Usually we use Crime Writers Interviews to introduce you to new authors outside our little group, but occasionally we interview one of our own. Today, we bring you a crime writers interview with Vinnie Hansen.
Vinnie Hansen fled the South Dakota prairie for the California coast the day after graduating high school. After surviving a career as an English teacher, her eventual home in Santa Cruz served as the backdrop for her Carol Sabala mystery series. Black Beans & Venom, the seventh installment, was a Claymore Award finalist and received a B.R.A.G. Medallion. She has also written two stand-alone literary novels, Lostart Street and One Gun, and many short stories that have been published in a variety of anthologies and literary publications. In addition to writing, she loves long walks with her husband.
Kass Lamb: Tell us about yourself, Vinnie. What do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are as a writer?
Vinnie Hansen: I aspired to be a writer even as a child. Even though I lived on the wind-blown prairie of South Dakota, by the time I was in high school, I was taking Creative Writing via a University of California, Berkeley, correspondence course. When in college out in California, I was published in the campus literary magazines, which caused delusions about my ability.
Charles Bukowski wrote a poem titled “so you want to be a writer?” It lays down the law of how things should be if that is one’s goal: “if it doesn’t come bursting out of you/in spite of everything/don’t do it . . . .”
I agree with Bukowski’s poem that one should not write for fame or fortune or to imitate another. I even somewhat concur with the poem’s idea that unless one feels driven to write, “unless being still would/drive you to madness or/suicide or murder/don’t do it.”
Overall, though, it’s an arrogant poem. Perhaps “the libraries of the world have/yawned themselves to sleep” over my kind, but I’m still going to write. Suck it, Bukowski.
Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you? And what subgenre(s) do you most like to write and/or read?
Vinnie: Growing up, I read both crime fiction and literature with gusto. I’d alternate my dad’s gristly True Detective with a comic-book version of Hamlet.
My first published stories were literary, highly autobiographical, cathartic pieces. But when I attempted a novel, I realized that I was good at characters, dialogue, and setting, but I didn’t have a clue how to maintain a plot beyond the single event of a short story.
This is where that interest in crime fiction came in handy. Murder mysteries offered a structure. What needed to happen was clear: a murder, someone to investigate, various suspects, clues and misdirection, a solution.
I used to watch Murder She Wrote which followed an obvious formula. The show’s writers lined up three suspects for the heroine, mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, to investigate. The suspect she started with would have something that seemed to clear him or her and the storyline would lead away from that person. However, the first suspect would always be the guilty one. Simple ideas like this helped me to construct Murder, Honey, my first Carol Sabala book.
I’ve continued to learn as a writer and feel my last book in the Carol Sabala series, Black Beans & Venom, is a much better book than the first. Over the years, I’ve never really lost my literary bent. My favorite books fall at the intersection of literature and crime fiction. Think of Snow Falling on Cedars, Chronicles of a Death Foretold, or Where the Crawdads Sing. Or well-known mystery writer William Kent Krueger’s tender Ordinary Grace or Dennis Lehane’s poetic Mystic River. This, to me, is the sweet spot, the realm to which I aspire with my novel One Gun.
Kass: In your latest story, what changed the most from the first draft to the last?
Vinnie: Several years ago, my husband and I returned from Thanksgiving shopping and interrupted a burglar in our home. Screaming for help, my husband chased the young man down the street while I called 9-1-1. The thief stopped, pulled a gun, and aimed it at my husband’s head . . . .
This real-life event was a catalyst for One Gun. A similar scene opens the book although it serves as a MacGuffin.
While my husband and I are somewhat interesting people, we are boring characters. The biggest changes between the first draft of One Gun and the last were to the characters Ben and Vivi Russo. People are still bound to equate them with my husband and me, however, Ben has gained a background entirely different from my husband’s. He’s no longer Jewish. He grew up in a different city, had a different career, enjoys a different passion.
Gaining the distance to treat Vivi and Ben like characters is a huge part of the reason this novel took so long to write. In the end, the changes produced a better book.
Kass: And there you have it folks—our crime writers interview with Vinnie Hansen. And here is the new book…
One Gun, A Novel
How much havoc can one gun wreak?
When Vivi and Ben Russo startle a burglar in their home, the young man flees. Ben gives chase. The thief pulls a weapon, aims it at his heart, and threatens to kill him. He doesn’t squeeze the trigger.
The burglar is later arrested, but not before he hides the gun. Facing a possible weapons charge that could add ten years to his sentence, he enlists outside cohorts to pick up his stash. His plan comes at a price that escalates toward personal tragedy.
Vivi and Ben, intent on seeing the thief prosecuted for armed robbery rather than a non-violent burglary, search for the weapon, putting themselves on a collision course with the burglar’s accomplices.
But two tweeners stumble upon the gun first.
A riveting book that will tear at your heart as the impact from one gun ricochets through a close-knit community. Hansen’s commanding voice weaves a compassionate tale that rings true and clear. You won’t be able to look away. ~ Edgar-nominated author Susan Bickford
AVAILABLE ON: AMAZON
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