Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Robert Spiller

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Robert Spiller is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

The photo above is the cover for his latest March release, Radical Equations, the fourth book in his Bonnie Pinkwater math teacher series. When Bonnie Pinkwater and Wiccan friend Rhiannon Griffith find the body of Bonnie's Vice-Principal stashed in a shallow cave, they begin nosing around. What they find are homicidal motorcyclists, tyrannical dwarfs, suspicious evangelists, prostitutes, high stakes poker, and a damaged mathematician desperately needing Bonnie's help. As they draw nearer to the truth, one fact becomes glaringly apparent. Someone will do anything, even eliminate a busybody math teacher, to keep their deadly secret.

I've read this book and loved it, as I have ALL of the Bonnie Pinkwater series!

Below are Robert's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for him, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

About the time my second marriage evaporated, I took off on a mountain bike to the four corners area of Colorado – I felt a need to visit the Mesa Verde Native American ruins.  I brought along five spiral notebooks to write a story that had been percolating around in my brain. On that three week ride, I wrote the first chapters of what would become The Children Of Yei, a sci-fi novel, which would win second place in the Paul Gillette Writing Contest ($50).  That novel never was published but through it and the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I met my critique group (which included one Beth Groundwater).  Eventually, I left sci-fi and started writing mysteries.  Thus Bonnie Pinkwater my math teacher/sleuth was born.  Four books later (The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, Radical Equations) she still delights me.

2. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

A mixture of both.  I outline about half of the scenes I feel need to be there to give the bare bones of the mystery: the murders, the killer, most of the clues, the finale, and the wrap up.  Then as I’m writing these, other scenes—about thirty to thirty-five to match the initial thirty—shout at me demanding to be written.  All in all, I have about seventy scenes and three hundred pages.  My current project demanded to be written before I had more than twenty scenes outlined, but I’m having fun filling in the blanks.

3. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

This is going to sound false because, first of all I’m a mathematician who likes structure and I write plot-heavy cozies.  However, I firmly believe that character drives plot.  My sleuth, Bonnie Pinkwater, a feisty high school math teacher, is the driving force behind all my mathematical mysteries.  Without her personality, which is at times almost maniacal, there would be no real story. It is her sense of fairness, her fierce loyalty, and her need to have everything ‘make sense’ that gives Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries their flavor.  These are also the type of mysteries I like to read.  Certainly, it is character that brings readers back to a mystery series.  The reader grows fond of the character and wants to revisit them again and again.

4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

I answered this question yesterday and came back to it today only to find my answer had changed.  I suppose that means I have changed as well.  So, I think I’ll answer this bad boy in reverse.  What inspires and keeps me motivated?  I want folks to hold a novel of mine in their hands having just read the darn thing.  I want a smile on their faces.  I want a bittersweet feeling to come over them as they wish they had another chapter to read.  I want them to reach for the next Bonnie Pinkwater mystery so they can revisit East Plains, Colorado.  And in the end, I want them to write to me saying they had such a good time they can’t wait for the next Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.  In order for all of these things to happen I have to write the books; I have to put my butt to the chair and do the work.  And that, Beth, is my biggest challenge.

5. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

My wife and I have come up with a summer schedule which although it’s not perfect, seems to work.  Colorado mornings are just too nice to remain indoors, so we get up early and hike in the mornings. Then around ten, when the temperatures rise, I go into my man-cave and write until I’ve delivered up one thousand words (roughly 4 pages).  This time goes until four o’clock.  Any time after my thousand pages is used for promotion, blogging, my Facebook math problems, answering mail, planning classes and any number of other activities that the writing life demands.  The evenings are for my wife and me.  One thing I strive to do is to check in with her daily to let her know how my spirit is doing and to see what’s going on with her.

6. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Put your butt in the chair and WRITE.  In all my years of writing, I’ve heard every excuse imaginable (a lot of them by me) for not getting the work done.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.  Whether it be 1000 words a day (a first draft in three months) or one page a day (ten months) you have to sit down with your characters and write them to get to know them.  After a time of consistently living with your villains and heroes, they talk to you, but if you stay too long away from them they begin to fade.  Also, that filter that puts a haze between you and the details of your plot, grows thinner and thinner as you write consistently.  Soon, you’ll be writing with more clarity and be more connected to the logical demands of your story.  If you want to be a writer, then by God, write.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I was once a barker in a boardwalk arcade.  I would lure people over to a booth where I convinced them (usually guys trying to impress their girlfriends) to try and put two out of three softballs in a peach basket. For the most part, the balls would hit the bottom of the basket only to come flying out again. On occasion, I had to defend myself against irate boyfriends.  I did this for two summers while going to high school.  Those New Jersey boardwalk concessions were owned by gypsies and they sort of adopted me those summers.  I loved it.

8. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

Several projects: 

The fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery, Napiers Bones, which if the gods smile upon me, will be available at the end of 2012.

I am also laboring on a horror novel that gives me nightmares: a love story between two psychopaths.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

I’ve just recently taken over as webmaster of my website.  I’m very proud of it.  Please check it out.

Every Friday, I have a new math problem (solution on Monday) on my personal Facebook page.  Please come and stretch your synapses.

Check out my blog.  Because historical mathematicians are featured in the Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries, I have begun putting little mini-histories in my blog.  So far I have covered Hypatia, Mary Sommerville, Sonya Covelevsky, Emilie Brueil, and Marie Agnesi.  If you are at all interested in these fascinating women, give it a look see.  I also just wrote a piece on the recent Waldo Canyon wildfire. And lastly, please feel free to contact me at

Thanks, Robert! Now, who has a comment or question for him? 


Teachgiftedkids said...

Robert, Thanks for talking to your friendly readers! I had to laugh when I read about your plot analysis running into homicidal motorcyclists, tyrannical dwarfs, suspicious evangelists, prostitutes, high stakes poker players,etc. As a teacher myself of thirty years, it sounds just like a normal day at my little elementary school. Our collection of "interesting" parents and children have provided many tales that have both made me laugh and cry. I'm anxious to get ahold of your series; I don't think I've read any mysteries involving teachers. Keep up the good work. I'll be looking forward to additional titles in the series.

YA Sleuth said...

What a great interview--question 7 made me laugh :-)

I love the Bonnie Pinkwater books, so it was great to get a bit of the story-behind-the-story from the author.

Karen Emanuelson said...

Awesome interview, Bob! I absolutely LOVED the first book & can't wait to read the rest.

"Beowulf Karen"

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm another Bonnie Pinkwater fan, Bob, so I enjoyed this interview a lot. Beth, thanks for asking the great questions.

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Deb Stover said...

Love your books, Robert and Beth. Keep up the good work. Robert, Bonnie is a fabulous character. I hope you have many more adventures in mind for her. You learned your characterization skills well. ~Deb