Today we travel to Vermont to chat with S. Lee Manning about how stand up comedy, the death penalty, photography, pumpkin pancakes, jazz, anxiety, fruitless arguments, fireflies, hide and go seek, living on Mars, Sesame Street, and a sombrero wearing penguin come together as part of Manning’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, I moved to New York to become a writer, worked as an editor on a small magazine until I got tired of being poor and applied to law school. I had a legal career that spanned from a top tier law firm in New York to the Office of the Public Defender in New Jersey to my own practice.
I was also Chair of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and wrote the first draft of the legislation that abolished the death penalty in the state. Retired from the law, I am now concentrating on my writing, although I sometimes slack off with some of my hobbies: guitar, photography, and stand-up comedy.
I currently live in Vermont, in a little town called Elmore that no one’s ever heard of, half an hour north of the town of Montpelier, which is the smallest state capital in the United States, with my husband Jim and our cat Xiao, although I like to visit my son Dean in New Jersey and my daughter Jenny in West Hollywood, LA from time to time.
In which genre do you write?
I write thrillers, although my books also fit under suspense.
How many published books do you have?
As of September 22, 2021, I will have two published books.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I realized I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven and I read a book in which the author killed off a dog. I decided I was going to write books that had better endings. I immediately wrote a version of the same book but the dog didn’t die. I still don’t kill dogs – or cats – but people have to watch out.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
A cat. Mostly because my cat is on my lap now and if I choose any other animal, he’ll be really pissed off.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
I like having an office with a lot of books around, which I already have, although I’d like a bigger desk and some bigger bookshelves. I suppose I could just get rid of books, but that just seems wrong.
What are you currently reading?
The Power of Poison by B.J. Magnani, a fellow Encircle Publications author.
What is your favorite season and why?
Fall. I live in Vermont. It’s the best. Gorgeous colors. Not too hot. Not too cold. I just love pumpkin pancakes with maple syrup, and we have the good stuff up here.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
The idea for my most recent book actually came from my previous book, Trojan Horse. In Trojan Horse, my main character Kolya, an intelligence operative, was set up by his own agency to be kidnapped and tortured in a twisted scheme to stop a terrorist. Understandably pissed off, he quits the intelligence business at the end of that book to try to build a normal life with the woman he loves. For this book, I needed to think of something that would drag him back into the spy game. In various places in Trojan Horse, Kolya was either hallucinating or dreaming about his past, including memories of his childhood best friend whom he’d put in prison. I decided to use the former best friend and his relationship to Kolya as the means to entice Kolya away from his new life (which he hates anyway).
Can you play a musical instrument? If not, which instrument would you like to be able to play?
I can play piano – I love jazz, although I’m not very good, unlike my main character Kolya, who is an accomplished jazz pianist, and my giving him that talent and interest may fall into the category of wish fulfillment. I also play guitar, intermediate level.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I started doing stand-up a few years ago – and in 2019, I was a semi-finalist in Vermont’s Funniest Comic contest. I also play music sometimes. (See above.) Sometimes I take pictures. I love to read. I like to take walks and bicycle but only moderately strenuous, although I’m pretty good about exercising every day. I like to pet horses. I used to ride, back before I started having anxiety about, well, everything. I’m working my way to getting on a horse again. Someday. I also like to chill out in the evening with my husband and watch something on television, while the cat alternates between our laps.
What is your favorite time of day and why?
I love mornings, right after I finish that first cup of coffee. The day is ahead of me, full of promise, and I could achieve anything. In theory. Then I waste most of the day in fruitless arguments on Facebook – but that’s another story.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received lately?
Stop reading articles about Covid. My son told me that after I kept reading articles on new variants and worrying about whether I’ll have another book launch with the country on shut down. (My first book debuted last September.)
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
Immersing myself so completely in the universe I’m creating that it feels more real than the real world. Wait. That sounds a little weird. Okay, but I’m a writer. We’re expected to be weird.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
I reread parts of my novel and select the passages to read. Then I sit in a dark room with my cat and meditate on the meaning of life and how it doesn’t matter in the vastness that is the universe if I screw this up, after which I have a glass of ice tea or a cup of coffee and get on with it.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Long summer nights that seemed to stretch forever while I chased fireflies, played hide and go seek, and told stories on my porch. The excitement from everything seeming to be fresh and new.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
Turn off the social media, go outside, and chase fireflies.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
I’d probably turn into Kolya, because he is a much more complicated and interesting person than I am. What would I do as Kolya? Maybe play amazing jazz piano at a little bar in the Village and then when some Nazi starts going on about Black people or gays or Jews, quietly walk over, break his leg, and then disappear into the night.
Oh wait. That’s my next book.
If mars or another planet was livable, would you accept a one way ticket there? Why or why not?
When my kids were little, we used to watch Sesame Street together. My favorite song on Sesame Street was sung by Ernie:
Well, I’d like to visit the moon
On a rocket ship high in the air
Yes, I’d like to visit the moon
But I don’t think I’d like to live there
Though I’d like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I might like it for one afternoon
I don’t want to live on the moon
(skip two verses)
So if I should visit the moon
Well, I’ll dance on a moonbeam and then
I will make a wish on a star
And I’ll wish I was home once again
Though I’d like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I may go I’ll be coming home soon
‘Cause I don’t want to live on the moon
No, I don’t want to live on the moon
And that sums it all up.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
He’s there because his home has melted, and he’s wearing a sombrero to keep the sun off. And he’ll ask: “Are you going to do something about global warming – or what?”
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on the third novel in the Kolya Petrov series – and it involves neo-Nazis in Germany. That’s all I’m prepared to say at this time.
Tell us about your most recent book.
In my latest book, Nerve Attack, former American intelligence operative and Russian Jewish immigrant Kolya Petrov, still suffering from the aftereffects of imprisonment and torture, is reluctantly pulled back into the spy game when his childhood best friend, Dmitri, holds the key to stopping an attack with the deadly nerve agent Novochok. Doing so puts Kolya, as well as his fiancee Alex, at risk once again, as he struggles to trust not just Dmitri but himself.
The early reviews have been fabulous.
It was wonderful having you be a part of MTA!! Wishing you all the best and much success with your writing and future books! – Camilla
” Manning writes with such authority about the shady world and shifting loyalties of the intelligence community, it’s a wonder her novels aren’t riddled with redactions. At once terrifying, unpredictable, and all too believable, NERVE ATTACK will leave you breathless.” – Chris Holm, Anthony winning author of The Killing Kind.
” While enough backstory is imparted to allow this book to stand alone, Kolya’s foes are more relatable to the average reader in this second of the series: pain from the past—both physical and emotional, PTSD, and a begrudging distrust as Kolya learns that some ties may transcend betrayal. In a world where loyalties are split between his native land and the one that seemingly spurned him, the woman he loves versus the duty he feels compelled to fulfill, Nerve Attack is, surprisingly, an even more complex book than its predecessor and better for it. Another winner for Manning and her readers who I assume will share my anticipation for Book #3!” – D.M. Barr, author of Saving Grace—A Psychological Thriller and The Queen of Second Chances
From Kirkus Reviews: “a reluctant spy leads this taut, effective thriller.”
“A heady rush of intrigue and psychological inspection that weaves a cat-and-mouse game into an evolving new life.” Diane Donavan, senior editor, Midwest Book Reviews
Where to find the book:
Nerve Attack is available for preorder on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Nerve-Attack-Kolya-Petrov-Thriller-ebook/dp/B0971255GC
Nerve Attack can stand alone, but if you’re interested in my award winning first novel, Trojan Horse, which introduces Kolya and his world, that is also available on Amazon in Audible, paperback, hardback, and Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Trojan-Horse-S-Lee-Manning/dp/1645991024/
Connect with S. Lee Manning: www.sleemanning.com
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