Work in Progress: A Conversation with Author Glen Erik Hamilton [INTERVIEW]

Glen Erik Hamilton

Author Glen Erik Hamilton on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. (Photo courtesy Glen Erik Hamilton, Facebook)

Glen Erik Hamilton is one of our favorite new authors. Creator of the thrilling Van Shaw series, he catapulted onto the scene in 2015 with his debut novel Past Crimes, which was quickly met with critical acclaim by some of the publishing industry’s biggest names. J.A. Jance calls him “a gifted writer with a sure hand,” and Lee Child says, “this guy has got what it takes.” We wholeheartedly agree on all counts!

Recently we had the good fortune to catch up with Hamilton in the midst of the publicity campaign for his sophomore title, Hard Cold Winter, which released in March. We took the opportunity to find out the real story behind his success, who inspired Van Shaw, and why we should all be concerned with what is happening to our veterans. We hope you enjoy this rare insight into the man behind the pen. 

Jathan & Heather: What inspired you to become a writer and how did the International Thriller Writers help make your dream a reality?

Glen Erik Hamilton: There wasn’t a big catalytic moment, no dramatic origin story (bitten by a radioactive librarian, maybe?). I’d always enjoyed writing, and always suspected I might write seriously someday, but never beat myself up for not making the time. When we moved to California, I could afford to take a few months off before hunting for work. So I went to the library every day and sat in a carrel with pen and paper, and started putting sentences together with no particular intent. Just seeing if I enjoyed the nuts-and-bolts of the hard work. I did, and that led to classes, and here I am about nine years later, still struggling to put sentences together.

Less than three years ago, the manuscript of my debut novel was about done, and I wanted some practice at pitching it. I went to ITW’s annual ThrillerFest conference in New York City. The conference dedicates a full afternoon to what they call PitchFest, which is essentially speed-dating with agents and publishers.

That afternoon was the dramatic moment. It led to representation, a two-book deal, and terrific working relationships with my agent and my editors and publishers. I’m very lucky, but I was also ready to jump when the time came. I wrote about the experience in greater detail here, as a thank-you to ITW and the ThrillerFest organizers: Thrill Ride.

Glen Erik Hamilton's

William Morrow

J&H: Is Van Shaw based on any one person or is he a combination of people you know?

GEH: He’s definitely not based on a single person, although he and I share a lot of the same attitudes and humor. I’m not even sure it’s accurate to say that he’s an amalgamation. Every character will have (intentionally or not) bits and pieces of people around us, but Van wasn’t consciously created that way. I knew his history, and what I wanted him to be able to do, and the problems he would face. His personality is a reflection of those, to create some fun conflict.

J&H: As a reader, Leo and Van’s friendship is one of the best parts of Hard Cold Winter. Was it difficult to write about their background with PTSD?

GEH: It was, but not for the reasons you might guess. I did a lot of reading and had significant help from veterans I interviewed about their own experiences in and after combat deployments. While Van’s and Leo’s stories aren’t taken directly from those, they owe a debt, as do I.

The hard part was making sure that I was treating these men with PTSD both realistically and respectfully, without sugarcoating the fact that their time at war may have changed them permanently. To have Van and Leo be recent veterans without acknowledging that would be inane. As one of my friends, who was a Ranger in Afghanistan, put it: “Every guy I know has PTSD.” He meant it in the broader sense – that everyone who has gone through experiences like that has to deal with it later – but his statement gets to the core truth.

J&H: Why do you feel that civilians should understand and care about PTSD?

GEH: Most veterans suffering from stress disorder aren’t a danger to anyone around them; they are a danger to themselves. The suicide rate is 22 veterans a day, according to a well-known 2013 study by the VA. Far above the national average for any other group. Far above the rate of soldiers killed in action. We pay the cost of war for a long, long time.

J&H: When you wrote Past Crimes, did you intend the novel to be the first in a series or is Hard Cold Winter the result of audience demand to the first book? What kind of reactions have you received from readers regarding Van?

GEH: Yes, it was always intended to be a series, and sold to the publisher as such. Similar to television seasons, a book series allows me to have individual stories and big arcs over time. I can also build a cast of characters to float in and out as needed. That’s fun. And readers do seem to respond. I’m grateful that the overwhelming majority of messages I get are from readers asking if there will be more in the series soon, because they want to know what happens to Van and his cohorts next. I’ll try to surprise them a little with every book.

J&H: How do you plot out a story? Are you very methodical or organic in your approach?

GEH: My process is in progress. I outlined my first book quite a bit. When writing my second, I went off the route a few times, with good results. This time, I’m setting a few pins in the map and letting the story find its own way to those roadside attractions. Maybe the lessons of plot and structure are becoming ingrained. Maybe I’m just getting reckless.

Past Crimes

William Morrow

J&H: What is it about the Northwest that most appeals to you? How have readers reacted to your descriptions of Washington locales you use in the books?

GEH: A big part of that is practical: It’s the place I know best, and maybe the only one I know well enough to center a series of books. But beyond that, Seattle and its environs offer a lot for a thriller writer: major shipping business, international borders, a diverse population, and a rapidly evolving economic climate. Plus, ever-atmospheric and ever-present rain.

Readers – and I include myself in this – always enjoy an accurate and evocative picture of a place they know. I amuse myself by putting in Easter eggs for locals. For example, Van’s high school is named for Emmett Watson, a legendary Seattle newspaper columnist.

J&H: How has writing changed your life and how do your friends and family react to your books and your new occupation?

GEH: As far my own life is concerned, the return on investment is terrific. I get to pursue my dreams and be in print and work with outstanding people. I get to make up stories which a lot of people are kind enough to tell me they enjoy. The cost is significant – a lot of nights without family time or TV or going out, because I still have a day job – and that’s the hard part. Fortunately my family is incredibly supportive. They pick up my slack in the household chores and put up with my spaced-out behavior when my mind has wandered back to the fictional world.

J&H: According to your tweets, you’ve really spent a lot of time lately traveling to different book conferences like Left Coast Crime. What’s the best part of attending these and interacting with your readers and other authors?

GEH: In past three years, I’ve gone to Left Coast and ThrillerFest and Bouchercon each year. You hit on the very best part: Meeting readers, participating in discussion panels (which often get pretty silly), and chatting with other authors and socializing and comparing emotional scars from the work. Writing is a terribly lonely profession, and reading isn’t far behind. We all cut loose a little at these events. My wife came with me to ThrillerFest last year, and my first bit advice was: Pace yourself.

J&H: What’s next for Van Shaw?

GEH: Book three! That’s due to the publisher in a few short months, so I’m hammering away. It’s an ambitious story, and without spoiling anything, I can say that it involves Van getting himself in too deep with criminal elements – those readers wanting a caper might be very pleased – and some surprising revelations about his family history. It’s enough of a tightrope walk that it makes me nervous, which is a good sign. If I’m on edge writing it, I hope readers will be too.

Glen Erik Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton
(Photo by Michael Helms Photography)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes has been nominated for Best First Novel at the 2016 Edgar Awards, and for the Barry Award for Best First Novel. Past Crimes was given starred reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, and called “an exciting heir to the classic detective novel” by Kirkus.

The second book in the Van Shaw series, Hard Cold Winter, was published in March by William Morrow (US) and Faber & Faber (UK).

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. Visit his home on the web at glenerikhamilton.com.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to Work in Progress: A Conversation with Author Glen Erik Hamilton [INTERVIEW]

  1. Pingback: Glen Erik Hamilton’s New Book Is Coming | Jathan & Heather

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