A Few Quick Questions With…Steven Max Russo

I’ve blogged about Russo’s two novels now, and thankfully, I got to ask him a few questions about himself and his books. If you like this Q&A, be sure you check out Thieves and The Dead Don’t Sleep.

Tell us about your road to publication—was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I can’t say that my plan was to become a novelist, but it was always a dream of mine. I guess since high school I’ve harbored a secret desire to become an author. I wrote short stories and took several creative writing classes in college, and even began a novel once I got out of school, but I never got around to finishing it.

The truth is, when I was young, I just didn’t know how to go about becoming a writer. Also, deep down, I didn’t think I had the talent or perseverance to actually write an entire book.

I ended up becoming an advertising copywriter by default I suppose. It involves creative writing, but of a totally different sort.

Anyway, a few years back, I was feeling creatively frustrated and one night I just sat down and wrote a short story. It was about a young white collar criminal who is coerced into helping commit a murder.

I sent that story out, almost as a lark, and to my total astonishment a small online publication called The Rag actually published it. Paid me for it too!

That reignited the fire and I began writing seriously.

In Thieves, it’s really Skooley and Esmerelda’s story, and really you could’ve told the whole story without them (and Ray). But you kept bringing in Loretta. Can you—without spoiling anything—explain why you brought her into the story, what did she add that Esmerelda couldn’t have on her own?
An interviewer once asked me if I was a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Unfortunately, I am a pantser. That is, I don’t plot out where the story is going, I simply write by the seat of my pants.

I often tell people that I feel more like a reporter chronicling the events taking place than I do an author writing fiction. That is, I write what I see in my head. When I brought Loretta into the story, I was simply following Skooley as he left the house and went searching for something to eat. He ran into Loretta in a bar. I didn’t plan it that way, that’s just the way it happened.

What I think Loretta does is address a certain humanityand lack of humanityin the story.

She is the only main character that is even remotely likable. She is a victim and I think deep down sees herself as a victim. And to the psychopath, Skooley, she helps further show the depths of his depravity and psychosis.

She also helps ratchet up the tension.

Turning to The Dead Don’t Sleep, there’s at least a dozen things I want to ask. But I’m going to go with this one: The National League All Stars—where did this idea come from (both the name and the concept)? It seems like something that’s close to fact, but skewed a bit to the fictional side.
As I stated above, when I started this story, I didn’t know where it was going. I introduced this group of nasty characters and I knew they were tied to Frank’s past, but I wanted to isolate them, make them a specific group or subset that Frank could identify. Not everyone (such as Frank himself) who participated in this particular program during the war was a bad actor. Also, as the story progressed, these old baseball cards that are left were a device I could use to point the finger back at this group.

As for the name I chose, I wanted something that was instantly recognizable. It also allowed my characters to leave something that could be easily carried (baseball cards – one early reader of the manuscript, a big baseball fan, actually corrected the playing position of one of the baseball players I used) and it also allowed me to point directly to the relevant era.

Lastly, it gives the reader a hint at the false self-image this group had of itselfas an elite commando unit (hence All Stars)while their actions show that they were basically a group of drugged up, violent, and somewhat inept psychopaths.

Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work—you know they’re there)
I’d have to say that the three writers who influenced me most were Elmore Leonard, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King. If anyone can say they actually see their influences in my writing, I’d be immensely pleased! But I, and I believe most writers, are influenced by many of the writers we read. The trick is taking all these influences and putting them into the blender of your own imagination and then coming out with a voice that is your own, even if that voice sounds vaguely (or not so vaguely) like someone else’s.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I think when it comes to my own enjoyment, I am primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader. As far as what I can or cannot write, that remains to be seen. I am a novice author. I hate to admit it, but technically, I don’t really know what I’m doing! I can honestly say that I don’t see myself writing cozy mysteries or romance novelsbut who knows? I enjoy writing and telling stories and am just as surprised as readers are as to where the story is going next!
What’s next for Steven Max Russo?
Well, I’ve written a new book (my third) titled The Debt Collector that is now with my new agent (Peter Rubie of FinePrint Lit) and I am working on two more novels. I’m not really sure what the future holds. I plan to keep on writing. How much time I have to devote to writing novels, at least in the short term, will depend at least in part on how well my books are received, and how many I sell.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for both of these reads, I enjoyed them and hope you have plenty of success with both of them.

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