Today I have Janice Boekhoff with me for an awesome author interview. Janice Boekhoff is a former Research Geologist who pours her love of science and the outdoors into her suspense novels. One of her favorite things to do, other than write, is to research the settings for her novels. Whether climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, hiking in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona or pushing through the cloud forests of Costa Rica, she strives to bring realistic details to her writing.
When she’s not writing, she can be found sipping on a peppermint mocha, lounging in front of the TV watching re-runs of Castle, or reading a science magazine to find the latest creative word scientists have made up (not much suspense there, but seriously, scientists are more creative than most people give them credit for).
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer when I was a young kid, but that dream had a lot of other dreams to compete with—first woman president, archaeologist, veterinarian, and supermodel to name a few. Several of those didn’t work out. I tried to watch a dog autopsy and passed out, nobody was willing to fund my political career, and I realized supermodels aren’t allowed to eat, so I settled on archaeologist. At least until I realized most archaeologists classify pot shards for a living. Along the way, I’d taken some geology classes and fallen in love with rocks. I decided I’d rather classify rocks than pot shards, and several years later, I became a Research Geologist. But the dream of writing never left me. A year after becoming a geologist, I started my first novel. Since I didn’t have a laptop, I hand-wrote pages in a notebook during my lunch breaks.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It depends. What a concrete answer from a scientist, right? But seriously, it depends on how much research I need for the plot. In general, I complete a first draft of a novel in about six months, although Crevice took more like eight months because of the research I did on the Lost Dutchman gold mine. But no one sees my first drafts. After four novels, my first drafts are getting better, but I still can’t show them to anyone. I rewrite once before sending it to my critique partner, then I usually edit some more while she has it. At least two drafts later, it’s ready for my early readers, plus I’m ready for some time away from it. After a month, I come back and incorporate comments from my early readers. Even after all that, the novel goes through several more rounds of editing before being published.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
All my kids are in school now, so you would think I’d get six hours a day of writing in, but that’s not usually the case. Between volunteering in the classroom, orthodontist appointments and bible study, I usually get two solid hours of peaceful writing. Of course, that’s not enough time to grow a career, so I sneak in more bits of writing where I can, most often at night after everyone else has gone to bed. Once in a while, my wonderful hubby will let me go out to Starbucks in the evening or on the weekend … such bliss. Since I have short, concentrated times to write, I find I rarely get writer’s block.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure if I’m answering this question the way it was intended, but my most interesting writing quirk is that I like to kill off characters, sometimes just for fun. My critique partner keeps me in check. She insists on a good reason for bloodshed. I have to prove to her that the neighbor girl down the street is destined to die. It keeps me honest, and it keeps me from having a book where the bodies pile up higher than my minivan (oh, a book where everybody has to die could be a fun premise, though).
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Being a former geologist, I love science, especially anything to do with rocks. Many of my ideas for books come from watching science shows or reading science magazines. I take true facts and play with them until ideas come that interest me. Like most writers, I love to play the “what if” game. What if a legendary treasure was real? What if somebody who didn’t care about the treasure was forced to hunt for it? What if zombies invaded Victorian England? (Oh wait, that one might have already been done.)
Asking these types of questions is what got me hooked on the idea of writing a modern day treasure hunt. Years ago, I watched a TV show that had a segment on the Lost Dutchman gold mine located somewhere in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. The myriad of legends reached out with their tantalizing clues and drew me in. Which ones were real? Which were fantasy?
Only Jacob Waltz—the Dutchman—knew for sure, and he was long dead.
In Crevice, I had such fun coming up with a creative explanation for the enigma of Waltz’s life, but the truth remains a mystery. Sadly, the details of the lonely Dutchman’s life, and whatever mine he might have discovered, died with him in 1891.
Perhaps, the Dutchman’s gold is out there … waiting. If you happen to stumble across it, feel free to send a few chunks of gold ore my way.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I started my first book when I was twenty-eight and working as a geologist. I didn’t have a laptop, so I hand-wrote it during my lunch breaks. About a third of the novel was completed when I had my first child and all my writing time disappeared in a flurry of dirty diapers and spit up. Then, I had another munchkin, and another. Whew! Three kids under five was crazy, but by the time my youngest was one-year-old, I started thinking about that book again. I picked it back up, writing for fifteen minutes in the carpool line or ten minutes before I fell asleep at night. I finished it a year later and thought it would be published by the next year—how naive. It’s about a volcanologist in Hawaii. Great job, great setting, but I had no concept of how bad my first novel was until I wrote novels two, three and four. That first one is still on the shelf. It’s the prequel to the Earth Hunters series, so I’m sure I’ll dust it off soon and give it a complete makeover—before anyone else sees it, of course.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read, read, read! And then fit in the rest of my life. I wish I had more time for reading (my husband calls my Kindle my security blanket) and writing, but I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I have three feisty, sports-addicted kids, a husband who travels with me to research locations for my books, and an adorable Vizsla puppy (he will be even more adorable when he’s completely potty trained). The only way it could get any better is if I had a maid/cook—so if you know of anyone who would take the job for free first edition copies of my books, send him/her my way.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I was surprised at how subjective the writing and reading process is. As a scientist, I wanted hard and fast rules for how to write. But the truth is there are very few rules for how to create the illusion of another world. The story itself dictates what kinds of rules you follow and break. It takes a lot of work to make the writing seem effortless. And added to the hard work, there’s a bit of God-given magic in the unique experience each person has when reading a novel.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
As a teenager, my favorite author was Stephen King (yes, I had nightmares for most of my adolescence). King knows how to suck you into a story and leave you breathless. When I became a Christian, I discovered suspense author Ted Dekker, who could take you on the same roller-coaster ride, but without the gore. Around the same time, the Christian Romantic Suspense genre had just started to take off, and I discovered Dee Henderson and Terri Blackstock. Although an author has trouble defining their own style, I feel my novels are a blend of the two styles that I love—a bit of romance and heavy on the suspense.
What do you think makes a good story?
I’m a plot girl. I love a strong plot that takes me places I don’t expect. My favorite authors are those who leave me on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next. So, I think a good plot makes a good story, but events don’t happen to just anybody. I want to be totally enmeshed with the main character so that her/his goals become mine. This is where the author’s passion takes over. When an author is passionate about driving the character’s journey forward, it really makes an impact on the reader. And I’m just as much a reader as I am a writer.