Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Interview with author Tim Hallinan

Today I'm chatting with multi-published author Tim Hallinan.

Tim, please get us started with a short bio.
I'm the author of sixteen published novels, including the six Simeon Grist private eye books from the 1990s, the current Poke Rafferty Bangkok Thrillers, the most recent of which is The Queen of Patpong, published in August 2010, and a new series featuring Junior Bender, a San Fernando Valley burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks. The first book in the series, Crashed, has just been made available for the Kindle and other e-book readers. I live in Santa Monica, California; Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I can tell this is going to be an adventurous interview.

Please tell us about your current release, Crashed.
I love writing series. I love taking a handful of characters through five or six books (or more) and imagining them not only while the stories are taking place, but also in between stories. After a while – with my Bangkok book, especially, I feel like I know what the main characters are doing all the time. I half expect to get letters and phone calls from them.

The new series focuses on a completely different kind of character, someone I thought it would be fun to hang out with. Junior Bender has known since he was fifteen years old that he wanted to be a burglar. He's an elite burglar, mainly working on commission, doing jobs that have been scouted and set up in advance. He's also a little too smart for his own good, and he's accidentally fallen into a second career, which is being a private eye whose clients are all crooks, like him. When a crook gets ripped off, he or she doesn't call the cops. They call Junior.

In the first book, Crashed, Junior is forced to take a job he normally wouldn't give a thought to – preventing sabotage against a big-budget “adult movie” starring a drugged-out 23-year-old who, when she was a child, was the biggest star on television. All his inclinations are to sabotage the movie himself and try to get the young woman some help, but his clients aren't going to sympathize with that sentiment, so he's walking a tightrope the entire book.

Oh, and it's funny.

That's quite a teaser!

What inspired you to write this book?
I started hearing a voice in my head: a crook with a crook's view of the world, but also a moral view – at least, by his own standards. The voice was easy, street-level prose, and very, very funny. I was working on the third Poke Rafferty book, Breathing Water, at the time and on deadline, but I put it aside for a while. Two weeks later, I had the first 40,000 words of Crashed. I went back to finish Breathing Water, took a few weeks off, and refocused on Crashed. The first draft was done in three more weeks, making it the fastest book I've ever written. Junior just wouldn't let go of me.

So I wrote the next (current) Poke thriller, The Queen of Patpong, which took almost a year, and then – literally within an hour of finishing Queen – I started the second Junior book, Little Elvises. I wrote it in nine weeks. Books usually take me about ten months, so Junior obviously wanted to be let out. I'm halfway through number three, Muther's Day, right now, and once again laughing all the way through the book.

You've already mentioned what you're working on, but do you have more exciting books in the pipeline, too?
I'm writing two in addition to Muther's Day and I hope they're exciting - the fifth Poke Rafferty Bangkok book, tentatively titled The Fear Artist; and a book called Pulped, which is the first book in fifteen years in my Simeon Grist private eye series from the 1990s.

I put the first four in the series on sale as e-books, and much to my surprise, quite a lot of people bought them. So I'm writing number seven in the series, only it's very, very different. Simeon's entire series has gone out of print and been pulped into newsprint, and when that happens to a series character, he or she goes to a sort of limbo, populated by the characters from other discontinued series. The limbos are organized like bookstores – by genre – so everyone in Simeon's world is a former fictional detective or cop – every kind of detective and cop ever fictionalized. The Simeon books were hard-boiled, but his best friend up there is the heroine of a series of cozy cooking mysteries. Anyway, one of Simeon's few remaining readers on earth is murdered, and he has to figure out what he can do about it from up there.

I have no idea whether this is going to work, but it's what I want to write at the moment, so it's what I'm writing. And I'm having a GREAT time with it.

That's a lot of writing!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I knew I wanted to write in third grade. It just took me 30 more years to get serious about it. I knew I was a writer from the time I began my first novel, but unfortunately, I also knew I was a very bad writer. A million and a half words later, I'm better, but I'm still doing my best to improve.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I work every day. I'm fortunate not to have to do anything except write in order to pay bills. I get up seven days a week, drink coffee, make an agenda for the day (I'm often writing one book and editing another, and then there's all that “life” stuff) and, when that's done, I go run for an hour or so, come back, shower, and go to work. I try to do 1500 words every day, even if they're junk. I learned a long time ago that the enemy is not the bad page. It's the empty page.

By the way, there's a huge area of my website called FINISHING YOUR NOVEL that a lot of writers have found useful, including some who sell bettet than I do. It's here if you want to check it out.

I'm a very fortunate person. I get to make a living doing what I love best in the world – telling stories.

Tim, thank you so much for being a guest today. Your passion for writing shines through, and so does how much fun you're having. It's been a pleasure chatting with you.


Dana King said...

Excellent interview. I follow Tim's career pretty closely and I learned quite a bit.

This is the first time I've been to this site. It won't be the last.

Lisa Haselton said...

Thanks for stopping by, Dana!

CJ West said...


You are way too humble. If visitors here hadn't read you, they'd have no idea how amazing your prose is.

I'd highly recommend Crashed and The Queen of Patpong to anyone.

Go read them for yourself. You will not be disappointed!

Timothy Hallinan said...

Hi, Dana, and thank you so much. I still owe you, on many front, but especially on one. I'll make good on that in the near future.

Hi, CJ -- I appreciate the kind words but I don't feel modest. I really do reach a point in every book where I feel I should junk it, that it stinks, that whatever was good about the earlier ones was a fluke, and that this time it's over. And that last for a LOOONG time -- 20,000 words or more.

And I'm in it now, so I wasn't feeling particularly un-humble when I wrote the piece for Lisa.

And thanks so much to you, Lisa. I appreciate the invitation.