Thriller fans have gotten to know Portland Police Department Detectives Michael McCabe and Magie Savage through James Hayman’s edge of the seat thrillers The Cutting and The Chill of Night. Here’s a closer look at Hayman himself.
Barb Ross: In 2001, you left New York City and the advertising industry behind to write thrillers in Portland, Maine. What inspired such a radical change? Was the adjustment difficult? How do you feel about it now?
Jim Hayman: I was in the ad business for more than twenty five years and all that time I always wanted to write a thriller. By 2001 I was getting to an age where I had to ask myself Rabbi Hillel’s famous question, “If not now, when?”
I have to say the transition from writing and producing TV commercials to writing thrillers was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Advertising turned out to be a great training ground for thriller writing. Which is probably why so many ex-admen become thriller writers, including, among others, James Patterson, Ted Bell, Stuart Woods, Chris Grabenstein and Marcus Sakey.
Good copywriters like good thriller writers tend to have strong creative imaginations. But I also think there are a couple of other reasons that apply. When you write a TV commercial you have to tell your whole story in thirty or sixty seconds so you learn to write tight. No wasted words allowed. That helps in writing a thriller. In writing for film, you also develop a good ear for dialogue. Anyone who’s read either of my books, The Cutting or The Chill of Night knows they’re both dialogue heavy. I use dialogue to move the story along. I learned how to do that on Madison Avenue.
To answer the final part of your question, while I do miss the twice monthly paychecks the agency business afforded me, I thoroughly enjoy what I do now.
Barb: Which brings us to setting. What makes Portland, Maine a good setting for a series? Are there any things about it that inhibit or confine you?
Jim: For me, Portland is an almost perfect location. It offers everything I could want for a series of suspense novels. It has great architecture. A gritty urban setting in which my corpses can be found. And it has almost endless array of good bars and restaurants in which my hero, Mike McCabe, can enjoy his favorite single malt scotch and devour a New York strip steak.
I also like Maine’s often extreme weather which has played a role in both my books. “Fog can be a sudden thing on the Maine coast” is the first line of Chapter 1 in The Cutting. For its part, The Chill of Night takes place in the middle of one of the coldest Maine winters in many years and the body of Portland attorney Lainie Goff’s is found frozen solid in the trunk of her BMW convertible which is illegally parked at the end of the Portland Fish Pier.
Barb: Your protagonist, Detective Sgt. Michael McCabe works for the Portland Police Department’s Crime Against People Unit. Is there such a thing? If not, why did you invent it and what does it do?
Jim: Crimes Against People is the real thing. In Portland, police detectives work either in Crimes Against People which handles things like murder, rape and assault, or they work in Crimes Against Property which includes burglary and theft.
My key source who told me all about this is retired Portland Detective Sergeant Tom Joyce who once held McCabe’s job as the lead guy in Crimes Against People. Whenever I’ve had a question about how things are really done Tom has been very generous in providing me with answers.
Barb: Both of your books, The Cutting and The Chill of Night were very well reviewed. Do you get nervous about reviews? Do you read them? Take them to heart?
Jim: I’m not sure nervous is the right word, but I certainly look forward to the reviews and always read them when they come out. Frankly, I can’t imagine why any writer wouldn’t. Who could resist reading praise for what they’ve done? And who wouldn’t at least glance at the vitriol?
Happily, with one notable exception, all of the reviews of both my books have been good, some very good and more than a few I can only call fabulous.
I have all the positive ones downloaded on my computer and when the going gets tough and I start thinking that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing trying to write a book, I open them up and re-read them to help convince myself I really can do it. My wife has actually printed a large blow-up of Lloyd Ferriiss’s review of The Chill of Night that appeared in the Portland Press Herald, framed it and hung it from a wall in the room at home I use for writing.
The one notable exception I mentioned earlier was the first major review of my first book, The Cutting, and to call it a stinker is an understatement. I occasionally look at that one as well. Not to cheer myself up or to teach myself humility but rather just to quietly snarl at the reviewer.
Barb: What’s coming next? What are you working on now?
Jim: I’m about two thirds of the way through my third thriller. The title (at least for now) is Darkness First. Unlike the first two books, most of the action in number three takes place outside of Portland, in Washington County. Also the main protagonist isn’t Mike McCabe but his partner, Detective Maggie Savage. Aside from the fact that I think Darkness First is a good story, I wanted to see if I could write a whole book almost entirely from a female POV.