Sandra Bolton’s novels are based on her real-life experience with diverse settings and cultures. Her first novel, A Cipher in the Sand, was inspired by her work in the Peace Corps in Honduras, while Key Witness was inspired by her years spent teaching Navajo children.
She honed her writing skills under the tutelage of southwestern mystery writer Steven F. Havill, and she holds a master’s degree in guidance counseling.
Originally from California, she raised three children while traveling the globe with her military husband. She is currently at work on an anthology of short stories. She resides in Raton, New Mexico, with her cat, Fidel, and her dog, Sam.
A Jewish musician from New York; a female cop with the Navajo Tribal Police, her unemployed, alcoholic, and gay brother; a three-legged dog, and a “skinny, gray-haired” nurse named Sally who boasts she can “shoot the short hairs off a pig’s balls blindfolded.” These are the main characters in Sandra Bolton’s latest mystery, “Key Witness”.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Intended Audience: Anyone interested in reading, a fast-moving, action-packed mystery with a touch of romance and a strong dose of New Mexico culture.
Not since Tony Hillerman have we seen a writer portray so well the stark beauty of the Southwest and the solitary lives of the Navajo, woven onto a background of suspense and violence.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?) List other titles if applicable.
This is my second novel. My first, A Cipher in the Sand, was self-published on Createspace in 2012.
Where do you write?
I write from two different locations: my home office, which is right off my living room, and I have a little writing nook I set up using my old computer at an isolated cabin not terribly far from my house. I love to write there because there is no internet, no cell, and no distractions. Except nature, and the urge to get outside and enjoy it.
The cabin sounds wonderful! I’m doing the same at lake about an hour from my home. Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I am definitely a punster. I never know for sure which way the story is going until I get going with it. Though, sometimes during periods of insomnia, I do a little plotting.
A punster? Are you being punny? Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
I sometimes struggle with the sex scenes. I want to make them exciting, but not too racy, holding a little back for the imagination of the reader. My natural shyness comes out. I think I am getting over that though, since the editors told me to stop leaving out the details.
I know what you mean! How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
My original title for Key Witness was Jesus Eyes. I had come up with that name based on startling blue eyes of the protagonist, Abe Freeman, and the habit of a few people remarking on his “Jesus eyes.” This was based on actual incidents that happened with my late partner. I decided to change the name, as not to invoke a religious tone, and since the mystery in the story involves a mysterious key.
What other books/authors are similar to your own? What makes them similar?
My book has been compared to the writings of Tony Hillerman because of the setting and references to Navajo culture.
Great plug! Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
I had never thought about writing a novel until I participated in a workshop conducted by Southwest Mystery Writer, Steven Havill. He challenged the class to begin writing a novel, gave us the tools to work with, and set goals. After three more workshops with Mr. Havill, I was hooked on writing, and haven’t stopped.
That’s great! Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
I love Sally, the skinny old nurse who thinks she can take on anything. She is fearless and funny. She and Emily are both strong female characters.
How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
My least favorite character would be Corazon, just because he’s a mean sob. But he’s supposed to be.
Do you have any other talents or hobbies?
When not writing I enjoy gardening, hiking with my dog, photography, reading, and gourmet cooking. I have many interests, but no outstanding talents – a Jack of all trades, I embrace my mediocrity.
Its good to be well rounded. What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
Every reader should know the best way to help a writer gain success is to write a review and spread the word. Self-promotion is tough, and I feel extremely grateful to be working with a great team now at Thomas and Mercer..
Do you have a pet or pets?
I have a big orange tabby cat named Fidel and a big black dog named Sammy.
So adorable! What is your favorite snack food?
I’d rather eat anything salty or crunchy than sweets. Trouble is, you can’t eat just one. Right now, I’m sipping on a glass of white wine and munching on popcorn.
Interesting combination. Have you ever been in trouble with the police?
Not in the USA.
And we’ll leave it at that! Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
In the Peace Corps in Honduras, a young volunteer and I were nearly attacked by a group of drunk men. As they tried to break our door down, we waited with clubs. Finally, they passed out. We tiptoed out of the room and ran like hell to a bus stop. (This incident is included in my novel, A Cipher in the Sand.)
Scary! Do you make up your bed every morning?
I make my bed every morning because I am a bit obsessive/compulsive.
What is on your bed right now?
Right now there is an old-fashioned hand stitched quilt with a traditional wedding ring pattern.
If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
I would speak Italian perfectly. I love Italy and the Italian language, and was fortunate enough to live there for three years.
Lucky you! Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I have an old appendectomy scar, a scar near my inside right ankle that I acquired from a string ray zap that became infected with jungle rot. My latest scars, just this month, came from my cat, Fidel. I tried to rescue him from a dog that was after him, and he went crazy tearing into my face and hand. Fourteen stitches on my nose, and another dozen on my right hand.
I saw the photos of the cat scratches on Facebook! Geez! What were you like as a child?
Being the oldest of five, I was a serious and responsible child.
What was your favorite toy?
No particular toy stands out, certainly not dolls. I liked to play board games, tether ball, cards. See how old I am.
I must be old, too, because I loved tether ball! Do you recall your dreams? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
Since childhood, I have had a recurring dream of a large book with the pages slowly turning. Maybe it was prophetic.
What is your favorite Fiction/Non-Fiction book?
There are many books that have made a profound impression on me, but I think the first and strongest was Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
My sons were in the theatrical production of Grapes of Wrath at Louisiana Tech. My youngest played Winfield.
VERY IMPORTANT!!!! Please describe something (significant number of words/a character/entire scene) you “deleted” from your work and why. Because a real writer knows when to hit THE DELETE KEY!
After the editors at Thomas and Mercer dug into my book, I needed to delete several scenes. Most gave background information into the Navajo history and culture that they thought was “interesting” but slowed down and distracted from the main action of the story. Yes, there were entire scenes I had researched and hated giving up, but they were right, of course.
You can always put that edited out information on your blog!
Thank you, Sandra, for this opportunity to interview you and I wish you great success!