Steven James is the critically acclaimed author of eighteen suspense novels. His most recent novel, Synapse, a near-future thriller, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and was a finalist for an International Book Award. Steven is equipped with a unique master’s degree in storytelling and has taught writing and storytelling on five continents, speaking more than 2000 times at events spanning the globe.
In this interview, Steven talks with us about his latest spy thriller, Broker of Lies.
FF: What inspired you to write Broker of Lies?
I’ve always loved stories of espionage and intrigue, tales of spies and betrayals, and plots with lots of twists and turns. There’ve been lots of stories told of CIA officers and FBI agents, but I began to ask myself, are there any members of the intelligence community that haven’t really had stories told about them? I landed on the idea of using a Department of Defense redactor as the main character. So it’s his job to determine what information can and cannot be released when a Freedom of Information Act request comes in. He works at the Pentagon, and he knows all of our secrets, and when the enemies of the state find out about him, well, things get exciting.
FF: How is this book similar to and different from your many critically acclaimed novels?
Broker of Lies deals more with military secrets while the Patrick Bowers novels focused on unique investigative approaches used by the FBI. Travis Brock, the main character in Broker of Lies, has a nearly photographic memory, but he’s spent the last fifteen years working behind a desk. So when he ends up on the run and off the grid, he has to rise to the challenge to stop a domestic terrorist attack in Tennessee.
FF: You’ve visited some of the secretive government locations in the book. What were they and how did those places inspire the story?
Over the years it’s been super interesting to research the thrillers that I write. In this case, I was able to tour the Pentagon and visit Y-12, a secure Department of Energy site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where weapons-grade uranium is stored. As much as possible, I really tried to give readers an accurate and believable look at some of our country’s most secret government research and facilities.
FF: You’ve said that you don’t believe in plotting out a story before writing it. What is your writing process like?
I write completely organically, asking myself questions to uncover the story as it unfolds. So I’ll ask myself: What would this character naturally do? How can I escalate the tension? How can I add a twist? How can I keep the narrative promises I’ve made to readers earlier in the book? Then every day I chip away at the story as I get to know the characters better, see the choices they make, and resolve the difficult situations they find themselves in. Writing is discovery and all the best twists in my stories have come to me during the writing rather than before beginning it.
FF: Tell us a little about your main character, Travis Brock. How is he a new kind of character for the thriller/suspense space?
Travis is definitely a very human character. He’s courageous but he’s not just a one-dimensional action hero. Really, this book shows the beginning of his journey toward working in the field and not just in the basement of the Pentagon.
FF: What are your main characters struggling with when the story opens?
The book really revolves around three main characters. Travis Brock is searching for answers and for justice, having lost his wife in an arson fire a year and a half ago. Adira Halprin, a former Secret Service agent, is figuring out who betrayed her and what that might have to do with the arsonist. Gunnar Bane is a former Ranger who’s called in to find Travis and stop the Russians from going after him to learn the secrets that he has. Each of the three have their own unique skills, quirks, and journeys.
FF: Who is your favorite minor character in Broker of Lies?
I don’t know if Gunnar Bane is a minor character, but he was super fun to write because even though he is as tough as nails and won’t back down from a fight, he’s also writing a romance novel. But unfortunately, he has no idea what he’s doing. So when I was writing his scenes, I was trying to come up with really bad romance writing, which was a ton of fun.
FF: What questions about justice and revenge did you bring into writing this book?
I really tried to ask what our individual role should be in seeing justice carried out. For instance, if society refuses to carry it out, should we ever take it into our own hands? I also explored the line where justice and vengeance meet. When I write, I don’t start with answers, but rather with questions, and all of the different facets of examining the boundaries of justice were intriguing for me.
FF: You’ve spoken all over the world about storytelling and writing. What is one piece of advice you give to new writers?
Stop trying to plot out or outline your books. Stop following formulas and templates. Get to know the story, follow where it naturally goes, be honest, let your characters act in believable ways, and step out of the way. What they do and what they say may very well surprise you. And the final result will benefit from those surprises.
FF: Will we see Travis Brock again in another book?
Yes! Keep an eye out for the next Travis Brock thriller, which will come out next year.
Broker of Lies
Travis Brock Thriller Series #1
Genres: Mystery/Suspense, Spy Thriller
Release Date: April 11, 2023
The man who knows all our secrets has a secret of his own.
When Travis Brock, a high-level Pentagon redactor with an eidetic memory, finds a clue to solving the tragic arson that took his wife from him, he risks everything to find the truth―and chances losing himself in the process.
With a terror attack looming on the horizon and a pair of assassins on his tail, Brock drops off the grid and joins forces with a disavowed Homeland Security operative. Together they race to stop the attack before Brock is neutralized by the people he trusts the most.
From critically acclaimed, bestselling novelist Steven James comes a smart, wire-tight, and emotionally resonant thriller that asks just how far across the line we might go to see justice carried out.
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