Thursday, April 1, 2021

Mexicantown spirit and fatherly pride: an interview with Stephen Mack Jones

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest weekly instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, and today marks the 225th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Stephen Mack Jones to Crime Watch. A Detroit-area storyteller who was a playwright and poet, as well as working in advertising for decades, before becoming a crime novelist, Stephen is the author of the award-winning August Snow series. Snow is a former marine sniper and Detroit cop who was jettisoned from the PD only to win a huge lawsuit while suffering personal loss. He's a really fascinating protagonist: an honourable man set adrift, now rather wealthy and with time on his hands. The son of an African-American father who was a cop and a Mexican-American mother who was an artist, he ends up unofficially investigating troubling events in Detroit. 

The third in that series, DEAD OF WINTER, comes out in the United States next month; I was fortunate enough to read an ARC back in February and put simply it's outstanding. Highly likely to be in the mix for my best reads of 2020 at the end of the year. Immediately on finishing I bought a copy of the first in the series, AUGUST SNOW, a book that introduced Stephen Mack Jones to the crime writing community, and won both the Nero Award and the Hammett Prize - two prestigious awards that are for 'literary excellence' in crime writing. I can see why it won; Stephen's storytelling is outstanding. 

If you haven't already immersed yourself in the Mexicantown world of August Snow and his friends and enemies, I highly recommend you give the series a go. But for now, Stephen Mack Jones becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I am now and will always be a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” and “Jesse Stone” novels so much so that when Parker died, I was heartbroken. I was a bit incensed when it was decided that those books would continue—including Parker’s “Sunny Randall” crime series—as written by Ace Atkins and Mike Lupica. After all, I like so many other readers had come to love Parker’s originality, his whip-smart style. The truth of the matter is, I missed Parker’s characters so much that I started reading the “Spenser” series as written by Ace Atkins and the “Jesse Stone” and “Sunny Randall” series as written by Mike Lupica and was genuinely surprised and pleased to find Ace and Mike continued Parker’s stories and characters with genuine, heartfelt love, affection and originality. I’m also a huge fan of Walter Mosely and Ian Rankin—both of whom are prolific storytelling geniuses. They are masters of the craft of writing that I continue to envy and learn from.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Oh, man! We really have to tumble back through the ethers of time to get an answer for this question, Craig! I used to love a series called “Mike Mars: Astronaut” written by Donald A. Wollheim. I think there were eight or maybe ten books in the series which now would be in the Young Adult genre. The books were fact-based science fiction that paralleled real developments in faster-than-sound and stealth jet technology and the early days of space travel. I’m sure the books have long been out of print, maybe collecting dust in some far-away second-hand bookshop. But for a Black inner-city kid to escape into the wonders and possibilities of outer space back then was fantastic! Now folks tend to yawn when you talk about rockets and space exploration. Everybody, save for me, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I used to read and write a lot of poetry. In fact, reading poetry is where I began to see, understand and appreciate the weight, color, scent and sensation of individual words. How poets—really good poets!—often labored to choose the right word to convey the right feeling, thought or image. I was drawn to poets like Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni, Pablo Neruda, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Haney to name a few. So, yeah, I wrote poetry. And you know what? I wasn’t that good at it! Sure, I had a poem published long-ago in The Atlantic magazine for which I was paid a life-altering sixty-bucks! But beyond that—well, let’s just leave it at this: the craft of producing good-to-great poetry demands far more than I’m able to give. I’ve written numerous plays including BACK IN THE WORLD and THE AMERICAN BOYS, both focused on the lives and experiences of African-American Vietnam War veterans, that were produced in Detroit, NYC, Chicago and Boston.

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Outside of writing, I love TV, movies and occasionally putting my culinary skills to the test in the kitchen. I know I’m not supposed to “love” TV, but there you have it, Craig—I do! And streaming just makes my romance with what my parents used to call the “idiot box” even more special! I mean, come on! The Rockford Files, Columbo, Poirot, Miss Marple, DCI Banks, Shetland, Midsomer Murders, Vera—TV streaming is a wonderland of entertainment possibilities, man! And, of course, reading. Anything Holly Watt, John Vercher, Rachel Howzell Hall, or Attica Locke.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Well, Craig, my actual hometown is Lansing, Michigan, but I’ve lived in Detroit for forty-years. If you happen to find yourself in Lansing, I would suggest you visit the Library of Michigan which is absolutely beautiful and engaging. And the botanical gardens at Michigan State University in East Lansing which are extraordinary. Here in Detroit, don’t hesitate to go to Southwest Detroit better known as “Mexicantown”—the people, food, music and spirit are not to be missed! Get yourself over to Eastern Market, one of America’s largest and oldest open-air farmer’s markets then go to Belle Isle and spend some time at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory which is amazing. You just might find pineapples growing at the center of the conservatory! 

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Keegan-Michael Key, but he’d have to age a bit and put on an extra ninety-pounds. Either Keegan-Michael Key or Idris Alba if only for the reason that I’d like to be thought of as a sexy beast. At least for a 120-minute theatrical running time. 

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
My favourite was and, to a certain degree still is, AUGUST SNOW if only for the reason that I wrote it to amuse, inform and intrigue myself. I wanted to tell myself a story without the thought of a publisher or other readers. I missed telling my kids stories—whether reading them books or making up stories for their entertainment. One of the saddest days of my life was when my son—the youngest of three—declared his reading independence from me. Who was I going to tell stories to? Well, I decided to tell myself a story and it turned out to be AUGUST SNOW. And that’s the way I continue to write—for my own amusement and enlightenment and intrigue. And I’m eternally grateful to readers who come along for the ride.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
My reaction was then and to a certain degree still is stunned disbelief! “You mean you want to pay me for making shit up?!” Of course, having come from a career in advertising, I should have been used to drawing a check for making shit up. But this was different. This was my story. And not only was someone willing to pay me for my work, it just happened to be one of the preeminent U.S. publishers of crime fiction—Soho Press! My agent, Stephany Evans, said I should celebrate with a bottle of champagne. Frankly, I didn’t know how to celebrate! This was all so new to me! And then the first time a publisher sends you a box of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and then a box of the real-deal—its surreal! It looks like a book! It feels and smells like a real book! It is a real book! I’m three books into the series and every time I get those boxes, I feel like a five-year old at

Christmas! And then there was the time I gave a talk at the library I grew up with as a kid. I remember my father taking me to the library as a kid after one of his twelve-hour blue-collar shifts at the GM Oldsmobile plant in Lansing. He told me to tell the librarian I was there to get my own, personal library card. My dad passed away in 2003. After I gave the talk at the Lansing Public Library, I wandered through the rows of books—and I found AUGUST SNOW. I could feel my dad’s presence. I could hear him in my heart saying, “Damned proud of you, son.”

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
The strangest thing to happen was about four, maybe five-months after the first book was released. It was winter and I’d just come home from the pharmacy with new nose-hair clippers. (Good nose-hair clippers are hard to come by, my friend!) There was a Volkswagen Beetle parked in front of the house. I pulled into the garage, not thinking about the Beetle. But when I got out of my car and started for the side entry door of the house, there was a woman standing at the back of my car. She was holding a copy of AUGUST SNOW, pointing a finger at me and saying, “It’s you! It’s really you!” Before I could say anything, she was waving for her girlfriends to get out of the Beetle and join her. Turns out they were friends who had a book club and they had just read AUGUST SNOW. They enjoyed it so much, they decided to take the “August Snow tour of restaurants and neighborhoods.” I may have slipped into the book a vague description of my house. I invited them in, signed their books and we talked. My wife, fresh out of a shower, made her way to the kitchen with that “What the hell is this?” look on her face. I’ve seen those ladies at a few of the local book talks I’ve given since the and we always have a good laugh over our first meeting!

Thank you Stephen. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can find out more about Stephen and his writing here, and follow him on Twitter. 

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