About Lynn
How would you describe your mystery novels?
I call them character-driven mysteries with a paranormal twist and a humorous tone. The protagonist, Cleo Sims, a
37-year-old grief therapist, has accidentally discovered a process through which people can make contact with dead loved
ones in an apparition chamber. Cleo uses this as part of a healing process to help grievers complete unfinished business
with friends, family members and lovers who have died. But in
Too Near the Edge, a young widow wants to use it to
contact her husband's spirit to find out more about his death. The husband's fatal fall from the rim of the Grand Canyon
was ruled an accident, but his wife believes he was murdered.
In Too Far Under a wealthy heiress drowns in her backyard. Again, the death is ruled an accident. But the woman's
daughters refuse to accept that and beg Cleo to help them contact their mother's spirit to find out what really happened.
An amusing surfer-dude spirit named Tyler, who visits Cleo from beyond, gives her cryptic advice, and pushes her to
“ride the wave,” enhances the paranormal aspect of the story. But I was very careful not to let Tyler or any spirits
contacted in the apparition chamber solve the mystery. I think that would be "cheating" from a mystery reader's
perspective.
All three of my novels are set in Boulder, Colorado, where I live. I use the high-tech, New Age, outdoorsy health-related
aspects of Boulder to develop themes such as reality vs. illusion; good vs. evil uses of technology; and use vs. misuse of
drugs and herbs. I also use real settings from Boulder to give the stories a rich sense of place. I love Boulder and I enjoy
describing some of my favorite places like Eben Fine Park, Chautauqua, and the Pearl Street Mall, as well as some favorite
restaurants, like the Rio Grande. I’m especially proud that readers and reviewers have said that reading my descriptions
feels like a visit to Boulder.
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
I start with Cleo Sims, my main character who tells the story. She's a lot like me in her experience and the curious way
she sees the world. She's a capable professional, but has her own personal issues with her boyfriend and her
grandmother with Alzheimer's. She's funny, down-to-earth, caring, and strong willed; and she won't give up on a
problem until she solves it. Then I create a group of characters who become suspects in the murder. I don't want to tell
too much about them, but I'll reveal that I'm fascinated by abnormal and deviant behavior. I'm a social worker and I've
studied psychology, so I use a lot of sources to develop characters who live on the edge in a variety of ways.
What was the inspiration for the paranormal aspects of the stories?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the possibility of contacting the dead. My father got me
interested when I was a teenager, and after that I read everything I could find. One of those books was
Reunions by
Raymond Moody, in which he talks about his research on visionary encounters with departed loved ones. I also love
mysteries, and I’ve had some experience as a grief therapist for hospice, so I put all that together for these books.
Who do you see as your ideal reader?
I've asked some readers who love my mysteries what they like and why they read them. My readers are puzzle solvers
who like to try to figure out who did the murder. They like to be kept guessing throughout, and they like to be surprised
in the end. They like interesting, complex characters; a variety of suspects who have believable motives; and a setting
that draws them in and gives them a flavor of the local culture.
How did you start writing fiction?
I was an academic for many years, so I wrote journal articles, grant proposals, training manuals, etc. at work, and
outside work I wrote a couple of popular nonfiction self-help books. All that time I wanted to try writing fiction, but I
worried that I'd never sell it. At one time I had an agent who told me that selling fiction is next to impossible. But over
the years I learned a lot about the publishing industry, and I had my own business, so when digital printing and internet
bookstores came along, I realized I could publish and sell a novel through my own business. So I wrote and published
Too Near the Edge and its sequels Too Far Under, and Too Many Secrets. Fiction is more fun to write. You can make
everything up. And, while I love research, I also love making up characters and stories.
What kind of research do you do for your fiction writing?
Even when I'm writing fiction, I'm obsessed with facts. I do a lot of plotting, outlining and research before I start. And I
write each character's backstory. I spend even more time on research as I write the story, because I like to have every
detail as accurate as possible. For example, if I'm going to write about someone picking a lock, I find a site on the
internet that gives me details of how to do it. Sometimes I end up spending hours researching details that end up being
only a few sentences in the story. Probably not very efficient use of time, but my academic background never gives me a
break on the research thing.
Who is your protagonist, Cleo, patterned after?
Well, she’s me to some extent—or who I would have liked to have been if I’d been born when she was and had her guts.
She has my sense of humor and slightly peculiar view of the world.
Why do you think your main character, Cleo Sims, is appealing?
Well I like her because she’s like me only better. She cares about people and wants to help them, and she sets high
standards for herself and her work. She struggles with the conflict between maintaining her professional reputation and
doing what she feels is right.
Where did Tyler come from and why is he a surfer?
Strangely, Tyler seems to have popped into my head fully formed much as he appeared to Cleo. I don’t actually know
where he came from. I’ve never known a surfer or been surfing. But I did get a lot of help on his language from
The
Online Slang Dictionary.
Who are your other characters based on?
No one in particular. I made them up, although they do have traits and habits I’ve noticed in people I’ve known. One of
the things I found surprising since the book came out is that some friends and family have asked me if they are in the
book. They’re not. But, even more surprising to me is that some of them want to be. That’s actually a little scary. What
if they didn’t like themselves as characters?
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
Curiosity. I love to learn new things and to find answers to my questions. Cleo is very curious, too.
Have you published any other books?
Two—both nonfiction.
Stress? Find Your Balance, co-authored with Allan Press and now in its 4th edition (2006).
How to Deal With Your Parents When They Still Treat You Like A Child.  Published by Berkley (1992).
What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not reading or writing, I love to get outside in the mountains to hike, ski or snowshoe. I also travel to
Minneapolis frequently to spend time with my grandson, Eli, and granddaughter, Pauline.
What are your favorite books and why?
My favorites change from day to day depending on my mood and what I’m reading at the moment. I love to read fiction
and I’m always in the middle of a novel. Recently I loved
The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo and the other two books in that
trilogy, as well as
The Hunger Games trilogy. I also love books involving time travel. For some reason the idea of time
travel fascinates me. I've just read and enjoyed Stephen King's
11/23/63. Some of my other time travel favorites are
Replay
by Ken Grimwood,  Time and Again by Jack Finney, A Shortcut in Time by Charles Dickinson, and The Mirror by
Marlys Millhiser.
What is your favorite genre and why?
Mysteries. I think I like them because they move toward resolution and at the end all the reader’s questions are
answered. I love Lee Child's Reacher books and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch and Butcher Boy novels. Those books are
very different from mine, but the meticulous detail of what the characters know and the skills they have keeps me
involved. I enjoy the stubborn, engaging, complex main characters those authors have created.
What do you think makes a writer successful and what are your goals as a writer?
Most people would probably say a writer is successful if they sell a lot of books. But for me, success as a writer is being
able to write something that readers find entertaining and/or valuable. It would be great to write a novel that becomes a
bestseller, is made into a movie, and makes me rich. But my real goals are to write books that people like to read.
How have you marketed and promoted your work?
All the usual/recommended stuff. Book signings, local publicity, reviews, press releases, bookmarks, postcards, website,
press kit, video trailer, blogging, Yahoo groups, MySpace, FB, Twitter, GoodReads, LibraryThing, AuthorsDen. Good grief
– it eats you alive! Especially when you do it all yourself like I do. I'm not doing the printed book publicity stuff anymore,
like signings and bookmarks, because my focus no is mainly on selling ebooks. Still, marketing and promotion definitely
eats into my writing time.
What’s in the future?
Right now I'm thinking of writing a different kind of novel.
Will you visit, or call, a bookclub that is discussing your book?
I would be honored to be asked and would love to do it.
An Interview with Lynn Osterkamp