Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Q & A with Steve Hamilton

I had the great pleasure to interview Steve Hamilton, who has a new book out right now featuring reluctant investigator Alex McKnight.

Q: What makes Alex McKnight different from other hardboiled detectives?

He lives in a very isolated town, first of all. That's a little different from most private investigators, who typically have an office or at least somewhere to meet clients. To find Alex, you have to drive for hours to get nowhere. But beyond that, he's not high-tech, he's not smooth, he's not even that young anymore. But he's the most loyal friend in the world, and he's a total sucker for anybody who really needs his help.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
I honestly don't know where Alex came from. He's not based on me, that's for sure. Or on anyone I know in real life. (Maybe my father, a little bit. Practical, hardworking, a little stubborn...) I tried to write what I thought a PI novel had to be, and when I failed utterly... Well, he was just there. This man in a cabin, on the edge of a huge lake, trying to get over something, hoping that his past would go away. (But of course it never does.)

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
Well, it's here to stay, that much I know. I went from 1% ebook sales to over 50% in two years. It may be levelling off a little bit, but I don't think anybody really knows where that percentage will end up. I still love real books, of course, but then I also read on both my Nook and my iPad. If people are still reading about Alex, in whatever form, I can't complain!

Q: What's next for you and Alex?
I'm shooting for one more book (number ten in the series) to come out next summer. Then I might take a break, as I did for "The Lock Artist." But I'll always go back! I can't imagine not wanting to know what Alex is up to next...

Q: How do you promote your work?
The rules are changing, but I'll still go out on tour for three weeks after a new book comes out. Radio and TV interviews are also still worthwhile, but the rest is all on the Internet these days. Facebook, my website (http://authorstevehamilton.com), and of course great online interviews like this one!

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
Short answer is, I like anything great. Right now I'm reading "Canada" by Richard Ford, which I suppose you'd call literary fiction, and "Kraken" by China Mieville, which I suppose you'd call mainstream fiction bordering on sci-fi. If it grabs you and keeps you reading, I'm there.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Like any other device used in any kind of fiction, even if it's seemingly been done to death, there's always room for another if it's done well enough. You're as good as what you can get away with, and getting away with yet another psychotic sidekick may be a tall order but I know it can be done!

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
I was influenced by all of the above, plus my own writing idol, James Crumley. And don't forget Sue Grafton. But bottom line, who's writing the truly great PI fiction these days? (Dennis Lehane isn't even doing it anymore, and Sue Grafton's getting close to the end of the alphabet...) Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Laura Lippman, SJ Rozan, plus a few others, but even those writers are often leaving their series to write other kinds of crime fiction. I'm the current president of the Private Eye Writers of America, and I guess I consider that part of my mission -- to help bring PI fiction back to the forefront. (I believe I'll have to start with some guilt-tripping and then move on to blackmail.)

Q: Charles Collyot came up with the following question: Why write a PI story?
Because it's a classic American form, elevated by some great writers in the past, and capable of being so many different types of story altogether. A PI solves problems, and a problem is at the heart of any good story!

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
I would ask every PI writer what they think the future of this genre holds, because on paper the outlook isn't that bright these days. (Lower sales, fewer PI books published, etc.) For me, I hold out hope that there are some brand new writers out there who will help rejuvenate PI fiction. Toward that end, I always try to publicize the PWA/SMP Best First Private Eye Novel Competition, which is how I got my start. To find out more, please go to http://us.macmillan.com/Content.aspx?publisher=minotaurbooks&id=4933. It's one of four annual St. Martin's Press writing competitions, and still the best way to break into crime fiction!

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