What's new with Steve Thayer books?
After months of negotiating ... years really ... I have obtained the publishing rights to all of my books, a rare feat for authors. One at a time the books are going to be redesigned, re-edited, and rereleased as eBooks and trade paperbacks through Minnesota's Conquill Press, starting with The Wheat Field in February, 2017.
Why start with The Wheat Field ?
The Wheat Field has generated the most movie interest ... a sexy murder mystery that's been optioned by Hollywood twice. And I've written a complete screenplay. I think it's the most cinematic of my books. We wanted to make sure it's available to filmmakers and fans.
When do you write?
For years I was a night writer. I would usually begin writing around 11 P.M. and work until two or three in the morning. That’s just when my brain works. Always has. If school had started at noon I’d have been the valedictorian, unfortunately it started at 8 A.M. and my brain didn’t wake up until football practice. I used to be able to write until dawn, but I can’t do that anymore. It’s an age thing. These days, more and more of my writing is being done during the day—like a normal person.
Why did you become a writer?
I failed at acting.
Where did you go to school, and were you a good student?
I was a terrible student. They let me out of high school. They threw me out of college. I graduated from St. Paul’s Harding High School in 1971. I went to Southwest Minnesota State College in Marshall, Minnesota to play football, but I flunked out after two years. However, in my second year of college I was chasing after a girl and she took and Introduction to Theatre course—so I took it because she took it. The girl got away but I got the acting bug and took off for Hollywood the next year. I graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, California in 1976.
Where did you study writing?
I never studied writing—never took a writing class. Everything I know about writing I learned in theater, especially building a character. Create a good character and the readers will follow him anywhere. I bummed around Hollywood for five years after acting school. Failing at that, I thought maybe I could be a writer. So I moved home to St. Paul and began writing my first novel. Saint Mudd. That was in 1982.
How did you first get published?
Actually, I didn’t. For Saint Mudd, I can produce more than forty rejection slips. I finally decided to self-publish 250 copies and give them away to family and friends and then call it quits. But once they started printing books there wasn’t much difference in cost between 250 books and 1,000 books, so I decided to print the thousand books and try and sell them. Those thousand books sold out in less than six weeks. Saint Mudd was then picked up by a small press in Washington, D.C. owned by Minnesota native Al Eisele. We printed 10,000 paperbacks and those quickly sold out. After that, managing editor Al Silverman at Viking Penguin offered me a two-book contract for Saint Mudd and the first hundred pages that I had written for The Weatherman.
What do you use for writing?
I’ve owned several desktop PCs over the years, but I’ve had the same IBM Model M "click" keyboard since 1982 ... that is until I recently spilled La Croix water on it. I still write out a lot of scenes in longhand on a legal pad. Moon Over Lake Elmo and The Wheat Field were almost completely written in longhand before I put them on my computer.
Is it true you write the ending of your books first?
As a rule, yes—that way I always know where I’m going. Everything has to lead toward that end. There is nothing worse than reading a good book with a lousy ending, and it’s usually because the author didn’t know how to end it.
What authors influenced you the most?
It was a bizarre combination of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Wambaugh. I was reading a lot of their books in the ’70s, before I began writing.
Where do your ideas come from?
A K-Mart store in Fridley—I don’t know, they just come to me. It usually starts with a scene. I write that scene.
What kind of books do you like to read now?
Most people are surprised by how little fiction I read. I stopped reading it almost as soon as I started writing it. Most of my reading today is non-fiction, with a heavy emphasis on history and biography. And I’ll read anything by Jon Krakauer or Nathaniel Philbrook. I've just finished Mayflower. Up next is Bunker Hill.
Name some of your favorite books.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Burr by Gore Vidal, The Great Gatsby and Tales of the Jazz Age, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh. These are books I keep coming back to. And movies have had a lot of influence on my work. I love watching the old black and whites on TCM late at night.
What book of yours is your favorite?
It would have to be Saint Mudd because it was my first book and because of all that I went through to get it published—though, personally, I think The Weatherman is a better book. The Wheat Field is another favorite just because it was so much fun to write. And I was sick The Leper didn't find a New York publisher.