Author Interview: Stephen H. Smith of Black Rose Writing
Happy Tuesday Everyone. Here's another great Author Interview. Today's victim is Stephen H. Smith, a fellow Black Rose Writer author. We are going to talk about his new book, the very timely, The Ice Man Kills.
JMR- Hi Steve, tell us about yourself. Where do you live, what do you do when you’re not writing? What is the perfect day?
SS- I live near Cincinnati OH. But I have traveled to and lived in most of the places in the novel, including several of the cities mentioned in the US, the Caribbean, Argentina, and China. When I'm not writing, I'm designing pharmaceutical plants, going to visit drug manufacturers, giving flight instruction, teaching English as a second language, volunteering, or helping my triplet children. - The perfect day for me would be to teach flying in an airplane, go soaring in a glider, bike a couple of hours in the countryside, teach English as a second language, read the Bible, and enjoy a tall dark chocolate milkshake from Baskin Robins. – By the way, in case my boss is reading this: Joel - I love my work, but it didn’t make my “fun list” above. Sorry. Nothing personal.
JMR- Wow, you're a busy guy. My second author / pilot interview, interesting.
JMR- You recently published The Iceman Kills. Is this your first book? Do you have some freaky third sense that told you to write about a pandemic just as the Corona Virus was about to strike?
SS- The Iceman Kills is my 2nd book and is an international spy thriller – a race to stop a madman from unleashing terrorism on the world. But my first book was a coming-of-age novel for young adults called Ruby in the Rough – by Steven Ruby (pseudonym). It was a very different genre: amusing stories about a slightly dangerous, mischievous boy. Each chapter is one complete story and is unrelated to the other chapters. It was most enjoyable to write, and I read it to my children as bedtime stories every night as they grew up.
Starting to write The Iceman Kills four years ago, I did not know the day or month that the next pandemic would begin. But I did know about viruses, and I closely followed world politics. I also designed facilities to make drugs, including vaccines. I kept abreast of developments in viruses, read about trends in bioterrorism, and followed global news. Additionally, I studied cutting edge drugs, i.e. synthetics, recombinant drugs, and gene splicing. I went to other countries to help start up production facilities and worked at some of the largest pharmaceutical companies, designing and building the most modern research and production facilities.
From everything I had learned, it seemed that a pandemic would occur in the near future, especially given that the superpower countries were doing extended testing and exploration on viruses, including experimentation, manipulation, and creation of the newest viruses.
The synthetic virus in The Iceman Kills was designed to be 80 times worse than that predicted fatalities COVID-19 could produce. But the Iceman virus is much more deadly than any coronavirus, flu, or virus possible by nature – because it attacks the ages of 18 to 25-year-olds, the prime age of our defense troops. Bill Gates recently said that COVID-19 “is a nightmare scenario”. But the virus in The Iceman Kills is infinitely worse.
JMR- Has publishing a book about a pandemic in the middle of a pandemic helped or hurt you?
SS- Publishing a novel about preventing a pandemic, in the middle of a pandemic, definitely encouraged sales and reviews. People are always curious about current events, but especially when it is a worldwide crisis. Since the book contains predictions about future bioterrorism and a way to prevent it, that too is of high interest.
JMR- I love spy thrillers, but I don’t think I’d know enough about the CIA and covert operations to pull it off. How did you prepare and research for this book? Or do you have personal experienced in this area?
SS- Yes, I investigated all of the countries that I wrote about, including living in many of them. I researched the history behind the premise of the novel. I spoke with people in the industries of biology and pharmaceuticals. I stayed abreast of current bioterrorism and watched world politics very closely in the news. I read books about pandemics and viruses. I spoke with many people in the countries I visited about aspects of the book.
I have no experience in law enforcement, military, FBI, or CIA. But yes, I do know people in some of those branches. Mostly it is a matter of loving spy movies, knowing about the technology and doing the research.
JMR- Part of the novel is set in North Korea; how did you research that reclusive country to give the reader an authentic feel for the place?
SS- To learn more about North Korea, I read excerpts from a book, watched videos taken in the country, and studied their maps, customs, and history. I learned about their military facilities, geography, distances from city to city, vehicles they drove, and martyrs.
JMR- What advice could you give an author on creating a believable thriller? Are there key elements that a story must contain for readers to ‘believe’?
SS- The best advice is to always follow the prime rule of writing: write what you know. Everybody has something they love and are passionate about. The second rule of writing is: develop your interest. A wonderful way to do that is to volunteer. It expands your knowledge and helps others less fortunate. It’s a great morale booster, makes you feel really useful, and is great for mental health.
If you want to have a believable story, write what you really know about. Research is great, but there is no substitute for knowing a subject intimately. It helps you get in the head of the protagonist and antagonist. The third rule of writing is: show, don’t tell. That makes characters believable, because readers don’t want to be told, “Bob is mad.” They want to see Bob thrown a tantrum, start screaming, and then throw a meat cleaver at a guy in a semi who just tried to run him over.
JMR- Who are some of your favorite thriller/spy novels authors? Why? Who would you like to be compared too?
SS- One of my favorite spy books is Journey into Fear, by Eric Ambler. A spy thriller written in 1940, it is a perennial classic on how to put the reader deep into the mind of the hero. The reader listens to the approaching footsteps of the killer slipping up behind the protagonist in the dark, screwing on a silencer onto his 9 mm pistol, with no one in sight to hear the hero scream as he slowly turns to stare into the face of a hulking murderer towering over him, without a prayer of escape. The reader feels he or she is there, an knows there is no place to run, no place to hide. Certain death is only seconds away, but the vicious eyes of the hired killer inform you that he plans on making his victim suffer before he executes.
As for contemporary authors, the novel is most like the following: House of Spies by Daniel Silva, Code of Conduct by Brad Thor, and Inferno by Dan Brown.
JMR- Do you have a second book up your sleeve?
SS- I started on a sequel to The Iceman Kills and was very happy with the outline. But then I received a call, asking if I would like to go to work for a pharmaceutical company to help produce a COVID-19 vaccine. I’ve been working for pharmaceutical companies for 35 years, so I quickly replied, “Yes, I would love to!” I haven’t written since then, and probably won’t write again until we have a vaccine being produced.
JMR- That's amazing. I hope we find a vaccine soon and you can get back to writing!
JMR- What’s your favorite genre to read? Do you have a favorite author?
SS- My absolute favorite genre is biography -- I love the stuff. In the prologue of The Iceman Kills, I open by recounting the true story of Dr. Johan Hultin, known for discovering the tissues containing the Spanish flu virus, and Dr. Jeffrey Taubenburger, the first to sequence the genome of the Spanish Flu virus. At that time, the world had ¼ of the population of today, and yet that virus killed between 50-100 million people throughout the world.
My favorite authors are Ian Fleming, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Shakespeare, Paul the Apostle, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, David McCullough, John le Carré, and Charles Dickens.
JMR- Tell the readers how they can reach you on social media and the web?
SS- I would love to hear from my readers through my website: StephenHSmithAuthor.com. My latest blog asks readers to leave comments. The webpage also contains photographs of various locations throughout the world where I lived and where the book takes place. You’ll also find three video interviews, one of which was broadcast on Indianapolis WISH-TV.
JMR- Want to buy Stephen's book? Click on the Amazon button or the book cover, both contain links.
JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask, but didn’t?
SS- The question that I often get asked is: do people want to read about a pandemic while they are living in a pandemic? – Answer: The theme of The Iceman Kills is not about what happens during a pandemic. It is about preventing bioterrorism: the race to stop a madman. -- I am convinced that nuclear war is not the world’s worst enemy: bioterrorism is. And a pandemic is the most lethal tool to make it happen. It will take great cooperation between all countries to prevent the doomsday scenario in The Iceman Kills.
JMR- Thank you, Steve for this great interview. Can I say how much I admire your dedication to finding a vaccine and I wish you luck for a speedy discovery. We all need to get back to 'real life'.
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