Author Steve Brewer brings decades of journalism experience to his fiction work. Twenty years and nearly thirty books after hanging up his journalist hat, he still writes tightly plotted, fast-paced mysteries and thrillers (as well as crime novels under the pen name Max Austin). Shotgun Boogie and Homesick Blues, both published in 2016, are the first two books in his Jackie Nolan thriller series. You’ll find Steve at SteveBrewer.blogspot and on his Amazon author page.
Here’s a peek at the series:
Jackie Nolan knows how to handle semi-trucks, shotguns, and the assortment of nasty characters who cross her path. She’s a good guy who doesn’t mind breaking a few laws to make life easier for family and friends, and herself—hijacking semis to pay off a truckload of debt (Shotgun Boogie) and stealing a dead woman’s identity to start a new life (Homesick Blues).
What inspired you to write Shotgun Boogie, the first book in the Jackie Nolan thriller series? How did Homesick Blues come about?
I’d been working with an editor at the Alibi imprint of Penguin Random House, and I knew he was about to ask me (over lunch) what I planned to write next. All I had in mind was a guy named Jack who boosted semis for a living. The editor asked if I could write a female protagonist. I said, “Funny you should ask! I’ve got this female character named Jackie who steals trucks.” He loved it. Unfortunately, his position got axed before we actually signed a contract. By then, I’d written TWO Jackie books. I decided to publish them myself. Apologies to those who already heard this story at SouthWest Writers’ 2016 Self-publishing Conference (watch the YouTube video here), but that’s exactly how it happened. Of course, then I had to come up with a woman named Jackie who knew how to boost trucks. She turned into a very capable woman.
You seem to enjoy writing from an antagonist’s point of view. Is that why Jackie has a bit of a dark side? Was there a learning curve involved in writing a woman protagonist?
Jackie definitely has a dark side, but she’s motivated by good (mostly financial) reasons. Her parents’ healthcare has put her deep in debt, and her boss is only too happy to make money on the side from stolen trucks. Jackie gives in to the pressure and starts stealing semis from local truck stops. By the time the novel opens, she’s actually begun to enjoy it. I’ve written female protagonists before (A Box of Pandoras, 2012), and lots of strong female characters, so the learning curve wasn’t huge. Once she started talking in my head, we were off and running.
Why did you choose Albuquerque as the setting for the series? How true did you stay to the city?
The nice answer: I love Albuquerque, and always get a kick out of sharing its features and foibles with readers. Also true: I’m lazy and I don’t like to travel. Most of my books are set wherever I’m living at the time. I stay true to the city, though I do change the names of some businesses, etc. We are a city with a big freeway interchange at its heart, and the truck stop there is a fascinating subculture.
Are there scenes from either book that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
All of them! These novels are written so tightly, they’re almost like movie scripts already.
What interesting facts did you discover while doing research for Shotgun Boogie and Homesick Blues?
1) Hookers who work the truck stop parking lots are called “lot lizards.” Lovely, eh? 2) Most semis these days have automatic transmissions. 3) Lots of truckers, particularly the young ones, are minorities. When I was growing up, truckers seemed to be universally white. They certainly were portrayed that way in the movies. Breaker, breaker, good buddy!
How has your 30+ year experience as a journalist benefited your fiction writing?
It taught me to write fast, and to do thorough rewriting.
You’re an instructor at the University of New Mexico’s Honors College. In what areas do you wish your students were better prepared for their writing journey?
Students in public schools aren’t forced to write as much. Now, more emphasis is placed on testing. So even Honors students, who are the cream of the crop, get to college needing to improve their writing. I teach them to write for a general audience, and to keep it clear. I also teach courses called Meet the Authors and American Crime Fiction. Lots of fun!
What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write, and what do you do to get over this hurdle?
Sex scenes are tough. I try to keep ’em brief.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing/ publishing career today?
Most everything. I’ve been through half a dozen publishers and five agents. I just keep writing.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m finishing up work on a novel called Side Eye (to be published in June 2017). It’s about an 18-year-old delinquent who gets hired to be the driver for an old mobster who’s losing his eyesight. Set in Albuquerque, with lots of action.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.