I was pleasantly surprised with Tom Hilpert's novel Superior Justice and decided to ask him some questions and see what makes him tick...
Q: What makes Jonah Borden different from other hardboiled characters?
All of this is only from my own perspective, of course. But I love the fact that Jonah is a hard-boiled pastor. He’s a man of God, but he still has these hard-boiled instincts. Partly, that’s just who he is. But maybe some of it also came from his father, who was a policeman. The faith element means that he has to struggle with his hard-boiled side more than some of your typical sleuths. He is more complex than a simple, straightforward tough guy. I really enjoy writing that interplay and that internal conflict.
Q: I noticed Jonah is a pretty good fighter, but reading the first novel I never really learned how /where he learned to fight like that and how he got that tough. Can you explain?
Yes, it’s true that I didn’t explain that very much in the first book. A little more of that back-story actually comes in in the third book, Superior Secrets. It’s not a big deal, however. It’s a combination, as I said, of who he is, being raised by a policeman, and spending his entire childhood and youth in martial arts to temper his aggressive nature.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
That’s actually a very complex question. And truthfully, I’m not sure that I have the complete answer. There’s something mysterious about the writing process, and in some ways Jonah just sort of appeared on the page in front of me.
I’m sure that you can tell I was influenced a little bit by Chandler, and Robert B Parker.
I will say this – Jonah’s copious coffee habit is a riff on the traditional hard-liquor consumption of traditional PI’s.
But I was also influenced by my own experience of knowing that many pastors are completely unlike the stereotypes that people have of them. I enjoy the idea of blowing up those stereotypes. And it seems to me that Jonah is a pretty real character, both in his hard-boiled nature, and in his commitment to faith. But mostly, he just showed up in my head one day.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I love e-books. 10 years ago, I couldn’t do what I’m doing with writing. And frankly, I’m a voracious reader also. The e-book revolution has made it much easier for me to acquire and read new books. I used to carry two or three books with me wherever I went – even to the doctor’s office or someplace like that. Now I carry a slim, light tablet on which I have over 500 books.
I think that publishing companies, by and large, have still not yet come to terms with what e-books mean for the industry. They seem to be stuck in the old print-book retail price-point model. It is simply ridiculous for publisher to ask $10 or more for product that costs them almost nothing. And it is criminal for them to expect to pay an author a mere dollar or two of that while they collect the rest.
Eventually, some publishers will figure it out, and the others will go out of business. I don’t know what things will look like then. But I’m thrilled to say that for now, authors like me can take advantage of the new technology, and grow an audience, and be successful.
Q: What's next for you and Jonah?
Well, in case your readers did not know, there are three published Superior Mysteries altogether: Superior Justice, Superior Storm, and Superior Secrets. I have completed the outlines of two more Jonah Borden books after those, and I’m pretty confident I will be releasing at least one new Superior Mystery sometime in 2015.
Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Well, I guess I might as well puncture the bubble. Most of the authors in the world do not make a full-time living at it. Philip Craig was a college professor. William Tapley was a high school teacher until he retired; even Robert B Parker was a college professor until after his first several books had been published. Alas, writing is not yet my full-time living either. Maybe your readers can spread the word, and eventually change that situation for me. It certainly is growing already. In the meantime, in my “day job,” I am a pastor in a small town; however not on Lake Superior.
In my time off, I hang out with my family, hike, and fish.
Q: How do you promote your work?
For now, the best way has been through free giveaways on Amazon Kindle.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I’m a pretty omnivorous reader. I usually read about three books at once, and finish maybe one of them each week. So I do read a lot of mystery, also some fantasy fiction; sometimes I’m in the mood for good Western, or a spy/suspense novel. I usually also read something else at the same time, like maybe a biography, or some sort of history book, and/or something spiritual.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
There are times when both Parker and Crais overdo those characters – just at times, they seem a little too perfectly drawn. Even so, on the whole, I love both Hawk and Pike. In my own writing, though I am sometimes inspired by others, I don’t think you could say I’m an imitator, and so it never even occurred to me to include someone like that. It’s not because I don’t enjoy those characters, is just because those are not the stories I happen to be telling.
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 have no idea. I’m still reading those guys. Recently, I also started reading Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe). It’s clear to me that Parker was also influenced by Stout’s Archie Goodwin. Maybe there’s nothing new under the sun. By the way, I mention Stout because I think he is often overlooked, and he started writing not too long after Hammett.
I do think there’s a good future for well done, unique female PI’s like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, though there are host of these that don’t play nearly as well as Plum. Perhaps the future will also include some guys like Jonah Borden, who have a more complicated vulnerable, sensitive side.
Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I think there are two main reasons. I read a lot of mysteries, and I like to write the same sorts of things that I like to read. I like to think that with Jonah Borden I have some small part to add to the genre. Second, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun to write this stuff.