# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Stephen G. Eoannou, a novelist and short story writer based in Buffalo, New York. I write from five to seven in the morning. I’ve been doing that for a long time. A really long time. A super long time. It took me over thirty years of rejections before my short story collection, Muscle Cars, was published by SFWP and distributed globally. I tell people that Muscle Cars is seventeen short stories about guys making bad decisions and is semi-autobiographical. When I finished it, I realized that the settings for most of the stories was Buffalo even if I didn’t mention the city by name. I thought that was interesting, but didn’t dwell much on it. One Sunday morning I was standing in my kitchen reading a newspaper article about a man named Al Nussbaum, a small business owner from Buffalo in the 1960’s. The title of the article was something like, ‘The Strange Tale of a Buffalo Bank Robber Turned Writer’. Al would tell his wife, Lolly, that he was going out of town for his job, but Al’s real job was robbing banks. He robbed six or seven before the FBI or his wife figured out what he was up to. Al’s story became the basis for my first novel, Rook. Half the book is set in Buffalo, and I realized I really enjoyed writing about the city, its landmarks, the old neighborhoods, the people. My people. It was during the drafting of Rook that I decided that Buffalo would be my literary turf to explore the way William Kennedy explored Albany, New York. When I finished Rook, I began searching for my next Buffalo book to write. Somebody told me at a bar or a party that the guy who wrote The Lone Ranger was from Buffalo, and I didn’t believe him. I would’ve known about that if it was true. But it was true. Fran Striker was a radio playwright in Buffalo in the 1930’s and he created and wrote The Lone Ranger. Not only was he a Buffalo guy, but he was a neighborhood guy. He’d gone to high school a few blocks from my house and wrote The Ranger not far away over on Granger Place. And I hadn’t heard of him. I did some more research and learned that Striker was involved in either the best deal in entertainment history or the worst deal and I knew I wanted to write about him. Yesteryear is my second novel and will come out this October. It explores how Striker came up with The Lone Ranger.
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Easy question. Both Rook and Yesteryear are historical novels based on the lives of Al Nussbaum and Fran Striker, respectively. However, what I did in Yesteryear was incorporate my own family lore and weave those stories and anecdotes into the plot. My Dad emigrated from Greece in the 1920’s, and I grew up listening to his stories about living above my grandfather’s restaurant on Genesee Street in Buffalo. He told great stories, especially when he had a few drinks, and my mom wasn’t around. Stories about the time he wanted to throw former boxing champ Jimmy Slattery out of the restaurant because he was drunk and bothering the waitresses. Or stories about his friend Lefty, the dog thief. Or the diamond rings he would hold for another boxer when he went on a bender. Or the brothel down the street from the restaurant where he and my uncle would deliver sandwiches. Just great stories. And I stole them all and put them in Yesteryear as part of Striker’s story of creating The Lone Ranger. It really was a fun book to write. I think my Dad would’ve gotten a kick out of reading it if he was still with us.
# How do you deal with creative block?
I’ve never had writer’s block. Even during those thirty years of going unpublished I wasn’t blocked. I was just writing poorly. What’s interesting is that in Yesteryear I have Striker suffering from writer’s block and struggling to come up with a new radio series and a new character. This is historically inaccurate. Striker didn’t suffer from creative block a moment in his life. It was estimated that in the 1930’s he was writing on average around 60,000 words per week! That includes all The Lone Ranger radio scripts, novels, comics, comic books, everything. But I had Striker creatively blocked in Yesteryear because I wanted to explore the idea of where stories come from, what influences a writer’s decisions, how do the pieces all come together. This is where I incorporated elements of magical realism into Yesteryear, because the act of creation is sometimes magical, and mysterious, and spooky, like Norman Mailer said. What I think is fun about this novel is that readers in 2023 already know and recognize all The Lone Ranger tropes—the mask, the great white horse, silver bullets and horseshoes—but Striker in Yesteryear doesn’t because he hasn’t pieced it all together yet even when he’s surrounded by those tropes. Of course, by the end of the novel Striker figures it all out and creates a pop cultural phenomenon, The Lone Ranger.
# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I’m lucky in that I don’t have to choose a cover, because I’m not very good at it. My publisher, SFWP, is a traditional publisher so that task falls to their internal creative team. Now some traditional publishers may give an author a choice of cover designs and they get a vote, not the final say. Some don’t give a choice or a vote. Yesteryear is a unique book in that I’ve mixed genres. It’s part noir, part comic novel, part historical fiction, part biographical fiction, part caper with a dash of magical realism tossed in for good measure. Plus, the subject matter is The Lone Ranger, which carries with it a certain cartoonish element. It’s challenging to come up with a cover that is aesthetically pleasing, is representative of the book and all its genres, and acts an effective marketing tool. So, for Yesteryear we rallied the troops. Everyone hopped on several Zoom calls to talk through it. And I mean everyone. Myself, my editor, SFWP’s director, the managing director, the layout artist, the illustrator, everybody. We started by coming up with a list of elements that could possibly be included in the cover—all the Lone Ranger tropes, a cathedral radio, a Remington 16 typewriter, Lucky Strikes, bootleg whisky, snow, a gun, anything that was reflective of the novel. Then we decided on the colors. And that really came down to two camps: dark and shadowy for the noir element, or bright and colorful for the cartoon aspect. It was decided that we’d go with the noir coloring but use a cartoonish font. I loved that idea. Then the illustrator went off and did his magic and came up with some amazing cover art. Of my three books, I think Yesteryear’s cover is my favorite, but don’t tell that to Rook or Muscle Cars.
Now, titles are different. I can never work on a piece that doesn’t have a title or at least a working title. It’s one of the few writing quirks I have. You got to name your children, right? Titles for pieces may change several times before publication, but they have to have one from the very beginning. With the short story collection, I went back and forth between Muscle Cars and Lost Things for a title. Before I settled on Rook, my first novel had a working title of The Human Element. Yesteryear was always Yesteryear. Titles need to be memorable, reflective of the book, and lend itself to cover design. That’s why Muscle Cars and Rook won out. With Muscle Cars, we all felt we could be more creative with the cover art. And the double meaning of ‘rook’ as a chess piece and ‘rook’ as a verb meaning to cheat or swindle seemed perfect and reflective of Al as a chess aficionado and as a bank robber who led a double life and rooked his wife out of the future she thought they had.
# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Honestly, I don’t read many reviews. By the time my books are published, they’ve be revised countless times and professionally edited. That copy you buy at your local bookstore was the best I could write at that particular point in my writing development. Now, over the years I’ve taken countless creative writing courses, exchanged pieces in workshops, received my MA and MFA in fiction writing so I’m very used to receiving feedback. Even today I have my circle of writing friends and we exchange manuscripts and workshop each other’s drafts. And, of course, there’s feedback and edits from my editor. I’ve learned over the years to trust my gut when it comes to negative feedback. I try to keep an open mind and understand why something isn’t working for that particular reader. I see if others feel the same way because that’s the real indicator that there’s a problem and not something subjective that one person brought up. At the end of the day, it’s my call. It’s my work. It’s my name on the cover. I have to decide whether to edit or let it stand. If I decide to edit, if that negative feedback was justified and accurate, I try to learn from that and remember that weak point for next time so I don’t make the same mistake again. The more I write, the more I learn about my craft. Even with four books under my belt, I’m still learning and improving and warranted criticism certainly helps with that…no matter how much I dislike hearing it.
# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
What’s Toni Morrison’s quote? “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, than you must write it?” Something like that? That sums up my view on an imagined audience while writing. I truly write the best I can for my own satisfaction with the hope there are others out there who like the same characters I like, the same stories I like, who laugh at the same things I find funny. Maybe this all stems from those thirty years of never getting published. I had no audience except myself back then and the odds of me getting published weren’t improving. But I had a drive to write. And I found it very satisfying to push words around a page and take my daydreams and put them on paper. I still do. So, the idea of writing for myself took root. Now, I’m an internal optimist. In the back of my mind, I had the hope that my work-in-progress would find an audience, so I didn’t allow myself to get lazy, meaning my characters and themes had to be as fully developed as I could make them. My endings had to be earned, the sentence level writing tight. I write for myself but with the goal of creating something publishable, something that deserves to be read by others. Hopefully, many, many others.
# Do you have any creativity tricks?
If you know any creative tricks, let me know because I certainly don’t have any up my sleeves. I don’t meditate, or light candles, or burn incense, or have any pre-writing rituals. Writing is hard work, and you have approach it as a job. You have to write every day, preferably at the same time and at the same place. How else is the muse going to know where to find you? I guess the only ‘tricks’ I have is that over the years I’ve learned to be open to story ideas. I pay attention to what people say or what’s going on around me or the stories and anecdotes that people tell me. I read the newspaper and watch the news. I cut out articles and bookmark websites. You never know what’s going to stick. The other trick I’ve learned is to write with confidence. Even when I’m writing blindly, which is often the case, I now have an inner belief that it will all work out in the end. I’ll be able to fix it and make it work. I didn’t have that confidence thirty years ago. So, write boldly, unapologetically, the way you want to write. Editing is when you’ll polish it all up and make everything fit.
# What are your plans for future books?
During the lockdown, I wrote a detective novel. I call it my pandemic book, but it has nothing to do with the pandemic. I knew a lot of creative people who couldn’t produce new work when Covid was raging. There was too much fear, uncertainty, and isolation for many of my friends to muster their creative energy. I was the opposite. People often read to escape. I wrote to escape. And I wrote an escapism novel—a noirish detective story set in Buffalo after Pearl Harbor. Nicholas Bishop is an alcoholic private investigator with a crippled foot. He’s lost his office, his secretary, his car, and is working as the house detective at The Lafayette Hotel. He wakes up on the floor of his hotel room after a five-day bender and remembers nothing. And Bishop is in trouble. Two shots have been fired from his gun and the police want to question him about a missing singer last seen with him. So, After Pearl became my escape from the pandemic. I worked on it before and after work, on the weekends, whenever I had a spare moment. Hell, I couldn’t go anywhere, so I wrote and was in control or at least in control as much as my characters would let me. This was important because none of us were in control of our lives with Covid. I remember blogging that I didn’t know if Pearl would ever get published, but I needed to write it and it was giving me escape and pleasure from the pandemic. I was surprised my publisher liked it as much as he did and wanted to publish it in 2025. I really enjoyed writing about Bishop and his little, one-eyed, female dog he named Jake. I think there is more Bishop novels in me.
# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
My goal was never to write historical fiction. I never even considered the books I read ‘historical’. They were just novels I enjoyed that happened not to be set in the present day. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more self-aware. I know what I like—old houses, antiques, old movies and music. It makes perfect sense that my writing would be reflective of that, or, maybe, another extension of that fondness for the past. Writing about the present day doesn’t interest me, at least not right now. I can’t imagine, for instance, writing about a detective who checks a database for clues. There’s nothing romantic about that. So, I sit with my own little one-eyed dog in my 1865 Victorian that I’m restoring surrounded by antiques and black & white family photographs and write about the past. I’m not sure how quirky that is, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.