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!


  1. jeane Slone info@jeaneslone.comOctober 22, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    Readers: The easiest way to comment is to choose comment as: name/url
    Put your name and email address on ONE line and NO URL! Don't forget to press Post Comment!

  2. Margaret Murray writewordspress@gmail.comOctober 22, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    I feel I've just read the tip of the iceberg with regard to Crucial Time and Elspeth Benton. It's an iceberg I recognize as my own--as an older woman who has finally got myself into print with my novel, I too have a connection with the Peace Corps; a my 62 year old sister is in South Africa even as I write this. I too have many years of teaching and a family of grown children (not great-grandchildren though.) I am fascinated with the dynamics that I and Elspeth share and want to know more! I'll be at Copperfield Books in Montgomery Village on November 4th to hear her read it.

  3. Jean Wong marcjeanhw@comcast.netOctober 23, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    As a childcare director for many years, I found this book particularly well crafted and riveting---quite a task to mix up a childcare center with murder and intrique! Elspeth did a very skillful job of getting all the ingredients to blend and cooking up a great read!

    Jean Wong

  4. Though I'm not much of a mystery reader, I've just begun an internship at a literary agency that accepts mysteries (especially by women) -- so I better start reading! This book seems a great place to start. I'm also an early childhood educator with a cousin who was evacuated by Peace Corps from Zimbabwe. Yesterday I happened to view the stunning 1957 watercolor collection from children of "Southern Rhodesia"(Zimbabwe)at SF MOMA's 75th anniversary exhibition:

  5. Thanks, Jeane, for another great interview. I'm also happy it's another mystery author! Looking forward to reading this book and I will also try to make one of Elspeth's readings.

  6. Arletta Dawdy arletta_dawdy@yahoo.comOctober 24, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    A lovely interview, Jeanne and Elspeth. The combination of a childcare center, exotic Zimbabwe and a murder mystery is certainly writing "out of the box." I look forward to reading it. Congrats on the Book Passage stint.

  7. Elspeth,

    What's your writing process, do you plot or just go for it, or a combination of both? I'm in awe of mystery writers because the plot has to be so intricate and tight.

    You're an inspiration reminding me never to give up,


  8. Jonnie Luong jonnieluong@yahoo.comOctober 27, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    Thanks for such a great interview, Jeane and Elspeth! I haven't read a mystery novel for quite some time now but this one really sparks my interest. I work in a child care center so I'm excited to see a mystery novel involving the field. I'll definitely be looking into this book very soon.

  9. This interview was so interesting!I don't have a lot of time to read due to school nowadays, but I'd definitely want to check this novel out! Thanks!

  10. Robert Hughes starman2765@gmail.comOctober 29, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    Reading this interview gave me another perspective on the novel (the "Zero to nine is the crucial time" part went by me before). Also, it gave me some insight into how much time and energy Elspeth, or any writer, puts into a work such as this one. I read her book when it first came out, and you may read my review of it here:

    I thought it was an excellent read, and am glad to be able to write about it more here.

  11. Have the just started book, and knowing how rigorously Elspeth researches every thing she turns her hand to I expect to be both entertained and educated.

  12. alla Crone cronhadn@sonic.netOctober 31, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Jeane, you're full of surprises indeed. You do the interviews with a true professional ease and Elspeth Benton is indeed a most fascinating person and writer. I was interested to see that she read Russian classics, a fete difficult at times for a foreign born person. Her book, Crucial Time should be exciting to read and I am her new fan!
    Alla Crone

  13. This was a wonderful book to read, and I am looking forward to the sequel! I hope to make the Copperfield's reading this week.

  14. Thanks Jeane for an insightful interview. This is an "outside-the-box" type of book. Weaving the concerns about children growing up in a world like that - with a mystery - is very intriguing and hopefully will get more people reading about worlds like theirs. Perhaps the approach will lure many who would not ordinarily read heart-wrenching stories about the children in countries like Zimbabwe because it does make the heart cry out. And there is so much crying out these days. Perhaps though, now they'll read, blog or write about it too, thus spreading more awareness.

    As an author with a first novel in the works (futuristic thriller), I've wondered how to go about getting my 'foot in the door.' Figured mentioning I was a local author might help. I did try that out at the Copperfields here in town (Sebastopol)earlier this year - and I can see how it has worked for Elspeth!

    I liked your question, "Do you have connections?"

    To which she answers: "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."

    My hat's off to Elspeth for that's a lot of time going around to the various bookstores and attending events. I'll end up doing it too, I'm sure, but in the meantime, I've been doing what I can to learn how to leverage online social networking to build up a presence (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, RedRoom, Scribd and on and on - plus - blogging, getting on networked blogs, setting up a website, etc..)

    I've just read that Facebook will become the 'website' and no longer a separate website as early as the spring with a majority of writers. I have wondered whether or not to just focus on Facebook as my website (LinkedIn too.)

    After getting my website set up, I spent less and less time on it as I spent more and more time on Facebook. The other thing I've discovered is that authors should most definitely use a 'professional' FB page and not a personal one. That's something I'm helping Persia Woolley with as her book "Child of the Northern Spring" has just been re-released. (helping her too with Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, RedRoom, Scribd, Apple iTunes, etc.!) If I had the time, I'd help Elspeth too if she needed it! Ah, what would we do with more time? That's a point I make in my futuristic thriller, "Age Me Not."

    Lastly - I have to read Elspeth's book now. She sat across from me at lunch during the Redwood Writers conference last weekend and I didn't even ask her name or what she is writing about. Oi! The luncheon speaker Sheldon Siegal has even suggested that we introduce ourselves to the people around us because you never know who they are, what they are up to and the kind of real-face-to-face connections you can make! (what is called 'offline' connections now. How strange is that?")

    If I can get to Copperfields/Montgomery tomorrow night, I'll make that offline connection!


    In CRUCIAL TIME Elspeth Benton creates in superb detail the everyday workings of a child development center in Pasadena then introduces into the picture a terrifying hand of Mugabe reaching all the way from Zimbabwe into the lives of a young man and his family newly arrived in America desperate for the freedom of a young family

  16. Thank you Elspeth & Jeane for this delightful interview. I purchased Elspeth's Crucial Time from her at a Redwood Writers meeting. Her novel is on top of my stack of "to read" books.

    Am looking forward to the childcare setting of this story since I worked in the school system for so many years. I do miss the kids.

  17. This was a great read. Thanks for the interview!

  18. sylvia melrose@Tikoun@sonic.netNovember 8, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    I read Crucial Time about a year ago, was fascinated by way the author was able to weave the story so that you got to understand the goings-on in Zimbabwe as well as the trauma, really, of fitting into a new society. Well done, I thought. I especially enjoyed learning about Zimbabwe, really thought that Elsbeth must have been there!
    I also enjoyed the interview.....

  19. Crucial Time is a can't-put-it-down book with a perfect twist at the very end. The portrayal of the immense importance and the day-to-day challenges of early childhood education is a bonus.

  20. Thank you for posting your interview with this interesting author. I loved the twist at the end of Crucial Time and look forward to reading more on Hannah Cooper's future adventures!

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