Beth Fine is here discussing her middle school mystery series, the Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. Beth has an interesting background. Besides this mystery series, she’s been writing most of her life. We’ll get to her more detailed biography at the end of the interview.
I’m so fascinated by Beth’s whole concept of writing juvenile books about a young teacher becoming an amateur sleuth. She mixes education with mysteries. Unlike my murder mysteries, Beth lets real and attempted murders occur without capturing the storyline. I want to welcome you, Beth Fine, for the remainder of the month of May. Have a seat. I have a number of questions to ask.
Linda: Tell us about the genre.
Beth: Educational fiction…but shhh…don’t tell the kids. Pursuing after-school or summer reading can supply them with incidental, enriching knowledge useful in life and helpful at school. Each book’s front matter has a map of the story’s geography and a list of characters with one-line descriptions. The Appendices hold main character biographies, explanations of clichés/idioms/phrases italicized in the text, lookup suggestions, and definitions of PSAT level vocabulary also italicized in the text. But, I promise these extra features can be explored or ignored without losing the story’s thread because the series’ motto (Have Fun. Get Smarter. ™) encourages readers to choose a style that fits their own agenda.
Beth: Living on the Atlantic in Newfoundland inspired me and made it easier to crank out ten manuscripts. Whenever back in America, I would keep seeking a publisher until finally landing two contracts in 2011. Gradually the publisher offered contracts up through IMASODE X. Each of the first two books stayed eight months in edit. Once I learned the editor’s point-of-view technique, she suggested I go to the “accelerated” approach which soon became the “Rush” method. That admittedly brought long queues if I missed a deadline.
Linda: Did you have a goal in mind when you began writing the series?
Beth: Yes, to keep my life on a roll!! Growing up in Texas, I loved kid-type adventures: riding horses, playing in the forbidden bayou, and looking at the world upside down from tree limbs. Eventually, I grasped how to have adventures by simply reading books. So, during the heat of the day, I sat in my treehouse and read Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Bobbsey Twins plus scores of biographies on our forefathers, early inventors, and great women. As a fourth grader, I wrote two novels and asked my teacher to let me read in class the one with 26 chapters. That took a month. Afterwards, the kids said they liked it because the story sounded like my life, confirming a writer’s primary premise: Write what you know!
After college, I began my own picaresque, moving around to have new adventures and living in every U.S. region except the Plains. I worked in advertising, theatre, and the marine industry. I taught fourth graders and young adults who read or wrote below 4th grade level. This broke my heart and made me wonder how I could combine my love of adventure with my desire to improve literacy. The dilemma birthed a new goal resulting in my mystery series.
Linda: There’s not enough time for you to go over each and every book. Would you pick one to discuss and tell us why you chose it?
Beth: That’s like choosing a favorite child, but my recent book Escapades in Estonia fits the bill.
Background: My daughter’s godparents are from Estonia and lived in displaced persons’ camps after WWII. Although quite young then, they still knew stories of family miseries and victories which they shared to enhance my story’s authenticity. I even appropriated scenes from the life of a relative, a Lutheran minister disallowed to lead worship or celebrate Christian holidays. He saw Russians seize the rectory and divide it into flats for bureaucrats and soldiers. In the 1960s, tired of tyranny, patriotic Estonians revived their “Singing Revolution,” to show resistance.
Storyline: Such a backdrop serves as a perfect setting for Ímagine Purple to solve a crime. Her childhood pal, Dr. Paul Kaminski, heads up an artificial heart project and is invited to Estonia to consult with the Tallinn Academy of Sciences. His medical equipment disappears, so he asks Ima to bring two more sets. When she arrives, Customs assumes the strange-looking apparatuses are bombs and instantly confiscates them. So that her trip will not be a total waste, Ima tries to find out when, why, how, and by whom the first sets got stolen. Her investigation lands her in a KGB jail.
Linda: I see that that Bethany Adams of Birmingham Christian Family Magazine (CFM) described your whole series’ concept in the article below. Since it may be difficult to read on my blog, would you tell us about the two “Summer Reading” articles you wrote for the Nashville CFM and we would could get a copy of the magazine?
Beth: I wrote from two perspectives: #1 encourages parents to let kids choose summer reading material (April) #2 describes a kid’s viewpoint and desire for other choices. (May) NCFM distributes to Nashville area businesses (e.g.beauty shops). I saw a stack at Logos Christian Bookstore. The articles can be found online: http://www.christianfamilynashville.com/cool-stuff-summer-reading-can-change-kids/
Linda: With your educational background, I certainly understand your choosing a teacher as a protagonist, but what possessed you to include a mystery in each?
Beth: You are right to call Ima a “protagonist” because everything does not always work out in her favor. Because a detective must understand logic from premise to conclusion, solving mysteries requires constant critical thinking. Since English classes usually introduce students to inductive and deductive reasoning, I had Ima Purple invent her own approach which she calls “reductive reasoning,” reducing details to a common denominator like in “fractions.” This activity keeps the story moving. Even so, roadblocks occur to build sympathy or bewilderment, both good hooks for the reader.
Linda: That makes perfect sense. Tell us about your character, Imagine Purple. What makes her a good sleuth?
Beth: Ima as a teacher-turned-detective is great at seeing details that others miss. However, she often struggles to turn mundane details or even curious facts into ”productive leads” that develop into clues, direct her to the culprit, or box her into dead-ends. Growing up studying Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Nancy Drew, Ima devised her own silly way to eliminate useless things: find a detail, throw it against wall, let if fall, and stomp on it to see if it “squirts” out a clue. But as an adult, she needed a more concrete way. Sherlock used opium, a foolish crutch he thought gave him insights; Poirot used “every little gray cell,” a method Ima respected; Miss Marple used “disarming comments” to induce unwitting responses; and Nancy used “Drewduction” to persuade friends to join her wild schemes. Ima had long used “supposes and what ifs,” a method of analysis that gradually evolved into what she called “ponder-and-pray” over loose ends.
Linda: One last question. Are you still writing book IX and X? Will this be an endless series?
Beth: I wrote IMASODES IX and X a few years ago. However, revising and formatting manuscripts per publisher’s standards have taken more time than I suspected. Fielding assignments to revise, suggest book cover ideas, or approve layouts after proof) has put IX and X in slow-cook mode. I’ve been trying to get IMA-IX in shape since last September. And though sent in February, VIII’s book cover still needs to gel. As you well know, on top of these tasks, book marketing is mostly left to the author. Marketing gets done as my time, energy, and pocketbook allow. So since my series has sixteen books from Newfoundland to New Delhi, this plan outlines my next few years. Whew!
Linda: Thank you again for the interview and sit down and relax as you’ll be my guest here for the rest of the month.
Author Beth Fine has long been a writer of plays, music, verses, and stories. She has master’s degrees in humanities and literature, both emphasizing composition. Her undergraduate work focused on theatre, sociology, and education. She moved from Newfoundland to Tennessee in 2012. For more information, visit picaresqueofimagine series site or http://bethfine.com/
Seven books in the series are in print so far, with more in the works:
IMASODE I: Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland *
IMADODE II: Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia
IMASODE III: Mary Jane of Canton, Maine
IMASODE IV: Mayhem in Manhattan *
IMASODE V: Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta
IMASODE VI: Danger Starts in Detroit
IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia *
IMASODE VIII: Aunt Lottie’s London (Late Spring 2016)
IMASODE IX: Sovereign’s Sunburst, an Auction in Germany (Late 2016)IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees (2016-17)
Buy Link: http://picaresqueofimaginepurple.com/shop/
*Available B&N-Brentwood. All others at Amazon