Set in rural Montana, Ryan Steck’s debut thriller Fields of Fire tells the story of former elite Marine Raider Matthew Redd who uncovers a dark global conspiracy with his hometown at the center. In the Q&A below with the author, hear about how the story and the novel’s hero, Matt Redd, came to be.
Most people in the thriller community know you as the Real Book Spy. Now it’s your turn to be the author. Tell us how being the Real Book Spy has prepared you to release your debut novel, Fields of Fire.
There’s no doubt that being a Book Spy had a big impact on me when it came to finally sharing the story I’d wanted to tell. I love books, and it was that deep love of authors such as Vince Flynn and C. J. Box (among others) that, looking back, shaped me as a writer. It’s no coincidence that Matthew Redd and Fields of Fire embodies many of the traits you’d find in Mitch Rapp or Joe Pickett. I’ve also had the pleasure of connecting with thousands of readers and, over time, feel like I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what they’re looking for in a thriller. More than anything, I hope all of that leads to an exciting reading experience for those willing to give my book a chance.
You have quite the story of how the main character, Matthew Redd, came about. Tell us about him.
It’s funny now, looking back on it, to be honest with you. In tenth grade, we had an intern teaching our English class who assigned a fun creative writing project. She actually told us we could write anything we wanted, and it could include anything. Language, violence, you name it. Well, I guess I took it too far. I wrote about a teenage vigilante named Matthew Redd who fought bad guys late at night. I remember a couple of days after turning it in, I got called down to the principal’s office. Turns out, my English teacher looked over the short stories we’d submitted and sent mine to the principal, who then sent it to others in the school district. Long story short, I was suspended for a week. Since then, though, I’ve reconnected with that former intern, a wonderful woman who is so special to me, and we’ve laughed about the whole incident. In my house, the running joke is that over my lifetime, I’ve gotten a week off of school and signed a book deal all thanks to Matthew Redd!
What are some of the themes that you wanted to explore in Fields of Fire? Why were those specific themes important to you?
Redemption was a big one. I’m not someone who believes in throwing people away, so to speak. We’re all imperfect and need a little help sometimes, and I’m fascinated with how far some people can go in life when they put their mind to it. I also wanted to explore things like forgiveness, going back home, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and then obviously revenge.
You say that Matthew Redd has lived in your head for so long that you hear him sometimes. What do you mean by that?
From day one, Redd has always been a fully fleshed-out character in my head. Almost like a lifelong best friend or something like that. I know how he thinks and how he would respond in certain situations, to the point that when I find myself in a unique situation, I often compare the way I handle things to how Redd might. It’s hard to explain because he is, of course, fictional, but to me, Matthew Redd feels real.
You said that you knew this story before you ever sat down to write it. How long did it take you to get the story down on paper for the first time?
Two months! Crazy, right? Now that was just a first draft, and it admittingly wasn’t very good, but after years to think about it, I felt like I had the story mostly figured out. So it was just a matter of sitting down long enough to type it all out. From there, I spent years editing, tweaking, and changing things to shape it into the book that it is today.