1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I have severe dyslexia and did not do well in school. Then mother died when I was ten, and my father was mostly absent. I first started running away when I was 14. This was on the east coast, near D.C. I walked up the Potomac river to where I got on the Appalachian trail at Harpers Ferry and turned south. I was hungry and lonely most of the time. For the company in words, I started writing. My dyslexia became a superpower because I listened and looked at words as sounds and shapes, not as structured rules. Dyslexia has let me notice the world in ways most people don’t. In my early 20s, I lived off the short stories I was selling to magazines. Editors fixed my grammar and spelling. Not long after I started selling fiction, I found that I also had a knack for a different type of writing: code. So I started writing software too, which is another way to deal with loneliness. And dyslexia was also an advantage for understanding code, as it helped see connections that most people missed.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
I started writing “Paper Targets” more than 20 years ago. The software company I founded, FreeMail, had been acquired a few years earlier, and my life should have been good. But instead, it was a Herculean mess. I had just been fired by a billionaire whom I had accused in a board meeting of crimes, and now I was out of work and broke. It would still be four more years before Bernie Ebbers was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison — where he became blind and demented — for what was then the world’s largest fraud. But when I was writing the first words of “Paper Targets,” he and the other executives who had pulled me into their world of the “Lie” were freely strutting on the World Stage of Greed. But it was all corrupt, even as they were still scooping up investor money that would evaporate into headlines. I had also recently made yet another terrible relationship decision — wanting to believe that red flags were trail markers — and had bailed an artist out of jail. And that story found a place in Paper Targets.
Writing has been my way to understanding mistakes and troubles. But whenever I try to write “Just The Facts,” my words scrunch into arrogant-sounding scribbles and add depression to my burdens. So I turn to fiction, as I have been doing since I left home at 14, to figure out what happened. And inevitably, the truth does come out; there is a lot of non-fiction in “Paper Targets,” but I have never killed anyone nor hacked for money, though I have known several that have.
Then, in 2020 I became friends with Stacy Lear, a writer who was then a homicide detective and who also has a knack for solving financial crimes. I thought Stacy might appreciate what I had spent the last 20 years trying to figure out, and I read to her the first pages of what then was called “The Aether and the Lie,” some of which I had also read on my podcast Montana Voice. Stacy’s response encouraged me to finish what I had started and find a publisher for what became “Paper Targets.”
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
People who have created our technological world — the screens, wires, networks — are failable human beings, and some have done bad things because of greed. And others have been nudged into doing bad things because the border between right and wrong can be jagged and grey. But good still matters, and ethics is more than an academic concept, and living ethically is a challenge but should be a goal.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
Paper Targets fits into the shelf space of “Literary Thriller,” but I like to think of my genre as “Truth Stirred With Fiction.” A bad thriller is pure plot, and a bad literary work is pure internal insight. But when plot is mixed lovingly with insight, there’s often a good story. I’m drawn to a good story; that is what I also like to tell.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I like Pascal, the Bondsman. I would buy him a drink and ask him to tell me more about his time in Missoula before the place became a Zoom Town. I would ask him about great dirt roads that aren’t on the map and go far back into places with endless stars in a dark night sky.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media sites. Of course, they are all corrupt. But ignoring them is like saying you won’t have any part in book publishing because there are evil books that have been printed. I have a large following of fans because of my podcast, “Montana Voice,” and most of those fans seem to come from my Facebook followers. Goodreads is cool too.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Writing needs to be, first and foremost, for yourself. There is great company in words, and good stories make the world a better place. Learn to tell a good story, then get the words down. Then do it again. Never stop.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I have several unpublished manuscripts that I am thinking about launching. I am also working on a new book with Pascal as the main character since I liked hanging out with him the most while writing Paper Targets.
About the Author
Steve Saroff is the host of the podcast Montana Voice, and the author of over 30 traditionally published short stories printed in Redbook and other national magazines. His available books include Paper Targets; The Long Line of Elk; and the forthcoming Mixed Drinks.
Montana Voice Podcast: https://montanavoice.com