Special Feature: Author Interview with
by Grayson Towler
Best known for her mystery and middle grade books, Bonnie Ramthun loves to add a touch of that speculative fiction flavor to her stories. Her first book, Ground Zero, is a locked-room mystery centered around computer war gamers, and has sold over 90,000 copies (in the Italian version, Ground Zero sells as The Enigma of the Eighth Player, a name the author adores.) Her second Eileen Reed mystery, Earthquake Games, features the technological "what-if" of a machine that can create seismic events--this novel was a finalist for Colorado Book of the Year.
Bonnie followed her Eileen Reed series with the middle grade Torin Sinclair mysteries: The White Gates, Roscoe, and the upcoming Haunted Water.
Bonnie is a former chapter president of Mystery Writers of America and served as the published author liaison for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Erie, Colorado with her husband Bill, their children, two cats and a very energetic German Shorthair Pointer named Watson.
In this interview, we ask Bonnie about her experience in mixing spec-fic elements into other genres, her approach to researching scientific and mythological material, and what to keep in mind when writing for younger audiences.
What would you say is the value of incorporating a little bit of science fiction or paranormal flavoring into different genres?
I write the kind of stories that I love to read. When I see a novel with paranormal elements I skid to a stop in my browsing. I have to look at it, and then I often buy it. I love speculative fiction and use it in my novels because I find the world profoundly mysterious and uncharted. Here's an example: I read two years ago that a disabled cruise ship in tow across the Atlantic broke free of its towing rig in a storm. The cruise line can't find it. Neither can the Coast Guard. The ship is drifting in the ocean, lost, with no crew aboard except rats. It still hasn't been found. Our world seems small sometimes, with cell phones and drones and satellites, but the reality is that we only think we have control of this world. Speculative fiction reminds us that we don't, and that's both frightening and rather reassuring.
When you use an element like the machine in Earthquake Games, what sort of research do you do to make it plausibly fit into a real-world setting?
In Earthquake Games, I used the device designed by Nikola Tesla, a machine he tested in New York in 1898. He nearly brought down a building with his experiment. I became a Tesla-phile while I was doing my research, so much so that I asked my husband if we could name our unborn daughter "Tesla." He was horrified because he remembered Tesla as a hair band from the 80's. He requested we pass on that, so Tesla Rose became Olivia Rose.
The Tesla earthquake machine wasn't the only subject of the novel. The San Luis Valley of Colorado is the setting for Earthquake Games and the many UFO sightings and cattle mutilations there play a big part. My husband and I spent time in the Valley and in the sand dunes researching UFO sightings, abductions, and cattle mutilations. I spoke to many dedicated UFO researchers while I was writing the novel. Here's what I love about UFO believers: They are always looking up. They're always awake to the world, ready to believe whatever they see or can find. Cryptozoologists are also alive to the wildness of our planet. I'd rather hang out with a crazy Bigfoot hunter than spend time with a person who thinks they know everything.
In your Torin Sinclair series, the character of Raine is a member of the Ute tribe, and her traditional upbringing is a fascinating part of her character. What sort of preparation do you do to write such a character in an authentic, respectful way?
My character Raine Douglas is a Ute Indian who lives with her family in the mountain town of Snow Park, Colorado. They own an entire mountain there as well as a small rental shop in town. I wanted to portray a Native American family who is integrated into our modern civilization but still reverences their culture. I was invited once to a "Drum," a cross-tribal ceremony. It's a lot like a potluck dinner, except with drums and dancing and traditional food. I watched as car mechanics, businesswomen, teachers and other ordinary people arrived at the Drum. They went to the changing rooms and returned in deerskin dresses, feathered headdresses, beaded moccasins and porcupine quill vests. They danced and sang and laughed and ate Navajo fry bread and Ute venison and Apache grilled cactus. They were Native Americans who cherished their history and kept it alive, but they also worked ordinary day jobs. I love Raine and her family and how they do this too. And because I'm a writer, they can't just live in peace, of course. They have to defend their sacred mountain from developers who want to turn it into a ski resort.
Okay, give it to me straight. Roscoe, the dog in the Torin Sinclair mysteries... is he telepathic?
All dogs are telepathic. Some are just better at hiding it than others.
You've written for both adults and younger readers. Any advice for writers about the differences between the two audiences and the approach you take when writing for them?
When I decided to write The White Gates, I had no idea how to write a middle grade novel. I just knew I wanted to write the story of this boy, Torin Sinclair, and his fight to make a home for himself in Snow Park, Colorado. So I wrote the story the same way I would for my adult novels, except that my main character is twelve years old. At the time I had three young teenagers and I drove the neighborhood car pool to school every day. For a half hour each morning and afternoon I had seven young research subjects trapped in a car with me. They are just like us, kids. They worry about their job (school), they have relationships that are sometimes strained and sometimes joyful, they look forward to vacations and to their favorite television shows and they tell hilarious stories and bad jokes to each other. My advice? Write about a human being who just happens to be a kid.
Are you interested in writing something in a spec-fic genre at some point?
Why, yes, I say eagerly, and thank you so much for asking! Let me tell you about my novel The Night Queen. When a murdered NSA agent is discovered and computer programmer Sorcha Stone is implicated in the crime, Sorcha sets out to find his murderer and clear her own name. She discovers that the cryptic code found on the agent's body is known as the Night Queen and everyone who tries to solve it dies within three days of receiving it. She races across the country and through the history of the Queen to solve the code, find a priceless book, and defeat the shadowy, supernatural forces who protect it.
This novel is a paranormal mystery. It's a deeply romantic story about a scarred girl who finds her courage and the love of her life. It's also a historical novel about a secret book protected by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It never found a home in traditional publishing. Go figure, right? Where would they shelve it? It's independently published and is available on Amazon. It's one of my very favorite novels and I'll be writing more spooky speculative novels in the future. And reading every one I can get my hands on, too.
Okay, now I really want to go check out The Night Queen. Thanks so much for your time, Bonnie.
Thank you for the interview!