I’d like to introduce you to the sixtieth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Elizabeth Buhmann.
Hi, Elizabeth! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Your crime novel, Lay Death at Her Door, was published by Red Adept on May 10th, 2013. Can you tell us about the book?
Hello, Susan! Thank you for having me. Lay Death is about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated. I tell the story from the point of view of the woman whose eyewitness testimony was the linch pin in the prosecution. She tells us in chapter one that she lied on the stand to protect herself and that she has known all along who the real killer is.
So there are two story lines: what really happened in 1986 leading up to and culminating in the 1986 murder, and what happens in the present time, after the exoneration, leading up to the final full exposure of the truth. There are some big surprises along the way!
You worked for many years in the Texas Attorney General’s office. What did you do there? Did your work inspire your novel?
At the AG’s office I did research and writing on criminal justice and crime victim issues, among other things. I would have written a murder mystery in any case, but my work experience certainly influenced me. While I was there, the Innocence Project made headlines with cases like the one in my book, in which very old convictions are overturned by advances in forensic science.
Also, while I was at the AG’s office, I knew victim advocates like my character Suzanne. My main character, Kate, is herself a not-so-innocent victim, and many of the issues that she and Suzanne face are real.
Lay Death at Her Door is about a crime, but isn’t a police procedural or detective story. It features a dark protagonist. How did you decide to tell the story from her perspective? What was it like writing a story with a protagonist that you expect the readers to dislike?
When I set out to write the story, I wasn’t thinking about whether readers would like my main character, especially since I actually find her interesting and even sympathetic, although she has done some terrible things.
I was drawn to her because she is the character who drives the hidden drama of the story. She didn’t commit the 1986 murder, but she was deeply involved in it. She is also the one who drives the action following the exoneration. She says in chapter one that she could have weathered the exoneration if only she had laid low—and she is surely right. But she is not one to wait for someone else to act! She is a very bold protagonist, deeply flawed, and it is her own flaws that bring her down in the end.
What has your experience with your publisher, Red Adept Publishing, been like? Is it everything you’d hoped for? How long did it take to edit the book?
Red Adept has been very good. It’s definitely an author-friendly publisher, and while it’s a very small company, it’s committed to quality. RAP does more than many publishers—more even than the big publishing houses—to help with publicity and promotion.
Content editing took a couple of months, line editing two to three weeks. Altogether, from contract-signing to release took about nine months, which is less than it would take to be published by a big house. On the other hand, it’s going to be harder to get the book noticed, because I won’t have the kind of print distribution a big publisher can offer.
I love your book cover. How much involvement did you have in its design?
I made some suggestions, none of which worked out especially well. It was someone else’s idea to try the rose. I didn’t expect that to work—I was afraid it would look like a romance—but Streetlight Graphics (the company Red Adept uses) came through with a beautiful design that definitely says murder. So I was given the opportunity for input, but in fact, all I did was sit back and say wow!
Are you working on a new book?
I’m working on a really strange book—a new Frankenstein story. I’m almost finished. It’s totally off-brand for me, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Serialize it on the Web???
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
It can be very distressing to be stumped by a boring, unfocused chapter or a sub-plot that just doesn’t seem to work. Sometimes I’ll wrestle with a problem like that for weeks! I’ll be pulling my hair! Then one morning it’ll all come clear, and that’s so thrilling. Funny, but the worst chapter in the book often turns out to be the best in the end.
Sometimes when I’m trying to sort out a garbled chapter I’ll come across what I call a jumble. A leads to B leads to C leads back to B, or something like that. Dialogue, for example, might run in circles. Once I see that I have a real jumble, I’m always relieved—because when I have a jumble, it means I’m about to break free! I don’t know why it works that way, but it always does.
Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?
Silence and solitude are the key for me. I get up very early in the morning and do my best work before the sun comes up. By mid-morning, I am ready to turn to editing and assignments other than my primary manuscript. I work in a small sort of pantry off to one side of the dining room. My dog keeps me company.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
Thank you so much, Susan, for including me in your wonderful author interview series. You have one of the most elegant blogs on the Web today!