Meet Brenda Buchanan

Brenda Buchanan headshot

 

This morning I welcome Brenda Buchanan, author of the Joe Gale mysteries. She’s here to discuss her writing, but in particular, her new novel Truth Beat. Brenda was the moderator of a panel I was on last year at Malice Domestic. Her first book- Quick Pivot– had just been released. I’ve watched her writing career thrive in the past year (Truth Beat is her third novel!), and what makes her even more remarkable is that she practices law in addition to writing. Good to have you on Reade and Write, Brenda!

Tell me about your new book.

In Truth Beat, the town of Riverside, Maine is rocked by the sudden death of Father Patrick Doherty, a Catholic priest who was venerated by some and abhorred by others for very publicly criticizing his church’s defensive approach to the priest abuse scandal. A decade after Patrick made his stand, the payback-minded bishop put Patrick in charge of consolidating failing churches, which turned a good number of his fans into enemies.

When it becomes clear Patrick was murdered, newspaper reporter Joe Gale—who’s hanging on tight in the ever-shrinking newsroom at the Portland Daily Chronicle—sets about figuring out who killed him. Friends and parishioners tell Joe that Patrick was a selfless man. But a vocal gang of rabble-rousers claim he was corrupt, and on the eve of Patrick’s wake, the police imply the dead priest was knee deep in criminal activity prior to his death.

At the same time the murder story is heating up, a series of nighttime bombings rock the campus of the local high school. What first appeared to be extracurricular chem lab pranking turns destructive, putting the already jumpy town right on the edge. As Joe races to sort truth from rumor, his two big stories collide, putting him in mortal danger.

Truth Beat Cover

Who is the audience for the book?

Readers who like multi-layered mysteries that grapple with social concerns will like Truth Beat. It surfaces a number of contemporary issues and attempts to examine them from multiple perspectives. The characters are a diverse group of people in a close knit town who try to help each other with life’s challenges. It’s a fast moving story, and the characters are people you’d want as your friends.

Tell me about the setting of your book—how did you choose it, what kind of research did you have to do, why did you choose it?

All of the books are set in Maine, where I make my home. I have lived here for 35 years, in various parts of the state. People say Maine has a certain cachet, and I believe that’s true. A lot of fine crime writers live here and our beautiful state provides a lot of raw material—the rocky coast, miles of deep, dark woods, hardscrabble towns rich with secrets.

My Joe Gale books celebrate Maine in all of its intensity—wild weather, difficult economy, proud people. It’s not necessarily the Maine familiar to tourists. The imagined town of Riverside is a former mill town, like the one I grew up in. It is a clannish place populated by people with long-memories (for good and for bad.)  The real-life town of Machias—the setting for Cover Story, the second Joe Gale book—is five hours up the coast from Portland, near the Canadian border. It’s an isolated place, especially during a brutal winter like the one when that story takes place. I like to make setting as memorable as a character, and Maine offers endless possibilities for that.

The book also is set in the world of local journalism. Like Joe Gale, I worked as a newspaper reporter in Maine for a number of years. That experience provided a solid basis to write a reporter protagonist.  Of course, as everyone knows, technology has transformed the news business in recent years. I’m grateful to my current-day journalist friends for walking me through the details of how the internet and social media has changed newsroom practices. They also have shared first-hand accounts of how the downsizing of newspapers has affected them, which is an ongoing theme in the books.  Joe worries about his personal future, but what really drives him crazy is when important news goes uncovered because his newspaper has been forced to pull back from its historic turf.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

The challenge with Truth Beat was to create characters emblematic of people on all sides of a powerful community debate, in this case, the role of a downsized Catholic Church in town where it once held tremendous sway. Getting those characters right demanded that I examine my own experiences having grown up Catholic in a town much like Riverside, and my views about those who have remained members of the church. (I have not.) I was determined not to write caricatures, to find compassion and emotional common ground with people who have made choices different from my own.

If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the main characters?

I love this question! Joe Gale would have the regular-guy looks of Jason Bateman. His romantic partner, Christie Pappas, is a dark-haired beauty, but grounded, so perhaps Katherine McPhee.

Russell Crowe would have a lot of fun with the role of Rufus Smathers, plumber-by-day, musical theater star by night. Geena Davis would be perfect as crusader Peggy McGillicuddy, who leads the fight against consolidating churches. And Father Patrick Doherty would be played by Paul Giamatti. That role would be almost a cameo, because Patrick is found dead right at the outset, but I’m sure the movie would involve some flashback scenes and I’m confident Paul would do them justice.

Tell me about your other books.

There are two other Joe Gale mysteries. In Quick Pivot, Joe is the driving force behind resolution of a 44-year-old murder, a case that was nearly forgotten until the victim’s body is found bricked behind a wall in a mill being converted to condominiums. In Cover Story Joe is covering a murder trial that goes off the rails when the evidence doesn’t match up with the accusations against a fisherman charged in the stabbing death of a social worker who was investigating allegations of child neglect.

Cover - QuickPivot

0915_9781459290143_Cover Story

Are you in one or more critique groups or partnerships?

I’m not in a formal writing group at this time. For many years I was part of a group of four who met regularly and it was an enormous help when I was getting my feet under me. Now I work one-on-one with a handful of other writers, critiquing each other’s work on an as-needed basis.

Do you write every day?

Absolutely, and it is the most important bit of advice I can give to any writer aspiring to publication. Writing is a skill and I believe you have to exercise your writing muscles day-in and day-out to keep them supple.

When you read a book, what authors do you like best? What genres do you like best?

I love crime fiction, partly because it’s what I write but also because it usually involves stories about the human condition. They also tend to have a beginning, middle and an end.  Something in my nature needs that kind of order.

I have so many favorite crime writers I could not possibly name them all but I can tell you some of what I have been reading lately. I’ve been on a big British/Scottish/Irish kick in the past year or so—Ann Cleeves, Val McDermid, Tana French, Peter May, Denise Mina.

I also love the work of Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny and my former law school classmate Julia Spencer-Fleming.  Chris Holm knocks me over with his talent. Vicki Lane captures Appalachia in a way few others can. B.A. Shapiro is an amazing writer.  Steve Ulfelder makes me laugh out loud with his inventive characters. Then there are the amazing Maine crime writers who I blog with at www.mainecrimewriters.com.  The entire MCW crew is amazing and I am honored to be among them.

Where would you like to go more than anywhere else on earth?

Ireland. I cannot believe I haven’t been there yet. A century ago my mother’s parents moved from County Kerry and County Mayo to the mill town in Massachusetts where I was raised. So a trip to Ireland is on my short list. It’s a pilgrimage for which I’m overdue.

Any other advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Write every day and don’t give up. Perseverance and determination count for so much in this business. I also think it is important to seek out opportunities to learn the craft. Few people can do this instinctively.

What is your favorite movie and why?

To Kill A Mockingbird, for its powerful themes and wonderful acting.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much. Things have a way of working out.

Describe yourself in three words.

Energetic. Optimistic. Fun-loving.

Where can readers connect with you?

Please come visit my website—http://www.brendabuchananwrites.com—where there’s a newsletter signup, or drop me an email at brenda@brendabuchananwrites.com.

Where can readers find your books?

The Joe Gale Mysteries are available in digital format only at this time. They are available through my publisher and all of the usual eBook retailers. Here are some helpful links: Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBook and Kobo.

I’m so happy you were able to join me on Reade and Write, Brenda. Thanks for visiting!

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. My publisher is hosting a Goodreads giveaway! Enter to win a copy of House of the Hanging Jade here!

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy