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When an Aging, Gray-Haired Mystery Writer Becomes a 25-year-old Female Schizophrenic

We have a wonderful guest post for you today by James Hayman, author of the new thriller novel, The Chill of Night.  Visit James on the web at

When an Aging, Gray-Haired Mystery Writer Becomes a 25 year-old Female Schizophrenic

by James Hayman

Did you hear the one about the bearded, gray-haired male geezer who somehow managed to turn himself into a twenty-five female schizophrenic?  No?  Believe me it happened. It happened to me. And it wasn’t the first time I became somebody else.

Living inside the heads of different kinds of characters is something good writers have to do all the time. Writers of mysteries and thrillers as well as writers of so-called literary fiction.

But creating the character of Abby Quinn, the young schizophrenic woman who is a central character in my newest Mike McCabe thriller, The Chill of Night, was one of the most challenging and most fascinating experiences of my writing life.

Abby, for those of you who haven’t read the book yet, is a young woman with a history of mental illness. She hears Voices that aren’t there. She sees visions that aren’t there. When she’s good about taking her anti-psychotic medication, these things are pretty much under control.  But when she goes off her meds or runs into something majorly traumatic, all bets are off.

And one freezing night on an island in Maine that’s exactly what happens.  Abby sees a murder.  She’s sure she’s seen it.  Or is she?  She runs to the local police station and tells the cop on duty what she has seen.  Or thinks she has seen.

The cop knows Abby’s history and assumes she’s hallucinating.  He doesn’t even bother reporting what she has told him.  But then a body turns up and McCabe realizes the actual details of the crime match Abby’s story so precisely that what she must really have seen what she says she saw. But by then she’s gone. And a murderer is trying to find her.

I wrote a good portion of The Chill of Night in Abby’s voice, from Abby’s point of view. To be able to do that, to get the voice right, I had to really get into Abby’s head. To see what she sees, and to hear the Voices she hears.  To become in a very real sense, Abby Quinn.

To help me get it right, I read personal memoirs written by a number young schizophrenic women.  Two in particular helped me.  The Quiet Room:A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett and The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn Saks.

These allowed me to get into the head of Abby Quinn. To experience, as I wrote, exactly what a young woman in her condition might experience under similar circumstances. It was sometimes frightening.  But it was also very revealing and very rewarding.  In the end, I think Abby became my favorite character of all those I’ve ever created.  In a very real sense, she and I have become one.

Insomnia and The Fine Art of Writing Murder Mysteries by James Hayman

Insomnia and The Fine Art of Writing Murder Mysteries

by James Hayman, author of THE CUTTING

Did you ever wonder what it takes to write a successful murder mystery? Or a series of murder mysteries or suspense thrillers featuring the likes of  Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski?  One answer is not sleeping. Ms. Paretsky once noted the secret to her success as a writer (or at least one secret) was the inability to sleep.  And the longer I ply this particular trade the more I think she’s right.

Every time I come to a point in one of my books where I can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, I find the best way to come up with an answer is by lying awake in the dark when I “should” be sleeping and obsessing about it.  I do this a lot. And it always seems to lead to something that works better than anything I thought of during my normal waking or working hours. When this happens, I know full well that if I just lie there and eventually fall sleep, I’ll have forgotten the idea by morning.

The secret to a writer’s success is the inability to sleep.

I know some writers keep a notebook and pencil by their beds for just such occasions. However, I happen to share a bed with a woman who gets grumpy when she’s woken by me turning on a light to write something at three in the morning. So I get out of bed, be it two or three AM or four AM, and trundle into my writing room where I wake up my sleeping laptop and write out the idea in some detail. I hate it but it works. It helped in the writing of The Cutting and it helped in the  writing of the second McCabe thriller, The Chill of Night, which St. Martin’s/Minotaur will be bringing out later this year.

Right now, I’m trying to work out the basics of the plot for my third McCabe thriller (as yet untitled).  In this book, McCabe’s daughter Casey has grown into a drop-dead gorgeous sixteen-year-old who boasts her mother’s good looks, her father’s stubborness and a brand new driver’s license.

In the new book, Casey falls for a really hot nineteen-year-old who’s definitely the wrong kind of guy.  And it gets her into trouble (No, not that kind of trouble) and, for the past week or so, I’ve been unable to figure out how to get her out of it.

A few nights ago at three-eighteen in the morning the answer came to me.  Thankful for this gift from the gods or the muses or whoever they are, I got up and went to work, beating most of the local farmers, fishermen and lobstermen to the grindstone by a good forty minutes.

James Hayman is the author of the thriller, The Cutting.  You can visit his website at

Interview with thriller author James Hayman

James HaymanLike the hero of The Cutting, James Hayman is a transplanted New Yorker. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan, he spent more than twenty years writing TV advertising for clients like The U.S. Army, Lincoln-Mercury and Procter & Gamble. He moved to Portland, Maine in 2001. Four years later he decided to scratch a lifelong itch to write fiction and began work on his first suspense thriller featuring homicide detective Mike McCabe. St. Martin’s/Minotaur bought rights to The Cutting and published it in July 2009. Hayman is currently at work on the second McCabe novel, due for release in July 2010 and tentatively titled The Chill of Night.

His website is

Blog is


The Cutting 2Welcome to Beyond the Books, James.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

The Cutting is my first fiction and my commercially published book. I’ve written several non-fiction books under contract to clients that they published.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

The Cutting is my first book.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

I almost feel guilty answering this question knowing what a lot of writers go through. But I was incredibly lucky.

When I finished the first draft or The Cutting I sent a cover letter and my first eighty pages to exactly one agent, Meg Ruley, of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, who is  one of the top mystery/thriller agents in New York. Well, Meg must have had a light weekend because she read the eighty pages, loved them and emailed me Monday morning to ask if she could see the rest of the manuscript. I said she could.

After we came to an agreement, Meg showed it to, I think, seven publishers in New York. Five said no. Two made offers. We accepted the offer from St. Martin’s Press for a two-book deal for The Cutting and a second Michael McCabe thriller.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

Three of the rejections came in first. That made me a little apprehensive but it wasn’t too bad because I knew The Cutting was going out to a lot more editors. The first offer (the one we didn’t take) came in about a week or so later and was pretty quickly followed by the one from St. Martin’s.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

See above.

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

Jumped up and down, yelled “Whoopie,” called or emailed just about everyone I know and then took my wife out to an expensive dinner.

What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I sent press releases to every newspaper in Maine. I threw a launch party for nearly two hundred guests.  The publicity guy at St. martin’s set up readings at six or seven bookstores around Maine. I was interviewed by a couple of bloggers who heard about the book and I got a five minute interview on a TV show called 207 on the NBC affiliate here in Portland.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?


Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

I’m almost finished writing McCabe #2 which we’re calling The Chill of Night. Everyone who’s read the manuscript so far ( that includes several readers I trust plus Meg and my editor at St. Martin’s, Charlie Spicer) thinks it’s a stronger book than the first.  That’s high praise because they all loved The Cutting. The phrase they most use is “The writing’s more assured.”

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

As I said earlier. I was incredibly lucky. The stars fell into perfect alignment. The angels smiled down from heaven. It all happened fast. So, I guess, the short answer is nothing.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Writing and nearly finishing a second novel in about a year while trying to promote the first.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked so har or so intensively in my life.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

Advertising was a lot of fun for me. I got to race around the world writing and producing big budget TV commercials for major clients. It was also great training for writing thrillers. It taught me to write “tight” (A thirty second TV commercial has to tell a whole story in a max of 65 words). It taught me how to write dialogue and to think cinematically.

However, if I had it to do over, I would have started writing fiction much sooner than I did. Decades sooner. I think I have a lot of books in me and because I’m not a kid I probably won’t get to write them all. But maybe I will. Elmore Leonard’s well into his eighties and he’s still turning them out.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

I’ve combined the best of both worlds, sequentially if not simultaneously.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

Grayer. Maybe balder. Hopefully not fatter. Hopefully still writing fiction.  At some point in the near future I’d like to try a non-genre book. Literary fiction as they say, although I happen to think that’s a false distinction…a lot of the best genre writing is every bit as good as a lot of the best general fiction being published today.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep going to workshops and meeting as many agents and writers as you can. Networking helps. And keep dreaming.

I had a lot of luck early on, but if your books are any good, one of these days the luck will fall your way too.

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