Shots Magazine Q&A
Author of the Zac Hunter thrillers ‘Justice for All’ (2008) and ‘Blood Law’ (pub date 17th July 2009), Steven Hague has collected a raft of great reviews for his ex-LAPD cop central character. And for a man who comes from Norwich rather than L.A. but, that’s very impressive. SHOTS decided to seek out Steven and get to know what makes the man tick.
Q: Your series is set in Los Angeles. Many writers have explored its multi-layered dark underbelly. What made you decide to do it?
I find LA to be a fascinating city, a real melting pot where millions of people have come together, a place of great contrasts, both in racial, cultural, and economic terms. From the affluence of Beverly Hills to the poverty of the EastLos barrios, from the white-collar workers downtown to the blue collar workers at the container ports, from the golden sandy beaches at Venice and Malibu to the urban jungles of South Central, from the make-believe of Hollywood to the harsh realities of Inglewood, whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian – all walks of life are on display, and where there’s contrast as great as this, then conflict is sure to follow. It’s a brash city, a city that revels in itself, and as so many books, films, and TV series are set there, it has more than its fair share of iconic landmarks that help to give readers a sense of familiarity. But what really fascinates me is the idea of ‘The American Dream’, the great experiment, the way that a country that strives so hard for perfection is falling short in so many ways, and where better to wade into this metaphorical mire than La-La land itself?
Q: You’ve got the infamous ‘elevator pitch’ (the width of the sidewalk and the distance to the film studio’s elevator) to describe the background to Zac Hunter, your central character.
Zac Hunter’s not your all-American hero – he’s a good guy to have in the trenches, but a bad guy to have on your case. A maverick ex-cop who’ll walk through walls to bring down the bad guys, his desire to see justice served stems from the fact that his father’s murderers were never identified. He’s tough, taciturn, and sardonic, and he’s not afraid to cross the line. Plus he’s a loner – someone that’s self-reliant and unencumbered by the day-to-day baggage that a wife and family can bring. And most of all, he’s a man of action – someone that’s focussed on where he’s going rather than where he’s been.
Q: Why thrillers and why American? Is there a single event, film or book which started you on that road?
Not a single event, but more a lifetime of immersing myself in that genre. From my teens onwards I’d guess that around eighty to ninety per cent of what I’ve read has been American crime fiction, so when it came to writing a novel, setting it in America seemed like the natural choice.
Q: Who do you read and what, if any, are your literary influences, past or present?
Well, as you know, I’m a sucker for great American crime fiction, so I have a long list of favourite authors, but for the sake of brevity I’ll mention just three: First, Robert Crais, for his excellent plotting and strong dynamic between his two principal characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Second, Andrew Vachss, for his tough protagonist, the urban survivalist, Burke, his unsurpassed knowledge of the gutter (both urban and human), and his razor sharp black humour. And third, James Ellroy, the demon dog himself, for his refusal to compromise in anything that he does, and for being the man who gave us L.A. Confidential and American Tabloid. And I also draw inspiration from quality American cop shows – stuff like ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’ – which I’m told has helped to give my writing a cinematic quality.
Q: Zac Hunter is rough, tough and doesn’t take crims lightly. Any particular ‘face’ you’d imagine playing him if the elevator pitch worked?
That’s an easy one, as when I created Hunter, I always had a young Clint Eastwood in mind – but not Dirty Harry, more the poncho wearing, cheroot chewing ‘man with no name’ of the iconic spaghetti westerns. Now that’s not to say that Hunter rides around L.A. on a horse – what I wanted to capture was the essence of the character – the tough, taciturn, sardonic guy whose motives were sometimes shady, but whose morality was never in doubt.
Q: The settings in your books are probably the best known on the planet, through coverage in books, film and television. Do you find it easier to blur the lines a little or do you aim for scenic accuracy?
A combination of the two. I try to make everything as accurate as possible at the macro level by researching street names, journey times, major physical locations, etc, and I look into the cultural, political, and ethnic mix of a locale to make sure that any events I’ve set there are a sensible fit. But when I get down to the micro level I cut myself a little slack, as smaller locations such as houses, restaurants, bars, motels, etc, are generally figments of my over active imagination. I think that the most important thing is to capture a feel of the place – to immerse the reader in the setting without bombarding them with excessive locational detail.
Q: What sort of research do you do and how far do you go to do it?
My research generally falls into one of two categories: either reference books or the Internet. On the books side, I’ve read encyclopaedias on illegal drugs and Native Americans, biographies of black and Latino gangbangers, and tomes on unarmed combat, body language and human trafficking, but its fair to say that the bulk of my research is done on-line. I use a variety of sites and search engines to garner information, and I try to cross reference as much as possible to reduce the risk of using erroneous information. So when you ask ‘how far do I go to do it?’ I guess the answer is the ten yards or so from my bedroom to my study each morning. And did I say that my research fell into two categories? Actually there’s a third – my years of reading US crime fiction and watching the shows like the aforementioned ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’. This research by osmosis has been a vital part of my formation as a writer, and it means that setting my novels in America comes fairly naturally to me.
Q: Pen or PC?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint any bluff old traditionalists out there by saying PC all the way. I tend to write in fits and starts, constantly going back to change lines and move sections around, and if I tried to do that with a pen I’d end up with a page of illegible scrawls, directional arrows, and crossing outs. On the plus side, I have become a pretty good typist though.
Q: What delights your creative muscles most - heroes or villains?
Both and neither. Let me explain. I try to make sure that all my characters are shades of grey rather than black or white, so the hero might sometimes do things that the reader feels uncomfortable about, while the villain’s actions should always be driven by a well-defined motive. It’s all about empathy – if I can get the reader to understand what my characters are going through, and have them feel what my characters are feeling, then I think that I’m half way there.
Q: Do you have a specific audience in mind as you write?
Yes – a very specific audience – me. When I first started out, my original goal was to write a novel from start to finish for my own satisfaction, and my next goal was for me to like it! If I could find one other person that liked it, then so much the better, and anything after that was a bonus.
I still approach writing that way now – I write the kind of books that I like to read, then I hope that someone else likes them too. If I tried to second-guess what an audience wanted, I’d probably spend half my time procrastinating and the other half re-writing, depending on whatever happened to be flavour of the month. I think it’s important than an author writes from the heart more than the head, by which I mean the process should be driven by passion rather than commercial considerations. Now that’s not to say that I don’t want to become commercially successful (we’ve all gotta eat!) but I think that questions of audience, publicity, commerciality, etc, are best considered after the book’s written, not during.
Q: Are you a push-with-the-nose sort of writer or a planner?
A planner for sure. I tried to push with my nose and ended up writing myself down some dark alleyways. Before I write a book I work on a scene-by-scene outline that can run to thirty pages or so. The outline gives me a route map to follow, although it’s not set in stone – scenes will be cut, added, or amended as I work my through, and the order of them usually changes several times.
Q: Rock music clearly inspires and motivates you. Does that extend to playing it while you write?
Sadly no, and believe me, I’ve tried. I’m easily distracted, and if I have music on I find myself singing along rather than getting words down on the page, so for me, silence is golden when it comes to writing. On the other hand, if I’m busy with research, plotting, or ShotsMag Q&A’s then it’s definitely time to crank up the stereo and rock out!
Q: Where do most of your ideas occur – bath, bed… or elsewhere?
Probably in bed in the wee small hours. I’m a pretty light sleeper, and if I wake up in the middle of the night my mind tends to kick into gear and I lay there thinking things through. Only problem is, I’ve often forgotten half my ideas by the morning – I tried writing them down but the wife got fed up with me turning on my bedside light. I also come up with ideas while I’m out walking my chocolate Labrador, Murphy through the nearby woods – a bit of fresh air and exercise does wonder for the old grey matter!
Q: Family and friends got used to your success yet?
I’ll let you know if I ever get to the point where I consider myself successful.
Q: You were commendably down-to-earth enough at Crimefest in Bristol in acknowledging that you (and the other authors present) are doing what you had all dreamed of, so you clearly don’t take anything for granted.
Hell no, I’m just starting out at this and I’m still at the stage where I need to do everything I can to try to build an audience. And while it might have sounded corny, I really am living the dream – as a kid, all I ever wanted to be was an author, but it wasn’t something I ever seriously considered as a career choice as it seemed totally unachievable. Through a combination of hard work, blind luck, the planets aligning, etc, I’ve somehow managed to get two books published, and I still have to pinch myself even now to make sure it’s real.
Q: When can we expect to see the next Steven Hague/Zac Hunter title on the streets?
The second novel in the Zac Hunter series, entitled Blood Law, is released on the 17th July 2009. Please buy a copy so I can keep living the dream! The back cover blurb is as follows: When Hunter receives a cry for help from former snitch, Angel Cortez, he rushes to her aid. Angel’s daughter Gracie is missing, and Lunatic, Angel’s gang leader boyfriend, knows more than he’s letting on. Discovering that a rival crew grabbed Gracie from an East LA park, Hunter agrees to do what he can to find the missing girl. As two rival gangs wage war, only Hunter and the mysterious vigilante Stone will be able to save Gracie – and prevent a city from going up in flames. ****** Adrian Magson firstname.lastname@example.org www.adrianmagson.com