John E. Stith is the author of nine novels, including “Redshift Rendezvous,” a Nebula Award nominee, and “Manhattan Transfer,” a Hugo Award Honorable Mention
. Several of his works with Ace Books and Tor Books have been bought by the Science Fiction Book Club and optioned for film. He has optioned several feature-film screenplays, and has sold to television (Star Trek). He lives in Colorado Springs.
The following is an interview with John E. Stith.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
The starting point for this book was the question of whether someone should move on after the death of a loved one, and how soon is too soon? This was a personal issue that I had to grapple with, and I chose to explore it in mystery form, using the notion that people close to the deceased might be angered if they saw the survivor eventually enjoying life again after suffering the death of a partner.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
I have too long a list of favorites, but some of them in mystery are Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child, Thomas Perry, and William Lashner. Coben and Barclay excel in taking ordinary people and putting them into life-threatening situations, a Hitchcock specialty. In addition, Barclay has a series in which he makes wonderful use of humor. Nelson DeMille’s heroes are in some ways all the same guy, but I enjoy the wise-cracking, irreverent type.
In addition, DeMille’s work often illuminates places I’ve never been, like Vietnam and Cuba. Most people know that Child’s Jack Reacher is an ultra-tough guy, but he is also one who often uses his brain very effectively. Child’s books are filled with perceptive observations about the places he visits. Perry turned a common mystery trope on its head with his Jane Whitefield novels that feature a one-woman witness protection program in which Jane has to steadily keep ahead of the pursuit. Most of Lashner’s books feature a lawyer who gets in over his head all too often.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
This excerpt is the central hook. The protagonist arrives at his 10-year high-school reunion and finds that he knows no one there, and no one knows him. It soon triggers the central question of the book: how does it feel to be so quickly forgotten?
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
The fun part was location research with my wife, Karen. We visited every key location in the novel, all in Colorado Springs or nearby, making sure the scenes I wanted to set there would actually work, and taking note of details. The rewarding/demanding part was that in addition to setting research, the novel required research on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because the protagonist has been shaped by PTSD that occurred when he was a tween.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The ending of this book, as with most of my books, was the most difficult to write. Beginnings are a challenge, because you have to get the audience to like your characters early on, and you have to present an intriguing set of questions. Middles can be tough because it’s easy to let up on the action and have a long, boring section. But the end takes more than any other part. You have to not only wrap things up by tying up all the loose ends; you have to provide a climax that satisfies the readers, surprising them while at the same time making them conclude, “Yeah, it really had to work out that way.” Creating that emotional catharsis, for me, takes more effort than all the rest.
The other really difficult section to write was a childhood incident when the protagonist undergoes trauma that will stay with him for years and will affect his life choices in negative ways unless he can find a way to get past it all.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
I’d known part of the story before starting the book, but in the process, I learned more about the Ivywild School, a school with a brewery. Reductions in population growth have left some schools underutilized, so IvyWild is no longer an actual school, but is instead a commercial attraction with Bristol Brewing and establishments like The Principal’s Office, a coffee and cocktail bar.
What project are you working on next?
My prior novels have been science fiction, normally with a strong mystery-suspense component. The next book is a return to science fiction, this time about a starship doctor who survives the destruction of his ship. As he tries to get back home, he finds increasing hurdles, some of them from the navy he vowed to serve.