Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Interview with Giano Cromley, author of What We Build Upon the Ruins

Today, I bring you an interview with Giano Cromley, author of the short story collection What We Build Upon the Ruins. Framed by three interlinking stories focused on one family's reckoning with loss and struggle with grief, the tales in this collection are poignant, haunting and utterly captivating. Short story collections are often hit or miss, but What We Build Upon the Ruins swings for the fences and brings it home. Read on as Cromley and I discuss writing about loss, crafting messy characters and how short stories are more like poems than novels.


Steph Post: The three stories that frame the collection- "What We Build Upon the Ruins," "Human Remains," and "The Physics of Floating"- all tell a continuing story centering on a family's experience of building a birchbark canoe as a means of healing their shared grief. I'm curious as to the development of this triptych. Was this originally one long story that was broken up or was it written as a deliberate series over a span time? And what was the need for breaking the story into separate, individual pieces?

Giano Cromley: The canoe stories started out as just a single story I wanted to tell with no idea what it was going to be when it finally grew up. As I got further into it, I started to realize it was going to fall into that weird limbo state of too-short-to-be-a-novel-too-long-to-be-a-short-story. I was also in the process of putting together a collection at the time, so I figured maybe I could write about this family but have it be three distinct, separate stories. One of my favorite collections, The Watch, by Rick Bass, does something similar. The first story introduces a couple characters and seemingly resolves itself. Then, about halfway through the collection, you come across another story with the same characters and then again at the end. Those stories aren't as narratively linear as mine are, but it's like getting a surprise visit from some old friends when you're reading that book and you come across them. So once I had that model in mind, I set about writing the rest of this family's story in three separate pieces. It ended up being liberating, in a way, because I was free to make each piece about a different person in the family, with different ideas and themes to explore.

SP: The collection opens with the epigraph, "When the angels come, they'll cut you down the middle, to see if you're still there. To see if you're still there. -Cloud Cult." What is the significance of this striking statement and how does it relate to the thematic scope of the collection?

GC: I'm a huge fan of the band Cloud Cult, and the song it's from, "When Water Comes to Life," was written as an ode to the lead singer's deceased son -- almost as a way to comfort him in the afterlife. As I thought about those lines, though, I realized they could be equally applicable to those of us who survive a tragedy. Finding a way to go on is the only choice we have, but it alters us, changes who we are in some important and essential ways. The idea of cutting yourself open to see if that essential you-ness is still there struck me as being a pretty good depiction of what it's like for the ones who come out the other side of tragedy.

SP: All of the stories, in some form or fashion, are concerned with themes of loss and/or transformation. Grief, death and loneliness weave through the pages, but there are also beautiful moments of rebirth. What draws you to writing about such heavy subjects? Are these themes prevalent in all your work, or just in the specific stories chosen for What We Build Upon the Ruins?

GC: I don't think I'm a particularly dark person. But I understand the ways that loss and loneliness make their way into every nook and cranny of our lives. To me, there's comfort, maybe even honor, in acknowledging that fact, recognizing it, tipping your cap, and then finding a way to keep living. That's what this collection is primarily concerned with: Carrying on -- sometimes unsuccessfully, to be sure, but always clawing forward. I would say my short stories tend to dwell on these ideas a little more, whereas in my longer fiction I tend to use humor as a way to confront those parts of life.

SP: One of the things I so love about your stories is that they are filled with messy, complicated characters who sometimes disappoint the reader, but ultimately ring remarkably true. How do you go about writing such authentic characters and to bringing them so fully realized to the page?

GC: First of all, thanks! That's about the nicest compliment a writer can get. I like to observe people. And I think I've got an ear for an oddly emphasized syllable or a striking word choice or a response that's not really a response. I see it as the job of a writer to pick up on those things, interpret them, and use them in a way that gives meaning to the mundane. But, at the end of the day, I think a good part of fiction writing is like being a magician. You want to get so good at pulling off your tricks that the artifice behind them is unrecognizable. That's when you've really succeeded.

SP: Something that drove me crazy (in a good way!), however, about these stories is that as soon as I would fall in love with the characters, the story would be over. I found this particularly true of my favorite story, "Boy in the Bubble." I wanted the story to keep going- not because it was unfinished in any way, but because I fell so hard for Max and his parents that I didn't want to close the story on them. Have you ever considered turning one of your stories into a novel?

GC: You know, I've never really felt a desire to go back to any of my short stories with the intention of expanding them. A teacher of mine once said that short stories have a lot more in common with poems than they do with novels. Which I sincerely believe. And with the characters in my short stories, I usually leave them right where I want them to be once I finish a story. One of the things I like to ask my lit students when we read "The Lady with the Dog" is why Chekhov decided to end the story where he did? Why didn't he tell us how Anna and Gurov resolved their dilemma? Inevitably, they come back at me with, "Because he wanted us to imagine our own ending." Which isn't really the answer I'm looking for. He did it because they've made the decision to do something about their condition, to change it -- and that, right there, is the most important thing. How they go about changing their condition is far less important than the decision to actually do it.

SP: I always want to pay it forward, so I'd love to hear about some of the authors who have inspired you and your work. Is there any author in particular that has influenced you or who you'd like to give a shout-out to here?

GC: As I said earlier, the collection The Watch, by Rick Bass, certainly had a hand in how I chose to assemble this collection. For short stories, I'd have to say my main influences would be Joy Williams, Richard Ford, and William Trevor. Picking up their books recharges my literary batteries. A couple hours immersed in their work, and I'm ready to write again.


Thanks so much to Giano Cromley for stopping by. What We Build Upon the Ruins hit shelves yesterday, so be sure to pick up a copy! Happy Reading...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Interview with Kevin Catalano, author of Where the Sun Shines Out

Kevin Catalano's striking debut, Where the Sun Shines Out is a dark, dark novel. It's also unique in form, brilliantly crafted and emotionally arresting. As the title suggests, the persistence of hope is peeks out from the pages, but one of Catalano's strengths here is delving into the dark side of human nature in a tale that explores not only a terrible act, but the span and spread of its repercussions. Read on as we discuss writing darkness, violence and how to turn a collection of short stories into a novel.


Steph Post: Where the Sun Shines Out is a novel, and it reads like one, but it’s also comprised of individual short stories that have been published in other formats over the past few years. The stories all center, in some form, around the character of Dean and how he, his family and the surrounding community have reacted to a horrific event in Dean's childhood. Were all of the stories written with the intent of eventually collecting and publishing them as a novel or was the process more organic?

Kevin Catalano: It was a strange, complicated process that I don’t think I could replicate. The short answer is that when I wrote the first story in 2008, the one about the last surviving Munchkin actor from the Wizard of Oz, I did not intend on writing other linked stories that would eventually become a novel. A year later, when I got into the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark, I started thinking ahead about the final thesis project, and wrote other stories- still not really linked- that were all placed in my hometown of Chittenango, NY. Two years later, I had six stories at 140 pages with a few recurring characters and some overlapping events. When my agent looked at this manuscript, she thought it was promising, but wanted it to be twice as long (understandably) to read more fluidly, like a novel. Thereafter, in the fastest bout of writing that I’ve ever done, I wrote six more stories in eight months that filled in the plot gaps, developed more characters, and created more of a thriller/suspense mood. This method was obviously successful, but like I said, I don’t think I could do it this way again if I tried.

SP: From the very first story, which details the kidnapping and murder of a child, the reader is thrown into some deep, dark territory. More disturbing than the physical violence, however, are the ways in which the characters you write about emotionally cope with the aftermath of the event itself. In short, there aren't a lot a bright moments of hope with the novel, though when they come they are well worth it. Was it difficult exploring such dark emotions and bringing them out in your characters? Did you ever find yourself having to walk away or distance yourself from the work?

KC: Strangely, it is never difficult, and I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why not. One possible answer is I’m a psychopath who lacks empathy, but that’s too easy. I think what’s really going on is that I know I’m in control, to some extent, when I’m writing these scenes; and I believe I write so much about dark stuff because I’m afraid of and fascinated by death and violence. The two brothers in my novel are modeled, in part, after me and my younger brother. We were (and are) very close, and even at a young age, I must have feared something terrible would happen to him. Now, as a father, this fear extends to my children. So my guess is that I’m exploring these fears through narratives of which I am in relative control.

SP: In reading Where the Sun Shines Out, I immediately drew comparisons to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. This novel, too, explores a town and a character from many different narratives and is written in a very unique format. Did Strout's style have any influence on you? Or are there other authors you could point to who have affected your writing?

KC: Kitteridge has been on my to read shelf for too long, so Strout, unfortunately, didn’t influence this writing. There are a bunch, however, that did. One of the earliest ones was Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid, which follows two characters in linked-stories format throughout their lives. Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried also profoundly influenced the mood and style of my novel. Later, while reworking my book, I read Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff and Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana, which helped with my understanding of place.

SP: Everything and everyone in Where the Sun Shines Out is complicated- reactions to grief, sexuality, coming of age, love and remorse- and this is one of the things I so love about the novel. The characters are gritty and messy and sometimes hard to root for, but this is why they combine to tell such a compelling story. I'm curious as to how you go about character development. Do you keep notes on your characters? Have conversations with them in your head? Because they are so authentically drawn, I think it must be a challenge.

KC: Thank you for saying so. I had an art teacher in 9th Grade who said you can’t draw a realistic face without basing it on a real person. I don’t know whether this is true, but it’s something I take to heart when creating characters. Everyone in my novel is either based on a singular person, or is a composite of people I know. I’m sure this is the case for very many writers. But that’s just the starting point. I then add fictional layers to the real person to make it a character. From here, I put the characters in various situations to see what they will do, how they will react. It’s kind of like a sick obstacle course to test their fears and limits, to see what they’re made of. All this happens in drafting. The more I draft, the better I understand the characters.

SP: Though it's certainly not gratuitous or excessive, there is a fair amount of violence (both physical and emotional) in Where the Sun Shines Out. Do you think violence is necessary to tell a powerful story?

KC: No, but I think it’s necessary for me to tell a powerful story. Incidentally, when our first child was born, a harrowing and miraculous birth, I felt obligated to write something nice and inspiring as a way to honor the life of my daughter. I never had writer’s block the way I did in that time. After a month of getting nowhere, I said fuck it, and I wrote probably the darkest and bleakest story (which ended up as “Where the Water Runs North” in the novel). Sometimes I wonder if relying on violence for drama is too easy- that a better writer could turn up the emotional heat with other techniques. But I’m not a better writer. Maybe I’ll get to that point in a few decades. Until then, there will be blood.

SP: And finally, what novels or collections have you read this past year that you would highly recommend? Any fellow authors you'd like folks to have on their radar?

KC: There are so many! I just read Simeon Marsalis’s debut As Lie Is to Grin, which is a fantastic, dreamy, original short novel. Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths is a gritty country noir about lesbians and meth labs. And right now I’m reading Andy Davidson’s literary horror, In the Valley of the Sun, which I’ve heard described as Cormac McCarthy writing a vampire novel; I think that description is pretty spot-on.

So many thanks to Kevin Catalano for stopping by! Where the Sun Shines Out is now available and not to be missed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lightwood in Atticus Review

I LOVE it when a book reviewer really "gets" a story and so I can't thank Eva Raczka and Atticus Review enough for this fantastic review of Lightwood. Here's a snippet...

"Not only a badass modern love story, Lightwood is engaging and unpredictable with some brutal action scenes and great dialogue throughout. Lightwood has the best of the southern crime and southern gothic, and rises above the genre."

And you can check out the full review over at Atticus Review's site. Cheers!


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Steph's Nightstand...

Thanks to the Piper Castillo and the Tampa Bay Times for this "Nightstand" feature! To be honest, there are about 20 books on my nightstand right now, but I'm glad that I was able to showcase a few here.... :)


Monday, October 16, 2017

Walk in the Fire Cover!

Okay, so the cover has been out for a little while now, but it's been a crazy few months and I'm just now catching up over here on the blog...


Now Available for Pre-Order!

 Add to your Goodreads List!


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.


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.

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.


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.
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!


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.


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!


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.


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!


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

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."


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."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lightwood, Scapegoats and Sacred Cows

Many thanks to fellow author Penni Jones for this lovely review of Lightwood over on her website Scapegoats and Sacred Cows.... :)

"With her sophomore novel Lightwood, Post reminds us that she is an amazing talent who has claimed her position in the southern noir genre."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lightwood on The Coil

So many thanks to Al Kratz over on Alternating Current's The Coil for this killer review of Lightwood!

"Opening Steph Post’s second novel, Lightwood, is like finding a new series on Netflix and knowing after the first scene that you’re going to be needing some more free time."


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Down These Dark Roads: An Interview with Patrick Millikin, editor of The Highway Kind

Sometimes I come across a book that I want to shout from the rooftops and press on everyone I meet. Usually, this book is a novel, occasionally a short story collection by a favorite writer, but very, very rarely an anthology. Well, I suppose I just needed to find the right one.....

The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers and Dark Roads, edited by Patrick Millikin, is the book I've been telling everyone about this spring and I'm thrilled to bring you an interview with the editor himself. The Highway Kind, featuring crime stories by writers both famous and relatively unknown, is a collection of eclectic tales built around our complicated obsession, fascination and fear of roaring engines, open roads, dusty chrome and the possibilities of who we might meet when the sun goes down and the broken asphalt beneath our wheels begins to cool.

Steph Post: Before I get into the book itself, I’m curious as to how an anthology like The Highway Kind is formed. The authors contributing to the book range from crime fiction heavyweight Michael Connelly to Diana Gabaldon, well-known for her time-traveling fantasy series Outlander, and everyone in between. In compiling the stories for The Highway Kind, did you seek out these authors specifically? Was there a process for selecting the stories included in the collection? And did the finished product resemble what you had in mind when you first conceived of The Highway Kind?

Patrick Millikin: It was a very idiosyncratic process, I must admit. Basically, I just came up with a bucket list of favorite writers. I was conscious of trying to get a wide variety of styles and approaches. I did commission all of the stories and it was a real honor to get to work with such an immensely talented and creative group of writers. Working in the book business for over twenty years has been a blessing and has enabled me to get to know a lot of writers. The early commitment of writers such as Gary Phillips, Mike Connelly, and Diana Gabaldon really gave me the self confidence to approach a major publisher with a formal proposal. Most of the writers I asked were able to carve out time to participate, but there were a few I really wanted to have that just couldn’t make it work schedule-wise. For instance, I pestered the hell out of Daniel Woodrell and Percival Everett, both heroes of mine, and they unfortunately couldn’t do it. There were some really fortuitous surprises along the way though: George Pelecanos put me in touch with Willy Vlautin, who in turn put me in touch with Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers. I’m really pleased to have a hand in publishing Patterson’s first published work of fiction. I hope he writes a novel one day. He’s such a talented writer.

As for the finished product resembling my original idea, it ended up being quite different. My first thought was that I would pair each writer with a particular car and that he or she would pattern the story around the car. It was a cool idea, and we were thinking of having sketches of each car at the beginning of each story. Hell, that might have been more commercially viable, I don’t know, but I am very proud of the way the book morphed into something much deeper and, at least to my way of thinking, more interesting. It’s gratifying to hear from more and more readers who are finding their way to it.

SP: I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of the stories in The Highway Kind, but at the end of the day, my favorite story of the collection is Willy Vlautin’s “The Kill Switch,” a quiet piece revolving around the acquisition of a Pontiac Le Mans that is equal parts grit and heartache and has stuck with me since the moment I finished reading its last sentence. This probably isn’t the sort of question I’m supposed to ask, but… do you have a favorite story in the collection? Or one that you wished more readers would pay attention to?

PM: I’m gonna have to plead the Fifth on that one, for obvious reasons. I am really fond of all of the stories in the book, for different reasons. That being said, Willy Vlautin’s story is really a beautiful piece of work, I agree. Another one I’m keen on is Kelly Braffet’s “Runs Good.” C.J. Box’s contribution is a killer, and I was very thrilled that George Pelecanos agreed to submit a piece. Luis Urrea’s story is surreal and wonderful. Stroby wrote a righteous one. They’re all terrific.

SP: The gamut of themes, plots and settings in this collection is also astounding, especially given the parameters of writing about crime and cars. Were you surprised by the variety shown by the authors of The Highway Kind

PM: I was indeed, and that was one of the real joys of putting this book together. One thing Josh Kendall (my editor at Mulholland) noticed right away was how personal the stories were. There was a confessional feeling to a good many of the pieces, which I thought was fascinating. We realized that we were really onto something, that the stories of course featured cars, but they weren’t about cars; they were really about people and difficult situations. 

SP: I love that. In almost every story, I detected the presence of nostalgia, too. Was this something you noticed when reading and selecting the stories for The Highway Kind? And why do cars and nostalgia go hand-in-hand when motor vehicles are certainly not an outdated mode of transportation?

PM: That’s an interesting observation and it hadn’t really occurred to me on a conscious level. I think that many people have nostalgia for their youth, even if the “good old days” are inflated and/or distorted by time. We romanticize our cars, especially our first cars, perhaps because they provided the means of experiencing life more fully, beyond the circumscribed world of our childhoods. There’s also a good bit of nostalgia for the days before our cars were all controlled by computers; when, as I mention in the intro, it was a symbol of masculinity to know one’s way around an engine. So much of this knowledge, the mysterious art of carburetors and so forth, is only kept alive these days by classic car enthusiasts. I guess there’s a longing for a more intimate, grounded connection to our physical environment. And also, those old cars had so much style, didn’t they? 

SP: In the preface for the collection, you write about the American mythology of cars and how it developed in the transition from horse to automobile and owes much to both Westerns and crime fiction. I find this idea fascinating and I was hoping you could elaborate a little more on how America, cars and genre fiction all fit together.

PM: I think it was just a natural progression. When you think of the classic Western hero, it’s typically a loner on horseback, one who has largely abandoned the confines of the civilized world for the freedom of the frontier. The horse provided mobility, and in some ways I suppose it represents man’s domination of the natural world. Of course, there’s a distinctly American wanderlust that plays into this whole mythology. Think of Huck Finn lighting out for the territories, now that’s a classic American archetype. The West, or the idea of it, becomes such a huge part of the transition from the Western novel to early American crime fiction. California, and particularly Los Angeles, was touted by boosters as the Promised Land, where people could escape from their old lives and pursue the “American Dream.” So much of the early crime fiction, set in LA and elsewhere, explores the messy reality underneath this facade. Of course, the advent of cars played an enormous role in this. One thinks of Philip Marlowe cruising the mean streets in his car, or the anonymous road-side diners of James M. Cain. There are so many great examples, from Dorothy B. Hughes to A.I. Bezzerides to James Crumley.

SP: On a completely different note, you also write about “aloneness” in the preface and how cars create a space for us to be both free and isolated. You write that “cars facilitate our secret lives” and point out how driving can bring us to an almost meditative state. I found myself concurring out loud when I read this; my car is my sanctuary. It’s a place to cry, rage, think, zone out, make resolutions, ask myself difficult questions and turn up the dial until I almost blow the speakers. But then, I like being alone. Do you think that this seclusion is something we need or is the space created by our vehicles actually detrimental to us by creating such isolation?  

PM: Damn, that’s a difficult question, Steph. I like that Pascal quote that Willeford (if memory serves) used as the epigraph for one of his books: “All of Man’s unhappiness stems from his inability to sit quietly in his room.” I think that solitude and seclusion is something that we desperately need more of, not less. That was one of the key ideas that inspired this book – many of us spend a significant portion of our lives alone in our cars. Driving a car, like many rote activities, requires attention but allows the mind to roam. It can be an extremely meditative activity, especially at night when there aren’t a lot of people out on the road. These days it’s becoming a harrowing experience, as more and more people are distracted by their phones and paying less attention to the physical world. 

SP: And finally, I have to ask about your “dream car.” Mine is a 1967 superhero blue Corvette Stingray and one day, come hell or high water, I will be sitting behind the wheel. Yours?

PM: I’d love to completely restore my 1960 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. It’s my favorite year for Cadillacs, and I prefer the clean lines of the 1960 to the all-out decadence of the ‘59. I tinker with it as time and money permit. Sure it only get a few hundred yards to the gallon, but damn is it sweet-looking. Someone’s selling a nice-looking green 1969 Cadillac Sedan Deville for a very reasonable price here in Phoenix, and, as it is my birth year I’m sorely tempted… but my driveway already looks like a used car lot.

So many thanks to Patrick Millikin! If you're ever in Scottsdale, Arizona, be sure to drop by The Poisoned Pen Bookstore to say hello to Millikin and buy some books from him. Also, keep an eye out for Millikin's first anthology, Phoenix NoirAnd, of course, go get your hands on a copy of The Highway Kind today!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lightwood Review in the Sun Sentinel

Many thanks to Oline Cogdill for this wonderful review of Lightwood in the Sun Sentinel (South Florida) newspaper! Here's a snippet:

"In Lightwood, Steph Post shows a flair for delving into the dark side of small towns and the even darker drive of families. While most of the realistic characters in Lightwood are not likable, Post makes us care deeply about what will happen to each, much as authors Daniel Woodrell and Elmore Leonard have done in their works."


Friday, May 19, 2017

Love in a Teenage Wasteland: An Interview with Ed Tarkington

Every now and then I do an interview where I find myself nodding along at every sentence, feeling like the author and I are on the same page, even more so than I was reading said author's novel. This conversation with Ed Tarkington, author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a visceral novel of growing pangs set in a small Southern town in the 1970s, is one of those interviews.... Enjoy.


Steph Post: I'd like to go ahead and start with the coming-of-age theme running through Only Love Can Break Your Heart. At its core, the novel is about Paul, and then his younger half-brother Rocky, coming of age, exploring their identities and learning their places in the world. In this day and age, most novels dealing with these themes are considered YA, but I definitely felt that Only Love Can Break Your Heart was written for adults. Who was your intended audience with the novel and why?

Ed Tarkington: I try not to think too much about audience when I’m writing. I begin with a character and an emotion or conflict and just go from there. Only Love Can Break Your Heart came from a deep-rooted desire to resolve or make sense of some difficult and disillusioning events from my own childhood, so it just seemed natural to tell a story that began in the narrator’s early years and encompassed the ensuing process of growth and reckoning. I think most writers are in search of insight or epiphany regarding the people and events or circumstances that gnaw at them. I still have a fairly romantic view of where writing comes from. The first audience is me. If the text feels true on the page, I figure maybe the people who read the same books I read and love will be moved by the story I’m telling.

Regarding the YA thing: I have to admit, the concept was not something I’d thought about at all until I started traveling to promote Only Love Can Break Your Heart and have met some YA writers and seen them in action at trade shows and festivals and so forth. The YA writers I’ve met are amazing people, and amazingly talented. I know a few novelists who are intentionally writing in that genre and producing incredible work for younger readers. But I know others who, like me and probably you too, just wrote the best book they could about the things they cared deeply about, and then an agent or editor said “we could do well if we pitched this as YA.”

If “Coming of Age” is a YA theme, then The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a YA novel. So is Great Expectations, and Catcher in the Rye, and The Unvanquished, and The Bluest Eye, or, more recently, The Goldfinch, which sold a bajillion copies in hardcover and won the Pulitzer Prize. I don’t mention these titles to invite comparison, but, rather, to say that I don’t see the theme as being the sole province of adolescent readers, or a book that speaks to young writers as one that should not also be read and taken seriously by adults. These days, genre is a pretty unstable concept anyway. Remember, the last book Colson Whitehead published before The Underground Railroad was about a zombie apocalypse. The one he wrote before that was about a teenaged boy and his friends spending a summer at the beach. Does it get any more YA/Coming-of-Age than that?

SP: As we just discussed, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is about growing up and, aside from time passing, hallmarks of this experience abound: discovering music, smoking cigarettes, admiring the cool kids and learning about sex. Was it deliberate to include these markers along the way or did these totemic moments come about naturally in the course of the story?

ET: Honestly, I don’t make any deliberate choices in my writing beyond what feels urgent and natural and rooted in a character’s desires and the obstacles between her/him and their fulfillment. As I mentioned above, the origin of this story was very personal for me. I have a much older half-sister with whom I had a relationship somewhat similar to Rocky’s and Paul’s. I wanted to write about that, but I was reluctant to write a memoir. I’m from one of those Southern families that doesn’t want its dirty laundry aired in public, and I love my mother too much to tell the truth. Furthermore, I think emotional truth is easier to get at when you distance yourself from the facts. So I decided to flip the gender and turn my sister into one of the “bad boys” from my street whom I observed when I was a kid with a mixture of awe and terror. They all smoked and drank and started having sex pretty young. So the story I had to tell was true to their experience, along with Rocky’s as a kid who idolizes and desires to emulate his older brother but doesn’t really fit that mold. As for totemic moments, well, isn’t that the stuff that matters to everyone when they’re going through that time of their lives?

SP: While many of the characters in your novel illicit sympathy from the reader, they are all deeply flawed- a characteristic that adds to the authenticity of the novel. What draws you to writing about these types of characters?

ET: What draws me to writing about flawed people? Being one, I suppose. Plus flawed people are the most interesting. Like that Kerouac quotation on ten thousand dorm room posters says, “the mad ones are the only ones for me.” I’ve always been drawn to the outsiders. I think this is a persistent theme in most of the novels I really love. Hester Prynne, Ahab, Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, the Invisible Man, Randall McMurphy, T.S. Garp, Sethe—they are all so different, but in the most important ways, they’re wrestling with the same problem, whether it takes the form of resistance to social and political injustice or to the issues that arise in the smallest, but perhaps most influential, institution in all of our lives: our families. I just have enormous empathy for those who by choice or circumstance are unable to fit or conform into institutions or situations where most people appear to feel at ease. The reality, of course, is that, at least a some point, we all feel that we don’t belong, and we all struggle with our sense of self and our places in the world. I do, anyway—still. So those are the people I’m interested in—my people, I guess you could say.

SP: Only Love Can Break Your Heart, set in the 1970s, really plays up the element of nostalgia, something I've noticed more and more books, films and shows doing as of late. Do you think there is a reasoning behind this trend? And why do you think readers are so affected by the nostalgia in the novel?

ET: I wrote this book at a crisis point in my writing life. I’d worked for seven years on another book which was good enough (along with a referral and a lot of luck) to get me a really good agent, but the book did not sell. I was married with a toddler. I’d left the graduate creative writing world and taken a job teaching English and coaching wrestling at a prep school because I couldn’t afford not to have health insurance. The price of this compromise was a dearth of time to write, travel, or research the way I had for the first book. So I had no choice but to turn back to the place where I started—the place where I was formed, and where the urge to tell stories originated in me.

I don’t think that the nostalgia you’re noticing is a new trend, particularly in novels with adult narrators reflecting on childhood. Any time adults look back on the past, they do so with at least a small measure of nostalgia, because the world always seems simpler and more comprehensible through a child’s eyes. The point of what happens in Only Love Can Break Your Heart is to carry the narrator—and, by extension, the reader—through the process whereby the child narrator matures and begins to see the world and the people he loves for what they really are. If there is a particular trend of nostalgia in this cultural moment for the period of time I’m writing about, that’s circumstantial, dictated, I suspect, mostly by the fact that people who can remember those years are a big market with a lot of buying power. Twenty-five years ago, pop culture was dominated by nostalgia for the World War II generation. A decade ago, Mad Men kicked off this huge nostalgia for the early 60s, which was a pretty grim time but which still came across on TV as comparatively sexy and glamorous, despite the misogyny and racism, the alcoholism and serial infidelity, etc. Now the 70s, which I barely remember but know from history class was not exactly the smoothest decade in American history, and the 80s, which, in my recollection was a pretty tedious time characterized by terrible fashion, lame music, insipid sit-coms, and perpetual fear that we were all either going to get blown up by the Russians or catch AIDS, are getting the same treatment,. Even books, films, and TV shows that mean to satirize or critique those times unintentionally romanticize them, the way even a decidedly anti-war movie like Apocalypse Now or Platoon makes combat seem thrilling and adventurous. So it goes.

SP: Finally, music plays a big role in the novel: the title itself comes from a Neil Young song. Why was it so necessary to include all of the song and music references? How important is music to you, both in your personal and writing life?

ET: When I started the book in response to the urge I mentioned earlier to write about my half-sister, the first thing I thought of was the voice of Neil Young. When I was six years old, my half-sister gave me my first rock records—Best of the Doobies by the Doobie Brothers and So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I would sit in my room and listen to those records over and over. My favorite song was “Helpless” by CSNY, which is basically a Neil Young solo track. The voice just hypnotized me. Listening to that song was probably one of the most important formative influences in my life as an artist. In school, when I was supposed to be doing math problems, I would stare out the window and just think about the sound of that voice and the images it describes. A big part of the bond I formed with my half-sister revolved around that music—sitting in her room listening to records while she drew or painted and smoked one cigarette after the other. So really, the soundtrack of the book was set twenty years before I began to write the story.

I think the extent to which people of mine and previous generations fetishized specific music and musicians may be difficult to fathom for people who have grown up with streaming media. This is not a criticism so much as an explanation. Before everyone had perpetual access to everyone, you latched on to someone like Neil Young or Keith Richards or Bob Dylan and literally wore them as badges on your jacket, both as signifiers of your identity and talismans of safety in the feral halls of public middle and high schools. So this isn’t a contrivance for me; it’s utterly organic to the lives of the characters I’m writing, who began as memories of people I once knew.

Music is less important to me now than it was then, though it still matters a lot. We connect most viscerally to music when we’re kids, because it offers a vehicle or conduit for our emotions at a time when most of us lack the vocabulary to express those feelings in language. Before we can even read or form words, we make and respond to music. So there’s really nothing purer or more primal. As we get older and our understanding of language catches up, we find a different, perhaps deeper means of self-knowledge through reading and writing poetry and prose. So I still get the same satisfactions as always from music, but my heart belongs to the novel.

Living in Nashville and having worked in my twenties at a music club, I’ve met a lot of famous musicians, and I can’t deny being a little giddy at times. But I nearly fainted after I met Louise Erdrich. Writers are my rock stars.


So many thanks to Ed Tarkington for stopping by and giving so much to this interview. Be sure to pick up your copy of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, available now from Algonquin Books, today. And, as always, Read, Review and Recommend. Cheers!