Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Author Interview: Elizabeth Buhmann

A special Raining Books welcome to Elizabeth Buhmann, who was brave enough to agree to answer some of our questions. Her debut novel, Lay Death at Her Door, was released in May. Thanks for stopping by to talk with us, Elizabeth!

Thank you so much for interviewing me on It’s Raining Books!

Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?

Murder? I sometimes wonder what it says about me that I am not entirely happy with a book unless someone gets murdered in it. I like a book that tackles a big, important action—a life-and-death decision. But I’m not into war or terror. I am drawn to deeply personal and momentous emotions and decisions. What could be bigger than the decision to kill someone?

This gets down to sub-genre, too. I am drawn to the stand-alone psychological mysteries. I love detective stories—read them all the time—but they are more like morality plays. The detective is the instrument of justice, and the drama is about uncovering the truth. I am fascinated by the hidden drama that results in murder.

I don’t want to read about serial killers, either, though there’ve been some great books written about them. I am interested in the universal, recognizable human emotions that can lead to murder. I have a theory that people who read murder mysteries are, by and large, a pretty tame lot. But the fact is, human beings have always had it in them to kill each other.

What research is required?

When writing murder mysteries in general, you end up doing research on crime, crime investigation, forensic science and victim issues. These are topics that I researched and wrote about for twenty years when I worked for the Texas Attorney General. It’s fascinating stuff. I’d read about it even if I weren’t writing murder mysteries.

In writing Lay Death at Her Door, I also had to learn about Africa, and about Kenya in particular. My main character, Kate Cranbrook, was born in Kenya to expatriate American parents. I selected that country after reading several books about Africa. I needed a certain kind of environment and a political event to precipitate her coming to America. Kenya and the 1982 attempted coup during Daniel Arap Moi’s administration were perfect. I got a little carried away reading and writing about Kenyan politics, but don’t worry! My editor made sure that only the most relevant essentials made it into the book. I did thoroughly enjoy that part of the writing process, though.

Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.

That I should write about nicer people! I hesitate to call my main character, Kate Cranbrook, a heroine because she has done a terrible thing. She lied under oath on the witness stand. She did it to protect herself, but it was a selfish and unconscionable act—an innocent man went to prison because of her.

I do see her as a tragic heroine in the sense that she has strong qualities like boldness and determination, but she’s deeply flawed and her flaws are her downfall. Typically, in a murder mystery, a detective solves the crime and brings the wrongdoers to justice. In Lay Death at Her Door, it is Kate Cranbrook’s own essential character that brings justice down on her head.

Don’t worry: this is not a spoiler. Kate did not commit the murder at the center of the story. But she committed perjury and was an accessory, however unwilling, to murder.

Some readers complain about not liking Kate, about her not being a nice person. Definitely, Lay Death at Her Door is not a book about nice people doing nice things! Honestly, it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t write about an unsavory character. I find a flawed protagonist interesting. One purpose of a crime novel is to make us explore what we are capable of. But that’s a whole new topic.

Any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?

I get up at four o’clock in the morning and do my best writing until it’s time to stop for breakfast and walk the dog. I wake up with ideas tumbling around in my mind and hurry to get them all down—no filter. Only later, when my inner critic and editor are wide awake, do I revise and organize (I do a lot of both). Then in the afternoon I read, work on the Internet, and write shorter pieces like interviews and guest posts, etc.

Plotter or pantser?

I am a plotter/outliner for sure—I can’t imagine setting out to write a whole book without knowing where I’m going! But I think this might be partly because of my genre. I like a mystery with an unexpected twist at the end. Lay Death at Her Door certainly has a few. The Chaotic Reader said in a review, “The last twenty pages of the book have more twists than a bag of pretzels.” It does!

But you can’t just pull a surprise ending out of a hat. You have to plant clues very carefully from the very beginning of the book to have them tie up in the end. That’s a major part of the satisfaction in a mystery: all those puzzling, weird details come together and it all makes sense. Ahhhh!

I do guarantee that about Lay Death at Her Door: it all comes together in the end. I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie. I aim for that kind of Chinese box-puzzle of a plot.

Look to your right – what’s sitting there?

A saber and a dog. The dog is asleep. The saber is for Tai Chi, which I love and have studied for a few years now. I’m working on my second degree black sash. When most people think of Tai Chi, they picture slow, meditative movement in a park, and definitely, that’s one form of Tai Chi. But Tai Chi is a martial art (Chinese) and we learn weapons, too. The saber is a curved, single-edge sword also referred to as a knife. The saber form is faster-moving than “empty-hand” Tai Chi. It’s quite flashy and exciting to watch when it’s done well, with jumps and kicks and flourishes to make the blade sing in the air!

Anything new coming up from you? What?

I am just now finishing a second book. It’s pretty weird—a cross between a murder mystery and a Frankenstein story?!?! I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that one. The book after that, which is in first draft, will be more like Lay Death at Her Door—a stand-alone murder mystery/suspense novel.

Do you have a question for our readers?

Yes! Does the main character of a novel have to be someone you like or admire or would want to be friends with? Or can you be intrigued and entertained by someone unlikeable, who has done things that you would never do?

Twenty years ago, Kate Cranbrook's eyewitness testimony sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder. When new evidence exonerates him, Kate says that in the darkness and confusion, she must have mistaken her attacker's identity.

She is lying.

Kate would like nothing better than to turn her back on the past, but she is trapped in a stand-off with the real killer. When a body turns up on her doorstep, she resorts to desperate measures to free herself once and for all from a secret that is ruining her life.

Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia, where her first novel is set, and like her main character, she lived several years abroad while growing up. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years, she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Elizabeth now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, dog, and two chickens. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and has a black sash in Tai Chi.


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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the interview! Fun questions. You have a great blog!


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