Interview with an Author: B.K. Stevens Talks about Writing Short Vs. Long

Fighting Chance CoverI first met award-winning author B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens at Bouchercon Raleigh, when a large contingent of authors from the Short Mystery Fiction Society met for lunch. It was a huge thrill for me, because I have enjoyed many of her stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. For those of you just getting to know Bonnie, here’s her official bio:

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens wrote Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen), a young adult martial arts mystery. She’s also published over 50 short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of those stories are included in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press). B.K. has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.

Judy: You’re visiting today to talk about writing short vs. long. Tell us a bit about your process, and how it differs (if it differs) based on the length of the story.

41EFpUvzGOL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Bonnie: Once I get started on a project, I follow the same basic writing process, whether I’m working on stories or novels. I take many pages of not-quite-freewriting notes as I develop characters, work through plot problems, explore themes, and so on. Then I write the first draft quickly, revise and edit endlessly, proofread carefully.

So the stages in the process don’t vary much, but the amount of time I devote to stages might. If I’m working on a mini-mystery for Woman’s World, for example, I don’t take detailed notes about characters. Since a 700-word limit doesn’t allow much time for character development, I rely on types—kindly old aunt, greedy nephew, savvy police detective. For novels or longer stories, I write biographical sketches of major characters, packed with background information that may never make it into print but helps me understand the characters.

Before the writing process starts, there’s a crucial decision: Is this idea right for a mini-mystery, a longer story, or a novel? If the plot hinges on a single twist, a mini-mystery might be the best choice. A highly eccentric protagonist might amuse readers in a longer story but start getting on their nerves in a novel. A theme that requires characters to undergo gradual changes might work better in a novel than a story.

 Judy: You’ve had over 50 short stories published. Do you have a favorite, and if so, why?

perf6.000x9.000.inddBonnie: If I may, I’ll mention two favorites. Both first appeared in Hitchcock’s and are included in Her Infinite Variety. “Thea’s First Husband,” a dark suspense story, focuses on a troubled marriage that comes to a crisis when a scheming private detective exploits the husband’s suspicions and the wife’s resentment. “Death in Rehab” is a humorous whodunit set at a center for people with unusual addictions—a Jeopardy! fanatic who always speaks in the form of a question, a compulsive proofreader who can’t stop correcting other people’s grammar, and so on. The two stories differ in tone, in theme, in almost everything. But I hope both have endings that leave readers saying, “I should have seen that coming—but I didn’t.” That’s something I always try to achieve in mysteries, to be absolutely fair with readers but still give them twists they didn’t expect.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Bonnie: My father was an English professor and a fiction writer. It’s probably no coincidence I became an English professor and a fiction writer. I have warm memories of sitting on the floor of his study, doing my homework while he wrote novels on his manual typewriter. He never achieved much success, but he loved writing, he worked hard at it, and I loved everything he wrote.

Judy: Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Bonnie: Naming my favorite book of all time is difficult—the books I admire most aren’t necessarily the ones I return to most often. Naming my favorite mystery is easy: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. It was the first mystery I read as an adult—first since my Nancy Drew days—and it surprised me. I’d never imagined a mystery could have such an engaging plot, so much humor, or such complex, delightful characters; I’d never guessed it could portray relationships with such subtlety or explore themes with such insight. And at the end, when plot and theme came together beautifully, when clues fell into place in a way that had never occurred to me but instantly made perfect sense, it took my breath away.

Thank you, Bonnie (and by the way, Thea’s First Husband is one of my all-time favorite short stories by any author).

Picture BKS

 

 

Find B.K. Stevens on her website/blog, on Amazon, and on Facebook.

 

25 responses to “Interview with an Author: B.K. Stevens Talks about Writing Short Vs. Long

  1. Beth, thank you for your kind words–they mean a lot to me. I’m so glad you enjoyed “Fighting Chance” and “Her Infinite Variety.” It’s fun exploring different mystery genres. That’s one reason I love writing short stories–so many chances to experiment, to try out different voices and tones and types of plots.

  2. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks so much for stopping by to comment. I agree. Bonnie is an amazing writer! So pleased she agreed to guest on my blog!

  3. You are an amazing writer! I love that you have tried and succeeded at so many genres, all in the mystery field. “Fighting Chance” was one of my favorite YA novels of the past year. “Her Infinite Variety” was an enjoyable read. Love your short and long stories.

  4. Thanks for your comment, J.R. Like most mystery writers, I love surprising the reader at the end of the story, but I also want to be fair and provide plenty of clues. In many stories, Ii think I focus so much on being fair that there’s not much of a twist left. In these two, I think I pulled it off fairly well. I don’t mind if readers figure some things out along the way–as a mystery reader, I enjoy figuring things out–as long as there’s at least one big surprise at the end.

  5. Thanks, Jacquie! I always enjoy reading your blog posts, too. These blogs are a great way for readers and writers to share ideas and experiences. And Judy, I loved meeting you, too. I hope we get to see each other again soon!

  6. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks John, for stopping by and commenting.

  7. Judy Penz Sheluk

    It was such a thrill for me to meet Bonne, Jacqueline. Conferences are expensive, but you can’t put a price on that sort of thing!

  8. Interesting insights into your writing process. Enjoyed the read. I like the idea of surprising the reader with an unexpected twist at the end of a story.

  9. Judy,

    How great that you and Bonnie could meet in person! Bonnie, I enjoyed reading about your fiction writing process.

  10. Art, thanks so much for your comments. I’m looking forward to seeing you at Bouchercon. Good luck with your Anthony and Macavity nominations!

  11. Michael. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And Judy’s much too kind, but I’m not complaining! Many thanks to both of you!

  12. Kaye, I’m so glad you liked “Living Underwater.” I really wasn’t sure about that story–when I sent it to the editor, I said something like, “It’s probably not right for the anthology, If you don’t want it, I’ll understand” in my cover letter. That’s probably one of those things one should never say in a cover letter. But he took it, so there was a happy ending (for me, that is–not for the characters in the story).

  13. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thank you, Kaye, for commenting. I have not read Jewish Noir. Another anthology for my list!

  14. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Michael, you must read Bonnie. She’s brilliant.

  15. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thank you, Art, for commenting. Bonnie has so many great insights. I was delighted that she agreed to be my guest!

  16. Great interview here. Very much enjoyed some of these insights into process!

  17. Very insightful interview with an interesting and talented guest, Judy! I really enjoyed this one. Now, off to Amazon to look for books. . . . 🙂
    –Michael

  18. I love to read about how other writers go about getting it done. Your method of using many pages of prep notes sounds like Anne Perry’s method, although I don’t think she does short stories. I like your Thea story very much, but I was held for a long time afterward by the one in Jewish Noir, “Living Underwater.” I love all your stories!

    Thanks for this guest post, Judy and Bonnie.

  19. Sandra, thanks for your comment. It’s amazing how universal Nancy Drew’s appeal is, and how that appeal transcends generations. My daughters read Nancy Drew, too, and my oldest granddaughter is probably just about ready to get started. It’s going to be fun to share that with her!

  20. Jayne, it’s always great to meet another Gaudy Night fan! You mention authorial mis-direction–I’ve never seen a better example of it (except possibly in Jane Austen’s Emma). Sayers gives us all the information we need but skillfully keeps us from seeing it from the right perspective. It’s dazzling.

  21. Judy, thanks so much for hosting me! I enjoyed thinking about your questions and deciding how to respond to them.

  22. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Jayne for stopping by. I have never read Gaudy Night…must do so!

  23. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Sandra. Bonnie is a true inspiration!

  24. Bonnie, I fully concur with your choice of ‘Gaudy Night.’ I had a similar reaction, and the final twist came as a huge revelation about the subtleties of character development and authorial mis-direction.

  25. What an interesting background. I love mysteries,(yes, I read Nancy Drew also) although I write romance, and can’t wait to get a couple of the ones you talked about. Thank you for sharing today.

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