An Interview with Paula Bernstein
Q: Like your protagonist, you had a successful career as a practicing ObGyn. What was your personal pathway to becoming a writer?
Paula: I’ve always loved to write. I wrote my first novel at age 11. It was called Scarlet Vermillion and Lavender Rose and was a Civil War romance, inspired by my recently reading Gone With the Wind. As my education progressed I was drawn to science and eventually to medicine, but both of those are left brain activities. I always needed to engage my right brain. After I began practicing, I started taking courses in the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. These courses generated writer’s groups that continued past the course, and enabled me to finish several novels. Finding time to write was a real challenge. I only had free time on Wednesday afternoons, and the first drafts of all my novels were written during a few hours once a week. When my daughter was born I suspended my writing for a while and didn’t resume it seriously until I retired from my practice.
Q: Your previous book, Murder in the Family, was actually the first book you wrote in the Hannah Kline series–but the third book you released. Why is that?
Paula: Murder in the Family was inspired by a real murder of a dear friend and cousin in 1990. Writing about her and getting to know her friends was my way of dealing with my grief. The novel didn’t start out as a mystery, because there was nothing mysterious about the murder. It was meant as a psychological novel about loss. Along the way I invented Hannah and Daniel. The book went through several incarnations over a twenty-year period. I finally published the true story of the murder as Joanna’s Tale in my short story collection Potpourri. Having done that, I could revise the original and turn it into a murder mystery. In the meantime, I did the easier job of editing Lethal Injection and Private School.
Q: For people new to the series, how would you describe your main character, Hannah Kline?
Paula: Hannah is a very smart and successful Ob-Gyn in private practice in Los Angeles. She is in her early 40’s and the mother of a precocious little girl, Zoe. Hannah was widowed shortly before Zoe was born and struggles with all the multi-tasking demands of a professional woman. She is very witty and has a sarcastic sense of humor. She hadn’t planned to add solving murders to driving carpool, doing surgery and delivering babies in the middle of the night, but murders keep happening in her orbit.
Q: All during your successful career as a medical scientist and Obstetrician / Gynecologist, you continued to find time for your creative writing, graphic design, and other creative endeavors. Did you always know you would eventually turn to a career in writing?
Paula: Not at all. I knew that once I stopped practicing and had lots of free time I would be able to indulge all of my other interests. For the first year after my retirement I did mostly interior design projects. Then I found the backup discs for my first drafts of the three Hannah Klein novels and decided to invest some time and effort. I found a wonderful writing teacher and editor to work with who helped me to polish the stories until we both felt they were publishable. I’ve just started the next novel, and this one will take longer because there is no pre-existing first draft. I haven’t yet figured out who committed the murder.
Q: In your books, your main character Hannah Kline is a single mom raising a daughter, Zoe. Hannah is something of a professional multitasker. As a writer, how does that element affect the character and storylines?
Paula: Hannah is always juggling the demands on her time. We see her in the operating room, engaged in childcare and ferreting out information pertinent to a murder investigation. There is no question that her life is stressful. She has one best friend, and otherwise doesn’t socialize and hasn’t dated since her husband died. In Murder in the Family she begins a romance and struggles with how to restart that part of her life.
Q: Will readers of the series watch Zoe grow older and the family dynamic change as new books are released?
Paula: Absolutely. In the first novel Zoe is four, and in the third novel she is six. The novels take place about a year apart. I’m a voracious mystery reader, and the ones I enjoy the most, have a continuing cast of characters whose life events are intertwined with the mystery elements. I want readers to engage, not only with the solution to a murder, but to wonder what major events are going to occur in Hannah’s private life.
Q: You wrote earlier in your life, but only now, after a career in medicine, are you focusing on your writing as a primary career. For others out there looking to begin writing later in life, are there benefits to starting a writing career after 40? If so, what?
Paula: I’m not sure, at my age, that I’d even use the word “career,” but it has become my primary avocation. There are major advantages to writing later in life. I write entirely for pleasure. I don’t need to support myself with my writing and I don’t need to make money from it. I’m not trying to become a famous author. I’d just like to share my books with readers who appreciate the genre.
Q: Who are some of the writers, both inside the mystery / thriller genre and out, that have inspired your own life as a writer and a reader?
Paula: My number one favorite mystery author is Elizabeth George. She does a superb job of following the lives of her characters from novel to novel and plotting intricate mysteries. She also has an awesome vocabulary. I also love Elizabeth Peters, especially her heroine Amanda Peabody, an archeologist and Egyptologist whose wit and sarcasm makes me think of Hannah. Tess Gerritsen, a fellow physician is also on my A list.
My favorite thriller author is Daniel Silva. I also love the fantasy genre: Diana Gabaldon, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb and Mercedes Lackey.