This interview originally appeared on BloodWrites, the website of Amazon bestselling indie author Jen Blood.
Daphne award-winning author Pam Beason writes the Sam Westin mystery series with Berkley Prime Crime, and has also indie published romantic suspense and the Awesome Indies-selected mystery/suspense novel The Only Witness. She is a professional private investigator, freelance writer and editor, and when she’s not tracking down bad guys or writing the next breakout bestseller, she can be found kayaking, snowshoeing, scuba diving, or generally adventuring in the great outdoors.
You have a pretty rich background in terms of experience, between working as a private investigator and your active lifestyle. What led you to becoming a writer? Do you think your subject matter is an extension of your adventurous spirit?
I have always been a writer. When I was a small child, I wrote about various plans to bump off my sister and to own a horse. In junior high, I wrote the adventures of Secret Agent K9, a dog who had major challenges in his spy career because he was repeatedly captured by Animal Control and taxis wouldn’t pick him up, etc. In high school and college, I aced all my essay tests even if I didn’t know the subject matter very well. Yes, my subject matter mostly comes from my life, which sometimes makes it hard to hear criticism of my characters, because they are for the most part…me. As for my “adventurous spirit,” I always say that I don’t expect life to be rewarding, I don’t expect it to be easy, but I jolly well expect it to be interesting. So I try to keep it that way.
Oh—I should probably mention that my sister is alive and well, and that I saved up my money for years and bought my horse Comanche when I was a teenager, much to the surprise of my parents, who thought I’d finally given up that crazy idea.
Your female characters tend to be strong, self-reliant women who know how to command a situation…. Who are the women in your life you have admired or emulated over the years?
Oh gosh, there are so many! I admired both my grandmothers because they definitely controlled their households even though they grew up in a very male-dominated period. My mother got her college degree without much support and I (perhaps unfortunately) emulated her in that way. I came from a very practical family who usually encouraged me to pursue “safe” goals. But as a child, I always admired the female astronauts and athletes and brave pioneers breaking into mostly male fields—the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. If given the chance to start over again, I would choose to be absolutely fearless.
So often the animals I see in a novel tend to be little more than a cardboard plot device, but the non-human characters in your novels are frequently as lifelike as your humans. Do you have any advice for writers who incorporate animals into their stories to lend that kind of realism and depth?
My best advice would be to spend more time with animals—observing them, touching them, interacting with them. They are all amazing! Humans like to measure all creatures by our abilities, which is a little ridiculous when you stop to think about it—how egotistical can you get? I can’t jump to the top of the refrigerator like my cat can, or change my skin to match my surroundings like an octopus, or grow my own home like corals and snails, or soar in the sky, or chase down dinner… Our human world is pretty darn limited. I’m intrigued by all nonhuman creatures. Truth be told, I do slap mosquitoes and I’m not too fond of venomous snakes, but I’m still fascinated by them.
Can you talk a little about your writing process? Are you a full-time writer, or do you have a day job? Do you have set writing hours or do you grab time wherever you can find it?
I have a variety of contract jobs—technical writing, ghost writing, book doctoring, editing, and working as a private investigator (which could involve practically anything, depending on the case). So I grab time to write my fiction whenever I can. It all depends on what is going on. Nowadays my published books are starting to sell well, so I can spend less time working for others and more time writing for myself, which is exactly the direction I want to be headed in. My creative brain works best in the early morning and evening, so I try to write then if I can. When I’m feeling brain-dead in the afternoons I go out and hike or kayak or get some editing done.
Animals and nature conservancy play a large role in many of your novels. Can you talk a little about the role the two have played in your own life and work over the years?
Nothing makes my spirit sing like getting out in the wilderness, and every encounter I’ve had with a wild animal has been memorable. Not all have been exactly pleasant—so far I’ve had too-close encounters with a grizzly, a couple of snakes, and a skunk. But I wouldn’t want to live in a world without all kinds of animals and wild places for them to live.
I can be pretty strident about protecting natural places, especially in urban areas. I have a greenbelt behind my house, and when my neighbor complained about the city cracking down on destructive activities by people back there, I pretty much lost it. There are a lot of places for humans to live, but fewer places each year where birds and wild animals can thrive. The carelessness of our species makes me ashamed to be human some days. I hate to walk down a garden-supply aisle and see all the poisons there. All life on earth is interconnected, and you can’t poison one species without affecting many others. Birds eat bugs and mice, for example, so I although on occasion I’ve killed both, I’d never poison them. The plastic I see floating around the oceans when I scuba dive is pretty disheartening, too. So I try to stand up for clean water, clean air, and space for all living things whenever I can.
You wrote a nonfiction book as well as your fictional novels – Save Your Money, Your Sanity, and Our Planet. Was it easier or more difficult to write nonfiction? Do you have any other nonfiction subjects you plan to – or hope to – write about in the future?
I’m the daughter of two Kansas farm kids, so I’m naturally thrifty. I wrote that little book because I’ve encountered a lot of people who grew up in well-to-do families and don’t know how to survive without a lot of money. You can have a great life without spending thousands—join hobby clubs, have group potlucks, enjoy the outdoors, make trades instead of purchases, learn new skills! I’ve met people who passed up great buys on clothing because they didn’t know how to hem a pair of pants or move a button; who bought a whole new toaster when they only needed to replace a screw, people who never read labels to realize that cheap products are often the same as more expensive ones, etc. We are all so inundated with commercialism that sometimes we lose sight of common sense. For example, some people swear by certain brands of gasoline, but if you followed a delivery truck from a refinery, you’d see that it stops at different gas stations to deliver the exact same product.
Oh yeah—you asked if it was easier to write nonfiction. Well, as you can see, it’s pretty easy for me to rant about what I know, so I guess it’s easier to get the words down on paper than it is to create a fictional world. The challenge with nonfiction is to be precise and honest and descriptive of reality; the challenge of writing fiction is to create a world using only words. I love to write fiction because I can make justice prevail and provide happy endings, and that doesn’t always happen in real life.
You’ve now worked as an indie and a traditionally published author. What are the major differences you’ve found in working with a mainstream publisher?
There are advantages and disadvantages to each system, and I’m hoping to reap the rewards of both.
My mainstream publisher, Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin), is great for getting books into bookstores, contests, and reviewers’ hands. Also, I got a wonderful deal for German translation rights for my mystery series, and that would probably not have happened had they not been purchased for the mainstream U.S. market first. I had a fantastic copyeditor for Endangered, and I hope I get to work with her again for Bear Bait (coming in October this year) and Undercurrents (coming in 2013).
The big disadvantage of traditional publishing is that the author doesn’t control the publishing or payment schedule. As an indie publisher, I can track sales on a daily or weekly basis, I can change prices or have a sale whenever I want, and I can even make changes to my books and republish easily. I also get paid earlier and more often. The big disadvantage is that everything is up to me, and I’m definitely more of a writer than a marketer.
Your romantic suspense novel – Shaken – is billed as contemporary romance, while many of the books you’ve written in the past are mystery/suspense. Do you find one genre more difficult to write than the other? Are there any major differences in your approach to writing romance versus mysteries?
I’m incapable of writing a book that doesn’t have both suspense and romance, so the difference is in the balance. My mystery/suspense novels are 95% mystery/suspense and 5% romance, whereas my romantic suspense novels are closer to 60/40%. Writing mystery/suspense comes more naturally to me; I would have a hard time writing pure romance. I always have to throw a lot of other elements in the mix to make romance interesting for me to write. So Shaken has a lot of family and cultural issues in it, as well as the main plot of the heroine being investigated (by a conflicted hunky detective, of course) for insurance fraud while an unknown enemy tries to destroy her. There’s a good dose of humor in the mix, too, so it’s definitely not your average romance novel.
Can you tell us a little about your latest novel?
My self-published novel that is currently getting the most attention in the U.S. and the U.K. is The Only Witness. As a private investigator, I’ve worked on cases involving the testimony of small children, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about the criteria for a credible witness. So I put that together with my fascination with animal intelligence, and presto—a case in which the only witness to a baby’s disappearance is a gorilla who communicates in modified sign language. The story is told from three perspectives: the beleaguered police detective, Matthew Finn, Brittany Morgan, the 17-year-old mother of the missing baby, and Dr. Grace McKenna, the scientist who teaches, studies, and cares for Neema, the gorilla.
Do you have any other projects, promotions, or upcoming publications you’d like readers to know about?
I already mentioned the next two novels in my Summer Westin mystery series. I’m finishing that third one now for Berkley Prime Crime and I haven’t yet decided what to work on next. I have so many ideas and only two hands to type with! And I want to do a lot of hiking and kayaking and diving this summer—I can’t write about adventures if I don’t live a few, too. What’s a woman to do? Sometimes it’s very frustrating to be only one person.
Where can we find you online?
My Facebook presence is so messed up right now and there is another Pamela Beason (the nerve of sharing my name!), so I may never get that mess straightened out. I am definitely Facebook-challenged. Don’t go there.
My website is www.pamelabeason.com. I have a blog page there where I blather on about my outdoor adventures and a host of other topics that randomly occur to my fractured brain. I also have samples of all my books there, too. And I have met a lot of new friends and found a wealth of knowledge on Twitter: I’m @PamBeason, so yes, Follow me! I’ll try not to lead you over a cliff.
And finally, the obligatory bonus departure question: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three non-essential things (or people) would you have to have with you to stay sane?
My first thought was one of those Swiss army knives with 137 tools on it, but I guess I’d count that among the essential things. For non-essentials…what a hard choice! I’d absolutely need 1) a pet of some kind, hopefully a dog or cat. Then, can I order up 2) a man who is an imaginative lover, witty conversationalist, and intrepid survivalist all rolled into one handsome package? And finally, I need 3) a waterproof crate of at least 100 fantastic books of all different genres to float up on the beach at the same time I do. OK, I’m ready to be stranded now. In fact, it sounds rather nice.
Thanks to Pam Beason for taking the time to so thoughtfully answer the questions in this interview! To learn more about Pam and her thoughts on writing, publishing, and her authorly exploits, check out her website at http://pamelabeason.com/.