I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Vinnie Hansen to talk with me about her book, Black Beans & Venom. Vinnie fled rural South Dakota the day after graduating from high school. She worked her way through UC, Irvine (BA) and San Francisco State University (MA).
A Claymore Award Finalist, Vinnie Hansen writes the Carol Sabala mystery series (misterio press) as well as literary works. Her story Novel Solution appears in Fish or Cut Bait, an anthology of Sisters in Crime Guppies (Wildside Press), and Critical Mass has just come out in Destination: Mystery (Darkhouse Books). Vinnie has also been published in Porter Gulch Review, Transfer Literary Magazine, Lake Region Review, phren-Z, Web Mystery Magazine, Crime & Suspense, Mysterical-E, Alchemy and the Santa Cruz Spectacle. A collection of her short stories was a semi-finalist for the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction and her latest Carol Sabala mystery, Black Beans & Venom, received a B.R.A.G. Medallion.
Retired after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband, abstract artist Daniel S. Friedman. She is currently basking in the glow of her Golden Donut Award from the Writers’ Police Academy.
Vinnie, how did you discover indieBRAG?
A member of the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime received a B.R.A.G. Medallion. That sparked my curiosity.
Tell me about your book, Black Beans & Venom
An odd, wealthy woman hires P.I. Carol Sabala to track down her daughter who has fled to Cuba. Carol must find the young woman before her cancer or her abusive boyfriend kills her. The book is a race-against-the-clock thriller with a psychopathic villain named Eric Mars.
Could you please share an excerpt?
Eric Mars stared at Mr. Duarte. He didn’t like the man. He didn’t like anyone who got in his way. But if he killed him with the coffee mug, he’d have to dispose of the body, and the son would be returning to the lab at any second. There was nothing to be gained beyond personal enjoyment by bashing in the guy’s skull. The idea of telling the man he was getting a drink flitted through his mind, but no tourist would take water from the tap.
Tell me about Carol Sabala.
Award-winning author Cara Black described Carol as “quirky, gutsy, and my kind of gal.”
Carol has two internal conflicts that arc through the series. She’s Mexican-American, but has no memory of her father and looks like her mother, completely Anglo. Even her last name is a corrupted version of the fairly common Hispanic name Zavala. So, no one sees or recognizes the Mexican part of her. Carol’s search for that piece of her identity underpins the seven books.
Carol also has a flawed love life. She wants a partner, but she’s obstinate and independent. She can’t stand protectiveness. It feels stifling to her. Yet she constantly engages in activities bound to make any caring person worry.
You mentioned to me that you have a colorful cast of minor characters. What is a voodoo babalao?
A babalao, or babalawo, is a high priest. In Cuba, the type of voodoo is Santería, a complicated mix of Catholicism and beliefs imported from Africa with the slaves. In 1992 Cuba revised its Constitution removing references to the country as Marxist-Leninist, allowing for a resurgence of religious worship. Santería has grown in popularity since that time.
The patron saint of Cuba, La Virgen de la Caridad, Our Lady of Charity, is linked to African roots and the orisha Ochún, a goddess of love and dancing represented by the color yellow. One can see Santería initiates dressed in white walking the streets of Havana. It’s not uncommon to see a Santería altar tucked into a living room corner with a statue of a saint surrounded by offerings of rum, cigars and flowers.
In my book, one of the main characters visits a babalao. For this scene I had to rely on a friend’s first hand experience, right down to the sacrificed goat and pigeon on the altar.
Why did you choose Cuba as the main setting for your story?
In 2010 my husband and I traveled there on our own for a month. The experience was so rich it demanded to be used.
What is one of the challenges that Carol faces?
In Black Beans & Venom Carol faces the challenge of traveling illegally to Cuba shortly after 9/11 when airports and security are on high alert. Getting caught would mean a fine, possible jail time, and certainly an end to her career.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Carol Sabala started as a baker/amateur sleuth, so with the first book I wanted the title to suggest food and the genre. The result: Murder, Honey. After that, all the titles contained a food word and something to suggest menace. Black Beans suggest Cuba, and Venom, in this book, is both a possible cure and a vehicle for murder.
Who designed your book cover?
Melinda VanLone at Book Cover Corner.
What are you working on next?
Craze. It’s a stand-alone. Craze means to develop a mesh of fine cracks.
San Domingo, California, present: An interrupted burglary, a tossed handgun, its retrieval by two boys, and the craze that splinters from the crime.
I also have the first few chapters of a new series set in South Dakota, featuring Frankie Palmer, retired schoolteacher turned investigator.
Do you stick with just genre?
I write literary fiction too. Some of my short stories have been published in reviews and journals. I plan to pitch Craze as a novel, rather than as crime fiction or suspense.
When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?
Anything else. I let my subconscious chew on it.
Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?
I write at my office desk on my computer when my husband is at the gym. I have some general ideas about a book and then I launch into the abyss. I figure it out as I go, looping back to add foreshadowing, clues and red herrings. My first drafts are stark. I flesh out scenes as I rewrite and edit. Then I get input from my critique group. I rewrite some more. When I have a workable manuscript, I get feedback from a beta reader or two or fourteen. Then the ladies at misterio press critique and proofread and I rewrite some more. After the book is formatted, I do another read through and drive my formatter crazy with my hundred or so fixes. Then I receive a proof, and reread again. . .
Favorite food or drink while writing:
Whiskey. Nah, seriously Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut Yogi Tea and dark chocolate.
Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?
I’m an accomplished yogi. I also play keyboards with two ukulele groups: the Sons of the Beach, which is anybody who feels like coming to my local beach on Saturday, usually 100-200 people, and All in Good Time Orchestra, an organized group that occasionally plays gigs (non-paying, so far).
A Message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Vinnie Hansen who is the author of, Black Beans & Venom, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Black Beans & Venom, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.