Interview with Rebecca Benston ~ Under Lock and Key ~ The Rona Shively Stories
Conducted by Alternative-Read.com Reviewer, Lucille P. Robinson (LuPerkins).
LPR: How would you describe your book Under Lock and Key?
RB: I’d have to say it’s full of surprises! Rona does a lot of different things in this book. She’s in disguise, she’s dealing with the police, she’s helping a lady find her son. She’s trying very hard to be helpful and this is out of character for her.
LPR: Under Lock and Key is the second book in “The Rona Shively Stories.” Please tell us a little about the first book In the Wash.
RB: In the Wash is the first Rona Shively book. This is where we meet the character and we find out that she’s sarcastic, practical, and not above turning to a friend for help. Although she doesn’t like asking for help, she will do it if she knows there is no alternative. Rona is very pragmatic. She doesn’t believe in sugar-coating things and she generally does whatever she needs to do to make something work. During the course of the investigation, she crosses paths with some very shady characters. She spends a lot of time looking over her shoulder, but she doesn’t run away from the challenge.
LPR: I have read In the Wash and Under Lock and Key. Could you supply our readers with an outline of your key character Rona Shively? What makes her tick?
RB: Rona Shively is thirty-eight years old, never married, no children. She is nowhere near being a domestic goddess and she isn’t actually very good at being a PI. She knows how to find shortcuts and she uses her contacts to get information even when she might be trying to avoid them. Rona is very self-sufficient and she doesn’t like to ask for help. Although she isn’t afraid to admit when she needs help, she really hates to ask for it. She’s been on her own since she was a teenager. Having left home after several years of arguing with her mother, Rona stays in touch with her sister and her father. She doesn’t call them every day, but she tries to make sure they know she’s still alive.
Originally, Rona is from a small town in Ohio. She left there when she caught her mother having an affair and the two of them had a knockdown, drag-out fight. Rona hasn’t spoken to her mother in many years and hates that she never told her father why the two weren’t speaking. She was never a bad kid, but she wasn’t a standout either. She finished high school in Nevada and didn’t do much after that aside from the bare minimum needed to obtain her PI license.
Rona doesn’t let guilt consume her and she has few regrets about the way she has done things in her life. She often wishes she had made better choices, but she doesn’t beat herself up too badly for not being an overachiever. Life is life, and sometimes it sucks. That’s her attitude. That’s why we love her.
LPR: Why doesn’t she display the martial arts skills that so many writers give their private investigators? Why did you choose this character as the lead in your series?
RB: She doesn’t have any skills, other than quick wit and the ability to cut people down to size with a few well-placed insults. Rona can fight, but it’s more on the level of street-fighting. She knows how to shoot a gun, but she’s not an expert marksman. She doesn’t actually hit like a girl, but she probably won’t do much damage with her fists. Mostly, she isn’t scared to kick a man below the belt and she knows a couple of ways to fend off attackers. Luckily, she’s usually able to spot trouble before it happens.
I created this character because I could identify with her. She is something like I would be if I had chosen a more dramatic lifestyle. She is that part of myself that I probably will never become.
LPR: What helped you decide to write a mystery series?
RB: I enjoy reading mysteries. I am an avid reader of Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Lisa Scottoline and Sue Grafton. I wanted to see if I could create a character that people would like as much as I like the characters I read.
LPR: Have you planned on how many books you will have in the series or are you letting Rona, your lead character, decide?
RB: I have about six or seven more in mind. I’ve got a few ideas for how I’m going to wrap up the series if it ever gets to that point.
LPR: Have you began on a third book yet? If so, can you give us a hint about what it will be like without giving the story away?
RB: The third story will take Rona back to her hometown. She has some family issues to deal with and she picks up a new case along the way. Working for a local preacher, she finds herself in the middle of a small town scandal that could mean the end of her client’s career or the end of her life. It’s going to be a real edge-of-your-seat kind of story.
LPR: I’d like to ask some questions that other writers may be interested in learning the answers to, Rebecca. For instance, Will you describe the process by which you came to develop “The Rona Shively Stories?”
RB: I pulled out some old stories I had started and as I was trying to decide what would work best for a series, I thought about titles. I wanted to use something that could stick in the reader’s mind. Old sayings like, “It’ll all come out in the wash,” or “Keep them under lock and key,” fit what I was trying to create. I tried to pick storylines where the title could be significant in more than one way. For example, in In the Wash, the client is looking for an ex-wife that has an affiliation with a dry cleaning business. In addition to that, the big scene in the book takes place in the laundry room area of her apartment building. The secrets and lies that unfold throughout the story are just one side of how the title fits what is going on. I know some authors don’t make connections between the title and the story, but I wanted to make it something that would stick in the reader’s mind. They’re all pretty light reading, but when you look back at them I hope you can say, “Oh, that’s what she meant.”
LPR: When you decide to write a mystery, do you wait until you have the crime and all it’s clues before sitting down to write or do you let the characters write the story for you as so many authors say they do?
RB: I really like to let the whole thing unfold as I write. I have no idea who did it, what it was or why it happened until I’m right in the middle of it. It makes the whole process fun for me. When I reach a point where I have decided on all of these things, that’s when I need to wrap things up. I know that if I have figured things out, then the reader has probably figured them out by that point. I would hate to leave a reader hanging on for another hundred pages just for the sake of bulking up the story. I was always a fan of the choose your own adventure stories, so I guess this is my way of making my own.
LPR: Do you follow a particular schedule for writing?
RB: I try to write every day once I have started a book. That’s really the only way I can be sure I’ll finish. During the second one, I let up a little and took a few weeks to think about things. I think that helped me to make the story a little stronger. While I love my first book, I know that there is always room for improvement. I am hoping that taking some extra time helped Under Lock and Key to be even better than In the Wash.
LPR: Do you speed write a first draft and then spend your time editing it or do you outline first?
RB: I basically write the whole thing and send pieces of it to my sister who edits for me. As I go along, she gives me a head’s up if something isn’t making sense. This isn’t her full time job; she just likes to help me with the books. Her insights pretty much keep me laughing all the way through. She has a way of using comments in the margin to smack me in the back of the head when she spots something that doesn’t make sense. I had to put my last book away for a week after reading her suggestions, I was laughing too hard to think straight.
LPR: Have you any favorite writing tips you can share with beginning writers?
RB: The best thing I can think of is to try your damnedest not to be trite. If it’s one thing that I hate to read it’s a line that I’ve seen a million times. If you absolutely have to say something that’s been said in every other book, try your best to at least rephrase it. Being original and unique is probably your only ammunition as a writer. I’m not saying to throw out the old standards for the sake of standing out; I’m saying that out of thousands of books you want yours to be the one that says what people really want to hear.
Don’t be afraid to let that weird side of your personality overtake you as you write. If you have a different viewpoint about things, chances are, people would love to hear it. They may not agree with it, but I think readers are tired of hearing the same old lines. There’s a fine line between establishing a trademark for your characters and simply not being creative enough to come up with something original for every story.
LPR: What authors would you say are your literary heroes and which novels have inspired your writing of The Rona Shively Stories?
RB: Janet Evanovich definitely has inspired me. I love her style and how she isn’t afraid to be herself. I also love Lisa Scottoline. She is a wonderful storyteller and I never get tired of reading her work. Sue Grafton should also be included in there. Rona Shively is definitely the love child of Kinsey Millhone and Stephanie Plum.
LPR: You have a good imagination, Rebecca. Would you mind suggesting three story 'prompts'?
RB: I’ve never really done that before but I’ll give it a shot…
- She carefully pushed the curtain aside and found herself looking right at...
- It was dark and he had lost his sense of direction several hundred yards back. In the distance, he saw something that he hoped was a campfire. As he approached, his hand flew to his mouth as he observed…
- She looked around as she walked very quickly down the crowded street. In her hands, she clutched a brown paper bag that contained the last few remnants of her identity; an empty wallet, a shiny, gold key, and a picture of a man she didn’t recognize.
LPR: They're great! Thank you. Finally, where can we buy In the Wash and Under Lock and Key?
RB: You can buy In the Wash through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or through the publisher at PublishAmerica.com. If you visit my website at www.benstonwrites.homestead.com, there are links to each of these. Under Lock and Key is not yet published, but should be available in a few months. Stay tuned to my website for more details.
LPR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. It's been a pleasure to speak with you and a most enjoyable interview. Good luck with all your future endeavours. Please let us know when the third book is on the market.