Interview with thriller author Steven Max Russo

Novelist Steven Max Russo is here today
and we’re chatting about his new thriller,
Dead Don’t Sleep.
A little bit about the author:
Steve has spent the majority of his professional career as an
advertising copywriter and agency owner.
He got interested in writing fiction after one of his short stories was accepted
by an online literary journal in 2013. Then he caught the bug and began writing
The publication of his first novel, Thieves, has garnered praise
from renowned crime and thriller authors from around the globe. With a gritty writing
style and unique voice, he is quickly winning a legion of new fans.
Steve’s second novel, The Dead Don’t Sleep, is slated for release
November 18, 2019.
Steve is proud to call New Jersey his home.
Welcome, Steve. Please tell us about
your current release.
The Dead Don’t Sleep, a stand-alone thriller, is my second
novel, due to be published on Nov. 18, 2019.
It’s about Frank
Thompson, a recent widower and aging Vietnam veteran who is down from Maine
visiting his nephew, Bill, and his family in New Jersey.
While at a
trap range, he and his nephew have a chance encounter with a strange man who
claims to remember Frank from the war.
That night,
the windows in Bill’s home are shattered along with the quiet peaceful lives
the two men had been living.
veterans from a special combat unit directed by the CIA during the Vietnam War
have gathered to discuss what they are going to do about a man they claim
killed one of their own over forty years ago.
Birdie and Pogo were part of a team that called themselves the National League
All Stars. They were a squad of psychopathic killers trained by Special Forces
to cause death and mayhem during the war. Now, they have banded together to
hunt down and kill the professional soldier who led them all those years ago.
Drawing on
his military training and a resurgent bloodlust from his tortured past, Frank
prepares for a final, violent reckoning that will bring him full circle with
the war that never left him.
What inspired you to write this book?
This is going
to sound a little strange, but what inspired me to write this book was fear.
You see, I am
a novice author. The Dead Don’t Sleep
is my second novel. I wrote the initial draft of my first novel, Thieves, fairly quickly and the response
I received from test readers, successful authors, and other publishing professionals
was extremely positive.
But I was
worried that perhaps writing Thieves
was just a fluke. What if Thieves was
the only novel I had in me? Or what if my next attempt was just an awful story
or the writing wasn’t any good or what if nobody liked it?
I needed to
prove to myself that I wasn’t just a “one hit wonder.”
So I started
writing The Dead Don’t Sleep to see
if I could actually sit down and write another complete novel.
I think it
turned out pretty well.
Excerpt from The Dead Don’t Sleep:
(from the PROLOGUE)
Ba Den, Vietnam, 1969
This is not
war, he thought; it’s murder.
The first
killer crouched silently along one side of the well-worn trail. His face was
painted dark green with intersecting black lines to blend into the jungle. He
had a razor sharp SOG Bowie knife, which he held at his side in his right hand,
just slightly out in front.
The warm air
was heavy with humidity. There were intermittent clouds letting through only occasional
star and moonlight. A gray mist was discernible swirling lazily in the darkness
about a foot or two off the ground. The whole area was shadows, thick with
dense jungle foliage.
There was a
small village up ahead about a half kilometer from his location. He could smell
the wood smoke from the morning cook fires mixed in with stale odors of cattle
dung and swine wallowing in their pens. He had been in-country for two tours
now, much of that time spent out in the bush, and to him the smell was not unpleasant
– was in fact comforting.
concentrated on listening to the sounds around him, the buzzing of insects and
the calls of birds, the occasional howl of monkeys waking off in the distant
It was early
morning, probably somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 AM. He could feel the
temperature beginning to climb even though the sun was still at least a full
hour from starting its rise. His fatigues clung to his body, heavy with sweat
and dew from the plants he had brushed against as he moved slowly and quietly
through the jungle.
He heard a
soft, sharp hiss from just up ahead on the other side of the trail. It was a
signal from the other killer, who also waited crouching silently in the dark.
Someone was
He slowed his
breathing and looked down at the ground, not wanting any light from a break in
the dark clouded sky to reflect off his eyes.
He closed his
eyes, squeezed them shut tight for a second and tried to concentrate on the
three essential elements that could mean the difference between life and death.
Precision. Surprise.
There were
faint footsteps approaching in the distance. The target was supposedly a VC courier
that the spooks had identified. This was his preferred route, the time and day
supplied by informants.
A supposed VC
What exciting story are you working on
Well, after I
finished writing The Dead Don’t Sleep,
I had that same nagging fear.
Only this
time I was thinking what if I only have 2
in me?
So I started
writing my third novel, The Debt
This latest
book is with my brand new agent, Peter Rubie of FinePrint Literary (I guess I
must be doing something right!).
It’s the
story of young woman named Abigail Barnes who makes her living collecting debts
for low-end bookies and loan sharks. She’s pretty, petite – and deadly. She
moves to a new town and gets a job collecting for a small-time bookmaker who
winds up dead. Soon both the police and the mob are looking for her believing
she committed the murder and she has to try and find the true killer before she
ends up either in jail or dead herself.
Again, this
book got a good response from test readers and it also grabbed the attention of
my agent, Peter, who agreed to represent me, so I have high hopes.
But guess
what? Even with this third book written, I’ve still got this nagging fear in
the pit of my stomach – what if I only have these three books in me?
So I’ve started
working on a sequel, you know, just to be sure.
When did you first consider yourself a
Well, I’ve
always considered myself a writer.
But I never
considered myself an author until the day I held the galley copy of my very
first novel, Thieves, in my hands.
My wife and I
attended Bouchercon (a mystery writers conference) down in St. Petersburg, FL
last year. It was there that my publisher, Eric Campbell of Down & Out
Books, handed me the first printed copy my book.
holding the actual printed book made everything suddenly seem real.
I mean, it
had my name right there on the cover!
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I actually
have a day job that helps pay the bills. I run a small advertising agency in my
home state of New Jersey. It’s a job that I enjoy and that also involves a good
deal of writing and creativity, but of another sort.
I do most of
my novel writing at night and on weekends. Quite honestly, it’s sometimes hard
to find the time. But I am sort of a binge writer. Once I get going, I can sit
at my computer for four, five, six hours and it seems like I’ve only been at it
for a short while.
wonderful is that I truly enjoy writing novels. It doesn’t feel like work. I
often tell people that when I write, I sometimes feel more like a reporter than
a novelist. I see the story and action unfold in my imagination and I feel like
I’m right there in the action. I simply write down what I’m seeing and the
dialog I’m hearing.
Many people
read as a form of escape, to go in their mind where the story takes them.
Experiencing a different place, a different time – meeting new and strange and
sometimes dangerous characters.
The same
thing happens to me when I’m writing, almost like watching a movie in my head.
Of course,
it’s not always fun. Sometimes the film that’s running in the projector in my
brain snaps and I’m left staring at the blank screen wondering where the heck
I’m going to go with the story and that can be a little intimidating, but
overall, I really enjoy the process.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I always
write in the nude.
No, just
One thing I
find odd is that I most enjoy writing when it’s raining or storming outside. I
don’t know why that seems to inspire me.
Maybe if I
ever achieve a certain level of success, I’ll move to Ireland or England where
the weather is more cooperative in that way. As everyone knows, here in New
Jersey the weather is bright and sunny and tropical, all day, every day, all
year long! (Again, just kidding.)
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
First I
wanted to be a cowboy, then a jet pilot, then a professional football player,
and then a rock star. I guess somewhere around high school, I decided I wanted
to be an author.
Now I’m
leaning more towards cowboy or rock star again.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
I hope you
enjoy my books and if you do, please tell others.
As an
advertising professional, I can tell you that there is no better endorsement
than a satisfied customer.
I also want
to express my sincere thanks to Lisa, and to all of you readers out there for
taking the time to find out more about me.
very welcome – thanks for being here today!

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