This week, we sat down with Mark Stevens, who just made his Midnight Ink debut with Trapline!
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Mark Stevens: Since 1984. Yikes! Thirty years. I wasn’t published until 2007 (seven short years ago). Stubborn? A bit. I learned so much before finally “breaking through” and even more since then.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
MS: Wow. How long do you have? An hour? All day? From Joseph Conrad to John Updike, from Patricia Highsmith to Nevada Barr and Tony Hillerman, writers I love show me there are many ways of capturing humanity on a page. I’m the son of two librarians (it’s true) so books and reading have been a way of life since I was old enough to hold a book.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
MS: Bass player in the band Cracker, one of the best rock bands on the planet. Speaking of writers—the songwriters in that band, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, are strong writers. Great imagery and ideas in the lyrics. That bass-playing job is not currently open, alas. But while I have your attention, Cracker has a new double album coming out next month: “From Berkeley to Bakersfield.” Can’t wait. And the band is playing Denver on New Year’s Eve this year. Please don’t me going about this band. I might never stop. I think David Lowery knows the secret to the universe. (But he’s just not telling us.)
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
MS: I have my own public relations and communications business and work with a number of very cool clients—a small school district in the Denver area, a non-profit that works with poor families, and Denver’s shared-bike system, Denver B-cycle. Among others.
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
MS: I’m a decent cook and enjoy it. I’m a decent bass player (and should get better). And I love hanging out in Denver (restaurants, movies, theater) and around Colorado. Must do more camping and hiking next year, especially in the Flat Tops Wilderness where the Allison Coil Mysteries are set. I know that sounds self-serving but it’s one of the most beautiful places on the state. Just don’t tell anyone. Please. Whatever you do, keep this between us.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
MS: I’m a big fan of Walt Longmire—in the series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson. (I thought the television version didn’t quite nail the Longmire character.) Johnson’s Longmire is a restrained intellect and regards humanity with a near-poetic eye. I also liked Jim Chee in Tony Hillerman’s books and Anna Pigeon in the Nevada Barr series. Anna is highly underrated. She is such a strong character and delivers strong “point of view” every time. I like good crime-solving in mysteries. But I also dig good crimes and criminals. Got a dark side.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
MS: How about a favorite plot? I love Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith. A frustrated mystery writer decides one weekend, while his wife is away, to go through the motions of pretending to murder her. So, of course, he can “feel” what it’s like. And what happens? Well, the wife goes missing. And our “hero” is investigated for her death. I really can’t give away the ending. OK, yes I can. I’ll be obtuse. Pretend turns real. That doesn’t give away too much, does it. A spine-chilling read.
MS: She’s based on someone I met! Today she’s a veterinarian in Western Colorado but at the time she was a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness. (Again, the most beautiful area in the state, but don’t tell anyone.) I remember the moment I met her and thought, boom, here’s a perfect character for a mystery novel. I mean, a strong woman in a man’s world of hunting. So, you’ve got guns handy. And harsh conditions, rugged terrain, and usually some alcohol around the hunting camps. So the inspiration for Allison Coil was both the woman and the setting. The day that happened was like finding out you had two winning lottery tickets.
MI: Tell us about Allison Coil!
MS: First, she’s a refugee from the city. She survived a commercial airplane crash in New York City. The crash haunts her. Surviving haunts her. Seatmates died. She didn’t. She was a typical big-city young professional and, then, as part of recovering from her injuries she recuperated in the Flat Tops Wilderness (have I mentioned this is an amazing part of the state?). She now considers the Flat Tops her healing spot. She isn’t leaving. She learned to ride horses, learned to guide hunts and now owns an outfitting business. She will do whatever it takes to protect the Flat Tops.
MI: How does this series compare to your other works?
MS: It’s more “outdoors.” My other three completed mysteries are all city-based. All set in Denver.
MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
MS: In late October, we said goodbye to our black lab mix Hercules, who was with us for nearly 15 years. He was two when we got him and he watched our two daughters grow up from little girls to young women. Isn’t incredible how dogs become part of the family? Just unbelievable. We also have two black cats, Zipper and Sadie. Two very different cats who have found a way to cohabitate. Sort of.
MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
MS: A perfectly spicy tortilla soup. Or anything Mexican, really. Or Italian. Or Mediterranean, you know, like Greek food is wonderful. Or . . .
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
MS: This one from Cooks.com is like one I’ve been making for decades. The best part is slathering on amazing mango chutney or something . . . store-bought or homemade. Apple chutney is great, too. So when the recipe mentions about sour cream at the end, imagine a few scoops of chutney, too. This recipe is an excuse to eat great chutney.
CURRIED TURKEY TURNOVERS
1 lb. ground turkey
2 green onions, diced
1 (7 1/2 oz.) can tomatoes, cut up—drain the juice off !
1 med. green pepper, chopped (totally optional)
1/2 c. shredded carrot
1/4 c. raisins
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 (9") unbaked pie crusts
1 beaten egg
Plain yogurt or sour cream
For Filling: In 10 inch skillet cook turkey and onion until brown; drain fat, stir in undrained tomatoes, pepper, carrot, raisins, curry powder, cumin and pepper. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid evaporates. Spoon into bowl and cool.
For Pastry: Roll out two 9 inch circular pastries and sprinkle with flour. Spread filling on half of pie crust and fold. Seal and flute edges. Cut side in crust to let steam escape. Transfer to cookie sheet for baking. Brush with beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with dollops of plain yogurt or sour cream mixed with chives. 4-6 servings.
MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
MS: Having the whole team behind me—editors (Terri and Connie), publicist (Beth), and cover designers. (I sure hope Lisa Novak designs the cover of my next book because how much I love the cover for Trapline).
Trapline, An Allison Coil Mystery, is available online and in bookstores now! And, if you're in the Denver-area, don't miss Mark's launch party this Friday (November 21) at 7:00 p.m.!