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Josh K. Stevens talks SCRATCH THE SURFACE

On sale now from 280 Steps:

The first book in an action-packed pulp thriller trilogy arriving back-to-back in 2015, about former mafia collector Deuce Walsh.

Deuce Walsh is a former gangster trying to keep his past hidden in the middle-of-nowhere Midwest. Seven years ago, his colleagues—The Chianti Brothers—made a power play and left him for dead. He survived, but had to leave everything behind and start from scratch with a new identity.

But when his brother-in-law Colm, a degenerate gambler and wannabe wiseguy, gets himself into trouble, Deuce is brought back into the life of crime and finds himself helping Colm pay off a debt to the very people who tried to have him killed in the first place.

The second book in the series, Delving Deeper, is out July 28.

Gerald So: Scratch the Surface is the first book in a trilogy. Did you always have a trilogy planned? Describe how the idea evolved?

Josh K. Stevens: I actually did not have a trilogy planned when I started writing. Initially, Scratch the Surface started off a single standalone novel. The character of Deuce Walsh had been kicking around in my head for several years and I just couldn't seem to find the right outlet for him. Simultaneously, I had this idea involving a man being pulled back into a dark former past. Deuce Walsh more or less introduced himself to the piece and he just fit perfectly. When I started writing the piece, I set out to tell the tale that would ultimately result in being the first two books of the trilogy. As I was putting words on paper, I started to realize that, while the stories I wanted to tell were intertwined, they were much too big to be put together as one novel. Once I realized that, I was able to give more time to each of the characters and their personal storylines.

Gerald: Describe Deuce and Colm. What appeals to you about each of them?

Josh: Deuce and Colm are my pulp version of The Odd Couple. They were brought together by chance (Deuce is expecting a baby with Colm's sister) and, while they have similar mindsets, they approach their problems and their lives from vastly different perspectives. I love the character of Deuce because in all actuality, he's a pretty average guy with a few skeletons in his closet. He's trying, in vain, to put those days behind him and lead a normal life but he can't seem to get away from the sultry sirens of his past life trying to call him back. He misses the adventures, the "fun", of his youth. I think that everyone can associate with that on some level. Everyone, even those who seem to have their lives figured out, can't help but sometimes look back at some previous point in their life and say, "Man, those people I was with, that life I was leading, I wish I could go back and do that again for a bit." It's a pretty natural emotion to glorify the "simple days", the "good old days". Colm, on the other hand, is the guy that is leading a sordid variation of the life that Deuce misses. The only difference is that Colm's just not good at it. He’s a horrible gambler, his crew doesn't take him seriously, and he really has no real "resumé" to speak of. But Colm is a likeable guy, a loyal guy, and there's something to be said for that. What appealed to me most about these two characters was that they are real people who find themselves in an extraordinary situation. I'm always curious about how "normal" people react when the chips are down.

Gerald: What's the best book you've read lately?

Josh: Lately I've been reading a lot of articles and short stories as I haven’t really been able to fully engulf myself full on in a book. I did just re-read Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (the sequel to The Passage) to prepare myself for the finale of the trilogy. I was sucked into that book and was fully engulfed by the characters that he created and the plot that he wove. Absolutely amazing reads. I also recently read Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. I’m a little late to the party on that one and it was fantastically hard-boiled, but I would expect nothing but greatness from Stephen King. I've yet to read anything by him that I haven't enjoyed on some level. In both of the novels (which are vastly different in voice), I found myself enthralled by the characters. Both King and Cronin really do a superb job of opening the characters up and letting you fully experience who they are and what they're feeling.

Gerald: What are your plans after the trilogy?

Josh: As far as writing goes, while I've got several story ideas kicking around in my head at the present time (a couple of full on pulp novels, a contemporary western, and a young adult book) I think that the first project I’m going to undertake is polishing up a work that I finished about ten years ago and has been sitting in a drawer ever since. The tentative title is Smooth Beans and it's another pulp thriller that centers around a couple of twenty-somethings working at a chain coffee house. They receive a box of smuggled diamonds at their location that were supposed to sent to the corporate office. They decide that this is fate interjecting and they decide to try to fence the diamonds. A series of events unfolds that forces them to hole up in the coffee house and general chaos ensues. Ever since I started writing this, many moons ago, I kept having the tagline run through my head: "What if you fell ass-backwards into a life of crime?” Beyond that, I’ve been slowly working towards opening my own bookstore and I’d like to put some focus on that so that I can make sure that like-minded people have a place to come and discuss the written word.

Gerald: Good luck, Josh, and thank you.

Josh K. Stevens is the author of Bullets Are My Business and Scratch the Surface. His short stories have been published in RAGAD, Boston Literary Magazine, The Woodstock Independent, 55 Words and decomP. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and children.


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On sale June 9 from Polis books:

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