Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
John Betcher Interview
4/11/2011 8:31:54 PM
Mystery/Thriller author John Betcher discusses his novels and the writing life!
LTS: For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to author John Betcher, a writer of mysteries and thrillers. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I know you’ve practiced law for over two decades, but what else would you like to share with our readers?
JB: I hold a Bachelor's Degree, cum laude, in English from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis. As you say, I’ve practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. I’ve also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball there.
I’ve published three feature articles in COACHING VOLLEYBALL, the Journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. My most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue. My book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF VOLLEYBALL COACHING, Insights From the Trenches, has been selling nationwide and is currently available at Amazon.com.
I’ve also published a series of "Beck" suspense/thriller novels. The first two are THE 19TH ELEMENT, a James Becker Thriller and THE MISSING ELEMENT, A James Becker Mystery. My latest release is entitled, A HIGHER COURT - One Man's Search for the Truth of God's Existence.
I have a wonderful wife and two great kids – both currently attending college. My wife and I live in a 1910-vintage Georgian Colonial with screen porches, front and back.
LTS: Like practicing law, volleyball has been huge in your life, so when did fiction writing fit into all of this? Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
JB: Activities related to being a father to our two daughters and practicing law have occupied the majority of my time for the past twenty-two years. In spring of 2009, our younger daughter graduated from high school. Her graduation marked an end to my active involvement in youth sports coaching, as well as diminishing time spent directly involved in school concerts, athletics, award ceremonies, teacher conferences, etc. In short, becoming an empty-nester brought with it the anticipated void in my usual schedule.
Writing fiction filled that time void nicely.
LTS: Your debut novel, ‘The 19th Element’ was followed up by ‘The Missing Element’. What was the inspiration behind these stories and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, James Becker?
JB: James “Beck” Becker is one of four main characters in the Element Series. He is a retired Military Intelligence Operative who has returned to his hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota with his wife, Beth, an ex-CIA Code-Cracker.
Beck embodies a combination of Midwestern values gleaned from his youth, with survival instincts he acquired while a member of the Special Forces. His cover story has him working as a small town attorney. But in reality, he spends more time helping his friends Gunner and Bull fight crime and terrorism than he does practicing law.
The stories are inspired by real world conflicts. ‘The 19th Element’ has an Al Qaeda-backed terror group plotting to assault a U.S. Nuclear Power Plant. ‘The Missing Element’ addresses the uncomfortably black box that high technology has become . . . where, on occasion, humans are the “missing element.”
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open one of your ‘Becker’ novels?
JB: They will be transported to a comfortable small town in the Midwest . . . a town rich with culture, and coincidentally, a hotbed of international intrigue. The four main characters – Beck, his wife Beth, local Chief Deputy Sheriff Doug “Gunner” Gunderson and enigmatic American Indian Terry “Bull” Red Feather – are each remarkable and likeable in their own way.
For example, Gunner’s a “play-it-by-the-book” small town cop. He’s not sophisticated; but his lawman instincts are good and his heart is in the right place.
Bull is nearly everyone’s favorite character in the Element Series. He’s physically formidable and word-miserly. His actions speak for him. His background is military; but we learn little about his life in Books One and Two. Bull has a visitor from his past in Book Three – which I’ll tell you more about later.
Beth is beautiful, fit, savvy and a self-described “computer goddess.” Her relationship with Beck is just a little too perfect. But I like it that way.
LTS: How close is James Becker to you in terms of personality, life experiences, etc.?
JB: Beck espouses some of my values, such as: honesty, loyalty, fidelity, a good sense of humor and above all, a devotion to preparedness. And he loves his wife. Our similarities end there. His life has been far more interesting than mine, owing in large part to the extensive research I perform before writing each novel.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
JB: There are no easy answers in publishing these days. The contraction of the Publishers’ midlist books, and the new role for literary agents acting as gate-keepers to the traditional publishing industry, has created huge challenges for everyone involved to carry out their roles effectively and comprehensively. As a result, a good book is more likely to fail during the Query Phase than ever before. Agents are swamped with queries and publishers are accepting fewer and fewer new authors. Finding an agent to represent you, and then having that agent find a publisher who is willing to invest in your work, is harder than ever.
Self-publishing is an avenue that some, including me, have chosen when they don’t have success on the traditional paths. But self-publishing is definitely NOT for everybody. You need to learn, or pay for, the many different talents to bring a decent book to market, and then convince buyers to BUY it. It’s a fulltime endeavor.
LTS: Becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, what made you decide on self-publishing your novels?
JB: I did a lot of work on Query Letters for the first two Element books, and some again for ‘A Higher Court.’ I’m sure I’ve sent out hundreds of queries to hundreds of agents.
I tried to do everything the right way. I joined a query-writing group at AgentQueryConnect. I researched the types of books various agents were seriously considering using AgentQuery.com. I revised my query letters multiple times – both before and after initial submissions.
After nearly of a year of trying the traditional route, I decided my chances were better going self-pub. I’ve got some good computer skills. My wife is artistic. I’m persistent. It was a realistic avenue for me.
LTS: Excellent advice, John! Now, what are some of the challenges authors contemplating self-publishing should consider before travelling this road?
JB: Expect it to require creativity, persistence, learning of new skills, making tough artistic and economic decisions and exhibiting extreme patience. I can’t emphasize patience enough. Self-publishing is a marathon endeavor. Unless you are incredibly lucky, your book will not sell quickly, or without a lot of help from you.
Also, you have to be prepared to put up with the opinions of some writers who still believe that self-publishing means “bad writing,”“poor quality” “awful editing” and an author with a “over-developed confidence in their own abilities.” These perceptions are fading – but they’re not gone yet. A self-published author needs to have a thick skin and remain professional at all times. It’s not always easy.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
JB: I do the research whenever I can get access to the best experts. It might take months to complete the research for a new book. I want to learn something new in every book. And I want to show my readers something new as well.
Once I’ve got the research done, I write as many hours a day as I can possibly squeeze in. I try for a minimum of 1,500 words on each writing day – though I may need to skip some days entirely. I’ve written as many as 7,500 words of first draft material in a single day. Usually, it’s a matter of weeks from starting the actual writing to completion of the first draft.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
JB: Generally, I go into the research faze of a book not having a clear idea of its plot or substance. I learn a lot from personal interviews of experts in relevant disciplines. It is usually while questioning the folks with all the knowledge that the plot forms in my mind. Then I do supplementary research (mostly on the web) to fill in details like weapon specs or details of remote locations. Once the plot is fully researched and formed, I tend to stick to the plan.
So to sum up, I’m a pantster during the research stage, and a plotter thereafter.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
JB: I only have my usual daily rituals. I try to spend some time with God before I do anything. Other than that, I get to the writing as soon as my schedule will allow.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
JB: This is a good question. I just wrote a blog post myself on this very issue.
I guess I’ve never experienced complete Writer’s Block. If I feel like I’m not writing very well on a particular day, then I write poorly that day – but I keep on with the story. I can’t edit an empty page. I can always fix or dump the bad stuff in a rewrite or edit. Eventually, I will feel like I’m writing better again and keep on going from there. This way, I always get to the end of my first draft without major delays.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
JB: “Favorite” questions are always hard for me. Here are a few of my faves: the late Robert B. Parker (especially his Spenser Detective Series), Brian Haig, Vince Flynn, Barry Eisler and J.R.R. Tolkien. There are lots more.
The author who had the greatest influence on my writing style – and on my cast of characters – is the late Robert B. Parker. Readers familiar with Parker’s Spenser books will recognize the similarities.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
JB: Wow. “Profound” is a pretty powerful word. The Element Series is targeted primarily for entertainment and escapism. I guess I’m very pleased that many people have told me they enjoy the books. Several have also appreciated the cautionary undercurrents in the stories (about the dangers of nuclear power and “black box” technology).
‘A Higher Court’ has had a greater impact on its readers. One told me: “This book had me thinking about myself and my beliefs and why I came to feel the way I do about God. I've read over 60 books this year and none stayed in my mind like this book did and still does.”
Several reviewers have begun their reviews of ‘A Higher Court’ with “WOW!” Reactions like that are profoundly gratifying.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
JB: “Assiduousness is a virtue.” Literary Agent Jason Allen Ashlock once told me this. The other lesson is to develop EXTREME patience. Don’t expect responses to your emails. Don’t expect reviewers who said they would review your book to actually review your book. (Just be glad when some do.) Everything takes a long time. Exercise patience.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
JB: I’m currently reading ‘Piety and Murder’ by Thomas Drinkard. Tom is a fellow member of The Independent Author Network. I like to try to read books by fellow indies when I am able.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from mysteries/thrillers into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to ‘The Missing Element’ in the near future?
JB: Last question first . . . I just completed the first draft of ‘The Covert Element’ today. It will deal with affects and influences of Mexican drug cartels in Minnesota. There’ll be the usual core characters, and lots of action.
‘A Higher Court’ is already a divergence from the suspense/thriller genre. It was a book I felt . . . not sure of the right word here . . . compelled? . . . to write. If I get a similar urge to delve into religious fiction again, I will probably pursue it. But my five-year plan as of this moment is to keep writing thrillers. If I keep exercising my writing muscle, my hope is that it will continually grow stronger. I’m not much for quitting something once I’ve begun.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your novels and your writing wisdom, John. Catch you on Twitter!
For more information about John and his novels, check out: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/john-l-betcher.html
Follow John L. Betcher on Twitter: .JohnBetcher
Where to buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble Online and wherever books are sold. All Books are available in trade paperback, Kindle, Nook and all other popular eBook formats.
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