Interview With Stephen B. King
Stephen B. King is a prolific West Australian author of crime novels, including the award-winning Thirty-Three Days. Steve is visiting my blog today to chat about his latest novel, Winter at the Light, published just last week by The Wild Rose Press. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the interview to read an intriguing excerpt!) He also gives us the scoop on his latest work in progress, the book that was inspired by a dream, his positive encounters with some fans of that other Stephen King, and much more.
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Welcome, Steve! Tell us about Winter at the Light.
Winter at the Light is about a 20-year-old nurse, Molly McLaren, who agrees to look after a remote island lighthouse during the winter of 1952 after her father, whom she idolizes, breaks his leg. If she doesn’t help, he will lose his job, and though he is a doctor, he became the keeper to find time to write a book about his war-time naval exploits. Though Molly dreads the thought of the solitude, it’s been her dad and her against the world since her mother was killed in an air raid during the war, so she cannot deny helping. The solitude she learns to love, but when she risks her life to save a mysterious man who washes ashore in a life raft during a storm of the decade, she begins a journey into dire danger, and she must fight to survive.
Your protagonist in Winter at the Light is Molly McClaren, a twenty-year-old girl. How did you manage to get inside the head of a character so different from yourself?
Great question. Can I say that in my humble opinion, a writer should be able to get inside the head of any character: male, female, old, young, etc. This is not the first time I’ve written a book from this perspective, but the first time it was published under another name, because I felt the nature of that story would be better received if the readers thought it was written by a female, and my editor agreed. There have been many occasions over the years when female authors have written from a male POV and vice versa. The challenge in this story was to write as Molly and not as a man thinks Molly would think, feel, and react. Before the editing rounds I sent this story to five female beta readers and asked for a critique on that very point: was it accurate from a young woman’s perspective? They all agreed wholeheartedly, I had nailed it. I think it helps that of my five children, four are female, as were my two wives.
Who is Molly McClaren? What makes her tick?
Molly is my favorite character ever. She is, by her own definition, not one of the beautiful women, like some of the other nurses she works with. She is a redhead, with freckles, and quick to temper. She doesn’t suffer fools and is capable of great empathy and love, and fortunately with the ordeal she has to face, she is stronger than she knows.
Most of your previous novels are crime stories. What spurred your interest in that genre?
I love a good thriller, and I am morbidly fascinated in the psychology of serial killers. A good friend is a psychologist, and my youngest daughter has degrees in criminal psychology and justice. She was in part the inspiration for Patricia Holmes, the heroine and main protagonist of the Deadly Glimpses series. Because I love to read that genre, it seemed natural to write in it. They do say, write what you know...but if that’s true, why am I writing about a young woman on a lighthouse in 1952?
Do people ever confuse you for that other author named Stephen King?
It’s funny, but this is my name, my real name, and I have an ego so I wanted to write under it and not in any way be compared to my more famous namesake. To my knowledge, it has happened four times where readers have bought my books, thinking I am that other guy. One of them complained bitterly, via Amazon, that he felt cheated. I offered to refund his purchase but he didn’t take me up on it. Interestingly, the other three left reviews that they were so pleased they had made the mistake as they loved the stories and would read other books of mine. High praise indeed. I do not write horror—well, so far I haven’t, but never say never.
How did you get interested in writing fiction?
All my life it seems like I wanted to tell stories in one form or another. I wrote stories at school, and poems, later I learnt guitar to put my poems to music and became a songwriter. I won two short story writing competitions in my younger days, but I always yearned to write a book. Now I have twelve published, and I am thrilled.
How old were you when you wrote your first story?
At high school, I wrote stories—in particular, horror—every chance I got. When I was set homework, I would submit long winding stories that exceeded in word length the rest of the class combined, and my teacher, Mrs. Stewart, loved everything I wrote and was very encouraging. I blame her for causing this journey I am on now—and I am sure she would be proud.
How many hours a week do you write?
Every chance I get, and not enough, would be the two answers to that question.
Are you an outliner or a pantser?
Definitely, a panster in every single case, except for Winter at the Light. For this, while the story was pantster style, I had to do a lot of research, and with research comes planning. I simply couldn’t write a book set in 1952 without studying the era, lighthouse keepers, and nursing in addition to the war, which molded Molly and her father.
Which element of novel-writing do you consider most challenging?
Editing, without question. The thing is, I left school at age fifteen, so I do not have a degree in English Lit. I wish I did; it would make my lovely editor Melanie Billings’ job so much easier.
What comes first, character or plot?
The spark of an idea. Sometimes it’s a random thought that morphs into a plot, and with that comes the character. I focus on character more than anything else, because I think it’s vital for the reader to care what happens to the people in the story. If they don’t care, the plot doesn’t matter; they will never finish the book.
How do you deal with reviews, both positive and negative?
They are what they are. I seek opinions at times because I think it’s important to make sure I got some elements correct. Beyond that, I write primarily for my pleasure and hope the reader enjoys the journey I took them on. Mostly they do, thankfully, but if they don’t, I still try to respect their opinions.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Keep writing. Don’t stop, because the more you write, the better you get at the craft. Get help, seek opinions from people who you respect, but always remember you write for your pleasure first, so write prolifically.
What are you currently working on?
Glimpse 6, called Glimpse, The Highway to Hell. This is an idea for a story I have been nursing for years. By far and away the longest I’ve ever been working on a plot. With the success of the Glimpse series, and the direction the five books led me in, I found that at last I had the characters to bring the story to life. It’s about two women who disappear when their cars break down on a section of highway between my home city, Perth, Western Australia, and its port city of Fremantle. The song of the same name by ACDC was written by Bon Scott about this stretch of road.
What are you reading right now?
Everything by Michael Robotham. He is a fellow Australian author who writes psychological thrillers, and they are superb.
Who is your favorite author?
Stieg Larsen, author of the original Girl with The Dragon Tattoo series. In particular, books two and three are breathtaking in terms of character and storytelling. His loss is a great tragedy to the literary world.
What was your favorite childhood book?
In Glimpse, The Tender Killer, I talk about the relationship between brother and sister Bobby and Martine and as children how they loved the Enid Blyton books, the Secret Seven series. As a child I loved those stories, and always yearned to solve mysteries like they did, and now I write them.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Disclosure, by Michael Crichton, also made into a fantastic film (which wasn’t as good as the book) starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
If you could bring a fictitious character to life and become friends with that person, who would it be?
Joe O’Loughlin, created by Michael Robotham. Across eight books, I feel like I know him so well, and I feel so much respect, admiration, and pity that I keep having to remind myself he is fictional.
What’s the weirdest dream you ever had?
The one which inspired my book Thirty-Three Days. I dreamt the basic plot and I was so amazed when I woke up, I had to wake my wife and tell her. She agreed with me it would make a fabulous book, and at 5 a.m. I had to get up and write it down. It is a love story, time travel story, thriller, and nothing like anything else I’ve ever written. I one day hope to have another such dream.
What’s your all-time favorite song?
An oldie by Yes, called “Roundabout.”
Are you closer to being a hoarder or a minimalist?
My wife will tell you I’m a hoarder, but I insist it’s not pathological.
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?
Michael Crichton. An unbelievably talented, intelligent man who wrote technology thrillers such as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and many more. His passing will be missed.
What’s your favorite guilty-pleasure TV show?
Wire in the Blood. Sadly, not made any more, but to my mind it featured the best TV psychologist helping the police solve crimes of all time.
What’s one thing you want to be remembered for?
Entertaining people; I can think of nothing more noble.
Winter at the Light blurb:
Forbes Lighthouse is a dangerous place. Twenty-year-old Molly McLaren agrees to tend the light when her father breaks his leg, so she leaves behind the city and her nursing career. Molly dreads the thought of three months as the sole inhabitant on the tiny island, nineteen nautical miles off the rugged coastline of Augusta in Western Australia. Molly discovers she enjoys the solitude, and when a massive storm arrives bringing a life raft, Molly risks her life to save the unconscious man inside. On waking, he says he has lost his memory but as Molly nurses him back to health she wonders if he has. When the storm finally clears, Molly has fallen for the man she's nicknamed John, but still has doubts about his honesty. The real danger arrives with two men who are searching for her mystery man. They want to kill him and anyone else who can identify them, and Molly quickly learns; on a lighthouse, there is nowhere to hide.
Excerpt from Winter at the Light:
Molly sat up in bed cringing, with the bedclothes wrapped around her as the thunder cracked furiously across the sky. She remembered her earlier promise to Derek and agreed; there was no way she was going outside the building with a storm directly overhead.
It’s just a storm, calm down and, grow up, Molly. She knew the lighthouse was sturdily built and wasn’t going anywhere; it had stood for nearly eighty years and she was safe while inside. Just as her heart slowed back to normal, she heard the wailing noise for the first time.
She snapped her head up and listened to the sad, soulful sound which ebbed and flowed with the wind. Someone is out there and needs my help, she thought. Then she assured herself it wasn’t; it couldn’t be that. It’s just my imagination after that horrible story, Derek told me of the skeleton in the cave. No-one is outside, making that noise, it’s the wind under the eaves, or howling through the lean-to.
She had to check; she knew she had to. Her logical internal voice did not convince the more dominant panic-stricken side of her brain which assured her it was a ghost, or a shipwrecked sailor washed up on the reef, perhaps injured.
Molly thought it had been all well and good promising not to leave the safety of the building, but what if it was someone who needed medical assistance washed up on the island? It certainly sounded like that, or did it? Was it just the wind after all?
Molly threw the bedclothes off, turned up the Tilley Lamp, and struggled to put her dressing gown on with trembling fingers. Part of her; a huge part of her, wanted to hide back under her blankets until the storm passed. Surely it would be better in the morning? Why is everything so much more frightening in the dark of the night? She asked herself.
There was a compromise, Molly realized with a grateful sigh. She could check the surroundings for anyone injured, and stay inside, well, kind of inside. Another flash of lightning lit up the room through the window, and an enormous clap of thunder rocketed across the sky, directly overhead, traveling from left to right. Then she heard the rain. Maybe it had been raining before and hadn’t noticed, or possibly it started at that moment, but it sounded like huge drops were smashing onto the stone walls driven by gale-force winds.
Yet, with all the other noise going on, still, Molly could hear what sounded like someone screaming in pain. She suddenly had an image of what it must have been like for her father, out there, in a storm with a broken leg, screaming for help that wasn’t going to come. “Well,” she uttered in a stern voice, “If someone is out there, I will go and help them.”
“And, Miss Molly, what of your promise not to leave the lighthouse for any reason?” She asked. Even to her, she could hear the fear, bordering on hysteria in her voice. Usually speaking out loud gave her comfort, but she was shocked at the sound of her nerve-wracked words. She cleared her throat, and began again, “If I go to the balcony on the watch room, I can probably see who is making that noise, and if someone is hurt, I’m sure Mr. Harpington won’t object to my leaving to go and help. Isn’t there some unwritten law of the sea that a mariner cannot refuse aid?”
“You’re no a mariner,” she replied in her father’s Scottish brogue, and hearing her father’s voice, albeit imagined, gave her comfort. “You’re a young slip of a girl, minding the light. Your first duty is to yourself, and to keep the light going.” She shook her head, choosing to ignore her father for the first time in her life, got up, and went downstairs.