Monday, February 6, 2012

FAST FIVE Author Interview with Stella Baker

My guest today is Stella Baker, the author of the mystery-suspense novel, 4 Gigs of Trouble. While reading Stella’s novel, between the action scenes, I found myself laughing out loud at protagonist Antonella Teitelbaum’s descriptive metaphors and similes. One in particular I enjoyed was a reference to Kilauea and Pele, Hawaii’s fiery goddess of volcanos. That should give you some indication of how high Stella turns up the heat. 

FAST FIVE: Welcome, Stella. Thank you for graciously consenting to this interview today. Rather than an “elevator pitch” of 140 characters, can you share with us a more detailed account of the novel and your research for 4 Gigs of Trouble?

STELLA: The opening scene of 4 Gigs of Trouble came to me pretty much complete. I was falling asleep, and in that goofy not-asleep-but-not-really-awake state I imagined an everyday woman confronted by a dying man. This dying man appeared to be a “street bum,” but he wasn’t. He had uncovered a conspiracy, one that, if left unchecked, would cost many people their lives. In fact, he was dying because of this secret. He passes the torch—cryptic words and a 4 gig flash drive—to the woman, and dies.

What was this secret and what would she do? If she decided to do the right thing, how could an everyday woman take on people far more powerful than she? I woke up the next morning still thinking about this woman. That’s how I knew I had to write the book, if for no other reason, I had to find out.

I developed the “bones” for the story. I figured out exactly who this everyday woman was and who would help her and who would thwart her. I knew how I wanted the story to end. I settled on a few key events along the way, as a roadmap to the finish, and then I began writing. I know some writers create a detailed outline. That’s probably a good idea, and I tried that on the first book I wrote, which lies in state under my bed. Enough said.

As to research, I’m lucky. I’ve been a reference librarian for a lot of years and there isn’t too much I can’t find out. When I write, I keep a browser open. When I need a piece of information, I toggle from Word to the internet or a library database and sniff out the fact. Sometimes, the sniffing is complex. For example, I needed to describe exactly how the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in DC handled the transportation of bodies from crime scene to autopsy. In particular, I needed to see how it might be possible to swap a body during transport. After some persistent searching, I found the DC OCME’s policy online. It told me what their procedure is (as of 2003 anyway), and based on that procedure, I figured out how to accomplish my fictional task.

I also get help from others. For example, I needed to find a scary Metro station and be able to describe it authentically. My niece lives in DC and often takes the metro. She identified the scary station, went there, took photos, did a Google Earth shot so I could see the surrounding area, and emailed it all to me, along with her description of intangibles like sounds and odor.

Stella working on her next novel!
But, in the end, we are writing fiction. The writer must create an experience that feels possible, with details that seem real. I think it was great mystery/crime writer Lawrence Block that said “hum a few bars…and fake it.” (From his book Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.) I tried to fake as little as possible, but 4 gigs is, after all, fiction!

FAST FIVE: Your extensive research for 4 Gigs of Trouble helped to give me the feeling of being in on the action as I read each chapter. Your protagonist, an ex marine, is now a teacher. Is “the job” the most important part of your protagonist’s life?

STELLA: Like a lot of women in their late 20s, Toni hasn’t completely figured out where she wants her life to take her. In her early twenties, she followed an interest and joined the Marine Corp. Honestly, her motivation was a mixture: partly to serve her county, partly to carry a gun as an MP, and partly to piss off her mother, whom she loves despite their mother-daughter relationship issues. After the military, Toni had to choose: police work or something less dangerous and, possibly, more fulfilling. Toni chooses her other love, American history, and becomes a high school teacher, much to her mother’s relief. But fate is a squirrely little creature, and this “safe” choice leads Toni to a very unsafe situation.

So what’s the most important part of Toni’s life? Figuring out what she wants her life to be. Being a teacher is certainly an important part. But more important is figuring out how to be a person who is willing to stand up and do the right thing, even when it’s scary as hell.

FAST FIVE: The Mystery/Suspense genre is the focus of Fast Five interviews, but what unique twist makes your novel stand out?

STELLA: The characters. They are funny and quirky and frightened and awesome, and to some degree, I swear I didn’t invent them. Some just showed up, demanding a part. For example, neither uncle was supposed to have such a big part, but those wise guys kept butting in until I, the lowly writer, gave up and gave in. I’m glad I did. Reviewers tell me one of the best things about the book is Toni and the dynamic she has with Lester and Gino, her two very different—and very unusual—uncles.

FAST FIVE: I agree with your reviewers. Toni’s major backup, the two loving uncles, bring their unique brand of humor and conviction to this story and sometimes to the rescue. How does your main character’s profession draw her into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)

STELLA: I’m drawn to writing about everyday people, women particularly, in extraordinary (and dangerous) situations. As such, nothing about Toni’s job as a schoolteacher should draw her into suspenseful—or at least murderous—situations. And that’s what I love…just like in real life, “should” isn’t necessarily “is.”

FAST FIVE: Is this book part of a series, and are you working on a sequel?

STELLA: Fiction requires that the reader willingly suspend their disbelief. But good fiction shouldn’t tax the limits of that suspension. As much as I love Toni, and though some of my readers have asked, I don’t think Toni will be in another book. I mean, a schoolteacher could end up in murderous soup once…but twice? I’m not willing to ask my readers for that much suspension of disbelief.

My next book, The Postman Always Shoots Twice, due out late spring, is about another woman, in a different job, with a different voice and different problems. But guess what? She ends up in the soup too.

FAST FIVE: Thank you for your comprehensive description of your writing process and a sneak peek at your upcoming book, The Postman Always Shoots Twice. Just one last thing. Not a Fast Five question, more an “if/then” scenario: If Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why.

STELLA: On a cruise ship, to anywhere. My husband and I like to cruise and a particularly difficult scene in 4 Gigs of Trouble was actually written while cruising Alaska. Watching the ocean stream past me when my mind struggles with “and then…” seems to help me find my footing. I also wrote a scene or two in The Postman Always Shoots Twice while on a cruise to Panama.

And, Gail, thanks for having me today! It was great meeting you and I enjoyed stopping by.

FAST FIVE: You’re welcome, Stella. You have probably given many authors a reason to take a cruise, for inspiration to write descriptive scenes. Thank you again for taking the time for this interview.

4 Gigs of Trouble is available in eBook at Amazon. Paperback is available at Amazon and BN.


  1. This was a great interview, very interesting. I learned a lot about the story, enough to want to learn more. I like the premise too, the "ordinary" person confronted with the enigmatic stranger with a problem. Nice.

  2. Thanks for visiting, Anthony. As 'ordinary' as the protagonist is, her background as a Marine gives her a bit of an edge. I know, I wouldn't want to mess with her!


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