Twenty-seven years ago, Steve Besecker received a postcard from best-selling author Stephen King. Besecker, fresh out of college, had written to the novelist some time before, declaring himself a fan of King’s work and mentioning that he, too, hoped to be a published writer someday. In King’s brief but cordial reply he thanked the budding author for his kind words, added regrets that time would not permit him to look over any manuscripts he might send, and offered this advice about the craft of writing: “Hang in there.”
Besecker did just that, and his persistence has finally paid some dividends. His first novel, a thriller entitled The Samaritan (Bancroft Press), hit bookstore shelves and e-book sites in June. A second, called Executive Power, will arrive in 2012, with a whole series to follow.
On the surface, Besecker is mild-mannered, self-effacing, and appears genuinely honored that you took the time to talk with him. He’s a 1977 graduate of Orchard Park High School and a 1981 St. Bonaventure grad with a degree in marketing who still lives in Orchard Park and fits comfortably into the category of suburban soccer dad. His entire business life has been spent in the world of heavy-duty truck suspensions, first with his dad’s company, Brute Springs, Inc. of Buffalo, and now with his own manufacturer’s rep business based in East Aurora.
By contrast, The Samaritan is an action-packed novel set in New York City—not Carrie Bradshaw’s Manhattan, but that seedy Gotham netherworld of organized crime, sleazy low-lifes, cops on the take, and headline-grabbing journalists. As half a dozen subplots intertwine, betrayal and revenge run rampant, cars and buildings are blown to bits, innocent people perish, lovers are separated, and sensitive government initiatives are compromised, all while the bad guys order assassinations as easily as they order fettuccine alfredo at the local Italian restaurant.
Besecker’s good guys, Kevin “Hatch” Easter and Gray Taylor (remember those names, because they will reappear in Executive Power and subsequent novels) are no strangers to violence, either. As CIA operatives they have done their share of killing, albeit in the name of loyalty to country and the Agency and with their moral compasses pointing to true north. And they have access to all the gadgets that readers of thrillers love to see: sophisticated espionage devices, computer wizardry, and high-tech weapons.
The two heroes, however, are as different as night and day. Hatch is a Native American who uses the tribal name Little Crow on the Seneca Indian Reservation where he lives with his grandfather Low Dog. In The Samaritan he has just quit his job as a CIA tracker after his wife was brutally murdered in a Brooklyn tavern, setting off a chain of events that form the underpinning of the book. Gray Taylor, married to former agent Terri Taylor, lives in the Dakota Apartments, luxury digs once home to John Lennon and as far removed from Hatch’s cabin as can be. The two are thrown together, and this experience forms their bond as partners for the next novels.
So how—and why—does a guy like Steve Besecker write thrillers and not, say, whodunits or sci-fi or romance? How does a salesman, soccer coach, and fly-fisherman use that background to create high-tech, big-city noir fiction?
I figured I would ask that question during our half-hour interview. Two hours later I didn’t have a clue. But I had learned something important about Besecker: he loves to spin yarns.
“Let me tell you a story,” he says, before I am even in the door of his windowless man-cave of an office that sits down a quiet alley in East Aurora. Then he’s off on a dozen tangents, weaving tales about college, business, hockey, family, tragedy and triumph, his small-town childhood, the publishing industry, book distribution, and Bill Thompson, the legendary editor who gave the world Stephen King, John Grisham, and Pat Conroy and who gave Besecker that first glimmer of hope.
“Ten years ago I began sending my stories to Thompson. He was the first to read them, and the first to tell me how terrible that early stuff was. ‘Go back to doing whatever it is you regularly do,’ he’d say. But then he’d add, ‘However, you did nail it here in this one scene. Write me another one.’ So I did. Over and over for years until finally Thompson said of a rough draft of Executive Power, ‘Here’s one that might work.’”
The level of success Besecker achieves depends on the quixotic world of contemporary fiction, and with over two decades already committed to his dream of becoming a published writer, he’ll never qualify as an overnight sensation. But he’s managed to garner praise in the form of book jacket comments for The Samaritan from some established names in the thriller game: James Rollins, James Grippando, Andrew Gross, and several others. And no less an authority than Lee Coppola, dean of St. Bonaventure’s celebrated Jandoli School of Journalism, says (while joking that he’s miffed that Besecker can write a good book even though he was never a journalism major), “He’s smarter than he looks.”
Rick Ohler writes the biweekly column, “The View from Right Field,” in the East Aurora Advertiser. Visit his website, www.rightfieldwritingworks.com.