Episode 125A – Steve Leshin – Murder by the Numbers

Overview

Steve lives in Connecticut and has written a murder mystery thriller called Murder by the Numbers. This is actually part of a series, which we discuss in the Part B episode how he came up with the whole series.

He has also been a musician and cartoonist, which helped shape his creative writing. His main character, Joshua Oates, grew from an earlier book and has experienced finding Jack the Ripper, the war, drinking, and even PTSD. All of this takes place in the early part of the 20th century.

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Transcript

Steve, how are you doing today?

[00:01:10] Steve: I’m doing fine. I’m trying to cope with the Florida type weather we getting now in new England. It’s gonna be 90 plus degrees in the afternoon and that’s gotta be thunder showers. And I remember visiting my parents in Florida years ago, and that was the weather every day.

This is new England. So I wasn’t expecting this all the time. What part of new England? I live in Connecticut. Okay. I live in I live actually 10 miles east of Hartford in the town of Manchester, Connecticut. And it’s centrally located. So if you wanna go to New York or Boston it’s a good middle in between.

[00:01:49] Stephen: Place. Yeah, I’m in Northeast, Ohio. So it’s a bit of a drive, but we got similar weather. It’s been hot muggy humid, and I had rainstorm. Oh, it’s crazy stuff. Last night. Yeah. Crazy stuff. I was just reading about meteorologist. Define meteorological seasons. And they’re very specific. September 1st is fall for meteorologists, but it’s not the real fall for what we see.

So it’s interesting how they, they do that, but I sure wish we could depend on the weather it’s oh, it’s September time for cooler weather, so I see you have a guitar back there. You play some music.

[00:02:23] Steve: I, I try to strum the guitar. I when I was growing up. What are the, in the fifties and sixties I was in the rock music for a while and I said, okay, I’m gonna form a band with my buddies.

And we did have a garage. That’s my parents’ garage. And we did have a guy that could play like the drums, but he didn’t really have a set of drums. He had something else that he was using like those beginner drums. And then I strummed on the guitar. I got an electric guitar and then I have the acoustic back there, which I try to play once in a while, but it never went any place.

Our band. Was called the velvet moose and never actually had any gigs. So what could I tell you?

[00:03:07] Stephen: yeah I was in the a rock man in high school too. Played bass, trying to learn guitar now played drums in high school. So a little bit of everything. So a lot of musicians, a lot of authors also play music.

So interesting. Yeah.

[00:03:22] Steve: Output. Yeah. When I. I usually have music in the background. Oh, okay. It varies, if I’m if I’m on a roll, I’ll do rock and roll. If if I’m thinking, if I’m contemplating about what I’m gonna write about, I usually listen to classical music or motion picture.

Yep. Composers, because that gets you in the mood. And some of the great composers now are doing soundtracks for movies. Yeah. As and TV shows.

[00:03:52] Stephen: So there’s some good stuff. So who’s your favorite band?

[00:03:56] Steve: My favorite band right now. Ah, it depends on the category. Is it a rock music,

[00:04:03] Stephen: rock and roll?

Yeah. Rock and roll band.

[00:04:04] Steve: Oh, the Beatles of

[00:04:05] Stephen: course,

[00:04:06] Steve: Ile fan Beatle, maniac, and, rolling stones and Zeppelin and all that

alternative rock in the background. So nice. I can’t even mention some of the Some of the bands. They have like weird names today, but that’s okay.

[00:04:22] Stephen: well that’s cuz all the good names have been used for the last 50 years. They gotta get some new stuff.

[00:04:27] Steve: true. That’s very true. Yeah.

[00:04:29] Stephen: Other than music and that any other hobbies or anything you’d like to share before we get into your book,

[00:04:34] Steve: you saw my guitar.

I also like to play. I like to travel. I got a funny story about that. If you want to hear it. Sure. Please. When I was growing up in Springfield we didn’t go many places. And then after we, after I graduated college, me and two other guys decided to take a. Cross country trip from Massachusetts Springfield mass to San Francisco, California.

And we did it in a little car that used to call the gremlin. It was made by American motors. Yeah. So we were gonna go camping and try to save some money. And cuz we only had, a certain amount. Of change to spend. We packed in the gremlin, which is a little tiny car. It was like, I think it was a two door.

Yeah. Hatchback, but we didn’t know any better. We were in our early twenties. So we packed this car up. We put in all this camping equipment, tens and sleeping bags and things like that. So the guy who rode in the back seat. Cuz we took turns, there was a driver there was somebody riding shotgun and somebody had to be in the back seat.

So the guy in the back seat felt like the mercury astronauts in the early sixties where you’d be cramped in and, try to, try to be comfortable, but didn’t work but it was fun. We did make it to San Francisco. And in fact, one of our three guys decided. He wanted to settle there.

So we stayed there. So two of us drove back and we saw a lot of the country and I think it helped in my writing later on. Nice.

[00:06:02] Stephen: Okay. Let’s talk about that. Why did you wanna start writing?

[00:06:06] Steve: I think I’ve always been a writer. I just didn’t know it. So while I I did the conventional thing that people do which is to get a job.

Get married, raise your kid and so forth in between while I was doing that I had these thoughts in my head that maybe, I should be expressing myself in different ways. And one of the ways that I did this part-time. I started out as a cartoonist cuz I like to draw when I was a little kid, I liked to draw comic strips and superheroes and that sort of thing.

And this led me to say, maybe I could do cartooning. And I did that for a while. I was able to send cartoons. This is in the old days where you can send drawings into a magazine. I don’t know if people read magazines anymore, it’s all on tablet. And I was shot down hundreds of times, but on the other hand, they started to buy some of my cartoons and my drawing was crude to begin with, but then it got better, but it was the writing that cuz you know, you need to.

The gags to go along with the cartoons, like the old cartoons you had in the new Yorker magazine and that sort of thing. I did it for trade magazines, and I picked up a few bucks doing that and it was fun, but but then, one of the cartoon editors told me, you, you may be a better writer than a cartoonist.

So that was in the back of my mind. And I didn’t really. Get started on writing until I, it was later on in my life. I was probably in my fifties when I wrote my first novel, I wasn’t my fifties, now that I think of it but I came up with the idea and I think maybe this worked in my, to my advantage.

Because you have life experiences that you don’t have when you’re in your twenties or thirties. And you look back and you can appreciate what’s happened in your life and how it affects your writing. And then I, of course, I read a lot too.

[00:08:13] Stephen: Okay. You got your book? Is this your first book murdered by the numbers?

[00:08:17] Steve: No, this is actually number five. Okay. In Joshua O series. That’s why I’m wearing a hat. It’s my private investigator hat. I like the hat Joshua would wear in the 1920s.

[00:08:31] Stephen: Okay. Tell us about the series in the newest book. I will.

[00:08:35] Steve: Yes. Okay. It started out with my first novel. I wrote a book called vengeance of the ripper about Jack, the ripper escaping from London, England in 18 88, 20 years later, he settles in Los Angeles, California, and he meets old west legend.

Why? So I had this idea. What, if, what if WT met Jack de ripper and he was doing Jack de ripper was doing his murdering thing. And then he asked to face the old time law man, WT I, and one of the characters in the book was a police captain who was very young for his age. And his name was Joshua oat.

And he took part in hunting down, Jack ripper in the novel. I won’t say what happens in case you wanna buy the book. And this led years, some years later, because someone he asked me, you gonna do a sequel to venge of the ripper? And I thought about it. I said that was a novel that could stand on its own.

And I didn’t really think it would make a good series. But then I was thinking back to the young police captain, maybe it did something to him, maybe because at the end of the book, he was told not to talk about the biggest case he ever had, which was involving Jack ripper. And so this led to some problems at work as a police kept.

And I said, what. He started drinking. And what if something happened to him that caused him to quit the police force and wander the country and enter world war I, which the United States center in 1918. and he experienced the war. Then when he came outta the war, he had what’s called shell shock, which is PS, D , PTSD that we know about today.

So what would he do? And so I tried to flesh out this character and said, I think it would make an interesting book. So he started to write and that’s what you have to do when you’re a writer, you start writing. That’s how I learned to become an author too. That happened when I met I don’t wanna ramble too much, but that happened when I met Robert B.

Parker, who was the author of the Spencer novels. Yeah. Nice. And I was at a book signing at I think it was Barnes and noble a few years ago. And before I wrote vengeance on the ripper and I didn’t know how to write a novel I did write cartoon gags and I did write some short stories and some essays, but to write a novel, that was a.

Experience I never had. So I asked him, I said, how did you get, how do you write, how do you write a novel? So he of looks at me ly and he has a little grin on his face and he goes, you just write. And I said what kind of a cop out answer is that I was thinking. But then, when I thought about that, I said, you know what?

I started to write down my ideas, started to write a chapter, then another chapter. And I think what he meant was the process of writing. You come up with ideas and it, and you just do it or else you’re not gonna write that book. You’ll just think about writing it, but you gotta actually physically do it.

And I think the physical process of actually writing. My mind comes up with these ideas afterward. I don’t know if you find in your writings, but when you know, you have an outline, approximately what you’re gonna say. But I find that my way of thinking comes comes better for me when I write it down.

When I’m writing a novel I’m in that mode.

[00:12:32] Stephen: Yeah I, my, my series I’m working on right now started off as one short story that was like 7,500 words. And now I’ve got planned for it was seven books, but just the other night, I thought of a whole nother book. So now it’s eight books. So I need to start getting those all written down and out.

And I’ve got the first four planned. I’ve got the storyline for the first four, actually, the. A couple after that I’ve got the ideas for, so yeah I agree. It’s and we were talking about music. I think it’s that creativeness needs to come out and it comes out in various,

[00:13:04] Steve: just comes out.

It’s like a different part of your brain opens up and says, oh yeah, I know what happens next. Cause when you’re pounding on the keyboard you’re really have an, I, you just have a vague idea what you’re gonna rewriting, but then when it comes out and the sentences are there. And it’s almost like magic when it comes out the way you want it.

[00:13:24] Stephen: Yeah. Agreed. Okay. So you mentioned Spencer Robert B. Parker. Do you feel your books are like his, or do you have an author in books that yours are like,

[00:13:34] Steve: It is, and it is very much like his, because they’re the Joshua oats sequel that I came up with. It’s called target of fear. and he speaks in the first person and that’s how I write.

I write his adventures in the first person. You’re hearing it from Joshua, as he’s telling you about what happened to him since the events of vengeance of the rip, how he became a down and out private investigator and he gets caught up in these different things and things happen to him that really, I find it the dialogue is like Robert B Parker’s Spencer in that he’s wise guy type of private investigator where he comes up with observations about people that he meets during his during his story.

And Lets the reader get into the mind of this character. He’s down and out private investigator. He has an alcohol problem brings too much. And this is during an exciting period in American history. After the United States left the war, you came home, it was 19. 18 19 19 things were going on.

You had prohibition became the law of the land. The next year, 1920, you had the women’s right to vote. It became an amendment it’s called did I say the 19th amendment by may? The 18th amendment was prohibition. The 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. So a lot of exciting things were happening and.

You had celebrities in the 1920s. One of the celebrities that I use in the book, and this was makes I think what makes my detective novels a little different is that it’s also historical fiction. I take historical figures, like for example, In 1919, where target of fear takes place. I have Damon Runion appears in the novel and he was he was a sports writer who became a short story writer and he was a celebrity in New York city during the rowing twenties bat Masterson, who was a friend of Wyatt, hers in the old west.

Settled in New York city and became of all things, a newspaper columnist. And he became a celebrity in New York city. People knew who he was. I used to go to, speakeasies and bars and things and entertain folks with his stories about the old west and also Hibs observations about life. So I had bat Masterson in the story.

Damon runin Marie Curry. The scientist is in that story and Harry Houdini. Oh, nice. The great escape artist and musician, and my stories are different cuz I give them things to do. They actually take part in the adventure and they help Joshua because Joshua oats as a down and out investigator has an ability to make friends with these celebrities from history.

and that’s my background too. When I went to college, I was a history major. So I love to read history as long, as well as, fiction science fiction, that sort of thing.

[00:16:56] Stephen: So that, that sounds a little bit. There was a TV show in the early nineties, the young Indiana Jones Chronicles, George Lucas is put out and they had all the historical figures or quantum leap where he jumps around and he meets people.

Yes. At that times. Yeah. Yes. So a little bit of historical in there. That’s pretty cool. Yeah.

[00:17:13] Steve: Yeah. And I think it gives evokes a new element to the detective novel that I think just, gives it a lot of stuff that you can do a lot of stuff that you can write about.

Yeah. And it makes it a little more exciting.

[00:17:27] Stephen: Nice. It sounds a little as a little bit of the noir elements in there. Exactly.

[00:17:31] Steve: Yeah. It is. It’s a combination of no noir and historical fiction.

[00:17:37] Stephen: Nice. Interesting. Okay. A good

[00:17:40] Steve: hat. I get five star ratings on Amazon most of the time. So I think and my fans, I think like that element and like the story of Joshua Oz.

[00:17:54] Stephen: Nice. Okay. And this is indie published, correct?

[00:17:58] Steve: It is. Yeah. I actually, the vengeance of the ripper went through a small publishing company that no longer exists. So I couldn’t use them now, but cuz I wrote this back in 2010 sometime and then it was republished in 2014, independently by me. And So now it’s strictly independent.

I think part of it is my age. Like I say, I grew up in the fifties and sixties, so I’m not at that age where I don’t know if your traditional publisher really would want a series from someone of a certain age, but although we are living longer now I must say

[00:18:40] Stephen: Yeah. Who know. Yeah, definitely. And you said you’re getting good feedback from readers.

Yes. I have you gotten any really interesting comments from anyone? Yeah, they said,

[00:18:50] Steve: come

[00:18:51] Stephen: on, write another one.

[00:18:54] Steve: write another one. I wanna see what happens to Joshua and his girlfriend, Angela Lang, which happens to be another major character in the books. And she is a female. Who became a police detective in the 1920s.

Can you imagine? And I read it in history. There, there has been certain female cops back in the 1920s and even earlier, but it was really like, it was like an anomaly. You didn’t have female police officers or detectives. And and Joshua falls in love with an well, Angie is what her nickname is.

And the two of ’em get into pretty exciting adventures together. So

[00:19:41] Stephen: nice. I think it works nice. Steve, if you had a choice, would you rather see your books turned into movies or a TV show? That’s a good

[00:19:49] Steve: question. I think. The, from target of fear, which was my second book on, it would make a good mini series or TV series, the original novel vengeance of the ripper because it stars wired, rip and bat Masterson.

And Joshua was in the background. There would make a good movie.

[00:20:10] Stephen: Okay.

[00:20:11] Steve: Hope that answers your

[00:20:12] Stephen: question. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Now what you should write a story of your main character later in life meeting a young Spencer and encouraging him to .

[00:20:21] Steve: Yeah, we’re actually in my new novel, murdered by the numbers takes place in 1921 and I was gonna have.

Joshua meet a young Elliot ness, but I found out from history, Elliot ness was still at high school and no, he would not be involved in . He was not involved in law enforcement.

[00:20:41] Stephen: I write middle grade, so you always try and find the way to get the kids involved in something like that. So you could make that work.

It could be a,

[00:20:49] Steve: it would be a strange though, because Elliot was out in Chicago at the time. Going to high school in, you know what no, actually he was out in the Cleveland area.

[00:20:59] Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. He was over by us. Yeah. Maybe him and some buddies jumped in a car and took a trip.

[00:21:04] Steve: that could be but again, yeah, but I wanna try to make my novels as historically accurate as I can. So for example wild bill Hickok would not be in vengeance of the ripper because he was killed in 1870. Oh, okay. and of the ripper takes place in 1908. It would not work. No.

[00:21:27] Stephen: Got it. Got it. Where can we find your book?

And do you have a website?

[00:21:32] Steve: Yes. You can find my books on Amazon’s web websites Amazon and Barnes and noble and. Any discerning bookstore that might carry my books. And, but but mainly Amazon would have it. And then my website, I do have a website it’s Steve lessen all small letters, cramped in web starts at Let’s see.

Yeah. Yeah. Web starts.com. Okay. So Steve lessen web starts.com. And then I do have an Amazon author page and I also have a Facebook page Steve, less author. And I’m wearing Mike fedora like I am now.

[00:22:10] Stephen: So yes. Nice. all right. And what’s your plans for your upcoming book books?

[00:22:15] Steve: That’s another good question.

I have a vague idea for my next book in the series because during the relationship between Joshua and Angela Lang I always tease my readers that maybe they’ll get married. So I’m thinking maybe the next novel, maybe the make marriage plans, but something gets in their way.

That’s a big idea.

[00:22:41] Stephen: So didn’t Spencer and his longtime girl, go back and forth with that a couple

[00:22:46] Steve: times. Yeah, right? Yeah. Spencer, and his longtime love Susan Silverman never actually got technically married because he would have his own separate apartment and she would have her own separate house.

But somehow they made it work that way. Yeah. I don’t know. That’s yeah. So yes, I did borrow some from, Robert B. Parker and, but I also borrowed from other authors too, as you probably did in your quest to become an author and it’s, you make it work and you make it your own.

[00:23:21] Stephen: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things you like. So what are some of the books and authors that you’ve liked throughout your life? Your like favorite books and authors? Okay.

[00:23:30] Steve: Grapes and wrath, you have to start with cuz. Set it all, then I also read oh, when I was growing up, I read Hardy boys and oh yeah.

That series. And then a lot of comic books, like I mentioned before, when I was a kid, it was Superman, Batman, the DC series. And then I switched over to Marvel for a while because I thought the iron man stories were interesting. This guy had a heart problem, but he was a superhero. What’s, I thought that was interesting.

And then later on I read I read a lot of history books from Doris Kearns Goodman who was a poller prize winning author. And also David McCullough, which wrote historical books that you could read like a novel. And then of course I read the Spencer novels when Spencer for hire was a TV show and he says, Hey sounds interesting.

I wanna read more about him. So I read like all his books and then he branched out and he wrote a Western too. And that happened to be when I saw him at the book signing in Barnes and noble. Nice. Yeah. And then I also read science fiction books. I read a lot of books. Because I also do book reviews for a website called reader’s favorites.

I don’t

[00:24:39] Stephen: know if you’ve ever oh yeah. I know reader’s

favorites.

[00:24:41] Steve: Yeah. So I do I do some reviews. I get to read some books from different authors, unknown authors, like myself, that turn out to be pretty good writers. So

[00:24:52] Stephen: nice. And where you live, do you have a favorite bookstore that you like to go.

[00:24:56] Steve: I did, but a lot of bookstores closed a lot of the independent bookstores closed. But I do to the, I do go to Barnes and noble that’s in town and I, and there’s another little bookstore in Vernon, Connecticut called the book rack and they take use books that you can exchange. and and you can loan them out and then you read ’em and then you can bring them back and you get credit and you can buy

[00:25:23] Stephen: another book.

Nice. Okay. And I appreciate you telling us all about your book. And I wanna move on talk some other stuff, but before we do te give everybody if someone came up to you and said, Hey, Steve, I heard you wrote a book. Why should I read it? What would you tell them? Oh

[00:25:39] Steve: I think you’ll find if you like detective Noar type stories with an exciting historical background, with a lot of action.

There is a lot of action in the books and there’s romance. And it’s in a background of prohibition and the roaring twenties and celebrities. And babe Ruth is in one of my books. And it’s just an exciting read. It’s a type of read you wanna read from from cover to back cover. And it’s just a fun read.

[00:26:12] Stephen: Nice. Okay, great. Appreciate you getting on and telling us about your book. What, tell one more time? What was the title of the book?

[00:26:19] Steve: The title of my new book is murdered by the

[00:26:21] Stephen: numbers murdered by the numbers. There you go. I appreciate it. Thank you much.

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