Here's an interview with the talented Richard Thompson,former civil engineer now writing the excellent Herman Jackson series.
Q: What makes Herman Jackson different from other hardboiled detectives?
The owners of Once Upon a Crime Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis tell me that until about a year ago, I was the only author doing a series about a bail bondsman. It seemed like a natural choice to me, since he would be comfortable dealing with people from all levels of society and all degrees of respectability or criminality, and he would also have a sufficiently flexible schedule to pursue a trail of clues when he needed to. And with a secret criminal past of his own, he also has a lot of insight into the worlds of his clients.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
Herman was born in late 1999, to star in a short story called “Numbers Game”, which I was writing for the Boney Pete competition at Bloody Words in Toronto. (It won, by the way.) I had been thinking about the setup for a long time, ever since watching a movie called Midnight Run, in which Robert De Niro plays a bounty hunter. He was good in the role, but I thought the most interesting character in the movie—not the most likeable, but the most interesting—was the goofy, frenetic bail bondsman with the shady past, the person De Niro worked for.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
Interestingly, the first time I heard somebody positively assert that in ten years or less, there would be no more paper books or traditional bookstores, it was also in 1999, at Bouchercon in Milwaukee. It hasn’t happened, obviously, and it’s not going to happen in another ten years, either. Or if it does, I don’t want to be here to see it. I think eBooks and traditional print compliment each other, actually. And in an industry where it continues to be harder and harder for new writers to break into print, e-publishing has given us some much needed new options. But one format does not have to wipe out the other. We can buy a lot of things online, but the world still has stores and people still enjoy going to them. And I keep thinking that one of these days, we are going to outgrow the notion that anything done electronically is somehow better than anything done in a traditional way. It’s just not so, folks.
Q: What's next for you and Jackson?
The third Herman, in which he runs afoul of a human trafficking ring, has been done for several months. But I have irreconcilable differences with my editor about some of its plot points, and I am now in search of a new publisher. Meanwhile, I am working on a thriller about a group of homegrown agrarian anarchists who manage to get their hands on a live ICBM silo and intend to use it to nuke Wall Street.
Q: How do you promote your work?
Well, there’s the website, of course, at www.fiddlegame.com, but mostly I don’t do electronic promotion. I talk to a lot of book clubs and library groups, and I go to a LOT of bookstores and give the owner or manager a free copy of my book if he or she promises to read it. And of course, I get invited to speak a lot more places since winning the Minnesota Book Award this year.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I read a lot of nonfiction—history, psychology, sociology, art, and, of course books on writing and on literary theory. I also like sci fi, though with a few notable exceptions like Neil Gaiman and William Gibson, it seems as though most of the best stuff was done forty to sixty years ago. And I like authors who stubbornly defy being put into any category.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
One might also mention Mouse, in Walt Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series. I like the device. It’s as if the hero and his darker comrade together constitute a single complete character. And it allows the main hero to keep his personal honor intact while still getting the dirty work done that the plot demands. There’s a line in one of Donald Westlake’s books something like, “Yes, there are things I won’t do. But things get done, all the same.” I like that.
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 think the most pervasive current trend in all of literature is one of cross-pollination. We draw upon and let ourselves be influenced by a great pantheon of specific writers and general styles. Literary authors are adopting the structure and dramatic beats of the better mystery writers and PI writers are more and more doing characters with a great deal of depth and with both internal and external problems to solve. I think this is a very healthy trend. I think hardboiled PI, like jazz, is and always will be a uniquely American art form, but it is also evolving into something that’s hard to tell from serious literature.
Q: O'Neil DeNoux came up with the following question: How did you come up with the name of your detective?
I never know how I come up with the names of any of my characters. Mostly, they tell me. I don’t start with a character, I start with a setup and a scene, and the character walks on stage and introduces him or herself. Or sometimes I will open a new page in one of my many notebooks and have a conversation with the character, after which I will ask for the name. In Herman’s case, I immediately liked the name because it was odd enough that I thought people would remember it easily. I also liked the phonetic similarity with Hermes, who besides being the messenger of the gods was also the god of travelers and theives, which seemed to fit with Herman’s checkered past.