Today I am interviewing Zelda Becht, author of the recently published, Zelda the Welder, a story about the girls who welded boats during World War II. The book is semi-autobiographical in that Ms. Becht really was a welder in Kearny, NJ, in 1943. But the similarities to her life story stop there—Zelda the Welder is a cozy mystery.
Which brings me to my first question: What is a cozy mystery?
A cozy mystery is a mystery book that doesn’t have a lot of blood, sex, or violence. You can put up your feet and read—knowing you will be entertained, not scared half to death.
How do you name the characters in your books? Do you just pick a name that you like or do you make up the name to make it stand out? Do you Google the name to check its meaning? Do you research the name to be sure it is historically fitting?
My first book, INMATE OF THE ROOM, took place in England. I used the names of people I knew. Like Nellie or Nell, my protagonist. My English aunt’s name, Nell Gordon, had the right ring to it. And so, though Nell is an American character, she had an English background. For me, it fit. For the character, Diana Musgrave, I searched my mind for a thoroughly English sounding name. I also have an English cousin named Diana. I ran with what was real to me. David is the name of one of my uncles in England. And so I named my hero, David Taggart, for an English character I liked. I used English names for a story placed in England. Names have to fit the character and the place you write about. The names I chose are names used by the English. I could have called Nell, say, Marie, or called David, Jose, but it wouldn’t ring right for English characters in England.
In ZELDA THE WELDER, it was easy to give the protagonist a name. The story was about me. I was the welder. I wrote about what I knew: welding. I gave up a job as a secretary to weld Destroyer Escorts at a Federal shipyard. At a time when women were desperately needed, when our men were in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, women did whatever we could to help. I had three car buddies, a driver, and other people in the yard. I changed their names, but kept their characters. All other names that had a significant place in the story, I chose to fit the part. Sometimes I looked up names to fit a scene. That was for the Zelda book.
In my children’s books, I picked names young people would remember easily, only four letters, ROSE AND RITA, the little marmosets. I thought they fit, coming from the Amazon rain forest as they did.
In DEADLY DEEDS I picked the names of people I knew. For me, it’s fun to fit a person with someone of similar character. And some folks like to have their name used.
Let’s move on to the settings of your books. Exactly how do you choose a setting? Do you choose a place that is familiar and easy? Do you research specific places to make them accurate and plausible? Or do you simply make them up?
The setting for my first book, INMATE OF THE ROOM, had to be in England. Elizabeth the first was an English queen. The story is about three people who find things about her in an old English castle. The setting needed to be realistic. They say, “Write about what you know.” That means, if you want to write about something, find out all about it before you write the tale. And that is where the Internet comes in mighty handy. Everything is there. I found out about the castle, the streets and roads in England and Scotland, the Queen, and anything else I needed to set the scenes. I was born there, visited there, and still, one cannot know everything about a place. So I researched. It is a must to know what you write about for it to fly.
My setting in ZELDA THE WELDER was 1943, New Jersey. The time was World War II. Things were very different then. Times, people, homes, appliances were all different. I had to fit that time slot. The setting in ZELDA is true time and place. I did weld at Federal Shipyard in Kearny, New Jersey. However, that was seventy years ago. I knew Queens Boulevard, and the bridges, and Maspeth, etc., but I looked everything up to be absolutely sure I hadn’t forgotten something. So, I chose settings that fit the story. And the story must fit the setting. When fictionalizing a scene, I wrote what I knew it should be, but again, I looked it up. You can find everything you need on the Internet.
For ROSE AND RITA, I had to be careful. There are only so many places little marmoset monkeys can be found. The Amazon Rain Forest is one. And Miami is Miami, where they find themselves, so I described that. And an animal zoo is an animal zoo, but it has to be right. So, the setting has to fit the story, and the story has to fit the setting. The rest is up to your imagination.
For DEADLY DEEDS, I set my book in the Catskill Mountains which are in New York. The main character, a veterinarian, worked in an animal hospital. I had to learn what animal doctors do, think, and feel.
So, my advice on settings is look it up. When they say, “Write what you know,” it means, “If you don’t know and want to write about it, find out.”
Good advice. How do you title your books? Do you go for shock value? Memorability? Do you research similar titles before choosing? Do you title your book first or write under a working title?
That is important. What will make someone pick up the book in the first place? The title. In my first book, INMATE OF THE ROOM wasn’t my first choice of title. I wanted, The Find. The story is about my three main characters finding something that was unknown for 400 years. But perhaps it needed more. A fellow writer suggested a sentence I had written in the book. Yes, it was a find, but about a character hidden in a castle room. Hence, INMATE OF THE ROOM, and below it The Find. I liked them both and kept them both. Now you must buy it.
It was easy to name my book, ZELDA THE WELDER, after me, a welder. The story is about when I welded Destroyer Escorts during WWII. Sometimes something pops out of the book that suggests the title. But sometimes you will write the whole book before you know what to name it.
For DEADLY DEEDS, I hoped the title would interest people who liked a mystery. A title should suggest what the story is about. It should grab their interest. It should make them pick up the book and open it. A proper title will do that.
That’s certainly true. Now for my final question: How do you ward of writer’s block?
Okay, you are deep into writing your book, something distracts you, and when you get back, you’ve lost your train of thought. Or, you have a deadline, and that is enough to make your brain go dead.
Writer’s block is something else. Mostly, if you are rolling with the story, and you haven’t stopped to do something to take your thoughts away, you won’t get writer’s block. If you are into your story, it will be on your mind always. But should you become unable to carry the story further, you should read it over again and again until something clicks. You might want to discuss it with a friend. Share thoughts.
That is, if you already know what you want to write about. If you just decide to write something with no idea where you are going, you are in trouble. Then you may have to throw out all those precious words we love and begin again.
So, how to ward off writer’s block? Plan your story ahead. Before you sit down or write a word, know what you want to write about. Some people write an outline to lead them along the path of the story. That way, they can relate back when they need to.
But not all writers use an outline. For them, it is easier to just put down the story as it comes to them. A well-known author who writes about a detective out West writes off the cuff. Others like to have music playing in the background. Soothes them, brings out their thoughts. Just don’t write when you are tired. When you wake up and re-read it, you will wonder why you wrote that mess.
It is up to the person to know what makes him or her think best. Take a swim in the pool or a long walk and think about your story. Some people like to read a book to get the juices flowing. One famous author will never read a book when he is writing one. It distracts him from his story. Different strokes for different folk.
If you find yourself blocked, put your project aside and write about something else. But never, never, stop writing. Next time may be a best seller.
Now, write that book. I want to read it.
Thank you, Ms. Becht, for such a thought provoking interview.
You can buy books by Zelda Becht at Amazon. I recommend Zelda the Welder. It was fascinating.
You can reach her at her website, www.zeldabecht.weebly.com.
She is also on Facebook.