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Maine Author Joseph Souza Visits The Novelists' Nook

Having read and loved Joseph Souza’s earlier novels, UNPAVED SURFACES and NEED TO FIND YOU, I was excited to escape with his latest release, THE NEIGHBOR. I was certain it would be an awesome story, and I wasn't disappointed. Once in a while, a book comes along that draws you in so completely from the very first sentence it’s impossible to put down. THE NEIGHBOR is just such a masterpiece.

This epic tale took me on a psychological joy ride with tons of heart pounding suspense and more breath stealing twists and turns than a grove full of Virginia Creeper vines. With compelling characters, an intriguing plot, and a jaw-droppingly unexpected outcome, this book belongs on every literary aficionados must read list.

Please join me in welcoming Joseph to the Novelists' Nook.

Joseph, THE NEIGHBOR is set in your home state of Maine. What is your favorite place in Vacationland, and why?

JS: Maine is one of those places where people around the country have misconceptions about it. In that sense it’s an ideal place to set a crime story. People like to read about different locations, which is why Swedish crime novels are so popular. Ironically, Maine has some of the lowest crime rates in the nation, and more crime writers per capita than anywhere else. As for my favorite place, it changes depending on the season. I love the beaches come summer, the mud season of spring, the foliage in the fall, and Florida in the winter.

One of the couples in THE NEIGHBOR, Clarissa and Russell Gaines, are educators. Growing up, did any of your teachers inspire or fuel your decision to become a writer?

JS: No, but I was a public school teacher for a number of years in a Boston suburb and in a few Seattle public schools. I also worked in higher ed for two years. Those years in higher ed were interesting and convinced me not to pursue a Ph.D. The majority of professors were tenured, and while many were wonderful people and educators, there was a lot of backstabbing and PC behavior in the department I worked in. You think organized crime is bad. . . And tenure gave them immunity to be jerks if they so desired.

The character of Mycah is complex. She's also a woman of discerning tastes when it comes to burgers. In trade for a beer she brings Clay Daniels, beer brewer extraordinaire, a double bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries with ketchup and chipotle mayo. Yummy! Describe your ultimate burger.

JS: I just had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had while visiting Miami. Cooked medium rare with Swiss cheese and a delicious sauce—fantastic. It was moist, juicy and flavorful. I’m not a big fan of putting too many things on burgers. Fois gras, peanut butter, and avocado slices are definitely not for me. Great meat, medium rare, which most restaurants won’t serve today for fear of E. coli, pickles and ketchup and I’m a happy camper. Oh, and no pretzel rolls for me either.

While we're on the topic of food, you're a connoisseur of fine pizza. Describe your ultimate pie.

JS: The best pizza I’ve had recently was from Artichoke Basille’s in New York City. The sauce was lush and fruity. The cheese was amazing and not too heavy, which a lot of restaurants tend to do. The crust was caramelized and had just enough heft to hold everything together. Like my burgers, I don’t like my pizza too complicated. No pineapples, barbecue chicken or potatoes on my slice. Simple, fresh ingredients and good technique is all it takes.

In THE NEIGHBOR, Clay Daniels takes great pains to craft the finest artisan beers. Have you ever tried your hand at home brewing? If so what did you enjoy most about the experience? Describe your favorite beer.

JS: I did try Brewing once with my brother, who makes the best beers anywhere. Honestly, I hated it. It’s too much work. And it’s hard work too, cleaning and bleaching. Besides, there’s too many good brewers in Portland. But I have a healthy respect for those who do it. For me, it’s easier just to pop open a nice beverage after a hard day of writing. I forgot to mention, but the brewer down the street from my house, Ford River Brewing, was the inspiration for The Neighbor.

All of your characters spring to life within the pages of your riveting thriller--even the adorable furry member of the Daniels family, their personality-plus cockapoo, Mr. Shady. Are there any furry family members in the Souza home?

JS: We had two great dogs but they’ve since passed and we’ve been so busy we haven’t gotten any more pets. Lily was a crusty old Pug who lived to the age of eighteen and Monkey was a lovable English Bulldog with a great personality and an affinity for chasing basketballs. The cockapoo in The Neighbor, interestingly enough, was based on our Pug, Lily. She gravitated toward my wife and I would often think she didn’t like me. Also, I would pretend to speak in Lily’s voice and my wife and kids used to crack up at that. So Lily is the inspiration for the pet in the book.

In THE NEIGHBOR, Leah Daniels brashly crosses the line between right and wrong, trespassing in her neighbor's home several times. She has a close call, on one occasion. You've had some dangerous careers, including working as an intelligence analyst for the Organized Crime Unit of the DEA. What's the closest call you've ever had, work or otherwise?

JS: Lol! I’ve never broken into anyone’s house, if that’s what you mean. I did once work security for the Boston Celtics. When they won the championship, I lied to one of the supervisors and told him the big boss assigned me to the locker rooms to keep watch. So I was inside the locker room while Larry Bird and his crew were celebrating. At that point I didn’t care whether I got fired or not.

Both of the principal couples in THE NEIGHBOR have children. What is your fondest childhood memory?

JS: Probably when my father took me to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play. I was a huge fan as a kid and those players were larger than life to me. It was a big treat to go to the ballpark once a year.

Your characters exchange tidbits of advice with each other as they interact throughout the story. What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

JS: As far as life goes, my father always told me to keep fighting for what you want in life and never quit. That certainly applies to the writing life. As far as the writing process, Elmore Leonard’s words have always stick with me. “I leave out the parts readers skip.”

Great advice on both counts Joseph! It's been wonderful chatting with you. Thanks for taking the time to visit the Novelists' Nook.

JS: Thanks so much for the great questions, Lisa. It’s been a lot of fun answering them.

Visitors, you can learn more about Joseph and his writing at the sites below.

Facebook: Joseph Souza

Twitter: @josephsouzafans

Website: Joseph souza.net

Instagram: josephsouza2060

Joseph Souza's award-winning short stories have been published in various literary journals throughout the country. Winner of the Andre Dubus Award for short fiction, he also won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Award and the 2013 Maine Literary Award. His mystery, UNPAVED SURFACES, was published by Kindle Press in 2015 and was an Amazon bestseller. NEED TO FIND YOU, his crime thriller set in Portland, was the first novel to go direct-to-publish by Kindle Press. His new domestic thriller, THE NEIGHBOR (Kensington) was published April 24, 2018. Visit josephsouza.net for more information about his work.

It all seems so promising at the start . . .

When Leah and her husband, Clay, move from Seattle to Maine, she envisions a vibrant new neighborhood packed with families—playmates for her twins, new friends she can confide in and bond with. But while Clay works long hours to establish his brewery, Leah is left alone each day in a nearly deserted housing development where the only other occupants are aloof and standoffish.

Bored and adrift, Leah finds herself watching Clarissa and Russell Gaines next door, envying their stylishly decorated home and their university careers. But Leah’s obsession with the intriguing, elegant Clarissa grows until she’s not just spying from afar but sneaking into their house, taking small objects . . . reading Clarissa’s diary. It contains clues to a hidden turmoil Leah never guessed at—and a connection to a local college girl who’s disappeared.

The more Leah learns about Clarissa, the more questions emerge. Because behind every neighbor’s door there are secrets that could shatter lives forever . . .

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