Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Pikes Peak Bulletin feature on yours truly - Manitou Springs

Math and mystery add up to fun reads

By Rhonda Van Pelt
Pikes Peak Bulletin

Bonnie Pinkwater is returning to Manitou Springs. Actually, her creator, Robert Spiller, is heading to one of his favorite places to sign his latest book starring the mystery-solving math teacher.

Spiller was a longtime mathematics teacher who retired in 2010 after working in Monument, Ellicott and Denver. He launched several previous books at Black Cat Books, the bookstore formerly owned by Manitou Art Center director Natalie Johnson. In the process, he said, he and his heroine have made a “slew of friends” in Manitou.

His teaching career supplied the prototype for the aforementioned Ms. Pinkwater.

“I taught mathematics with a fantastic woman, Susan Smith. Besides being a terrific teacher, she had a phenomenally logical mind coupled with a memory that astounded, and occasionally annoyed, me,” Spiller said. “So when I turned my hand to mysteries, it seemed someone with her qualities would be perfect for my sleuth.”

However, he said that Smith, his muse, is much too nice to be plausible as a book character, so he mixed in a bit of his own personality.

“Thus was born the wonderfully caring but also wonderfully snarky Bonnie Pinkwater,” he said. “We have been best friends through five books.”

When she isn’t teaching in the fictional town of East Plains, Colo., a pseudonym for Ellicott, Pinkwater is using her knowledge of historical mathematics to solve crimes.

“My most recent outing, ‘Napier’s Bones,’ features John Napier, who not only invented logarithms and eventually the slide rule, but was also an alchemist,” he said. “The man even owned a jet-black rooster who, he claimed, could read minds. What could be more fun than that?”

He loved teaching and misses the interaction with his students.

“I am a huge fan of teenagers, particularly middle-school teenagers. I find their directness and honesty refreshing. I am also delighted in how incredibly strange they can be. They never fail to surprise.”

Spiller, an “incredibly social person,” admits that going from a classroom full of 13-year-olds to a much more solitary life with his keyboard was an adjustment.

But he’s still a teacher at heart, both as a tutor in algebra, geometry and trigonometry, and an author.

“Many of my former students are now avid readers,” he said, “and regularly they write to tell me how they didn't really like math until they had me for a teacher.”

Spiller has ideas for future Pinkwater mysteries, but is now working on a novel he’s had in mind for a a few years and describes it as “this book of my heart.” Once that’s done, he’ll decide what’s next for his mathematician/sleuth.

“One of my favorite things is to get email from folks telling me how they love Bonnie Pinkwater.  I have friends in far-flung places who write to me how Bonnie seems like someone they would like to know and how much they admire her.”

He’s also working on a Young Adult mystery series featuring a protagonist named Tucker Gamble that should be released in the next few years. They’re set in 1967 Philadelphia, against the backdrop of that turbulent time.

“I am very high on these because Tucker is a very complex character, a survivor from an abusive home who carries the scars of those times,” Spiller said.

You might think that Spiller’s mathematical mind would be an advantage while organizing his thoughts and ideas into a narrative, but no.

“I seem to be hindered and blessed with many of the traits that bedevil a lot of writers. I can find a hundred and one things to do other than write — I am particularly susceptible to the lure of movies and video games.”

But, once he knuckles down, his math skills come in handy to organize his plot as he would a mathematical proof.

Either way, Spiller’s work is all about solving problems.

What Spiller Reads
“As for mystery, I read Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Jeffery Deaver and am a sucker for historical mysteries like Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters. But recently I read a wonderful book by Gabrielle Zevin titled “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.” A love song to books and writing, it is a simple tale about a bookstore owner in New England that tells profound truths. As for my favorite book of all time, it has to be “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien.”

If you go
1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 13
Book launch party/signing at the Manitou Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave. Danny Pitcher of Danny and the Fried Shrimp will perform the blues and William Thayer will juggle. Spiller also promises “copious disks of delectable sweetness and light” – aka cookies. 

More information about the author and his books:


  1. We had a lot of last minute decorations to add, and the staff was eager and willing to help. The food at NYC venues was amazing. They have extremely unique and tasty food. Also this place has great views and beautiful big rooms.

  2. yes , I agree that children are wonderful! no matter where you are they have a special place in your heart. I'm happy that the time you spent in the school made you cheerful ! nice to read your article.

  3. Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot
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