Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Five Secrets From Author B.K. Stevens

I'm telling you, we're a lucky bunch to find all these new-to-us authors.  Please welcome mystery writer, B.K. Stevens. Her secrets are really cool, read on.

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of those stories, including Agatha, Macavity, and Derringer finalists, are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime. B.K.’s first novel, Interpretation of Murder, is a whodunit offering readers insights into deaf culture. 

Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for teens, was an Agatha and Anthony finalist. B.K. blogs at SleuthSayers and also hosts The First Two Pages. She and her husband, Dennis, live in Virginia with their smug cat. They have two amazing daughters, one amazing son-in-law, and four perfect grandchildren.
Hi, B.K., please tell us Five Secrets we may not know about Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime or you, but will after today!

1)   Thanks for having me here today as your guest, L.A. I often have fun with naming characters—I sometimes name them after people I know, sometimes after characters from literature and mythology. And sometimes I get out my book on the origins and meanings of names. “Death in Rehab,” first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and included in Her Infinite Variety, is set at a clinic for people with unusual addictions—for example, a Jeopardy! fanatic who speaks only in the form of questions, a serial plagiarist who always echoes what other characters say, and a compulsive proofreader who can’t stop correcting other characters’ grammar. The meaning of one name turns out to be an important clue in solving the mystery, so I decided to give all the suspects names that reflect something about their personalities or situations. For example, an angry, resentful character is named Martha (“bitter”), a character who’s eccentric but contented is named Felix (“happy”), and a celebrity who checks into the clinic for court-mandated rehabilitation is named Roland (“famous”).

2)    Here’s a secret that will give you a head start at figuring out what’s going on in one of my stories. Once, when I was teaching Shakespeare’s Othello, I got especially fascinated by Iago. I thought it might be interesting to write a mystery story with a character like Iago in it. So I did. The story got published in a magazine and is now in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime. Which story is it? That’s a secret I’m not sharing—if you read the stories, you’ll know.

3)    Since short story writers don’t have much time to capture the reader’s attention, I always devote special care to my opening sentences. Of all the stories in Her Infinite Variety, I think “Honor among Thieves” has the best opening sentences. Here they are: “The first time it happened, it was just barely a crime. It started as an honest mistake, and she simply didn’t correct it.” Those are the first sentences of “Honor among Thieves.” I think there’s something quietly ominous about those sentences. We don’t know exactly what “she” did (although the title gives us a big hint), but we know it was a crime, even if “just barely.” And “the first time it happened” lets us know it’s going to happen again, and that next time it probably won’t start as “an honest mistake.” So someone who’s generally honest is going to commit a number of crimes. I hope readers will wonder how and why that might happen, and will want to read on.

4)    Sometimes, nasty thoughts can lead to successful stories. For many years, I was an adjunct English professor, following my husband’s career from state to state and patching together any part-time teaching jobs I could find. At one college, the director of the composition program was an unpleasant, obnoxious woman, a gossip and a snoop. She wasn’t qualified for her position, but she’d maneuvered her way into it by playing up to powerful administrators. Adjuncts had no power, so she treated us like dirt. And she found sneaky ways to inflate her paycheck and use college funds for personal purposes. I sometimes fantasized about exposing her and getting her fired, but I never did anything—just fumed. Years later, I decided to write a story called “Adjuncts Anonymous,” about a group of four English adjuncts who fantasize about getting revenge on their despicable director of composition. It starts as a joke, as a way of letting off steam—but then the revenge fantasy seems to be coming true, though none of the four will admit to taking any actions. That story made the cover of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, earned a Derringer nomination, and ended up in Her Infinite Variety. And writing it was good therapy for me.

5)    In “The Shopper,” a young librarian’s house is burglarized while she’s at home, asleep. The police know this burglar’s pattern well: They call him The Shopper because in addition to stealing things with monetary value, he seems to wander through a house picking up anything that appeals to him, whether it can be fenced or not. Then two men the librarian’s never seen before start showing up at the library every day. For various reasons, she suspects one of them is The Shopper, and she fears he’s stalking her. But which man is the one who burglarized her house? Here’s a secret that will help you figure it out. On the second page of the story, a police detective lists all the items stolen from the librarian’s house. Pay careful attention to that list, and keep it in mind as you observe the actions of the two men she suspects. The list offers you valuable insights that should help you zero in on The Shopper. 

Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime includes eleven stories of various lengths, types, and tones, from humorous novella-length whodunits to a dark flash fiction suspense story. Most were first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The stories include Agatha, Macavity, and Derringer finalists, along with the winner of a national suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. 

Some of the women featured in these stories are detectives, and some are victims. Some inspire crimes, and some commit them. The women’s ages vary, and so do their professions—librarian, administrative assistant, housewife, trophy wife, personnel director, college professor. Romance is an element in some stories, but never the primary one.

Always, the stories focus sharply on the various entanglements of women and crime. “These finely crafted stories have it all -- psychological heft, suspense, subtle humor -- and the author's notes on each story are especially illuminating. A treat for lovers of the short story form and students of the craft of writing.”--Linda Landrigan, Editor, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
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  1. Now I feel like I have to read all the stories again. Great choice of writer for this interview. I love everything BK writes!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Kaye! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. And you know I'm a big fan of your writing.

  2. I'm way late on welcoming B.K. to the blog. Do you all realize we're supposed to have snow tonight - Friday? YIKES.

    I'm new to BK and I can't wait to read one of her books. And lucky me I'm going to be a guest on her blog on July 11th. Fabulous blog.

    Hugs, L.A.

    1. Thanks for hosting me today, Leslie Ann! Coming up with the secrets was a lot of fun. I look forward to hosting you in July!

  3. Bought your book at Malice and read it this week. What a way you have with crafting short stories -- no word is wasted and the characterizations are such that I hope none of those people are my neighbors.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, Debra, and I appreciate your kind words. I do think some of the characters would make interesting neighbors, though. For example, I wouldn't mind if Iphigenia and her mother lived next door (though I'd think twice about accepting a dinner invitation from them).