Monday, November 27, 2006

An interview with Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz has written novels, under a variety of pseudonyms, that have been widely translated and sold millions of copies worldwide.

His first national sales were to the digest mystery magazines of the 1970’s and his first novel, SOME DIE HARD, a private eye novel set in Denver, was published under the pseudonym of Stephen Brett. Steve’s writing output increased dramatically when he emerged as one of the country’s most in-demand writers of series paperback novels, averaging four books per year for years. “Because I was writing for several publishers, editors asked me to use pen names so I wouldn’t compete with myself. Besides, I didn’t want to be typecast as a writer who only wrote one kind of book.”

For the past several years, Steve has concentrated on reducing the volume of his output to focus on developing the quality of his work. This strategy has resulted in well-received novels of dark suspense (NIGHT WIND, 2002 and its sequel, DEVIL CREEK, 2005), hardboiled noir (FADE TO TOMORROW, 2004)) and a mainstream international thriller, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT, 2005.

Stephen Mertz lives in the rural Southwest, and is always at work on a new novel.

1. Tell us about your current novel.

The mass-market paperback edition of THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is out in December from Leisure Books. We’re hoping readers have had it with stolen nukes, crazed terrorists and Latin drug lords. I know I have. This one kicks in a new direction with a (hopefully) fairly clued puzzle tying it together.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

HANK & MUDDY is a noir thing about a fictional meeting between two rough-and-tumble American music icons, Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. July, 1952. A steamy night in Shreveport, Louisiana. Misadventures ensue. The lead characters alternate, chapter by chapter, as narrators. It’s about the things that divided American society in 1952 and still do today.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?


4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

None that I can think of. If it’s not pleasurable, I try not to do it. Well, I guess the pay could be better, but I suspect most folks feel that way about what they do.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Call my agent.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print?
print again?

Edward S. Aarons. Ennis Willie. Roger Torrey. And there’s Mike Avallone…

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

Gazing back through the mists of time, the only part of selling the first one that I recall was the trouble I had to go through to get my money (a glorious, much-needed $750) out of the sons of bitches at Manor Books. Acquiring what was due me (at least contractually) cost me no money but did involve a pot smoking mime in a western Colorado mountain college town who still had a license to practice law in New York.

But it’s funny. Nearly all of my work in mass market paperback over the years has been written under a pen name or house name or ghosting or…you get the picture. Commercial scribbling. Since turning away from those markets about five years ago, I’ve had some success in hardcover but except for a movie tie-in book more than a decade ago, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT will actually be the first mass-market paperback to carry my name. I’m proud and excited about that, especially since some people who should know have said it’s a pretty good book.

So…can a writer publish a first paperback novel after already publishing so many books? That’s how it feels to me.

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