Wednesday, August 28, 2019

New interview with thriller novelist Stephen Clark

Novelist Stephen Clark joins me today to chat about his new crime thriller, Hands Up.

Stephen Clark is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of Stephen grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and now lives in North Jersey with his wife and son.

Hands Up will be released on September 28th and is now available for pre-order at a special discount.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews. Please tell us about your newest release.
Hands Up follows three people who are on a collision course after a deadly police shooting spins their lives into chaos. Officer Ryan Quinn, who was on the fast track to detective until he shot an unarmed black male, embarks on a quest for redemption that forces him to choose between conscience and silence. Jade Wakefield, an emotionally damaged college student who lives in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods, wants to find the truth and get revenge after learning that there’s more to her brother’s death than the official police account. Kelly Randolph, who returns to his hometown broke and broken after abandoning his family 10 years earlier, seeks forgiveness while mourning the death of his son. But when he is thrust into the spotlight as the face of the protest movement, his disavowed criminal past resurfaces and threatens to derail the family’s pursuit of justice.    

What inspired you to write this book?
After a series of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black people in recent years, I wanted to examine race relations in America in a fresh way. A way that illuminated persistent challenges and evasive solutions. But instead of offering another tearjerker, fiery sermon or racial morality tale, I set out to create a unique story with unbearable suspense and memorable characters for an unforgettable experience.

Excerpt from Hands Up:

I’m not a murderer.
I’m not a murderer.
I’m. Not. A. Murderer.
Oh, who was I kidding? No matter how many times or ways I said that to myself in the bathroom mirror, it didn’t change the fact that I had just killed someone. A teenager. An unarmed black teenager. Yet everyone kept telling me not to worry: My partner. My superiors. The lawyer I just met. They all said it was a justified shooting. But truth be told, I wasn’t so sure about that. I wasn’t so sure about anything anymore – especially whether I’d get away with it.
I splashed some cold water on my face and studied my reflection in the grimy mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and my face paler than I had ever seen it. I looked like shit. Even worse, if I held my head at a certain angle, I resembled a mugshot of a deranged suspect I recently collared. I smoothed my close-cropped brown hair and tried to pull myself together, but my mind was still in a fog. I needed to snap out of it – and fast. Internal Affairs would arrive at my station any minute now.
As I wandered back to the interrogation room, adrenaline was still burning through my veins like a raging wildfire. I should’ve never agreed to do an interview so soon after the shooting. My partner convinced me I would be able to remember all the details better if I gave a statement right away. But I didn’t realize I would get caught up in a whirlwind of emotions after the numbness of the initial shock wore off. I tried to buy myself some time by telling the lawyer for the police union that I needed a few days before I’d be ready to answer questions. But Harrison Clyne advised me against delaying the interview because he thought it would look suspicious. Although I had just met him, I had complete confidence in Mr. Clyne. Maybe it was his graying temples, professorial glasses or formal manner of speech. Whatever it might have been that inspired confidence, it definitely wasn’t his shabby off-the-rack suit.
I hated the interrogation room we were waiting in. It reeked of body odor, stale cigarette smoke and burnt coffee. I looked around the poorly lit, windowless room and saw cigarette butts scattered on the floor. Even if I was a potential suspect in a criminal investigation, they didn’t have to treat me like a criminal. It was bad enough when my supervising sergeant took my .45 caliber Glock after escorting me back to the station. They could’ve held this interview in the carpeted conference room with the fancy swivel chairs that overlooked the parking lot. I suspected my bosses wanted to send me a message: I wasn’t going to get special treatment.
Finally, a man in a charcoal suit walked into the room and introduced himself as Nate Wiley, the internal affairs detective. My insides froze as soon as I saw that he was black. With supreme confidence and an unmistakable intensity, the detective took a seat in one of the metal folding chairs across from me and Harrison. Dark-skinned and bald with a vaguely sinister mustache, he appeared to be in his early 40s. He was articulate and polite, but I still didn’t trust him. There was no way he’d let me slide if I hesitated, even for the briefest second, in my recollection.

What’s the next writing project?
A missing girl thriller set in the Deep South with a deaf female protagonist.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The biggest challenge in writing Hands Up was depicting the harsh realities of policing and living in a high-crime neighborhood without perpetuating racial stereotypes or glorifying violence. Adding to that challenge was trying to navigate this current cultural minefield of extreme political correctness. In fact, my initial editor split with me over creative differences after taking offense to how some of the black characters spoke and were portrayed. This editor wanted everyone to speak the King’s English, but that’s not the world I recognize or want to portray. I believe as artists, we should strive for authenticity, no matter how controversial the subject matter.     

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
Research plays a never-ending role in my novels. From conception to outlining to writing and rewriting to final edits, I am constantly researching, among other things, the jobs my characters hold, the cities they live in and the specific incidents they’re involved in. For example, in Hands Up, I needed to learn everything I could about the administrative process for cops after they’re involved in controversial police shootings. My research aided me in every stage of the writing process and affected the events of the book from the very first chapter.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
It’s been said that a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind, and a messy desk is a sign of genius. So I’m happy to say that my writing space resembles a disaster area. In my house, I have a den all to myself for writing. But I’m not sure the isolation and relative silence is the best place for me to invoke my muse. I believe I was more inspired when I had to write my first novel and most of my second one amid chaos in a crowded living room of my apartment in the Bronx.     

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
My good friend Jonathan Abrams recently released his second book, “All The Pieces Matter,” an oral history of The Wire, an HBO drama rightfully considered one of the best shows ever.  

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog again and giving authors a platform to discuss their books. I hope to continue this discussion with readers on social media.  

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Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

Don't forget! Hands Up will be released on September 28th and is now available for pre-order at a special discount.

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