Please join me in welcoming Elena Taylor to the blog today, where she’ll tell us about her latest mystery, All We Buried, out this past April, from Crooked Lane Books. Full disclosure, I first read this book because I was asked to provide a cover blurb––which I was super happy to do, ‘cuz it’s outstanding. It’s always interesting to be in on the dawn of a new series, which this is, and it’s even more interesting to be able to dig into the thinking of an author who is shifting gears from an existing series into a new one, which, again, is the case with Elena and All We Buried. For all you readers out there looking for a new character and a new setting to get excited about, and for all you writers out there looking for some serious how-to on series writing, here you go:
1. Your new book, All We Buried, which is out on April 7, by the way, is the beginning of a new series for you, which of course heralds the creation of a new main series character. With All We Buried, which I hope is just the first of a long-running series, you introduce us to Sheriff Bet Rivers, a police officer who, while on leave from her ‘regular job’ in L.A., finds herself stepping into the shoes of her recently deceased father as the sheriff in a rural county in the Cascades. Tell us where the idea for Bet came from, and why you decided to make her the way you did.
The idea for Bet started with the lake. I used to live in a neighborhood that had a very dark lake in the middle of it. While that lake wasn’t particularly deep or mysterious, there were stories about things hidden on the bottom. Because the water was so dark, there could be all kinds of things down there that no one would ever know about. So I started thinking about what could be hidden for years in cold, dark water, and how that represented the unconscious. We have things we bury in our minds, things from our history, that our conscious minds try to protect us from. So that’s where I started. Then I began to think about a character who lived in that world. I write crime fiction, so a law enforcement officer made sense. I wanted a small town, so a sheriff fit. Then, I wanted her to be isolated in numerous ways. Because isolation shows us how hardy a person is. Given our current situation, I think we all know that a lot better, how much we are dependent on other people for our well-being. So Bet started to take shape. I knew her name was Bet Rivers. I knew she’d just lost her father, her only parent. I knew she was tough, but kind. I knew she had secrets that were going to come to light. And I knew she had to solve a murder, which would relate, or at least parallel, events from the past. She began to form in my imagination, along with a story for her. Then I sat down to write.
2. Sheriff Rivers is a departure from Eddie Shoes, the main character in your earlier series, which you wrote under the name Elena Hartwell. What was it like letting go of Eddie to build a completely new character in a new world?
I actually wrote the early drafts of Bet Rivers first. I had set this book aside when I wrote my first Eddie Shoes book, so the reality is Eddie was a departure, not Bet. When Eddie turned into a three-book deal, I was completely committed to her, but I never forgot about Bet. One day I brushed Bet off and and rewrote the draft I had, and those changes landed me with my amazing agent Madelyn Burt and Stonesong Literary Agency and found us a home with the brilliant Jenny Chen and Crooked Lane. So, to answer the question, both Eddie and Bet live fully in my mind all the time. I think about both even when I’m focused more fully on one. For me, they exist in the same world – they just don’t know each other. Eddie is over in Bellingham doing her thing, and Bet is in Collier doing hers. It’s like having two friends that aren’t aware of each other. I continue to “work” on my next Eddie book, by mulling over events in my mind, I’m just not actively writing her right now.
3. Although your new book is a new beginning, I find it interesting that in both series your main character has a strong connection to a parent. In your Eddie Shoes Mysteries, Eddie and her mother are what your website refers to as “a quirky mother/daughter crime fighting duo.” In All We Buried, Bet’s father is deceased, but she clearly has a strong connection to him because the person he was in life, and in her life, remains a powerful influence on her. With so many fictional crime fighters as loners, what motivated you to create characters with such strong emotional bonds to a parental figure, something I find refreshing and endearing in a character, by the way?
Thank you! I love that you enjoy that aspects of both my characters. I think “loner” can be a bit of a misnomer. I’m a bit of a loner, despite being very gregarious and outgoing. I have very few people that I depend on, I’m incredibly independent that way. So first off, I think a “loner” can also be a person who just functions well independently. I think I’ve infused both Eddie and Bet with those characteristics. The idea that to be a great detective requires no close personal relationships works well, and I understand why it’s used so often, but for me I think having someone that matters in life actually makes the character and their situation more complex. Having to care for another person makes life richer but it also gives the character more to lose. It’s also more “real” to me, more genuine, to have characters struggle with the relationships that matter the most. Dysfunction makes for great fiction, but it’s not the only human characteristic that’s interesting. Real people struggle with actual relationships and I think we like to see that reflected in fiction as well. Plus, one of the thing that interests me most is human interaction and how we engage, so that’s of personal interest to me. That brings me to my own parents. In a lot of ways my mom is my best friend. She’s been a constant in my life. We travel together, we enjoy each other’s company, we trust each other. That’s rare. While she’s nothing like Chava, Eddie’s mom, their love for each other is a reflection of what I have with my mom. Bet’s father Earle is nothing like my own father, but the imprint of my father’s influence on my life is equally strong. I am a lot like my father. We are very much wired the same. Art represented life, however, as my own father died in October. I didn’t expect to have that parallel when I wrote the first draft so many years ago. It made the final rewrites incredibly poignant and will no doubt inform future books.
4. All We Buried centers around the discovery of a body in a mountain lake. It turns out this is a very unusual body of water. Without giving away the story, what can you tell us about lakes like this? Do such geological phenomena actually exist? What was your research process like?
Here in Washington State, we actually do have lakes very similar to the lake in All We Buried. Though I took characteristics from various different lakes, nothing in my novel is outside the realm of possibility with regards to how the lake was formed or what it looks like. Our Cascade Mountains are craggy and deep, built through violent volcanic eruptions. We have millions of acres of land, which no person has ever walked. A spine of mountains that stretch from Northern California up into Canada. There are thousands of unexplored bodies of water, from tiny glacier fed pools to dark lakes hundreds of feet deep can be found throughout our mountains. For research, I have personal, swum-and-boated-on-them experience with lakes such as the one I describe. I also found an expert at the University of Washington who answered some of my geological questions for me. Then, I did a lot of research into specific lakes in my state, some of which are very hard to get to, but which there is information available through the internet. Then – I wrapped it all up with a healthy dose of imagination.
5. What advice would you give to writers who find themselves on the cusp of letting go of an old character to begin writing a new one?
You never think of it as permanent. It’s like taking a vacation with one friend, then spending the holidays with another. Characters are different, just like people, so we can enjoy the things that make each of them unique.
6. What’s next from the pen of Elena Taylor?
Currently, I’m working on a second book for Bet. I also have a fourth book for Eddie on the back burner and a suspense novel I’m dying to get back to. There may be a couple other things on my stove waiting for the right time to come forward. I think being a writer is like being a gourmet chef – there are a lot of dishes being prepared at one time, each at a different step, and we’re just waiting to serve the right course at the right time. With the correct wine of course!
Elena Taylor was interviewed for Murder Books by Roger Johns