Monday, March 8, 2010

Guest Blogger, James Hayman

Please join me in welcoming author James Hayman as the special guest blogger here today at Thoughts in Progress.

James is currently on a blog tour with his latest release “The Cutting.” He stops by today to talk with us about insomnia and the fine art of writing murder mysteries.

Did you ever wonder what it takes to write a successful murder mystery? Or a series of murder mysteries or suspense thrillers featuring the likes of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski? One answer is not sleeping. Ms. Paretsky once noted the secret to her success as a writer (or at least one secret) was the inability to sleep. And the longer I ply this particular trade the more I think she’s right.

Every time I come to a point in one of my books where I can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, I find the best way to come up with an answer is by lying awake in the dark when I “should” be sleeping and obsessing about it. I do this a lot. And it always seems to lead to something that works better than anything I thought of during my normal waking or working hours.

When this happens, I know full well that if I just lie there and eventually fall sleep, I’ll have forgotten the idea by morning. I know some writers keep a notebook and pencil by their beds for just such occasions. However, I happen to share a bed with a woman who gets grumpy when she’s woken by me turning on a light to write something at three in the morning. So I get out of bed, be it two or three AM or four AM, and trundle into my writing room where I wake up my sleeping laptop and write out the idea in some detail.

I hate it but it works. It helped in the writing of The Cutting and it helped in the writing of the second McCabe thriller, The Chill of Night, which St. Martin’s/Minotaur will be bringing out later this year.

Right now, I’m trying to work out the basics of the plot for my third McCabe thriller (as yet untitled). In this book, McCabe’s daughter, Casey, has grown into a drop-dead gorgeous sixteen-year-old who boasts her mother’s good looks, her father’s stubborness and a brand new driver’s license. 

In the new book, Casey falls for a really hot nineteen-year-old who’s definitely the wrong kind of guy. And it gets her into trouble (No, not that kind of trouble) and, for the past week or so, I’ve been unable to figure out how to get her out of it.

A few nights ago at three-eighteen in the morning the answer came to me. Thankful for this gift from the gods or the muses or whoever they are, I got up and went to work, beating most of the local farmers, fishermen and lobstermen to the grindstone by a good forty minutes.

Like McCabe, I’m a native New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx. I was born in Brooklyn. We both grew up in the city. He dropped out of NYU Film School and joined the NYPD, rising through the ranks to become the top homicide cop at the Midtown North Precinct. I graduated from Brown and joined a major New York ad agency, rising through the ranks to become creative director on accounts like the US Army, Procter & Gamble, and Lincoln/Mercury.

We both married beautiful brunettes. McCabe’s wife, Sandy dumped him to marry a rich investment banker who had “no interest in raising other people’s children.” My wife, Jeanne, though often given good reason to leave me in the lurch, has stuck it out through thick and thin and is still my wife. She is also my best friend, my most attentive reader and a perceptive critic.

Both McCabe and I eventually left New York for Portland, Maine. I arrived in August 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, in search of the right place to begin a new career as a fiction writer. He came to town a year later, to escape a dark secret in his past and to find a safe place to raise his teenage daughter, Casey.

There are other similarities between us. We both love good Scotch whiskey, old movie trivia and the New York Giants. And we both live with and love women who are talented artists.

There are also quite a few differences. McCabe’s a lot braver than me. He’s a better shot. He likes boxing. He doesn’t throw up at autopsies. And he’s far more likely to take risks. McCabe’s favorite Portland bar, Tallulah’s, is, sadly, a figment of my imagination. My favorite Portland bars are all very real.
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Thank you James for stopping by today and guest blogging. I think insomnia is something a lot of us can relate to, as well as having to write your thoughts down at 3 in the morning so you won’t forget them. So what do you do when you can’t sleep? Any tips on how to get to sleep?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Mason - Thanks so much for hosting James.

    James - I know exactly what you mean about insomnia! I sometimes get just exactly the idea I need at 2 am. It helps if I write it down when I get the idea - before I forget it. It sometimes means I have a weird sleeping schedule, but like you, I don't like to let my good ideas escape. Best of luck with The Cutting!

  3. Great post! I've always found that those minutes, or hours, before I go to sleep are the best creatively. It's interesting how the brain works, isn't it.

  4. Mason, what a great post today. We notice the trouble you go to to set up these wonderful writers on tour.

    James, I too find great creativity during the hours of no sleep. Your book sounds very interesting.

    PS I like your beard.

  5. I've read an article that if students study before they fall asleep, they do much better on the test the next day than students whose subconsciouses weren't mulling over the material all night. Must be something similar for writers? I've done the same thing and gotten some great ideas. :)

    Congratulations on "The Cutting!"

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. Thanks Mason, and James,
    I am going to take this to heart and make myself get up the next time I can't sleep. Might as well be doing something that might actually prove fruitful.

  7. Sounds like a great series, James, and a rich character!

    Sometimes I wake up with an idea or solution, but it's usually as outlandish as my dreams, which I often remember. Upon examination, it's rarely usable to give my protag instant lobster arms to fight the villain who looks like my husband's dentist. I'm such a champion, excessive sleeper that insomnia's very unusual and distressing. I just try to live past it.

    I come up with my real ideas/fixes while I'm cleaning or washing dishes. Keeping the body busy while the mind wanders.

  8. Nice feature post, thanks Mason and James. James, I've also done my best, most creative writing when woken up by one or more of my characters demanding that I get up and write something they need to do and say. It's uncanny.

    Marvin D Wilson

  9. My favorite thing about the middle of the night is the darkness through a writer's eyes. I love wandering the house and seeing shadows in a new way, hearing sounds that no one else hears, experiencing the rooms not empty but silent with sleeping loved ones. Only writers can experience the night this way.

    Thank you for bringing this writer to my attention, Mason! And, James, your books sound very interesting.


  10. Wonderful post. I also find my best ideas in those half-awake states right before I sleep or right after I wake up. I have a tiny little light that flips open without a noise and the light doesn't extend but a few inches beyond the little pad. It's wonderful.

  11. Sounds like a really interesting book. I'd like to read it.

    I'm always painting myself into a corner--AND I suffer from insomnia--and I lay away worrying and obsessing about it--maybe I can solve a few if I just hop UP and start jotting.

  12. Hi everyone and thanks for dropping by today. Another crazy day at work so I'm running behind (more so than usual). I can see I'm not the only one that has trouble sleeping. The only difference is, ya'll (Southern thing) seem to put your energy into something more creative than I do. Guess I need to start getting up and doing something rather than just lying there trying to sleep.

    James, thanks for guest blogging today. Your post was most interesting.

  13. Terrific post, James. I like the cover of THE CUTTING, it looks great. I think Ms. Paretsky was on to something. I rarely have a shut-off valve at night, and I just keep writing, especially when it's nice & quiet in the house. I'm functioning on very little sleep, which surprises me, but I keep going as far as I can. Occasionally, it catches up with me and I crash, but then after being fully rested, I'm raring to go again.
    I think most writers are driven. They have to be, or else they'd never get their projects done!
    Best wishes, James, and thanks, Mason, for having James as a guest blogger.

  14. Great post and I love the comparison between Jame's character and himself.

    I just added another author to my ever growing book list.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.