Steven John is the author of 3 A.M. and his new novel, OUTRIDER, just came out! Please welcome him to the blog!
Your new book, OUTRIDER, is quite different from THREE A.M.! Will you tell us more about it and what inspired you to write it?
THREE A.M. was inspired by setting and character: once I had those in place in my mind all I needed was a story for into which Tom Vale (the protagonist) could fall. OUTRIDER on the other hand began with an idea about a conflict; the makings of the story came to me after a conversation with my brother, in fact, (indeed I spoke of it in the acknowledgements in the book). We talked about a scene involving a field of solar panels and a shootout. That was enough: from there came the world of OUTRIDER, populated by its many characters and with the inevitable clash between people operating on opposing belief systems.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I have always been writing, if not always planning to be a writer, per say. I made movies all throughout my childhood (in Alexandria, VA, near Washington, DC) and went to film school in Boston, then moved to LA and worked in that industry for a number of years. But I wrote short stories and several aborted novels in my younger days, along with poetry (some of which is competent, some of which is youthful tripe), essays, and of course papers for school, assignments which I always relished over, say, a math test (mathematics and I are not on god terms). More even than writing, though, I have since childhood been a voracious reader, and it is to that I credit any ability I have now.
What was one of the first things you remember writing?
On a whim I wrote a short story called “Police of the People” sometime in middle school. It was far from the first thing I wrote, for the record, but it was the first time I recall finishing a project and thinking (I paraphrase, looking back through the dusty lens of memory) “Damn, that’s pretty good.” I also recall when in the fifth grade I wrote a poem entitled “Eternity” which was good enough to bring tears to the eyes of my teacher, draw compliments from fellow ten-year-olds, and be published in a small-circulation kids literature magazine. All this had the unfortunate repercussions of convincing me I was some astounding poet and I churned out absolute drivel over the ensuing years, most of it lacking merit both in terms of meaning and even structure.
What character or characters did you enjoy writing the most in OUTRIDER?
Scofield, hands down, is one of the most satisfying characters I have ever written. He is inscrutable at first, almost predictable eventually, but always just sphinxlike enough to keep you (and me) guessing. He is also the personification of what many people want to be: one who does what they see is right as often as possible. Mayor Dreg was also lots of fun to write because he does whatever the hell he wants. I think Dreg and his right-hand-man, Tim Hale, and many other characters in the book, are very real in ways that defy their archetypes, though I readily admit that many of the “cast” are indeed archetypal in many ways, as often happens when your story rides on the back of many characters.
What kind research did you do for the book?
I did a lot of reading about solar tech, of course, and about how much power a large city consumes, what affects the usage of watts, what impacts power generation, that sort of stuff. I also went for a few horseback rides, something I had not done in many years.
Worldbuilding is very important in a book like OUTRIDER. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?
There are obvious choices that indeed influenced me as a younger reader, such as 1984 or BRAVE NEW WORLD, but these days I have been spending more time with classics such as MADAME BOVARY and ANNA KARENINA. The fact that these 150 or so year old books still feel so vital and alive, so current, is testament to the way their authors painted the worlds around them. It’s in many ways easier to create a world unlike our own than it is to capture our actual existence in a way that will still resonate for years to come, so it is to the illuminating descriptions, details, and asides of time-tested great works that I pay the most attention.
What authors, or novels, have had the most influence on you and your work?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Hemingway and Henry Miller, obvious as those literary giants may seem. But in the broadest strokes, it’s the likes of Tolstoy and Faulkner these days, Vonnegut a few years back.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
–TROPIC OF CANCER. That book opened the world to me more than anything or anyone else ever has or ever will. Of course, with Henry Miller, there is so much wonderful madness in his prose that you rather do get to experience it again and again in an almost vestal state; it’s that dense, that good.
You have a young son (congrats!!). Is it a challenge sometimes to juggle your writing with family life?
Jesus Christ yes.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Don’t make any excuses. If you don’t write for days, fine, but get back to it. Don’t worry so much about plans (“I have to read 10 pages of her/him, then listen to a song by ABBA, then have a cup of coffee…”), just make some time and write. Read a lot, of course, but really just don’t make excuses and make some time. And don’t talk about your writing more than you actually write. Be honest with yourself. And remember that it’s in the editing that great writing emerges, not the first draft. That brilliant twist you read recently? The writer came up with that when they were 200 pages into the book and went back and made some tweaks, that’s how it works so flawlessly, see?
What’s next for you?
Ideally more sleep. But also editing the two books I have “in the can” (or rather on the hard drive). And I have slowly growing in me rather involved novel, but I’m not ready to start thinking too deeply (nor talking) about it until a few of the other balls that are up in the air come on down and settle.
Keep up with Steven: Website
In the near future, the New Las Vegas Sunfield will be one of many enormous solar farms to supply energy to the United States. At more than fifty miles long and two miles wide, the Sunfield generates an electromagnetic field so volatile that ordinary machinery and even the simplest electronic devices must be kept miles away from it. Thus, the only men who can guard the most technologically advanced power station on earth do so on horseback.
They are the Outriders.
Though the power supplied by the Sunfield is vast, access to that power comes with total deference to the iron-fisted will of New Las Vegas’s ruthless mayor, Franklin Dreg. Crisis erupts when Dreg’s quietly competent secretary, Timothy Hale, discovers someone has been stealing energy—siphoning it out of the New Las Vegas grid under the cover of darkness.
As the Outriders investigate, the scale of the thievery becomes clear: these aren’t the ordinary energy leeches – people who steal a few watts here or there. These are high-tech terrorists (or revolutionaries) engaged in a mysterious and dangerous enterprise and poised to bring down the entire energy grid, along with the millions of people it supports.
The pressure mounts and fractures appear within both the political leadership of New Las Vegas and in the tight-knit community of Outriders. With a potential crisis looming, the mysterious goal of the “Drainers” finally comes into focus. Only then do the Outriders realize how dangerous the situation really is.