The Real Book Spy Goes Rogue
The man better known as The Real Book Spy has broken into the thriller scene with an outstanding debut. After many years as a reader, editor, and book critic, it’s only now that he fulfills his lifelong dream of seeing his name on the cover of a novel.
FIELDS OF FIRE is about a former Marine Raider named Matthew Redd, who returns to his little hometown in Montana for the first time in a decade only to find that his adoptive father has been murdered. But getting answers won’t be easy. First, Redd isn’t a trained investigator. He’s used to being given a target package then turned loose.
“Following clues isn’t something he’s particularly good at,” Steck says. “Then, everyone he talks to ends up dead, putting a target on his back with local law enforcement. He’s not one to quit or give up. Redd races to find the truth about what happened to his father and in the process inadvertently uncovers a global conspiracy set right in the heart of Montana . . . one that only he can stop.”
Steck first created Matthew Redd as part of an assignment in creative writing during 10th grade. The parameters were loose enough that students could incorporate violence, language… one of those stories where anything goes.
“I’d never been more excited about an assignment in my life,” Steck says. “The chance to write whatever we wanted, including swear words and hard-hitting action, was super appealing to me, and like any 15-year-old kid, I took it way too far. I turned in a short story called ‘Matty Redd’ about a teenage vigilante who protects his school from a killer. I thought it was good, but I’ll never forget, the next day, I got called down to the principal’s office, where I found my parents and the superintendent waiting for me. At the end of the day, the school felt I went way overboard and suspended me for a week.
“Flash forward all these years later, in my adult life, and I found myself wondering what Matty Redd might look like all grown up. Armed with a new perspective on life, and the experiences gained from getting married and being a father, I kept thinking about Redd. At the same time, I was (and still am) working full-time as a freelance editor, on top of running The Real Book Spy. When I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, I wanted to make sure it was unlike anything else I had ever worked on or covered, to ensure that nobody would think I borrowed story elements from someone else. I’m a big fan of Vince Flynn and C.J. Box and realized we never see the Mitch Rapp-like characters out west. So I dropped Redd in Montana and built the story around him. In the end, it’s kind of funny to think about. Matthew Redd got me a week off school and a book deal. How many authors can say that?”
Of course, the Matty Redd school vigilante grew up, just as the author, and some updating was necessary. In fact, he was fleshed out more in order to grow as a character within the span of the first book.
“It’s funny, I thought that because Matthew Redd has been with me for so long, I knew everything about him. Turns out, I had a lot to learn,” Steck says. “We meet him in his late 20s and, for reasons out of his control, he’s fresh out of the military and looking for whatever comes next. What he finds is a tragedy set in his hometown. Filled with guilt that he wasn’t there to protect his father, Jim Bob “J.B.” Thompson, Redd goes looking for the truth about what happened, and becomes hell-bent on avenging J.B., no matter what it takes. I guess in a nutshell, Matthew Redd is exactly the person you’d hope is looking for you, if you ever find yourself needing to be saved.”
In several, or perhaps most, thriller series, the lead character belongs to some form of military or government agency, but FIELDS OF FIRE opens with Redd finishing his military career and going solo. This was by design.
“For me,” Steck says, “it was more intriguing to think about what someone like Matthew Redd, when the military is all they’ve ever known, does after that period in their life. For Redd, much of the story is about him finding out who he is after everything he knows and loves is taken from him. There’s a little bit of an identity crisis with Redd, but by the end of the book, he has a much better understanding of who he is, and what’s important in his life.”
Although FIELDS OF FIRE is his debut novel, Steck has worked in the industry in different capacities, and with such experience, he can offer proper advice to newbies.
“Write every day,” he says. “At some point, get an editor or someone you trust who can help guide you to provide fresh eyes on your manuscript. And I’m not just saying that because I’m an editor. Even I needed someone else to come in and offer their advice on my work. It’s impossible to judge or edit your own work because your brain will always read it the way you meant to write it, as opposed to what might actually be there. But also, writing daily is key too. I’m a firm believer that the more you write, the better you get. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Allow yourself to write a bad first draft because you can always go back and make it better. Remember, you can fix bad pages, but you can’t fix blank ones.”
So what would The Real Book Spy say about FIELDS OF FIRE?
“Would you believe that nobody has asked me this yet?” Steck says. “All right, separating myself from the story itself, when I’m reviewing books or looking for books to tell my followers about, I gravitate towards stuff that’s different, or offers a different take on a familiar theme. And to be perfectly honest, I do think FIELDS OF FIRE does that. I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether it’s well written, but from a story perspective, this is just the type of thing The Real Book Spy looks for.”