Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Actor and Author, Stephen Jared

Stephen Jared, Author

Author and actor Stephen Jared writes 1930s/1940s adventures and crime thrillers and also acts in many TV shows and movies, such as "He's Just Not That Into You."  His latest novel, THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI, set in 1942, features Jack Hunter who uses his skills as a former actor to track down spies.  A reviewer says, “Great writing, intriguing characters, solid historical background, snappy dialogues”

In his spare time, Stephen Jared likes to discover artists he never knew before, especially those from the first half of the 20th century. He has just finished his next novel, a crime fiction book set in 1930s Hollywood. At the same time, he maintains his acting career. His next acting gig is his appearance on a new ABC sitcom called “The Goldbergs,” which is scheduled to premier in a few weeks.

Be sure to check out the excerpt following his interview.

Q: What makes THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI “pulp action?”

Stephen Jared: That’s simply an effort to categorize the work. To me it serves no purpose aside from marketing. I don’t really think of my work as pulpy, don’t try to generate any kind of pulpy quality to my writing. What I write is, however, hugely influenced by the romantic adventures and noir movies of the 30s and 40s. A lot of those films originated from writers who got their start in the pulps – Dashiell Hammett and Rafael Sabatini, as example. The reason “pulp” gets thrown around is because it’s a particular style of literature, whereas “old Hollywood” doesn’t exist as a style of literature. Where I draw the line between pulp writing and old Hollywood writing is that I don’t write superhero stories.

Q: Your reviewers praise the action in THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI: “The flip-flops of the action are dizzying.” How do you create such “dizzying” action?

Stephen Jared: I had a lot of visual ideas I wanted to throw into this story – Chicago gangsters, a Chinese Warlord, a bombed and occupied Shanghai, a flying tiger, a sexy nightclub singer (I even managed to sneak Jimmy Stewart in there). You just can’t write a roughly forty-thousand-word story incorporating all of that without it taking a lot of fast twists and turns. The hard part is to keep it sensible and cohesive.   

Q: A reviewer described your protagonist, Jack Hunter, “as a well developed character, imaginative and at the pencils edge of fiction and legend.” (I love that description!) How did you create Jack as a real person in a pulp action novel? How do you make readers care about him and what happens to him?

Stephen Jared: When Jack is first introduced he’s hung-over from drinking too much; the sunshine hurts, and when his butler mocks his acting – the work Jack is beloved for all over the world – Jack’s response is good-humored. So, we learn that he’s a guy with problems, and we learn that despite living like a king, he’s down-to-earth. That’s on page one. I just tried to create a character that had tremendous vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and then drop that character into an impossibly difficult situation where he had to become strong. In a sense, he had to grow up. I think that’s relatable.  

Q: THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI is set in the 1940s. A reviewer was impressed with your “solid historical background.” What research did you conduct to assure accuracy? How important is this accuracy to create credibility and reader engagement?

Stephen Jared: I seek specificity more than accuracy. Specific detail provides believability; it grounds a story with a perceived reality. I write in settings and time periods I love, so research is fun for me. I did a lot of research on Shanghai – the hard part was deciding what to leave out.

Q: How relevant is the concept of “villain” versus “hero” to your story? What makes a great villain? An interesting hero? Could Jack be a hero without a villain?

Stephen Jared: These are, again, labels – heroes and villains – which don’t serve a hugely significant purpose to me. Look at Bogart in Casablanca; he was presented as a hero. They photographed him as a hero throughout. He was introduced as a hero; in his introductory shot we see him, and then a moment later we see his face. Heroes have been introduced this way for decades in film. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark was introduced this way. It’s dramatic trick. A brief second of a ‘man of mystery’ and then the big reveal. The whole bit where Bogart intercepts on behalf of the young couple, helping them get visas – Renault calls Bogart a sentimentalist, but the effect is really to tell the audience he’s a hero. It’s foreshadowing, but hardly a literary device without purpose; it lets the audience know this is a guy who may wallow in self-pity, but when he’s backed into a corner he does the right thing. He’s a hero. So, if he’s the hero, who’s the villain? He doesn’t beat the Nazis in the end. So, the villain could be the cynicism caused by heartbreak.

In other words, the villain of a story can be anything. What matters is conflict, and you can label the two sides of your conflict anything you want.

Q: Did you write THE ELEPHANTS OFSHANGHAI to entertain your readers? Or did you want to deliver a message to your readers? Both?

Stephen Jared: Entertainment is the goal, but not just gags; I build my stories around ideas that hopefully register with readers in some emotional way. THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI revolves around the difficulties associated with feelings of insignificance in life.

Q: In addition to being an author, you are also an accomplished and busy actor.  Why did you decide to write novels? And why pulp action?

Stephen Jared: I wish I was busier as an actor – it’s tough out there. Over time, writing has become something I just get up and do. If I stopped – and I’ve wished to stop a few times – I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’m confident constructing stories. I’m momentarily released from all my worries and confusion about life. Maybe it’s a feeling of having control over something. I don’t know. Why pulp action? These 1930s/1940s adventures and crime thrillers are the type of stories where I feel I can offer something worthwhile. Other styles of literature, like vampire stories or Vatican conspiracy thrillers, are the type of stories I just wouldn’t be able to pull off.  

Q: How important is humor to telling your story?

Stephen Jared: I think it depends on how deep into the realm of escapism you want to go. With stories like JACK AND THE JUNGLE LION and THE ELEPHANTS OF SHANGHAI there needs to be some levity, but with other stories the need lessons. 

Q: What’s next?

Stephen Jared: I finished my next novel. It’s a return to crime fiction, this one set in Hollywood in the 1930s. It’s dark, grim, a smaller, more intimate story than anything else I’ve written. I think that’ll come out next year. As an actor, I shot a part on an episode of a new sitcom called The Goldbergs. It’ll be on ABC in a few weeks. The scripts are funny.

Q: Tell us something about Stephen Jared. What do you like to do when you’re not acting or writing?

Stephen Jared: I’m normally a little restless, always climbing the walls, looking for something to work on. I like visiting art museums. I’m a big fan of a lot of the painters of the first half of the last century. It’s fun to discover artists I never knew before. As example, over the summer I became acquainted with the works of Emil Kosa Jr. He painted Los Angeles cityscapes and landscapes back in the 1940s, also worked at 20th Century Fox’s art department. I spend a lot of time exploring the past.

About Stephen Jared
As an actor, Stephen Jared appeared in feature films such as He's Just Not That Into You and on television in popular shows such as iCarly, as well as commercials for both radio and television. His writings have appeared in various publications. In 2010, his first novel, Jack and the Jungle Lion, received much critical praise, including an honorable mention in the 2011 Hollywood Book Festival (it is now a bonus book included in the purchase of The Elephants of Shanghai). Solstice Publishing released his second novel, Ten-A-Week Steale, in 2012. He lives in Pasadena, California, where he continues to work as both an actor and writer.

It’s 1942. With war raging, and millions of lives hanging in the balance, the world faces an urgent need for chin-up heroics. Having barely escaped South American headhunters in his last adventure, Jack Hunter seizes the chance to prove his courage. He uses “skills” picked up as a former actor so he can pretend to be a Chicago gangster and pursue spies collaborating with the mob.

A bold plan, however, is not always a clever plan, and when Jack goes missing hope falls on Maxine Daniels, the great love of his life, to pick up a trail that leads all the way to Shanghai, China. Once there, she finds Jack in a race against time involving priceless jewels, secret weapons, a mysterious Chinese singer, and a fiendish warlord.

It’s been five years since they survived the Amazon. This time Jack and Max set out to save more than each other – and end up facing a greater danger than they ever could have imagined.


Tightening talon-like fingers around his torch, Kyo Mingshu dragged the firelight closer to his bloodless visage, making a big show of his bestial grin. “The Elephants of Shanghai have significant symbolic value. The future belongs to the one who possesses them.” Abruptly walking off, his golden robe shimmering, he continued, “Come. I have treasures better suited for you.”
Jack and Johnny aimed frustrated faces at Summer. She said nothing at all, simply turned and followed the Generalissimo, past the ancient throne and the clutter of antique punishments, through a door.
A firelit hallway extended along several makeshift prison chambers. Armed with Tommy guns, Mongolian guards paced. One was a monster, easily seven feet tall. Corded muscles popped from necks and biceps; the sweaty bulk of all the guards visibly tightened with the presence of their leader.
“The new Russians are not the only ones who honor cruelty,” Kyo Mingshu went on contentedly, his steps slowing with theatrical deliberation. “Imperial Japan. Nazi Germany.”
Where was this going? Jack wondered. What had they walked into? Johnny crinkled his brow and licked dry lips, while Jack mashed the hairs rising on the back of his neck. They had hoped for a fast deal; now they only wanted to get out.
“The future belongs to the wicked, not the weak,” Kyo Mingshu predicted. He stopped walking and took a Tommy gun from one of his henchmen. As if it had not been perfectly clear already, the devilish gaze he then presented to Jack and Johnny read as from a man who delighted in evil games. He seemed more creature than man, relishing an ability to spit poison.
Summer stopped alongside him. Trailing her, Jack and Johnny soon reached the Generalissimo as well, expecting something horrible. Jack fixed his eyes upon the gun, wondering about Kyo’s intentions.
A nod from the Generalissimo directed their attention within one of the prison chambers. Jack had begun to sense that their diversion to this long-ago abandoned factory, now altered into a macabre hideout, had less to do with precious stones and more to do with—who knew what? Unsure and totally unprepared for what they would discover, they each took a short breath and looked.

Battling giant snakes, poison pits and hostile headhunters after a plane crash in the Amazon, movie star Jack Hunter reveals himself to be something altogether different from the macho adventurer he plays in Hollywood. Luckily for him, he's marooned with movie-industry animal trainer Maxine Daniels and her two kids. The lovely "Max" has more than enough high-spirited courage and fiery determination to get them all home. But when terrifying natives capture the feisty heroine, fate calls on the handsome actor to become the hero he always pretended to be in pictures. With such daring demands on the two-fisted matinee hero, will Jack embark on a journey to win the heart of the woman he loves-or perish in the darkest jungles of the Amazon?


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Twitter: @Stephen_Jared


  1. Excellent interview, Stephen. Glad Elephants is getting lots of good exposure!