Steve Liskow – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

In Who Wrote The Book of Death? someone is trying to finish the author instead of the book. When PI Greg Nines agrees to protect a woman from death threats, he assumes that her name isn’t really Taliesyn Holroyd. Unfortunately, he also assumes she’s really a romance novelist with a book in progress. She assumes he’s no longer drinking after his own wife’s murder. What else they don’t know could bury them both along with the book.

Nines knows he’s falling for a woman who doesn’t even exist, but unless he can find the truth, nobody will have a happy ending.

Tell us something about yourself.

I actually started writing as a kid growing up in Michigan, but drifted away from it. My family moved to Connecticut when I was starting college, and I joined them after graduating. Grad school inspired me to start again and I wrote five unpublished novels before being drawn into theater. Now I’ve started up again, and have finally taken it seriously enough to read a lot of books on technique and attend some workshops. I have published three short stories in anthologies. Who Wrote will come out in May 2010, and a novella called Stranglehold, which won the Black Orchid Novella Award sponsored by the Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, will appear in AHMM in the double summer issue.  I still occasionally run a playwriting workshop I developed from directing, acting in, or designing for about 90 stage productions, too.

My wife and I live in central Connecticut with two cats who allow us to share their space.

What inspired you to write this book?

It’s funny. I’ve never dated a woman named Susan, but two Susans have inspired a lot of my work. Susie, a former classmate at my high school reunion, is a gigging Detroit musician and gave me the idea for a PI who wishes he played guitar well enough to be a star. His girlfriend is based on her. Those characters are in Stranglehold and an unsold PI series.  Suzanne was acting in a play I directed a few years ago. After reading some of my work, she encouraged me to write a romance. It morphed into Who Wrote The Book of Death? which is a PI novel with a Romance novelist as the female protagonist. It seemed to combine the best of both genres.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

Who Wrote got some mixed reviews and helpful feedback in a contest two years ago, so I did some rewriting. Last spring, a book doctor at a conference gave me really encouraging comments and I did more minor rewrites. Then the Sisters In Crime (I’m a member) mentioned a new publisher that wanted New England authors writing stories with a New England setting, so I sent them the MS and they offered me a contract four weeks later–if I could cut 5000 words to stay within their editorial limits. I found a minor character I expected to do more with who could go away and take a few equally minor scenes with him, and there you are.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

My family had lots of teachers, actors, lawyers, and a couple of journalists who read to me constantly. I was reading and writing at a very early age and always loved it. When I was about ten, I got into The Hardy Boys and started writing my own serialized stories, which my mother typed up. That was incredibly cool, seeing my words in print. I went into teaching instead because I wasn’t sure I wanted to turn writing into a “job.” Then I ended up taking one of my unpublished novels and reworking it into my sixth year thesis. I’m still actually reworking it to make it marketable, in fact. Then, meeting Susie at my reunion seemed like a sign.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

You mean there’s an easy part nobody told me about?!? ;-) Seriously, I wish I could plot more effectively. It’s hard to figure out what’s at stake and find obstacles. And description is really easy to do badly. If you use too many linking verbs or too many adjectives, the energy flags and the story dies in its tracks. I do think I can write decent dialogue by about the seventh or eighth draft, though.

How do you do research for your books?

Who was it that said research is a great way to keep from writing? Who Wrote the Book of Death? is set in the town where I used to teach, so I just drove around the neighborhood I wanted to use and took lots of pictures.  The unsold PI series is set in Detroit, and my college room mate (who helped teach me to play guitar) is now a lawyer there. He drove me around with that same camera when I went back for another reuinon a few years ago. My musician classmate answers a lot of my questions, too. And I know people from theater who have some really arcane jobs and knowledge, including one who is an IT specialist for a local police department. Beyond that, it’s the library and the Internet.

Given my choice, though, I like to stay away from research and just make stuff up whenever it’s feasible.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

Every time I try to write, I learn something. Maybe it’s a better way to depict a character, maybe it’s something about point of view or description. Now that I’m actually going to be published, I’m learning a lot more about social networking, which is hard for me because even though I taught and did theater for years, I’m pretty shy.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Andre Dubus’s The Garden of Last Days yesterday. Blew me out of the water, the guy’s so good. I’m re-reading Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip because I’m in a critique group that’s analyzing it, too.  Joe Hill’s Horns is on the table, but I haven’t picked it up yet.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I read less “literary” than I used to, but I still enjoy Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, and Don DeLillo. And Chuck Palahniuk, who’s probably more literary than mainstream, I guess. For crime, the list goes on for days, but some of my faborites are Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Laura Lippman, S. J. Rozan, Marcus Sakey, Don Winslow, Linda Barnes, and Lynne Heitman.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I’m polishing two novels. One is that thesis I mentioned before, which is sort of To Kill A Mockingbird meets American Grafitti. The protagonist/narrator is a sixteen year-old boy whose father is defending a teacher accused of raping a student. The kid has always had a crush on the girl, so he’s torn between the two sides. Then the police discover he’s the only witness who can put the girl in the teacher’s room at the time of the attack. That takes place during the sixties, for reasons that become clear in the book.  I’m also working on a novel that’s vaguely inspired by my teaching experience. In the nineties, I lost students three consecutive years in gang shootings. I’m trying to combine that darkness and urban blight with some of the fun stuff that makes teachers keep coming back. The hard part there is juggling the humor and the darkness with several POV and not getting preachy. But it’s coming along.  And the PI series with the characters from Stranglehold is knocking on doors. I’m staying pretty busy.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Keep writing. Go to conferences so you can get advice and meet people who can help you. Whatever I’ve accomplished so far has been because someone was generous enough to give me advice or information.  And don’t worry about rejection. Beyond a certain point, everything is subjective. It’s like getting a date for the senior prom. it doesn’t matter how many girls you ask, as long as one of them finally says yes.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

Well, I joined a blog in January, http://wickedwriters.com. We’re writing in several different genres and learning together. I’m setting up as many library events as I can in my area. And, of course, doing as many guest blogs and interviews like this as I can. I’m still learning how to do this, but lots of people are chipping in with good advice.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

I’m building a website at www.steveliskow.com. Check the blog, too. The book cover is still under discussion, but the publisher’s website is mainlymurderpress.com.