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Steve Hamilton’s Nick Mason Lives On

For almost two decades, Steve Hamilton turned out successful novels for St. Martin’s Press.  He wrote a dozen novels, 11 featuring protagonist Alex McKnight. He built a loyal following while winning two Edgar Awards—awards that honor the best in mystery fiction.  In 2015, however, Hamilton became disenchanted with St. Martin’s publicity campaign (“there wasn’t one,” he says) for his latest book, which featured a new protagonist, Nick Mason.  Eight weeks before the book’s release, Hamilton’s agent, Steve Salerno, bought out the contract and shopped the book to other publishers, reaching a deal with Putnam.  Armed with extensive marketing and strong reviews, the book sold well, prompting Lionsgate to purchase the film rights and paving the way for Exit Strategy, the second installment in the Nick Mason series.

This article was published i the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, May 21.

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Q: Exit Strategy is your second Nick Mason novel, and it was a series that was born amidst much conflict with your publisher.

A: I just wasn’t getting the support from St. Martin’s Press.  When I had the chance to get out of my contract, I did, and we had offers from a dozen other publishers within 24 hours.  We went with Putnam that day. They are a really solid house, they do things the right way, they were interested in Nick Mason, and they wanted to bring over my Alex McKnight books, too.  It’s been a night-and-day difference.

Q: The dustup with your publisher brought a lot of publicity, and the Nick Mason book got a lot of good reviews—and a lot of support from authors.  How did the Nick Mason book do relative to the Alex McKnight novels?

A: The Second Life of Nick Mason sold about eight times as many copies as the last Alex McKnight novel.

Q: Tell us about the plot of the second Nick Mason book, Exit Strategy.

A: In the first book, Nick Mason is given the opportunity to get out of a lengthy prison sentence, but there is a price.  He owes his freedom to Darius Cole, a notorious convict, and Cole uses Mason to carry out operations in the free world. In Exit Strategy, Mason is looking for a way out.  His assignments are more brutal and dangerous, and it is becoming harder for him to keep his humanity. So he’s looking for a way out, as are many of the characters in the novel.  Every major character is looking for a way out of their own prison, and there are some big surprises.

Q: What’s the difference between writing about the Upper Peninsula, where you had success writing about Alex McKnight, and writing about Chicago, the setting for the Mason novels?

A: Chicago is a different world, and I wanted it to be a real character, just as the Upper Peninsula is in the McKnight novels.  Chicago is a place of its own, unlike any other city.  It’s beautiful, and there are all these neighborhoods which are distinct from one another.  They are different worlds, and they are balanced across the city.  It felt like the right place for Nick to come back to after getting out of prison.  But instead of returning to Canaryville (a tough Irish community in Chicago), he is placed in a Lincoln Park townhouse. Same city, different world.Steve Hamilton, Books, Nick Mason, Exit Strategy

Q: Your Alex McKnight novels are more contemplative. Mason is more of an action-packed type character.  Do the settings of the books reflect the differences in the novels’ action and characters?

A: That’s a great analogy, because if you’re from Paradise, Michigan, the summer lasts for a couple of weeks, and you have to drive a long way just to find a traffic light.  That’s a lot different than Chicago, which is much more of a dynamic city.

Q: Is there a Nick Mason film in the works?

A: Yes.  Lionsgate is doing it, and Nina Jacobson from the Hunger Games is one of the producers.  Shane Salerno, my agent, is also a producer.

Q: How many Nick Mason books should we expect?

A: I have at least seven books planned for the series.  They are laid out in my head right now, which is unusual for me.  There are so many things this guy can do.  The fact that he has to answer the phone, do what he’s told, and go where he’s told opens a lot of possibilities.  He could go all over the world, and that’s what he’s going to do.

Q: What are you going to do with Alex McKnight?

A: He’s definitely coming back. I have the next book written with him.  And at some point I want to have these two guys in the same book.

Q: Michael Connelly has done that with Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch.

A: That’s right, and with the right book—such as Connelly’s The Crossing—you can make something special happen.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: Don Winslow is great.  Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Harlan Coben.  All these guys write in this genre, and they do great books that I love reading, because I’m a reader first, just like we all are.  It’s just a blast to be a part of it, to write crime novels, like I have wanted since I was a little kid.

Q: And you are about to head out on a book tour, which will bring you to Houston.  Do you enjoy the day-to-day grind of the book tour?

A: Yes!  I’m going to 12-15 or so cities, and one of them is Houston.  Murder by the Book is such a great store, and I’ve literally visited it to do a signing for every one of my books.  It’s just that good of a book store.  It’s one of the best independent book stores in the country.

Mike Yawn is the Director for the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics at Sam Houston State University.

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One-on-One with Author Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner’s crime fiction shows off her research and writing abilities, a combination that has led her to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Her newest novel, “Find Her,” explores a high-profile kidnapping as well as the changing nature of the government’s response to crime. She spoke at a Houston bookstore a couple of weeks after being interviewed by Mike Yawn.  The interview is below.

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Q: You do extensive research for your novels, and you often select topical issues. Tell us how you choose the topics.

A: The research I did for my new novel, “Find Her,” was something I started with “Catch Me.” It’s related to self-defense, and I think we’re all more conscious about safety and security issues. I attended a “Writers’ Police Academy,” and we learned various self-defense tactics and also how to free yourself from handcuffs with a “universal handcuff key,” which I found online for about $15. Since then, I’ve met various law-enforcement and military personnel, and they’re like, “Yeah, we never leave home without those keys.” I think my writing involves facing deep fears. As a mom, child abduction is one of my greatest terrors, and it happens to the main character, Flora, in “Find Her.”

Q: Speaking of Flora, she spends much time locked up in a coffin in your new novel. Did you actually get into a coffin or some enclosed space to write about that?

A: I’m claustrophobic, so I didn’t actually go into a coffin. But I did force myself into position in my office as if I were in a coffin. What are the boundaries? How limited is movement? What could you do to pass the time? I read several biographies of women who were in these types of situations, and they all discussed the boredom and isolation, among other things.

Q: In “Find Her” you hint at Stockholm Syndrome, the idea that captors can build a bond with those who took them hostage.

A: The experience that resonated more with me from my research is called “Trauma Bonding.” This can happen, for example, to battered women. They endure so much, but the tormentor might come back with an “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean to do to that.” All the captives I read about discuss this phenomenon. Even the most evil kidnapper can only be evil so many hours of the day. Ariel Castro, for example, had movie nights for the girls he kidnapped. A “trauma bond” is created that no one outside can understand, and I think that is what Flora struggles with in “Find Her.” She hates the man who abducted her; how could she not? But at the end of the day, this might be the single most impactful relationship she’s ever had.

Q: You allocate about three months for your research, and then you begin writing. Do you have daily writing goals or quotas?

A: I have a page count each week that I like to achieve, and I break that apart a bit. I write in ten-page segments or so, and I also polish as I go.

Q: Do you outline the plot before writing?

A: No. I go where the writing leads me. Once the story is written, I work with my US and UK editors, and I do pretty extensive revision work. A lot of people think we pop books out, but writing is hard work.

Q: You’ve written more than 20 books in the crime fiction genre, and many of those are part of a series. Even if you don’t plot out individual books, do you map out your series?

A: No. My publishers are open minded about what story I bring to them. I’m definitely a character-driven author. The characters know what they’re doing and how things are going to work out.

Q: “Find Her” is part of what is now called the “D. D. Warren” series, but Warren was a relatively minor character in “her” first book. How did she evolve into the series’ focal point?

A: Some of that is feedback from the readers. She was a secondary Boston cop in the first novel, but the response to her was strong.   The readers said, “We would really like to hear her story.”

Q: D. D. Warren is not your typical detective protagonist. Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot are almost super-heroic. Warren is more dogged. She’s admirable, but not super-human. What do you think draws readers to her?

A: She’s human. She’s confident as a detective, but she isn’t a detective who sees things no one else can see. She has to work to get her information. She knows the system and the process, and she wants to solve the crime and she is going to keep going until she gets it right. Now she has a husband and a child, and she is juggling things, and I think people relate to that.

Q: You are sympathetic to officers in your novels.

A: I wish we offered more support for our law enforcement. It’s a difficult job. I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing officers and for them, it’s a call to serve. You don’t do this unless you are passionate about it, and you are putting your life on the line. Yes, some cops are imperfect but all of us are imperfect. They are public servants, and I wish we were more appreciative of that.

Q: What’s new in your latest novel?

A: It’s a terrific novel of psychological suspense, with an intriguing new character, Flora Danes. To bring this full circle somewhat, I also focus on a character who is a Victim Assistant with the FBI, a position that I researched before writing this novel. The nature of crime is changing today. In the classic murder mystery, you identify who did it, the case is closed, and people live happily ever after. That’s not true anymore. The Boston City Marathon bombing, for example, was a life-altering event for the victims and their families. That’s an ongoing process. Grandparents have to leave jobs because their grown child is in physical therapy or rehabilitation. What do law-enforcement agencies have to do to help ensure that needs are met? That’s the FBI Office of Victim Assistance, and I think people will be interested in learning more about a position that many people haven’t heard about.

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Mike Yawn directs the Center for Law, Engagement And Politics at Sam Houston State University.

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