Get ready, because there’s a new author about to take the thriller genre by storm.
If you’re on social media and engage with other authors and/or readers, then you have likely heard about Steve Urszenyi’s electrifying debut novel, Perfect Shot. The story follows a former Army sniper turned FBI agent named Alex Martel, who inadvertently uncovers a global conspiracy when she begins to investigate the death of an old friend. Eventually, it all leads to a race against the clock to thwart a nuclear strike, and there’s a ton of action along the way. You can read my full review here, but honestly, don’t just take my word about how fantastic it is. Urszenyi’s first book has already earned praise from Jack Carr, Robert Dugoni, Marc Cameron, countless media outlets (like PW and BookTrib), Mark Greaney, and many more. That’s a lot of firepower, and in this case, it’s completely earned—this is one of two must-read debuts hitting stores this fall (along with Jack Stewart’s Unknown Rider).
Thankfully, I was able to get Urszenyi to go on the record for our Five Questions segment just ahead of the release of his highly anticipated debut and asked him everything from how he came up with the story idea for this book to what’s next for Alex as we look ahead to 2024 and beyond.
Check out the whole Q&A below, then be sure to grab your copy of Perfect Shot, now available in all formats wherever books are sold!
TRBS: Well, my friend. The big day is finally just about here. How does it feel to have your first book hitting stores and finally getting into the hands of readers?
Urszenyi: Oh, man, it’s a crazy good feeling! It feels like it’s taken forever to get here. This journey lasted five years, from the decision to try to finish a manuscript and get published until now. That’s not a long time compared to the journey of many others, but at times, it felt like a million years.
TRBS: Talk a little bit about your background and then when you knew you wanted to be an author. Also, what made you finally take the jump and start writing?
Urszenyi: I’ve always been interested in a career in public service. Like, literally my whole life. When I was nine, I wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—the Mounties—asking how to join. He sent me all the requirements and told me I had a while to go before I could apply. LOL. But at some point, I also realized my eyesight wasn’t good enough to become a police officer.
Meanwhile, I found I had an affinity for helping people who were injured. For some reason, even as a teenager, I was the guy who was first on the scene of serious incidents. I was a lifeguard for a few years, and then I became a paramedic after going to college. Between a thirty-year career doing that and being a police tactical medic, and then being involved in high-level emergency management, I had little time to write, even though the flame of my desire to be a writer burned brightly.
As a kid, I used to look at my dad’s bookshelves with books by Ian Fleming, Georges Simenon, John le Carré, and others, and I imagined having my own books next to them. I dabbled as a kid in writing short stories and even mocked up notebooks to look like actual published books with my name on them. And even though I tried my hand at a novel many years ago, I couldn’t finish it. And so I did what so many others have done and are doing—I focused on paying the bills and raising my kids with my amazing wife.
Years later, around 2010, I met a couple who had created a hit TV show about a police tactical team. The show was called Flashpoint, and well, long story short, I told them I was interested in writing, and they ended up giving me the single best piece of advice I have ever gotten. They said, “If you want to write, just write.”
It was profound in its simplicity, but that’s what got me back to writing and where I am today.
TRBS: Have there been any surprises along the way as you transition into your new career as an author?
Urszenyi: Although it shouldn’t have been, the biggest surprise was how slowly things move in the publishing world. It’s positively glacial compared with my career as a paramedic, where every second counts, and we measure outcomes in seconds and minutes, not months and years!
The other HUGE surprise was the collegiality of writers, thriller writers in particular. I went to my first ThrillerFest in 2018 by myself, not expecting to make any friends—like an eight-year-old feels when they arrive at a new school for the first time. But my preconceived notion couldn’t have been any further from the truth. Instead, I found an incredibly supportive community where the prevailing attitude among its members was, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In other words, we celebrate each other’s successes because, ultimately, one author’s success creates a hunger in readers to read other writers. Plus, that community brings us new friends from whom we can learn more about our craft and commiserate about whatever our writing woes might be—like the pain of writing a synopsis!
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what are some good books that you’ve read recently?
Urszenyi: In the beginning, I whet my reading appetite with books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert. Then I discovered Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, and their thrillers transformed my reading and ultimately influenced my writing.
I’ve also read every Ken Bruen, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, and Daniel Silva novel. These days, my number one go-to author is Brad Thor. But I also try to read more broadly than I used to. As I hear about a new author, I go out of my way to discover their writing and voice. There are so many great writers out there that nobody can claim they can’t find anything to read.
I’m currently reading Michael Frost Beckner’s Muir’s Gambit, which is the prequel to Spy Game. It’s a real thinking man’s thriller, full of complex intrigue bound together by this stream-of-consciousness cunning banter between the main characters. It’s very vivid, like a lucid dream.
TRBS: Lastly, tell readers about PERFECT SHOT, where the story idea came from, and, now that it’s out, what’s next for you.
Urszenyi: Perfect Shot is a tribute to strong women everywhere. I never set out to write a story featuring a female lead, but after multiple failed attempts to write stories with male protagonists, Alexandra (Alex) Martel just began writing herself into a story I was working on. That story became the unpublished forerunner to Perfect Shot, and while it may never see the light of day, it allowed me to refine my writing craft and hone in on who Alex is as a character.
Alex is a no-nonsense, kick-ass, witty, and slightly irreverent former combat medic-turned-sniper who is generally disdainful of authority. Or, if she isn’t that, then she just doesn’t like being told what to do.
When Alex, now an FBI special agent on loan to Interpol, learns that an old friend, an MI5 officer, has been killed under mysterious circumstances, she’s pulled back into the dangerous world she left behind: a world where some people fear her, some want to recruit her, and everyone seems to want her dead. Following a trail of clues left behind by the dead woman, Alex pieces together a terrifying conspiracy that only escalates when a nuclear warhead goes missing. Dodging death at every turn, she reluctantly joins forces with a CIA officer, but he has plans of his own for her—and will stop at nothing to achieve them.
That’s Perfect Shot in a nutshell. I turned in the second book in the Alex Martel series to my editor, Sarah Grill, at Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press, and we’re busy getting that ready for publication next fall. At the same time, I’m working on number three in the series. I think people are really going to like Alex, and if they do, they will love what comes next for her in the next few books!
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. His second novel, LETHAL RANGE, comes out on August 8th. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. To talk books and connect with other readers, join the discussion over at The Real Book Spy Discord Server.