Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Conversation with Suspense Novelist Scott L. Miller

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Scott L. Miller
with Scott L. Miller

We are delighted to welcome author Scott Miller to Omnimystery News today.

Scott's second suspense novel to feature social worker Mitch Adams is Counterfeit (Blank Slate Press; June 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him talking about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters in your series.

Scott L. Miller
Photo provided courtesy of
Scott L. Miller

Scott L. Miller: My two main characters in Counterfeit, the second in my Mitch Adams series, are protagonists with very different styles. Both will be in every Mitch Adams novel I write. No surprise here, Mitch Adams, a Ph.D. social worker in private practice, is the main hero. Mitch has certain qualities that I strive to have in my real-life career as a licensed clinical social worker but he's also flawed. He's 35 years old in Counterfeit, very smart, thinks fast on his feet, is his own boss, his practice is thriving and affords him the time needed to take on one challenging case and run with it, rather than be stuck in an office all day. He'd been a handsome ladies' man until last year when he fell in love, he's extremely competitive, cocky and cynical, for years he'd been driven to grow his practice and, until last year, had never allowed a woman to get close enough to fall in love or be hurt by one. Mitch also has a secret in his past that comes back to haunt him in book one, Interrogation, which is due for re-release this October.

Detective JoJo Baker, on the other hand, is a little older, 6'4", black and bald, very muscular homicide detective in the city of St. Louis. Baker is one scary-looking dude, a thick scar serpentines around his eye, down one cheek, past his ear until finally ending halfway down his neck. He is an anachronism, an old-school cop, a throwback to the 70's with very colorful dialect laced with modern urban slang. He loves to wear his favorite parrot green sport coat because his massive biceps stretch the arms to the max. Baker, unlike Mitch, has been in a stable relationship for five years, while Mitch historically jettisons his lady friends the minute things turn serious.

Both have strong but different senses of right and wrong, both can bend the rules if they have to for justice to prevail, and both defend the weak from the strong. Baker drives around in a 1995 souped-up black Cadillac Fleetwood with bench seats, eats power bars and uses a pee jar on long stakeouts, while Mitch drives a cherry red Pontiac Solstice convertible. Baker is a weapons and fighting expert, while Mitch doesn't believe in owning a gun and, until last year, had never punched another human being. Last year, they butted heads while Baker did his best to imprison Mitch for murder. In Counterfeit, they form an unlikely partnership that starts out one-sided (tilted in Baker's favor) but develops into a more mutual one, of sorts. In book three, working title The Virtual Suicide Machine, Mitch needs Baker's help for a friend who's in grave danger.

OMN: Now that you're writing the third book in the series, how do you see these characters evolving over time?

SM: I love this question. I have my main characters (especially Mitch) change, grow, evolve, adapt, regress, and age over time. In book one, Mitch is the consummate bachelor, his fridge contains alcohol and tonic water and lemons but no food. In book two, he's making his own meals from scratch to go along with beer or the hard stuff. My goal is to write a book a year and each recurring character will age a year per book. Being a big Robert B. Parker fan, I wished Spenser would have aged, but after forty plus novels, he's still beating up bad guys and Susan his shrink girlfriend is still hot and thin and flexible enough to sit in her sink and apply her make-up. I'm not the same person I was a year ago in some aspects, so I choose my characters to do the same, sometimes they can stagnate for a while, just like me. Mitch withdraws between books one and two, for good reason. And as Counterfeit begins, he's in danger of becoming one of his own "Nervous Nellies" as Baker so aptly states near the beginning of book two.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place this series?

SM: To genre-lize or not to genre-lize? There has to be a way to organize the massive number of books out there, but there are inherent problems in "generalizing" people as well as books. If I describe my novels as psychological suspense/crime fiction, some will want non-stop action on every page and others more crime/police procedural. Counterfeit is in the Fiction & Literature aisles at my Barnes & Noble store and our county library, so it depends on who's doing the generalization. When I read popular suspense novels, they're sometimes disappointing because I think they're all action with minimal character development and some popular crime/procedural novels lose me with an overkill of CSI minutiae and not enough good, solid writing. I try to strike a balance between: a compelling, layered story; good character development with concise, crisp dialogue; psychological suspense; and a sprinkling of crime. I like to think I walk this tightrope and by no means am I talking smack about popular writers. Writing full-time with deadlines is a whole other thing I can't speak to since I'm not there yet.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

SM: Research for me is time-consuming but fun because I'm learning new things. For Counterfeit, I was lucky to have expert help from a Secret Service agent I couldn't acknowledge for security reasons (but in return I named a character loosely based on him), I also learned about the world of counterfeiting, and its impact on the economy, from books and internet searches. I toured places whenever allowed, such as the St. Louis home of the Secret Service branch. When access was denied to me (i.e. the city jail), I relied on people with familiarity of the facility and the internet. Weeks of research went into the novel as I was writing it. In my next novel, my research includes the Middle East conflict, virtual reality, methods to commit suicide, and, strangely enough, perfumes. The backdrop for my writing to date is psychological in nature. I'm a licensed clinical social worker with three decades of experience in psychiatric and medical settings with pretty much every age group, and I draw on that experience. I've pretty much seen all psychiatry has to offer. The toughest research to date is the Middle East because there is no expert voice in this lamentable part of history and it's such a hot-button topic. Try walking that tightrope!

OMN: How true are you to the settings of your books?

SM: My novels are set in present-day St. Louis, where I live. I use real places with a sprinkle of fictitious ones. I have taken liberties with buildings on certain streets, changing the layout and the size to fit the story or the scene. In one instance I used a building that was razed years ago on a real street because it was fresh in my mind and fit the mood. I visited one building, a hotel, that isn't mentioned by name but I walked it and took notes in great detail to write an action scene that I think really pops. It's a personal taste thing for me, I prefer novels set in real locations for some reason, rather than in the town of H____ in the year ____ there was Mr. ____.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

SM: The best advice I've received as an author is to keep the story paramount in my mind and not fall into a trap of rushing to a thesaurus for two-dollar words when simpler words work better, especially with dialogue. Writing isn't a vocabulary test or how flowery one can write, it's about telling a story, usually with three acts (beginning, middle and end) each with structured scenes and beats.

The harshest criticism came before I was published. I submitted a short story to a local Missouri magazine about a Missouri farmer's wife in her sixties who developed and carried out a plan to leave her abusive, controlling husband. She takes off in the middle of the night in their truck. The farmer hears someone stealing their vehicle and rushes onto the porch, shotgun in hand. The editor sent a one-paged, handwritten reply calling my story "specious." He took offense that, "of course the farmer would own a truck and a gun and their house would have a porch." I don't know what chord I struck in him.

Constructive criticism is welcome and necessary, it helps writers build their craft. A writer who only shows their work to friends and families almost never is challenged to think and grow and develop. To aspiring writers I say read and write every day. Read Story by Robert McKee and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Study how people really talk in everyday dialogue. Learn what type of novel attracts you (slice of life? action-driven? character driven? story driven?) and break down your favorites, find their three acts, study their scenes, and get in tune with their beats.

OMN: Tell us more about the creative cover of the book?

SM: My editor/publisher Kristina Blank Makansi at Blank Slate Press created the dollar sign cover of Counterfeit from ten possible covers she created. We had a contest on the BSP website to vote for the favorite/best cover. This was the winner and also the one we liked best. It recalls a scene near the end of the novel when Mitch and his friend Tony discover a hidden talent Lonnie the counterfeiter possessed. It's a takeoff on the iconic Andy Warhol dollar sign with vertical strips of a hundred dollar bill on a canvas background. I think it's apropos and rather cool and artsy at the same time.

The novel originated from a short story I wrote years ago called "A Good Man". My publisher suggested the change, I liked it and we went with it (in case of ties, my publisher wins by the way!).

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

SM: I fell in love with Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, I loved Spenser's brevity and humor and the way he tackled life. Other influences include Dennis Lehane, John Irving and Steven King (for character development and dialogue), early Ridley Pearson, Stephen White and Minette Walters and Jonathan Kellerman for advancing mental health issues in their work, Harlan Coben for his humor, Lawrence Block for his Scudder mysteries, especially A Ticket to the Boneyard, Gillian Flynn for the suspense in Gone Girl, Melville for the sweeping adventure of Moby Dick, George R. R. Martin for his character development (but not for the length of his novels and the excess of characters), Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, and I could go on and on.

OMN: And what about films? What are some of your favorites?

SM: I'm a movie lover who constantly thinks about writing a screenplay for Counterfeit. Some of my favorite movies in no particular order are: Seven; Chinatown (I wish I'd written the screenplays for both); The Lives of Others; The Shawshank Redemption; The Princess Bride (I love the humor and how it doesn't take itself seriously); Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (funny, irreverent); Armageddon (my fav action movie); Pulp Fiction; The Exorcist; Braveheart; The Godfather; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; 2001:A Space Odyssey; Silence of the Lambs (any Lector movie, except Hannibal Rising); Saving Private Ryan; and Good Will Hunting. Again, I could go on and on. I'm forgetting some lesser known ones that don't leap to mind.

OMN: What's next for you?

SM: Next up for me is a Mitch Adams novel that finds his best friend Tony in a world of trouble. Tony, a psychologist who lost his private practice and nearly his marriage, gets an idea that could revolutionize the treatment of severe depression by using virtual reality. He hires a local engineering firm to help develop his virtual reality suicide machine, but once it works the machine is stolen. Members of the firm have their own differing agendas on what to do with Tony's machine. Tony is betrayed and disgraced by a femme fatale member of the firm, again risks losing his wife and daughters. Mitch and his new lady friend Miranda enter the fray. Mitch must find the brilliant but deadly femme before she uses Tony's machine to start world war three.

I researched virtual reality, police procedure, various ways to commit suicide and the Middle East conflict to write this latest story, which is my most over-the-top, intense, dramatic effort to date. I had fun writing a bizarre and kinky sex scene, and even threw in Pope Francis toward the end of the story (though not in the sex scene!). It's a thrill ride with humor and drama mixed in but mainly a story of redemption.

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A licensed clinical social worker, Scott L. Miller earned his Master's in Social Work from St. Louis University and has worked with adults, children and the elderly in state and private hospitals in St. Louis city and county. Long fascinated by the workings of the human brain, he quit writing exceptionally bad poetry and studied fiction writing under the late John Gardner and later at Washington University. His first Mitch Adams novel, The Interrogation Chair, was self-published in May 2011, has been rewritten and is due for re-release by Blank Slate Press in October 2014 under the title Interrogation. Counterfeit is the second in this series, but is a stand-alone work.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at ScottMillerBooks.com or find him on Facebook.

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Counterfeit by Scott L. Miller

Counterfeit
Scott L. Miller
A Novel of Suspense

Nothing is ever just black or white …

The last person social worker Mitch Adams wants to hear from is St. Louis Homicide Detective JoJo Baker, a man with whom Mitch shares a tangled past. Baker wants Mitch to counsel Lonnie Washington, a disabled African-American arrested for counterfeiting and armed robbery. The evidence points to an open and shut case, but Baker insists it's not so black and white. Reluctantly, Mitch agrees and discovers there is more to the story-more than enough to get them both killed.

At first Lonnie won't cooperate, but as he begins to open up, Mitch is convinced that the true criminal is not the man behind bars, but the prosecutor who put him there-a man with far-reaching political ambitions, the approval of the public, and his very own Secret Service detail.

With millions in near-perfect fake $100 bills up for grabs, Mitch's life hinges on the word of a counterfeiter, the greed of a prosecutor, and his refusal to go down without a fight.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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