Frances McNamara interview with David Alan Binder

posted Aug 28, 2018, 4:08 PM by David Alan Binder

Frances McNamara interview with David Alan Binder 

Shortened Bio from her website:


A job at the University of Chicago Library led to creation of Emily Cabot, as a graduate student from Wellesley College who comes to the university the first year that it opens. Between the flavor of 1890’s in the architecture on campus, and the access to historical research materials at the library, it was a great opportunity to translate the feel of the city to stories about Chicago at the turn of the century. Allium Press of Chicago published Death at the Fair, a story featuring Ida B. Wells and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In Death at Hull HouseEmily becomes a resident at the famous settlement house on the West side of Chicago the winter after the Columbian Exposition when a smallpox epidemic ravaged the immigrant communities. In Death at Pullman the famous company town south of the city suffers a strike that spreads to the rest of the city and the country. In each story fictional characters mix with some real people from the time, demonstrating the rich history and culture of the thriving young American metropolis that Chicago was. Death at Chinatown allowed me to use some of my Chinese language and culture studies. In Death at the Paris Exposition Emily gets to visit Paris with her family thanks to the patronage of Bertha Palmer. I’d like to continue to follow the stories and Emily and her family into the new century. I’m thinking of covering literary Chicago, the film industry in Chicago, WWI, the flu epidemic, prohibition and the Depression. It would be nice for the series to end with the Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago in 1934. Death at the Selig Studios set in 1909 takes place in a silent film studio in northwest Chicago.

While living right in the heart of the city of Boston, I’m also a part time resident of Sandwich, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. I’ve been working on the first story of a new series that will feature a retired Boston Policewoman. The short story “Wicked Writers” in the Malice Domestic Murder Most Conventional introduces Lucy O’Donnell, reluctantly retired police captain. A novel based on the new character is in progress. I'm also doing research for another historical series that would begin in 1919 in Boston.


Frances McNamara



1.     How do you pronounce your name? 

Frances McNamara, as in “Oh, my name is McNamara, I’m the leader of the band…” On a family trip to Ireland this summer I learned that Mc is son of, and Namara is hound of the sea. Go figure.

2.     Where are you currently living?

Boston. I retired (to write full time). I lived in Chicago for more than 25 years and that’s where my series is set. My protagonist, Emily Cabot, is a girl from Boston who goes to Chicago in 1892 to be one of the first women graduate students at the brand new University of Chicago. She works with a fictional police detective roughly based on a real guy (Clifton Wooldridge who wrote “30 Years a Detective”). Like her, I grew up in Boston where my father was Police Commissioner from 1962 to 1972. Interesting times.

a.      Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?


I’m published by Allium Press of Chicago. Their motto is “rescuing Chicago from Capone, one book at a time.” It’s quite small but the editor is a former reference librarian and she’s passionate about Chicago history so she keeps me honest on the details. Her scope is “fiction with a Chicago connection.” She’s great to work with and really provides all the distribution channels that a self-published author would have to struggle to get. She publishes in print and ebook and makes great covers. Seems like my friends with big publishers have to do most of their marketing themselves and we decided online marketing is probably best. I think it takes a while to build a readership for my series and it’s good to have a publisher who will continue to publish them. I have no agent.


I’ve been looking for an agent to sell a different series to a big publisher. It’s set in Boston, not Chicago. But no success so far. I want to continue the Emily Cabot series for the readers who have found it and want more. Nothing is more inspiring than meeting someone who is enjoying the series and wants more books!!!


3.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be so specific that this most likely will not have been seen elsewhere)?

Join groups of writers in your genre. I joined both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and participated in meetings of the regional groups for both of those both in Chicago and Boston. Mystery writers are generous to other writers. In addition to encouragement, they’ll help you market your books once published and they’ll tell you about their publishing experiences. Besides, they’re interesting people.

Find a few writing conferences to attend. It’s worth the investment. An example is CrimeBake in New England, but there are others across the country. At these conferences there will be agents and publishers who will tell you about the business. Don’t be afraid to submit your work for critique. It’s good experience. And be sure to visit the bar, where you’ll learn all sorts of things.

4.     What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

Rewrite. You write a chapter, have it read by a critique group and rewrite it. You get a full first version written and you have to rewrite it more than once. You send it to some trusted beta readers and rewrite it. You submit to an editor who sends a long list of comments/questions and you rewrite it again, submit, rewrite. Sounds tedious but it does get better by the process so just grit your teeth and live with it.

5.     How many books have you written?

DEATH AT THE SELIG STUDIOS is Book 7 of the Emily Cabot Mysteries and I am hard at work at the next book DEATH AT THE BLACKSTONE. I have written and not published several contemporary mysteries, some of which are very dated now because they describe the computer industry in the 1990’s. Oops. I’m working on another historical mystery set in Boston in 1919. The first book of my published series took the longest to write as it went through a lot of revisions before it reached the publishable version. There’s also an unpublished piece of the story that precedes the first book and I’ve never gotten it into a good enough shape to publish.

6.     Anything else you would like to say?

We’re writers. It’s worth sitting down and writing out why you’re doing this. My publisher sent me Fauzia Burke’s ONLINE MARKETING FOR BUSY AUTHORS. I actually used it to write a plan for the current book and by answering the questions I realized I write what I do because I love finding forgotten people and events in the past and bringing them to life again and sharing them with others. That’s really what motivates me and my readers will be people who like discovering those people and events. It really does help to force yourself to think that through. I’m not intending to promote Ms. Burke but I’ve also heard her speak at writing conferences and she’s helpful. And I moved my website to be on the platform her company supports because it’s designed for easy upkeep of an author’s book information. But most important is being clear about what you want from the writing.