Cover of Robert Spiller's Mystery Novel, Radical Equations
Interview with Robert Spiller, Member of my Academic Mysteries Panel at Malice Domestic 24, April 29, 2012.
I'd always wanted to be a writer – grade school, high school (poetry and short stories), college (Creative Writing Major for two semesters, until I switched over to Mathematics), and even when I was a middle school teacher. The tipping point came when my second marriage evaporated. I took to the road on my bicycle and eventually went for a three week bike ride into the Four Corners area of southern Colorado to grieve. I brought along five spiral notebooks and wrote what amounted to my first novel. This Sci-fi masterpiece would win second place at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference Contest…but unfortunately would never see the light of day. Well, not yet.
When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
After two failed attempts at writing the Sci-fi Novel of the Century, I took a long look at where I was teaching (on the plains of Colorado) and at a fellow teacher (an amazing woman with a truly remarkable memory and more dogs than a person should have) and decided the world was ready for Bonnie Pinkwater, my female math teacher sleuth.
Thus was born The Witch of Agnesi, the first Bonnie Pinkwater novel. This would be picked up by Medallion Press in the Spring of 2005. What followed were four more East Plains mysteries (the latest Radical Equations was released in e-book form in December 2011).
Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.
The Bonnie Pinkwater mystery series: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, and Radical Equations (I am working on the fifth Napier's Bones) features a widowed high school math teacher, who uses her knowledge of Mathematics and expertise in historical mathematicians to solve murders in the small Colorado town of East Plains. Each novel features a particular mathematician (usually with a weird story) that provides Bonnie with the AHA moment needed to solve the crimes.
Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
In 2005 I had sent out well over a hundred queries and submissions of The Witch of Agnesi to agents and publishers. One day I actually got twelve rejections filling my mailbox. In May of that year I was at my middle school involved in an activity that was akin to herding cats, Eighth-grade Continuation. What this is, is the first cousin of graduation, with the ceremony celebrating Eighth graders' move from middle school to high school. I was on the auditorium stage with over two hundred excited thirteen year olds, when a secretary came into the auditorium with a slip of paper for me.
I was on the wrong side of the hoard of students, so the message had to be handed off from student-to-student. Eventually, I got to read that the CEO of Medallion Press was on the line in the office. I would sign the contract two weeks later.
Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
The small Colorado town of Ellicott, where I'd worked for 18 years, seemed the perfect model for East Plains, the setting for the Bonnie Pinkwater novels—old time ranchers, survivalists, witches, and just a slew of unique folks. The main issue I deal with is mathematics, or the history of same. It's long been a passion of mine and thus became a passion of Bonnie. Thus I get to include a puzzle or a bit of history along with an entertaining mystery.
How have you found it to be published? Share that experience
I get off on holding my book in my hand (I really relish the smell of it). When I was a teacher it was such a rush to look out over my classroom and see my book underneath desks. I love the promotion aspects: the signings, the radio bits, the interviews and reviews, the pieces in the local newspapers.
Lately, I've jumped into social media. In fact I just received an invitation from Pinterest this morning. Yesterday I was on a panel at the main branch of Colorado Spring's Library. All in all, I think it's a kick in the butt.
Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
Truth is, letters from fans are my favorite part of being an author. When folks buy my book at a signing I tell them they are making a contract with me to write me and tell me what they think of the read. Almost all do and some have become friends. My favorite review was an unfavorable one posted in Goodreads. I'll clean it up for your readers.
"A f***ing boring little math book."
What other books have you published and where, when?
Besides the Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries I have no other novels published. When I was nineteen I had two poems published but that was an entire lifetime ago.
Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?
Actually, I'm working on three projects at the moment. Napier's Bones the fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery. A horror piece: a love affair between two psychopaths (this one gives me nightmares). And another Sci-fi novel akin to the first novel I wrote all those years ago (old habits die hard).
If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful? How?
I do belong to SinC, but I'm a new member. I'm hoping to get acquainted with other members at conferences this summer, especially Malice. I've volunteered to work a table or in the book room for the organization.
What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
This is my first Malice, but I hope to meet a new family of readers, hobnob with other authors, make connections, and make literary friends. Also I get to learn from folks a whole bunch more successful than I am.
What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?
I'll talk about Napier's Bones, due out this November. First of all, the term itself is a child's toy, a centuries-old device for teaching children their multiplication tables. You can buy them on Amazon. This novel is set eight months after Radical Equations, where the high school was destroyed by a tornado (when I worked in Ellicott, our school was actually wiped out by a twister).
Bonnie and her science teacher/lover Armen Callahan are watching the field, next to the newly renovated school, being leveled for a baseball field. A thirty year old corpse is unearthed. This shocking discovery sends Bonnie nosing into a decades old murder.
Thank you Judy. I loved your questions and had the best time answering them.
Robert Spiller is the author of the Bonnie Pinkwater mystery series. His teacher sleuth uses Mathematics and her knowlege of historic mathematicians to solve murders in the small Colorado town of East Plains. Radical Equations, the fourth installment in the series, is scheduled for release in early March. Robert recently retired from 35 years of teaching Mathematics and lives in Colorado Springs with his amazing and wonderfully patient wife, Barbara.