I do hope you’ve enjoyed our return to Misery last week, but today we’ll indulge in a visit with a wonderful authoress of intrigue, BK Stevens, a familiar name to readers of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazine, and who’s second novel, a YA martial arts mystery titled FIGHTING CHANCE, is both an Agatha and Anthony finalist. We were lucky enough to track her trail by a judicious use of our deduction techniques and cornered her in one of the loftier institutes of higher learning. When we managed to capture her attention, we offered her our menu of personal queries, and she was gracious enough to humor us. Join us as we spend some time with BK Stevens.
As children we tend to have an idea of what we want to be by the time we’re ten. Before you decided to pursue the artistic dream of being a writer, what did you want to be and why?
BK: As far back as I can remember, I had two career ambitions—I wanted to teach, and I wanted to write. I can’t say which ambition came first, but it’s a safe bet both stemmed from my admiration for my father, an English professor who devoted almost every spare moment to writing novels, plays, and comic verse. He never achieved the success he deserved as a writer, but in my opinion he was very talented. As a little girl, I loved sitting on the floor of his study while I did my homework, waiting impatiently to read the next page fresh from his manual typewriter. I also loved going to campus with him whenever possible, sitting in the back row of the classroom and watching him teach. As far as I was concerned, English professors had the most glamorous, exciting job in the world—being an astronaut or a movie star seemed humdrum by comparison. I got to achieve both my ambitions: I was an English professor for over thirty years, writing short stories on the side; and now that my husband’s a dean who can support us both, I can indulge myself by writing full-time. We managed to have two amazing daughters, too. Life has been good.
–JG: Ah, so the love of the written word flows in your veins! I think, BK, you managed to do what most writers love most: teach and write. I’ve found many authors mention how teaching either was or became the career of choice. History was the one I pondered.
Growing up, what was your favorite book, comic, game or movie and did you create a character/player that might resemble you?
BK: Without question, my favorite book was Little Women. (I read my mother’s old copy, printed in 1935. I still have it.) I don’t know how often I read it—sometimes, I’d reach the last page, turn back to the first page, and start reading again. (When I was a little older, I’d do the same thing with Jane Eyre.) And I didn’t have to create a character who might resemble me, because she’s right there. Jo March—not as pretty as her sisters, socially awkward, obsessed with writing, constantly blundering about and messing things up and feeling bad about it. That pretty much sums up my childhood (and a fair portion of my adulthood, if you want the truth).
–JG:I have books like that, books that remained with me through all my abode incarnations, like Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffery, and my all time fav: Susan Cooper. They never, ever get old.
Many writers have that first novel which will never see the light of day. Out of curiosity, do you have one stashed somewhere? Inquiring minds want to know: what was your first attempt at writing and how old were you?
BK: I made my first attempt at writing in kindergarten, before I knew how to write—I dictated it to my father, who typed it up on his faithful manual typewriter. I’d seen a movie called Son of Frankenstein on television. (Why did my parents let me watch that at such a young age? What were they thinking?) And I was upset because I liked the monster, and I didn’t think it was fair when he died at the end. So I wrote/dictated a classic called Grandson of Frankenstein. The monster kills a few people along the way, but it’s no big deal. One of his victims is the butler. So the grandson of Frankenstein, a precocious lad, transplants the butler’s brain into the monster’s head, and now the monster is a thoroughly proper, civilized fellow. The story ends when he serves an elegant meal to the Frankenstein family. Alas, I don’t have it stashed somewhere—it’s disappeared in the sands of time. But I still remember my father beaming as he read it out loud to guests.
–JG: Now that would be a fun read! I love stories that make the “monsters” human.
What’s some of the funniest/sweetest/strangest things you’ve heard from your readers?
BK: My second novel, Fighting Chance, is a martial arts mystery for young adults. To promote it, I visited some middle-school classes, taking along my husband, a fifth-degree black belt, who showed the students some of the krav maga self-defense techniques used in the novel. (He choreographed all the action scenes.) The students in one class sent me lavishly illustrated thank-you notes. My favorite came from a boy named Jay: “I didn’t read the book cause I’m not much of a reader but I’m guessing if it was a movie it would be good.” I’ll take any compliment I can get.
–JG: That’s a great compliment, one you should definitely take and cherish!
What is the best advice you can share with others?
BK: There are many categories of good advice, from Hillel’s “What is hateful to you, do not do to others” (good advice for everyone) to Rachael Ray’s “Smile all the time for absolutely no reason at all” (good advice if you’re a dean’s wife who attends many social functions where nobody gives a damn about who you are or what you think). Here, I’ll mention a piece of advice that’s good for readers, writers, and—well, everyone, actually. It comes from “The Art of Fiction,” an 1884 essay by Henry James: “Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost.” When I was teaching English—either literature or writing—I often put that sentence at the top of the syllabus. Reading’s more rewarding if we really pay attention, if we pick up on a text’s subtleties. A writer who’s truly alert may get the idea for a novel from a scrap of conversation overheard in a restaurant. And we’ll all enjoy life more if we strive to understand and savor people, places, and experiences as fully as we can.
–JG: Brilliant! This is why every writer should be an avid reader!
Now that you’ve gotten a sneak into BK, time for you to discover her books. First up, her latest release:
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 Mystery Magazine. Some of the women featured in these stories are detectives, and some are victims; some inspire crimes, and some commit them. Sometimes we sympathize with these women, and sometimes they appall us. Sometimes, we may not be sure of how to feel. 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
Fighting Chance: A Martial Arts Mystery for Young Adults.
Seventeen-year-old Matt Foley loves basketball, endures school, and chafes at the slow pace of life in his Virginia town. A murder, a martial arts class, and a girl named Graciana plunge him into danger and turn his life around. “A smartly crafted mystery filled with suspense and intrigue”—Kirkus Reviews
Interpretation of Murder: A Jane Ciardi Sign Language Mystery
When American Sign Language interpreter Jane Ciardi takes a freelance job from a Cleveland private detective, she thinks it’s just a way to earn extra cash. Soon, she’s facing tough romantic choices, ethical dilemmas, and dangers that put her martial arts skills to the test. Jane must sort through secrets and lies as she tries to help a deaf African-American teenager—and to uncover the truth behind two murders.
B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens writes mysteries, both novels and short stories. Her most recent release, from Wildside Press, is Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime, a collection of eleven of her previously published stories. Some of those stories have been nominated for Agatha, Macavity, and Derringer awards; another won first place in a national suspense-writing contest judged by Mary Higgins Clark. B.K.’s first novel, Interpretation of Murder, published by Black Opal Books, is a traditional whodunit offering readers insights into deaf culture and sign-language interpreting. Her second novel, Fighting Chance, is a martial arts mystery for young adults, published by Poisoned Pen Press. It was an Agatha finalist and is now an Anthony finalist. Most of the more than fifty short stories B.K. has published appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Others appeared in Woman’s World, Family Circle, and various anthologies. She blogs at SleuthSayers and also hosts The First Two Pages. B.K. and her husband live in Virginia and have two grown daughters. Website: http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com.