INTERVIEW WITH STEVE HAMILTON

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE:  http://www.authorstevehamilton.com/

       AUGUST 28, 2002

From all the books you have written, do you have a favorite?

I think the second book, WINTER OF THE WOLF MOON, is my "secret" favorite book.  It proved to me that the first book wasn't a fluke, and that I might stick around for a while.

At what point in time did you realize that writing was "the thing for you"?

That really came when I was a little kid.  If you go back in a time machine and ask the eight-year-old me what he wants to be when he grows up, he'd say a mystery writer.  Either that or an NFL receiver.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a writer?

The best advice I ever got was to never put words in your characters' mouths.  Instead, just listen to them and write down what they say.  (You have to think about that one…)

What is the name of your favorite mystery movie?

Blue Velvet

What other authors do you enjoy reading?

There are so many great mystery authors right now, including Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, James Crumley, Laura Lippman, James W. Hall, Elmore Leonard, Loren Estleman, Denise Mina, Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker…  That's off the top of my head.  I could keep going, believe me.  Outside of the mystery field, I read Cormac McCarthy, Martin Amis, Don Delillo… (I'm gonna do it again.  Better stop me.) 

Do you normally do a lot of research when writing a book?

No, not up front.  For me, it would be another way to avoid starting.  So I just write the story and then when I'm done, I go find out what I need to make sure it's right.

What other types of jobs have you had?

When I graduated from the University of Michigan, I went right to work at IBM.  Nineteen years later, I'm still there, doing some technical writing, some Web work, a bunch of other stuff.  The group I work with has been so great about everything, giving me all the support and flexibility I need - they haven't made me make that tough choice yet about leaving.     

Do you attend conventions and signings?

I go to every Bouchercon, and usually a couple of the other conventions every year.  And when a new book comes out, I spend the next two months doing events all over the country.  (See what I mean about IBM being flexible?)  I also got to go London last summer, and this summer it was Germany.

Is there anyone, in particular, who influenced you?

I grew up loving Alfred Hitchcock movies, and reading those paperbacks they collected together from his magazines.  I loved all of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot books, too, and then later I found the great American hardboiled writers.  Like every other writer I know, at heart I'm a reader first.   

What led you to write mysteries?

Really, it was a matter of being led BACK to mysteries.  When I was in college writing what I thought was grown-up "literary" fiction, I won a Hopwood Award and thought, this is it.  This is what I'm going to do.  When I graduated and started working for IBM, a few years passed and I hadn't kept that promise to myself.  Then I joined a writers' group, and that was what got me back into writing.  When it was time to write a novel again, I saw this thing called the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel Contest (longest contest title ever), and I thought, why not try it?  The result was A COLD DAY IN PARADISE.   

Do you read reviews of your books?

I honestly try not to.  But I end up reading them maybe about half the time.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a great father and husband, and as a great friend - who also wrote some pretty good books.

What do you believe is the highlight of your writing career so far?

Winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.  Now my goal is to make sure that doesn't stay the highlight forever.

Do you write on a fixed schedule or do you wait until thoughts come to you?

Well, I have to wait for the "spark" to come to me initially, and then I try to work every night, after my wife and kids have gone to bed.

How did you get started in writing?

Well, that eight-year-old me I was talking about before, fast forward about three years, and now I'm sending my first short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  I think it was about some guy who hates his boss so he electrocutes him in the company shower.  I got the standard "thanks but no thanks" card.  (Last year, I finally had my first story published in that same magazine!)   

How do you come up with plots?

That's the hardest part.  William Kent Krueger apparently sits in a coffee shop in Minnesota, looks out the window, and the plots for entire books instantly appear before his eyes.  If he wasn't such a nice guy, I'd want to kill him.  Me, I have to take some kind of interesting situation as a starting point, and just go like mad and hope I don't get lost.  I never have an outline, or any real idea of where I'm going at all.  I've heard someone call this kind of writing as driving in a fog - you never see more than a few yards ahead of you.       

Did you take any classes on how to write?

I took plenty of English classes in college, and some creative writing classes - but those were the classes where you just showed up once a week and turned in a story.  It was having the deadline that helped me get it done.  I never took a class where they said to me, here's how you do it. 

Do you ever get writer's block?

Writer's block is an arbitrary label you put on a period of time when you're not writing.  For me, it's not about being "blocked" at all.  It means that I'm not ready to take the next step yet.  On some level, I know that I'm supposed to wait a little while.  So I accept it and it doesn't bother me.  (There, how's that for an excuse to be lazy and take the night off?)   

What are your hobbies and interests?

What are those?  Between my family, who always come first, my job at IBM, and one book a year, I don't have time for much else.  (But no complaints!  I'm doing what I always wanted to do!) 

How do you spend your free time?

(I'm going to pretend this question didn't come next…)

Do you have a message you would like to give to all the readers out there?

This is so obvious, but it has to be said…  THANK YOU!  Like I said before, I'm a reader myself, first and foremost.  The fact that I can stay up too late and write these stories, and that people will actually read them, is literally a dream come true.

                                           ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born and raised in Detroit, Steve Hamilton graduated from the University of Michigan where he won the prestigious Hopwood Award for fiction. His first novel, A Cold Day in Paradise won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for Best First Mystery by an Unpublished Writer. Once published, it won the 1999 Edgar and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel, and was short-listed for the Anthony and Barry Awards. Hamilton currently works for IBM in upstate New York where he lives with his wife Julia and their two children.
Steve Hamilton is the only author to ever win the Shamus and Edgar Awards for his first novel (Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly, Stuart Woods and James Patterson all started their careers with the coveted "Best First" Edgar prize), his second Alex McKnight novel, Winter of the Wolf Moon was named one of the year's Notable Books by the New York Times Book Review and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly as did his third and fourth novels, The Hunting Wind and North of Nowhere.