Friday September 30, 2005
INTERVIEW OF JIM MICHAEL HANSEN
AUTHOR OF NIGHT LAWS (ISBN 0976924307)
BY WANDA MAYNARD AND KAREN MacLEOD
WANDA. We're here, interviewing attorney Jim Hansen, regarding his new book NIGHT LAWS. Jim, one of my questions concerns the "Night laws" characters. They seemed so real. I was caught up in the suspense. Would you care to share a bit about those characters?
JIM. Bryson Coventy is the proponent of the series and, believe it or not, I pattern him pretty much after myself. He's got the same values, work ethics, addiction to coffee, etc. So I always know how he's going to react in any particular situation. Of course, he's a lot cooler than me, and better looking! The young associate attorney, Kelly Parks, is perhaps patterned after that generic type of person, a hard worker with an underlying wild streak. The bad guy is David Hallenbeck who is responsible for giving the book a hard edge. When I first wrote the book, I thought it might be too edgy. After I read the first draft though, I decided that Hallenbeck wasn't edgy enough. So I went back and added in a handful of scenes where he's at his worst. Then the book had the vibration I was looking for.
WANDA. Did you base the crime scenes on actual facts and events, or was each one thought up carefully?
JIM. No real events here. Some of the crime scenes are in the backstory, which is fairly well plotted out before I begin to write. That's the stuff that happens before "Chapter One," when I drop all the characters into the fray. All of the front story, however, is fly by the seat of my pants. I never know what anyone's going to do. That's what makes it fun. For example, I didn't know what the ending was going to be until the day I wrote it. I knew in a vague way about ¾ of the way through the book that it was going to be A versus B with C and D in jeopardy. But the details didn't come until the day I wrote them. I like writing like that because I think it tends to keep the book fresh.
Karen smiles. "I know of several authors who are driven to write 'what their characters tell them'."
JIM. I think that call that "character driven."
WANDA. Who or what inspired you to write "Night Laws?"
JIM. It's a fairly simple story. I read a really good crime thriller many years ago and just decided to write my own one day. I was used to legal writing, which has to be very tight and succinct. So when I read a novel and saw how loose it was, it looked like something that would be pretty easy to do. Of course, I was wrong, yet again.
WANDA. Bryson Coventry was my favorite character. The book was so fascinating. Once you started writing it, did you think you would not finish it?
JIM. That's an interesting question. I had no idea how long it would take to write a book, and started writing NIGHT LAWS in my spare time in 2000. Of course, being an attorney, spare time can sometimes be hard to find. I actually had to put the book down for three years straight at one point, because my law practice was so hectic. Then I picked it back up in late 2004 and finished it.
KAREN. If Wanda will allow me a quick question here, tied into your law practice: "What is the specialty of law that you practice, and did it influence your writing the novel?"
JIM. My practice involves civil law with an emphasis on litigation, meaning trials. That definitely influenced my writing, and will continue to do so. The neat thing about law is that there are so many ways to get exposed to information that is confidential. Thus, a lawyer might have a way to know who a serial killer is whereas the cops might not. That can lead to some interesting situations.
KAREN. Confidentiality. I know that from my brief stint as a legal secretary. Now I'll let Wanda continue. I may have more questions after hers.
JIM. As many as you want.
WANDA. Jim, do you have any goals in life you have yet to meet? If so, would you like to elaborate some on them?
JIM. Most of my remaining goals involve Pamela Anderson in one way or another.
Karen is laughing. "I take it if the book were dramatized you might want her to play the female lead?"
JIM. Something like that. That way no one would pay attention to the bad writing.
WANDA. Jim, could you picture yourself trying to write in another genre, like Romance, Historical, or Horror, etc?
JIM. Not in a million years. In fact, about the only think I really like is crime fiction. When I read the NY Times bestseller's list, for example, there's rarely a book that interests me unless it has a bad guy in it. I read the descriptions of the books and think, Wow, that sounds boring. Someone must read them though, since they're bestsellers. It just isn't me.
Karen smiles. "I'm a mystery and crime fan myself. Sometimes you can add a sub-plot of a romance, too, I guess, as romance tends to be the most popular genre."
WANDA. Yes it does
JIM. You're absolutely right about that. There really needs to be a romantic connection in the book to round it out. Plus, people are interested in that kind of thing.
WANDA. May we talk about your upcoming novels for a moment?
KAREN. Are any of the characters we met in NIGHT LAWS planning to make an appearance in the forthcoming books, or will they all be individual titles, not connected?
JIM. The next novel involves a bad guy who is terrorizing Denver by pre-announcing to the press when he will strike again and then following through in spades. Coventry of course is hot on his trail. When someone learns the identity of the killer, and blackmails him into taking out someone that the blackmailer needs gone, everything goes from bad to worse for everyone involved.
WANDA. Sounds very interesting.
JIM. Bryson Coventry will be back, along with Shalifa Netherwood and Kate Katona. The rest of the characters are new.
JIM. So basically each book is a stand alone, with Coventry as the reoccurring character.
WANDA. I like him
JIM. Me too. You gotta love someone who hates elevators and is nice to the ladies.
WANDA. I agree. I don't like elevators
KAREN. I'm not fond of elevators, either. Obviously your legal background has influenced this series.
Jim smiles. I might add that every book will have a legal slant and a lawyer in a key role, hence the "LAWS" part of the series. No boring courtroom stuff, however. I promise. The LAWS novels are more legal in the sense that lawyers are involved and doing thingsfor example, as in Grisham's THE FIRMas opposed to the courtroom type drama that you find in THE JAGGED EDGE. Quite frankly, I find courtroom stuff pretty boring so I doubt that you'll find much if any of that in my books.
KAREN. What would you like to tell us about your becoming a writer. Anything you find difficult in crafting your work, other than not having time for it.
JIM. Some days are better than others. Some days the words just sparkle and come fast, other days, not so much. Karen smiles and nods. One thing I found, once you get the foundation of words, you can buff them with rewrite only so much. So if you start with crap, you pretty much end up with polished crap. For example, my original chapter one for NIGHT LAWS depicted Coventry responding to the murder scene of D'endra Vaughn, an overused but safe kind of way to introduce the characters and set up the book. The first draft of the chapter wasn't that good, so I rewrote it, then again, then again, until I lost count. In the end I probably put 25 hours into rewriting that chapter until I had it perfect. Then I realized it was still junk and totally unsalvageable. I totally deleted it, and Chapter Two as well, and made Chapter Three into Chapter One. I then purposely tried to not fuss with that one too much. That chapter had been written on a better day and didn't need a major re-write.
KAREN. That's probably true. At one point, you have to 'let the baby go.' Do you have other questions Wanda, or shall we let Jim tell us what he would like about NIGHT LAWS, and his other upcoming novels?
WANDA. Jim, if you had any advice to give upcoming writers, what would you say?
JIM. Write a great novel for starters. If you can come up with a new genre or niche, so much the better, for example, The Di Vinci Code. Whatever you write, it's has to be a page-turner. One: you finish the first draft, edit it relentlessly. Cut out every unnecessary word. The second draft, in my experience, is equal to the first draft less 10-20%. Don't send it out to anyone until it's the absolute best you can do. Even if you then have an incredible well-polished book, just appreciate that the competition is intense. My feeling is that there are many thousands of books every bit as good as the ones on the B&N shelves that never see the light of day for one reason or another. Don't take it personal and realize that the odds are stacked against you, even if you have talent.
KAREN. I can agree with that.
WANDA. Yes. Me, too.
JIM. It's a supply and demand thing, with way too much supply.
KAREN. I've got a question: What authors do you feel influenced you most?
JIM. John Sandford. In fact, I've read very few books in my life. I've read several of John's though. He's the master.
Karen smiles. "Can you give us a few of his titles, for people interested in investigating his work?"
WANDA. Yes, please.
JIM. He writes the "Prey" series. My personal favorites are "Mind Prey" and "Rules of Prey."
KAREN. When you can find time for your writing, do you follow any specific routine?
JIM. No specific routine. If I'm rereading a chapter, or editing it, I can use a fairly small slice of time and be productive, i.e., while working out on the elliptical at 24 Hour Fitness. If I'm actually writing, however, I need at least a sold hour ahead of me.
KAREN. NIGHT LAWS kept me wanting to read more. I finished the book in three days, and I usually have a busy schedule.
JIM. That's a real complement, so thank you.
KAREN. You're welcome. I truly enjoyed the book.
WANDA. I could not put it down.
JIM. I put glue on the covers. That's why.
Wanda is laughing.
Karen is also laughing.
KAREN. What's your opinion on the direction of the publishing industry, especially the influence of e-publishing?
JIM. If by e-publishing you mean print-on-demand which is also called POD, that's more of a printing service than a publishing service. It turns a manuscript into a prettier format, a book. It doesn't get that book onto the shelves of B&N though, because true publishing requires that many other tasks be performed other than the mere printing of the book. Those tasks include cover design, blurbs, book reviews, obtaining orders from booksellers, setting up distribution channels, and promotionamong others.
The traditional publishing industry continues to consolidate and be dominated by the large NY houses. But the tasks of publishing are getting easier because of technology. Therefore I believe we'll see an increase in the number of quality small presses.
KAREN. I hope so. It is with authors I do my freelance editing, and some small presses.
JIM. I think your potential work will increase. Small presses are going to need to fill the same kinds of positions that the big ones do.
KAREN. Most of my work is with authors on pre-submission editing, before the publisher even sees the manuscript.
JIM. That's a valuable service. Authors can get too close to their work and definitely need someone from the outside to look at it.
KAREN. When do you believe your next LAWS book will be out.
JIM: The tentative date for the second LAWS book, which will probably be called FEAR LAWS, PREY LAWS or DARK LAWS Is around February 2007. I'm going to try to keep them coming on a yearly basis.
WANDA. We also discussed briefly, the characters of "Night Laws," would you like to share a bit more about them, for those readers who have yet to experience the novel? I thought it was thrilling.
JIM. The entire novel is written from the point of view, also know as POV, of three characters: Bryson Coventry, Kelly Parks and David Hallenbeck. That means that you see what they see. You're in their heads and see through their eyes. That's what tends to make them so real. There's another character in the book who is very important, an attorney by the name of Michael Northway. I didn't make him a point-of-view character because three was enough in my opinion. So it was a little trickier to make him real. You as the reader see him through the eyes of the other three characters. He comes off feeling real, but also a little mysterious because you never know if the other three characters are seeing him clearly or not. Also, you never get in his head, so you never know what he's thinking.
As a general rule, one character is the point-of-view character for the entire chapter. The chapters then rotate characters. For example, Coventry is Chapter One, Kelly Parks is Chapter Two and David Hallenbeck is Chapter Three. Then they follow in that same order for Chapters Four, Five and Six, etc. The result is that just when you're getting comfortable seeing things from one person's angle, the next chapter has someone totally different doing the viewing, which jolts you back to their perspective. The end result, at least I hope, is that the story doesn't get boring.
KAREN. So far, what have your characters told you that you're willing to share, if anything?
JIM. I think they're all starting to hate me. I keep making their lives so difficult. I think all they want to do is sit back with a drink and watch TV, but noooooooo . . .
Karen is laughing. "Tell them, I want to read about them, and I'm not much of a TV fan."
JIM. They know deep down that they have to sacrifice their sanity for the benefit of readers. They just don't like it.
Karen smiles. "I have a few more questions, if you'll answer them. How long have you been an attorney, and what kind of challenges do you face as an attorney?
JIM: I've been an attorney since 1981. Don't do the math to figure out how old I am or you'll end up calling me Sir. The challenges are finding good cases. I do lots of employment law and get a gazillion calls by employees who had something happen to them at work and think they got a great lawsuit when in fact they don't. I might take one case for every sixty calls. To give you an example, I had someone call me up once and said they got fired from McDonalds that morning because the manager smelled alcohol on their breath. She hadn't had a thing to drink that morning. I asked her when the last time she drank was. Turned out it was the night before, celebrating her birthday with her boyfriend until three in the morning. Thanks for calling.
KAREN. What is the most satisfying part of your profession?
JIM: Helping people who really can't afford an attorney. I do a lot of work for free, or for a greatly reduced rate, for people in need, meaning people who have really been screwed over somehow. That usually means by a former employer. Getting them back to square one is quite rewarding.
KAREN. The most frustrating?
JIM: It's frustrating that litigation is so expensive. It currently costs about $30-50,000 to take a mid-sized case through trial to a judgment or verdict. If your claim is less than that and you won't recover attorney fees from the other side, you have to find a way to get the case settled before all the money gets spent. Settlement usually means getting less than you deserve. The same is true from the defense side. I do a lot of defense work, helping clients who have been sued on bogus claims. They win, eventually, but it takes a lot of money to get there. Not to mention time and anxiety. Bottom line, the current judicial system usually doesn't allow someone to come out whole even when they have a valid claim or defense. The courts are trying to change all that by forcing parties to explore mediation and settlement early on. That's a very good thing, in my humble opinion.
KAREN. How does this legal experience color your writing of the LAWS series?
JIM: Lawyers get the inside scoop on all kinds of businesses, industries, professionals, etc. For example, I've represented mega-companies (beer, satellite communications, steel, electronics), banks, attorneys, architects, airline pilots, college professors, municipalities, insurance companies, developers, contractors, and the list goes on and on. You get to know how all these organizations work. At a writer, that gives me the ability to include all these types of organizations, and the people who make them up, in my books in a very realistic manner. There aren't too many other types of backgrounds that can exposure you to such a big slice of the world.
WANDA. Do you think that being a lawyer has helped to push your writing along, or made it easier to write "Night Laws," since you know so much about the law anyway?
JIM: Being a lawyer definitely helps the types of books I write. For example, in NIGHT LAWS the law firm purports to go the extra step to help one of it's important clients by doing something slightly illegal at the client's request. That leads to big trouble for the law firm, which can't exactly go to the police once things start falling apart. What's intriguing about the storyline is just about every law firm will go right to the edge of doing something illegal to either get or retain an important client. It's easy to see how a firm might cross the line and take one step too many. A lawyer could probably think of a storyline like that very easily whereas most laypersons wouldn't be able to.
WANDA. Well, I can hardly wait for the next book to come out so I can read it
JIM. Read it? I'm hoping you'll REVIEW it.
KAREN. We can do that, I suppose. Hopefully, we'd be unbiased.
WANDA. Yes, we can
KAREN. Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven't asked
about? This is your time, and I think you should have the 'floor.'
JIM. I think NIGHT LAWS will appeal to both mystery and thriller readers. It's definitely a thriller given the fast pace. But there's also a lot of backstory driving the current action, and you don't always know what it is. Trying to figure it out will definitely appeal to mystery readers. I'm careful to tie up all the loose threads at the end so you won't go away scratching your head.
KAREN. Please give us your website URL and any information on how to order the book, such as your publisher's website, so that readers who may be interested can purchase NIGHT LAWS.
JIM. My website is http://www.JimHansenBooks.com There you'll find information on the book, reviews, blurbs, interviews, contests, bio, ordering information, and tons of other stuff. My law firm also has a website, which is http://www.JimHansenLawFirm.com
KAREN. We appreciate your time, and found what you have shared enlightening. Thank you so much for taking time with us.
JIM. My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It's a real honor to be interviewed by such a fine organization as Sime~Gen.