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By Constance Scrafield
“My wife and I have a place in Toronto and we have a house in Mono, where it is so much quieter. I probably sleep three hours a night more here than I do in Toronto,” said Michael Decter, whose first novel, Shadow Life has just come out with a launch last weekend and is for sale at BookLore.
Michael Decter's new book was largely written in 2021 during the Covid lockdowns. Such a relief in the countryside, compared to the racket of the city, they came to the Millcroft Inn during Covid for some peace and quiet, and to write. While here, they looked at several houses and “then walked into this one and we loved it.”
A man very involved in health care and “a money guy,” Mr. Decter remarked, “I don't know if the novel will lead to another career but I wouldn't give up investing.”
This work of fiction follows eight non-fiction books and he said, “When I look at them, it seems that I was finding ways to tell stories.”
In 2006, he wrote his last one, Navigating Canada's Heath Care, a User's Guide to Getting the Care You Need, published by Penguin Canada.
He told us, “My mother was from Dublin and she and my Jewish father met in London, England. They moved to Winnipeg, my father's hometown.”
In the 1980s, Mr. Decter moved to Montreal to join an accounting firm with his wife and children.
Very simply he said, “Premier Ray asked me to come and organize a deal with the doctors and run health care here [as Deputy Health Minister of Ontario].”
With his hobby being investing, he wrote a book about a million dollar strategy: “How I turned a $50,000 investment into a million dollars by investing.” He had written a series of letters to a friend on investment. She followed the letters with similar success and gave them back to him, saying, “Write a book.”
He established an investment firm with a partner. After a time, they parted but Mr. Decter continued with LDIC Investment, as CEO.
“We're not a huge company and I've got a really good team,” he confirmed.
“I write books on the weekend,” he said.
Of their two adult children, he told us, “My son is a documentary filmmaker and my daughter now runs her own investment firm. She is very focused and teaching financial literacy for millennials. She has a huge following on social media.”
Even writing non-fiction, Mr. Decter wrote memoirs about his family. After his mother passed, he went to visit Ireland, to Dublin, where she had lived, curious about his mother's stories.
“There was Uncle Toddy who had some role in Irish politics. Turned out he was a major player in Irish history.
“Our cousin Ginger was head of the IRA and his kidnap started the Irish wars,” he related. “The first title for Shadow Life was 1952. The book started about me being curious about what was going on in the year I was born. Later, I wanted to call it Broken Moorings.”
About three years ago, Mr. Decter was selected for jury duty of a very dramatic case of two people being killed. Two men were being tried and jurors knew very little about them but they learned more about them after the trial. This jury duty left him somewhat traumatized.
The experience gave him the idea of nightmares and to place his main character in a similar predicament but more severely affected by his role on a jury.
He was working on the book when, “Covid came along, so there were no more meetings in person; they become zoom, which were much briefer. Which gave me time to write and finish the first draft.
“I had an agent from my non-fiction. She sent the novel to one publisher who read it and wanted to publish it. I was delighted and he had a very good reputation as an editor.” Looking backwards, “I can see more clearly how it began. What I like about John le Carré is the pacing. It's a good thing. You get a lot better but it got to the point where I couldn't see it anymore so the editing was helpful.”
With non-fiction the editing assured the information was factual.
“I thought fiction would be easier because you just make things up. You've got to have a story that is compelling so the editing is different. The pace is central. What gets in the way of the pace has to go.”
Much of the action in Shadow Life takes place by Georgian Bay which is interestingly a character in the book. Ireland becomes important. There, important discoveries were rooted in Ireland.
“I'm actually well into writing a new book, featuring the two main characters from the first book because it was a year between the publisher editing the first book and when it came back to me,” he explained.
“I had to do something,” said he, as though stating the obvious, “So, I [started] a book.” Shadow Life was published Oct. 22 and Mr. Decter has done a few book launches with more to come.
The main characters are Matthew Rice, who meets and falls in love with Mary Louise O'Reilly, an Irish lady. A significant character is a lawyer and a mentor, Harris.
The author briefed us by saying, “A lot of Shadow Life is how [Matthew's] life unravels. First the jury duty rattles him; then afterward he discovers his mother is not his birth mother. It matters particularly if they have roots in another country.
“Matthew doesn't know he's Irish until he's 60 years old.”
For ambition, Mr. Decter is hopeful on one hand and clear on the other: “I'm hoping that I'll also write some books that people will enjoy reading.
“I'm not giving up investments; I really like it but I've got time to write and I enjoy it. I write early or on the weekend but I am still paying strict attention to investments.”
Proof that the editing never stops: Mr. Decter received an email from Bob Rae's wife – “we've been friends with the Raes for years.”
There was a book launch in Toronto where she obtained a copy of Shadow Life: “On page 94,” her email said, “there is mention of a twin sister but the book never mentioned her again...”
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