Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A View from Steven James' Window - an ICRS interview with a Christy Award winning author!

I actually had the opportunity to sit down and really talk to Steven James this year at the International Christian Retail Show in Orlando! I'm a HUGE fan of his work, as you already know, so it was pretty thrilling to sit down and talk with him. God is doing a lot of things in his life, and I'm excited to share them with you!  The night after I interviewed him, he won the Christy Award for The Queen!

Were you surprised to be nominated for a Christy for Queen after winning last year for the Bishop?
I really put a lot of work into the Queen. It was really hard work. It was affirming that all of that work was worthwhile.
Tessa and Patrick have a tumultuous journey and in this novel – all characters have deep emotional issues amidst the murder and mayhem…each character was struggling with some pretty tough personal issues.
Each book begins with a question instead of an answer, and the question in this book is, “What does it mean to forgive yourself?” Does it mean anything?Nowhere in the Bible does God encourage us to forgive ourselves.  All of the characters have different ways to ask the same question.  All of them come to a different answer.  Their journey to find that answer is what this novel is built around.  Because all of them have this struggle with forgiveness, it does create a lot of emotional struggle in the course of the story.  All of the characters experience deep growth in one way or another.
I experienced a lot of ‘gut’ reactions in the story, whether it was from the bad guy's point of view or the good guy's point of view.  How do you, as a writer, transition so seamlessly from one point of view to another. Is that difficult for you?
I’m constantly asking myself what would this character naturally think or do in this situation? I try to be honest to how the character would respond to the circumstances he or she faces.  But weaving together the different story lines is very difficult for me and takes a lot of time.
I don’t outline. I don’t write one character’s point of view. Because the pace of the story must escalate. In order to let the context determine the content and to allow the story to take its natural course.  A lot of fiction to me is promises and payoff.  You make promises in the beginning  of the story and you pay them off at the end.  As I introduce those promises early in the story, I begin to have ideas as to how those will be fulfilled later on.  I may jot down ideas for future scenes, but I allow the natural flow of the story to develop and change as I write.
There are scenes in the story that are very specific and violent. How do you come up with those scenes? How do you get in the mind of the bad guy so convincingly?  You have all of the elements of story  (believability, escalation.,)  I’m constantly asking myself how all of these forces press into the story and shape the story.  Instead of me dictating what the story will look like, I try to uncover the story as I move along with the characters. 
Do you get nervous when you write your stories?  YES!  Yes.  When I write for me, it’s all about evoking emotion.  I try to write myself to a point where I’m nervous or anxious.  And if I can write myself to a point where I can cry, that’s good too.  That’s hard to do.  But for me, that is always a powerful moment.
Opening Moves comes out September 1st.   A prequel that happens about 10 years before the Pawn.  1997…there is a killer on the loose…although there is not a lot of violence on the page, this novel is probably the most psycologically suspenseful.  Tessa appears in the last scene when Patrick meets Tessa.

Why do you write four books and then go back and do a prequel before ending the series?  I wanted  to show the genesis of Patrick Bowers.  All of the fun things that make Patrick who his is in the other stories.  If you write the entire series and then go back and write the prequel, it’s very anticlimactic to me.  So I decided to do Opening Moves now, then go on to the King and finally on to Checkmate at the very end.  I have ideas for Checkmate but no contract for that yet.  So there will definitely  be two more books – possibly three before the series ends.

Placebo – begins a new series this Fall.  Brand new…conspiracy…science thriller…medical kind of a Michael Criton type story.  I had the idea for something similar quite a while ago.  But I had heard of this research about quantum mechanics and how our expectations and observations of reality affect the outcome of different events.  Believer’s know about cursings and blessings in the Old Testament and Prayer in the New Testament – all of these have to do with God’s powers but also with thoughts and emotions.  The idea that our thoughts and ideas impact reality has been around since the beginning and quantum mechanics is proving that that is indeed how the universe works.  It was a book where the research was fun and unique. It was a fascinating process…it was a nice journey to embark on a new series.
There is not an overt faith element in the Patrick Bowers.  Will that change with future stories?  I’m not focused on a certain message so there isn’t a overt or covert message of any kind.  I’m just trying to tell a great story that deals with big questions.  If you want to know what I believe or be inspired or want the gospel presented, you will find that in my non-fiction. If they want a great story that doesn’t contain sex scenes or cursing and explore big questions of life in the midst of something dramatic, then my fiction is a great place to land.
Patrick and Tessa are a “put-together” family – and intentional family later in the series. Do we get to see Tessa develop further in the next two books in the series?  More so than even in the first four book?
There is a possibility that she will have her own series coming up in the future.

She is one of the most unusual, eclectic, brutally honest characters in your stories.  You can‘t help but love her!
In my mind, she is a very emotionally needy person.  She’s about thirteen, emotionally and about twenty-two intellectually.  This contrast between her emotional needy state and her intelligent acumen is what makes her interesting. In the Pawn, she is a snotty teen, but as she develops in the series I sort of fell in love with her character.  She is a fun, multilayered character that sort of surprised me as the series developed.
Four books into a series…do you ever get tired of spending time with this group of characters?  I haven’t yet!  The first draft of the King is done, and it’s a good escalation for the story line.  And I have a working idea in my mind for Checkmate.  I’m not sick of the characters – I’ve written  800,000 words! It’s CRAZY! But it’s been fun!
You have revised Quest for Celestia. Tell us about that.  It was a reimagining of Pilgrim’s Progress and I basically re-wrote it.  It’s the same story, but I’ve developed a lot as a writer, and that shows in this new edition.
Story is a non-fiction work that has just re-released. It was my most critically acclaimed book, and it’s nice to see that it has stayed in print.
Do you enjoy the ability to switch from fiction to non-fiction? I think I’ll always “dabble” in non-fiction, but because a have a number of fiction books already under contract, most of my writing will be in the fiction market.
Any words you want to leave with your readers? A word of thanks for buying my stories, and any time I’m in your area, I’d love to meet you and get to know you a little bit.
What is God doing in your life? What’s He speaking into your life right now?
It’s easy to get anxious, and depressed and frustrated as I write. I was in church recently, and I had the words come to me, “Live in the victory.”  And so I’ve posted those words in my office to remind me that Christ has already overcome the world, and I don’t have to be anxious about tomorrow. The victory has already been won in Christ, and I can find joy in the moment and not feel overwhelmed by the work that lies ahead of me.
It takes me about a month to write what it takes people about an hour to read.  I don’t want to just put books out there…I want every book to be the best I have to offer.  It takes me longer to get to the point where I feel I’ve written the best I have to offer, so it’s nice to be affirmed by the readers that they enjoy what I have to offer as a writer.
Do you take a hiatus from your writing?  I attended Thriller-fest where the Queen was a finalist for the best original paperback of the year. That is particularly gratifying because I’m not just competing within the suspense category with other Christian writers, but writers of suspense in all markets.

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