Monday, May 11, 2020

Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan has written 23 novels in three series and was awarded the Lefty for Best Humorous Crime Novel for Herbie's Game. He has been nominated for the Edgar, the Macavity, the Nero, and the Shamus. For years he divided his time between Los Angeles and Bangkok, alternating between them to write two series of books, one set in each city. The ninth and final book in his Bangkok series, Street Music, has just been released in ebook form; production of the hardcover was slowed by the Coronavirus outbreak and will be available shortly. Hallinan is fortunate enough to be married to Munyin Choy.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Probably not much. Titles come to me out of the ether. I can easily be halfway through a book before a title declares itself, and when it does, it's rarely as literally germane to the story as, say, Moby-Dick is. It's just as likely to be something purely emotional. In this case, “street music” is one character's term for how the noises of the city – Bangkok – turn orchestral when she's high. It's almost the only experience of beauty left in the life she leads as a homeless person, squatting on baking sidewalks by day and sleeping beneath a bush in the park.

Although the readers of the series have never met her before, this lost soul holds the key to the last great unsolved mystery of the little family of three - an American travel writer, his Thai wife, and the street-child daughter they adopted – that lays at the heart of the books. Every city has street music, but it's possible that only the most abject inhabitants hear it.

What's in a name?

I rarely think about names, which may be why my protagonists – Simeon, Junior, and Poke – have such odd ones. But unlike titles, which usually come when a book is well underway, names invariably appear the moment I think of the character; he/she immediately has a name, as though they were born wearing one of those cards you're handed at conventions.

But usually I know within seconds why I chose the name. For example, Poke Rafferty, the American travel writer who's the hero of Street Music was given the nickname by his father because, as a child, he poked his nose into everything. His wife who worked in Bangkok bars to support her parents and siblings, was given the name “Rose” by a customer who couldn't remember her real name, and it was adopted by the bar owners because it was easy – so, in the course of becoming a commodity, even her name was taken from her. Miaow, their adopted daughter, has a common Thai nickname that reflects the sound a cat makes, and it's the real name of the real-life street child on whom I based her.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self, reader or not, would be surprised that I finished anything, much less all these books.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings and endings are both easy for me. I almost always start with an opening scene that leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and since I don't plot in advance, the ending is just something I'm finding blindfolded, so to speak, a kind of spiritual piƱata. All the big problems for me arise in what I think of as The Dread Middle. This is the desert through which I wander for months, wondering why I didn't pack more water, a map, and a deck of cards.

And eventually, I change most everything except the beginning.

How emotionally involved do you get with your characters?

Very, very involved with the more sympathetic ones. When I realized, halfway through Street Music, that the book would answer the last big unresolved question about my three main characters, I immediately thought, This could be the last book. And it is, and I'm already missing these characters almost as deeply as I've missed any of the people I've lost in “real life.” I had originally thought the series would end when Miaow moved into her own place at the age of 19 or 20, leaving Poke and Rose aimlessly wandering around their little apartment, which suddenly feels bigger than Versailles. Instead it's ending here, and I am bereft.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Oh, boy. One of the seminal aspects of my childhood was that we moved literally all the time; I rarely got more than two years in any school. That gave me the opportunity – since I wanted, like almost any kid, to be popular – to edit myself, to mess with the way I presented myself, to see which sides of me people seemed to like, and which encouraged them to give me space in the halls. It made me keenly aware, over time, that people aren't always (or even frequently) what they seem.

I use that all the time in my writing. I love writing characters who have assumed an entire persona.
Visit Timothy Hallinan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue