Like the main character in her Sadie Witt mystery series, Beth Solheim was born with a healthy dose of imagination and a hankering to solve a puzzle. She learned her reverence for reading from her mother, who was never without a book in her hand.
By day, Beth works in Human Resources. By night she morphs into a writer who frequents lake resorts and mortuaries and hosts a ghost or two in her humorous paranormal mysteries.
Raised and still living in Northern Minnesota, she resides in lake country with her husband and a menagerie of wildlife critters. She and her husband are blessed with two grown children and two grandsons.
Tell us a bit about your current project.
At Witt’s End is the first in the Sadie Witt Mystery Series. Witt’s End is a typical resort in northern Minnesota where vacationers vie for available cabins, but there’s one thing they don’t know. Any guest who checks into Cabin 14 never leaves alive. There’s also an occasional ghost who wanders over from the mortuary next door and insists that Sadie, a death coach, help them solve their murder. Shenanigans unfold as Sadie tries to untangle a murderous web and prevent an unscrupulous sheriff’s deputy from shutting down her lakeside resort.
What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?
The day I received a rejection letter from a publisher (actually one of the publisher’s reviewers whose job it was to decide if a manuscript was worthy of further consideration) that indicated, “This writer should never be allowed to hold a pen in her hand again. Drivel, bland, non-appealing. A waste of my time!”
At first I was so humiliated, I wanted to crawl in a garbage can and be toted off to the landfill. At least the birds would get a meal. Then I got angry. How dare he say that. I retreated to square one and studied the craft of writing. On-line writer’s classes, genre selection, critique groups, plotting, characterization, and outlining became an obsession. So did reading mysteries. Sadly, I had to admit that his review had been accurate. Maybe not drivel, but bland and non-appealing.
I work full time, so evenings and weekends were set aside for writing. I set a word-count goal for each week and adhered to it faithfully. When the first manuscript draft was complete, it was time to tackle the edits. Then, two more rounds of edits. I don’t believe a manuscript is ever final until it goes to press. There’s always that desire to ‘make it better’.
That caustic rejection gave me the push I needed to ‘learn’ how to write. It also gave me the desire to prove him wrong. It took a long time, but I did!
With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer to the wet-behind-the-ears if you were beginning this writing journey today?
Be open to constructive criticism.
Write what you believe.
It’s easy to offer advice, but not easy to follow. Rejection is difficult for even the most seasoned writer. It hurts. If you’re lucky to receive a rejection with comments, learn from those comments. You may or may not agree, but if it’s grammar, pacing, POV issues, work on them. Improve your craft. Remember there will be that special someone who loves your work and will offer a contract.
What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?
Relaxing in a group setting and listening to the wealth of stories that tumble out. Such great fodder for character and plot development.
As a child I read mysteries and experimented with creating new scenarios or endings. I still do and those diversions help create new adventures. Current news headlines are also an excellent source for story plotting.
Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.
Yes. A visit to the mortuary. I walked in just as the funeral director was unloading the hearse. I said, “I need to know how to embalm someone. Without blinking, he said, “Sure. Come on in. I’ll show you.” He called my bluff, but later verbally walked me through the procedure, explained the professional side of the business, the tools of the trade, etc. What a learning experience. It helped calm my fear of the unknown.
Why I chose to have a mortuary next door to the resort in At Witt’s End I’ll never know, but because the funeral home functions as a major setting, I had to learn the business. Realism is important without being ghoulish.
Can you guess the name of the funeral home I did my research at? Cease Funeral Home! True story.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.
I doubt my ability every day. Will it be good enough? Can I improve? Can I come up with more ideas?
Practice writing and read constantly. These are two crucial components for staying in touch with the publishing industry, trends, and the only way to improve your skills. Join writing loops. Join the ‘correct’ critique group. Sisters in Crime has been a valuable tool, as well. Follow writing and book reviewer’s blogs.
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
Yes. Form rejection letters. I didn’t send in a sloppy, multi-copied, crumpled manuscript. I put my heart in it, followed submission rules, and waited, and waited, and waited. I know agents and publishers are busy, but a few simple comments would have been nice.
What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?
When a reader tells me my book made her laugh out loud. Or, when they say it was a two-hankie chapter. That makes me purr. If I can make you laugh or cry, I did my job. Humor is my drug of choice. I try to portray humor with my main wacky character, Sadie Witt and love to take her behavior to extremes. Her latest adventure is purchasing a used hearse to use as a shuttle van for the Witt’s End Resort. Would you get into a hearse if it picked you up at the airport? I bet you would!
What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?
Probably the most difficult was accepting that I didn’t know squat about writing. What I thought was a good story was atrocious. How embarrassing! It took years to turn my writing into something acceptable. I purchased ‘how-to’ write books, read them, then purchased more. Once I zeroed in on mysteries as my true passion, I took plotting, characterization, pacing and any other class I could find on-line. Slowly it came together. I also had the good fortune of having a ‘friend-of-a-friend’ who worked for Penguin Publishing in New York provide an honest critique. That’s what truly gave me hope that my writing had potential. I asked for an honest critique, it stung a lot, but boy, oh boy, her advice was dead accurate and within a year I had a book contract.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
Outline. I can’t write by the seat of my pants. I wish I could. I need a roadmap from start to finish. After I determine the plot, I create a purpose/conflict for each character and break their individual stories into segments. Then I create a sequence for the events and start detailing each chapter. When I sit down to write, I have a fairly detailed chapter outline, a list of characters who appear in each chapter, a conflict, a purpose for that particular chapter, and either a resolution for a previous chapter’s conflict or create a new one. Each chapter must have a purpose and move the story forward. If it doesn’t, delete it.
Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?
Writing is half the battle. Marketing is the other half. If you aren’t visible and readers don’t know about your book, they won’t buy it. Marketing starts when you decide to write. Join writer’s groups and participate. Create a blog and build a following.
Successful marketing includes knowing when to hold back and quit blitzing the on-line social avenues with overkill about your book. Build your presence with other areas of interest. Are you a pet lover, a creator of recipes, a quilter, an attorney? There are a million options open to you. Use them!
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in Novel Journey. I look forward to your comments.