If you like your stories on the gritty side with offbeat, unforgettable characters, there’s an author that you won’t want to miss. Tampa Bay writer Steph Post, combines lyrical writing with a dysfunctional yet vulnerable cast of players to take readers into a world they’ll like to visit but probably wouldn’t want to live in. Brian Panowich, author of the acclaimed Bull Mountain, heralds Post as “the official voice of working class literature in Florida, akin to what Daniel Woodrell has done for Missouri, or Ron Rash for the Carolinas.”
Born in St. Augustine, Post claims to be “a tried and true Florida native, not palm-tree-laden, fruity-tropical-shirt-and-sandals South Florida, but backwoods-on-a-creek-deer-flies-and-alligator-ridden North Florida.” She has also been a storyteller for as long as she can remember. “I used to drive my mom crazy telling stories,” she recalls. “I especially loved creating characters. Even as a kid, my stories always started with a character. It’s fun and surprising for me to see what my characters will say and do.”
Post worked on her high school literary magazine and went on to Davidson College in North Carolina on the Patricia Cornwell Scholarship for creative writing. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her Master’s degree from the University of North Carolina. For the past five years, Post has been an English teacher/writing coach at Blake High School in Tampa during the week and a novelist on the weekends.
It was during these weekend writing sessions that Post completed her first novel, A Tree Born Crooked. She had just moved back from North Carolina and wanted to write about where she grew up. “The title actually came before the story,” she explains. “I was kicking around characters with my husband, and he came up with the title. It’s a line from a Tom Waits song. So I built a plot around a character who was born crooked but still had to keep growing.” Post describes the book as a combination of “Country Noir,” a genre that features hardboiled rural stories, and the literary but gritty genre known as “Grit Lit.”
Since characterization is such an integral part of Post’s writing, it isn’t surprising that the idea for A Tree Born Crooked grew out of a character concept. A big fan of the FX-TV series “Justified” and Elmore Leonard’s novels, Post decided to center her tale around the stoic male hero who has to go home and confront his past. This was the inspiration for the book’s protagonist, James Hart, a character Post describes as “rugged yet broken.” After receiving news of his father’s death, James reluctantly returns to his backwater hometown of Crystal Springs where he is forced to revisit the demons he’s tried desperately to leave behind. Post calls the novel “a balance of hard and soft writing, juxtaposing gritty characters with lyrical, poetic description.” Leonard Chang, one of the writers of “Justified,” praised the book as “…compelling Florida grit with echoes of the late great Harry Crews…a wonderful debut.”
Last month, her second novel, Lightwood, was released by Polis Books. In the same genre as A Tree Born Crooked, this new book is a Southern literary crime thriller set in backwoods north-central Florida and featuring hardscrabble, often eccentric characters, who must navigate a world where right and easy rarely go hand in hand. In Lightwood, these characters are part of one of three factions: the notorious Cannon crime family, the Scorpions outlaw motorcycle gang and the congregation of the Last Steps to Deliverance Church of God. Judah Cannon and Sister Tulah, as well as players from all sides, are tied together through a fateful heist of $150,000 that leaves only brutality and hard choices in the complicated web of its wake.
Post’s weekends will be busy well into the future. She will be doing book signings in bookstores across the state of North Carolina and will be speaking at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March. She hopes her readers will enjoy visiting a world very different from their own and will walk away thinking, “That was a really good story!”
For more information, visit the author’s website at www.stephpostfiction.com.