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A Chat with Tom MacDonald

The director of Harvest on Vine and newly-published author will present his crime novel at Olivia Browning this week.

Tom MacDonald has worked as the director of social ministry at St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish since 2003 and manages the Harvest on Vine Food Pantry. Outside his day job, though, the Braintree resident is also a writer and recently became a published author. His first novel, “The Charlestown Connection,” follows protagonist Dermot Sparhawk as he tries to solve the mystery of his godfather’s murder. MacDonald will present “The Charlestown Connection” at Olivia Browning Thursday, Sept. 22, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Patch: How did you begin writing fiction?

MacDonald: At night after work I’d start writing as a way to process the day and work out some of the things I'd dealt with. As I kept writing, little stories, anecdotes, would emerge. I really enjoyed it, so I went back to school part time and got a masters in Fine Arts from the University of Southern Maine. 

Patch: How did “The Charlestown Connection” emerge?

MacDonald: It’s written from the point of view of someone who works at a food pantry in Charlestown. I took work experience and fictionalized it, then came up with a plot to plug the character into. At first I was trying to write a more classic detective story. But I thought it would be a fresh approach to try it from a point of view of a regular person with a job in the neighborhood where something happens, and he get drawn into what happens and has to solve the crime. 

Patch: How does the neighborhood color your story?

MacDonald: I have Charlestown as a setting, so I’m able to get a lot of first-hand information -- even though it’s a fictional story -- about the setting and the makeup of the neighborhood.

Patch: How much research did you do to write the book?  

MacDonald: Enough to make it sound realistic. For a scene that takes place right by the Herald, I drove around just enough so that I knew the names of the street and what the area looked like. The big thing for a writer is just that you want to keep the credibility going.

Patch: Charlestown’s “code of silence” factors into the way characters interact with one another, you’ve said. What does that code mean to you, and how does it work in the book?  

MacDonald: What I see is that it revolves around two things: mainly a fear of retribution; I think it’s mostly around not getting yourself hurt. I also think that there’s a sense of loyalty; you don’t tell on somebody. I try to bring in…the norms of the neighborhood, where you really have to watch what you say and watch who you deal with. The main character isn’t a real careful guy, but it’s ingrained in him this whole culture.

Patch: Are you a fan of mystery and crime novels?

MacDonald: Yes. I read them growing up. I probably started with Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker. Those are my favorite books, so I figured I'd try to write in the same genre.

Patch: Are you working on any other writing projects?

MacDonald: A sequel to this one.

Learn more about Tom MacDonald on his website. "The Charlestown Connection" was released Aug. 1, by Oceanview Publishing.

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