Bernadette Pager's first novel is due out later this summer. A Spark of Death, the first of the Professor Bradshaw Mystery's from Poisoned Pen Press. I was intrigued by the cover of that book, and though I do not read many mystery novels, I loved the book and the characters. I was able to get an electronic galley via NetGalley. So I contacted Bernadette to see if she would answer a few questions for us here at Book Reviews and More. Bernadette was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she spent her youth in Seattle and her first series of books is set there.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Well, I don't write for a living, at least not yet, and probably not ever. Writing for most of us is a labor of love, or insanity, that we work our lives and higher-paying jobs around. Now, if I hadn't pursued writing as my passion for the past twenty years, I would probably have delved more into natural healing. It's a subject I love to study.
2. If you were not focusing on writing currently, what career path do you believe you would be following?
I've been focusing on writing for so long, it's hard to say where I'd be now if all that energy had gone elsewhere. Something in the field of natural healing? At this exact moment of my life, no matter what personal pursuits I might have, motherhood would be, and is my most important career. Trying to be a good mom is the hardest and most rewarding job I'll ever have.
3. If you could have one do-over in your writing career what would you redo or do differently and why?
I think I would reach out from the beginning for writing support. I wrote several complete manuscripts before I took a writing class or joined a writing group. Writing is a lonely craft, during the actual creation stage, but once the story is on the page, it's essential (I finally figured out) to share it with others to know what works and what doesn't.
4. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors who helped you keep at it and reach the point of being a published author?
My husband bought me every computer I've ever owned. I kept telling myself I wouldn't upgrade until I sold a book-if it were up to me, I'd have been writing on a Commodore 64 until the summer of 2010! That tells you how long I've been at this. But my husband, bless him, upgraded me every 5 years or so. Thank you, dear! My mom and sisters have always believed this day would come and never lost faith. And my circle of writing friends encouraged me with every submission, revision, and rejection. I'm very lucky, I'm surrounded by people who believe in my pursuit of this dream of being published.
5. What advice would you give to teens today, to your readers, what gems of knowledge have you gleaned in life that you would pass on?
The problem with gems, I've found, is that they are tempting nuggets that seem to promise great things-to those that hold them. Those gems only sparkle for their maker. I am always trying to pass gems of insight or experience to my son, but he delights in tossing mine aside and chasing those of his own. Through trial, error, frustration, an occasional tantrum, and tenacious effort leading to self-discovery, he gets to those "ah-ha!" moments his way and his gems sparkle beautifully for him-because he discovered them all by himself. It's so hard not to gift gems, though. So here's one I return to often: Write to express, not to impress. The word "life" can replace "write." I'll let you ponder and decide if my gem sparkles for you.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
I'm a big-picture sort of thinker and writer. I get an idea, toy with it, have fun thinking of key scenes, the opening, the ending, whodunit. I don't do a formal outline, but I do a lot of pre-writing of the overall plot to see where I'm going, and begin to research. At some point, I get itching to write. Some scenes flesh out easily, others are skeletal, but I feel compelled to keep moving forward until I've got the full story down in a first rough draft. From there, I edit and rewrite, add detail, edit and rewrite more, have a few trusted friends read it, polish some more, until I feel it's as good as I can make it. Until I had a publisher, this was the stage at which I sent it off to my agent for her input, and then she would begin to submit. Now that I have a publisher (Poisoned Pen Press) and an editor (Annette Rogers-brilliant!), there are two earlier steps. When I have a solid 100 pages, I send them for feedback to Annette and Barbara Peters (the Editor-in-Chief). Then when the manuscript is complete, I send it on for, hopefully, approval and a new contract. Then follows a couple months of editing and polishing under my editor's guidance.
7. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I like background noise when I write-can't stand complete silence-but I don't usually listen to music. It might sound weird, but I like the sound of my son quietly playing, or a sitcom on the TV, or the various sounds of a coffee shop. If the sounds around me are too loud or disruptive, then I'll put on my headphones and listen to oldies, 1940's music usually, or classical.
8. Which books or authors had the greatest impact on your work and writing style?
Everything I've read has impacted one way or another. Even books I don't like have helped me see what makes a strong story, or the sort of storyteller I hope to be. A few of my favorite authors are P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Rosamunde Pilcher, Maeve Binchy, Dick Francis, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey.
9. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas that you would like to work on?
As of this writing, I'm working on book 2 of the Professor Bradshaw series. I've planned a total of 15 books for the series, spanning from 1901 until 1920 or so.
10. I know you have only published one book, and have a few more in development but I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
Well, yes, the characters are very real to me, in that magic way fiction can be real. Like Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter feel real to so many. I've known my characters for a long time now-I first wrote about Professor Bradshaw more than a decade ago!
11. One of the greatest strengths in your book is the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?
Thank you! And all of the above. It's hard to separate imagination from personal experience. I suspect in many ways I am like Professor Bradshaw and Missouri Fremont-they represent dichotomous sides of me, and yet they both have traits I don't. Professor Bradshaw, for instance, is a brilliant inventor and electrical engineer-I am not. I surround myself with research material and ask many questions of experts in order to get him on the page.
12. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
My son goes to a Montessori school, and besides the peace curriculum, learning how to think for oneself, be self-motivated, and be a lifelong learner, are the chief goals of this approach. I see how this approach is helping guide my son to being an independent and responsible person, able to think his way through whatever life throws at him. So yes, I agree with your professor.
13. One of your books are available in electronic formats (as an ARC through NetGalley) but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
I love e-books. I just got a Nook and am enjoying loading it with new titles as well as library loans. A story is not the medium-a great story can be delivered to me by e-ink as well as printed ink. There's a lot of turmoil in the publishing industry with the rise in popularity of e-books, but change is rarely easy. I'm sure in another few years, things will begin to settle down as publishers, writers, booksellers, and readers find what works best. I'm not worried about bootlegged copies. That happens with all technologies and can't be stopped. Most book lovers in this world are good, honest folks, who will find a way to honestly buy or borrow a book.
14. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you have plans to do so are have someone do so for you?
No. I've embedded my e-books with anti-theft karma. Steal a copy, and the guilt will make it impossible to read.
15. What were your favorite books and authors to read as a youth? 16. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?
Would you believe I wasn't a big reader as a child or teen years? It's not that I didn't enjoy reading, but I never seemed to be able to find books I liked. I went to the library fairly often, brought home books, and I'm sure I must have read them, but for the life of me I can't remember them. Somehow I never discovered all the wonderful children's classics. It wasn't until I was in the 7th grade and read Fahrenheit 451 that I found something that really made me think. The great thing about being a mom is I get to read with my son, and explore all those wonderful books I somehow missed.
17. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
The same as in question 8. I'm a re-reader. I keep going back to my old favorites. For me, it's about voice. I'm sort of picky about voice. I'll read a book in any genre, as long as the voice speaks to me and invites me in. Books, I think, are a lot like food. Each of us has different tastes, and that's what makes it so wonderful. For every appetite, there is an author. For every author, there are hungry readers.
18. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
Oh, BBC mysteries, like Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, I love the new Sherlock, New Tricks, Doc Martin. I also love reruns of sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier and I Love Lucy. For movies, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disney-Pixar flicks -can you tell I have an 8 year old son? But I really do like them.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Can't I bring my Nook? It holds 1500 books! If I must -- subject to change before boarding the S.S. Minnow:
1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
2. Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
3. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
4. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnum
5. Anne Of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
6. Sas Survival Handbook: How To Survive In The Wild, In Any Climate, On Land Or At Sea by John Lofty Wiseman
7. The Foragers Harvest: A Guide to Indentifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
8. Swiss Family Robinson (Or the Adventures on a Desert Island) by Johann Rudolf Wyss
9. Story by Robert McKee
10. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language
(Problem with a Nook, Kindle or Kobo would be battery life!)
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
Make it an integral part of your daily life. It's as simple and as hard as that. Make yourself a creative space, schedule yourself time to escape into your art and craft, and keep at it. It's a lifelong endeavor, better get started. Now.
Thanks you again for taking the time, I wish you great success with your first book and may it launch a long and prolific career.
Books by Bernadette Pajer:
Professor Bradshaw Mysteries:
A Spark of Death
Author Profile Interview with Bernadette Pajer