Steven was brave enough to come and answer a few questions from us. Welcome, Steven.
Once again in the city where his career came to a shattering end, Donnally resolved it wouldn’t be him—only to quickly find himself at the center of it all, mucking through years of crimes, drug trafficking, corrupt government officials, and money laundering to unravel this bizarre murder. But as he follows the money to unlock the mystery, tensions rise in San Francisco and it becomes obvious that everything is more complicated than it seems.
Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
The short answer: crime is what I know. I spent decades as a criminal investigator, both public and private, and while the novels aren’t based on actual people and cases, the characters and their stories have a logic and take place in a moral landscape that mirrors reality. Moreover, just like a crime from an investigative standpoint sets off a series of events, my books work out the implications of the prologue or beginning scene, sometimes looping far into the past to do so.
What research is required?
My knowledge of crime arises out of cases I have worked on. The Harlan Donnally series (Act of Deceit and A Criminal Defense) is drawn from my experience investigating domestic offenses from homicide to drug trafficking to racketeering. The Graham Gage series (Final Target, Absolute Risk, and Power Blind) is drawn from international investigations relating to fraud, money laundering, public corruption, sex and arms trafficking, etc. in places like India and Pakistan, Ukraine and the UK, China and the Golden Triangle.
Name one thing you learned from your hero/heroine.
My protagonists are authentic to my experience, so it’s more that I learn from the fictional situations I place them.
Any odd or interesting writing quirks, habits or superstitions?
I think I’m average in my approach. I write five hundred words a day and always know how the next day’s writing will begin. I follow the Tony Hillerman rule: if you’ve used an adverb you haven’t found the right verb. If you use an adjective it means you probably haven’t found the right noun. I also make sure that everything in the books is written from some character’s point of view, never from the point of view of a narrator. This is related to my effort to make my stories authentic as there is no narrator in real life.
Plotter or pantser?
I don’t plot out stories. If I don’t know where a story is going, I can’t give it away to the reader. In Absolute Risk, I thought of the ending when I was a third of the way through and struggled to find a way to get there. In Act of Deceit, I wrote my way to an ending I didn’t like, so had to throw away the last fifth of the book. In A Criminal Defense, so many people had motives to kill the victim it was easy to leave the question unanswered until very close to the end.
Look to your right – what’s sitting there?
A who, rather than a what. My wife. We’re at an airport waiting for a flight. She’s reading Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morrell.
Anything new coming up from you? What?
After this year’s A Criminal Defense, there will be a Donnally novel about criminality on the prosecution side of a case. The first book in the series was about a systematic failure in the courts dealing with the mentally ill. A Criminal Defense is about criminality on the defense side. After that will be another Graham Gage thriller.
Do you have a question for our readers?
The kind of question my protagonists would ask. Which is more important in the end: truth or justice? A corollary: would you be willing to sacrifice one for the sake of the other?
About the Author: