Interview with Bill Fitts

Why are you starting your interview with a reference to cats?
My cat Hawk, model for The Black in the Needed Killing Series, was sitting in my lap while I reviewed the answers for this interview. (He often sits in my lap while I'm writing and is pictured on my Smashwords author page and on the back of the paperback copies of the first three books.)

He noted that there was no mention in my Q&A about cats. More to the point, there was no mention of him. I promised to rectify the situation before publishing the interview.

Satisfied, Hawk?
Why do you write murder mysteries?
When Robert B. Parker and Dick Francis, two prolific and very popular mystery writers, died within a month of each other, I thought their deaths would open up some room in the field. I didn’t realize that another writer was going to take over the Spenser series and Francis’s son Felix was going to take up the family business.

Seriously, I had tried writing other fiction. I finished one book—a fantasy intended as part of a three-book series—actually got an agent for it, but never found a publisher. Then I tried writing a mystery novel. I discovered that mysteries were easier for me to write and—as a bonus—I’m pretty good at it.
Why write a murder mystery series?
My first book is titled "He Needed Killing." Whenever I mentioned to people that I was writing a book about a man who “needed killing,” they almost always said that if I ran out of folks who needed killing they had some suggestions. Thus, the Needed Killing Series was born.

Since October 2012 I have published four more books in the series: "He Needed Killing Too," "She Needed Killing," "The Deacon Needed Killing," and "Who Needed Killing?"
Have you suffered from writer’s block?
My wife has a T-shirt that says, “Writer’s block—when your imaginary friends won't talk to you.”

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of luck with my imaginary friends. When my writing bogs down, the scene gets tedious to write, words don’t sound right—I’ve learned that it’s the characters refusing to cooperate with what I’d planned on their doing or saying.

They turn into sullen children who pout and hold their breath. Once I let them do it their way—use their own words and gestures the writing goes a lot smoother.

I’ve got one character, Rufus George, who was supposed to be a walk-on character—say a few words and then exit stage left. But he refused to leave. And he was right. I did need him and he’s been very helpful. He’s the provost of the university and has been in all of the books in the Needed Killing Series. So far, he hasn’t shown up in book four but the book’s not finished yet.
How do you create characters?
People ask if I base my characters on real people and the answer is no—mostly. My characters are amalgams—bits and pieces of people I’ve met and some I’ve made up. Sometimes things that real people do and say end up in my books.

My hero, James F. Crawford, for instance, is retired from the university where he worked as a computer geek in their department of information services until he took early retirement. Other than a tour of duty in the navy reserve, he worked for the university his entire life until he started a career as private investigator.

I’ve worked as a newspaper collator, darkroom guy, farm hand, plywood factory worker, communications technician, group insurance salesman, underwriter, manager, accountant, help-desk employee, system administrator, and learning systems admin. The last couple of jobs were at a local university. I worked for the university until I took early retirement after which I started my career writing murder mysteries.

Other than my main characters, I create characters to provide some specific information, to do something specific, to be the murderer, or the person who is murdered. Since I write in the first person, all the characters have to relate to my hero and vice versa.
What are you working on now?
Having completed five books in the Needed Killing Series, I have turned to a fantasy novel that I started back in the 1970s. I have completed book 1 (The Screaming Sword) and am working on book 2 (Sokhal's Star). I intend to publish the first 2 books in the fantasy series, which is called Song of Narne, then return to the mysteries. I plan to alternate between the two series.
Cats play an important role in the Needed Killing Series and in Song of Narne. Are your feline characters based on real cats you have owned?
First, no one “owns” a cat. The adage dogs have owners, cats have staff is correct.
I have been on staff for a number of cats in the forty-plus years my wife and I have been married. Some of the cats that have shared our living space have inspired physical descriptions of cats in my books and some have loaned their personalities to feline characters.
The first iteration of The Screaming Sword lay dormant for a couple of decades. What prompted you to pull out the manuscript and revise it?
While I didn’t do any writing on the manuscript during that time, I did transfer and convert the electronic files as I migrated to different computer operating systems and word processing programs. In retrospect, the only conceivable reason for having gone to all that trouble is that I was planning on resurrecting the novel at some point. I just wasn’t consciously aware of it.
After we’d published the first two books in the Needed Killing Series, a good friend asked if I could send in ebook format that old fantasy he’d read decades ago. I could. I did. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Do you know everything that’s going to occur in a book or a series before you start?
Absolutely not. I have a general idea where we’re going, what’s going to happen, and when--but the final result is dependent on my characters. Sometimes they refuse to do what I’d planned; sometimes they do things that I’d never considered their doing; sometimes minor characters take on greater significance or new ones appear uninvited. I have a general storyline in mind and know what I think is going to happen but I don’t always get my way.
Your wife was a professional editor before she retired. Does she edit your books?
Of course! Do I look stupid? (Don’t answer that.) She is instrumental in my writing. I don’t know if I could write without her. And if I tried, it wouldn’t be as good.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Where do I get them? Some just pop up into my consciousness all by themselves. Others get dredged into the light of day when I’m trying to figure out how to get a character into or out of trouble. Others come out of brainstorming sessions I have with my wife. And still others are hers entirely.
Published 2016-11-23.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Two Needed Killing
Series: Needed Killing, book 6. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 86,170. Language: English. Published: April 27, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(5.00 from 1 review)
Asked to help an old lady get her family home back from greedy developers, Crawford reluctantly agrees. Mrs. McGillicuddy is thrilled. “I can’t tell you how excited I was when Frank told me I’d get to meet a real detective. I just love murder mysteries.” When Ms. Mac convinces Crawford to pretend to solve a mystery, he finds himself caught up in the most perplexing case of his career.
Sokhal's Star
Series: Song of Narne. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 100,870. Language: English. Published: November 20, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Kenrad held the pendant in his clasped hands. Sokhal’s Star flickered then began to glow brighter and brighter; light streamed out from between his fingers. Magic! The likes of which Blumgar had never seen. Kenrad’s hands were ablaze, burning with a light so strong it hurt the eyes. Suddenly the night was lit by a burst of lightning, as if the sun had exploded.
The Screaming Sword
Series: Song of Narne. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 109,100. Language: English. Published: November 20, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
The fireplace flames billowed up to form the outline of a man. “Who uses Sokhal’s Star to call me?” Beneath the broken furniture, Kenrad lay motionless. If he stood up, the man with the screaming sword would know that he still lived. But when the Warlock of Miron asks a question, he expects an answer. “It’s Kenrad, Uncle Stefan." His youthful voice cracked. "And that man killed Mother."
Who Needed Killing?
Series: Needed Killing, book 5. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 109,650. Language: English. Published: December 1, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(5.00 from 1 review)
Provost Rufus George is worried. “Something,” he tells Crawford, “is not right at University Village. I want you to look around and see if anything bothers you.” Checking out a retirement community seems harmless enough. Crawford begins with a question here and a question there--until he asks the wrong question and he and the provost find themselves the target of a wily and ruthless killer.
The Deacon Needed Killing
Series: Needed Killing, book 4. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 86,080. Language: English. Published: February 25, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(5.00 from 1 review)
“Howdy. Find the sword you’re looking for?” The policeman eyed me carefully. “Who said anything about a sword?” I pointed behind me at the house with my thumb. “The guys inside found and tagged a bunch of swords right off the bat.” I’d stirred up his curiosity and like a good policeman he was going to satisfy it. “Mister, just who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing here?”
She Needed Killing
Series: Needed Killing, book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 106,930. Language: English. Published: July 17, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(5.00 from 3 reviews)
Crawford had never considered taking his cat to the local folk festival. But when a friend wants The Black for a photo shoot, he obliges. That a snake will be part of the shoot is just the first surprise in store for him and his pets. Snakes, fortune tellers, arsonists, blackmailers . . . this festival will be unlike any other in the history of Jemison County.
He Needed Killing Too
Series: Needed Killing, book 2. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 74,790. Language: English. Published: October 18, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(4.75 from 4 reviews)
The director of the University Press was often characterized as a man who needed killing. The Press’s authors and employees certainly wouldn’t disagree--even Peter the Gray, the office cat, detested him. So when someone puts a bullet through Philip Douglas’s head, Crawford has plenty of suspects to consider when he is once again thrust into the role of detective.
He Needed Killing
Series: Needed Killing, book 1. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 67,370. Language: English. Published: October 18, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
(4.67 from 12 reviews)
I was standing in a dead man’s apartment staring at the severed end of a rope hanging from one of the exposed beams overhead. What was I doing here? Last week I was just a university employee who had taken early retirement. Now a man was dead and I was in the thick of it. People were counting on me to figure out what had happened—and why. What kind of retirement was this?