Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Conversation with Sci-Fi Author John E. Stith

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with John E. Stith

We are delighted to welcome sci-fi author John E. Stith to Omnimystery News today.

ReAnimus Press is reissuing nine of John's earlier books over the next year or so, with the first of these, Deep Quarry (ReAnimus Press; July 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats), being published this week. We recently had the chance to catch up with John to talk more about his work.

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Omnimystery News: All of your books to date have been stand-alones. Are those the types of books you enjoy reading yourself?

John E. Stith
Photo provided courtesy of
John E. Stith

John E. Stith: I get different experiences from stand-alone books vs. series books. I love reading books in both camps, and I may well start a series, but in general I really like books in which the protagonist goes through a once-in-a-lifetime experience and comes out changed. Examples run from Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous to Joseph Hayes' The Third Day to Mary Stewart's Airs Above the Ground to Harlan Coben's Six Years. I love Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels as much as anyone, but I love them for how smart the character is, and how resourceful he can be. In a stand-alone book, a hero can also fall in love or deal with personal situations that have the potential to make the reader care even more about the character. (I know some readers feel a mystery should focus solely on the intellectual puzzle, but I love books that also appeal to my emotions and to all my senses, including my sense of humor and my sense of wonder.)

OMN: In general, into which genre would you place your books?

JES: My novels so far have generally fallen into two camps. One is a mixture of mystery and science fiction, and the other is more straight ahead science fiction. I grew up loving Isaac Asimov's SF mysteries (Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, etc.) and as an adult I find myself reading far more mystery thrillers than SF. But my SF mysteries have included Memory Blank, an amnesia/murder story set aboard a huge orbital colony; Death Tolls, which was my Dick Francis tribute, featuring an investigative reporter on Mars; Deep Quarry which was influenced by Robert B Parker and features a PI on an alien planet; Redshift Rendezvous and its starship hijacking is in some ways an homage to Alistair MacLean's The Golden Rendezvous; and Reunion on Neverend, in which a guy goes back to his high school reunion as a much different person than when he left. The collection All for Naught features a PI in a near future filled with malfunctioning technology, including AIs with human-like personality disorders.

OMN: Tell us something about one of your books that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

JES: My novel Death Tolls centers on a news team reporting on disasters that have been deliberately created to drive ratings and viewers. From a science-fictional point of view, we have the observers influencing the activity they are supposed to be merely watching and reporting on. As I picked out chapter titles, I was constantly mindful of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or the notion that observers influence the outcome, and a weird thing happened. My method of picking chapter titles influenced what I then decided to put in each chapter. I suspect few people noticed, but if you look at the first letters in each chapter title, you'll find they spell HEISENBERG HEISENBERG.

OMN: Deep Quarry is the first of your books to be newly reissued. How would you tweet a summary of it?

JES: DEEP QUARRY: A PI looking for missing artifacts uncovers a buried starship, one still occupied by nasty aliens who don't want to be found.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

JES: I don't use characters from the real world, but I do a bit of Mr. Potato Head construction where I might take a trait from one person and add a weakness from another. I don't take real-life situations and put them into stories, but I do use emotional reactions, observations about people, and comments on issues I care about. No one character speaks for me, but if you read several of my novels, I think things like my belief in equality between the sexes and my opposition to rigid thought come through.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

JES: Be patient. Learn the craft before you start trying to earn a living. The landscape for book publishing has changed enormously in the past few years, and it's now far easier to publish before you're ready. Don't let your short-term desires damage your long-term goals by going for quantity over quality or by using the paying audience as beta readers.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

JES: I'm a lazy plotter. A mystery that's fair to the reader, meaning one that drops clues that can allow the reader to guess the outcome around the same time the protagonist does, requires a series of building revelations for the ending to feel both surprising and satisfying. That means you can (a) know vaguely where you're going to wind up, or (b) once you wind up at the end, go back and rewrite the book so it leads to the same conclusion, or (c) be so brilliant that you can do it all unconsciously. I go through many drafts already, even knowing roughly where I plan to go, and I'm not inclined to do even more, but I acknowledge that for 1,000 writers there are 1,000 approaches. The main thing is do whatever works for you.

OMN: Have you ever considered using a pen name?

JES: I don't use a pen name. The notion might seem cool to some new writers, but it carries significant headaches and it can dilute your brand. We can all think of exceptions like the Richard Bachman books by Stephen King, but I'd recommend against using a pen name in the absence of a compelling reason. I can think of a friend who's an ex-parole officer and another who's a college prof who have good reasons, but they are exceptions.

OMN: How involved were you with the redesign of the cover for Deep Quarry?

JES: When Deep Quarry was originally published by Ace Books, I had zero say in the cover art. Fortunately it turned out great because Ace hired a talented artist, Richard Hescox, who came up with a PI variant on the Star Wars bar scene. This time around, now the rights have reverted to me, I looked around for an up-and-coming artist I could afford. A friend, Kavin King, acted as my Art Director and on the DeviantArt site we found a work from Takumer Homma called "Time Displacement." Takumer is a freelance concept artist and digital illustrator for games, who got his start in the automotive industry. Kavin then did the graphic artist work for the cover titles.

OMN: How is the title related to the story?

JES: The title came from the dual meaning of quarry: an open pit, and someone not wanting to be found.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

JES: I loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I also loved Rick Brant, Ken Holt, Tom Swift Jr., Connie Blair, and Tom Corbett series books. One day when I was sick and home from school, my mom brought me Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy. I continued to love both mystery and science fiction.

OMN: You mentioned earlier that you find yourself reading more mystery thrillers than science fiction today. Any particularly favorite authors?

JES: I really enjoy Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Lee Child, Nelson DeMille, Thomas Perry, Greg Iles, Patrick Lee, Dan Brown, Chris Ewan, Matthew Fitzsimmons, Peter Abrahams, David Baldacci, and others.

OMN: How about favorite series characters?

JES: Nelson DeMille's John Corey, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon, Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Linwood Barclay's Zack Walker, P J Tracy's Monkeewrench gang, Robert Crais' Elvis Cole, William Lashner's Victor Carl, Barry Eisler's John Rain, Joe Lansdale's Hap Collins & Leonard Pine, Greg Iles' Penn Cage, Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

JES: Praise and flattery are perennial favorites. Probably the least favorite are Emily Litella reactions from people who never read mysteries or SF, or people who leave Amazon reviews complaining about things like the price.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

JES: I enjoy photography and birding, both more on an opportunistic level rather than a dedicated level, and both of which show up on my Facebook page. So far neither have factored into books. Online gaming and movies/TV are right up there, too.

OMN: What's next for you?

JES: A producer who's been interested for a long time in my novel Manhattan Transfer wants to do a low-budget pilot for it in the coming year.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Deep Quarry by John E. Stith

Deep Quarry by John E. Stith

A Sci-Fi Mystery

Publisher: ReAnimus Press Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)

When a private eye undergoing a moral crisis uncovers a long-buried starship that's still occupied by nasty aliens, he and woman he loves have to overcome them to survive.

Ben Takent is a private eye on a hot, dusty world at the edge of the civilized galaxy. When he's asked to find out who is stealing artifacts from a 10,000-year-old archaeological dig in the desert, he reluctantly takes the case.

Then, when it becomes clear that the artifacts are pointing to an ancient alien spacecraft, the stakes in the case go up — way up.

Deep Quarry by John E. Stith


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