Thursday, September 3, 2009

James Hayman on WHERE YOU WRITE

JAN: A native New Yorker, Jim Hayman spent nearly thirty years working for Madison Ave's ad agencies before moving to Portland, Maine. There he decided to follow in the footsteps of some other former madmen like James Patterson and Stuart Woods and begin a new career writing thrillers. His debut novel is The Cutting.
“Bookstores have been looking for a writer of popular fiction who can reliably produce a bestseller. James Hayman…has invented a cop with sophisticated tastes. If your summer reading includes a psychological thriller, this one’s for you.”-Mandy Twaddell, Providence Journal

JAN: I met Jim via email when I helped line him up as a panelist for the New England Crime Bake mystery conference this November (14th, 15th, 16th at the Dedham Hilton outside Boston, mark your calendars). I'm thrilled to introduce you to his writer's insight today.

JAMES HAYMAN: A Writer Retreats.

“Where do you write?”

I’m sure most writers have been asked that question. I know I have more times than I can count. At least once at every public event and private gathering I’ve attended since my first suspense thriller, The Cutting, leapt its way onto bookstore shelves at the end of June. (Author’s Note: Okay, leapt is a bit hyperbolic. But, as a writer of stories involving sex, violence, murder and mayhem, I do like action verbs, and “leapt its way” seems more appealing than the more sedate, though possibly more accurate, “found its way” or the more passive, but definitely more accurate, “appeared.”)

Anyway, for me, the short answer to the question of where I write is: Not At Home. A lot of people who know where I live find that puzzling.

Thanks to a couple of decades spent churning out detergent, car and army recruiting commercials for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Lincoln/Mercury, and the US Army, home for me is now a beautiful light-filled house set on the rocky coast of Maine. From its many windows I can watch the waves crashing onto the shore and gaze at a series of islands receding into the distance across the water.

Sounds idyllic, right?

It is.

Sounds like the perfect writer’s retreat, right?

It ought to be.

So, that’s where you wrote The Cutting, right?

“Uhh, well, no. Not exactly.”

Turns out, that for me at least, the perfect writer’s retreat only works perfectly as long as my mind is in gear, the plot is unfolding as planned, and my characters are behaving exactly as I want them. In other words, when I’m writing the easy parts.

However, when I get to one of those places where I’m not quite sure what Mike McCabe, my hero, and Maggie, his partner, ought to be doing next. Or exactly how bitchy I ought to be making McCabe’s ex-wife Sandy. Or how graphically I should describe the next slaying or autopsy, well, then what seems to be the perfect writer’s retreat unfortunately morphs into the perfect place for procrastination.

It’s the place where I can stop writing for any of a million reasons. All valid, all rational, all stupid.

“Gee, shouldn’t I be checking my emails?”

“Gee, shouldn’t I be checking that stock I bought last week and see if it’s recovering yet from its precipitous fall?”

“Gee, I’m almost out of clean underwear. Shouldn’t I be washing a load?”

Annie Dillard, a writer whose work I admire, once described the perfect place to write fiction as a small cinderblock cell without windows, without telephone and without Internet access. A place where one’s imagination can stay in its imaginary world because there are no other choices.

My choice of the perfect writing place isn’t as extreme as Dillard’s. I chose a fifth floor carrel in the library of a nearby university. Once there I can’t log on to the Internet because I’m not a registered as either a student or a teacher. I can’t stop for a snack because there are no snacks to be had. I can’t even go to the bathroom without lugging my laptop with me.
Yes, I miss the view of the waves and the islands, but my carrel is ideal. Without it I wouldn’t get the next book done.

To learn more about Jim Hayman or his terrific debut book, The Cutting, check him out at


  1. I spend a lot of time writing at the library, too. No laundry buzzers going off there!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Hi Jim, welcome to JR! I often think I should leave home to write but so far haven't managed to pry myself out. You are so right about the distractions! If you get a chance, tell us a little about THE CUTTING.

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  4. Hey Jim! SO great to see you here!

    I know when I get out of my office--either at home or at the TV station--I always get ideas. Something happens, or unfolds, or there's a conversation snippet overheard that's just perfect.

    (Yesterday I heard someone ask on a phone conversation: "Is he still hitting you? Or is it just fake?"
    And I thought--what could that be about?)

    But for writing..ah, I like my little desk.

    (And those who entered the contest for a copy of my books last week--thank you!--check the comments yesterday for the winners!)

  5. I love the leaving the house idea, and have found some of my best writing on the quiet car of the acela. But what stops me from doing it all the time is that I usually have a lot of files and research materials I like to have nearby.

  6. Hi Roberta

    The Cutting is the first in a series featuring Portland PD homicide detective Michael McCabe.

    Like me McCabe is a transplanted New Yorker. He moved up from Manhattan after his bitchy first wife walked out on both the marriage and their young daughter, Casey. He did so hoping Maine would prove a safer, more wholesome place to bring Casey up. But he very quickly learns “No matter how far he ran, no matter how well he hid, he'd never leave the violence or his fascination with it behind.”

    From first line of Chapter One, “Fog can be a sudden thing on the Maine coast,” The Cutting is also very much about the city of Portland which is and will remain a key element in the series.

    In The Cutting healthy young athletes are turning up dead, their hearts cut from their bodies with surgical precision. McCabe and his partner, Maggie Savage, must follow the clues and eventually track down a brilliant psychopathic killer to find out why. Naturally they do.

  7. Welcome Jim:
    I agree with you about choosing a place to write. I face a blank wall, rather than our stunning view to Mt. Tamalpais, but I still can't resist checking emails, getting up to pick dead heads off flowers etc.
    My perfect place to think and work out scenes is driving around in the car. Of course I often wind up twenty miles in the wrong direction, but never mind...

  8. Dead head -- sounds like a perfect title for a novel (Rosemary?).

    It's so reassuring for all of us to hear that other authors get 'stuck' in the 'what happens next' conumdrum and would rather do the laundry or chase dust balls or just about anything else but look at the blank page.

    Jim, you're among friends.

  9. Once I decided I HAD TO change the shelfpaper in my cabinets.


    But--forgive me here--I kind of like that blank page.

    Okay, briefly.

  10. Hi Jim,
    Great to meet you and delighted that you'll be at Crimebake! Lucky you for finding the perfect place to write..and The Cutting sounds very intriguing..I look forward to reading it. My house presents a lot of distractions too, but just as often I can go outside, pull some weeds and come up with a good idea.
    Still...if you're not using your place....
    PS..Hallie, you're clairvoyant - DeadHead comes out April 2010.

  11. I very much enjoyed how you articulated this, Jim!

    I tend to write at coffee shops or other places away from home. I like a tidy house, and too much there calls me. That said, I edit and revise better at home than any other place. Strange, but there it is.

    I remember meeting a writer at the Book Passage Conference in Corte Madera who wrote in a walk-in closet. She needed to be in a space sans phone, sans housemates, sans windows.