BookView Interview with Author Stephen Winn

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Stephen Winn about his writing and his debut novel, Don’t Look Back, an exciting tale of betrayal, murder, and intrigue. (Read the review here.)

STEPHEN WINN is the author of the Mack Sampson & M Crime/Detective Series. Don’t Look Back is his first novel. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, about twenty minutes from Niagara Falls.




Don’t Look Back seems to draw from the philosophy of putting a character at rock bottom, to see how the character—and the story—will grow from there. Knowing that, how did you get into Mack’s headspace as you were writing?

I decided right from the start to become my protagonist in 3D and try to see Mack’s life and challenges through my eyes. I would go to bed believing I was Mack Sampson and wake up imagining I had to face life in his world each day.

This is definitely a story that keeps you guessing right until the reveal. How do you go about putting together a compelling mystery, without giving too much away too fast?

I believe my first novel is unique from many others I’ve read because it extends the story arc so that the climax occurs very late in the story. This was done intentionally to keep the reader guessing who-done-it for as long as possible.

Have you always known you wanted to be a mystery writer? What led you to the genre?

I have always loved mysteries starting as a pre-teen with The Hardy Boys and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, among others. I also love western novels and tried to write one many years ago. I got half way through my first story and trashed it. Then a good friend encouraged me to read Robert B. Parker’s novels a few years ago. I quickly became sold on the idea of trying to write my first murder mystery novel and gave it a try. Don’t Look Back was born, and I haven’t looked back. I describe more about my journey on my website:

What’s more important: characters or plot?

Both are equally important and need to be intertwined carefully. I choose my characters and their names carefully, and I love a good plot twist to shake up the reader.

Which character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?

The plotline remained consistent from draft to draft with minor exceptions. I also had a definite idea about Pauline because I worked with someone by that name in Williamsville, NY several years ago and admired her attitude and spunk. I also had a clear profile in my mind for Mack’s dog, Woof—the only dog that ever named itself—because I’ve been a dog owner most of my life. But M was a challenge! I admit I didn’t have a complete picture of him until the end of Don’t Look Back.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I devote a lot of my time to writing and am so fortunate that I love what I do. Giving freely of my time to improve my craft while foregoing other fun events is something I have done since I started writing. I am also driven by my goal to donate a portion of the profit from my book sales to registered charities for the disabled because I have a quadriplegic eldest son. I have seen firsthand the struggles of poor families with a disabled person to support.

Don’t Look Back is your debut novel. What did you learn from the process of publishing your first book?

I think I could write a novel just on this subject. Suffice it to say that trying to find a literary agent and connecting on the same level is much tougher than I ever expected. I learned a lot, but it also wasted much valuable time. I was thrilled to find Atmosphere Press, which truly was a breath of fresh air and godsend that afforded me the opportunity to get published. Atmosphere Press permitted a lot of my input and control beyond what I expected.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Foremost among all the authors I have read is Robert B. Parker, who sadly passed away at the beginning of 2010. He wrote approximately 60 novels, and my protagonist, Mackenzie Sampson, was fired from his role in law enforcement just as Parker’s Jesse Stone was fired from his. Coincidence? I think not. Tom Selleck played Jesse Stone in several videos and did a great job. Unfortunately, I can’t afford Tom Selleck.

Don’t Look Back is the inaugural installment in the Mack and M Mystery series. Can you give us a sneak peek into the series’ trajectory?

I have sketches on my website of what is to come in the Mack & M series. To date, I have written six novels, with the last one titled Godmother Rising. It is now in the final editing stage. My second novel, as referenced at the end of Don’t Look Back, is titled Never Laugh at the Devil. Now, there’s a piece of good advice for all my readers to follow.


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