Julia interviews James Hayman

For those new to your acclaimed series, can you describe the Mike McCabe suspense thrillers?

Absolutely. The McCabe thrillers, The Cutting and The Chill of Night (and, hopefully, others to come), deal with real and important issues. Issues like the sexual and emotional abuse of teenage children both within the Catholic Church and in society at large. The critical shortage of hearts and other organs available for approved transplant programs. The terrible toll that mental illness like schizophrenia takes on the human spirit.

The characters in the McCabe books are also, I believe, real multi-dimensional people.

Mike McCabe is a homicide detective in Portland, Maine. He’s the head of the Crimes Against People Unit in the Portland Police Department. What readers seem to like most about McCabe, however, is that he’s not some kind of “Supercop.” Rather they like the fact that he’s someone they can identify with, someone who struggles with all the relationship and personal problems real people face.

For example, McCabe has a love-hate relationship with his beautiful but bitchy ex-wife Sandy who walked out not only on their failed marriage, but also on their only child, to marry a rich Wall Street Banker.

He’s a single dad who’s struggling to raise his teenaged daughter, Casey, on his own and to do it right.

He has a great live-in girlfriend, a beautiful Portland artist named Kyra Erikson, who he loves and wants to marry. She loves him back but can’t bring herself to marry a cop, at least not one who’s as dedicated to his job as McCabe.

He has a smart sexy police partner, Detective Maggie Savage. McCabe and Maggie are clearly attracted to each other and sometimes come close to giving in to that attraction. But because they’re both honorable people and because McCabe, in Maggie’s words, “is already taken,” they don’t. At least not yet.

But mostly, what makes McCabe who he is, is his determination and dedication as a cop. This is, perhaps, best described in the following passage from The Chill of Night:

“(McCabe) took a deep breath and walked toward the trunk preparing himself for the first few seconds he’d spend alone with the victim. The cop and the corpse. A unique and strangely intimate relationship. Just the two of them. It didn’t matter to McCabe who the victim was . A gangbanger or an innocent child. Either way, for him, it was this moment of shared intimacy that turned what for some cops was merely a job into an obligation. A sacred trust. To find and punish the killer, to right the wrong, to balance the scales. The Lord may someday get His turn-but for now, McCabe believed, vengence is mine. I go first.”

What is The Chill of Night all about?

The Chill of Night is a both a suspense thriller and a whodunit. The story deals with the sexual abuse of teens and mental illness.

The prime murder victim is a successful and ambitious young female lawyer who was repeatedly raped by her step-father when she was only fifteen.

The murder was witnessed by a young schizophrenic woman. She tries to tell the police what she has seen. But because they know of her illness, the cops think she’s hallucinating and don’t believe what she tells them. But the killer knows who she is and he’s after her.

One of the key suspects is an ex-priest who left the church because of the abuse scandals and now runs a home for runaway teens.

What's your writing process? Outline or organic?

Definitely organic. I tried outlining my first novel, The Cutting. I veered off the outline at around page three and never looked back. For me, getting inside the characters’ heads and letting them tell me where to take the story next is the best way to keep the writing fresh, the characters real and the action suspenseful.

What projects, literary or otherwise, are occupying you at the moment?

I’m hard at work on the third in the series which features McCabe’s partner Maggie Savage as the primary hero. Maggie goes home to Washington County in Downeast Maine to help a friend who’s been falsely accused of murder. McCabe’s involved but in a secondary way. The book also introduces a great new character, Dr. Emily Kaplan, MD. She’s a family practitioner who also just happens to be a former world champion female boxer.

Who are some new, or not so new, voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

I’ve recently discovered a couple of great new (for me) writers. I really enjoyed Tana French’s In the Woods, a murder mystery set in Ireland, and just finished her second in the series, The Likeness.

Another writer I’m currently enjoying enormously is Michel Gruber. Beautifully written, well researched and utterly engrossing. Gruber’s novels include The Forgery of Venus about the discovery of a previously unknown Valasquez painting. Is it a forgery or is it real? Was it painted by the Spanish master or is it the work of a hugely talented but ne’er do well present day New York artist? Fascinating stuff.

I didn't grow up considering myself a writer. When and how did you discover your inner muse?

As a child, I was more of a dreamer than a writer. I spent much of my time inhabiting imaginary worlds and inventing imaginary friends. As an adult, I’ve always been a writer. Like a lot of other thriller writers (James Patterson, Stuart Woods, Chris Grabenstein, Ted Bell and others) I spent a lot of years in the advertising business writng mostly TV commercials. Great training for a novelist because it teaches you to write dialogue and not to waste a single word. In a thirty second commercial you have to tell an entire story in no more than sixty-five words. After I left the agency business, I wrote a couple of non-fiction books under contract to corporate clients. The Cutting was literally my first shot at fiction.

Who were your literary influences growing up?

A lot of the usual suspects. Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, James Fenimore Cooper, Albert Payson Terhune’s dog books. As a teenager, I gravitated more toward writers like J.D. Salinger and Norman Mailer. I also began reading my first crime fiction...Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett et al.

How has living in the Pine Tree State affected your writing?

I believe setting is a critical element in any successful crime series. James Lee Burke’s Louisiana. Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico. Your own Millers Kill, NY.

I chose Portland for two reasons. One, because I live here and know the city well. Two, because Portland offers just about everything a crime writer could want. A gritty urban setting. Terrific architecture. The working waterfront. Great bars, restaurants and art galleries. Interesting neighborhoods. And, importantly, a police department that’s sophisticated enough to have big city skills but small enough so that most of the cops know each other.

James Hayman

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What's your writing process? Outline or organic?

“Definitely organic. I tried outlining my first novel, The Cutting. I veered off the outline at around page three and never looked back. For me, getting inside the characters’ heads and letting them tell me where to take the story next is the best way to keep the writing fresh, the characters real and the action suspenseful. ”