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A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Switching Genres: A Chat with Steven Montano

Today, author Steven Montano shares with us about his latest release, Red Tide at Morning. At the end of the post, I've left my review of the book. Thanks for joining us!

Teresa: You've been writing dark fantasy/dystopian for quite some time now. And you have amassed a respectable book catalog in that genre. It seems that when you write in the same genre, what happens in one story might actually spawn an idea for the next. Having said that, where did the idea of Red Tide at Morning come from?

Steven: I decided to write a murder mystery about a year ago, around the time both the Blood Skies series and The Skullborn Trilogy were winding down and I was trying to decide what direction to go with my writing.  My wife is a huge fan of the genre, and the challenge of writing a mystery novel appealed to me.  (I was further motivated when an author friend of mine, Joe Hart, went and wrote a thriller called The River Is Dark after he’d already made a name crafting horror novels; his effort really inspired me). 

I’m honestly not sure exactly where the idea for Red Tide At Morning came from, but the first image I had in my mind as I put together the story was a slightly modified version of the opening sequence, with the dead girl being found in a small abandoned village on the island and all of the action taking place just ahead of a coming ice storm.  The early version of the novel was called Colder, and it had more occult ties and a “race against time” aspect that I eventually cut for the more subdued approach I took with the final version.

I didn’t continue working on the book at the time but kept it in the back of my mind, and I was about to delve into the project when inspiration for The Last Acolyte came at me like a bolt from the blue and essentially took over my creative brain for a few months.  Eventually I decided it was high time to finally write the mystery, so in preparation I binge-watched procedural police shows and read tons of mystery novels, and I conducted a crap-ton of research on forensics, police biographies, criminal psychology, true crime reports, etc.

Whereas normally at this point I’d just jump in with the writing, instead I continued to take extensive notes, mapped out the plot, and planned individual scenes and chapters down to an almost insane degree of detail.  It was...exhausting.  LOL

Teresa: That is fascinating stuff, Steven! It's always so interesting to learn what engages another writer's creative energies. And we're glad you're pushing through your exhaustion to talk with us. ~winking~  Can you share anything you've learned from writing a book in a different genre?

Steven: I think the biggest thing I realized the moment I started writing this book was that I would not be able to take my normal approach to drafting a novel.  Usually I like to come up with just a loose outline: a solid plot, a good sense of the ending, maybe a chapter breakdown with one or two major events per chapter, and that’s it.  That doesn’t really work with a mystery novel, where you have to carefully plan events from beginning to end and know exactly when and where you’re going to drop plot details so the reader uncovers them at the appropriate time.  Now, one could argue that’s the case for any novel, but I think it’s especially true for a book like this. 

Research, as I mentioned before, was a huge factor for Red Tide At Morning, because even though I was writing about a fictional island the setting is the modern world, and I wanted very much to make sure I got the details right; that’s pretty easy when you know the fantasy/sci-fi world you’re writing like the back of your hand, but in this case I quickly realized I didn’t know @!#?@! about things like crime scene preservation, hacking into a cell phone, or what the inside of a Lutheran church looks like.  That led to even more research. 

Perhaps most significant, though, is the difference in writing language.  In epic fantasy, it’s not only okay if you take a few pages to describe the landscape and important places, it’s practically expected.  In a mystery novel, details are important, but description itself is often kept to a minimum in order to allow better story flow.  Needless to say, this was tough for me, but having my wife go through the first few chapters with a chainsaw to hack away all excessive description (aka “65% of the words”) got me in the right rhythm. 

It was easily the most challenging time I’ve ever had writing a novel.  It was also the most rewarding, and I’d happily do it again.

About the book:
A dead girl on the beach. A college student found tortured to death in an abandoned cottage. An ex-soldier with a history of violence. A small-time drug lord whose influence is on the rise. A mysterious woman watching from the shadows. A camera pointed the wrong way.

Something dangerous is happening in Raven’s Passage.

Retired Detective Malcolm Stone hoped to never work another murder case ever again. After the tragic death of his partner on the harrowing streets of Philadelphia, all Mal wanted was to come home to the quiet Pacific Northwest island he grew up on and get on with his life. But when a shocking double homicide shakes the community, Mal finds himself pulled back into a world he thought he’d left behind.

Along with his step-sister Lara — a troubled loner with a keen investigative mind — Malcolm digs deep into the lives of the two dead girls, uncovering scars and secrets best left alone. Surrounded by suspects ranging from an ambitious drug dealer and his delinquent son to the psychotic ex-flame of one of the victim’s fathers, Malcolm and Lara race to find a connection between the victims and uncover the truth…before a deadly killer strikes again.

Embark on a dark and twisted mystery from the author of Blood Skies, The Last Acolyte and The Skullborn Trilogy.

Now on sale! 

Teresa: Thanks so much, Steven! And now I'll share my review of Red Tide at Morning.

Let me first say that I think the book is outstanding, a real page-tuner. I read it during a particularly busy three day period. All the while I was busy with life, my mind kept going back to the story. I wanted to read more. I needed to find out whodunnit. :-)

Montano is incredibly adept at showing a story, at painting scenes. With his background in Dystopian-noir, he's well-versed in drenching a scene with descriptive writing. And that's great, because readers of Dystopian have never seen that world before. We need to have it painted for us by the author's words. But while reading Red Tide, I couldn't help but be amazed that he'd shifted away from drenching a scene with description, to moving to a style that fits murder/mystery so much better. 

This story takes place here on Earth, in current times. That means we don't need have to have every little detail described for us like we do for genres like Dystopian and Scify. And Montano seems to have intuitively known how much description was enough. It painted a nice scene, but didn't bog down the action with too many details.

The pacing is fast. The hooks keep coming. The characters come to life. And it was easy to get caught up in the main character's world. Throughout the story, I guessed at who had done the murders. I was pretty sure a couple of times, but then Montano threw a new twist in the plot, or added a few more clues that forced me to rethink who had done the killing. In fact, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I turned the last few pages and realized who had done it.

Amazing genre switch with wonderful results.  

You can check out the beginning of the book using the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon

Check out Steven's blog HERE for all the news about his books.

And he's on Twitter  Another great way to find out what he's writing. 

Thanks so much for visiting!


  1. Teresa and Steven:
    I've enjoyed the snippets of Red Tide at Morning on the WeWriLoop. This interview was fun to read too - it's cool to see more of your process, Steven.
    I'm going to nab my copy of the book. Good luck with it, Steven. Great interview, Teresa.

    1. Thanks, Paula! I hope you enjoy Steven's book as much as I did. Glad you stopped by!

  2. Fascinating insights! Interesting that Steven mentions the research aspect. That's one of the great freedoms of speculative fiction, but also one of the hidden pitfalls because even far-out worlds have to meet some real world conventions.

    1. Hi Ian. I found it fascinating, too. I'd not given much thought to the research. The genre change up was so incredibly well-done.

      And I totally agree with your comment about speculative fiction. I think it's what ruined Pohl's Starchild Trilogy for me.

      Thanks for visiting! :-) It's good to see you.

    2. Completely agree, Ian. It's always important to try and keep sci-fi/fantasy rooted in reality, but in the end you always have the "MAGIC!" or "ALIENS!" bail-out to fall back on. Not as much with "real world" stuff, and that entire part of the process wound up taking a lot more time than I anticipated. But hey, it was still fun. =D

  3. Thank you Teresa for hosting me, I really appreciate it! =D

    1. You are quite welcome, Steven. It was my pleasure. I truly enjoyed Red Tide!

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