By Sean Tuohy and Daniel Ford
“Grit Lit” author Steph Post reached out to Sean and I recently, and we were immediately intrigued by her brand of literature.
Her novel, A Tree Born Crooked, features a main character with “a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside,” a rural mining town in Florida, a murder/robbery, and a Mafia pursuit. That’s got Writer’s Bone written all over it. Don’t be surprised if you see Post’s byline on our website in the near future.
Post graciously answered our questions about her early influences, how she went about getting her novel published, and her youthful love of fried gator.
Writer’s Bone: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Steph Post: Probably before I even knew what being a writer meant. I was a dreamer and a storyteller when I was kid. I’ve just always been telling stories, to myself or to others, and one day when I was around 11 or 12 years old it occurred to me that the stories I was dreaming up weren’t all that different from the stories I was reading in books. Once that revelation hit me, it pretty much took off from there and I’ve been writing ever since.
WB: Who were some of your early influences? Have those influences changed over time?
SP: My first real writing influences were female Southern writers along the lines of Sheri Reynolds and Dorothy Allison. From there, I became enamored by writers such as Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, and Jim Harrison. I saw how these writers could make ordinary moments into these beautiful, if disturbing, stories and in many ways that is exactly what I strive for with my own writing.
WB: What is your writing process like?
SP: There are a lot of steps. In the dreaming, planning stages of a novel, the characters always come first. I spend a lot of time developing the characters, getting to know everything I can about them, discovering their secrets, their motives and their vulnerabilities. I also do a lot of research during this stage, which helps with developing the storylines. From there, I just start on the first page and keep at it. I outline as I go along to keep it interesting. I don’t want to know what is going to happen too far in advance, because part of the fun of writing is discovering the story for yourself. Then, of course, comes revisions, re-writes, edits, and all that jazz.
WB: You seem to have a similar appreciation for badass writers as we do. Who are some of your favorite badasses?
SP: As far as authors go, I love people who take risks and aren’t afraid to back down. Recently, I’ve been in the company of some badass short story writers: Taylor Brown, Schuler Benson and Sheldon Lee Compton. In my opinion, short fiction is already difficult and these authors push the envelope as far as it will go. And then they execute the prose perfectly. To me, that’s about as badass as you can get in the literary world.
WB: How did you develop your “Grit Lit” style?
SP: When I was writing A Tree Born Crooked, I had no idea that I was writing in any sort of style. I was just writing the best way I knew how. It wasn’t until I was about halfway into my second novel that I realized there was a name for the style I write in. I’ve just always had the goal to write about the losers, about the people struggling and grappling with just being alive, and to write about them with a lyric sensibility.
WB: How did the idea for your novel, A Tree Born Crooked, originate?
SP: The character of James came first. Once I knew him inside and out, the rest of the story just flowed from there. This is also one of the few instances where I had the title before I even began writing. I was still figuring out who James, Rabbit, and Marlena were when my husband called me and told me he had the title of my novel, A Tree Born Crooked. It’s a reference to a line in a Tom Waits’ song and I knew it was golden. I had no idea how the title would relate to the story until I was about halfway through the first draft. And then it all fell into place perfectly.
WB: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters? How do you develop your characters in general?
SP: I tend to think that I don’t put much of myself into my characters, but then people are always finding me in them. I suppose that’s natural, because we have to draw inspiration from somewhere, even if we’re not aware of it at the time. I think that many traits from the friends and family I grew up with find their way into my characters. And then, of course, I’m influenced just by watching people. I used to be a bartender and I spent a lot of time just watching people in bars. I’m sure that many of those people have in some way become part of the characters in my books.
WB: How did you go about getting your novel published?
SP: At first, I went the traditional route of finding an agent, but in the end I decided to forgo an agent and go with a small, indie press. I’m glad that I did because, for better or worse, it’s forced me to learn a lot more about the publishing world than I ever would have if I had been working with an agent. Even if I don’t have to, I tend to start from the bottom and claw my way up.
WB: Being from Florida, you have to answer these questions: FSU or UF…and have you eaten gator?
SP: UF. Absolutely UF. Are you kidding? And yes, I have eaten alligator. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years, but when I was a kid I was all about some fried gator tail.
WB: Speaking of Florida, what is the strangest thing to happen to you in the Sunshine State?
SP: Wow, okay, this is Florida and so pretty much everything that happens here is strange. If something totally bizarre is going on in the news, you can bet that it’s probably occurring here. As for happening to me personally, well, I grew up in the country in north Florida and as a kid I was chased by a lot of wild animals. We used to get all kinds of crazy animals in our front yard—wild boars, alligators, etc.—and so every day it was an adventure just to get down the road to the bus stop. I think that by now, strange is just normal.
WB: What’s next for Steph Post…besides becoming a contributor to Writer’s Bone (see what we did there)?
SP: I’m currently trying to decide what route I want to take with my second novel—indie press again, literary agent, etc.—and I’m also in the planning stages of my third. I’m right in the heart of researching and character development and I’m so in love with the story. Of course, I’m always in love with what I’m writing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing it.
WB: What advice would you give writers just starting out?
SP: As far as navigating the publishing world, keep your options open and don’t give up. You will be rejected. You will feel like a failure. But if you’re any good, you’ll pick yourself up and keep going. As for craft, make sure that you love your manuscript. You are going to be spending a lot of time with it, you will most likely read it over a hundred times from first draft to final proofing, and so you want to make sure that you believe in it wholeheartedly.
WB: Can you name one random fact about yourself?
SP: I have really, really strange phobias. For example, sea sponges. I can’t even look at them. I can do all sorts of crazy, dangerous, daring things, but don’t put me in a room with a sea sponge. I mean it.