I encourage everyone to post comments and questions for this week’s Featured Author. Steven’s books are The Raven Affair
Fran: Steven, tell us a little about yourself? Which genre do you prefer in your novels?
I don’t specialize in any particular sub-genre; I try to write about life in general. Also, my stories cover local and international events. For example, Crossroads is a thriller/suspense based on extrasensory and the action takes place in the US, Russia, and France.
The same is true for The Raven Affair, which is based on the life of a mass murderer who committed atrocities in Europe and lived in the US for thirty or more years unpunished.
Fran: How did you start writing and when? How many books did you write up till now?
Steven: My first successful creation was a short story based on a true life experience, and it did get published in a local journal. But my writing goes way back to my early teens when, together with a few of my best buddies, I wrote and critiqued.
I have three books completed and one in the writing stage. Two of my books are published and I am waiting for the contract for my third one.
Fran: What have you learned from writing in general?
Steven: That it can be an arduous task and that it can take a lot of time.
Fran: How do you start writing a book? What comes first to you, Plot or Characters?
Steven: I would say—partly Plot. There is always an event, something special that sparks up my imagination. I never have a full plot in my mind in the beginning. It’s always partial and so I develop the story as I write it. Often in many, many steps, branching out to sub-events that I feel would make the story more interesting. My characters emerge from the initial plot idea and multiply as I go on writing.
Fran: How long does it take you to finish a book from start to finish?
Steven: It depends upon the strength of the initial plot idea. Also, I don’t write continuously. I’d say about six months.
Fran: A bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write that novel?
Steven: The inspiration for The Raven Affair came from the news. I read about the L.A. court proceedings, the prosecution of an infamous man who committed atrocities during the last world war, and who was hiding for decades in California. It seemed like a good story based on a true crime. I did research about him and other events in the book, but the depiction of the man himself, and all of the action, although based on historical facts, is purely fictional.
Fran: Who are your favorite authors and why?
Steven: I would say that I like all good novels, independent of the author’s fame. In general, I prefer thriller novels to all other genres, and so I like LeCarre and Forsyth. They wrote a number of consistently good-quality novels in their favorite niche. But, I also enjoy short stories and novels by Hemingway, Steinbeck, Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky. I like Old Russian writers, they were very good.
Fran: Where would you most like to travel?
Steven: To South America. Rio. I lived in Europe and all over the US but I’ve never been to South America. I think I like their temperament, especially their music.
Fran: Does readers’ reaction mean a lot to you? Do you read their reviews?
Steven: Yes, very much. The readers’ reaction is obviously most important to me. And, sure, I do read all readers’ comments very carefully. Up till now, they were very favorable. I try to get opinions from reputable, professional reviewers too.
For example, I obtained reviews from Midwest Book Review, The US Review of books, Apex, from a professor of Creative Writing.
Fran: Are you reading these days? Anything you are dying to read?
Steven: I am not that much into reading these days, I used to read a lot in the past though I never was a true avid.
I read Fight Club a while ago and liked it a lot, especially because of its style. But I like all suspense and sci-fi books and movies. I just started to read Andre Norton’s Masks of the outcasts.
Fran: What are your dreams or goals as an author?
Steven: To be read.
Fran: What’s one “do” and one “don’t” about writing?
Steven: I think that writing is an open field where almost anything goes if well written and has good content.
Fran: What was the best advice you’ve ever gotten about the writing/publishing industry? How about the worst?
Steven: To have my work properly edited before submission to publishers. The worst…no one gave me bad advice. People were very helpful, in general.
Fran: Is there anything weird or wild about you?
Steven: I just discovered that I am afraid of heights. This summer I was on Tybee Island and visited its famous lighthouse. When I looked down from the top balcony, I felt very strange, very weak, and almost immediately went down the long stairway. But I believe that my fear of heights comes and goes. It is there on certain days and then it goes away.
Fran: How do you rest or relax?
Steven: I like movies and watch them all the time. I also like biking, swimming, and sailing
1. Fran: Why and how did you choose the subject and title of your books?
Steven: I was always an avid reader of quality thrillers, and I wanted to write one that would be the genre of Forsyth, Ludlum or John LeCarre, some of my favorite authors. Fortunately, I came across an interesting article in a major national newspaper in the mid-90s. It dealt with the use of the extrasensory phenomena in espionage. I thought I could use this idea in a novel.
And so, Crossroads is an espionage thriller partly based on the paranormal. And, since Crossroads is the town where the CIA group trains its members, the title of this novel is Crossroads.
The inspiration for The Raven Affair came from the news too. In this case, I had already heard quite a lot about one particularly infamous criminal involved in genocide who was finally being prosecuted in California. I thought that I could write a story that would be far more interesting than a description of his hideous exploits alone. I decided to add a number of fictitious characters and a few true events presented in a fictitious manner.
The title of this book was based on its central character, the hitman known as ‘Raven’ who, as a child, witnessed the horrors of genocide and decided to revenge his family.
2. Fran: Were these subjects your first choice or did you ponder with others first?
Steven: I did have other ideas for a book earlier, but most of them were not powerful enough to provide the material for a full-length novel. I believe that content is the most important item in any novel.
3. Fran: What genre did you pick for your book or books and why? How did you create your characters?
Steven: I like thrillers in general. I like action and suspense movies and, similarly, I like novels with interesting characters and content. Sometimes the events in my stories require special characters. Those I have to create, invent. But, most often I try to fashion my characters based on my personal experiences and try to make them fit various situations in the overall story. I use action and dialog to make them appear real, true, in the mind of the reader.
4. Fran: Why did you choose the topic of the cold war and mind control? What kind of research did you do for the Crossroads? How is that book different from The Raven Affair? What made you decide to choose the topic of world domination in that book?
Steven: In a way, I grew up during the Cold War. I went through my education during the sixties and seventies; I worked in the industry while it was closely monitoring each new weapon devised by the other side. And then, I read so many stories about espionage, the CIA and the KGB. When I came across a short, poorly explained sentence in one of the nation’s major newspapers alluding to use of extrasensory in espionage, I found it a perfect theme for a thriller.
I had to do a lot of reading to justify the effort in my mind. I read a number of articles open to the public about the test results and experts conclusions. In the end, I could not use much of that; it was not really suitable for an espionage thriller. It was too scientific.
In contrast, The Raven Affair is dealing with real life, with tangible issues. Most people know about the horrors of the Second World War, and yet some are still doubting and scoffing at them wanting to believe they were propaganda because their lives were not affected directly because they did not lose their whole family or their country in the war. On the other hand, the idea of world domination is nothing new or special.
Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the Roman Emperors, Napoleon were all involved in trying to conquer the World of their times. And so, a deranged man Hitler tried it too. To make my story more interesting, I toyed with a ‘what if’ idea. What if someone else tried to continue his dreams? Here, in our country?
5. Fran: Who is your target audience?
Steven: Readers who like thrillers, the extraordinary, be it real life or fiction.
6. Fran: What inspired you to write your first book?
Steven: Partly some of my own life experiences. And that happens to be my third novel, Fear! presently in submissions.
7. Fran: Were you always an author? If not what was your first career and what made you decide to write?
Steven: I am an engineer by profession. But, I was always a reader, I liked good stories. I believe my friends and I started experimenting with the short story writing at the age of twelve or thirteen, definitely bitten by Mark Twain’s bug.
8. Fran: How much of what you write is realistic?
Steven: I try to write realistic fiction, stories based on real life with some excursions into the ‘what if’ territory.
9. Fran: Tell us what issues this book raises and possibilities it suggests. I try to find a unique and different way of reviewing each book. If the title has a strong influence of the book or if a character is really unique, I may decide to write the review from the point of view of the character and have the character tell the story.
If there is an issue, like abuse, child care, or abortion, civil rights or Alzheimer’s I might define the issue and relate the plot to that and tell how the author brings the issue to light to make people want to read the book.
Steven: The Raven Affair raises many issues. There will be always criminals and madmen, we are imperfect, yet many historians believe that Genghis Khan was in some ways more ‘civilized’ than our enemies during the second world war holocaust. And so The Raven Affair brings up the conflict between men without conscience and people at large.
It is a story about crime and unbridled ambition in modern men and women, with strong echoes from one dreadful past. It is about a boy who lost his family in the war he didn’t start and could not comprehend. A boy who grew up into a cynic and a dreaded killer. It is about people lost in the world of corruption and turned into dehumanized entities, almost robots.
10. Fran: What positive feedback would you give to an author related to their plot or book? How would you help a new author that is struggling with his/her own theme and has come to a serious crossroads and needs some help to continue?
Steven: Good writing is difficult. One can discuss the content and offer some ideas, a possible solution for the problem, but that’s it. From my experience, the writer has to get away from the story for a while. In general, after a few days or a week, new ideas come to mind and the writer is able to continue the story. Another helpful thing is to take an interesting book and start reading it. Or, go biking, or swimming, just keep away from the story for a while.
11. Fran: What do you consider as positive criticism and why?
Steven: Positive criticism does not downgrade the writing or the writer. It points out the deficiencies in the work and offers helpful advice. It is constructive.
12. Fran: What issues did you address in this book and why? (Crossroads)
Steven: Crossroads is an espionage novel. It addresses the use of extrasensory effects by the former KGB and by our CIA. To be perfectly honest, in spite of all of my research, I have a very limited feel for such phenomena. It appears that some individuals are born endowed with very powerful psychic abilities.
For example, a person might have a gift of ‘distant viewing,’ meaning, the ability to ‘see’ objects a great distance away, as if physically transported to their location. I used this fact (it appears that there is truth to that) to create a story. The novel is international in characters and locations.
I tried to bring in various characters from France, Russia, etc., and I tried to describe vast differences in people’s mentalities, differences in people’s attitudes toward life. Wars were fought due to differences in cultures. I also addressed the issue of human character, what circumstance or deficiency turns a person into a traitor or a criminal.
13. Fran: What issues did you address in A Raven Affair? How do these books differ?
Steven: The theme in The Raven Affair is quite different from that in Crossroads. It delves into the horrors of the Second World War; it deals with the modern man and our society at large. It deals with the problem of social dehumanization where many are led to believe that money and power are the ultimate goals in one’s life. A few days back, there was a new grizzly discovery published on the Internet about some of the Holocaust victims, and here’s a brief quotation:
“During World War II, tens of thousands of mentally and physically disabled people were put to death by the Nazis, who deemed them unworthy to live.”
In our country, people are very concerned about the handicapped and try to help them live normal lives as much as possible. The question is, what would have Nazis done with Ludwig van Beethoven?
14. Fran: What is your next project?
Steven: I am working on a suspense titled Tunnel. It is quite different from the other three novels.
15. Fran: Other than writing what are your interests?
Steven: I like music, all good music. I like travel. I like good hockey, boxing, sailing and biking. I used to own an 18 ft. racing scow and had tried my luck on lakes, but I was very new to sailing. It takes a lot of practice and one should live close to a lake or ocean. Also, it is a pretty expensive sport, yet, very enjoyable.
16. Fran: Where do you see Tatiana if you decide to write a sequel?
Steven: Dr. Tatiana Borisova is one of those super people. Very bright and a powerful psychic. Yet, she is also psychotic, a very troubled person and a killer. Possibly due to mistreatment in her early childhood. I am not looking into writing a sequel for Crossroads, but I could use her for an ‘evil woman’ character in the future.
17. Fran: Tell everyone about Crossroads and share a brief summary
Steven: Crossroads is an espionage thriller, yet, it is also a small study of various people and their character. Here is a brief synopsis:
Sometime in the early sixties, CIA agent David Tallman is assigned to form a special projects group. The USSR is feverishly involved in experimentation in extrasensory control; the CIA must respond.
The Tallman’s group is settled in a small, rural steel-mill town of Crossroads in the foothills of the Allegheny in Pennsylvania. While Tallman is preparing his group for testing, they are facing two redoubtable enemies, Sokolov, once the Soviet spy-master in Eastern Europe, now the new chief of the KGB Special Projects, and a psychiatrist Dr. Tatiana Borisova, his bewitching, extrasensory control specialist.
While the two opposing teams are trying to outmaneuver each other, political life in the USSR changes. The new Democratic forces, led by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, are introducing unexpected changes in the country’s rusty system and the old communists are opposing the changes. In the end, the hard liners are successfully subdued and the coup countermined.
18. Fran: What is the focal point of this novel? Explain Project Sphinx?
Steven: The central point of this novel is espionage, the dangerous life of a spy. We read things here in the West and we think we understand it all. But those brave people, who dared spy in the former USSR, or Germany, were truly extraordinary men and women. Actually, my principal character, Tallman, was partly fashioned after a former CIA agent I met in a local library.
One of the final events in Crossroads is the formation of a special multinational expert group. The ultimate goal of this group is to help the new Russian Democratic forces defeat the old communist opposition. This top-secret undertaking is code-named Project Sphinx. Crossroads’ psychics become its superweapon.
19. Fran: What makes both of your books unique and different from other authors’ books?
Steven: It is hard to tell, all writers try to entertain their readers. I believe that because of some of my travels abroad I am able to describe my multinational characters and their culture in more detail, more realistically. To understand various peoples’ mentality, one has to live in their country. Also, I try to get deeper into the character of my heroes and their motivations.
20. Fran: I found reading your books very mind-stimulating and quite informative. What do other readers say?
Steven: Readers seem to like my books, but all I hear is that they like them. The only more thorough feedbacks come from various reviewers. I understand that, readers at large are too busy with their everyday lives to find the time to write comments on Amazon, etc.
21. Fran: Give our readers a short summary of Raven and tell how this novel differs from Crossroads?
Steven: Here’s a brief synopsis:
Several decades after his escape from the Balkans, Anton, a former high official and a man responsible for genocides, decides to cross the Atlantic and try to find a hiding place close to his brother living in California.
Like millions of other people, two priests living in San Francisco had never heard of him. They don’t know that a killer in a monk’s garb, responsible for over half a million deaths, is hiding not too far from them.
Mick and Lynnie are living in San Francisco too. Mick, seemingly a very charming maitre d’ at the Westin St. Francis’ Michael Mina Restaurant is, unknown to Lynnie, a dreaded underworld figure ‘Clerk.’
Interpol agents are pursuing Anton unaware that one of them is leading a double life and operating clandestinely as a high priced hit man ‘Raven.’ They’re unaware that Raven has very personal reasons for hunting down Anton. Meanwhile, Max Weber, a wealthy industrialist is involved in rebuilding his fascist, anti American organization in the U.S. and abroad.
His personal plans clash with his employers’ interests and when Hanna Lange, Weber’s hit woman, murders the U.S. President, Weber’s ambitions become too inconvenient.
Raven successfully elimates Weber and, in search of a haven, flees to the far East.
This novel is more about people, about their predicaments and the everyday life in general. Crossroads is more specialized.
22. Fran: Who is Anton and why was everyone after him?
Steven: Anton is a former fascist official who ordered and executed horrific mass murders. A real-life madman.
23. Fran: Who is Clerk and why is he such a dangerous man?
Steven: Clerk is a young man gone wrong. On one hand very fond and very protective of his woman, he is a man devoid of all scruples. Raised in California and exposed to the drug world and mostly corruption while growing up, he becomes a very disillusioned and seriously disturbed individual. In the end, he loses all respect for human life. He becomes an expert hit man who would murder anyone for the right price.
24. Fran: Will you bring back Raven or any other main character from either of your books?
Steven: I really don’t know. It depends upon the theme and needs of my next novel.
25. Fran; what other genres do you want to explore in your writing?
Steven: I am not sure; I believe I will continue with thrillers. However, my third novel, Fear! is not a thriller, it is a true-life story. So, I did change my genre in that one.
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. Looking forward to reading your next book. Fran Lewis
Steven: Thank you very much, Fran, for this opportunity to talk about my novels.