stop procrastinating.  It’s so easy to focus on anything but writing.  I jot down ideas and sketch my next scene on a legal pad, and then type that into my manuscript.  I must force myself to forge ahead.

Joseph:

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

Margaret:

I would eradicate injustice.

Joseph:

What pet peeve do you have about other people?

Margaret:

People often complain about their situations instead of being proactive and changing with the times.  Many authors commiserate about the dire state of the industry and the smaller demand for hardcover books.  They need to stop focusing on the negative and start thinking outside the box.  People will never lose their appetite for a good story.

Joseph:

Is there any occasion when it’s OK to lie?

Margaret:

I think it’s always best to write and speak the truth.  Sometimes, I try to communicate the truth with words that are less hurtful to others.

Joseph:

Thanks and good luck with all of your endeavors


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