Monday, September 4, 2017

An Interview with Terrence McCauley, author of A Conspiracy of Ravens

Today I'm lucky enough to bring you an interview with Terrence McCauley, author of A Conspiracy of Ravens, the third novel in the thrilling James Hicks series. Read on as we talk technology, spies, and how to keep a story fresh.

https://www.amazon.com/Conspiracy-Ravens-James-Hicks-ebook/dp/B01MTCE7B2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1504548355&sr=8-2&keywords=a+conspiracy+of+ravens

Steph Post: A Conspiracy of Ravens, your third novel to chronicle the exploits of technology-commanding spy James Hicks, not only ups the ante on action and suspense, but takes Hicks' story to the international stage. While the first two novels in the series, Sympathy for the Devil and A Murder of Crows, focus on more domestic terrors and villains, A Conspiracy of Ravens has Hicks traveling from New York to Berlin as he takes on The Vanguard, a new and dark criminal organization. Did you have to research differently for this novel, as it takes place in a location so far from your own NYC home?


Terrence McCauley: When I wrote A Murder of Crows, I set a good chunk of it in London. I’ve never been to London. I’ve never even been to Europe. I’ve traveled a lot throughout the United States and through Central and South America, but I’ve never been across the pond. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it soon.

While writing Crows, I asked a good friend and former Londoner several questions about the city. When he asked me why I wanted to know, I told him it was for my book. He replied, ‘Are you writing a novel or a travel guide? Make it up! It’s what you do!’ He was right.

For Crows and Ravens, I relied heavily on online research and Google Maps to help me get a sense of the places I was featuring in my stories. From what I’ve been told so far, I’ve succeeded in giving the reader just enough flavor of the locations in my books, which is exactly what I was trying to do.


SP: While A Conspiracy of Ravens offers all of the action and suspense readers have come to expect in a James Hicks novel, I enjoyed seeing the more personal, if tormented, side of Hicks as he comes to terms with his relationship with fellow spy Tali and her claims to be carrying his child. What prompted you to take Hicks' story in this direction and explore an element to him that we really haven't seen before?


TM: One of the more constant criticisms about my work has been that I don’t tell you much about Hicks, his past or his feelings. That’s intentional. When I decided to write in this genre, I wanted to avoid a lot of the pitfalls I’d seen other writers fall into. I didn’t want the scene where someone flips through Hicks’s file and discusses all the things he’d done in his career. I also wanted to avoid huge expository sentences that distract from the story. I wanted to fold these essential details into the story. The reader learns more about Hicks as events in the story become more personal to him. And as readers will see in A Conspiracy of Ravens, things become very personal to Hicks very quickly.


SP: In all three novels, James Hicks is part of a secret intelligence agency known as the University. The group employs all sorts of technology, including a computer network called OMNI, which collects data and surveys people in a frighteningly fast and thorough way. How did you come up with the idea for OMNI and how has the technology and its use evolved throughout the novels?


TM: When I decided to try my hand at writing a modern espionage thriller, I knew I didn’t want to plow tired ground. I didn’t want to write about the embittered ex-Special Forces guy who gets dragged back into service against his will. I also didn’t want to write about a suave spy, either. I wanted something completely different, hence my creation of an entirely independent organization known as the University. I also didn’t want to have some of the same characters I had read in other books or seen in other television series. I didn’t want to have the inked-up, pierced techno-geek whose better with gadgets than people. I didn’t want the fat computer nerd who digs comics almost as much as he likes hacking.

In avoiding those stereotypes, I painted myself into something of a corner. Any modern spy thriller has to have some technological aspect to it or it’s just not going to be convincing. So, rather than have a computer geek, I made the computer system itself something of a character in my stories. I made it relatable by having Hicks access the system through something most of us use every day – our cell phones.

Technology has moved on a bit since Sympathy for the Devil came out a couple of years ago. Back then, people said using biometrics to open a phone was absurd. Now, it’s standard in all new cellphones and tablets. As the series has evolved, I’ve kept OMNI’s technological abilities and limits fairly stable. Anything too jarring will strain the reader’s ability to believe in the world I’ve crafted. That’s why OMNI’s limits are on display in A Conspiracy of Ravens unlike any Hicks story before. I see OMNI as a character in the books, so it must evolve, too. But like Hicks, it must evolve gradually. And it will.
 
http://www.terrencepmccauley.com/a-murder-of-crows/

SP: One thing that you and I have talked about before is the believability of technology in thrillers and in your novels in particular. As someone who can barely find the mute button on the TV remote and who has no concept of how the magic internet works, I have a hard time discerning what is real and what is fiction when it comes to technology in spy novels. How close to reality is the technology you portray in your books?


TM: Thanks to the Snowden revelations some years back, I was able to make some educated leaps into what I considered near-technology that might not have been commonplace yet, but are certainly within the realm of possibility. See my earlier answer on the use of biometrics to open Hicks’s handheld device or to scan a car’s black box. OMNI’s ability to hack into almost any computer system in the western world has helped me craft my plotlines, but its limits in other parts of the world have presented me with some interesting challenges as well.

As our computers become more intuitive, I’ve made OMNI’s capabilities more intuitive as well. I assume by the third novel that my readers will take its abilities for granted, but I always include an explanation for those starting with the most recent book.

I always want to try to keep the reader in the story so I never want to present them with something that’s too jarring. For example, the military uses lasers now. If I put a laser in one of my novels, it might give the reader pause and kill the book’s momentum. Same thing goes for holograms, robots and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) There are other authors out there who can write that stuff way better than I could, so I don’t even try. I always try to keep it centered on the characters and use the technology as a way to highlight their actions.


SP: Although, as I mentioned before, we do see a slightly softer side to James Hicks in A Conspiracy of Ravens, the action sequences are still as hard hitting as ever. I love how you convey tension using narrative techniques such as Hicks' internal clock. When you're writing action scenes, how do control the pacing of the plot? Is this something that comes out onto the page with the first draft, or do you have to carefully craft such fast-paced drama?


TM: I never outline, so everything you see on the page happens in one shot. I often don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it. I rearrange later, of course, but most of the action takes place in the same order it comes from my head to my fingers.

In re-writes, sometimes I come up with an additional scene to add punch where the story appears to be lacking. That happened in the drone sequence in A Murder of Crows. While I was editing it the second time, I saw there was too much of a lull and decided I needed to make a particular scene a bit nastier. But as much as I love writing action sequences, they have to serve the greater plot. If they don’t, they become gratuitous and I cut them out. My main goal in all of my work, whether it’s a novel or a short story, is to keep the story moving forward.

 
http://www.terrencepmccauley.com/sympathy-for-the-devil/

SP: A Conspiracy of Ravens ends with satisfaction for the immediate story, but is clearly open-ended. Will we see more of James Hicks in the future? And if so, do you have a plan for how many books will comprise the series?


TM:My goal is to keep writing this series for as long as people continue to like it. I’ve found the University concept more interesting the more I’ve written about it. The next book in the series is actually a sequel to one of my 1930s novels Slow Burn. That book will be called The Fairfax Incident and will show the University’s beginnings in 1933 New York City.

Without giving up too much about what happens in Ravens, I’d like to write one book a year that continues the current story line and one book that takes the reader through the University’s participation in the fight against the Nazis, the Cold War and all the way up to present day.


SP: And finally, you're big on the crime scene, writing both noir and techno-thrillers. Do you read only in the same genre that you write in? Or are there some authors or novels you love, but which readers might be surprised to find on your shelves?

TM: I have a huge weakness for zombie novels, believe it or not. Post-apocalyptic stuff is my favorite. I’d like to try my hand in the horror genre someday, but only when I think I have something to contribute. I might have something, but I’m not sure yet. And, right now, I’m kept busy with the University series and it might be a while before I get to it.

I also read a lot of non-fiction, perhaps more than people might think. I especially enjoy historical works. I’m in the middle of reading Richard Reeves’ book about the Nixon administration. I’ve also read Dark Invasion about the German attempts to sabotage the war effort in this country before World War I. Of course, the more I read, the more story ideas I get for how the University began, so it’s a vicious, but thoroughly enjoyable cycle.
 
http://www.terrencepmccauley.com/biography/
 
Thanks so much to Terrence McCauley for stopping by! Be sure to pick up A Conspiracy of Ravens, or start back at the beginning of the series with Sympathy for the Devil. Happy Reading!

Friday, August 25, 2017

An Interview with Chrissy Lessey, author of the Crystal Coast Series

Today, I bring you an interview with Chrissy Lessey, author of the Crystal Coast contemporary fantasy series. The final book in the trilogy, The Beacon, just debuted and I was lucky enough to catch up with Lessey on the eve of its release. Enjoy!

http://www.chrissylessey.com/about.html

Steph Post: The Beacon is the third and final book in the Crystal Coast series which follows Stevie Lewis, a witch discovering, coming into and ultimately embracing her coven and her powers in the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. The Beacon rounds out Stevie's story and ends on a series-satisfying note, but I can imagine that it must be difficult to wrap up a trilogy. Was writing The Beacon harder than writing its predecessors (The Coven and The Hunted)? Were there any challenges you found specific to ending a series?

               

Chrissy Lessey: Of all the books, The Beacon was the most difficult to write. I wanted to be sure to deliver an ending that would satisfy the readers who've followed this series from the beginning, so there was quite a lot of self-imposed pressure as I worked. It was also tough to write those final chapters. I've spent six years with this cast of characters. I'm going to miss them.


SP: One of the elements of your series that I most appreciate is the inclusion of the character of Charlie, Stevie's son, and how his diagnosis of autism affects both the normal and supernatural aspects of their lives. What prompted you to create Charlie's character and why do you think he resonates so much with readers?


CL: Charlie was inspired by a loved one who is on the spectrum. It was important to me to present his character as a complete person, not just a stereotypical bundle of symptoms. This was a difficult task given Charlie's communication challenges. I had to rely on his behavior, rather than dialogue, to reveal his personality. I think that's why he resonates with readers. In real life, we know it's actions, not words, that matter most. 


SP: The setting for The Beacon and the rest of the Crystal Coast series is Beaufort, North Carolina, making it not only an addictive fantasy series, but a Southern fantasy series. How important is the setting to these novels? Could Stevie's story take place anywhere else?


CL: Beaufort is practically a character in this series. It's quirky, fun, and loaded with colorful history--much like the coven. I can't envision these events happening anywhere else.


SP: All of your novels are page-turners, but I felt that The Beacon really amped up the pace and action as Stevie's saga comes to a climatic end. Was this a deliberate stylistic decision?


CL: Yes, the pacing across the series was deliberate. I wanted readers to experience Stevie's shift from normal life to her wild ride through magical events. At the start of The Beacon, the stakes are already high and the danger is imminent, so a fast pace seemed natural for that story.


SP: You're a regular now at Comic Cons- I believe that as I'm writing this you are actually signing at the Cape Fear Comic Con in Wilmington, NC. Was this Comic Con experience something new for you that came about with the writing of the Crystal Coast series or is it something that's always been a part of your life? And for someone who's never even been to a Comic Con (yes, shameful, I know...) what is it like to sign and sell your books there?


CL: I had only a vague knowledge of Comic Cons prior to becoming a fantasy author. Shortly after my first novel was released, I received an invitation to sign books at a local con. Right away, I felt like I had found my tribe and was absolutely hooked from there on. The fans come to these events with such energy and enthusiasm, it's truly a delight to meet them.


SP: And finally, I know that The Beacon is just now hitting shelves this month, but I have to ask- what's next? Is there another novel in the works or are you planning on taking a well-deserved breather?


CL: I'm already working on something new. I'm straying away from fantasy and heading into Southern fiction, but I have a feeling I'll revisit magical story lines again someday.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B071WKP8FH/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

Thanks again to Chrissy Lessey for stopping by. Be sure to check out her Crystal Coast series and if you're already fan, pick up a copy of The Beacon now to discover how the series concludes. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

An Interview with Kristi Belcamino, Author of City of Angels

While it is most certainly still summer here in Florida (and will be for the next three months or so...) I think it's about time I kick-off the fall author interviews. To get us going, I'm starting off with a conversation with Kristi Belcamino, whose first Young Adult novel City of Angels debuted this past spring. As luck would have it, today also marks the release of yet another novel by Belcamino- Blessed are the Peacemakers, the latest installment in her Gabriella Giovanni mystery series. Be sure to check out both books and keep reading as Belcamino and I discuss tough teen heroines, writing for young adults and the current crime fiction scene. Cheers!


https://www.amazon.com/City-Angels-Kristi-Belcamino/dp/1943818436/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502825943&sr=8-1&keywords=city+of+angels+kristi


Steph Post: Nikki Black, the teenage protagonist of City of Angels is as badass in the story as she looks on the novel's cover. What prompted you to create a young, but tough-as-nails, heroine for your book?


Kristi Belcamino: I don’t have a profound answer except to say that I love reading about tough-as-nails heroines and love writing them even more!


SP: One of the elements of City of Angels that really sets it apart from other young adult novels is the setting of the '90s underground L.A. scene. How important do you think the setting of the novel is to its story and to its framing of Nikki's character?


KB: This is one of my books where I feel like the setting needed to be its own character. The atmosphere, the pervasive feeling of living in L.A. during that time, the deep knowledge that history was being made, is, in a way, that same feeling of being young and free of major responsibilities, just stepping out into the world with your whole life ahead of you. When I lived in Los Angeles at the time it felt like there was nowhere else on earth I should be, as if I were at the epicenter of everything! I tried to capture that in this book.


SP: City of Angels has been marketed as a YA novel, but even from the opening pages, in which Nikki flees from the scene of an adult movie she has been violently coerced into almost making, I could see where this story might be too much for younger readers. Nikki is seventeen, but she's a tough seventeen. How have teens responded to City of Angels? And did you ever worry that the story's material might be too mature for YA readers?


KB: It was really important to me that this novel be described as a book for mature teens. Some of the subject matter is dark and the book contains issues that some teens may not have ever heard about. But the reality is that nothing is off limits in the YA market.

Some of my favorite YA books deal with deeper, darker, more complex issues that might make some people squirm: The Outsiders (classism, murder, abuse), Forever by Judy Blume (masturbation, sex) The Perks of Being a Wallflower (rape, molestation), Eleanor and Park (classism, abuse), The Fault in Our Stars (teen cancer), The Hunger Games (kids killing kids), and so on.

I also count on the reader knowing from my book description ("… an edgy, gritty, mature young adult mystery") —and the opening pages—that this is not light reading material. I trust people to make their own decisions.

Once my kids hit middle school I stopped censoring what they read.

When my daughter was in middle school she began reading a book she picked out from the school library (the library was shared with the high school). The book was so disturbing that she had to stop reading.

It was The Lovely Bones.

I wrote about that experience for the New York Times. 


SP: City of Angels is written from Nikki's perspective and I think you've absolutely managed to capture and portray the thoughts, feelings and reactions of a teenaged girl. Was it difficult for you to get into the head of a teen character?


KB: Thank you for saying that. It wasn’t difficult, but I think that is because, despite nearing 50 years old, I’m lucky to still vividly remember what it felt like to be a teenage girl. And living in L.A. in the late 1980s and early '90s was such a powerful, poignant time in my life that I still acutely recall the emotions and feelings I had at the time.


SP: Although City of Angels is your first YA novel, it is far from your first mark on the mystery and crime writing scene. You are most well-known for your Gabriella Giovanni mystery series featuring a tough crime reporter. Was it hard to switch from writing for adults to writing YA? Were there any noticeable differences in the writing process?


KB: To be honest, at first I thought it would be very difficult to make that switch, but it really wasn’t. As a writer, I’m sure you know this as well, but once I’m immersed in a new book I get completely caught up in the characters and world and just tell their stories. I didn’t consciously think about whether the book was for adults or young adults and that might be why the subject matter is not censored.


SP: City of Angels just debuted this past spring, but I'd love to know what's next for you. Will you stay in the YA genre? Go back to adult mysteries? Or is there something entirely new you're working on?


KB: The fifth book in my adult mystery series, Blessed are the Peacemakers, comes out Tuesday (Aug. 15) and I have another adult mystery coming out in October that will be the first in a new series.

http://www.kristibelcamino.com/books/gabriella-giovanni-mystery-series/blessed-peacemakers/



And, yes, I do have another young adult book written called Gutterpunks that is set in Minneapolis and will probably be released into the wild at some point.


SP: And finally, since you know the crime fiction scene so well and because I love to share the book-love: are there any up-and-coming crime novels or authors I should have on my radar?


KB: These crime fiction authors are fairly new on the scene (in the last few years) and are terrific. I will read anything and everything they ever write: Laura McHugh, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Claire Booth.

As far as authors you should have on your radar: Chelsea Cain, Sara Gran, Gregg Hurwitz, Lisa Unger … I could go on and on, but these should keep you busy for a while.

Oh, and you should definitely read T.M. Causey’s The Saints of the Lost & Found.

I’m going to stop now or I might never be able to finish this interview … thanks so much for having me, Steph!


http://www.kristibelcamino.com/contact/


Thank you, Kristi! Readers, be sure to check out City of Angels and Blessed are the Peacemakers- on shelves now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Interview on the Coil

Many thanks to Alternating Current and Kevin Catalano for this interview. I love questions that really make me think about my own work!

"In the best possible way, Steph Post’s Lightwood is reminiscent of Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home and Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain. There is family drama, stolen cash, a meth-cooking biker gang, a gun-hoarding prepper, and a terrifying preacher who doles out punishment through “baptism by fire.” However, Post’s novel is unmistakably feminist, in the sense that its strongest and most memorable characters are women. The result is a kind of country-noir crime novel that is both satisfying and original." -Kevin Catalano
 
https://medium.com/the-coil/steph-post-interview-by-kevin-catalano-1c0c3a7c957d
 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lightwood in Creative Pinellas

Many thanks to Julie Garisto for this lovely review of Lightwood over at Creative Pinellas!

"From “the gaudy neon light of The Ace in the Hole” tavern to the “Last Steps of Deliverance Church of God,” Post’s flair for description becomes downright cinematic."

http://creativepinellas.org/literature/venture-to-the-seedy-side-of-the-sunshine-state-in-steph-posts-lightwood/

Friday, June 2, 2017

Jules Just Write reviews Lightwood

Thanks to Julia Yeager-Archer for this wonderful review of Lightwood over on her blog Jules Just Write!
 
"Lightwood will definitely be enjoyed by fans of crime fiction. So snag it now, grab a drink, and settle in for a gritty action-packed read of revenge and redemption."
 
http://julesjustwrite.com/2017/05/19/review-steph-posts-lightwood/