Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Paula Bernstein

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Paula Bernstein

We are delighted to welcome author Paula Bernstein to Omnimystery News today.

Paula's fourth mystery to feature obstetrician Hannah Kline is The Goldilocks Planet (M&Z Press; September 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with her talking about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the cast of recurring characters in your Hannah Kline mysteries.

Paula Bernstein
Photo provided courtesy of
Paula Bernstein

Paula Bernstein: My heroine is Dr. Hannah Kline, a hard working and successful Los Angeles obstetrician. As the series begins, Hannah has been widowed for five years, and is the mother of a precocious four year old daughter named Zoe. Like many professional women, she struggles to balance her professional life with her family, leaving little time for relationships or romance.

LAPD Detective Daniel Ross meets Hannah in the first novel when he is assigned to solve the tragic murder of Hannah's sister-in-law. He never gets personally involved with witnesses in his cases, and didn't plan on falling in love with one, but all his rules went by the wayside when he found himself irresistibly drawn to Hannah.

In each of the novels, Hannah has some personal connection to the victim, and her medical and scientific background, as well as her connections within the community, gives her access to information that the police might find hard to come by.

OMN: How do you expect Hannah and Daniel to develop as the series continues.

PB: I love mystery series in which the characters grow and change over time, and I find myself as invested in developments in their personal lives as I am in the puzzles they are trying to solve. With each of my novels we learn more about Hannah and Daniel's back stories and watch their relationship as it grows and changes.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

PB: Amazon lists my books under Mystery/Women Sleuths. They aren't easily characterized as a sub-genre. In each novel I alternate between Hannah and Daniel's point of view. When we are with Daniel, the novels read like a police procedural, with crime scenes, suspect interviews and forensic evidence. I avoid being dark, violent or gory. Most of the blood in my books is found with Hannah in the delivery room. When I write from Hannah's viewpoint, things are lighter, more psychological and hopefully funnier. Hannah has a sarcastic sense of humor. All in all, I prefer to avoid a label, but I hope that Hannah Kline will appeal to readers who enjoy Elizabeth George, are amused by Elizabeth Peters' character Amelia Peabody, or who are interested in the medicine in Tess Gerritsen's mysteries.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

PB: I write most authentically when I write about worlds that I know intimately or have excellent access to. The Goldilocks Planet is set in the world of academic astronomy. It also draws on my knowledge of chemistry, my medical experience and the years I spent as a graduate student in academic science. Astronomy has been a major interest of mine for years and I've taken many courses and have several friends who are astronomy professors and who were available to me to help with technical questions. In this recent novel, I also found a whole new use for the chemical that was the subject of my PhD thesis.

With the one exception of the victim in Murder in the Family, all the characters are from my imagination. Hannah often speaks with my voice and shares my opinion on medical and other matters, and has my sense of humor, but she is much braver than I am. I probably wouldn't go sleuthing about in a murder investigation.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

PB: My writing process is mostly right brained. I never start with an outline or synopsis. That feels way too much like writing a term paper. I usually decide what world I want to be in. In the case of The Goldilocks Planet, I wanted to write about the search for extra solar planets. I then create some characters and write brief biographies of them. As I start to write, one chapter just leads to the next. I always ask myself "what would Hannah or Daniel do next to investigate this?" and my characters tell me what to do. I never know who the killer is when I start. I solve the crime along with my heroine, and I don't usually decide until I am at least halfway through the novel. Sometimes if I'm stuck, I fall asleep thinking about where to go next and wake up with the answer. I solved many of the equations in my PhD thesis the same way. The unconscious mind is a wonderful tool

OMN: How true are you to the settings of your books?

PB: All my books are set in Los Angeles and I often use real names for streets, stores and restaurants. I make up names for institutions. The University of California Technological Institute doesn't exist, nor does Los Angeles Memorial Hospital or The Waverly School, but any native can make an educated guess at the places I've chosen as my models. Los Angeles is a wonderfully diverse setting for mystery novels. The city ranges from the ostentatious wealth of Beverly Hills to the extreme poverty of skid row. We have vibrant ethnic communities (and food) of dazzling variety. Once again, writing about what I know, makes the story feel more authentic.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

PB: I love to travel and have taken international trips every year since I was a graduate student. I read voraciously and am interested in art, architecture and theater. I've taken many courses in interior design and have done the architectural plans for my own remodels. My husband considers this a very expensive hobby and periodically puts me on remodeling diets. I love science in any form and I read and take courses in physics, astronomy, cosmology and neuroscience. I draw on many of these interests in my books.

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

PB: My favorite mystery writer is Elizabeth George. She does everything I'd love to do in my books, only so much better. She has a continuing cast of interesting characters, whose lives evolve. She always introduces you to a world you may know nothing about, which she researches meticulously, and her vocabulary and writing style is superb. She is my role model.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

PB: The best advice I've gotten as an author came in the form of a cartoon of a dog seated in front of a computer. The caption was "Sit. Stay." I've gotten lots of constructive criticism of my work, both from my editor and from fellow writing students. I think there is no place for harsh criticism of anyone's writing. My best advice to an aspiring writer is, after you finish your first draft, find a really good editor.

OMN: How involved were you with the cover design?

PB: I design all the covers for my books using a combination of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. I love doing graphic art and designing the covers is so much fun. The cover of The Goldilocks Planet shows a planetary system that is obviously not Earth. This one was easy to do. With others, I've struggled to find an appropriate image to go with the story.

OMN: Suppose your Hannah Kline mysteries were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

PB: Funny you should ask. I was recently watching the finale of Under the Dome and thought that Rachel Lefevre would be a perfect Hannah. She has that gorgeous red hair and calm demeanor. I see Daniel acted by someone like Dominic West, the star of The Affair. He's the right age and has a face that is expressive and can be gentle as well as determined. You can imagine him as a tough detective and as a lover.

OMN: What's next for you?

PB: I just got back from a great vacation in Sicily, so I'm ready to get back to work on my next Hannah Kline novel. It's called In Vitro and it is set in the world of high tech infertility treatment.

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Paula Bernstein is an author who likes to think of herself as a multi-faceted career woman. She began her professional career as an academic chemist with a doctorate from Caltech. After realizing that she liked people far more than laboratory equipment, she went to Medical School and spent the next thirty years as a successful practicing obstetrician gynecologist. Between deliveries, she indulged her creative side with writing, interior design, graphic arts and astronomy. Over the years Paula also published non-fiction, patient oriented medical books and professional papers, but now that she is semi-retired, her main focus is fiction. Not surprisingly, Paula's heroines are witty women in interesting professions from medicine, to physics to interior design.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at HannahKlineMysteries.com and her author page on Goodreads.

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The Goldilocks Planet by Paula Bernstein

The Goldilocks Planet by Paula Bernstein

A Hannah Kline Mystery

Publisher: M&Z Press

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

Obstetrician Hannah Kline and her brand new fiancé, LAPD Detective Daniel Ross, are about to begin house hunting, when Daniel is put in charge of a high profile murder investigation.

Dr. Edwin Larramore was at the top of his game. A full professor of Astronomy at the prestigious Technological Institute, and a leader in the search for extra solar planets, he has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for an extraordinary discovery. Who would want to kill him?

There turns out to be no shortage of suspects. The victim had an unhappy pregnant wife, an angry ex-wife, who is also his chief academic competitor, a jealous department chairman, and several under-appreciated and disgruntled graduate students. Daniel has his work cut out for him. Hannah has been very helpful in several of Daniel's previous cases, but this time her hands are tied. Larramore's pregnant wife is her patient, and medical ethics prevent her from telling all she knows.

When Hannah discovers a crucial clue, and her patient's pregnancy becomes high risk, Hannah has to resolve her conflicting loyalties.

The Goldilocks Planet by Paula Bernstein

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