D. Earl Stephens Interview Published on: 04, Apr 2020

Where were you born and brought up? What impact has it had on your writing?

I was born in Asmara, Eritrea, Ethiopia. How's that?! Dad was stationed in the Army over there. Haile Selassie thought he was the ruler, but never did clear that with my mom ... I was raised mostly in New Jersey, which accounts for my dirty mouth and expertise in operating in tight spaces. Been a lot of places, but Jersey folks by and large are the funniest people I have come across. Need a sense of humor to survive in the place. So maybe that accounts for my satire ... but mostly my dirty mouth.

Do you remember the first book you read? Which was it?

"A Fly Went By" Must have read that thing 718 times. You'll never get a better plot.

Where would you say your love for writing and storytelling comes from? Do your parents like to write?

Gotta be my mom. We drove each other crazy, because in retrospect we were so much alike. I have a brother and two sisters and she pushed us toward the arts. Nobody else I knew had a mom like that. She absolutely loved that I found my way into journalism and writing. Greatest person I ever knew, my mom.

How would you describe your experience of working at newspapers up and down the East Coast and in Europe?

Until I can find a better word for "awesome" I'll stick with that one. I could write a book about it. Say ... now THERE'S an idea. No two days during my 30-year career were alike. And each day ended with a deadline, an imperfect product and report card. Then you'd go to bed, wake up and start all over again. Of course there was never any money it, but who needs money when you have a press card and can barge into pretty much anyplace you want and start asking questions? I could go on and on with this question, but will edit myself. First time for everything.

How did you end up finishing up as a managing editor at a notoriously good newspaper?

I worked at five papers, the last, Stars and Stripes. There's no paper in the world, more important than Stars and Stripes. They have a mandate from Congress to be editorially independent. Imagine that: A paper funded in part by the Pentagon is a watchdog for the Pentagon. Made for some sporty news and confrontation. You also won't find more important readers anywhere. These were the folks and their families who were over there, keeping us safe over here. So as a paper it was our duty to make sure they (our readers) were getting what they needed from their military and civilian leaders. Long story short, as managing editor of our overseas operations in Germany, I got into a run-in with our civilian leadership in Washington for mucking around and doing the bidding for Department of Defense officials who were busy trying to drive support for our budding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paper had no business engaging with that propaganda bullshit. And they knew it, but did anyway. We had readers to take care of. It was a horrible time. I ultimately lost that argument, and we went our separate ways. A lot of damn good editors also lost their jobs over that one. Not a day that goes by, I don't think about their courage for standing up for what was right. By the way, the IG looked into all of it and sided with us -- but that was long after we were gone. Never trust The Man. He will fuck you in an instant.

How does meeting fascinating people all the way up to Muhammad Ali bring inspiration for your characters?

Good question right here because I never thought about that. Ya know, some people on this earth are just larger than life. They've got a shine to 'em. Ali was one. Arnold Palmer another. There's a heat to them. But you know what? There's not human being ever who could stack up to an animal. They've got something we can never have, and that interests the hell out of me. Love studying them. I hope I successfully tap-danced around that good question.

Where did you love spending time the most — Africa, Europe, Asia?

I loved all of those places. Completely different flavors. I spent the most time in Europe, though, and they have good living down to an art. Uncluttered ... And a plug for France: Top to bottom the most beautiful place on earth. If they are a bit snobby sometimes, they've got a right. What a place.

What inspired you to write your book, TOXIC TALES?

Desperation. Like millions, I was laid low the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. After picking myself up off the floor, I cobbled together a website and started writing literally anything in earnest. I kept landing on satire as both my way forward and as a coping mechanism. One morning, I started writing after Trump had said and/or done something incredibly horrifying. I started writing in his horrid voice. Then I turned it into a letter. And because it was coming from Trump, it couldn't be just any letter. No, it had to be a Very Important Letter. And away I went. Every week, a Very Important Letter from Trump. I'd read 'em to my wife before posting. She'd laugh and then ask if it was too early to start drinking. By then, the letters are on various social media platforms and along comes the great author, Shelby Kent-Stewart. Shelby is a venerable Twitter-hitter and we became friends. After about my, er, Trump's 37th letter, Shelby says, "when are you going to allow me to turn these into a book?" I snorted, "you can't be serious." She was. And away we went. She was helping to stand up https://wordsmithsink.com/ and thought this book would work. Shelby is a powerhouse. Ya know, Trump is a nightmare, but meeting people like Shelby, the dream. Incredible good often comes out of the very worst things.

How much did you research to write your first book, TOXIC TALES?

I double-checked historical references. Trump is more Mussolini than Hitler.

How do you keep your stories interesting and from becoming repetitive?

Trump did it for me in Toxic Tales, but overall ...? Journalism was great training. You must be open to literally anything. Just allowing for the fact that no two people are alike provides endless options when you are banging away at your keyboard. But nothing is more interesting than a pelican.

How has being an author changed your life up till now and what are some new goals you've set for yourself?

It has only reasserted how magic life is. I'm a 60-year-old guy from Jersey. None of this was supposed to happen. But I made myself available. I went when I could have stayed. Always, always go. Figuring it out along the way makes for a great story. I suppose telling that story is my next goal. Until then, my short-term goal is using my voice and supporting the arts to be rid of Trump. We will find out soon as a nation, if we really are dead inside.

What were some misconceptions you had about the book and publishing industry before you became a published author?

I suppose it was the stereotype that publishers were assholes. Working with Shelby and everybody at Wordsmiths was a dream. I'll take it I am the exception to the rule, but I made myself available and got very, very lucky again.

Which is the next book you are writing? Give us an insight into it.

There will probably be one more cleaning up this Trump mess. The last book dealt with the first two-plus years of his administration. Ya know, if you read it, it provides a bizarrely accurate chronological dive into his presidency. This stuff REALLY happened. Holy hell. Everyday I am writing toward what simply has to be a happy ending and the way out of this mess. Imagine what the animals think of us.

Criticism, whether constructive or otherwise is part and parcel of any art form. How do you deal with reviews of your books- both positive and negative?

I haven't. The positive reviews are lovely. I spent most of my professional life getting hammered by newspaper readers. Nine out of ten times people will write or call to tell you what a rotten job you are doing. Content people almost never write to tell you how happy they are with what you are doing. When the unhappy people called, I ended every conversation the same way: "Thank you for reading."

When did you join AllAuthor? How has your experience with AllAuthor been?

I joined a few months ago. This a threat and a warning: You'll never be rid of me.

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