Novelist Steven Arnett writes in many different genres, including mystery, suspense, comedy, and literary. A graduate of Michigan State University, he was born in Detroit, Michigan, and lived most of his life in Michigan. He now resides in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, with his wife, Delphine, and daughter, Vivienne.
Ana: First, thank you for letting me interviewing you today. I know how busy you are.
Steven, how did you find your calling to become an author?
After I first started reading literature seriously during my first couple of years in college. I developed a passionate love for all types of literature and that led to want to be a writer myself.
Ana: I read your book, The Labyrinth. It hooked me from the very start, and I remember that I was more interested in finding out the actual identity of the protagonist than the motif of his sudden death. Where did you get the idea? How did you get the reader focused on the person itself and forget that fact?
I wrote the first draft of The Labyrinth a long time ago, and I can’t remember what led me to the original idea of the story. I can tell you that the protagonist is more like me than any of the other protagonists in my stories and novels. Also, more of the scenes and characters in that novel are taken from my life than those of anything else of written.
That said, the story is far from being autobiographical, and even the scenes and characters that are taken from my life have been dressed up a lot from the actual events.
Ana: What skill do you think is always the best policy in writing and life?
To believe in yourself and never give up.
Ana: Imagine that today you met yourself when you were just a child, what would you tell yourself-child?
To always think for yourself, not follow the crowd or the easiest path in life, and to let your dreams come true.
Ana: Good advice! And now, what makes a great story for you?
Great characters and dialog and a compelling plot.
Ana: How did you find your writing style? Has it changed over time?
It just developed as I began to write fiction. I didn’t consciously look for a style: It just developed on its own. Surely, though, it has been influenced by writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, whose writing styles I really admire. On the other hand, it has even been influenced by writers whose style is very different than my own, like Faulkner: I really admire the beauty of his poetic prose. I would say my style of writing hasn’t change significantly over time.
Ana: What does it mean to be an author for you?
It means the enjoyment of being able to express myself in writing and to be able to invent stories and characters and places from my imagination. Also, I felt great satisfaction from publishing my books and getting great feedback from readers.
Ana: Tell us a story, an anecdote of your writing, presentation of your books…
This isn’t such a big deal really, but last year I was featured on the front page of our local newspaper for a story in it about my writing and my books. Obviously, it’s not quite up there with winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but it was nice for me.
Also, one of my novels, Winners and Losers, reached #1 in its category on Amazon!
Ana: Whom do you admire? And why?
In terms of writers, my favorites are the great American authors of the post-World War I era, including Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. They are the writers who inspired me the most to become a writer myself, and also, I admire them because they were at the forefront of the greatest era in the history of American literature.
Ana: Think about a character that demanded total self-control in your novels. What made him or her difficult or special? How did you successfully interact with them?
Mike O’Brien from Death on Lake Michigan. It took great self-control for him to pursue the case of who murdered Rich Mallon, despite many discouragements and distractions. He needed a lot of self-control both to pursue the case and to stay emotionally detached enough to make sure he ended up with the right answer. I don’t consider myself as interacting with my characters: I think of them instead as my creations, but there’s always a wall between them and me that would prevent what I would call interaction.
Ana: What’s your favorite character and what did you learn about him or her?
Robert Byron from The Summer of Robert Byron. I did a lot of research about the Vietnam War for this novel because the lead character, Robert Byron, has just returned from Vietnam and the army when the story begins, and what happened to him in Vietnam is central to the story line. So, I tried hard to get a sense of what it would be like to have served in the infantry there and to come back home, shattered, afterwards.
Ana: If you had to choose one current character of a TV show, whom would you choose and why? Have you ever attempted to emulate her or him somehow?
Before the coronavirus put a stop to most normal activities, I didn’t really watch much TV. However, in the last two months I’ve watched quite a bit of it. My favorite show lately is Babylon Berlin. I quickly devoured all 28 episodes!
I really came to admire the lead character, Gereon Rath, and the interaction between him and Charlotte Ritter, who becomes his detective assistant and eventually his lover. The way he manages to keep his integrity despite all the corruption going on around him during the Weimar Republic era of German history hooked me. He’s definitely far from perfect, though, and that’s what makes the character interesting: Perfect heroes tend to be dull! I have never tried to emulate Gereon, though.
Ana: Imagine you have two teleportation devices to travel through time, where will you place them and why?
Tough question because there are many times and places from the past I would like to visit! However, one that really intrigues me is 1920s America, when everything changed, and the modern world was created. I would also love to have lived during the time of Jesus and his apostles, just to see what he was really like and what really happened. If I can sneak a third time in, I would also love to go back to the Golden Age of ancient Greece.
Ana: What could you not live without?
Without question, that would be my wife, Delphine, and my daughter, Vivienne.
Ana: Tell us about one secret passion.
I can’t think of any: The passions I have I don’t keep a secret at all.
Ana: Do you have any moving story that changed your mind, life, somehow, and you would like to share?
In terms of my writing life, I had some really inspiring professors in college who passed on to me their love of literature, which has stayed with me ever since.
Ana: What’s the most rewarding at the end of the day? Why?
Being happy with my family and friends and continuing to stay healthy. Health is a big deal when you get to be my age (68). I know so many people my age who didn’t make it this far or who have terrible health problems.
Ana: Finally, let’s talk about your last work and your future plans.
It’s been awhile since I wrote anything new, but I have been running some ideas through my head about possible new novels. I really enjoy mystery novels, and they are from one of the most popular genres, so my thoughts have been leaning in that direction. If I do write another mystery novel, it would probably be set in the 1960s/1970s era that my other books are set in. That’s the era I really feel I know the best and represents my life better than any other I’ve lived in. To some extent, as you get older, you become an observer of the world, rather than a participant, as new generations come along, and to me that makes it harder to write about them convincingly.
Ana: Thank you, Steven, for this amazing interview.
The books referred to in this interview, and the other books written by Steven Arnett are available on Amazon. To learn more of Arnett, check out his Facebook Author Page.