Author Interview: Glen Erik Hamilton
Glen Erik Hamilton is an award-winning crime fiction author living near Los Angeles, whose debut novel, Past Crimes, won the Anthony Award, the Mystery Readers International's Macavity Award, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award. His novels have received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, as well as rave reviews from Kirkus. Glen is also the current president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. His fourth book, Mercy River, was just released, and he's been gracious enough to take a moment to answer a few questions. MB: Let's talk about your childhood for a second. You grew up on a sailboat along the Pacific Northwest coast. That's sounds like quite an unusual childhood. What kind of influence has that experience had over your four novels?
GEH: People who choose to live aboard boats are an odd slice of society. Whether they came to those nautical accommodations by their profession or simply by choice, they often have a distinct pride in setting themselves apart from people who live on land. Ideal circumstances for eccentrics. And eccentrics make for great characters. Also, if you’re traveling around by boat, you can’t help but see the city and its industries from a different angle, literally and otherwise. That’s prime fodder for stories.
MB: Your latest book, Mercy River, is the fourth in your Van Shaw series. You've written a protagonist who was raised to be a thief. He has all the skills that a career-criminal would need, but he turns away from that world when he comes of age. I assuming that you don't have these skills. Can you talk for a moment about the research that you did to get those details accurate?
GEH: There are a couple of ways of going about it. One is to read about real-life crimes which have been committed, including accounts from both police and (hopefully ex-) crooks, and extrapolate a little to make those facts fit the story. Sometimes that means making the events less crazy, because reality often outstrips fiction. The other method is to figure out how I might—if I were the criminal type—commit a crime myself. That often requires a little research into the technology or security or physical materials involved. How do you break a window, silently? I’ll occasionally tweak the methods involved if they are too complex (or just infeasible), but I prefer it if I can come up with a real solution. It feels like solving a riddle. MB: Just as movies have deleted scenes, books have bits that get deleted during the editing process, sometimes to the chagrin of the author. In Mercy River, was there anything that didn't make it into the book that you hoped would?
GEH: Mercy River has a few detailed recollections of Van’s first days around the 75th Ranger Regiment—specifically his passage through selection and training programs to become a Ranger—and he spends more time with fellow veterans than in any previous book in the series. There’s another story to be told about what happened to Van a short while later in his service, when his face was damaged. He’s talked to friends and by extension the readers about how he was wounded in previous books, but not much about his recovery process after. There wasn’t a place for that in Mercy River. I think the tale will find its way into Book Five.
MB: Out of all your books, was there a scene that you found particularly difficult to write?
GEH: The most difficult scenes are almost always the emotional ones, where Van is in conflict with not the villains, but with people he loves. That includes scenes of internal conflict too, though it might be a toss-up whether Van loves himself. Writing moments like that usually requires me to go to a pretty raw place. They often take the most reflection and drafting. I’m no good for anything more than mindless chores afterward. There’s at least one or two of those gut-punch scenes in every book, which ensures that some cleaning gets done at least a couple of times a year. MB: Your first book, Past Crimes, was released in 2015. How long did it take you to write it? What did you learn from writing that first novel that helped you moving forward with your writing career?
GEH: That’s always a complex question about a first book, because some ideas might have been brewing in your brain for ages, and you have forever to work on that first novel if you choose. I started writing seriously around 2008, but it took a couple of years of noodling before the bones of what would become Past Crimes had arranged themselves. By mid-2013 I was in the middle of doing a final polish on the manuscript before (I thought) sending out query letters. Then I met my agent through a conference, and that bypassed the whole query process. It all happened remarkably fast, in retrospect.
MB: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
GEH: My actual younger self wasn’t writing, and that was okay. I always thought about writing as something I wanted to try someday, and when that day finally came, it felt right. Looking back about ten or twelve years, I’d tell my rookie-writer self that even though you now have less time than ever before, with the day job and a young family and writing every day (write every day! Still a habit I’m trying to form!), make time for reading. It’s easy to read when you have a flexible schedule. It’s tougher when you have to carve out a specific half an hour every day to read someone else’s work. It can feel like you are stealing valuable minutes from your own work. But it’s a healthy mental break, and you might learn something new.
MB: Let's talk about your writing style for a moment. Every writer has specific nuisances when it comes to writing. Some outline, some don't. Some have a special place where they write. Tell me a bit about your writing process.
GEH: On my fifth book now, I think I’m finally settling into something like a repeatable process. It’s a little like planning a cross-country trip, in that I have certain milestones and destination points to hit—plot twists, emotional beats, ideas for action scenes, and so on—but in between those destinations I can wander a little and see what roadside attractions surprise me. I’ll write wherever I have to. Home is often too frenzied a place, so I’ll escape to the library or even to my truck, put on some instrumental music (lyrics are intrusive!) and make the world go away until I hit my target word count.
MB: What are you currently reading?
GEH: I’ve read several books in preparation for California Crime Writers Conference, which took place in June, because we were interviewing the two guests of honor: Tess Gerritsen and Catriona McPherson. I’ve read Catriona’s most recent twisty standalone, Go to My Grave, and finished the first book in one of her more humorous series, Scot Free. It astounds me that Catriona can shift so readily from very dark places to gut-bustingly funny situations. I also read two of Tess’s works including her Nero Award-winning novel Vanish, part of her famed Rizzoli & Isles series. MB: Finally, what can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
GEH: I’ve just signed the deal for the next two books in the Van Shaw series. About a third of the first one is already written—I submitted a lot of opening chapters in place of writing a full synopsis, because synopses are a really tough way to sell a book—and I’m aiming to finish the manuscript before end of summer. I’m also researching a standalone novel which might come next, or might follow Book Six, depending on how quickly the plot comes together in my brain. MB: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with Mercy River.
To discover more about Glen Erik Hamilton and his books, check out his website at www.glenerikhamilton.com. You can also find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/glenerikhamilton, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/GlenErikH.