Julia interviews Steve Hamilton

Steve, how have independent booksellers influenced your career?

They’re absolutely essential, as you know so well yourself. First book you have out, especially…  Who else is even going to carry it in hardcover? 

Or handsell it. That’s what gets you started and keeps you going as an author. An enthusiastic bookseller putting your work into a customer’s hands and saying, “You’re going to love this book.”

Without the independents, we both would have blipped in the chain stores and then disappeared. I’ll never, even forget that part, and I’ll always make sure I go back to the independents with every book. Always.

Going into the fifth book of my series, I’m a little surprised at how many of the changes Clare Fergusson goes through were unplanned. Her struggle to reconcile her desires with her beliefs, questioning her role as a priest…the way she’s developing as a character grows organically. In the last few Alex McKnight books, Alex seems to be expanding his emotional range. Did you plan that or has it just happened?

I’m not sure if he’s expanding his range so much as just becoming himself a little bit more, if that makes any sense. I was looking back at the first book the other day and it struck me how afraid he was. This big ex-cop, ex-catcher was scared to death of just about everything. It’s so obvious to me now that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – although I don’t remember thinking that so explicitly at the time. As the books progressed, he more or less got over that initial trauma – the death of his partner – and got on with his life. Which unfortunately means getting his ass kicked all the time.

Since you mentioned kicking ass first, just how many awards has your series won?

The first book won the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel award to begin with (the companion award to your Malice Domestic award), then the Edgar for Best First and the Shamus for Best First.

I remember the first time we spoke, at the World Mystery Convention, I wanted to pick your brain because we had both gotten published through winning a St. Martin’s award, and I was starting to get nominations for the Anthony and Agatha for Best First.

I’d have to go back and look, but I think I’ve also had three Anthony nominations and two more Shamus nominations. But really, as you know, the awards are answers to trivia questions. Having your books hold up, having people read them and enjoy them, that’s all that matters.

Which brings us to writing (or trying to) a book a year. Outline or freestyle?

Wish I could outline, sometimes envy those who do, couldn’t do it myself if you held a gun to my head.

I tried outlining my fourth book, and it was a mistake. I wound up jerking my charaters around like Indonesian shadow puppets in order to stick to the plan. I’ve since reverted to 12-14 pages of notes about plot, characters and themes. Then I dive in.

I think of a good beginning and just go. And hope I don’t get too lost.

You? Lost? No way. Didn’t you know only the crème de la crème gets to be stuffed into Minotaur’s new “Red Box” and ride in the backs of UPS trucks?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamed of one day being in a red box. Can it get any better?

So what other authors would you compare yourself to?

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it that way. I don’t want to be like anybody else, really.

I know what you mean. I want to be THE Julia Spencer-Fleming, not the poor woman’s Deborah Crombie or Nevada Barr.

If people do mention me in the same breath as Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Michael Connelly, then I’m honored by the comparison.

As would be we all! So what’s next for Steve Hamilton?

Yikes, that almost sounds like I should respond by talking about myself in the third person…  But anyway, there’s always a next book, and this one will be a departure from the series. It’ll be set in New York State.

Where you live. That parallels my—if I can say this without sounding twee—creative journey. I want to next write a stand-alone set in Maine, where I live. Interesting how we started out writing about the places where we were young—Michigan and upstate New York—but as we gain experience, we look to where we have our adult lives.

I honestly don’t even know if it’ll be a standalone or the start of a new series The one thing I do know is that I’ll always go back to Alex.

I’m glad you said that. Now I don’t have to threaten you to get my annual fix of life in Paradise, MI. Okay, enough about us. Who are some new voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

There are so many great writers in the field right now. It’s almost ridiculous. On the UK side, I love Ken Bruen’s stuff, and Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy. On the US side, there’s a young writer named Steven Sidor who hasn’t really made his splash yet. If you could buy stock in writers, I’d be long on him. And there’s this other writer named Julia Spencer-Fleming – perhaps you’ve heard of her?

I see you’re smoother with the ladies than Alex McKnight.

Steve Hamilton

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“There are so many great writers in the field right now. It’s almost ridiculous. On the UK side, I love Ken Bruen’s stuff, and Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy. On the US side, there’s a young writer named Steven Sidor who hasn’t really made his splash yet. If you could buy stock in writers, I’d be long on him. And there’s this other writer named Julia Spencer-Fleming – perhaps you’ve heard of her?”