By Dan Levy
Steven James is among a relative handful of people with a Master’s Degree in Storytelling. Not English. Not Creative Writing or Liberal Arts, but good old fashioned Storytelling. Talking to him, one can sense he comes by it naturally. In fact, it may be in his blood. “As a kid, when we would get together with my extended family, we always wanted to go to Uncle Rich’s house, because he would tell us stories. I think everyone should have an uncle like that.” James found himself repeating Uncle Rich’s stories later as a camp counselor. When that well ran dry, he started making up his own stories, and his career was born.
What may be of particular interest to thriller writers is the subject of James’s masters thesis. “How much can you change a story from your life and still claim it’s true? It gave me a good understanding of what makes a story work and what a good story is.”
For many, it might be enough to be a literal “master” storyteller who has explored the territorial boundaries between actual fact and believable fiction, but James adds another ingredient to his fiction that won him acclaim as a “thinking man’s thriller writer” and legions of devout fans. “(As readers) we want to be entertained–that’s number one. But I think we also want to explore deeper questions and deeper meaning. When stories do that, they have the effect of attracting rabid fans and the word begins to spread.”
The Bishop is the fourth novel in James’s Patrick Bowers series. In it, a pair of cold-blooded killers has launched a spree of perfect murders in the northeast. With nothing to link the crimes to each other, Bowers (an FBI agent) faces his most difficult case yet–even as his personal life begins to crumble around him.
In Patrick Bowers, James has created an FBI agent who investigates serial murders, while eschewing the building blocks most thriller writers, and real life investigators, use to solve crimes–motive, DNA, profiling, etc. Instead, James, through Bowers, opens readers up to cutting-edge Geospatial Investigation techniques and the use of tools like Cognitive Mapping to trace a killer’s patterns back to his or her point of origin.
“It’s been really fun. I had a DEA agent say to me, ‘How did you find this stuff out? Only someone in the business would know this.'” Despite flying in the face of convention, James doesn’t see Bowers as the typical lone wolf protagonist. “When you read him, you don’t see the cop hero who flashes through the book without any depth. You see him as a human being.” James takes care adding dimension to Bowers by showing readers his family, relationships with women, interactions with friends, etc.
The Bishop marks the halfway point for the eight book series James envisions for Patrick Bowers. When asked about the theme of chess pieces for his titles, James explained, “I want to frame the series, but I also don’t want it to seem like it would go on forever. Each book is tangentially connected to a chess piece or idea, but they’re not about chess.”
Next up, The Queen, is due out in the Spring of 2011. In it, a group of eco terrorists takes over a Naval Communications Station the government said it closed in 2004.
A conference speaker and teacher, James is pushing himself with each new novel to practice what he preaches. “Every story is about escalation. By starting with The Pawn and moving up, readers expect each story is going to have more significance–in the role of the series and of Patrick Bowers’s life or understanding of what life is.”
Steven James is the bestselling, award-winning author of four thrillers, including The Knight, which Suspense Magazine named one of the top ten books of 2009. James is a popular conference speaker and has taught writing and storytelling throughout North America, as well as in India and South Africa.