Sitting on the Casting Couch this week is German author Beate Boeker. Although we have yet to meet in person, Beate is a good friend thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and to the universal friendship that springs up between writers wherever they live. Her books are fun. She writes with a sense of humour that is infectious. Fluent in several languages, she has chosen to write all her books in English. In her Casting Couch interview she explains why, and also how she has recently switched to self publishing.
Talking with Beate is a delight, so, assuming you are sitting comfortably, let's begin.
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You are German, but you write in English. Surely there is a story here?
Yes, there is! I did write my first novel in German, but when I needed help to refine it, I realized that the US is extremely professional and advanced when it comes to helping fledgling authors. In Germany, I couldn't find the same kind of help at all. As I was lucky enough to speak English fluently, I decided to write in English in order to profit from all the help that is available online.
How successful were you?
Well I sold my first English novel to Avalon Books in New York, and then two more in the following years. Now though, I've switched to self-publishing romances and cozy mysteries as e-books.
When an idea strikes, do you work through the plot first and then cast the characters, or is it characters first? Or does it vary? Perhaps you develop the plot and the characters together.
In a romance, I develop both at the same time. I usually start with a funny incident, something that has happened to me or to friends, and from then on, I continue to spin the yarn.
In a mystery, I obviously have to be more organized, otherwise I would end up with a body and no clue about the murderer, so I create the rough outline and later I fill in all the details. Needless to say, the final product is usually quite different from the first layout. Recently, the mother of the heroine suddenly announced that she would prepare a "trap for the murderer". That was totally unplanned, and I had to wrack my brain for weeks in order to come up with something that would fit this sudden decision.
Can you give an example of how you plot from a published story?
Yes. A colleague once told me that her aunt woke up in the middle of the night, with a thief standing next to her. The thief simply said, "If I were you, I would go back to sleep again," - which she did.
Then another friend told me that someone had broken into her house and that the thieves had taken away a locked metal case that contained a collection of private mementos, things like her wedding pictures. Useless to them, but very precious to her. I mixed both stories for the beginning of the romance Rent a Thief. The characters then grew naturally based on that premise.
When deciding how your characters should look, do pictures inspire you or do you think of someone you know? Or perhaps you just rely on an active imagination or another method entirely.
I don't usually use pictures. In general, I combine traits from people I see. Like his eyebrows and her nose, his way of walking and the way she shakes her hair. I have a rough idea in my head of what they look like, but it's not developed down to the last detail because, quite often, this happens later in the book, while the plot is unfolding.
Do you have a system for developing their character traits? I know some people use Tarot or Astrology. Others produce detailed life histories. There are also writers who allow their characters to develop as they write. What's your method?
Unfortunately, I can not claim any sophisticated method. The characters mostly develop themselves while I'm typing. In my book Delayed Death, I had the situation where I wanted my heroine, Carlina, to experience a romantic moment with the Commissario Garini, but they kept on being on edge and needling each other with snarky remarks. No romance was possible, so I stored that up for a later moment, hoping they would be ready for it before the book ended.
All characters have goals. Can your character’s goals usually be summed up in a word or two, or are they multi-layered? Do they change as you write the book? Can you give some examples?
Without realizing it, we do give something away about ourselves and our values even while we construct purely hypothetical worlds, and it took me three books before I realized that I kept coming back to one elementary goal: Independence. So, while my characters keep on fighting for all kinds of different things, like success in a job, love, friendship; in the end, it all boils down to reaching those goals without giving up their independence.
Motives drive a character. How do you discover your character’s specific goals? Are they based on back story or do other elements influence their motives?
It's usually the circumstances that force my heroines to make a move. In my novel Delayed Death, the heroine is thrown into a difficult situation when her grandfather dies half an hour before her cousin's wedding. In order to save the wedding, she agrees to hide the grandfather. However, this compromise pitches her into trouble because she later learns that her grandfather was killed, and she's now the attractive Inspector's prime suspect. So, in this novel, she does not choose her goals. Instead, they are forced onto her, namely, to stay out of prison and to discover who murdered her grandfather without being killed herself.
And last but not least, do you like your characters? Are they people you would want to spend time with? Assuming they are not just a paper exercise, which of your characters would you most like to meet, and why?
Yes, I do like my characters very much, even the exasperating ones because they make me chuckle. I'd love to spend a day with the Mantoni family, listening to their bickering and wondering what on earth they will do next. I also really like the hero of Delayed Death, Stefano Garini, who seems to be so detached but who deeply cares about my heroine Carlina.
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You can learn all about Beate and her novels if you visit her at www.happybooks.de. As she tells you, on a website that is full of interesting facts about her and her writing, it was inevitable that she would write sooner or later as her surname, Boeker, is a local German dialect word for books, while her first name, Beate, is straight from the Latin and can be translated as ‘Happy’. With a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write fun romances?