Carsten Stroud is an award winning journalist and author of New York Times bestseller Close Pursuit. His book Iron Bravo is on the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army’s Recommended Reading List for all non-commissioned officer candidates. Deadly Force and Black Water Transit have had film rights optioned by major Hollywood producers. Cuba Strait has been placed on Fidel Castro’s list of Forbidden books.
His latest novels include Niceville and its sequel, The Homecoming, which just came out this month. Carsten was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new book, his career, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: You have a very colorful background and are the author of over ten books (fiction and nonfiction). Will you tell us a bit more about yourself? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Carsten Stroud: I grew up in Frozen Tundra (Canada). I played football, survived the winters, and had dreams of being, what else, a Champion Surfer. So in 1966, I hitchhiked from Frozen Tundra-land to California, where I hit the surf at Huntington Beach on my second day there. I hit the surf, and the surf hit back — it turned out that surfing is really, really hard, even if you’ve read all the surfer magazines. From there I ended up in Mexico, and then in the army, and then I worked as a cop. And well, to make it short: after all that, what the ELSE could I be?
I became a writer because, basically, I’m a one-trick pony but I do that trick very well. (Paul Simon reference here.) While I was a half-way decent middle-linebacker and didn’t embarrass myself (or my enemies) as a soldier or a cop — although I was miserable at surfing — the only thing I was really good at was writing, and I managed to make a life around that.
KC: Tell us a little about the Niceville Trilogy and its newest installment, The Homecoming. What inspired you to write the series?
CS: My wife Linda and I were driving through The South, along the path of Sherman’s March to the Sea in the final months of The Civil War and every mile of it saw terrible loss of life. Later that evening we walked through Forsyth Park under a moonlit Georgian night: late Spring, that cottonwood scent everywhere, and the Old South just seemed to rise up around us. We both felt the Presence of the south and its people. We went to sleep that evening and woke up in the morning with the idea for a ghost-haunted town called Niceville. Linda and I sat down at the hotel room desk and worked out the cast of characters, the basic thrust of the plot, and the underlying evil that, if you look, is right there in the middle of NICEVILLE.
KC: What is your writing process like? Will you walk us through it?
CS: Quite often an idea will arise while my wife Linda and I are traveling, usually on the interstates (we’ve driven enough miles to go around the world twice) and all the time reality is flowing right at you. So the stories are in the wind. Most of them blow by. But some stay. When they do, I will work out a plot, and then, being a bit obsessive-compulsive, I will type out a title page; then a quote (something that somehow catches what I think the book will be about); then I write the dedication (always Linda Mair); and then I hit The Wall of White, which is sort of like what Sir Edmund Hillary had to cross to get to The North Pole. Every vast blank page had to be filled up, step by step, with little black marks — thousands and thousands of them! Every day. So, in a way, that’s my process. The fact that I love doing it helps.
CS: Top of the list would be Elmore Leonard. He’s clean and lean and darkly comic. His books are full of moral judgment and consequences.
Other than Elmore Leonard? John Sandford, who writes The Prey series with Lucas Davenport — just utterly brilliant books and so damn many of them and they are all excellent! I love John Lescroart, John. D. Macdonald, Robert Parker, Lee Child, Len Deighton, Le Carre, Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, E.L. Doctorow…so many fine writers. In the SF file, I grew up on Isaac Asimov’s Foundationtrilogy, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, and a long way back Andre Norton’s Galactic Derelict and the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series. Also, Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke — and I think perhaps my entire imaginative world began with John Wyndham (The Chrysalids, The Day of The Triffids) and John North.
KC: What do you like to see in a good book?
CS: I like good dialogue, talk that sparks and snaps and yet rings absolutely true. I like the story to have something at stake; I like things to happen in it. I want collisions and passion and pain. I like strong women characters (believe me, I’m surrounded by them in my professional and personal life) and in the end I want a resolution that stays with me for longer than the afterglow of a sunset.
KC: When you’re not busy at work on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
CS: At the end of the day, wherever I am, in the glow of evening, with my wife Linda next to me.
KC: What’s next for you?
CS: I’ve got ideas for another book, but don’t want to let anything out of the bag just yet…