After a break last month, I’m delighted to welcome Steve Zettler to sit down and tell us about his writing career!
Steve is a professional writer, actor and photographer. He is the author of the romantic tragedy, Careless Love, and international thrillers The Second Man, Double Identity and Ronin. He is also the co-author of the Nero Blanc Mystery Series. He has worked extensively as an actor in New York and in regional theatres, and he created a memorable role in a Pulitzer Prize winning play. He has also worked on countless television shows and many feature films.
Hi Steve. Pull up a chair and tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in south eastern Pennsylvania and now live in Philadelphia. I’ve had three fairly successful artistic careers; photographer, actor & writer. Of course when things have been less than successful, like all artists, I’ve run the gamut of jobs; bartender, cab driver, carpenter, etc. I’ve developed many, many skillsets.
How did your writing career begin?
My wife was a published author and when I decided to move on from acting she encouraged me to write. I wrote my first thriller, gave it to her agent and he got me a two book deal with Penguin-Putnam. It was a much easier route to being published than most writers are forced to take. I was extremely lucky. Though I do remember thinking at the time, “Holy crap, I’ve got to write second book!” I was such a babe in the woods.
Wow, that was lucky, and scary too!
You’ve experimented with a couple of different genres? Did you choose them, or did they choose you?
I’ve always meandered through life basically doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted; which is to say, I’ve never taken anyone’s advice. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble and left me penniless a few times. I’ve never been genre focused. As an actor I played leading men as well as murderers, and rapists. As a result, no one knew who I was, and casting often became a confusing issue. Who knew what I was going to do? The same seems to apply to my writing; I wrote three thrillers, co-authored twelve mysteries, and my most recent novel, Careless Love, can be classified as literary fiction. Needless to say, this lack of focus is not a great business model – you’re left shopping your work to editors who have never heard of you, and it has a real negative effect on you bank account. My most successful endeavour was the mystery series because I had a co-author who just happened to be my wife, and editors could predict what they were going to get out of us. However, I found I wasn’t really cut out for a life of predictability.
What do you hope your readers take away from your work? What are you trying to achieve?
Ultimately I’d like to think that all writers, no matter the genre, are trying to change the world for the better. Sometimes this must be done by showing the underbelly of the beast, and certainly in my thrillers and latest novel that’s the approach I’ve taken. These books all have their share of cynical characters, but like anyone they have their strong opinions and I’d like readers to consider those opinions, and take something away by meeting characters with a diverse set of morals.
Where do you see your writing career heading?
Writing is a joy; having the freedom to write is a joy. I certainly consider myself blessed to have that freedom. As a photographer and actor I’ve always jumped at jobs that I believed would be fun and meaningful, not ones that might have simply advanced my career. I’ve never been concerned with being cemented on the best-seller list. The freedom to write is enough for me. I don’t look at it as a career.
All the best jobs/careers are the ones which don’t feel like work, aren’t they?
How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where you do get your ideas?
It’s a little crazy, but in everything I’ve written there’s a love story. I’m constantly wrestling with my lovers to keep them from running away with the plot, and in my newest novel, Careless Love, they tended to overpower me; I am a fool for love. And there’s rub, I don’t outline, I just take off. I know where I want to start and where I want to end up, throw two imperfect people into the mix, and let the characters write to book for me. I often feel like I’m just taking dictation. Again, that’s why it’s such a joy to write. I love the unpredictable.
Have you considered how Covid-19 will affect your writing? Has it already?
Oddly I started a pandemic thriller a little over two years ago. COVID-19 hit and seems to have squashed it. I’m guessing everyone has a pandemic book by now. Maybe some day I’ll revisit it.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
Careless Love has been eating away at my soul for years. It’s largely autobiographical and is my first departure from thrillers and mysteries. I have to admit it was a scary project to take on, very much uncharted land, and I was exposing part of myself I felt was better off left alone. There are portions I Careless Love I can’t read at events because they leave me a weeping basket case. You never know if any book is going to land on its feet, Careless Love loaded with raw emotion, but I’ve been pleasantly surprized as to how well it’s been received.
How did your relationship with Vine Leaves Press begin? Was it a conscious decision to work with a small press rather than a Big 5 or self-publishing route?
All of my other work has been published by a Big 5 publisher, mostly Penguin-Putnam, but I felt Careless Love was going to get lost in the shuffle. Plus, they had grown to expect something else from me and I’m not sure they would have shown much interest in Careless Love. I sent the manuscript to a number of smaller publishers and Vine Leaves Press was the first to respond; and their response was very enthusiastic. Other houses did later respond, but I have to say Vine Leaves has been the best publishing experience I’ve ever had. My editor was brilliant.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished another thriller set in Panama, 1999, a few months before the U.S.A. turned the canal back over to the Panama government. And yes, there is a love story. I can’t help myself. And I’ve also just started a memoir that focuses on my life when I was eight years old. No love story, but I did have colossal crush on Caroline who was in the third grade with me. I wonder what ever happened to Caroline?
Well, that sounds like you’ll be busy for a while! Good luck, and thank you for being such an interesting interviewee.