Steven Hague, author of US crime fiction and gritty-crime novels.
My lifelong dream was to become an author, so when I got a publishing deal I was over the moon. I like everything from early Elvis right through to the Foo Fighters. I’m 44 years old, and I live in Norwich, England with my wife Lisa, where we’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new chocolate Labrador puppy. I write fast-paced, gritty crime novels, my first, Justice For All, introduced Zac Hunter, an uncompromising ex-cop who’s on a one-man mission to clean up the mean streets of Los Angeles. In the sequel, Blood Law, Hunter’s search for a missing child leads him into dangerous territory and he soon finds himself caught in the middle of a gang war. The Beholder is my third novel, and this time Hunter must face off against his most dangerous foe to date, a psychotic serial killer who’s out to settle an old score.
When and why did you start writing?
I was always a voracious reader as a child, and my love of books soon led to an urge to write stories. When I was at school, I was the kid that would hand in twenty pages of scribbled fiction when asked to write two pages for homework. I used to write my own stuff for fun, and I dreamt of becoming an author, but as I grew older that seemed like an unobtainable goal – something that other people did – and by the time I’d got a sensible job at a large investment company I wasn’t writing much of anything.
As my career progressed I found myself writing more and more copy to help the firm in its marketing efforts, until finally I was asked to be their first investment writer, where I basically translated investment manager speak (trust me, it’s another language) into something that was more understandable to the general public.
At this point, I really rediscovered my love of writing, and I also began to build some confidence in my abilities. When the firm relocated to London I worked freelance for them for a couple of years, and in my spare time started to work on a novel. My goal at this point was first to finish it, then to see if I liked it, then to see if I could find one other person that liked it! Once those boxes had been ticked I decided to contact some literary agents to see if I could get representation. A number of standard rejection letters dribbled in over the following months, but amongst them, there were a few encouraging comments that convinced me I was on to something. Figuring that if I wrote the second book I could put to use all the lessons I’d learnt while writing the first one, I started the process again. The result was ‘Justice For All’, and this time around I had an agent within a week of sending out my first submission, and a publishing deal not long after that.
What inspires your writing?
I think the answer to this is twofold. Firstly, on a broad level, I take inspiration from all the great crime novels that I’ve read over the years. Having been a fan of the genre since my early teens, when it came to writing my own stuff I knew that it had to be a crime. And secondly, inspiration for each of my novels thus far has come from a subject that I find interesting – for example, when I set out to write my latest book, The Beholder, I was interested in people smuggling over the US/Mexico border, especially that of young South American girls who make it to the States only to find themselves enslaved in prostitution rings. Once I have this subject of interest I spend a couple of months researching it as much as possible and often find those plot ideas are inspired by real life events.
How would you define creativity?
The ability to make something from nothing. When I type the final full stop on a 100,000-word manuscript I find it staggering that a few months earlier all I had was some blank paper and an over- active imagination.
Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?
Not so many rituals to get me in the mood for writing, but I do find that a walk in the nearby woods is helpful to clear the mind. I used to have my faithful old chocolate Labrador, Murphy, to accompany me, but sadly he passed away just before Christmas, hence we’re waiting for a new pup to fill the void.
If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?
Enjoy the ride – I was so determined to ‘make it’ as an author I didn’t really stop and enjoy the small victories along the way. I’ve subsequently discovered that the chances of making a living from writing novels aren’t that great, so it’s best to rejoice when anything goes your way and to not get too downbeat when things go against you.
What do you believe makes for great writing?
Believable characters doing believable things. If the reader starts to question the actions or motivations of a character then the battle is lost. Outside of characters and plot, I think there’s a third factor that makes for great writing that I don’t often see mentioned – prose style. Some of my favourite authors are pretty much telling the same story over and over, but I keep reading because of the way they tell it. There’s great joy to be had in a well-crafted sentence.
Which writers have influenced your writing?
I’m a sucker for great American crime fiction, so I have a long list of favourite authors, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll mention just three: First, Robert Crais, for his excellent plotting and the strong dynamic between his two principal characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Second, Andrew Vachss, for his tough protagonist, the urban survivalist, Burke, his unsurpassed knowledge of the gutter (both urban and human), and his razor sharp black humour. And third, James Ellroy, the demon dog himself, for his refusal to compromise on anything that he does, and for being the man who gave us L.A. Confidential and American Tabloid. And I also draw inspiration from quality American cop shows – stuff like ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’ – which I’m told has helped to give my writing a cinematic quality.
How do you measure success as a writer?
I still approach it the same way I did when I first started – write a book that I like, then find another person that likes it, and so on – if you get too hung up on Amazon rankings and royalties you go mad.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Absolutely, but it generally never sees the light of day. When you write a novel, you have days when the words come easy and days when it’s like dragging blood from a stone. I’ve found myself reworking a paragraph over and over until, in the end, I’ve had to force myself to push on knowing that I’m still not happy with it. The funny thing is when I read that paragraph back the next day I generally find that it’s nowhere near as bad as I feared and just requires a little polishing – it’s remarkable what a fresh perspective can do!
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
That’s a good question that I’ve never been asked before. I guess spending months researching, plotting, then writing a novel only to reach the end and decide that I really wasn’t happy with it. When you invest so much time and emotional effort into a project you really want it to have been worthwhile once you’ve finished – and by worthwhile I simply mean being happy with the final product. Anyone that completes a novel should be proud of their achievement, regardless of whether it ever gets published or hits the bestseller lists.
What traits do you feel make a great writer?
I think empathy above all else. As a writer, you need to be able to put yourself into your characters heads and experience their reality if you want to have a shot at making them believable. This can be harder to achieve when you’re writing for an antagonist, but in many ways, it’s even more vital – villains need to be well rounded and their motives need to make sense. I try to have all my characters live in the grey – heroes that sometimes behave questionably, and villains that elicit understanding at worst, and sympathy at best.
Describe your latest book to our readers.
My latest book is called The Beholder. The back cover blurb is as follows; When Zac Hunter takes on a missing person case he figures he can do a little good and make a little dough. But as the case sucks him deeper into L.A.’s seedy underworld, he wonders what the hell he’s gotten himself into. Eight hundred miles away, a deranged serial killer who calls himself the Beholder has a master plan. He’s waited years to get reacquainted with Hunter, and now he finally has the object of his obsession in his sights. As the two men draw ever closer the death toll climbs on both sides of the U.S. / Mexico border. Soon, the Beholder’s depraved scheme will bring about their reunion, and Hunter will find himself at the mercy of a true psychopath – a man whose capacity for evil knows no bounds…
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
Firstly, I hope that my readers are entertained. I write fast paced thrillers that are designed to keep readers hooked, to keep them turning the page to see what happens next. But I also hope that I provoke a little bit of thought about a difficult subject – shine a light on something dark that needs to be discussed – for The Beholder it was the horrors of people smuggling into the USA, for my previous novel, Blood Law, it was the impossible choices that kids face when they grow up in inner cities blighted by gangs.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Love the genre you write in and immerse yourself in it. Get the words on the page – no one’s going to write them for you, and it’s easier to polish a manuscript than to complete it. Work hard to hone your craft – edit until you can barely see the words, then edit some more. Get as much feedback as possible, preferably from people that have no vested interest in being nice to you. Embrace the internet – you don’t need to find a publisher to get published anymore, go D-I- Y.
Can you give our audience a writing prompt to help them get writing?
There are basically two types of writers, the push straight ahead or the planner. If you’re a push straight ahead type then sit down and start writing, it’s as simple as that. If you’re a planner (like me), then do your research and work out your plot structure (I use a pinboard to break down my story into scenes). This will give you a roadmap to follow as you write – sure, the plan will change along the way, scenes will be added, amended, or removed, and their order will change many times but you’ll always have a rough idea of where you’re going.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently in the process of getting the word out on my latest novel, The Beholder while trying to come to terms with the rigours of self-publicising. After that, I’m going to re-read my first unpublished manuscript to see if it’s worth salvaging if not, I’ll make a fresh start on the fourth Zac Hunter novel.
by Steven Hague
When unlicensed PI Zac Hunter takes on a routine missing person case for a hotshot movie producer, he figures he can do a little good and make a little dough. But as the case sucks him deeper into the seedy underworld of L.A.’s strip clubs and sex dens, he starts to wonder just what the hell he’s gotten himself into.
Eight hundred miles away, a deranged serial killer who calls himself the Beholder has a master plan. He’s waited the best part of twenty years to get reacquainted with Hunter, and now he finally has the object of his obsession in his sights.
As the two men draw inexorably closer, the death toll climbs on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, while the misery of illegal immigration and enforced prostitution is laid bare. Soon, the Beholder’s depraved scheme will bring about their reunion, and Hunter will find himself at the mercy of a true psychopath – a man whose capacity for evil knows no bounds…