Ben and Beth Oak’s story in Blood Moon featuring Henry David Thoreau as their detecting protagonist won an honorable mention for the Al Blanchard Award. Ben and Beth met in a literature course at Boston University and have been enthralled with Henry David Thoreau (and each other) ever since. What little free time they have away from their writing is spent meandering along New England trails or the historic streets of Boston. Despite all the murder and mayhem they create on the page, they are upbeat Transcendentalists who believe in the inherent goodness of people. Their historical mystery Thoreau at Devil’s Perch will be released Nov., 2013. You can read more about it at www.bboak.com.
What inspired you to have Henry David Thoreau as a detective?
Ben Oak – His whole life inspired us. Thoreau devoted himself to investigating the world around him and he had all the makings of a great detective.
Beth Oak – We like to compare him to Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes, Thoreau was an avid collector of arcane information that could prove useful in solving a case. Also like Holmes, he was an expert tracker. He wrote that he could always tell if visitors had come to his cabin in his absence by observing bent twigs or grass or shoe prints.
Ben – He could even ascertain their sex and age and station in life by some slight trace left, such as a dropped flower, or a bunch of grass plucked and thrown away, or by the lingering odor of a cigar or pipe. He had the analytical skills of a professional surveyor along with the observational skills of a natural scientist.
Beth – And he trusted his instincts. As a confirmed Transcendentalist, he believed in following his intuition.
Ben – Along with his nose. A contemporary of his claimed “no hound could scent better.” Another friend claimed that Thoreau saw as with a microscope, heard as with an ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and heard.
Beth – It was also said that Thoreau measured a man at a glance and nothing could be concealed from “such terrible eyes.” Eyes that were quite large and beautiful, by the way.
Ben – And like the best American detectives in fiction, from Chandler’s Marlowe to Parker’s Spenser, Thoreau was a loner by nature, totally self-reliant, with his own inborn code of honor.
Beth – He did indeed march to his own drummer.
You also have a book length mystery called Thoreau at Devil’s Perch coming out next November with Thoreau as the protagonist. Which did you write first? How was it to move from long form to short form or vice versa?
Beth – We wrote the book first and about a week after completing it we got an idea that would work well as a short story. Death from a Bad Heart is narrated by Dr. Adam Walker, who also narrates much of the book. The short story takes place a year after the book ends.
Ben – Because we knew the historical background and setting so well, the writing went fairly quickly and easily.
Beth – So Ben says now. It took a lot less time to write than the book, of course, but it was pretty intense. After we thrashed out the plot the words flowed, but then we had to cut out a lot to meet the word count requirement. And cutting can be painful.
Ben – Especially when one partner is slicing and dicing the other’s precious words.
Beth – Short story writing requires discipline. No room for meandering dialogue or needless scenes.
Ben – But plenty of room for disagreement about what stays in and what goes out.
As a husband and wife writing team, do you disagree often?
Ben – Not that often.
Beth – Often enough.
Ben – Okay, quite a bit.
So how do you manage to collaborate?
Beth – Sometimes it’s astoundingly difficult.
Ben – Only when Beth is astoundingly wrong-headed!
Beth – Ben’s sense of humor does smooth things over most of the time.
Ben – Except when it rubs Beth the wrong way.
Beth – That too can happen. But when we manage to put our egos on hold and work as a team, nothing could be more satisfying than working together. Our individual strengths as writers complement each other.
Ben – And two heads really are better than one when it comes to plotting. We keep building on each other’s ideas until we construct this intricate edifice called a story. Sometimes it gets a little shaky and we have to go back to the drawing board. But there’s never any doubt we can figure things out if we keep at it.
Beth – So we do. Well into the night at times. And in the morning we’re energized. We give each other passion and purpose. So what if this passion flares up on occasion? It’s all part of the process.
Ben – Let the fireworks begin!
What are you working on now?
Ben – The second book in our Thoreau mystery series. We’re having a great time plotting it out and so far no fireworks.
Beth – So far. But I’ve been meaning to bring something up with you, Ben. I think the first scene may be too grisly.
Ben – It has to be for the plot to work. Besides, that stuff really happened.
Beth – Which makes it all the more disturbing.
Ben – Hey, that’s fine with me.
Beth – But maybe not with me.
And so it continues ……