An Interview with Glen Erik Hamilton by B. Lynn Goodwin
Hard Cold Winter
Glen Erik Hamilton’s second thriller, Hard Cold Winter, is filled with action and heart. Van Shaw, his main character, had a less-than-honorable upbringing. His grandfather was a thief, and Van followed in his footsteps until the Army changed his life, his goals, and his sense of purpose.
When a friend of Van's criminal grandfather calls in a favor, Van Shaw, now a discharged veteran, embarks on a treacherous journey into the Olympic Mountains, in search of a missing girl tied to Van's felonious past. His discoveries tap into dark memories. When a fellow Ranger from Afghanistan appears on his doorstep, desperate for help, Van turns him into a cohort. Like Van, he wants to forget the horrors of war and move on.
Shaw balances his shadowy past with his training as a former Army ranger, and becomes an excellent clandestine detective. The adrenalin rush of exposing and disrupting evil makes him thrive. Set in the seedier areas of Seattle, Hard Cold Winter brings tension, suspense, and a fantastic ride into worlds most readers have only read about.
Glen Erik Hamilton's debut PAST CRIMES has been nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Barry Awards for Best First Novel. This is his second mystery in the edgy series featuring Van Shaw.
In this Q & A Hamilton talks about his experiences as a writer crafting tightly plotted prose.
BLG: Tell us about your writing background. How did you get started? When did you know you were a writer? Where did you get your training? What did you write before novels?
GEH: I’m a late bloomer, just getting serious – attending classes and writing groups – within the last eight years. Most of the courses have been through UCLA Extension or their Writers Studio, and the peer groups can be traced back to friends I made during those classes as well. It’s been laser-focused on producing mystery and thriller novels. I wanted to write what I most enjoy reading.
BLG: What is your process for plotting the action?
GEH: It sounds like a cliché, but the plot and action have to extend from the characters. If I know who the players are, and what they want, then all of their interactions to support or conflict with one another follow naturally. As the stakes increase, the characters usually get more desperate, and their risks more extreme.
BLG: Your action scenes are so visual and immediate. What are your techniques for showing action so effectively?
GEH: There’s a common rule: the faster the action, the more the pace has to slow down. That works for me in most scenes, and it helps to keep the blocking – to use the theater term -- of what’s happening clear for the reader. It’s also important to consider the main character’s state of mind. Are they in control of whatever violence is happening? Are they dazed? Angry? Action is more than just telling who-did-what. It’s often about sudden, shocking impressions, and the aftermath.
BLG: Which characters are most likely to reappear in future stories? How do they help Van and how do they help you as the storyteller?
GEH: I’m always open to characters reappearing. That’s the great joy of a series; I can gradually build a big cast, and play with them depending on the needs of that particular book. Certainly Van’s friend and neighbor Addy Proctor will be a constant. So might his grandfather’s old criminal accomplice, Hollis Brant. Both of those characters allow Van to show different aspects of his personality, for good or ill, and he trusts them enough to be honest. Which isn’t true with every person he meets.
BLG: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
GEH: If they think it was a damn good read, that’s everything I could want. I still get a thrill when I discover an author whose work I really enjoy. The idea that someone might feel the same excitement for me, and be eager to read my next book? That makes the long nights of hitting my head against the keyboard worthwhile.
BLG: I noticed you have an event with a veterans organization listed on your website. Are you a veteran? If not, how did you connect with them?
GEH: I’m not a veteran, and once I decided that Van Shaw needed to be an active-duty soldier, I started doing my homework. I began by interviewing friends who had served. Those guys introduced me to their own buddies, some of whom were just coming off deployments in Afghanistan. They were kind enough to share their backgrounds, and to fact-check my work for any egregious errors.
My second book in the series, HARD COLD WINTER, deals with PTSD. I needed to approach that topic both realistically and respectfully, and without sugarcoating the fact that war can change someone permanently. To have Van and his buddy Leo Pak be recent veterans without acknowledging that impact would have been inane. I did a lot of reading on the subject, and I had significant help from veterans who I interviewed about their own experiences during and after combat deployments. While Van’s and Leo’s stories aren’t taken directly from those, they owe a debt, as do I.
BLG: The situation and reactions are very believable. How did you find the right agent for your book? What recommendations do you have for finding an agent?
GEH: The right agent is the one who believes in you. An agent has to do a lot to sell a book, long before they’ll ever see a dime, and that means they have to have passion for the writer and the novel. I found my agent through the AgentFest afternoon at ThrillerFest – essentially speed-dating with agents and publishers. That was, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, my very first attempt at finding representation, and it couldn’t have turned out better.
But to give myself some credit, I came to AgentFest prepared and my novel was as good as I knew how to make it. That’s the key: Best Foot Forward. The first time an agent (or editor, or anyone else who might be making an important decision) sees your words, you want that prose to knock their socks off. Give them a polished novel if you can, not something that could be better after another pass. Product sells much faster than potential.
BLG: What advice (other than read regularly and write daily) would you give to aspiring writers?
GEH: I’ve mentioned writing groups and classes. Classes are probably most useful when you are first learning formal structure and other rules. Writing groups help you improve steadily over time, if you’ve got a talented bunch of people. Rising tides and boats.
Another recommendation is to let yourself experiment. There’s a lot of focus for students on “finding your own voice” versus imitating other writers. That’s okay, but there can be some valuable lessons in deconstructing and playing with others’ rhythms too. Don’t be overly worried about turning into a pale photocopy of the last author you’ve read. Your voice will make itself heard.
BLG: What are you working on now and where can people learn more about you?
GEH: I’m happily banging hammer and anvil together on Book Three in the Van Shaw series, due out next year. There’s ink on the contract for a fourth book as well. I’m most active on my Facebook author page, where I post updates and silly photos. I also have a blog on my website called Larceny is Grand, where I occasionally muse about the surprises of a new writing career, from convention fun to book launch pitfalls. Readers are more than welcome to drop me a line and ask questions!
BLG: Thank you for sharing your experiences and ideas. Your specific responses will inspire readers.
A native of Seattle, Glen now lives in California but frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain. Follow his wet footprints on Facebook and on Twitter @GlenErikH. His website is glenerikhamilton.com. If you like thrillers and page turners, or if you have any connection to the military, you should read this book.