Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Today's Mystery Author Guest: Bonnie Biafore
As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Bonnie Biafore is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Bonnie is running a contest for a free autographed copy of her latest release co-written with James Ewing, Fresh Squeezed, the cover art for which appears above. Bonnie will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow.
In Fresh Squeezed, Anthony “Juice” Verrone, former Mafia enforcer and guest of the Witness Security Program, is trying to hide from the Family he sent up the river. When a giant hot dog, a fiberglass bass, and a plummeting corpse put the squeeze on Juice, he thinks he’s been found out. Juice teams up with Rudy Touchous, a forensic accountant, and Police Chief Dickie Gordon, to track down the killer. Instead, they run head-on into a public utility in desperate financial straits, a local troop of NASCAR-addled, bass-fishing rednecks with odd literary aspirations, and a vegetarian commune, which, in its dedication to the well-being of plants, is tossing more than lettuce into its salad bar. And what is that secret ingredient in their all-vegetarian hotdogs? The Utility’s plans leak, so they bring in a strange parade of hired guns to make sure the people who know too much can’t say anything. When these players mix it up at the Asparagus Festival a conflagration ignites that changes everything.
Sounds like a juicy read! Below are Bonnie's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment, and if you have a question of your own for Bonnie, ask it!
1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?
Back in 2001, my husband and I were working as contractors for a Washington State power utility that managed power generation along the mid-Columbia River. Listening to the usual water cooler chat eventually spawned (salmon on the Columbia River, get it?) the idea of having two incompetent groups both trying to blow up the same dam. While we were living in Washington State, we would talk on the phone with a very funny friend of ours, James Ewing, and riff on ideas about stupid criminals. I wisely kept notes. Fast forward to late 2008. I called James and suggested that we write the book as a tribute to my husband who passed away in 2006. We got to work. Three and a half years later the book was published.
2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
The characters didn’t give us a choice. They knew what they were like and told us what we needed to know. I remember the morning that Rudy Touchous, the sidekick forensic accountant, introduced himself to me. I was visiting James for two weeks to work on the novel. I woke up with a crystal clear image of Rudy and a scene in my head. It took me a couple of hours to write the chapter, and that was that. Later, as we revised the manuscript, Rudy grew and changed; he became more confident, but never lost the puppy-like enthusiasm I first saw. Closer to the end of the revision process, we would make changes because we had the characters doing things they wouldn’t do. Even with two authors, the characters are who they are. We’re just the medium for them to come into our world.
3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
James and I are both Capricorn engineers, so we are VERY organized. We spent a week brainstorming the story line. We created a spreadsheet with scenes in chronological order. Scenes moved around during revisions, but that spreadsheet acted as our guide as we wrote our first, second, and third drafts.
4. 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?
Plot is a bit more important than character, but a good mystery needs both. Fresh Squeezed isn’t a classic murder mystery; it’s a wacky crime comedy. The novel is driven more by the characters and humor with the criminal hijinks underneath to hold everything together.
A crime comedy also has a balance and transitions between humor and tension. Both require a good sense of timing, so they are more similar than you might think at first. Many people turn to humor to help them through difficult times, so a tense scene can include humor. On the other hand, some tense scenes need to stand on their own and some funny scenes are too crazy to share the stage with tension. It’s like yin and yang.
5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
The biggest challenge is paying the bills. I have to do that first, so I can write fiction.
Inspiration for crime comedy isn’t an issue. The world is a funny place. I remember when I found out that Costco sells coffins. I find that funny and have all sorts of ideas about how to work that into a story someday. I grew up with cantankerous elderly relatives, who inspired several characters and scenes in Fresh Squeezed. The biggest challenge writing stories about stupid criminals is beating real people to it.
6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
When I was writing the first draft of the novel, I would write for about two hours and produce 1500 to 2500 words. Another hour of editing and a first draft of the scene would be finished. That’s the fun and easy part.
From start to finish, completing a book requires all sorts of work that consumes a lot more time and can last for months. James and I spent a few hours each morning (for months) talking on Skype, while we revised the manuscript.
Outside of fiction, my career is primarily writing about business, finance, and technology. The books, training courses, and articles I author share many of the same work components as writing fiction. My typical work week including both fiction and non-fiction is 6 or 7 days a week, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day.
7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
If you’re going to juggle earning a living and writing fiction, start by figuring out when you’re most productive and most creative. Try to arrange your schedule so you work on fiction at that time, even if it’s only for an hour at a time.
Learn the discipline to continue working even if you feel like quitting. At the same time, learn to recognize when you need to take a break. If you’re spinning your wheels, sitting in the chair longer doesn’t help. Get out for a walk. Usually, the answer comes to me while I’m taking that break.
If you feel overwhelmed, carve out a small task that you know you can do and then do it. The energy boost you get from finishing that one small thing helps you start the next small thing. Before you know it, you’ll have a boatload of stuff done. Think about a 90,000 word novel. All you have to do is write 500 words a day for 180 days and that first draft will be done.
8. 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.
My favorite guilty food pleasure is *crunchy* Cheetos (puffy Cheetos are just ridiculous). I don’t eat them very often. When I do, I don’t think about the fact that I’m addicted to a bright orange snack that has absolutely no nutritional value and is probably made from petroleum, cow hooves, and salt. (I’m too busy crunching.)
9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I have ideas heading in several directions. I have some ideas for stories based on some of the characters in Fresh Squeezed. A newspaper article I read recently gave me an idea for a suspense story. And some other possibilities further off the trampled path.
10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
Please visit my website. I don’t have a blog yet (unless you want to read the one I write about project management), but my co-author, James Ewing, writes a very entertaining one.
I live in Conifer, Colorado. James lives on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. We are both happy to talk to book clubs, if you’re nearby. We also love to hear about stupid criminal stories you’ve heard about or made up.
Thanks, Bonnie! Now, who has a comment or question for Bonnie Biafore? Good luck in the contest!