This was an author interview that I conducted in the 1990s.
Psst . . . see that woman over there? . . . No, not here. The one in that, yeah, that one, the lady in the blue polyester pantsuit . . . no silly, I wouldn’t want one of those outfits for my birthday . . . no, my point is that . . . no refill, thank you, I’m done here . . . my point is that, what if she climbed to the top of the Rune Stone . . . no, not in those shoes, of course not . . .c’mon, would you please listen to me? . . . What if she climbed way up there and then she “murdered” somebody???
What you’re just heard is not live. Nor was it directly quoted from any historical figure, live person, or fictional character. No, instead, it is my questionably creative reenactment of how someone nominated for the 1997 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, Margaret Moseley, was first inspired to create the truly unforgettable character in Bonita Faye.
Now, here is the straightforward factual version, directly from the mouth of the multi-talented Moseley. “I had just visited an historical site, the Rune Stone,” she said. “Then, we stopped for a bite to eat at a cafe called the Black Angus. After I saw a woman there in a blue polyester pantsuit, I headed home and wrote up three pages about my idea. I then waited for three months, before writing the entire book in just three more months.”
Moseley lived by mountains and would go for daily morning walks where she thought about what Bonita would do next. “Or, I’d call my friends and sisters and asked them the same kind of questions.
So, what is Bonita Faye all about? Why all the buzz?
Well, if you’re fed up formulaic fiction, griping about all-too-guessable gimmicks, or mad about about moronic–Okay. I’ll stop playing with the alphabet and get to the point. Bonita Faye is an original piece of fiction that isn’t formulaic or gimmicky (or moronic).
Here’s how the novel began. “It was only a little murder. He wasn’t even an important man. And it happened so long ago–forty years ago to be exact. That’s why I don’t understand why everyone got so upset. If anyone shoulda been shocked, it shoulda been me. After all, I was married to him.”
That intriguing beginning may seem like it would have been the hardest part to write. But, Moseley wrote that beginning as soon as she got home from the Black Angus and never touched it again.
Now, here’s a summary of the plot from the jacket blurb. “It woulda been easier for Bonita Faye Burnett to stay barefoot and ignorant in the blurred border between Arkansas and Oklahoma. But, no, she had to go and take life into her own hands. The killing of Billy Roy up on Cavanal Hill set her free to fashion a life from the raw, red clay of her hardscrabble life . . . a life whose fast pace has her constantly asking . . . ‘What comes next?'”
What came next may surprise readers. Bonita Faye ends up in Paris, the city of love. “My theory,” Moseley said, “is that everyone should be able to achieve his or her life’s dream. Bonita’s dream was to go to Paris, so I got here there.”
Moseley said she was also paying tribute to others in literature when sending Bonita Faye to Paris. “Like to Madame Bovary, who always wanted to get there, but never did. There was a lot going on in my head when I was writing Bonita Faye.”
There was also more than a touch of Margaret Moseley herself in Bonita Faye. “Her accent came from me,” she said, “and the room that she loved so much in Paris was actually a room I had in Florence. The little details in her life came from me.”
So, it was challenging for Moseley to “create a character who would do such an awful deed, yet have the readers want her to get away with it. People really are sympathetic with Bonita Faye, even though she commits murder and doesn’t seem real concerned. The only consequences are how she pays herself back.”
Moseley said that Bonita Faye has been compared to the Agatha Christie classic, Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, where the person recording events was actually the murderer, even though the reader was blissfully unaware of the fact.
Bonita Faye, though, was actually the second book that Moseley has written. Downsized from her job as a communications director–where she had won plenty of Addie Awards for her advertising and public relations work–she and a senior vice president from her former company wrote Whisper to the Night.
“After that, I realized that I wanted to write a book by myself,” she said. “I was scared, but I spent that summer writing a book.”
While Whisper to the Night is still seeking a publishing home, the solo effort, of course, is the successful Bonita Faye.
“When I first started coming to the Writer’s Club on AOL, Bonita Faye was still unpublished,” she said. “Other writers online helped me tremendously, offering me a terrific plot twist that strengthened one of the motives at the end.”
Eventually, Three Forks Press purchased Bonita Faye, printing 1,000 hardcover copies. “My book was actually the first to be sold in the Writer’s Club bookstore,” Moseley said, “and it sold well there.”
Then, Moseley talked to another friend on AOL. This friend told her that a magazine writer needed to interview a first time novelist, one who had published through a small press, Moseley was interviewed by a magazine writer, and the article appeared in Writer’s Digest Magazine.
People at HarperCollins Publishers took notice of this coverage of Bonita Faye, and they ended up purchasing the paperback rights, printing 30,000 copies. “Now, the hardcover books are worth $175 each,” she said, “because they are the first editions, and because they still have typos in them.”
HarperCollins then nominated Bonita Faye for an Edgar Award. “While I’ve considered myself a fulltime writer since I was 18,” Moseley said, “this is my first big fiction award nomination. I’d like to have a career in fiction writing now, and I’d rather pick wildflowers and sell them, rather than work in another job that I hated.”
After receiving her nomination, Moseley immediately headed to the Writer’s Club Cafe. “Writers work in isolation,” she said, “and they need a connection with others who understand the creative process. Writers may not even be understood by family members or co-workers, but other writers immediately understand.”
She ends with this comment. “Many people I’ve met on AOL are even coming up for a drink with me after the awards ceremony,” she said. “I give absolutely all the credit in the world to my friends in the Writer’s Club.”