by Diana Hockley
& Lorie Lewis Ham
Lorie Lewis Ham interviews mystery author Beth Anderson and Diana Hockley reviews her new book Raven Talks Back, set in Alaska. At the end of this post is a chance to win a copy of the book.
Lorie: When did you first start writing?
Beth: When I was eight years old and tried to write a radio script. I was sure I could do it, but discovered I could do no such thing. In junior high I wrote a column for the school newspaper, then I took a break from thinking about writing for a while although people always encouraged me to write. At 24 I entered a magazine contest and won with a story about a young divorcee with a head cold and two little boys trick or treating with their father. (I should have expanded that into a novel.) Years passed while I was married, working and going to college and raising four children, but in the back of my mind, I always knew where I was headed.
Lorie: When were you first published and what was your first novel?
Beth: My first book sold around 1990, a Harlequin Superromance with a mystery in its main thread. It turned out to be my third novel published because of their long 36 month lead time then. Two more books, in the meantime, both mysteries, were bought and published by two different publishers–Dorchester and Ballantine, and they got into the stores before the Superromance did. So my path was pretty much decided for me. I was definitely going to be a mystery writer.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries?
Beth: Pretty much. I’ve been interested in murder mysteries since I was very young. I was very young when I read about the Suzanne Degnan murder in Chicago and for the first time realized with deep sadness that sometimes even children get murdered. But way before that, when I was six, I was reading my grandfather’s True Detective magazines, which he hid under his bed but not well enough to keep me from finding them. Even then I was desperate for reading material and that was all I could find. I don’t think my grandparents ever realized I was reading them, or even that I could read. Libraries took up the slack after that. I constantly brought books home to read.
Lorie: How/why did you get into writing mysteries?
Beth: Overall, I think the real reason is that I have a strong awareness of the need for justice, and in writing mysteries I can insure that at least in my books, justice will be served.
Lorie: Why did you choose Alaska as a setting?
Beth: Ah. Alaska chose me. I went there to do some contract work for a summer right after I took an early retirement. I just couldn’t turn down an opportunity like that, a chance to see a place I’d never seen before, but which fascinated me through books. I found myself completely mesmerized by the setting, which felt magical and mysterious to me for the entire three months I was there. Some of my readers have told me I captured the essence of Alaska perfectly. I hope so. I loved Alaska. A lot.
Lorie: My one trip to Alaska, I loved it as well. It’s an incredible place. What sort of research did you do for that setting?
Beth: I really didn’t go there to do research. I thought I wouldn’t have time, but the whole atmosphere spoke to me, so I saw everything I could see and did a lot of looking around Valdez and Anchorage, both of which were settings for my current new book, Raven Speaks Back. I also got to spend two days at Denali Park and I remember every second of it. Pure magic.
Lorie: What sort of challenges did you face using that setting?
Beth: One of the challenges was, there were already a couple of well known authors who had latched onto that setting and I felt guilty about possibly invading their territory because after all, they lived there and I was just a visitor for three months. That was probably the only real challenge, because the town of Valdez spoke to me so profoundly that even with the best of intentions I couldn’t ignore it. It’s incredibly beautiful and mysterious, especially on a foggy morning when you can only get tiny glimpses of the mountains and glaciers that surround the town on three sides, while the fourth side is Prince William Sound; fascinating, hauntingly eerie at times. If I really believed in reincarnation I’d think I had lived there before.
Lorie: Is this part of a series?
Beth: I hadn’t intended it to be; my books before this have all been standalones. But my publisher wants me to write one or two more books set there as the Raven Morressey Series, which just appeared when I wasn’t looking, it seems. I’ve never done a series before but I’m already beginning to plot the second book with at least all of the characters who were left by the end of the first book. I have to say I think I created more than my share of carnage with the first one. 😉
Lorie: Tell me about your main detective character? How does his setting in Alaska perhaps make him different than say a cop in New York or LA?
Beth: The one sentence description of Raven Talks back is, “Wyatt Earp meets Mary Higgins Clark”. Jack O’Banion is tall with short brown hair, wears a Stetson and silver-tipped cowboy boots and carries a big ol’ honkin’ cowboy gun he brought with him from Dallas. That’s the only physical description I ever gave of him in the book, I think. I pretty much like to let my readers decide for themselves how they think he looks. (But as a hint, I’m thinking Jude Law.) Jack is Chief of Police in this small town, migrated there from Dallas, Texas where he was a policeman and then a police detective. He’s smart, careful, funny at times, serious about his work, and he has a lot of heart. I think the main difference between him in a large city and him in a small town of only around 4,000 people is that in Valdez, the whole detective squad is him. Also, people in small towns tend to be–with those they perceive to be newcomers–very, very protective of each other, which makes it very hard on the new Chief of Police who’s trying to find a sadistic, determined killer.
Lorie: Tell us about Raven and how you came to create her?
Beth: Raven came to me while I was watching fog roll down the Chugach Mountains. I swear to you, this is true: I was watching that rolling fog on my first morning there and the sight of it was so eerie and strange because fog usually dissipates as it rises. But there, it rolled down and out over Prince William Sound and disappeared. So while I watched this, struck by the beauty of the whole thing, I heard a voice inside my head saying, “The spirits of my ancestors live in that fog. I know they are there.” And from that came the whole book. I hadn’t intended to write a book about anybody there, but there she was, in my head, and I had to tell her story. If I had to give you a mental picture of her, I would say look at Sandra Bullock, because her face was the one I was seeing when Jack, in one of his chapters–I think it’s in the third chapter–gives us the first description of Raven. Raven is soft spoken, the mother of three children, morally strong, and she has just about every good characteristic a heroine can have.
Lorie: Where do you currently live?
Beth: I live in a small suburb of Chicago, Illinois with my DenaliDawg, my two cats, BooBoo and Sarge, and my daughter Debbie.
Lorie: Day job?
Beth: Not anymore. I worked in accounting and finance for a long time before I took the early retirement.
Lorie: What kind of writing schedule do you keep?
Beth: When I’m actively writing a book I’ll start early in the morning, around seven, sometimes earlier and I write until one, two, three in the afternoon, depending on how well my eyes hold out and what else there is hanging over my head that I must do in my real life. I have to admit that’s not my schedule when I’m not actively writing but I’m about to go back into that mode very soon now. It’s exhausting and it’s hard to imagine how I ever wrote my first three books while I was working full time, although lots of authors do it and it can be done if you’re willing to give up a lot of your formerly normal life.
Lorie: Do you primarily try to entertain with your books, or are you trying to present any type of message as well?
Beth: I’m well aware that writers are mainly entertainers, and I write to entertain myself as well as anybody else who might read my books. I really don’t ever start out writing a book with a message in mind; this is fiction and since my prime job is to entertain my readers, I try my best to do that. One way I do this is that I try very, very hard to disguise the killer in my books so that people can’t figure out who it is. In fact, that’s great fun for me and yes, I definitely do it on purpose. I love to drop those red herrings that go nowhere, or maybe somewhere, but in another direction. That’s the main fun for me while writing any mystery.
I have no axes to grind, no causes to promote in my books and I dislike books as well as shows that do, because I like to make up my own mind about what I think and feel. I love to write with different settings, and that certainly describes Valdez, Alaska. In my last big book, Second Generation, my setting was Bogota, Colombia and San Francisco. I also like to make sure the reader learns about different cultures, which I definitely do in Raven Talks Back, because Raven is an Alaska Native, Athabascan Tribe. There are quite a few scenes with Alaska Natives in them. But other than the reader possibly learning something about a country or culture they might never otherwise know or see, there’s nothing but fun for the reader driving me while I write.
Lorie: Best advice you would give any wannabe writer?
Beth: Polish your grammar. Realize you may need some help with this and get it if you need it, because that alone can set you back years on your way to your goal of being published if your reading is not polished and professional. Understand this: You’re competing with professionals every day. Daunting, isn’t it? Your job is to try and write better than they do.
Read. A lot. Read good writers, the ones who make you jealous with their huge advances. Then read bad writers, and then figure out what the differences are. Read, Read, Read. Absorb what you’re reading. How they write their scenes. How the words feel to you when they’re describing something. Is it smooth? Disjointed? Why? Always ask yourself WHY, and then find out. Why does one sentence read so right and so smooth? What did the author do to make it feel that way to you?
If possible, find writing groups where you can get help because you’re going to need plenty of it. And most importantly at this point, set your ego aside and realize it’s likely to take a beating till you toughen up enough to survive publishing. I’m not at all discouraging anyone but you need to understand that the writing world is not an easy one to break into, and after you do break into it, to live in it.
Take your work seriously, but try very hard not to take yourself seriously. There is a huge, noticeable difference. Your book may feel like it’s your baby, but it’s not. It’s a book. Do everything you can to make it the best it can be because there’s a lot of hot competition out there and more coming out every day. There’s room for everyone, just do your very, very best so your book will be remembered and readers will begin to look for your name next time they go shopping for a book.
Lorie: How did you find this particular publisher?
Beth: A friend of mine steered me to Krill Publishing. I wanted a publisher whose entire focus was mystery and Krill appeared to be it for me. I had published with three NY publishers at one time but at this point in my life I wasn’t interested in going that route again because of the stress level and time involved. I had published three more mysteries with another wonderful publishing house, but their focus became less and less on mysteries as time went by. So after a lot of thinking it over, I chose Krill this time. They were small, but with a list of high quality books, and they had been in business long enough that I could see they were growing, not just sitting there. They publish both print and e-books; just right for me. When I saw they were open for submissions again, I sent my manuscript to them and it was accepted. I truly love my editor and everyone there. It feels like home.
Lorie: Do you think it’s important in this age to have your book available in both formats, e-book & print?
Beth: Oh, yes, indeed. You bet. That was another reason why I held out for Krill. They do both, and they do them well. At one time my books were mostly popular with print readers, but e-book readers are now a tsunami–even my doctor and hairdresser have Kindles and Nooks. Another reason I chose Krill–they price their e-books exactly right at $2.99. I made sure of that before I signed the contract. I want my books accessible to everyone and now they are. I think it’s so important to recognize what the general public is not only willing but able to pay–especially with the economy the way it is now, and probably will be for some time to come.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Beth: A couple of Raven series books, then standalones, but there’s always the possibility that standalones will become series books. I thought I’d never write a series, never even considered it, but here I am doing it. You just never know when opportunity will strike. God’s been very good to me. He’s allowed me to work at my own pace and to get better and better as I go along. I’m very happy where I am right now on this long, winding road. I believe there’s a reason for everything, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given along my own personal path.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Beth: For new writers? Yes. Be ready when your lightning strikes, because if you’re prepared, it does strike. Don’t waste years of your time sending work out if others who know the business haven’t told you it’s ready. Accept criticism, because most of the time it’s not personal. Learn not to take it personally as well as you learn your grammar and your point of view and everything that actually goes into writing a publishable book. Understand the business, because it IS a business and you have to behave as if it is by not taking yourself too seriously although you should take your writing and the business of writing seriously. I just repeated myself there, I know, but honestly, this is about the most important thing I can tell you about the publishing world. Try not to get too full of yourself, and realize that this is a gift that’s been given to you. When you have a chance, give back. It’ll go a long, long way.
Lorie: What is your website & where are your books available?
Beth: My website and blog are both at the same url . My print books are available everywhere, at independent bookstores and bigger book stores. If they don’t carry it in store, which is often the case unless you’re a big name author, they can order it from Krill Publishing and get a heck of a good deal, at least as good as they’ll ever get anywhere (which was another thing I checked on before I signed with them). My print and e-books are also available at Amazon.com and B&N.com.
You can find me most easily at either place by just typing in Beth Anderson, Raven Talks Back. I’m pleased to say you can find it all over the world if you Google Raven Talks Back by Beth Anderson. Literally, all over the world. How fun is that!
One thing I’d like people to know is if you go to my website you’ll find my blog and a section for new writers with all kinds of writing help. If you click on any of my book covers it will take you to a special page for that book with reviews and three or four chapters so you can read a preview to see if you’d like to read the whole book. If you would, there are direct purchase links to all of my books. If you’re a new writer, do take the time to read my lectures pages. You’ll learn a lot and I put them up there, after I gave them at writers’ conferences, for YOU to use. It’s incredible how many people actually visit my website and read these different pages every month. I’m truly humbled and grateful that people do come, and do learn, especially from my Writing the Tight Synopsis page.
Thank you for spending the time to read about me and my new book, Raven Talks Back. I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
Raven Talks Back by Beth Anderson
Review by Diana Hockley
Finding an unidentifiable corpse in your garden is, thankfully, not an everyday occurrence for Raven and her husband Red Morressey. Finding out that their eight-year old son, Timmy, has also made the discovery, with disastrous emotional results, is even harder for Raven, who is afraid that she will be thought crazy if she reveals the presence of the voices from the past, coming from her son.
The discovery of the victim’s identity astounds police chief, Jack O’Banion. Who would want to murder a seemingly drab, innocent teacher? As Jack digs deeper, revelations about the people he thought he knew, come to the surface. Seemingly, everyone has something to hide and soon there are two more murders of the most unlikely victims. How far will the killer go?
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and certainly didn’t pick the murderer. This is amazing, because I pick the murderer in most novels at least halfway through!
The plot is excellent, the writing outstanding. The characters are well drawn, believable and the reader soon feels great sympathy for them. Imagery of Alaska is interesting and in no way obscures the real purpose of the story, which is to tell a great yarn!
I hope there will be more “Raven” mysteries coming from the pen of this author. Good on ya mate!
To enter to win a copy of Raven Talks Back, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Raven”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 30, 2011. U.S. residents only.