Interview with Elizabeth Buhmann, Author of Blue Lake

15 Jul 2019

What can you tell us about your new release, Blue Lake?

Blue Lake is a murder mystery set in the middle of the 20th century. The action of the book begins in 1968, when Regina Hannon learns that a long-lost sister’s drowning way back in the nineteen forties was briefly investigated as a murder. Regina, whose family was destroyed by that death, sets out to discover what happened.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always been a reader, so I just naturally wanted to try my own hand at writing. An English teacher in high school encouraged me—she told me I could write “the good stuff.” And I’ve always loved mysteries. I started reading Nancy Drew in grade school and graduated to Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardener by the time I was in junior high. I’m pretty widely read in literature, too, but mysteries are my guilty pleasure. I can read a hundred detective novels in a year!

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

I love Edith Wharton—The House of Mirth is a great book, but amazingly, she has also written one of the best short stories ever (“Roman Fever”) AND one of the best novellas ever (Summer). Crime and Punishment is great book. Though it’s on most lists of great novels, it is often overlooked as one of the earliest and best works of crime fiction. Lolita is another book I greatly admire. I reread it twice while writing my first book, Lay Death at her Door, mainly because in Lolita, Nabokov does a masterful job of handling an unlikable (despicable, I could say) protagonist.
My best books list evolves over the years, and I have two lists, actually—best novels and best mysteries. Among best-ever mystery writers I count Ruth Rendell and Ross (not John D) Macdonald. Both are great mystery plotters, and both have influenced me.

You always write about murder! Why is that?

To me it is the ultimate drama, when human emotions result in one person killing another. I try to treat murder with respect, for the extreme and shocking act that it is for real. I love a good cozy mystery as much as the next person, but I cannot write one. Murder is a deadly serious topic—could not be more so.
I also read mysteries and thrillers that feature serial killers, but these are not my favorites at all. Serial killers fall too far outside the realm of normal human emotional reality. I am more interested in a murder that is understandable, so to speak.
I would not go so far as to say that we are all capable of killing another human being. I have no idea whether that is true—probably not? But I think we all recognize and experience emotions which, if we were tested to a limit and beyond, could make us really want to kill another person.
Laws are quite clear about issues such as self-defense and justifiable homicide, but our individual perceptions of these concepts, in extreme and highly emotional circumstances, can be quite elastic. It may well be that anyone who murders has a deeply flawed character. But character flaws are universally human, too.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

Having written. Getting started on a new book can be very hard and frustrating. Downright painful. When a story takes off, though, time flies and I disappear. When that happens, it’s fun to read what you’ve written, and of course it’s always your best raw material. Then I shift into rewriting and developing the manuscript, and I enjoy that part immensely. The crafty side of writing is interesting and challenging—how to get the right effect, how to draw the reader into the imaginary world I’m visiting in my study every day.

What is a typical day like for you?

I do my writing very early in the morning. I am such a morning person that I almost come out the other side as a night owl. I like to get up at about four o’clock! My dog has developed an uncanny ability to know when it’s time to make sure I’m in my office. Later in the morning, I practice Tai Chi at a park near my house. I also spend a lot of time in my garden, which I’ve been cultivating for many years. And of course I read. I never watch TV, but I’m addicted to Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles.

What scene in Blue Lake was your favorite to write?

All the scenes in the attic of the old house. I love attics. I used to pass time in the attic of my grandparents’ house, which was a lot like Blue Lake. It was full of very old things that were treasures to me—old letters and papers from the turn of the century (1900, not 2000!) and fancy old dresses in trunks. Old sepia photographs. And I love the idea that these vestiges of the past could come together to tell a story as dramatic as an old murder.

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

I once read that Confucius said, “He who has no patience cannot win.” I’m not sure he ever actually said that—I can’t find it anywhere—but I adopted the saying many years ago, except I say SHE who has no patience cannot win. I’m a tortoise, not a hare. My chosen endeavors, writing novels and learning Tai Chi, require a sustained effort over a long time, and this is the phrase I use to steady myself when I feel like I’ll never reach my goal.

Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of the new book Blue Lake.

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