Monday, December 20, 2021

Elizabeth Breck

Elizabeth Breck is a California licensed private investigator. She went back to school and graduated summa cum laude from the University of California San Diego with a bachelor's degree in Writing. She writes the Madison Kelly Mysteries about her alter ego Madison Kelly.

The latest book in the series is Double Take.

My Q&A with Breck:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

As many likely know, the publisher has the final say on the title of a book. Double Take used to be called Tapestry of Lies, and in fact I called it that all through the writing of it. However, my publisher felt it sounded too much like a cozy mystery (“Pancakes and murder” type of book), and my book is much more of a thriller/mystery; I saw their point. I offered about forty different options before we settled on the title Double Take. As a reader, when I get to the end of a book, I want to understand what the title had to do with the story—so I kept going until I found a title that the team loved, but I felt still represented the plot. By the end of the book, you will definitely understand why the book has that title, but I can’t give it away now or it will be a spoiler. Anyone who reads the book and can’t put it together by the end, please contact me via my website or my twitter and I would love to discuss it with you!

What's in a name?

The heroine of my books, Madison Kelly, is my alter-ego: we are both licensed private investigators, and when I was Madison’s age, I lived in the exact studio apartment by the beach where Madison lives now (I actually gave her the apartment above mine that I coveted, the one with the ocean view). I named her Madison because of a story from my youth: there was a time in my younger years where I made friends with someone also named Elizabeth. In a moment of flippancy, we decided to give ourselves different names, as a solution to awkwardly calling the other by our own name. I had another friend who’d just had a baby and named her Madison, and I loved the name. So I said to my new friend Elizabeth: “Call me Madison.” So, when it came time to name my alter-ego in the books, I gave her the name Madison, since it really was another name for me.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find beginnings and endings the easiest to write; the middle is the hard part. I also feel beginnings and endings are the most important, so I always write them before the rest of the book. Once I’ve written the first page, and I’ve decided what happens at the end, I begin plotting the book in earnest. I knew for Double Take that I wanted readers dropped immediately into the action of Madison working an exciting case, but I also wanted to show the reader what she’d been up to since the first book in the series had ended (the books stand alone, but for those who’ve read the first book, Anonymous, I wanted to ease them back in).

I would say I edit the first couple of pages more than anything else in the book, but I don’t change them. I pick better words, delete clunky sentences, etc., but the meaning doesn’t change. Similarly, once I’ve decided on the ending, it doesn’t change substantially. They are the bookends that are holding up the rest of the book, and they are my foundation for writing. I then carefully plot each scene in the book, using an Excel spreadsheet, to see how we get from that beginning to that ending. I deliberately place clues for the reader, red herrings, and exciting and thrilling moments to keep the reader interested and desperate to find out what happens next!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

When I started the first Madison book she was more similar to me than she is now. In fact, I took a break in the middle of writing the first book and picked it up again months later. When it was time to start reading from the beginning, a lot of time had passed since I’d written it. Madison did something at the beginning of the book and I said out loud, “Oh no! Madison would never do that!” She had become a fully formed person in my mind as I wrote the book, and I understood her now.

We are both tough, we are both brave and adventurous, and we are both loners; however, Madison is much more of a loner than I am, and she is more of a daredevil in her dealings with people and in her life. She is less emotional than I am—at least on the surface. I will cry at a McDonald’s commercial; not Madison. She has had a lot of loss in her life, but she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. As she says in the books, “Sometimes if you start crying you’ll never stop.”
Visit Elizabeth Breck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue