Kate Malmon: Congratulations on the recent release of your latest novel, WALK IN THE FIRE!

LIGHTWOOD introduced us to Judah Cannon. That book ended in a fiery showdown between Judah, his father, an entire outlaw motorcycle club, and a Pentecostal preacher. That’s a pretty tough act to follow! What do you have in store for Judah Cannon in WALK IN THE FIRE?

Steph Post: Thank you! Judah is go

ing to go through some heartache in WALK IN THE FIRE. By that, I mean he’s going to be wrestling with himself and those around him in a more complicated way than in LIGHTWOOD In many ways, Judah is his own worst enemy in this next installment. The focus also shifts primarily from him to include more of his partner-in-crime, Ramey, and his nemesis, Sister Tulah. Because I knew I had the space to do so in this book, I really let myself delve deeper into the lives of the main characters, while also bringing some new faces on board. There are less fiery explosions, but the violence is more brutal and the stakes are higher and also more shadowy. For Judah Cannon and for everyone else in the saga.

KM: LIGHTWOOD was one of my favorite books of 2017. I loved how you wound together the plot lines of the Cannon family, the preacher Sister Tulah, and the Scorpions motorcycle gang. Do you have an incredibly detailed plo

t outline to make sure you keep the storylines straight, or do you figure it out as you go? I image your office looks like a police investigation board with lots of pictures and strings connecting the pictures.

SP: First of all, thank you so much for your kind words on Lightwood! And yes, when I write, my studio tends to get a bit crazy. You know that scene in the first season of Homeland when Carrie goes off her meds and covers every inch of her wall with highlighted paper and photos to solve the conspiracy? Yeah, that’s sort of what it looks like by the time I finish a novel. When we sold our house a few months ago, I was just beginning to work on the third, and final, book in the series. When our realtor walked through my studio, the look on her face was priceless. She was so relieved when I explained that I was a crime writer and not a serial killer.

But to answer your question better, I don’t actually do detailed plot outlines in advance of writing. I plan and outline a few scenes at a time, but mostly I’m only one step ahead of my characters as the story unfolds. I write straight through, start to finish, without reading back over what I’ve written until I’ve completed the first draft, so sometimes it can get a little messy. I do keep detailed notes as I’m writing- on a giant whiteboard and on my walls, as well as in notebooks- so it works out. For some reason, it just makes sense in my head to have all those storylines going on at once.

KM: Family is a continual theme in your books. In A TREE BORN CROOKED, you write about James Hart and his attempt to save his younger brother from a life of crime. LIGHTWOOD explores relationships in extended families with Sister Tulah and her bumbling nephew, and in non-blood families with the Scorpions motorcycle gang. What is it about family dynamics that you find compelling to write about?

SP: I never meant to write about families, just as I never meant to write about the theme of home, but both seem to appear in all of my work. Without getting too personal, let me just say that I have a complicated and, at times, dramatic family and I’m sure that this has influenced the themes and situations in my books. You know, families are messy. A family is a group people who we are often tied to whether we want to be or not and who can have a tremendous influence and impact on our lives. I like to explore paradoxes and contradictions in my novels- things that we hate, but need, things that we love, but that hurt us- and what can be more representative of those themes than a family unit?

KM: While your books are set in Florida, there aren’t any family-friendly mega-theme parks or bikini-clad hardbodies on the beach. Are you trying to scare people to get them to stop visiting the Sunshine State?

SP: I think folks are already too scared to visit Florida. Or, they’re just looking for the crazies when they do come. Or they’re crazy themselves. It’s sort of a running joke down here that no one is actually from Florida, but are all transplants from up north. That Florida is just a destination state, a place to go to either have fun or die. But I’m a Florida native and the Florida of my roots is far from Disney World or the beach. That’s one of the reasons I love writing about North Florida. It’s a rural landscape and people that some may find unexpected in the sunshine state.

KM: Your official biography states that you are a high school writing coach. Personally, my teachers were very influential on me and my love of reading.  Who were the teachers that set you on the path to become a writer? (Also, are you coaching a competitive writing team? Do they have jerseys?)

SP: I wish I could point to any one teacher who influenced my path and my desire to write, but I honestly think it was more instinctual than anything. My professor and advisor at Davidson College, the poet and novelist Alan Michael Parker, pushed me and encouraged and, most importantly, believed in me, but I didn’t have much support in high school, to tell you the truth. In a lot of ways, when I’m teaching, I try to think of what I wish I had had when I was a teenager. I try to see myself through the kids’ eyes and to understand what they really need. Sometimes its help with sentence construction and sometimes its help with just getting through the day and both are important.

And, no, no jerseys. Being a writing coach means I’m in charge of getting 1,500 students to pass the state writing exam and graduate. It’s not nearly as glamorous at it sounds.

KM: In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.

When did you finally say, “Yeah…I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”

SP: I tell this story a lot at readings, but I think it bears repeating here. About five years ago, I was sitting in my living room, complaining about grading essays or something and why couldn’t things just be easier, why couldn’t I just be a writer, blah, blah… and so on. My no-nonsense husband looked over at me and said “Just fucking do it already. If you want to be a writer, write a damn book.” And that’s when I wrote A Tree Born Crooked. I didn’t necessarily quit my day job right then, but it was the moment when something clicked for me. I decided to quit ‘wanting to be a writer’ and get off my ass, do the hard work, and write a book. And then I wrote another. And another. And another. And so on. I talk to my students a lot about that moment, too. About how when the call-to-action comes, in whatever form, you can either decide to ignore it, or heed it and get to work. How you respond will be how your life changes (or doesn’t.)

KM: What was your favorite moment in mystery writing? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”

SP: This is going way back, but I can remember being in 6th grade and reading The Hound of the Baskervilles for school. I’m not sure which part in the story it was, but I can clearly remember the thrill of the mystery being revealed and how it all clicked and fell into place. It was sort of like the story had a secret, and then I became a part of that secret. I went from being outside the story, to inside it, and that was an incredible feeling.

KM: What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?

SP: You would think it would be sometime after the book comes out, right? Like, in the midst of a book launch party or while reading a glowing review, but no, I’m too much of a masochist to really enjoy those moments. I’m always, always stressing about the work-in-progress or that I’m not writing enough or something else to ever slow down long enough to reflect on how amazing it all is.

There is this moment, though, that’s occurred sometime around the end of every book I’ve written. At the end of the third draft stage, when everything is just about what it needs to be in the book. I’ll be re-reading a scene that I’ve finally gotten perfect and I’ll have this sort of flash. Like, a lightning bolt just goes through me that it’s finally there on the page, the story I had in my head, and it’s right and it’s beautiful and it’s powerful and, holy shit, I created it. It only lasts a few seconds, but it’s the best high I can imagine having and it makes all the months of writing the book worth it.

KM: The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett?

SP: It’s close, but Chandler. Though I’d like to offer up Patricia Highsmith if I may, as well.

KM: Parting thoughts?

SP: Thank you for the questions. This is another reason why writers write. Because readers read and readers are everything.


Steph Post’s recent release from Polis BooksWALK IN THE FIRE, is available at the usual book retailers.