Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Interview in Great Britain

Our Interview with Robert T Spiller
Name Robert T Spiller

Age 60

Where are you from Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

A little about yourself `ie your education Family life ect 

I am a writer. For the longest time I had the dual careers of writer and math teacher 
(taught college, high and middle school) but last May I retired after 35 years of teaching. My children
 (Nikki 40, Laura 34, and Jenny 22) and grandchildren (Jacki 17, Quentin 14, Cameron 13, Liam 2) 
all live nearby. My wife Barbara and I now spend our days hiking and delighting in our new freedom. 
I write the Bonnie Pinkwater mystery series. My math teacher/sleuth uses mathematics and 
her knowledge of math history to solve murders in the small Colorado town of East Plains.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

Radical Equations, the fourth in the Bonnie Pinkwater series was released in e-book form in 
mid-December. The print version will be out in mid-Feb. I am very jazzed about this. 
The first three were released traditionally, by Medallion Press but this is my first foray into 
managed self-publishing. Right now there is a giveaway at for signed copies of 
Radical Equations. Please go there and sign up. I would love to mail a copy out of the US.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing all my life. It’s always felt as if I’ve had no choice. Even though I was a 
Mathematics major in college, I started off as a creative writing student. My first completed novel, 
The Children of Yei in 1998 won the Paul Gillette Writing contest (actually second prize, $50). 
And even though it won this award I couldn’t sell it. It wasn’t until I started writing mysteries that 
I was published – in 2006 – The Witch of Agnesi. Subsequent Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries, 
A Calculated Demise, and Irrational Numbers came after.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In the Air Force out of high school I wrote poetry (had two published in a local paper, 1980) and 
a few pieces for the base newspaper. I also wrote songs and short stories but nothing published or 
picked up by other songwriters. I guess I always considered myself a writer even when I was just 
noodling around.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

When my first marriage evaporated, I took off on a three week bicycle ride across Colorado into 
New Mexico. I brought along five spiral notebooks and an idea for a sci-fi story. This kernel of an 
idea eventually became The Children of Yei, the novel which won the award but still hasn’t seen the 
light of day. As for the first mystery, I have an extraordinary friend (a female math teacher), 
brilliant, with an exceptional memory, who I thought would make a wonderful sleuth, thus came 
The Witch of Agnesi (which by the way is a famous math curve).

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I wish I could say I did, that like Stephen King I write from say 6:00 to 12:00 every day. 
The truth is I write in spurts but try every day. I envy those disciplined writers who put their butts 
to their chairs at a given time daily. One day I’ll grow up and be like them.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

The Witch of Agnesi is actually the name of a mistranslated (from Italian) math curve. The story of 
how it was mistranslated is actually used in the novel to solve a series of murders. The rest, 
A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, and Radical Equations just reference mathematics in some, 
and hopefully clever, way.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Truth is, I mainly try to entertain. I’m a storyteller in the tradition of folks who used to sit around 
fires and tell ghost stories. It’s like Bob Dylan once said when asked what he was trying to accomplish
with his songs, “Nothing much. I’m just a song and dance man.”

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?

Although fiction, everything in my mysteries is real. The historic bits are factual; the small town in 
Colorado is modeled after another small town where I taught school for almost twenty years. 
Even though one of the characters in the first book (and brought back in Radical Equations) is the 
matriarch of a Wiccan coven, she is realistically portrayed and modeled after another Wiccan woman 
I was honored to know.

Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

As I mentioned above, many of my characters and settings are based on actual places and people. 
As for plot lines, some of them are partially based on events which I experienced. However, all are 
fiction in the long run. I alter situations to make them more entertaining or so as to not invade 
another’s privacy.

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Agatha Christy is the model for all cozy mysteries (those without a lot of violence or sex) and so 
Poirot and Marple will always be an influence. Sherlock Holmes of course. In Sci-fi there is Asimov, 
Bradbury. In modern mystery Crais, Connelly, Deaver (none of which are cozy). My favorite books 
are the Tolkien trilogy, The Count of Monte Cristo, several of the Poe short stories.

Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Ray Bradbury. He wrote as if he were speaking directly to me. Fantastic settings that spoke to 
universal truths that I still see reflected in writing today (and to no small part in my own).

Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished one from a local author, Donnell Bell and I really liked it. On my Kindle I’m reading the 
first Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child and I’m really enjoying the intelligence of it.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I am lucky to get to judge some local writing contests and I just read ten pieces in the YA and Sci-Fi
arena. One I actually gave 100 out of 100 to (unfortunately I don’t know any names). A local author 
Cindi Madsen has two YA books being released in the next six months. She is in my critique group and
I have watched her grow as an author. Keep an eye out for her. She’s going to be huge.

Fiona: What are your current projects? 

I am writing a horror novel about a love affair between two psychopaths.

Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Pikes Peak Writers is a writing organization that I’ve been a member of since 1998. Centered in my 
home town and 500 strong it is peopled with writers of all levels of the profession. I am usually on 
their teaching staff (they hold monthly classes in the craft and a yearly conference that is 
widely respected, look it up on their website Pikes Peak Writers). In addition, I am a member of two 
critique groups and have been for years. These folks perform an invaluable service: they tell me the 
truth. I am fully capable of dispensing complete drek and they let me know when something I’ve 
written isn’t up to snuff.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

It’s now my only career. What remains to be seen is how successful a career it will be. Actually, 
I already consider myself successful. I make money doing what I love. 

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Always, the moment a book is in my hand I find things that I would do to improve it, but I don’t 
allow myself to dwell too long on those. What’s done is done. Now, there was one embarrassing thing
which happened in Irrational Numbers, the third Bonnie Pinkwater novel. I had a church that was 
featured in the story called The Saved By the Blood Pentecostal Temple. I thought it would read 
better as The Saved By The Blood Pentecostal Tabernacle. I did something which no author should 
ever do. I did a REPLACE ALL. After the book was on the shelves (this was after an extensive edit by 
my publisher) I picked up a copy. At the end of the book, my killer takes a hostage and is seen 
holding a gun to his head. The scene reads “he held a gun to his tabernacle”. I had completely 
forgotten this name of a body part.

Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Truth is I can’t put my finger on what drew me to writing. This I do know. There are doctors, 
lawyers, cops, and people in government who want to be writers. I have yet to see a writer who 
fantasizes about being a lawyer. I’m lucky. I’m already a writer.

Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Quote:Radical Equations, the fourth Pinkwater mystery starts with Bonnie and her friend Wiccan matriarch
Rhiannon Griffith hiking in a wonderful spot in Colorado called the Paint Mines (the rocks are naturally 
splashed with a rainbow of colors). They stumble across the dead body of Bonnie’s boss, Vice-principal Clarence Murphy. When they bring back the police (Former student of Bonnie’s Deputy Sheriff Byron Hickman) the body is gone. It resurfaces later that day seated at his desk, in a tornado ravaged high school. Naturally nosy Bonnie Pinkwater starts nosing around. What she finds are homicidal motorcyclists, tyrannical dwarves, land-grabbing CEO’s, high stakes poker games, and a teenaged math genius desperately needing her help. She also attracts the attention of the killer who decides it’s time to put an end to one meddlesome math teacher.

Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

As in all mysteries, there is a balancing act that needs performing between the revelation of clues 
and not letting too much out of the bag too soon. To be fair, readers have to have as much 
information (and misinformation) as the sleuth. Ideally, the reader should have an ‘Aha Moment’ 
just a moment too late. They should realize ‘of course, I should have seen that all along’. 
That’s the challenge of all mystery writers. It’s always my biggest headache and biggest joy.

Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

My favorite author is whoever I’m reading at the moment. It has changed from Robert Crais, 
to Jeffrey Deaver, to Michael Connelly and now has setteled on Lee Child. 
All these mystery/suspense authors have one thing in common. They keep me turning pages and they
don’t insult my intelligence.

Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Mostly with booksignings, classes I teach, book groups/clubs, writing and reader conventions and 
the like. I have traveled extensively throughout the southern United States because my mother 
lives in Alabama and I can promote books and visit her. I also go to the Midwest 
(Chicago and that area) because my wife’s folks are there. I don’t travel much for research,
but now that I’m retired I might.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

When I was with Medallion Press, they were designed by a wonderful artist named Adam Mauch. 
For Radical Equations I used two Colorado artists, who are given dual credit in my acknowledgments.
Since the print copy isn’t out for a month, I can’t name them here.

Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Sitting down and actually doing the writing. I’m also a bit cranky with my critique mates 
when I disagree with some part of my story they insist doesn’t work for them (they’re usually right).

Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Wouldn’t it be great if I could say I did? Truth is every book is like visiting a country for the first time.
Things I’ve learned: promotion is both the biggest headache and a great big kick in the butt. 
Writing is a Zen practice equal to any amount of meditation. Holding your book in your hand is 
one of the greatest joys in the world. I love what I do.

Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Do what I say not what I do. Try to write something every day, even if it’s crappola.

Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

For all you Bonnie Pinkwater fans, get your hands on Radical Equations. I believe it is the tastiest 
of the lot. For all of you have yet to cast your eyes upon a Bonnie Pinkwater mystery – by hook or 
by crook, get your hands on The Witch of Agnesi. I promise it will put a smile on your kissers.

Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done ?
I already did it. For thirty five years I got to hang out with teenagers and teach mathematics. 
I am one of the luckiest people I know. I never worked at a job I didn’t love.

Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?


Blog: Please, please, please, follow my blog. I am new to this and have 
about ten followers. Here I am pouring out my life’s blood onto the keyboard twice a week and 
less than .00000006% of the earth’s population know about it. Fiona, my dear, check out 
Spiller Writes.

And thank you for this chance to share some thoughts. I had the best time.

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  1. He put the gun to his tabernacle :)

  2. I would love to know how you can be so blessed as to have all your children living close by. Terrific interview, Mr. Spiller. Love your protagonist, Bonnie Pinkwater.

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  4. A horror novel about a love affair between two psychopaths.
    Sounds great! Lots and lots of potential for tension! I didn't know you were in the airforce. Fun interview (rare to do one that allows you to post a sample from your book - nice!).
    Karen Lin

    1. I would love to interview any of The Sisters of the Quill, especially someone as talented as you Ms Lin.

  5. Beware the Ides of March! <---Just because you said you didn't care if we wrote something like that so long as we posted. Actually, I'm not very good at posting on blogs, but I went ahead & joined yours. Good luck, Bob. You have been very productive building this site. Enjoyed the interviews. Oh...I had a dog named Yei. She was a Siberian Husky & my lead dog (I used to dog-sled in the winter)

  6. Karen, could you tell me why you named your dog YEI?

  7. You're so awesome! Thanks for the shout out. I've learned so much from you these past few years. Especially how to end a chapter, which is why I dub you Bob Spiller, King of the Killer Hooks. Thanks for all the advice and the laughs :)