Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Glen Erik Hamilton

A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton was raised aboard a sailboat and grew up around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. His novels have won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards, and been nominated for the Edgar®, Barry, and Nero awards. He now lives in California with his family, and frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.

Hamilton's latest novel is A Dangerous Breed.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are key. They need to immediately draw a prospective reader's interest. For genre fiction they have to say "thriller" without sounding generic. And ideally a title will give a hint as to the theme of the novel. It's rare that I have a title before I've written the first or even the second draft of a new book.

A Dangerous Breed was an exception. Since I knew the story would be about Van Shaw investigating his parentage, and his worries that violence and crime were inherited traits, I had similar titles floating in my head from the start. Consequently, the motif of dogs--fearsome and otherwise--and the question of nature vs. nurture worked their way into the writing without much conscious effort.

Other titles in the series have varied histories. Sometimes my first suggestion is a slam dunk. Other times choosing the right title has involved a protracted discussion with the publisher. They have the experience; I'm at least smart enough to listen. If a title I like doesn't make the cut, I save it with a mind towards a future book or short story.

What's in a name?

I love choosing names, even though it's one of the hardest and most time-consuming steps in writing. I will frequently give a character a placeholder name until the right name occurs to me--or more likely, I ferret it out through online searches.

Think of a name as shorthand for the reader, conveying character traits through syllables. My protagonist's name is Van Shaw. The name is Irish, and direct. Almost blunt. The name Shaw creating a sound like a sword being drawn. His full given name is Donovan, the same as the grandfather who raised him to be a thief. Inherited name, inherited outlook.

In A Dangerous Breed, I introduce a few new characters, including the ruthless and paranoid international arms dealer Anatoly Liashko. The last name close to lash​, with the crack of the whip at the end. Van has a new love interest in Raina Marchand, known as Wren. Wren's French Moroccan heritage is implied in her name--she's certainly more well-traveled than Van--but it's her nickname that's most telling. Wren is a flight risk, and Van might be risking his heart to trust that she'll stick around.

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

Teenaged G.E.H. would say "well, duh​". Of course I write about nefarious plots and loathsome villains and intricate heists. It's what I grew up reading. Short of writing Conan the Barbarian adventures--which I just might someday--my influences are, pardon the pun, easily read. The road from John D. MacDonald and Robert B. Parker and Patricia Highsmith to the Van Shaw series is straight and wide.

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

Both beginnings and endings take a back seat to the middle acts, which are always toughest. All of the plates are spinning, and the escalation and the reveals have to be timed just so, to lead to a satisfactory conclusion. But I'll try to answer the question asked, not the one I jumped into.

Of the two, I give the most time and thought to the opening chapters. Partly that's because the action of the novel's end is, if I've done my job right, a natural conclusion to the events in motion. Even a surprise twist is usually hinted at many chapters in advance. So the climax and denouement evolve naturally and are a little restricted because of that.

Beginnings, however, can have much more variety. Do I start with a seemingly unrelated incident? Starting with action is always good, but it might not fit the tale being told. In A Dangerous Breed, I started with a prologue for the first time, a flash-forward to Van in peril. This wasn't to start with an exciting hook--well, not just that--but to reveal something to the reader that Van can't learn until midway through the story: that he's going to meet his father for the first time. That foreknowledge lets the reader be a step ahead, knowing a piece of Van's fate that lends emotional weight to his fraught search for the truth.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I spend a lot of time in Van's head, or he in mine. It's natural that our points of view would share some similarities. Obviously he's smarter and tougher and is quicker with a comeback--typical wish-fulfillment there--but he's also younger and makes the kind of mistakes in his personal life that I've made. Every writer forages through their own history for specifics.

Aside from the protagonist, every character has some aspect of my own personality. Sometimes that's my darkest thoughts given shape, or my views on a topic filtered (sometimes warped) through a different outlook. I'll take traits from people I've met and give them a spin. But even those traits are how I see them, so the observer inevitably changes the observed.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I'm on record as a huge fan of the Columbo TV series, and part of that was how the writers played with classic mystery tropes and structure. Plot ideas frequently arise out of the news -- in A Dangerous Breed, diverse stories like recall elections, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and Seattle's massive waterfront renovation project all became ingredients. I'm often impressed by the level of dialogue in old movies. When they didn't have explosions to fall back on, the level of banter created the fireworks. Since I'm writing about a thief, I might as well steal from the best.
Visit Glen Erik Hamilton's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Dangerous Breed.

--Marshal Zeringue