Today I am interviewing Steve Levi, author of the crime novel, The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound.
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DJ: Hi Steve! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Steve Levi: I like to think I’m an odd duck. As a writer, I can’t be put into any of the usual writing categories. My motto is “If you do not have something unique you have nothing.” I want every one of my books, fiction and nonfiction, to be unique, something no one has done before. As an example, in nonfiction I concentrate on the Alaska Gold Rush. I am an Alaskan, by the way. The Alaska Gold Rush is the least-studied era in American history. Most people believe that the Klondike Gold Rush made famous by Jack London and Robert Service, is the Alaska Gold Rush. It is not. The Klondike Gold Rush was in the Yukon Territory of Canada and lasted about 14 months. The Alaska Gold Rush started in 1880 and ends with the First World War and covered an area about 1/5 of the lower states. My composite history of the Alaska Gold Rush included events, stampedes and people no one else had heard of. My book on Alaska’s ghost ship, the CLARA NEVADA, was another first. The CLARA NEVADA went down in 1898 and came back up in 1908 – missing 100,000 ounces of gold. Supposedly there were no survivors BUT a handful of months later, the captain of the ship has a brand-new steamboat on the Yukon River. Humm, how interesting.
When it comes to fiction, I, again, look for something that is unique. That’s why I created my own genre, the ‘impossible crime.’ An impossible crime is one where the detective has to solve HOW the crime was committed before it is possible to go after the perpetrators. My impossible crime novels – available at www.authormasterminds.com – include a plane which lands at Anchorage International Airport with no pilot, crew or passengers yet LEFT Seattle with a pilot, crew and passengers and did not land anywhere along the way. That book is THE MATTER OF THE DESERTED AIRLINER and in THE MATTER OF THE DEMATERIALIZING ARMORED CAR, the perpetrators make an empty armored car ‘demineralize’ in a tunnel. An empty armored car? Why? If the perpetrators are going to steal something of value, what is the value of an empty armored car?
In my murder mystery, DEAD MEN DO COME BACK, the corpse makes three different appearances. It’s an Alaska Gold Rush mystery and the United States Marshal has to figure out WHY the corpse keeps making the appearances and how it is connected with two robberies of 250 pounds of gold from the Juneau mine. And HOW do you have 250 pounds of gold vanish off a steamship if it was loaded under guard and never offloaded?
Overall, in everything I write, novel or short story, I want my readers confused as long as possible, hopefully to the last page. I hate books and movies where I have figured out ‘who dun it’ within the first chapter.
DJ: What is The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound about?
Steve: Again, as much as possible, I want my readers to be confused until the last page. In THE MATTER OF THE VANISHING GREYHOUND, as an example, the police in San Francisco are following a Greyhound bush loaded with four bank robbers, a dozen hostages and $10 million in cash. The bus rolls onto the Golden Gate Bridge and the police close the bridge at both ends. When the police send in their hostage negotiator, there is no bus. It has vanished off the Golden Gate Bridge. (And let me tell you, I had a hard time convincing publishers this was NOT science fiction.) Now the detective has to figure out HOW a Greyhound bus, being followed by the police, can vanish off the Golden Gate Bridge and if the perpetrators already have the money, why do they need hostages?
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound and your Alaska Gold Rush writings?
Steve: I guess you could say there were three reasons I wrote THE MATTER OF THE VANISHING GREYHOUND. First, of course, no one had ever done a book on a Greyhound bus disappearing off the Golden Gate Bridge. Second, was the creation of the dynamics of how to make the bus disappear. Years ago I lived in San Francisco and walked the bridge trying to develop a way for bus to disappear. It took a l-o-n-g time to develop the plan. And the book lived up to the quote from my detective, “The impossible becomes possible when you understand the impossible is possible.”
In DEAD MEN DO COME BACK, I wanted to do two things at the same time. First, to break away from the generic good guys/bad guys scenario. American television and movie mysteries are based on the concept of good guys versus bad guys. There is a hero and a villain and, in the end, the villain ‘gets his’ or ‘gets her” just deserts. And, because the big money in writing over the past century has been books that could be made into movies, mysteries were written with the possibility of going to the television or movies. The internet has changed all that. Now, in the crowded market, I believe, readers are looking for ‘something different.’ In the old days, publishers did not publish good books. They published books that would sell. So, when it came to mystery, there had to be a murder as close to the first page as possible. And, at the end, the bad person had to be lead away in handcuffs.
Well, that’s not real life and I believe I a lot of readers want something different that is not same old/same old. But many still want a murder. So, in DEAD MEN DO COME BACK, I gave them a murder. But the murder is just a distraction from an impossible crime. Two shipment of 250 pounds of gold disappear off a steamship. But if the gold was loaded by armed guards and was never off loaded, what happened to it? Thus the murder becomes a distraction to what is REALLY going on rather than the center piece of the book. And again, it is something that has not been done. It is an Alaska Gold Rush impossible crime mystery.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Steve: This is a good question but my answer is odd. Yes, I do have main characters with quirks, so to speak, but the focus of my novels is on the impossibility of the crime. So I adjust the focus of my work AWAY from the main characters and center it on the impossibility of the crime. From my perspective, the industry does not need one more retired detective going through a divorce and fighting alcoholism when he/she is called ‘back into service’ to solve a high-profile murder. I want my readers to ‘like’ my characters but I want that ‘like’ to be the way you ‘like’ an uncle you only see occasionally, He may have flaws but they are not blatant because I do not want the reader distracted from the focus of the book – focus as in ‘can the readers make the impossible possible’ faster than the detective.
That being said, when it comes to my Alaska Gold Rush fiction, and specifically DEAD MEN DO COME BACK, I tried to incorporate as many real characters and events into the novel as possible. There are many realities of Alaska which are unknown to anyone living in the Lower 48 which have to explained and, at the same time, add spice and authenticity to my writing. For instance, most people do not know – and you will need a map of Alaska to understand what I am discussing – the waters of the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Islands is frozen 15 feet thick from about September 15th to June 1st. But the water south of the Aleutian Islands is ice-free year-round. This is because there is a warm current, the Japanese Current or Kuroshio, which sweeps the southern shores of the Aleutian Islands.
What does this have to do with the Alaska Gold Rush? I’m glad you asked! The bulk of the communities and strikes of the Alaska Gold Rush were in the interior of Alaska and there were no roads there. (There still aren’t.) Everything into and out of those communities had to come by water, up the Yukon or Kuskokwim rivers and their tributaries. But those rivers freeze over from early September to the middle of June. To this day, if you live in interior – and the second largest city in Alaska, Fairbanks, with a population of 30,000 – is a prisoner of ice. Anything too large to be flown or trucked has to come in on a barge and there are fewer than 120 days of ice-river rivers for barge traffic. So you have to plan ahead.
Why is this important for DEAD MEN DO COME BACK? Again, I’m glad you asked. After the robbery of the two shipments of 250 pounds of gold, the gold still has to be converted to cash. But it cannot be converted to cash in Alaska because that much gold it would attract attention. And the gold cannot be re-shipped on the steamship because everything going onto the ship is weighted and examined. So the gold has to be slipped out of Alaska by a different means. In the case of the novel and Alaskan history, barges were docked in Juneau during the summer and fall so cargo from up the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers can be loaded aboard. (Juneau is ice free.) Then, after the last of the cargo makes it out of the Bering Sea, the barge heads south. Making a long story short, there is so much cargo on these barges that 500 pounds of anything will attract no attention. Thus history has made the ‘absconding with the loot’ historical accurate, informative and educational.
Wrapping up, in my impossible crimes, I want the focus of my readers on the impossibility of the crimes, not the perpetrator. And, specifically when it comes to my Alaska Gold Rush novels, I want to wrap Alaskan reality with the crime because, frankly, you would be surprised how many Americans have absolutely no idea how different Alaska is from the rest of the country.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound like?
Steve: With the exception of the Alaska Gold Rush background, I want my settings, plot and characters to be as believable as possible. It’s not so much I want my readers to ‘like’ my characters; I want my readers to concentrate (and be confused) on the crime itself. The focus of my writing is not the characters, but the events. They are real people, so to speak, and are not a distraction from the plot line.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound and your Alaska Gold Rush mysteries?
Steve: My favorite part of writing any of my impossible crimes or Alaska Gold Rush mysteries is finding something that is IMPOSSIBLE and making it POSSIBLE. I want my mysteries to be unique, something ‘never before read.’ I have never read or heard of a Greyhound bus disappearing anywhere, least of all on the Golden Gate Bridge. Of all the research on the Alaska Gold Rush I have never read or heard of a mine robbery of 500 pounds of gold which simply ‘vanishes.’ Overall, I love coming up with impossible scenarios and then make them possible. Then comes the hard work, making my scenario believable in print!
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Steve: I’d like to think my readers will finish an impossible crime novel and say, “Is that really possible? Could it have happened that way?” I do not look at myself as being in the entertainment business. I look at myself being the in thought-provoking business. Anyone can write a generic murder mystery but my mysteries, murder or not, force the reader to ‘think outside of the box.’
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound?
Steve: My overall goal as a writer and as a teacher is to get people to think differently. The world is overloaded with people who think the same. We graduate millions of high school seniors who have all read the same books, written the same essays and performed the same science experiments. There is no real future for most of these people. I call them ‘cookie-cutters.’ They are easily replaced and with the advances of Artificial Intelligence, they will be replaced. The future DOES NOT belong to the educated; it belongs to the INNOVATIVE. But you cannot be innovative unless you learn to ‘think out of the box.’ If you do not know what I mean, take a look at my off the wall thinking prototype at www.offthewallthinking.com. (It’s free.)
My goal as a writer, fiction and nonfiction, is not only to offer a unique view of the subject but to FORCE the reader to think differently and maybe, just maybe, that will transfer to their view of their job, their world and the coming age of Artificial Intelligence.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound that you can share with us?
Steve: I have two quotes I live by. As a writer, my motto is “If you do not have something unique you have nothing.” It is also my philosophy of life. We are no longer living in a cookie-cutter world. Artificial Intelligence has changed every aspect of our culture and same old/same old is the highway to disaster. To survive, let alone be successful, you have to be unique. You become unique by thinking off the wall. If you cannot be different you are replaceable.
The other quotes is from my writing: “The impossible becomes possible when you understand the impossible is possible.” The way to AVOID being a cookie-cutter thinker is to force yourself to be an off the wall thinker and I’d like to believe my readers finish my book and look at the ‘impossible’ situations in their life and place of work ‘differently.’
DJ: Now that The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound is released, what is next for you?
Steve: I have more than 80 books in print and on Kindle. I always have a dozen books forming in my head and I finish about two a year. I really do not know what book is next. All I know is how they start. I simply ask myself three questions. “Is this impossible?” “Is this subject something you have never read before?” and “Can you make this readable, understandable, believable and entertaining.” If the answer to all three questions is “yes,” I have the seed of a book.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Anything you’d like to add?
Steve: Sure, a quote from Will Rogers which is as appropriate in the age of Artificial Intelligence as it was when he said it a century ago, “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Steve: Thanks for the opportunity to convince people to be off the wall thinkers.
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*** The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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How can a Greyhound Bus with four bank robbers, $10 million in cash, the contents of all of the safety deposit boxes and 12 hostages being follow by the San Francisco Police vanish off the Golden Gate Bridge? The police are stumped so a specialist in impossible crimes, Captain Heinz Noonan, the Bearded Holmes, is sent to San Francisco to solve the crime. With the clock ticking, Noonan will have to unravel how the bus was able to disappear – and why there are still hostages if the money has already been stolen and the bank robbers have vanished. Ride along with Captain Heinz Noonan, the nation’s foremost impossible crime sleuth, and see if you can solve the crime as fast as he does!
About the Author:
Steven C. Levi is an Alaskan historian and writer. A 40-year resident of Anchorage, he has 80 books in print and on Kindle. His nonfiction books on Alaska history include BOOM TO BUST IN THE ALASKA GOLD FIELDS, an historical forensic investigation into the sinking of Alaska’s ghost ship, the Clara Nevada, as well as a history of Alaska’s bush pilot heritage, COWBOYS OF THE SKY. Levi believes that his books – both fiction and nonfiction – should be readable, understandable and educational. They must be all three for the reader to keep turning the pages. He is also dedicated to making history interesting to young readers. His MAKING HISTORY INTERESTING TO STUDENTS series on Kindle is a collection of eight books specifically written to teach middle and high school students what they are supposed to be learning in their history classes.