Today we're talking with Jeffrey S. Stephens, author of the Jordan Sandor "Targets of" mystery series.
FQ: First of all, I have read and reviewed the Target books and loved every one of them. Keep up the good work and hurry up with number four! Thanks from a grateful reviewer. Now, on to the questions. A few of them at the end are a little different than you're probably used to but here goes.
Starting at the beginning of your series, Targets of Deception, Jordan Sandor, your main character, a retired CIA agent, enters with a bang. Heís a bit of James Bond but, not quite as classy and a bit of Jason Bourne, who likes to jump through windows. How did you come to know Jordan?
As with most main characters, Sandor is based more on reality than fiction. He was initially inspired by someone I have known for many years andóof courseóhe also shares some of my traits and attitudes. I think most principal characters owe some aspect of their personality to the personality of the writer, even in the case of villains. In the Jordan Sandor series, I have secrets that I use in developing plots and fleshing out the details of his persona. He and I also share the same sense of humor and the same insubordinate attitude toward mindless authority.
FQ: On to the second book in your series, Targets of Opportunity. A terrorist story but with a different twist. Jordan, again, can pick the brains of these people and seems to figure them out as well as where and when they will turn up next. Your research is great and I have to ask: Did you visit any of the locations that are written about in your books? How were your able to sneak into the minds of these people?
As to the first question, yes, I travel and I do extensive research on these locations. This applies not only to the sites where the action takes place, but also with respect to weaponry, governmental agencies, procedurals, protocol, and so forth. I take pride in the authenticity of these elements of the Sandor novels. Nowadays readers are incredibly sophisticated and I believe they appreciate the realism. I will admit, however, I occasionally take some poetic license, but I usually get called on it. For instance, the early scenes in Targets of Revenge involve a glider, which I refer to generically as being made of ďfiberglassĒ. Later I describe the composition in more detail. This week I received an email from a reader that amounted to a treatise on the difference between fiberglass and the actual combination of ďcarbon, aramid and polyethyleneĒ. You canít get away with anything anymore.
Your second question, about getting into a characterís mind, is what writing is all about for me. There comes a point where your characters have clearly defined traits, preferences, quirks and so forth. The fun is in seeing what they will do in different situations, and how others in the story will react. Itís like being part psychologist, part chess player, and then playing the part of that characterís friend or foe.
FQ: In Targets of Revenge, the third book which was just released, Jordan is on the hunt for Adina, another terrorist who is about to carry out a heinous terrorist plot against the United States. Again, your imagination is first class. How did you come up with this particular plot?
I know this will sound odd, but I enjoyed Adinaónot in the sense that I would want to have dinner with himóbut because he was a compelling villain. Not only was he ruthless in murdering innocent people, but he didnít even care about the lives of his own men. As I neared the end of the previous book, I wanted him back, and I wanted Sandor to track him down. Given Adinaís evil intentions towards the United States, it made sense to depict him as embarking on another plan of attack. The story spun off from there as I imagined what he might concoct as he came at us again, and what Jordan Sandor would have to do to stop him.
FQ: Iím eagerly awaiting the next installment of Targets. I see that you and your family live in Connecticut. I wonder ... do any of your neighbors know that you have this way of coming up with these great storylines?
I am happy to report that the next book is well on its way. As for my neighbors, many know that I write these novels, but none of them know any of the secrets behind them.
FQ: What is your greatest happiness and your greatest fear?
This may sound corny, but without any doubt my greatest happiness is my family. I have the most extraordinary wife and two incredible sons. My boys are grown men now, and the joy I derive from their relationships with Nancy and me, and the time we continue to spend together, is a true gift. I am very fortunate.
As to my greatest fear, clearly it would be the prospect of failure. I want people to read my books, to enjoy them, and to recommend them to others. This way I will continue to be published and will continue to write. I never understood writers who claimed that they only write for themselves. I certainly enjoy the creative process, but then I want to share my stories. I believe it was Graham Greene who admitted that if he were trapped on a desert island with no prospect of rescue, he would see no reason to write another word. The culture of story-telling is as old as man, and I want to go on sharing my stories with others. In the end, thatís the point, isnít it? I believe itís true for all people, whether youíre a novelist or not. We all want to share our stories. Thatís how we connect with different people in different ways.
FQ: Which historical figure do you most identify with?
There are innumerable historical figures whom I admire, and dozens I would love to spend an hour with, but the man who set a standard for excellence and integrity that most inspires me is the golfer Bobby Jones. Not the literary answer you might have expected, but Jones was an incredible figure on many levels. I could go on all day about him, his honesty, how he faced adversity, and all the things he achieved.
I should mention that Jones narrowly edged out Groucho Marx, who was my second choice.
FQ: What is your greatest accomplishment and your greatest regret?
My family is my greatest accomplishment.
Regrets are for people who believe in reincarnation, which I do not. If youíre not coming back to do it all over again, why dwell on things you did or didnít do?
FQ: If you could be reincarnated and come back as any person/thing, what would it be?
I honestly did not see this next question when I answered the previous one, but if Iím wrong and I am coming back, I think Emperor of the World would be fun.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions and remember there is a big fan waiting for the next Target installment.