By J. N. Duncan
I’d like to welcome Pamela Beason to this month’s The Big Thrill for the release of the third book in her Summer Westin series, UNDERCURRENTS. Pamela writes novels and screenplays and works as a private investigator in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not hiding behind a computer or a bush, you can find her exploring the wilderness on foot, in her kayak, or in her scuba gear. So let’s get to the good stuff and see what Pamela has to say.
Give us a Twitter version of your newest book, UNDERCURRENTS.
Outdoor adventure writer Summer ‘Sam’ Westin dives into deep trouble when she accepts a dream job reporting on a marine survey in the Galapagos Islands.
This is the third book in your Summer Westin series. How relevant are the first two books to this one? If readers haven’t read them, will they be missing out?
Of course they’d be missing out! Everyone needs to read them! Buy them right now!
No, seriously, readers might understand a bit more about Sam’s background, her developing relationship with her FBI lover, and her penchant for getting into trouble if they read the first two books, but I do my best to write my books so that each one can stand alone (if it has to).
Being a private investigator who writes mysteries is certainly a convenient combination. How has your profession as an investigator influenced your writing?
I can’t write directly about any of the real cases I work on or I’d get my ticket punched (that’s PI slang for losing your license), but my work certainly introduces me to a lot of tricky situations and intriguing characters. Criminals in particular are very interesting to talk to; many of them are quite charming and sometimes have hilarious motivations for what they do. I recall one who was really pissed off for being charged with a firearms violation because he really needed that gun to protect the huge stash of drugs he was selling.
So a lot of the characters I’ve talked to lend their traits to characters in my books. I have also learned just how unequal our justice system is. It can be pretty hard to prove innocence after someone has been accused of a crime, especially when the media has publicized the arrest and accusations. I write a lot about the way the public and the media and the authorities influence each other.
You are very active in the outdoors and definitely bring that flavor to your stories. Beyond the obvious interest in an outdoor/natural setting, how/why has this interest had such an influence on your stories?
Like they say, write what you know, and I know hiking and kayaking and snowshoeing and scuba diving. I spend a lot of time in the wilderness both in this country and in others, and I like to share my love for wild places and animals as well as my concerns for destructive things that often go on out there. Plus, trying to solve crimes in the wilderness offers a lot of good challenges in a mystery: it’s not like you can dial 911 there and have the cops show up in ten minutes. My protagonist Sam has to be a kick-butt woman to stand up to the bad guys.
You have three story niches you write series in, all of which could be put under the mystery umbrella. How did you come to, have interest in, and/or feel the need to write three different story types?
I’m guessing you’re talking about the fact that I’ve written three books in the Summer Westin series, which is sometimes called an ‘eco-mystery’ series, and I’m currently working on book two in the Neema series, which is more or less a police procedural series (with gorillas), and I have published a couple of romantic suspense novels.
I’ve always been interested in a lot of different topics and situations. The Summer Westin series has to do with crimes in the wilderness; the Neema series is largely about animal intelligence and trying to solve crimes where there are no human witnesses; and SHAKEN, my romantic suspense novel, is about a woman trying to prove her innocence when she’s accused of insurance fraud after her business is targeted by a vandal and arsonist. I plan to write a couple of sequels to that one, too. My novella CALL OF THE JAGUAR is about a woman who suddenly decides to seek out the exotic lover she passed over for the jerk she ended up marrying and winds up crashing into the midst of a civil war in Central America. What can I say? I think I was born with multiple personality disorder. My biggest frustration in life is that there’s only one of me.
With your current title, Summer Westin takes the main stage. What is it about her that makes her heroine material? What do you love about her that makes you want to keep writing her stories? (beyond the fact she’s loosely based on you)
What makes you think Summer Westin is based on me? The fact that we sort of look alike and spend a lot of time outdoors and are both writers and we both have foot-in-mouth disease? That’s all coincidence, I assure you. No, seriously, I have always admired the gutsy people who are willing to stand up for the causes they believe in, and Summer Westin is both physically and psychologically stronger and braver than I will ever be. Not to mention, she has a much more exciting life. She is the character I would be if I didn’t have to worry about annoying mundane things like earning a living and not getting killed.
While you certainly have a strong thematic presence with regard to nature, how do the villains fit into this? Do you bring this thematic interest to them as well or do you create your villains separate to this theme?
All you have to do is listen to the news to see how villains fit into adventures in our public lands. There are a lot of conflicts built into our wilderness system in the United States: hunters vs hikers, off-road vehicles vs pristine areas, miners, loggers, backpackers…the list goes on and on. There are a lot of people who think that the national forests and beaches and such should be preserved only for the use they favor, whether that’s running around in snowmobiles, jeeps, and ATVs; logging; hunting; biking; or conserving every inch for wild plants and animals.
Our public lands are breeding grounds for conflict. Although my character Sam and I tend to be conservationists, I try to portray other points of view as honestly as I can and even though my characters are at odds, the villains are real people we all have met or at least seen on the TV news. I get that from my investigation work; every criminal I’ve talked to has a good story, even if their reasoning got a bit warped along the way.
If you were going to be shelved next to any author in the bookstore, who would you choose? Why?
One of the reasons I kept my real name is that Beason fits conveniently between Nevada Barr and CJ Box, two authors whose books I love. They both have great appreciation for the outdoors and they both know how to create exciting stories. When I started writing, I was accused of being too similar to Nevada Barr and I’ve had to work to differentiate my characters and stories and even my style of writing from hers. I’ve never met her, but I think we must be twins who were somehow separated at birth.
Sticking with the bookstore theme, if a customer brought you UNDERCURRENTS, what would you tell them in order to convince them that it was worth buying?
Well, that’s a tough question, because fiction is very personal and we don’t all like the same styles or plots (thank God). I usually tell people that I was inspired to write UNDERCURRENTS when I was on a tour boat in the Galapagos Islands and picked up a local newspaper one day when we stopped in Puerto Ayora. I read Spanish, and the headline was “Fishermen’s Union Threatens to Blow Up Tourist Boat.” Naturally I thought that was pretty interesting, and I began to research what was going on behind the pleasant façade that is presented to tourists there. So I decided to write a story about what it would be like to go to a foreign country with the best of intentions and get into dangerous trouble. My character Sam doesn’t speak Spanish and like most tourists,wasn’t aware of the issues that concern the local Ecuadorians living in the islands.
You have one author you can choose to sit down in the coffeehouse with for a couple hours of conversation, who would you choose and why?
Jeez, what’s with all these tough questions? I admire so many authors. Can’t I have a party with at least a dozen? If I have to have only one, I guess I’d choose Jodi Picoult. I love all her books; she has such a great gift for writing emotional stories about often controversial issues. I’d like to talk to her about how she chooses what to write about and how much trouble her topics cause her after the books are published.
What’s down the road for readers with your stories? Will we be seeing more of Summer Westin or are other stories on the horizon?
Yes, I have several ideas for more Summer Westin adventures and I can’t wait to write them. I also have ideas for two sequels to SHAKEN and a very creepy murder mystery screenplay that I need to turn into a novel. At the moment, I’m finishing a sequel to THE ONLY WITNESS, my first Neema story about a signing gorilla that witnesses a crime and poor detective Matthew Finn, who has the challenge of extracting clues from her to solve a case of a baby’s disappearance. Like I said earlier, sometimes it’s hard to be only one person.
Any final thoughts?
I think that’s plenty of blathering from me for now. And I need to get back to sleuthing and writing. Thanks for reading this far, and you can keep up with my exploits (writing and otherwise) on my website.
Pamela Beason lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes novels and screenplays and works as a private investigator. When she’s not on the job, she explores the natural world on foot, in cross-country skis, in her kayak, or underwater scuba diving.