Friday, August 25, 2017

In Memory of Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens

In Memory of Bonnie (B.K. ) Stevens by Debra H. Goldstein

In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, there is a line “No man is a failure who has friends.” The outpouring of testamentary comments on list servs, Facebook, and exchanged through private e-mails as people learned of the sudden death of Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens demonstrates what a success she was.

Her success was based on talent as a writer, but more importantly the ability to be a mensch as a person. Whether through a congratulatory note, post, or other gesture, Bonnie let people know she cared about them. In a date of social media, she took the time to use those devices to connect with a human touch.

Bonnie and I became list serv acquaintances in 2014, but our true friendship began in January 2015 when, while reading back issues of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, I came across her short story, Thea’s First Husband. I didn’t know it had been nominated for Macavity and Agatha awards, only that it moved me in a way few stories, other than Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, had. As a bottom of the heap short story writer, I recognized I was reading how a master interweaves plot, dialogue, and setting to escalate tension and intrigue a reader. I wrote Bonnie a fan e-mail telling her this and asking if she ever taught classes. I told her I had had some success with having stories and two novels accepted, but hadn’t had the guts to try for AHMM or EQMM, but reading her story moved me and I hoped there was a way I could learn from her.
Her reply was, as I came to learn, classic Bonnie. Humble and a lesson in itself:

Hi, Debra--

Thank you so much for your kind words about "Thea." My goodness! That didn't just make my day--it made my week, possibly my whole month.

No, I don't teach any online classes. I'm a retired English professor  (at least a temporarily retired
one--who knows what the future holds?), but even when I was teaching, I usually taught composition and literature; I taught creative writing only a few times, and I'm not sure I was very good at it. I don't know of any classes to recommend, but I can tell you that my favorite books on writing fiction are Stephen King's On Writing (especially the second half of the book) and Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. I also like Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers--I don't agree with everything the authors say, but it's a thought-provoking book. Blake Snyder's Save the Cat focuses on screenplay writing, but I find the advice on story structure helpful (especially Chapter 4). And if you'd be interested in some old-fashioned advice that still seems sound to me, you might look at Anthony Trollope's An Autobiography, especially chapters 12--14 (though there's good advice scattered in many other chapters,too).

I hope that's helpful. Again, thank you for what you said about "Thea." I'm going to treasure those words!


We exchanged further e-mails and posts of mutual encouragement and congrats in the next few months and agreed to meet in person in Raleigh at Bouchercon. We met, embraced, talked and began a tradition with Paula Benson and Art Taylor of sharing a meal.

In the months that followed I read more of her stories, as well as her adult and YA novels: Interpretation of Murder and Fighting Chance. We talked a lot about Fighting Chance, which I five starred and she wrote a blog about on my personal blog, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” The book also was nominated for an Agatha and other awards.

We agreed to have dinner at Malice, but she couldn’t join Paula, Art and me after she fell and was injured just before the conference. We toasted her in abstentia, but made up for it with a delicious group dinner at Bouchercon New Orleans and drinks at Malice 2017.  Because she couldn’t do a private dinner at Malice 2017 (I sat at her table during the banquet where her novella, The Last Blue Glass, was honored as an Agatha nominee), we made definite plans for dinner in October at Bouchercon 2017. Malice, in Bethesda, was only drinks because she used her dinners, other than the banquet, to visit with her daughters Sarah and Rachel.

That brings me to the true passion in her life. Family. Bonnie was like a school girl in her love and adoration for her husband, Dennis. Seeing them together at conferences or in pictures she posted on Facebook from their wedding, there was no difference in the looks of devotion and joy they shared. Her talk of her two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, and of Sarah’s children’s accomplishments combined praise, love, and pride. This year, we compared nachas (happiness) of having our first grandchildren’s bar/bat mitzvahs and kidded we should introduce her unmarried Jewish daughter to my single Jewish son.

There won’t be any more dinners or talk of introducing our children, but what I will remember is a package I received a week after Malice 2017. It contained a note and five copies of the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine that Bonnie and Dennis collected from their registration bags and the giveaway room. The note told me she knew I would want extra copies of the issue that had my name on the cover and my first AHMM story, The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place in it and that she thought it was an award winning story. Who knows if it will be nominated for anything at the next events at which it is eligible, but it won the biggest award in my book – Bonnie’s approval.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A few other excellent tributes to Bonnie can be found at:
Remembering B.K. Stevens - Art Taylor - Sleuthsayers

B.K. "Bonnie" Stevens: True Friend and Good Writer - Paula Benson - The Stiletto Gang


  1. Lovely testimony, Debra. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank you. She was a lovely and generous person -- only sorry to have to write this piece.

  2. Excellent testimony to your friend. I would imagine that your friends would say the same about you.

  3. Debra, this is so beautiful and reflective of Bonnie's spirit. Thank you for sharing her advice with us. I will miss our gatherings at the writing conferences.

    1. Ditto....glad you brought her up in our short story session today....I knew we both were going to mention the same story.

  4. A fine tribute, Debra. That dinner in New Orleans was such a pleasure, and tremendously sad that we won't have the opportunity for another. Such a loss, in so many ways.

    1. Amen....her talent and her friendship were priceless

  5. Debra, Thank you for your beautiful tribute to Bonnie. It touched me deeply.