Today we give a big Mysteristas welcome to Mark Stevens, author of the Allison Coil mysteries!
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Can I cheat? It’s a good question but I would like to talk about a writer who is inspiring me today. I mean, this month. Willy Vlautin. Willy recently published his fifth book, Don’t Skip Out On Me. Some of his books, like Lean on Pete and The Motel Life have been made into movies. Pretty good ones, too. I have read all five of his books They are sad books about simple people with hopes and dreams. The stories are told in such an evocative, spare way that you just get sucked in and drawn along. Willy is empathetic with the overlooked and the downtrodden and it’s unusual, these days, to see literary spotlights turned on such earthy, hard-working lives. That’s Willy. He keeps it real. But, warning, the books are all weighed down by sadness. Final note—go check the list of writers and reviewers who have raved about Willy Vlautin. I’m in good company with my belief he’s a great writer. Okay, now the real final note: Willy is also lead singer in a band called Richmond Fontaine. They are good, too.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The Melancholy Howl uses the legalization of marijuana in Colorado as its main flashpoint and I chose this topic for the obvious reason: controversy. By that I mean, it’s a controversial topic and there’s plenty of crimes and criminals around the buying and selling of marijuana today (both the regulated markets and the black market) and it seemed like ripe material. I tend to milk the news for story ideas, from immigration and for-profit prisons (Trapline) and climate change (Lake of Fire) to fracking (Buried by the Roan). Plus, some of the counties in Western Colorado (where all the Allison Coil mysteries are set) were initially reluctant to engage in authorizing retail marijuana trade but have now opened themselves up to the business. The other issue I wanted to touch on is simply that despite all the fear mongering about marijuana, not much has changed. Marijuana is now for sale. Lots and lots of Coloradoans use marijuana. Beginning in 2014 through July of this year, $5.3 billion worth of marijuana and marijuana products were sold in Colorado. (That’s buh ‘b’ BILLION.) And, yes, there are stoned drivers and there are certainly problems with youth consuming marijuana—and other issues, too—but I would venture to say most Coloradoans haven’t seen much of a change. It makes you think about those doing the mongering and their motivations.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I think one of the themes I revisit regularly is the power of one individual to make a difference by asking questions and not giving up until they get the truth.
Tell us about your main character.
Allison Coil is tough. She prefers the outdoors. She doesn’t mind tough weather. She is an outfitter in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in Western Colorado. She likes being alone. She loves a good tequila to sip around the campfire. Hornitos is good. She has a boyfriend, Colin. Colin did some things in the fourth book, Lake of Fire, that left her feeling worried and wary about their relationship. Colin may have to earn his way back into Allison’s good grace. Allison is wary of all things having to do with the city, and particularly anything that flies, because she is the survivor of a commercial airline crash. All the entries in The Allison Coil Mystery Series are told in rotating points of view. Reporter Duncan Bloom and Allison’s best friend, Trudy Heath, all play major roles in the books (Duncan starting with Book #3). So Allison is the driving force but there are other characters to follow.
What’s next for you?
My agent is working to find a publisher for a standalone mystery-thriller that I finished not too long ago. It’s called (at least for now) No Lie Lasts Forever. It’s about a retired serial killer. And I’m working on a non-mystery, a sort-of straight up all-American novel about something very, well, American. I’ll leave it at that.
The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in the suburbs of Boston and from Principia College in Illinois. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor in Boston and Los Angeles; as a City Hall reporter for The Rocky Mountain News in Denver; as a national field producer for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (PBS) and as an education reporter for The Denver Post.
After journalism, he worked in school public relations before starting his own public relations and strategic communications business. He lives in Denver. Mark and his wife have two grown daughters.
Mark is currently president of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America and hosts a regular podcast, The Rocky Mountain Writer, for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.