Interview with Bety Comerford aka B T Lord
I see you have two names, what do you write under each of your pen names.
I write non-fiction under Bety Comerford. I publish fiction under my pen name B.T. Lord
Tell us about your latest novel or project:
I am about to release book 5 in my Twin Ponds Murder Mystery Series set in Maine. I also have a free novella, featuring the same characters, available for download through my website www.btlordwriter.com. I’m in the process of developing a new series that will feature murder mysteries with a touch of the paranormal.
What got you started writing?
I was actually published in 2nd grade in the school newspaper. I guess you could say that’s when the writing bug bit. There was something about seeing my name in tiny, mimeographed print that inspired me to keep writing – haha.
What challenges did you face when you first started writing?
As most writers will tell you, my first efforts were atrocious. The manuscripts made better doorstops than as an actual publishable book. But I kept at it, learning the craft of writing. I joined writers’ groups, took part in a critique group with other aspiring writers, dissected best-selling books to see how they were constructed, and attended writer conferences. I continued writing throughout this period, honing my skill and experimenting with what I’d learned. The biggest challenge was not to get discouraged and give up when the rejection slips started to pile up. I would look to famous authors and take comfort in the fact they’d gotten their share of rejection letters. It gave me hope that if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have trouble finding a publisher for Sherlock Holmes, I just needed, like him, to persevere.
Do you ever get the opportunity to travel for your writing? Either to market or to research.
When the idea of writing a murder mystery series first started to percolate, I needed a place that was isolated, yet believable at the same time. My family and I have vacationed for many years in Maine and I fell in love with the state. Because I’d been there and continue to visit, I realized it was the perfect place to set my series in. I also have a character, Dr. Samuel Westerfield, who is a member of one of the ‘Boston Brahmin’ families. Having worked in Boston for many years and meeting many of these ‘Boston Brahmin’ families, it helped shape the character and the location of his early life before he settled in Twin Ponds. I occasionally take friends on a “Doctor Samuel Westerfield” tour, showing them the places I used in the third book in the series.
Who in your life is your greatest cheerleader or support in your writing?
I am blessed to have a wonderful support group of friends and family who have encouraged me every step of the way. One of my beta readers is also a writer which helps immeasurably in shaping the final story. I also love the support of the readers who have taken the Twin Ponds Murder Mystery series to heart. Their encouraging messages are so appreciated.
What was the first thing you did after your first book was published?
I think I was numb. LOL. I’d tried for so many years to get my fiction trade-published. I’d won prodigious contests, met with agents, editors, etc. Yet it never seemed to happen. I wasn’t getting any younger and I realized that if I didn’t take the plunge into the indie world, I’d never realize my dream. When I held ‘Murder on Ice’ for the first time, I was overcome with so many emotions, I just went numb. Then I grinned from ear to ear.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you handle the good and the bad ones?
I do. If it’s a constructive criticism, I listen to it. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn is that, no matter how much hard work you put into your novels, it won’t please everyone. Still, that first two star review was tough. It helped when I discovered someone had recently given a two star review to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations while another had ravaged A Christmas Carol. I’ll never be in his league, but it certainly proved you really can’t please everyone. Having said that, I’ve been humbled by how many good reviews my series is getting. It takes away the sting from the not so good reviews and shows me I must be doing something right.
It seems like everything has Easter Eggs (surprise reference to your other work) do you have any Easter Eggs in your books?
I’m trade published under my real name. My writing partner and I write a series of books on the gift of empathy (people who physically feel others’ emotions, published through Schiffer Publishing). I’ve certainly used much of that philosophy in my own fiction books. As for my murder mysteries, I try very hard to make each book stand up on its own, despite references to events that’s happened in the other volumes. I do love leaving hints that an unresolved plot line or a character who the reader thinks did not get their just rewards will be dealt with in a later installment.
How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have any secrets to productivity?
I remember when I first made the decision to become an indie author, I heard about writers turning out a book a month. The prevalent thought is that your newer books will sell your older books. It also draws in readers if you’re creating a series. However, I knew I couldn’t produce a well written, plot twisting novel in 30 days. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be any good! So I set myself the goal of producing a book every two months. It takes me about six weeks to write it, an additional two-three weeks to get feedback from my beta readers, go through the editing process, get the cover artwork, etc. My secret to getting the novel done is that I plot key points before I sit down. I need to know how it begins and ends. I need to know who the murderer is and what their motives are. I then allow the characters and situations to speak to me and tell me where they want to go and what needs to be done. I also have a set time in which I write that helps get me into the zone. My other little ritual is that I like to light a candle to keep me company while I’m writing.
Where did you get the idea for your first or latest book?
My first book Murder on Ice was actually written in 1996. I shopped it around, nothing happened and I put it away as life took over. When I decided to publish through Amazon in 2016, I took it out and did a major rewrite on it. I was just about done when I picked up a novel by another mystery writer which blew my mind. I’m a voracious reader and mysteries are my favorite. Unfortunately, I can usually figure out who the murderer is early on. However, this book (Raven Black by Ann Cleeves) had twists I never saw coming. The timing of reading Raven Black couldn’t have been better. The way she deftly handled the murder and the murderer pushed me to go back and incorporate the twists and turns that are now keeping my readers guessing through each novel. As for the other books in the series, the ideas come out of nowhere when I least expect it. It’s true that even when you’re not physically writing, you’re still writing in your head. I’ll be walking the dogs and I start getting plot points. I’m an avid knitter and while I’m knitting, ideas flood in. I’m convinced the little angel that sits on my shoulder was once a writer.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I actually do my best writing at night after the family has gone to bed. I adopted two rescue dogs to go along with a third dog, so after eight o’clock in the evening, they’re all asleep and the house is quiet. I light my candle and ‘enter’ Twin Ponds, look around, and see what everyone is up to.
What is your best experience meeting a fan?
I love the heartfelt emails I receive from fans for both my fiction and non-fiction work. When I hear how much they enjoy the fiction, or how much the non-fiction has helped them live a better, happier life, it validates why I write.
If any of your books was to be made into a film, which one would you pick and who would you have play the main characters?
Probably the first ‘Murder on Ice’ since that sets up the characters, the town of Twin Ponds and the dynamics between them all. My heroine, Sheriff Cammie Farnsworth is in her thirties, has a wry sense of humor, a deep loyalty to her friends and to her town and doesn’t let up until she solves the case. I’d be interested in hearing who the fans think should play her in a film!
How important do you think marketing is for authors today?
It’s essential. One of the truths that was hammered into my head when I started this journey into the indie world is that I am competing with thousands of other writers to grab the attention of the readers. The only way to do that is to create consistently good books and to make sure those books get into places where readers will find them. We’re like Donkey in the Shrek series – pick me! Pick me!
Do you have any book you have written that won’t ever see the light of day and why?
Definitely. Years ago, I wrote a three-part series about a young feisty girl who wanted to become a Royal Musketeer. During her adventures, she becomes involved in the lives of the famous Four Musketeers. I even took fencing lessons to better describe her fencing abilities. They were fun to write, but when I looked at them recently, I realized they needed a ton of work. However, I don’t regret the time spent on creating them. I learned a lot about pacing, creating the perfect balance of sexual tension, and writing just enough to keep the reader engaged without boring them to death with details they don’t need to know. Those lessons have come in handy writing murder mysteries where pacing is so important.
Many authors have a word or a phrase they automatically use too often. Do you have one?
I was criticized in one of my reviews for using the term ‘clicked her tongue’ a little too often. I now watch out for that.
What quirk or trope of your genre do you like or dislike?
I’m not sure this answers your question, but I’ve noticed that many leading characters in the mystery genre are emotionally damaged in some way. I’m guilty of that myself with the Cammie character. It remains to be seen if this is becoming too much of a cliché.
Often writers get to approach some serious subjects. Which serious subject are you most proud to have written about or was the hardest to write about?
When I started my series, I knew the stories weren’t just about the murder. They were about human emotion, about loss and hate and greed and hurt and all those feelings that bind us together as human beings. My latest, Murder Among Crows, is about redemption, about the possibility of forgiveness and what happens when you don’t forgive, not only the person who wronged you, but yourself as well. We’ve probably all been there at some point in our lives and I explore those feelings and conflicts in each one of my books.
I’ve been studying shamanism for almost twenty years and I bring some of that philosophy into the books through the character of Paul Langevin, a shaman who is based on my shamanic teacher. I’ve had wonderful feedback from readers on these aspects of the books. Part of my job as a writer is to engage you emotionally, and maybe get you to see something in a different light. My favorite books to read are those that hook me from the very beginning and make me care about the characters as though they were my best friends. When I’m not reading about them, I miss them. That’s my hope for my series.
Wow, you own story sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing some of it with us and good luck with your latest project.