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An Interview with Jim Michael Hansen
Jim Michael Hansen.
Jim Michael Hansen, Esq., is a Colorado attorney emphasizing civil litigation, employment law and OSHA. Jim is also the author of the Laws novels, which are hard-edged legal/crime thrillers featuring Denver homicide detective Bryson Coventry.
We had a chance recently to talk to Jim about his books.
Mysterious Reviews: You're a practicing attorney and your books incorporate the law in both the title and the plot. Yet your protagonist, Bryson Coventry, is a homicide detective. Why did you decide not to have a lawyer be your lead character?
Jim Michael Hansen: Legal thrillers, as a genre, don’t appeal to me much. Plus, I wanted my books to be realistic. In real life, cases move slowly and aren’t very exciting. Authors that attempt to inject cases with excitement and surprises usually have to bend reality a lot more than I’d be willing to do.
So I decided to make my main character a detective—Bryson Coventry, to be precise. That doesn’t mean I ignore what I know, meaning the law. Lawyers appear in most of my books, but mostly as characters as opposed to professionals working a case. My background as an attorney allows them to be portrayed very realistically as living, breathing people. I can also come up with dilemmas that lawyers might find themselves in that lay people wouldn’t (e.g. knowing the identity of a killer but not able to tell anyone because of the attorney-client privilege). So lawyers usually play a role in my books, hence the “Laws” title, but a secondary one.
The Bryson Coventry
Mysteries are typically categorized by genre. Your books are frequently listed as hard-boiled thrillers. Would you agree with this?
I’d agree with the “thrillers” part but not necessarily “hard-boiled,” which conjures up (at least to me) an image of emotionless, one-dimensional people. My characters tend to be very complex, multi-dimensional and realistic. If one of them sat down next to you in a restaurant, you’d recognize him/her. Instead of “hard-boiled,” I’d say hard-edged. They’re definitely not cozies.
How has Bryson Coventry changed since his first appearance in Night Laws?
Bryson Coventry’s basic nature and basic philosophy of life do not change from book to book. He always drinks too much coffee, has a sense of humor, hunts for Beatles songs on the radio, takes care of the people who work for him, wants to get (or does get) a 1967 Corvette, falls in love on the spur of the moment, etc.
However, he’s a very complex person, and what does happen is that he appears in so many different types of conflicts, and has so many difficult and interesting decisions to make, that the reader gets to see a new or deeper side to him with every book.
I guess the best way to put it is that he’s always the same, but there’s so much to him that the reader is always seeing something different.
How do you go about writing your books? In other words, do you create a detailed plot outline and write from that, or do you allow the story to play out as you write? Are any of the plots based, however loosely, on cases your law firm has handled?
It usually starts off very simple idea. For example, Immortal Laws started out with a simple thought—Everyone likes vampires, how about something with a vampire theme? Ancient Laws was—How about something in the nature of an archeological adventure? And Voodoo Laws was—What would happen if someone put a voodoo curse on Coventry? Who would do that and why? Would it affect him?
Next, I make a one-page diagram of who’s in the book and how they relate to one other. That stays on the table next to my computer the entire time I write the book.
Then I develop the backstory, which is the stuff that has already happened before the book began. That’s usually in an outline form, about 2 or 3 pages. Then I drop the characters in Chapter One, with the backstory already in motion, meaning the characters already have drivers, conflicts and events to react to. That allows the book to be exciting from page one. At that point, I let the characters go where they will, within the general confines of the book, and tend to follow them around more than guide them. I do the more detailed plotting at the writing takes place. A lot of the plot ends up to be character driven.
Your website lists upcoming titles in the series through 2010, with one coming out every 6 months. This seems like an aggressive schedule for any writer, let alone one who maintains a law practice. How do you manage your time?
I write my novels very quickly, generally within 2-3 months from start to finish. For me, that’s the best way because I can keep everything fresh in my mind, meaning I don’t have to keep going back and reacquainting myself with the plot or the characters. Having everything fresh in my mind also lets me plot better, and play better off what already happened, because much of my plotting takes place during the writing process. Also, at the end of the project, I don’t rewrite or edit much, in fact hardly at all. Ninety-five percent of my final book is exactly as it went down the first time. Because of that, the book retains a raw and even somewhat edgy feeling to it, which fits well with the story.
Your most recent book, Bangkok Laws, though set in Denver, involves a subplot set in Bangkok. You've mentioned in your blog that your recently completed Ancient Laws is set entirely outside of Denver, in Paris and Cairo. A future book has Hong Kong in the title. Have you visited these places, and, if so, did they provide an inspiration for the plots of the books?
I always try to set the scenes in my books in places that I know very well, and bring those places to life, via weather, streets, traffic, bars, etc. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of traveling and know a lot of places, so you’ll find scenes not only in the U.S. but also outside the country. Sometimes I have to set a scene somewhere I haven’t been. In those instances, I always find someone who has spent time there and get the firsthand scoop. I’m also not above pulling information and photos from the net, travel books, etc.
Your next book, Immortal Laws, is already available as an electronic book for the Amazon Kindle though it's not scheduled to be published until September 2008. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of e-books, and why did you decide to make Immortal Laws available so early?
A paper book has a long drag time after the text gets finalized. That time is spent getting the book printed, into the distribution stream, etc. That drag time doesn’t exist in the digital form, meaning the book can be made available as soon as the text is finalized. Why not make it available at that time?
Everyone has an opinion on digital books and their ultimate impact or lack thereof on the publishing landscape. Although we are in the infancy of that form of media, it seems pretty obvious to me that changes are coming and they will be huge. A new era is upon us, starting with the Amazon Kindle and ending who know where. Digital books are easy, “green” and cheap.
If you're browsing for books to read, what kind of books do you look for? Are there any authors whose books you buy as soon as they're published?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to read a book in the last 10 or 15 years. There are pros and cons to this. The downside, from a writer’s perspective, is that I have no idea what other authors are doing or how my books compare to theirs. The upside is that I don’t get subconsciously contaminated with anyone else’s plots or characters.
Thank you for allowing me to be interviewed by such a fine organization as Mysterious Reviews. Visit me at JimHansenBooks.blogspot.com. My books include Night Laws, Shadow Laws, Fatal Laws, Deadly Laws, Bangkok Laws, Voodoo Laws, Ancient Laws and Hong Kong Laws, with more on the way. Stay well.
We'd like to offer our special thanks to Jim for taking the time to visit with us. For more information about Jim, visit his website at JimHansenBooks.com.
Date of Interview: June 2008