Friday, October 22, 2010

Elspeth Benton's Mystery "Crucial Time"

Hi Elspeth: It's nice to have you on my author interviews blog.Tell me, where did you get all your ideas for your mystery, Crucial Time?

The ideas came from two sources--a lifetime of experience working with young children and families, plus two years of research on Zimbabwe (guidebooks, history, memoirs, fiction). I also  talked with Zimbabwean friends and my Peace Corps  friends who were sent home from Zimbabwe when it was closed in 2005 due to the extreme danger.

What would you say was your primary theme in the novel?

The primary theme is the urgency of giving all young children, everywhere, a solid, dynamically peaceful start in life, before the violence all around us takes over. Hence the title, “Zero to nine [in a child’s life]; it’s the crucial time!”

Have you been to Zimbabwe?

I wish! I definitely want to go there!

You certainly are well qualified to write a realistic novel about a childcare center. How many years did you teach and direct?

I have an MA in early Childhood Education and have taught and directed over 30 years.
Most large urban child care centers today are widely international and they afford the perfect opportunity to sow seeds of peaceful coexistence, hence the underlying theme in my book.

What do your family and friends say about you having published a novel?

They're highly supportive, though the one sex scene did offend a family member.

It must be amazing to have great-grandchildren!

Definitely amazing, though having my own unplanned first child 50+ years ago was probably even more of a shock!

Have you always wanted to write a novel?

I o.d.'d on fairy tales as a child, and have grooved on novels ever since, starting with Gone With the Wind--Kingsolver, Tolstoy, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Doerr, Paul Harding, Elizabeth Strout, F.S. Fitzgerald, to name a very few jumbled-up favorite authors.
So yes, I always just assumed, without even thinking about it, that once my children were raised and my working years ended, of course I'd be writing fiction! Then it dawned on me that many writing classes and workshops would be needed to begin to learn the craft—all my writing heretofore had been letters, board reports, journaling, grant proposals, newsletters, etc.—so I jumped into the classes and workshops and am still participating in these.

Do you have plans for a second novel?

In my mind, I'm working daily on a sequel in the Hannah Cooper mystery series!  In reality, all my energies are presently going into marketing Crucial Time. There's never enough time for it all!

It's great that you placed your book in Book Passages, Corte Madera. Do you have connections?

I wish! Mostly I'm just very persistent, going to bookstores and using whatever logic I can to get my book placed with them. With Book Passages, I mentioned that I'd participated in their annual mystery writers' convention (plus other writing classes there), and am a local author. "Local author" turns out to be a useful foot-in-the-door ploy.

Crucial Time is available on the website (, from, as a Kindle or as an e-book, and locally in all the Copperfields Bookstores and from Book Passages in Corte Madera; also at Tsunami Books in Eugene, OR.
Come hear Elspeth Benton’s presentations about Crucial Time at 7PM Thursday Nov. 4 at Montgomery Village Copperfields, or at 1PM Sunday December 12 at Book Passages in Corte Madera!

Last week's random winner of posting a comment is Arlene Miller. Congratulations Arlene! Deborah Grabien, will be mailing you an autographed copy of London Calling. 

Post a comment and tell all your friends.
Under comments, post as name/url. Enter your name and email address on one line, you can skip the url. The deadline to randomly win a free copy of Elspeth Benton's Crucial Time will be Thursday, November 4. Good luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

London Calling by Deborah Grabien

Hello, Deb. It's nice to have you on my new blog, Interviewing Authors. Please tell us about your new book London Calling. 

Well, London Calling is actually the third in the JP Kinkaid Chronicles and, like the other book titles in this series, the title relates to the real-world events or situation that inspired the original song. In this instance, the story is about racism, how it affected the music of the past fifty years, and specifically what happened in the UK and France during the late seventies and early eighties: the skinhead movement, very Nazi-based. There was a right-wing hate group called the National Front in the UK (the Front Nationale in France), really essentially terrorists. London Calling, the original song by the Clash, was about what was happening in the urban UK at the time, and the socioeconomic realities that led to this sort of racism. What's terrifying is that you see some of those same conditions spawning the Tea Party movement today. It's a book about old crimes and old tribal enmities casting long shadows, and also about how music deals with the racism and tribalism that's still too prevalent today.

 Where did you get your inspiration for your novel or the JP Kindaid Chronicles?

It was less inspiration and more deep need. With John Kinkaid, I initially wanted to get a particular piece of my own personal history back, and a lot of buried memories of one particular man. In one sense, I wanted to see how he and I might have evolved, and how that relationship might have evolved, if things had gone differently a long time ago. In another sense, while I quite like the happy ending I actually did get, I wanted to write the one I didn't get.

But if you're a writer worthy of that title, your characters take on their own lives and realities, and that's what JP did. By the time I'd hit the second chapter of the very first Kinkaid (Rock and Roll Never Forgets), he'd become John Peter Kinkaid, period. And while the voice I hear in my head is still the one that triggered the creation of this entire series, the man I see in my head is unique and distinct, and doesn't even look much like his source.

Bree Godwin, though? She's still got a lot of me in her makeup, at least through the first few books. She's evolving into uniqueness a bit more slowly than JP is, just because - as a first person narrative - we see her through his eyes, and that means I do too. And that takes some processing, for me: seeing me the way the man might have seen me. One thing I have in common with Bree is that we're both trained cooks, and caterers. She actually has her own blog, called "The Care and Feeding of Everyone Else", about cooking for people with special needs, snippets of her home life with JP, recipes, and interaction back and forth with readers who post comments in the blog:

Can the chronicles be read out of sequence?

Oh, I think so. It's not the ideal way to read them, honestly, because each book seeds others, and the later ones loop back to refer to earlier events. That means there are spoilers. For instance, in the first few pages of the first Chronicle, we meet a girl named Suzanne. Unimportant, just passing through - except that, no, there are virtually no casual pass-through characters in this series. I don't write throwaway characters. We meet her again in book 5 (Book of Days) and she becomes vitally important to the entire band family dynamic. And no, I didn't know that was going to happen when I first wrote her, back in 2005. But if you don't mind being spoiled for details in earlier Chronicles, go for it. They'll certainly make sense.

Will there be a fourth?

Well, since I just started writing the eighth book, that's a definite Yes. The fourth one is called Graceland, and it comes out April 2011. Nothing to do with Elvis - it's about the Delta blues, the movement of that music through America and the rest of the world. It's also about owning your history (a theme very close to me), about the family you choose, the family you make, the ties that bind, and about loyalty. The entire series deals with loyalty, in one way or another, in every book.

Do you get your ideas from real life experiences?

Not really sure how to answer that one, since these aren't ideas. An idea is something cerebral. These stories are completely visceral. Hell, everything I write that isn't critical nonfiction review is visceral, soul stuff, pit of the belly, groin, nerves, you name it. I'm an annoyingly organic writer - I don't write from the brain.

A lot of what happens in these books does come from my own history (and in a couple of cases, from the history of friends and compadres). Part of that is being willing to access the painful stuff - things like a miscarriage or a sense of guilt. Writing viscerally and pulling away scars and memory scabs is not always easy. But if you're writing emotionally true, it's what you have to do.

Do you research in order to write your books?

Not much, no, because I don't need to do much. I'm a musician, and this is a world I know. But some stuff has changed drastically on the tech end of recording and live performance. My husband does the research on that when I need it - he's brilliant at that, and loves doing it, too.

I love your photo. Most authors send me "head shots." Your photo tells us how much you love music. Tell us about that.

It's in the blood, really. My father was a musician. I started playing (guitar mostly) when I was a kid. I've been a musician and, specifically, a songwriter, for coming up on forty years. I can't play the way I once did (see below, your final question), but I can still write lyrics and sing what I want the music to do, and I've written, literally, an album's worth of songs for JP's two bands, Blacklight and the Fog City Geezers, to play. Being a musician isn't just something you do, it's what you are.

Finally, please tell us something about the "real you" that we'll never forget.

Ah, the root of it all: the man JP was based on was in very poor health - he had Crohns, among other things, and died much too young. When I sat down to write JP, I wanted to reflect that bad health, how it would affect a working musician. But I have multiple sclerosis, relapsing-remitting, which is one reason I can't play music the way I used to. It affects the signals between brain and hands. So I gave JP Kinkaid relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, because I could write about it with authority. And I learned to understand, writing it for him, just how I deal with it in my own life: JP and Bree, both into their forties/fifties, still have a torrid sex life. He still tours with his two bands. He doesn't fight the disease, because there's no point; it's a sort of wary detente. And that's precisely how I approach my own disease. When it holds the whiphand, I back off. Some days, moving hurts. Other days, I can dance the night away. So on that one, we mirror each other, JP and I.

 How many books have you written so far?

Written, or published? If we're talking about being published, London Calling is my fourteenth published novel. If we're talking about written and awaiting publication, I've just started the eighth Kinkaid (Comfortably Numb), so we're talking about eighteen novels. Plus short stories - I've had several of them published.

Deb your latest book out sounds like a hot, new, original thriller. I'm sure the audience will want to buy it if they don't win it!
This interview lets us know how incredibly disciplined you are to be so prolific. I really admire how well you cope with having a chronic illness it is an inspiration for us all.
 Deborah Grabien's novel London Calling is widely distributed in all bookstores and is published by Plus One Press.
Deb Grabien’s website address is 
Her blog is up at Red Room:

 Please post a comment and leave your name and email address to be randomly drawn to win a copy of this thriller. 
Dates to post comment to win autographed book are: 10/14-10/21.