Up Close: Steven James
Something Wicked This Way Comes
By R. G. Belsky
Steven James spends a lot of time teaching storytelling techniques to aspiring writers. But maybe the best lesson in how to write a great story is to read his new thriller, EVERY WICKED MAN.
The bestselling author of the Patrick Bowers series tells a spell-binding tale in this 11th (and, sadly, final) Bowers book in which the FBI agent has to unravel a baffling mystery involving forced suicides, some very unusual mannequins, and a troubled novelist who may or may not be a serial killer.
Along the way, it becomes much more than just another crime case as Bowers’ own personal life is dramatically intertwined with his hunt for a killer.
“FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a tangled case of lies and deadly secrets that touch a little too close to home,” James says, in describing the new book. “When I learned of the disturbing trend of live streamed homicides and suicides, I decided to let that be a starting point for the book and to see where exploring that aspect of society would take me.”
Why does he make Bowers’ personal life such a big part of the cases he’s investigating?
“When I write my novels, I like to think of the struggles that the character has occurring in three separate realms: internal, interpersonal, and external. The internal struggles revolve around questions that need to be answered. The interpersonal ones deal with relationships. And the external struggles relate to the investigations and problems related to them.
“I think that for a book to be multi-dimensional and have an intriguing character that struggles from each of the realms develops depth and offers me intriguing opportunities for storylines,” he says.
Now, after 11 books in the series, James has decided to move on to new projects. “This is the final Patrick Bowers thriller. With this story, the series comes full circle. I’ve really enjoyed writing this series and feel like it’s time to explore some other stories I’ve been itching to tell over the last few years.”
EVERY WICKED MAN, like his other thrillers, is written with ideas and twists and character development that he figures out as he goes along — not something he meticulously plans out beforehand.
“I write organically without outlining or plotting out my stories. This provides me with fascinating twists and turns that I never would have thought of if I followed a more formulaic approach. So, I start with a number of intriguing ideas and then as I tell the story I explore how they might relate to each other and threats of tension that might run between them.”
“For this book,” he says, “I wanted to explore what it would be like to be a novelist who is losing touch with reality and might himself be a serial killer. By the way, this is not an autobiography, which I’m sure is a source of relief for my wife.”
And, even though the crimes in his books can be gruesome, James is known for avoiding profanity and graphic sex in them.
“Over the years, I’ve found that readers prefer stories that don’t have graphic sex and aren’t laced with profanity. As an author, my goal is to give readers what they want or something better,” he says. “I’ve never had anyone complain to me, asking that I use more curse words in my books. So for me, this choice is a way of respecting my readers.”
In addition to his bestselling books, James has become well known as a teacher of writing, conducting classes here and around the world. “I’ve been able to teach the craft of storytelling on four continents and it’s become an important part of my life.”
He says he’s always loved to tell stories. “When I was a young boy, my uncle would tell us stories whenever we would get together over the holidays. Also, my mother, who was an elementary school teacher, encouraged us constantly to read. So between hearing and reading stories as a child, I fell in love with the power of story and storytelling. When I became a camp counselor during my college years, I began to tell my uncle’s stories and eventually when I used them up, I began to tell stories of my own. Over time I began to write novels and there’s been no looking back.”
His non-fiction book — Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules — has been hailed as one of the best books written on the subject.
“As an organic writer, I found that there are plenty of books and resources out there by those who feel that a story can be reduced to a plot template or three act structure. However, there really haven’t been any resources that teach people how to write great stories without an outline. I wrote my book Story Trumps Structure to fill that gap.”
Among the many awards he’s received are accolades from Christian groups, which might seem difficult at first to reconcile with all the violence in his books. But James believes the two elements work together logically for him.
“I believe that all great stories ask big questions, questions of meaning, good and evil, moral choices, and the beliefs that we have about God, human nature, and forgiveness. Most of my stories explore the dark side of human nature and the fierce questions that Patrick Bowers asks as he tackles his cases. I want my stories to provide hope for people when they look at the real world and see how much in need of redemption it is.”
What’s next for him?
“Now that I have wrapped up the Patrick Bowers series, I’m planning to write a near future thriller and then see where things go from there. Although I’m sorry to see Patrick go, I’m excited to explore some new frontiers!”
Steven James is a national bestselling author whose award-winning, pulse-pounding novels continue to gain wide critical acclaim and a growing fan base.
Best known for his psychological thrillers, he has received more than a dozen honors and awards for his books, including three Christy Awards for best suspense. His novel The Queen was a finalist for an International Thriller Award. Steven has a master’s degree in storytelling and teaches writing around the globe.
To learn more about Steven and his work, please visit his website.
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