Today I’m talking with an author who has chosen an unusual genre, with a unique protagonist. I’m very pleased to welcome Robert Spiller to Mondays Are Murder.
Laurie: Good morning, Robert. Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Very few male authors write from a female perspective. Why did you choose to create a female protagonist, rather than a male?
Robert: Good Question, and one that I still ask myself. Here goes: I have a friend, a fellow math teacher, who I think has many of the qualities an amateur sleuth should have. One in particular is a phenomenal memory (which at times is a real pain in the rear end). She’s honest, compassionate and dogged in the pursuit of truth. She loved teaching (she’s retired) and in particular the teaching of teenagers. Thus Bonnie Pinkwater was born. Also, I had written a Sci-fi with dual perspectives, male and female and so I naively thought, “How hard can it be?”
Laurie: Which leads to my next question. You know the saying, Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. How difficult is it for you to get into the mind of a woman so you can accurately write from her perspective?
Robert: I write another series (as yet unpublished) with a teenage male protagonist, so when I switch back to Bonnie my thoughts require a bit of a shift. Three things help. One is that I’m currently writing the fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery, Napier’s Bones. Because I can go back and read the previous four installments, I usually read a chapter or two and get back into the mindset of a fifty year old widow, who has little patience with fools. In addition, I am lucky to be in a critique group with some wonderful female writers. They aren’t shy about letting me know when I step out of bounds and abandon my feminine side. And since I have been with Bonnie for almost a decade, she has become my favorite character to write. I may not know the minds of every female on Earth, but I think I know what makes her tick.
Laurie: Bonnie Pinkwater stands out from the usual female sleuth because of her career. Please tell us about her, and how her career leads her into one mystery after another.
Robert: That’s the cool thing about writing cozies (very little sex and violence: think Miss Marple) and amateur sleuth mysteries. Unlike cops and private eyes or even medical examiners, school teachers have absolutely no reason to involve themselves in a murder investigation. In every book I must create a reason for Bonnie to be smack dab at the heart of a series of murders. Sometimes she is a suspect. Sometimes she is convinced the lead investigator has it wrong – a deputy sheriff who happens to be a former student.
As for Bonnie herself, she has a fierce love of her students and more often than not this love will not stand still for injustice, either when one of them is harmed or accused of something she knows they didn’t do. In my current work in progress a very special gift addressed to her is found in a grave of a thirty year old murder victim. This gift will draw her into decades old multiple murder conspiracy.
Laurie: Robert, you yourself are a retired math teacher. Have you imbued Bonnie with a lot of your own personality, or is she entirely different from you?
Robert: Initially, Bonnie was as sweet as the woman I was modeling her after. In the final mix down, that didn’t work for me. I needed her to be a bit more edgy. One thing I did was give her an affliction, which she calls her Imp of the Perverse. Bonnie seems driven to say and do things which get her in trouble and which almost invariably she regrets. This device allows me to toss into her personality some of my own failings (I have my own Imp of the Perverse) and also allows me to add humor to the mystery. In the end, Bonnie is a bit like me but is a far, far better and smarter person.
Another feature of the Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries is that Bonnie is an expert in the History of Mathematics, particularly historic mathematicians (Math History is a hobby of mine). Each book, although contemporary, features some portion of the life of a historic mathematician. My recent release features Leonhard Euler, in my opinion the most prolific mathematician to have ever drawn breath. Thus readers get to learn some cool stuff along with solving an entertaining mystery. Also, something in the lives of these historic figures gives Bonnie that AHA moment when she knows the identity of the killer.
Laurie: You described your books as cozies, another unusual choice for a male author. Why did you choose this genre, rather than hard boiled crime?
Robert: I’ve spent 35 years in a profession I love. It’s what I know and where my passion lies. I have also spent most of those years teaching in a small town on the plains of Colorado. Once I decided to place my stories (and my murders) in this setting, I knew who would be my sleuth. No one is like a long-time teacher in a small community. They get to know everyone from the ground up, have known them since they were little squirts. Plus, if they’re like Bonnie they push their nose into everyone’s business. I needed a cop on the scene (Bonnie’s former student, Deputy Byron Hickman) but I didn’t need to have my sleuth be one. In the end a teacher just sounded like more fun.
Laurie: You live in a beautiful part of the country. When you aren’t writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Robert: I hike and bike in the mountains, and in perhaps a few of the best urban parks on the planet – Garden of the Gods, Waldo Canyon, Lovell Gulch, Palmer Park, Red Rocks Canyon, Cheyenne Canyon are all within spitting distance of where I live. Also, I have a two year old grandson, who I don’t see nearly enough. Lately, since I’ve retired from teaching I’ve taken to going back into classrooms to speak about writing to aspiring young writers.
Laurie: I have visited some of those parks myself and they are fabulous. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Robert: Let’s see, I have a few books I’d like folks to know about: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, and the most recent, Radical Equations. We’re talking life-changing literature people. Please friend me on Facebook. I have a weekly math problem (Friday) that everyone is invited to try. Also there is Twitter (@SpillerBob) and my blog SpillerWrites: spillerwrites.blogspot.com. Just recently I posted a mini-class on Setting (although I’ve also posted on such subjects as tribute bands, grandchildren, cucumbers, and chickens. If you’re an author, I would be happy to interview you.
Thanks for this fun interview. And last, for all of you mystery readers (and Writers), remember Left Coast Crime Mystery Conference will be in Colorado Springs in 2013.