Tag Archives: James Hayman

Yes, a thriller has to be thrilling, but it can also be literature

We have a special guest today!  James Hayman, author of The Chill of Night (Minotaur, St. Martin’s Press), is here with us to talk about thriller novels, his specialty.  Enjoy!

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Yes, a Thriller Has to Be Thrilling.  But It Can Also be Literature

by James Hayman

A lot of people, but especially self-proclaimed book snobs, create a kind of false distinction between thrillers (and other forms of so-called “genre” fiction such as romance and sci-fi) and what they like to call “literary fiction.”

Genre fiction, they say, is plot driven.   Literary fiction is “character driven.”

That is a distinction that implies that in thrillers or in other kinds of genre fiction, the depth of the characters and the examination of their problems as human beings doesn’t matter.

I think that’s baloney.

Yes, a thriller has to be thrilling. A least a good one does.  To qualify as a really good thriller a book has to have a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It has to create a need in the reader to find out what happens next. A need that makes them unwilling to put the book down until they’ve turned just one more page, and then one more after that, even if it means staying up way past their intended bedtimes.

But is it only the unfolding of the plot that creates that kind of urgency and involvement in a story?

I don’t think so. I think it’s also the characters.  The characters in really truly memorable thrillers have to be as interesting, as fully-developed and as multi-dimensional as they are in any so-called literary fiction.

I know in my own books, The Cutting and The Chill of Night, McCabe’s problems with his own past and the development of his relationships with his daughter Casey, his girlfriend Kyra, his partner Maggie and especially with his ex-wife Sandy are at least as important to the story as the unfolding of the plot or the undoing of the villains.

And it’s not just me. My bookcase is full of thrillers that, by any rational measure, qualify as first-rate literature.

Take Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River for example. It’s certainly a thriller with a plot that unfolds with all the awful inevitability of a Shakespearian tragedy. But Lehane went beyond plot and explored the character of his three protagonists, Jimmy Markum, Sean Devine, and Dave Boyle with subtlety, intelligence and great literary skill.

Or take John LeCarre’s classic The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or Richard Price’s 2008 best-seller, Lush Life. Are they thrillers or literature?  I think they’re both. And then there’s Cormac McCarthy.  He’s the winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and is considered one of the finest “literary novelists” of our time. Yet he has written widely-acclaimed books, such as No Country For Old Men, that any fair-minded reader would call thrillers no matter how you cut it.

Yes, there are lots of thrillers populated with one-dimensional cardboard characters. And yes, there is much literary fiction that offers so little plot that its authors’ main intention seems to have been to induce sleep rather than prevent it.  But, to me, those are the books that don’t work and won’t be remembered.

I think the best novels offer both great characters and great plot and arbitrarily categorizing them as either genre writing or literary fiction is a false and often dishonest  choice. And one that needn’t be made.

Visit James on the web at www.jameshaymanthrillers.com.

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Book Excerpt: The Cutting by James Hayman

The Cutting

The Cutting

Standing here in a scrap yard in Portland, Maine, McCabe suddenly had the feeling he was back in New York. It wasn’t like he was imagining it. Or remembering it. It was like he was really there. He could hear the rush of the city. He could smell the stink of it. A hundred bloodied corpses paraded before his eyes.

His right hand drew comfort from resting on the handle of his gun. Mike McCabe once again lured to the chase.

He knew with an absolute certainty that this was his calling. That it was here, among the killers and the killed, that he belonged. No matter how far he ran, no matter how well he hid, he’d never leave the violence or his fascination with it behind.

–Excerpt from The Cutting by James Hayman.  Visit his website at www.jameshaymanthrillers.com or purchase his book at Amazon by clicking here!

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Interview with James Hayman, author of THE CUTTING

James Hayman

Crime Thriller Novelist James Hayman

Crime fiction novelist James Hayman is a former creative director for a New York advertising agency who now lives and writes on Peak’s Island, Maine. Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions about his debut crime novel, The Cutting (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books).

Thank you for this interview, James. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Cutting is all about?

First and foremost The Cutting is about a character named McCabe.  He’s an ex-NYPD homicide cop, a single father, who hoped moving to a place like  Portland Maine would allow him to build a new and safer life, both for himself and his teenage daughter. Little did he know what terrible violence awaited them on the cobblestoned streets of this small and charming city.

The Cutting

The Cutting

Yes. It’s my first novel.  I’m 90% finished with McCabe#2 now and that’s been a totally different experience.

How difficult was it writing your book?  Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?

In some ways it was hard.  I don’t work from an outline and that makes the process more difficult bit, I think it lso frees yo to be more creative, to take unexpected turns.

As for writer’s block, I just let my characters lead me through it.  If characters are full, well-rounded and truly human, they’ll always let you know where the story should go next. Just listen and they’ll pull you through. any writer’s block you might experience.

How have your fans embraced your latest novel?  Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?

The people who read it love it!  I never expected the book to be so well-liked but reader after reader has said that it’s a great story they couldn’t put down. They love the characters, and they just can’t wait for McCabe #2 to appear on the shelves.

The Cutting also received a bunch of fabulous  write-ups from professional reviewers both in traditional newspapers and online.

What is your daily writing routine?

I usually get up about six or six-thirty, make a cup of coffee and start writing.  About ten or so I’ll put it aside and take a four or five mile walk.  Then I’ll eat lunch.  After lunch I try to write for anoth hour or two.  Sometimes it comes. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?

Have a couple of glasses of wine. Read. First, I read the news. Then maybe a novel.  Only good ones.  I no longer have the patience to finish books I have no respect for. And I no longer watch much television.  Books are better.

What book changed your life?

No one book has changed my life.  Many have influenced it. Most recently, Ian McKeown’s Atonement. I thought it was a great book that I think will last and still be read many years from now.

If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?

Dreamer.

Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”

I’m a really good writer.  A really, really good writer.

Thank you for this interview, James  I wish you much success on your latest release, The Cutting!

You can visit James on the web at www.jameshaymanthrillers.com.

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Book Excerpt: The Cutting by James Hayman

The Cutting

The Cutting

Portland, Maine
September 16, 2005
Friday. 5:30 A.M.

Fog can be a sudden thing on the Maine coast. On even the clearest mornings, swirling gray mists sometimes appear in an instant, covering the earth with an opacity that makes it hard to see even one’s own feet on the ground. On this particular September morning it descended at 5:30, about the time Lucinda Cassidy and her companion Fritz, a small dog of indeterminate pedigree, arrived at the cemetery on Vaughan Street to begin their four-mile run along the streets of Portland’s West End and the path that borders the city’s Western Promenade.

The cemetery was one of Portland’s oldest and was surrounded by a chain- link fence, now falling into disrepair. The gates on the Vaughan Street side were locked to keep out neighborhood dog walkers. The earliest gravestones dated back to the late 1700s. On most of these stones, dates and other specifics had faded to near illegibility. Those that could be read bore the names of early Portland’s most prominent families, Deering, Dana, Brackett, Reed, Preble. These were old Yankee names, many of which had achieved a measure of immortality, having been bestowed upon the streets and parks of a young and growing city. More recent stones marked the graves of Irish, Italian, and French-Canadian immigrants who came to Portland to work in the city’s thriving shipbuilding trades or on the railroads in the last half of the nineteenth century. Today, however, no more of the dead would be buried here, regardless of ancestry or influence. The place was full, the last remains having been interred and the last markers erected in the years immediately following World War II.

When the fog moved in, Lucy considered canceling her run, but only briefly. At age twenty-eight, she was preparing for her first 10K race. She had more than enough self- discipline not to let anything as transitory as a little morning fog interfere with her training schedule. It was tough enough getting the runs in, given the long hours she worked as the newest account executive at Beckman and Hawes, the city’s biggest ad agency. In any case, Lucy knew her route well. The fog wouldn’t be a problem as long as she took care not to trip on one of the sidewalk’s uneven pavers.

The air was cool on her bare legs as Lucy performed her stretches—calves and quads and hamstrings. She pulled off her oversized Bates College sweatshirt, revealing a white sports bra and blue nylon shorts, and tossed it into her car, an aging Toyota Corolla. She saw no other joggers or dog walkers and thought she and Fritz might well have the streets to themselves. She slipped off his collar to let him run free. He was well trained and wouldn’t go far. She pulled a Portland Sea Dogs cap down over her blond hair, stretching the Velcro band down and under her ponytail. She draped the dog’s lead around her shoulders and set off along Vaughan Street at a leisurely pace, with Fritzy first racing ahead and then stopping to leave his mark on a tree or lamppost.

Lucy liked the quiet of the early morning hours in this upscale neighborhood. Passing street after street of graceful nineteenthcentury homes, she glanced in the windows and imagined herself living in one or another of them. The image pleased her. She saw herself holding elegant dinner parties. The food would be simple but perfectly prepared. The wines rare. The men handsome. The conversation witty. All terribly Masterpiece Theatre. Ah well, a pretty picture but not very likely. She was not, she knew, to the manner born. She watched Fritz scamper ahead and then turn and wait for her to follow. Lucy moved through the damp morning air, bringing her heart rate up to an aerobic training level. She thought about the day ahead, reviewing, for at least the twentieth time, details of a TV campaign she was presenting to the marketing group at Mid-Coast Bank. She’d worked her tail off to land this new client, but they were turning out to be both difficult and demanding. After work, she planned a quick trip to Circuit City to pick up a birthday present for her soon to-be twelve-year-old nephew Owen. Her older sister Patti’s boy, Owen told her what he “really really wanted” was an iPod, but he wasn’t optimistic. “We don’t have the money this year,” he added in grown-up, serious tones that had Patti’s imprint all over them. Well, Owen was in for a big surprise.

After that it was back to the Old Port for dinner with David at Tony’s. The prospect of dinner at Tony’s pleased her. The prospect of sharing it with her ex- husband didn’t. He was pushing to get back together, and yes, she admitted, there were times she was briefly tempted. God knows, no one else even remotely interesting was waiting in the wings. Yet after a couple of dates, she was surer than ever that going back to David wasn’t the answer for either of them. She planned to tell him so to night.

She ran along Vaughan for a mile or so, climbing the gentle rise of Bramhall Hill, before turning west across the old section of the hospital toward the path that lined the western edge of the Prom. The fog was thicker now, and she could see even less, but her body felt good. The training was paying off, and she felt certain she’d be ready for the race, now ten days away.

Suddenly Fritz darted past and disappeared into the mist, barking furiously at what Lucy figured was either an animal or another runner coming up the path in her direction. Then she saw Fritz run out of the fog, turn, and stand his ground, angry barks lifting his small body in an uncharacteristic rage. Instantly alert, Lucy wondered who or what could be getting him so agitated. Usually he just wagged his stub of a tail at strangers.

Seconds later a runner emerged from the fog about fifteen feet in front of her. He was a tall man with a lean, well-muscled body. Had she seen him jogging here before? She didn’t think so. He was unusually good- looking with dark, deep- set eyes that would be hard to forget. Late thirties or early forties, she thought. Fritz backed away but kept barking.

“Quiet down,” Lucy commanded. “It’s okay.” She smiled at the man. “He isn’t usually so noisy.”

The tall man stopped and knelt down. He extended his left hand for Fritz to sniff, then scratched him behind the ears. He smiled up at Lucy. “What’s his name?”

Lucy registered the absence of a wedding band. “Fritz,” she said.

“Hey, Fritz, are you a good boy? Sure you are.” He scratched Fritz again. The dog’s stubby tail offered a tentative wag or two. He looked up. “I’ve seen you running here before. I’m sure I have.”

“You may have,” she said, though she was sure she would have noticed him. “I’m here most mornings. I’m training for a 10K.”

“Good for you. Mind if I run along? I’d enjoy the company.” She hesitated, surprised at the man’s directness. Finally she said, “I guess not. Not as long as you can keep up. I’m Lucy.”

“Harry,” he said, extending a hand. “Harry Potter.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I was christened long before the first book came out, and I wasn’t about to change my name.”

They took off, chatting easily, laughing about the name. Fritz, no longer barking, kept pace.

“You live in Portland?” she asked.

“No, I’m here on business. Medical equipment. The hospital’s one of my biggest clients.” “So you’re here quite often?”

“At least once a month.”

They picked up the pace and turned south down the western edge of the Prom.  “Normally there’s a great view from up here. Can’t see a damned thing today.”  A dark green SUV sat parked at the curb just ahead of them.

“Could you excuse me for a minute?” Harry pointed and clicked a key ring. The car’s lights blinked; its doors unlocked. “I need to get something.”

He leaned in, rummaged in a small canvas bag, and then emerged from the car holding a hypodermic and a small bottle. “I’m a diabetic,” he explained. “I have to take my insulin on schedule.” Harry carefully inserted the needle into the bottle and extracted a clear liquid. “Only take a second.” Lucy smiled. Feeling it was rude to watch,  she turned away and looked out toward over the Prom. The fog wasn’t dissipating. If anything it seemed to be getting thicker. She performed a few stretches to keep her muscles warm while they waited. She sensed more than saw the sudden movement behind her. Before she could react, Harry Potter’s left arm was around her neck,  pulling her sharply back and up in a classic choke hold. Her windpipe constricted in the crook of his elbow. She couldn’t move. She wanted to scream but could draw only enough breath to emit a thin, strangled cry. Frantic and confused, Lucy dug her nails into the man’s flesh, wishing she’d let them grow longer and more lethal. She felt a sharp prick. She looked down and saw the man’s free hand squeezing whatever was in the hypodermic into her arm. He continued holding her, immobile. She tried to struggle, but he was too strong, his grip too tight. Within seconds wooziness began to overtake her. She felt his hands on the back of her head and her butt, pushing her, head-first, facedown, into the backseat of the car.

Turning her head, Lucy could still see out through the open door, but everything had taken on a hazy, distant quality, like a slow-motion film growing darker frame by frame and seeming to make no sense. She saw an enraged Fritz growling and digging his teeth into the man’s leg. She heard a shout, “Shit!” Two large hands picked the small dog up. She tried to rise but couldn’t. The last thing Lucinda Cassidy saw was the good- looking man with the dark eyes. He smiled at her. The slow-motion film faded to black.

Book excerpt of The Cutting (St. Martin’s) by James Hayman.  Visit James’ website at www.jameshaymanthrillers.com.  Buy his book at Amazon by clicking here.

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