"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Author Interview: James Hayman

James Hayman is a former creative director for a New York advertising agency who now lives and writes on Peak’s Island, Maine. Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions about his debut crime novel, The Cutting (St. Martin’s Minotaur, June 23).

PSB: Give us a quick pitch for The Cutting.

JH: On a warm September night in Portland, Maine, a pretty blond high-school girl is found dead in a vacant scrap yard, her heart cut from her body with surgical precision. The very same day a young business woman is abducted while jogging. Are the two crimes related? Ex–New York homicide cop Michael McCabe, now head of the Portland’s Crimes Against People unit is convinced they are and the race is quickly on to find the second victim before she suffers an identical fate.

With help from a mysterious Frenchwoman, McCabe and his team zero in on a sexual psychopath who’s been harvesting human hearts for both profit and sexual thrills. In the middle of it all McCabe finds he has to worry about less lethal matters, like the reappearance of his faithless ex-wife in both his and his daughter’s life.

PSB: Chicken or the egg time: which came first, McCabe or the idea for the main plot?

JH: McCabe. I knew I wanted to set my story in Portland. I also knew I wanted a hero who, like me, is at his core, a native New Yorker.

Like they say, write what you know about. McCabe and I have quite a lot in common. We were both born in New York, McCabe in the Bronx, me in Brooklyn. We both married beautiful brunettes and we both live with and love women who are talented artists. We both flirted with careers in the movie business. We both are die-hard New York Giant fans. We both moved to Maine. And we both enjoy rare New York strip steaks and good Scotch whiskey.

PSB: Though it stands on its own, The Cutting reads like the first book in a series. There are a lot of series characters out there—forensic pathologists, police detectives, PIs, bounty hunters, etc. How does a new writer make his or her character stand out in such a crowded field?

JH: Good question. As you point out, it’s all been done. Every size, shape, occupation, ethnicity, color and sexual orientation. About all that’s left for the new writer is create a sleuth who’s a trans-gender Siberian dwarf. On the other hand, that’s probably been done as well.

In the end, I decided not to even try to make my hero weirdly different. Instead, I simply tried to make him genuinely human.

McCabe, on the face of it, is the stereotype of all stereotypes, an Irish cop who drinks too much. I suspect a number of publishers rejected the book for that reason alone. What makes him work, I think, and why I think a couple of publishers were interested enough to make good offers, is that McCabe comes across as a real person with real flaws and real problems that other real people, the ones who read books, can relate to.

PSB: I like the notion that McCabe is haunted by the past, but must concern himself more with the present and future because of his daughter. He tries to shelter Casey, not only from the dangers of the world, but from her own narcissistic mother. Will you extend this subplot over successive novels?

JH: Yes. Casey, in The Cutting, is thirteen years old. At the cusp of the most difficult seven years in any parent’s life. She’ll be back. And so will Sandy. They’re both very much part of who McCabe is and what makes him interesting.

PSB: Let’s talk about the setting. You’re “from away,” like me, but you write with confidence about southern and coastal Maine. How tough was it to capture such a strong sense of place? Did McCabe’s status as a flatlander make it easier?

JH: I first came to Portland in the late 90’s and instantly fell in love with the place. For me, it seemed a natural place to set a suspense thriller series. It offers a gritty urban setting. Great architecture. Vibrant street life. Great bars and restaurants. The working waterfront. A lively arts scene. A long and rich history.

I’m very much an urban person. I could no more write a novel set in a rural landscape than I could jump over the moon. But writing about Portland? That was easy.

PSB: In a recent column for Crimespree Magazine, Craig McDonald noted that the events of 9/11 “…simply dwarfed any sense of urgency or gravitas one might try to build into a private eye novel or police procedural.” McDonald did a clever end-run around the whole thing by setting his novels in the 20th century. Do you think 9/11 is an obstacle for writers? If so, how do you make readers care about your protagonist’s fictional problems when the real-world stakes are so high?

JH: I couldn’t disagree more. I think the human tragedy and challenges of 9/11 offer a treasure trove of material for fiction writers.

This is obvious for writers of political and espionage thrillers. But I believe it’s also true for detective fiction and for literary fiction.

One very interesting “straight” novel I read recently is Netherland by Joseph O’Neill in which 9/11 serves as the catalyst for the break up of a marriage and all the events that follow.

PSB: Now it’s time for the mandatory question: who are your influences?

JH: Two obvious ones. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels which are set in L.A. and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series set in Edinburgh. McCabe has much in common with both characters. I like the writing. And I like the urban settings.

Others are less obvious. Peter Abrahams, Richard Price, Ian McEwan and Robert Stone.

PSB: What are reading now and what’s in your TBR pile?

JH: I’m halfway through what Rankin says is the last in the John Rebus series, Exit Music.

I’m also just starting my first George Pelecanos, who I think I’m going to like. Also Roxanna Robinson’s Cost.

PSB: Can you give us a teaser for your next novel?

JH: A young schizophrenic woman witnesses a horrendous murder. Unfortunately, nobody believes her. She is, after all, crazy.


Chris said...

A transplant New Yorker, a nasty set of crimes, and some good Scotch, all in my adopted hometown? You, sir, have just sold yourself a book!

Ellen said...

Wow! Thanks, Patrick. I love the insight into the book. Having read it already, I can better appreciate it now. I'm surprised though that he (or you) didn't mention John Connolly; the similarities are striking, but they are so different, too.