Name James Hankins
Where are you from: I was born in a fairly small town in New Jersey, U.S.A.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc: I earned a B.F.A. from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before trying my luck in Hollywood. That didn’t work out quite like I hoped it would, so I got a law degree and practiced for a few years while write fiction at night. When my twin sons were born, my wife and I decided that I would stay home with them and write when I could find the time. It has worked out very well. The four of us live a little north of Boston, Massachusetts.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
James: I recently released a new suspense thriller, SHADY CROSS – about Stokes, a small-time con man, who comes across a dead body and a bag full of cash. As he dreams about all he can do with the money, a phone rings in side the bag and a little girl’s voice on the line says, “Daddy? Are you coming to get me? They say if you give them money they’ll let you take me home.” So now he has to decide whether to use the money to build a new life for himself, or to save the life of a little girl he’s never met…because he can’t do both.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
James: It seems like I was always writing something—stories and books when I was a kid, screenplays when I got older, and now thrillers. I love to tell stories and I’m fortunate now that there are some people out there who want to read them.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
James: That’s an interesting question. I had small successes in Hollywood, so I made a little money as a screenwriter, but not enough to keep going with it. But I felt like a writer for a while then. I put it aside during law school, but then dove back in deep after that and I haven’t stopped. The moment I finished my first novel is probably the moment that I felt like a novelist, even though it was never published (and certainly won’t be).
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
James: I had been away from creative writing for a few years—during law school—and I missed it. And once I started doing it again, I realized just how badly I had missed it. But I had been thinking as a screenwriter for years and didn’t want to go back to that kind of writing at that time, so I decided to try my hand at a novel to see if I could do it. It’s quite different from screenwriting. I adapted one of my own screenplays into novel form and enjoyed the process and was fairly pleased with the result (though the novel will never see the light of day again).
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
James: I probably do, though I’m not fully aware of it. I just write the way I write. I am conscious, though, of trying to keep things moving along briskly, while also striving to write layered, interesting characters.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
James: For SHADY CROSS? I wanted something subtly symbolic of events in the book. There are some shady characters in the story and some double-dealing going on, so I put the two ideas together to create the name of a fictional town that serves as the setting of the story.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
James: I’m certainly not preaching a message, but I will say that the story is about redemption…but the character isn’t acting in order to be redeemed. He doesn’t even think in those terms. He’s just doing what he thinks he should be doing—which turns out to be about the first time he’s tried to commit an unselfish act in his life—and it just so happens that his choices put him on the path toward redemption.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
James: I’d like to think that all of it is. There are characters out there who do the things my characters do. There are situations that occur in life like those in the book. My job was to blend all of this together in a dramatic and enjoyable way.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
James: I don’t write about my own experiences, or those of people that I know. My stories are pulled entirely from my imagination, though they are often sparked by something I hear or read. And I rarely base characters or their actions on people in my life, though I might throw in a little detail for fun—like the kind of drink a friend likes or the kind of car someone I know drives. I sometimes do, however, use last names of people I know or have known. If I hear an interesting name, I remember it and might use it for a character…though I try not to name my villains after anyone I know!
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
James: I’ve never had a mentor. As for books that have influenced me, the first that comes to mind is a book on screenwriting called ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE, by the incomparable William Goldman (who wrote “The Princess Bride,” “Marathon Man,” and other novels, as well as numerous screenplays). It is a wonderful book on writing stories, regardless of the format or genre. In fiction, I would say I’ve been most inspired by—if not directly influenced by—TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. It’s just such an incredible book.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
James: At this moment I am reading BLUE LABYRINTH, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
James: No one jumps to mind. There are so many good ones out there.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
James: I’m working with my publisher on my next book, titled THE PRETTIEST ONE, which is due out this fall. It is a blend of mystery, suspense, and thriller, and then a little more mystery thrown in (sort of a mystery bookending another mystery).
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
James: That’s a tough one. The first that comes to mind is my agent, Michael Bourret, who worked with me for 9 or 10 years before I made him a dime in commission. But I’m going to have to add that the entity that has given me the most support outside of my family members—if I can call them an “entity”—are my friends and readers, who keep buying my books and talking about them and posting and tweeting, etc. Sorry for responding with two entities, and also defining “entity” extraordinarily broadly.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
James: Not that I can think of at the moment. Perhaps I’ll feel differently down the road, but it’s still too fresh for me to have gained enough perspective to think about changes I would make.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
James: Not really. I just always liked stories as a kid—watching them on TV, reading them, hearing my parents tell them—and before long I was telling them, too.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
James: Don’t be mad, but I can’t. It’s in the very early stages and too many things could change before I pin them down. I don’t want to say something now and then have someone later ask me, “What happened to the robotic killer gorilla you were going to write about? So I tend to say next to nothing about a book until it’s nearly finished.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
James: Finding enough time to do it. When things are going well, there’s just not enough time in the day. But my family is wonderful about helping me out in that regard, giving me as much space as possible if I absolutely need it.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
James: I couldn’t possibly name a favorite author. There are so many that I love. The closest is probably Mark Twain. But I love Dickens, too. Of those working today, there are simply too many authors that I read and admire to single out any one of them.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
James: Several of my books are local for me, so I travel locally. I haven’t yet found the need to travel far. But that will come, I’m sure. But with the Internet, you can travel pretty far without leaving your desk chair (as long as you double-check everything you read and see).
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
James: The cover of my newest book, SHADY CROSS, was designed by a man named David Drummond, for my publisher Thomas & Mercer, based on a concept of mine. I’m very pleased with his work. The covers of my first three books (BROTHERS AND BONES, JACK OF SPADES, and DRAWN), which I self-published, were designed by a graphic designer named Asha Hossain, again working from concepts I suggested.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
James: Stokes, the protagonist in SHADY CROSS, is an antihero. He isn’t a trustworthy guy—though I hope he’s a likeable guy or you wouldn’t want to read about him for an entire book. But he has done questionable, selfish things in his life, and doing the right thing doesn’t come easily for him. So I had to achieve a delicate balance, writing a character like that and making him likeable despite his faults, as well as making his well-intended actions believable even though, up to that point in his life, he had only thought of himself. But I gave Stokes a noble goal and a sense of humor, and I think those go a long way toward making the reader like him despite the choices he has made.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
James: There’s nothing I can put my finger on, but I probably learn a little with every book, I think, even if I don’t know exactly what I’m learning. I assume my craft is improving every time out. At least I hope it is.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
James: This is nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been said a thousand times, but it’s oh so true: Write as much as you can. And read. There is no substitute for either.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
James: I’d like to thank every one of them. I’m so lucky to be able to do what I love, and the support of my readers—buying my books, reviewing them, spreading the word about them—makes it all possible. Also, I’d like to say that if you like my books, feel free to contact me through my website and tell me. I’d love to hear from you.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
James: I don’t, but the first one that came to mind when you asked is “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak. I loved that book as a kid and I still do. I even reference it in THE PRETTIEST ONE.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
James: My wife makes me laugh all the time. Funniest person I know. My kids do, too. What makes me cry? Bad things happening to people I care deeply about. Also, the scene in the movie “E.T.,” when E.T. is sick and pale blue and lying in the bathroom and he looks up at Elliot’s mother and says in his weak, alien voice, “Mom.” That scene gets me every time for some reason.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
James: That would be incredible. For the purposes of this question, I’ll stay away from religious figures, though it would be very tempting to try to get some concrete answers. Having to choose only one person would be very difficult, though. There are so many people who would be fascinating to meet. And the thought of going another route—that of choosing someone who could do the most for me professionally—is tempting. But in the end, I’d probably choose Leonardo da Vinci (assuming we could bridge the language gap). One of the most brilliant minds of all time. He simply saw the world and its possibilities differently from everyone else.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone and why?
James: The most important things are ones commonly found on headstones. I’d like it said that I was a good father and husband. I’d love to be able to add that I was a good friend and a good man. (And hey, while they’re at it, I wouldn’t mind if they added that I wasn’t a bad writer.)
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
James: I read. And I play guitar and piano and I write songs a little. I like to travel with my family, too.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
James: A few favorite films, in no particular order: “Witness,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Jaws,” “Best In Show,” “The Princess Bride,” … I could go on and on. As for TV shows, the ones I’m currently watching are “Episodes,” “Veep,” “The Blacklist,” “Modern Family,” and a few others.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
James: Foods? Without taking nutritional value into account, my favorites are peanut butter and bacon (sometimes together on a sandwich…try it!). Colors: I like the blue of my wife’s eyes and those of one of my sons (it’s nearly the same), as well as the green of my other son’s. Music: The Beatles.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
James: I’d like to have written the song “Let It Be,” founded Microsoft, and discovered the cure for a terrible disease, among other things. But if you mean what profession would I like to have had, I’d love to have been a filmmaker. Or have enough musical talent to be a successful singer/songwriter…which I don’t. So if I’m being realistic, I think it would have been interesting to study the human mind in some capacity. I’d love to know why we think the way we do and why we do the things we do.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
James: I don’t blog right now, but I do have a website—jameshankinsbooks.com. On Facebook, I’m at https://www.facebook.com/JamesHankinsAuthorPage?ref=hl. I’d love folks to like my page. Finally, it would be great if people followed me on Twitter. My handle is James_Hankins_.