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MARK STEVENS INTERVIEW – BURIED BY THE ROAN

In crime on December 13, 2011 at 5:41 am
After years in journalism, Mark Stevens published his first mystery novel, Antler Dust, in 2007. Thus began the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series’, based on a tough female hunting guide.
Buried by the Roan is the second in the series and it deals with ‘fracking’, a controversial technique
used to release natural gas deposits.
The series will continue on with another book at least, but Mark also has two other projects, both stands-alone written a few years back, he would like to give a second chance to. Keep your eyes peeled then for plenty more to come from this crime author.
Now, without any further ado, let’s have a word with Mark himself.
You had lots of experience in the media before going on to writing. Do you feel it was a natural transition or can you pinpoint a moment when you made the conscious decision to delve into novel writing?
I remember! Years ago a friend handed me a copy of James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” and Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” two very different books but my first experience reading “mysteries” or “suspense,” take your pick of categories. Of course after reading those two books I had to make my way through each of those writers’ catalogs. With Highsmith, it took a few years. Cain’s stories, especially “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” were so perfect, so chiseled and precise that I wondered what it would be like to try and write something like it. (He’s got some odd stuff out there, too…some nicely warped stories.) Highsmith intrigued me, too—particularly how she wrote from the point of view of the “bad guy” or multiple “bad guys.” Her intent was to make the reader squirm and fidget and worry and she seemed to have such an easy way of pulling you inside the mind of a killer, like Tom
Ripley (for one). As you say on your web site, there’s a “human side of even the most unlikely character” and Highsmith proves this point over and over again.
Highsmith’s work opened up the possibilities for me beyond the basic “whodunits” of and I felt strangely compelled to give writing a whirl. That led the last mumble-mumble-mumble years of writing and I finally got published in 2007. I don’t know about “natural transition” from journalism to fiction but when you work with reporters, you tend to be around people who read and talk books a bit more than most (I assume) unless you work in a bookstore or library or publishing house.

If you were to describe your novels, would you slot them into a particular genre or do you feel you’re a writer and those books produced so far are just the products of the way you felt at the time of writing?
I don’t think they are easily ‘slotted’ though they fall in the general category of ‘mystery’ and the first two books begin the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series.’ But they are not straight clue-finding mysteries. The first book, Antler Dust, includes multiple points of view including time with someone whom the reader knows, from very early in the story, as capable of murder. Allison is a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness of western Colorado and is the main source of action for the plot. A fellow hunting guide has gone missing and an animal rights protester, who has dressed in a deer skin and tried to draw fire in form of ‘creative suicide,” is also found dead. Allison gets help in Antler Dust and also gets help in Buried
by the Roan so there are multiple points of view in both books. I’ve always found it a bit implausible in amateur detective stories when the ‘amateur’ is the complete Lone Ranger and figures out major, complex conspiracies in single-handed fashion. I think I like the team approach but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Allison Coil, in my case, is the lead.

You’ve been on a tour for the new book, Buried by the Roan. How is it going?
In a word, “good.” The tour started with a major event at the Tattered Cover in lower downtown Denver and I’ve been out visiting cities and towns all over the state, particularly in western Colorado where the book is set. The response has been fantastic and the first book, Antler Dust, is selling nearly as well as the new one. Buried by the Roan seems to be striking a chord because it deals with ‘fracking,’ which is a very controversial technique used by energy companies to fracture rock far underground to release natural gas deposits. The technique uses some highly toxic chemicals and is drawing lots of criticism and concern across the United States (and Great Britain).Buried by the Roan spends most of the time in the Flat Tops Wilderness but leads Allison smack into the middle of the furor.

What has the tour taught you that you’re definitely going to do/not do in the next book tour?
I just hope the stores are all there when the third book comes out in a year or so. I visited 42 bookstores when Antler Dust came out in 2007 and many are not there today—book stores in Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Boulder etc. There is nothing better than getting out there to meet readers, though, so I won’t change much as long as the stores are still there. If you’re an author and you want to get your book in the hands of readers, you go to where the readers congregate—book stores and libraries (and look online, too).

Tell us about Allison Coil, your MC in both Antler Dust and Buried By The Roan. Why did you pick a female character to carry your stories?
First, Allison is based on a female hunting guide I met in the Flat Tops Wilderness years ago. (The real-life inspiration just stopped by one of my book signings too…it was great to see her.) She was young and, quite simply, as tough as all outdoors. She knew everything there was to know about the wilderness—geology, plants, trees, wildlife, bugs, horses, hunting, camping, surviving, you name it. She ran completely against stereotype (for me) and thus inspired the character. I developed Allison Coil from there. The main thing about Allison is that she survived a traumatic incident in the big city and found the Flat Tops as her healing spot. She will now do whatever it takes to protect it—and keep others from messing around with it. She’s the self-appointed sheriff and doesn’t mess around.

What are your future projects?
I’m finishing up the third in the Allison Coil series and I have two other finished manuscripts that I would like to go back and re-write. Both are stand-alone mystery-thriller-suspense (and both feature “bad guy” points of view). I’ve learned a lot in publishing the two Allison Coil books and I’d like to go back and work on those two titles. Both had good New York agents at one time and both came close to deals but now, in a weird way, I’m glad I have a chance to go back and make them even better.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’d encourage fans of C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Margaret Coel and other modern-day writers about the American West to take a look. Nevada Barr, too. Reviews, in fact, have mentioned all of the writers listed above and made some very flattering comparisons. While I’ve got your attention, please check out Craig Johnson’s “Hell is Empty,” one of the best books of its kind in the last few years. If you like outdoor action with your mystery-suspense novels and enjoy a strong female protagonist, please take a few minutes to browse the reviews. The first chapters from both books are up on my web site: www.writermarkstevens.com. And, finally, thanks for the opportunity to introduce myself to your audience.

Next week our interviewee will be award-winning journalist and writer Christopher Goffard, who will talk about his first novel, Snitch Jacket, and his decision to switch to true crime for his next project.

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