STEPHEN MACK JONES
Mystery Scene|Summer #168 2021
If the meaning of life is a puzzle awaiting assembly, then writers are purveyors of its pieces.
John B. Valeri

“I think the human brain is hardwired to pursue the solving of puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, sudoku, the Higgs boson particle, why roofing and double pane window sales people always call during dinner or sex...” So says critically acclaimed wordsmith Stephen Mack Jones, who has spent decades constructing meaning through poetry and prose.

“I think most novelists—crime and otherwise—pursue the multitude of life’s mysteries, its beauty and horror, its warmth and bitter cold, oddities and conundrums,” he says. “Crime and mystery novels are puzzles for readers and sometimes the only way you can solve a mystery is to find meaning in the characters that populate the story. Characters and settings that are, I believe, little puzzles constructed often from sociopolitical and cultural ambiguities and personal experiences.”

This is certainly true of the author’s own award-winning books featuring vigilante hero August Snow, who returns in Dead of Winter—a socially conscious thriller that epitomizes its tagline: Gentrification has never been bloodier.

“Doesn’t matter if its Joyce Carol Oates or Attica Locke,” Jones continues. “It’s the puzzle of human beings colliding, dancing, howling alone, or weeping together that brings readers together in an effort to feel connected and understood.”

Jones’ first exposure to books, and the ideas contained within, came from his parents.

“Both my dad and mother impressed upon my brother and me the importance of reading and the inestimable value of education,” the Lansing, Michigan, native says. “Reading for me was escape: escape from seeing the impact of my father struggle in the service of my mom, brother, and me; escape from the limits my childhood asthma placed on my socialization; escape from watching my mother’s everyday fight to keep her husband patched up physically, psychologically, and spiritually while creating a safe place with good food for the family.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that reading led to writing. But before there were novels there was poetry and plays, each of which imparted a distinct lesson. Jones had a poem entitled “The Dream of 13 Black Women” published in The Atlantic as a high schooler, and remains a student of the craft.

“That’s been a lifetime ago. And frankly, that poem was one of the really good ones I wrote out of hundreds of really bad ones. Its hard work being a good poet!” he says. “Reading poetry continues to teach me the value of words—the weight and color and impact, the often-hidden poetry and multiple meanings often coexisting inside a single word.”

If poetry illuminated the economy and import of words, then plays did the same for discourse and direction.

“Playwriting taught me about the propulsive nature of dialog—there has to be meaningful movement in the dialog and the characters in specific settings. I mean unless you’re Samuel Beckett, then all bets are off,” Jones says. “I’d like to think my writing has benefited from these other artistic disciplines. At least, I hope it has.”

There was more pragmatic work, as well, with Jones spending several years in advertising and marketing (“I always feel like I have to light a novena candle and say a prayer of contrition when I talk about my so-called advertising/marketing communications ‘career.’”)—an experience that was not without its merits.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MYSTERY SCENEView All

6 New Writers to Watch

Wiley Cash’s debut, A Land More Kind Than Home, about the bond between two brothers landed on the New York Times Best Sellers List and received the Crime Writers’ Association Debut of the Year.

10 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

ANN CLEEVES

British author Ann Cleeves has an affinity for remote areas and how these isolated regions affect her characters.

10+ mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

CARLENE O'CONNOR

“Anyone can play Snow White. It takes real talent to play the Wicked Witch.”

8 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

Mystery Scene MISCELLANY

FIRST USE OF FINGERPRINTS

3 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

PANIC ATTACK

The newest entry in my Pittsburgh set series of thrillers is called Panic Attack. It’s the sixth book featuring Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

2 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

LAIDLAW'S LEGACY

During the pandemic, Ian Rankin stepped away from Rebus and into the shoes of friend and literary hero, the “Godfather of Tartan Noir” William McIlvanney.

10+ mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

HILARY DAVIDSON

Call it The Case of Life Imitating Art.

7 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

Thomas Walsh - The Unusual Suspect

Any paternity test on the sub-genre of police procedural will identify the DNA of Ed McBain and Lawrence Treat, as well as the 1948 movie The Naked City and the radio and TV series Dragnet…and of course Thomas Walsh.

6 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

S.A. COSBY

In Razorblade Tears, two aging men—one Black, one white, both with criminal pasts—join forces to seek revenge for the murders of their gay sons. The themes of fathers and sons and toxic masculinity will be familar to fans of Cosby’s 2020 breakout Blacktop Wasteland.

10 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021

VIPER'S NEST OF LIES

A slip of the tongue is a dangerous thing. Not only does it expose indiscretions, it also can lead to murder. The latter especially applies to me.

2 mins read
Mystery Scene
Fall #169, 2021
RELATED STORIES

WEEK 2: GIANTS AT WFT

Primetime divisional showdown in DC

3 mins read
The Giant Insider
September 19, 2021

Darnold mea culpa

Sam Darnold was the third pick of the 2018 NFL draft and three years later dangles on a tightrope mixed with underwhelming NFL starters and guys on the cusp of the unemployment line.

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
September 19, 2021

LAW & ORDER STAR BUSTED FOR MURDER!

Isaiah Stokes charged with shooting love rival 11 times

1 min read
Globe
August 09, 2021

DRONE OPERATORS CHALLENGE SURVEYORS' TURF IN MAPPING DISPUTE

When Michael Jones started a side hustle shooting drone photos and videos for realtors, his clients wanted more: Images with property lines on them, to better understand where their fences should be.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #496

2020 Free Agency Flashback

After reviewing the top pending free agents at every position, it’s important to understand that the Dolphins won’t be involved in the kind of shopping spree they had last offseason.

3 mins read
Dolphin Digest
March 2021

X's and O's: Cowboys

Leonard Williams sacks Cowboys quar terback Andy Dalton.

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
February 2021

Mr. Jones and Joe

Whether you agree or not, Daniel Jones is the Giants QB in ‘21

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
February 2021

No Frank Sinatra in Joe Judge

Coach says he had no regrets starting Daniel Jones. But was it the right move?

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
January 04, 2021

NEWS & NOTES

TOUGH LUCK The Giants Hope to Have the Injured Daniel Jones Back for The Cardinal's Game

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
December 21, 2020

Daunting December

The Giants provided November thrills and took the division lead into December.

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
December 21, 2020