Interview of author Jim Michael Hansen by Narayan Radhakrishnan
Synopsis from back flap:
Denver homicide detective Bryson Coventry is on the hunt for a vicious killer who has warned attorney Kelly Parks, Esq., that she is on his murder list. Something from the beautiful young lawyer's past has come back to haunt her, something involving the dark secrets of Denver's largest law firm. With the elusive killer ever one step away, Kelly Parks frantically searches for answers, not only to save her life but also to find out whether she unwittingly participated in a murder herself.
Lawyer Jim Michael Hansen is a new voice in the legal thriller genre and his first book Night Laws has hit the stands to rave reviews. I had the good fortune of reading and reviewing this book for New Mystery Reader.
I also had the opportunity of conducting this short interview with Hansen wherein we discussed his book Night Laws, the mystery suspense genre and of course the future of the genre in general and the author in particular.
Narayan: Mr. Hansen, thank you for sparing your time for this interview. My first question, how did Night Laws come into being?
Jim: Night Laws exists today only because in the beginning I had no idea how much work it would take. Imagine getting out of your car under a nice sunny sky, walking over to a trailhead that meanders into a beautiful field, and saying to yourself, I think I’ll just follow it and see where it goes. Four days later you’re still following it, lost and surrounded by jagged peaks, wolves are nipping at your heals and you’re covered in head-to-toe mosquito bites, craving anything that looks like water. That’s sort of how the Night Laws journey started and ended.
Narayan: Give me some details.
Jim: Well, I hardly ever read a book. I’m a lawyer and think in terms of billable hours. So whereas lots of people will pick up a book and think, “This is going to be interesting,” I pick it up and think, “This is going to cost me a thousand dollars of lost time. It better knock my socks off, change my life and wash my car.” But I did in fact pick one up several years ago, a crime thriller. I really liked it and said to myself: “I think I’ll write my own. How hard can it be?” So that’s how it all started.
Narayan: And that’s the trailhead, if I’m following your story.
Jim: Exactly. That’s me standing there, looking out into a beautiful field. Not a rattlesnake or a thundercloud in sight yet. Then I whipped out a book called Perfect Shadows, my first writing adventure. Not much planning or editing or anything formal, just a string of words that kept going until the good guy killed the bad guy. Then I stopped writing and sent the MS out to a few agents. I actually got one, a good one in fact, who submitted it to the NY publishing houses with many exclamation points. I got a second reading at one of them and praise by others, but no one reached into their pocket and said, “Here, Jim, here’s your fifty million dollars. Now quit your day job and give us tons more just like it.”
Narayan: So do we count that as a wolf?
Jim: I think we should, or a storm cloud at the least. Although no one picked it up, I wasn’t totally discouraged and thought I’d give it another try. Here’s where the wolves enter the scene in multiple packs. I started Night Laws in 2000 but kept having to put it down because my law practice was so nuts. At one point, I actually stuffed it in a drawer, half completed, for about three years straight. Then I pulled it back out, dusted it off, read it, threw away every other page and then finished it in a whirlwind. Then I relentless edited it twelve full times. We can think of those as the mosquito bites. Then, finally, I broke though back to civilization, holding the MS in my hand as if it was a rare find from the depths of the earth—picture an Indiana Jones scene here. Use the one from Raiders, where Indy comes out of the cave with the rolling boulder chasing him. My face was all dirty and I had that crazy look in my eye, just like him.
That’s quite the story. When I read Night Laws I felt that there was a James Patterson touch in your style of narration. Were you influenced by him? Or who were the authors who have influenced you in your narrative style?
Wow, that’s an interesting question, because I really never pictured myself as having a style. Maybe I do. I like to get in, say what I have to say, and then get out—sometimes stopping for a cup of coffee, but that’s it. No flowery prose, that’s for sure (I have terrible allergies). Anyway, I can’t say I’m influenced by anyone. I just don’t read enough to be influenced. Hey, wait a minute! You don’t think that maybe James Patterson is copying my style, do you?
Narayan: He was here first.
Jim: That’s right. Never mind.
Lawyer mysteries are a dime a dozen—and every other lawyer is writing thrillers. So where does Hansen and Night Laws stand in this wide world of legal thrillers? Rather, how is Night Laws different from the other works in this genre?
Law is basically pretty boring stuff. In fact, even courtroom trials are pretty boring. I remember when I was a young lawyer facing a trial, I’d be the most nervous thing you’d ever seen for a full two weeks before the start. Now, I have to put a yellow sticky on my computer screen to remind me to go to court today. So, because of the boredom factor, you’ll probably never see a courtroom scene in one of my books.
Lawyers and law firms, on the other hand, can be very interesting, and can come across some pretty remarkable information. Confidential information. That’s the “law” focus of my books. For example, in Night Laws the law firm purports to do something slightly illegal to help one of its important clients. That leads the firm into all kinds of unexpected problems, to the point of being mixed up with a vicious killer. The beauty is they can’t go to the police. The emphasis of the book is on the lawyers as people and the situations they can get into that the normal layperson wouldn’t.
The Laws novels are actually more in the nature of crime thrillers than legal thrillers. They are crime thrillers with a heavy infusion of lawyers and law firms as part of the plot.
Now, even the protagonist Bryson Coventry, even the name has a “heroic ring” to it. How did you zero on to this name for your protagonist?
That is a really interesting question and you know what’s weird? When you talk to someone and they learn you wrote a novel, the first thing they ask is: “What’s it about?” The second thing they ask is: “What’s the good guy’s name?” I’m starting to believe that someone will actually not read a book if they don’t like the name of the main character.
Anyway, since the Bry-guy was going to be the recurring character in all the Laws novels, I really tossed and turned to try to come up with a good name for him. We had a street back in Cleveland where I grew up called Coventry Road. It’s where all the hippies hung out, including me, and the name just always had a good ring in my ear. It also has a slight English flavor to it and I grew up with all the British music and thus had another good-vibe tie to the name that way. So, Coventry it was. As soon as it came into my head I knew that was it, the search was over.
The “Bryson” part of the name comes from Wally Bryson, an old acquaintance of mine from when I was growing up in Cleveland and active in the band scene, where I played lead guitar. Wally was the lead guitarist for the Raspberries and maybe still is, I don’t know. I wanted Coventry’s first name to be unique without being flowery.
Narayan: How long did the novel take to write?
Jim: Off and on for five years. I’m sure I have over a thousand hours in it. But a lot of that was just learning how to write and organize. The next book will take a lot less time. When I was done, I threw the MS to the ceiling in celebration. I immediately wished I had numbered the pages.
Do you still actively practice law or have you joined the bandwagon of former lawyer-turned-mystery author category?
If that bandwagon ever comes in sight, I’m running for it as fast as I can. Trust me. There’s a prevalent thought among readers and the public that authors are rich. Some are but the reality is that most make very little. When you compare the pay with the hours involved, my bet is that most authors work for less than minimum wage.
Narayan: What’s next for Jim Hansen? Can we expect other thrillers: I mean legal thrillers from you in the near future? Can you say more about Fear Laws?
Jim: The next book in the series will probably be called Fear Laws. Taylor Sutton, Esq. is a free-spirited solo practitioner with an office befitting a sleazy PI from an old black-and-white TV show. She has a propensity for sleeping around and lighting matches. One day, one of the more infamous criminal lawyers in Denver—Nick Trotter, Esq.—comes to her as asks a very strange question. Does he have a client? It seems that a mystery man sent Mr. Trotter a cash retainer about a year ago and then calls him periodically to brag about what he’s doing, ostensibly in a confidential attorney-client setting. Mr. Trotter has never met the man and doesn’t know his name, address or anything else. Trotter was recently followed and believes that the mystery client is on the verge of killing him for reasons unknown. He has taped a number of the phone conversations and wants to know if he can take them to the police or whether they are privileged communications that he can’t disclose. He asks Taylor Sutton, Esq. to find out who the mystery client is. She sets out to do just that.
Meanwhile, Bryson Coventry is on the hunt for a killer who sends letters to all the TV stations and newspapers in Denver announcing the date of his next “visit.” He then follows through with his promise, right on schedule, and mails a Xerox of the victim’s driver’s license to the media as proof that it was him. The city drops to its knees in fear and braces for each upcoming “visit.”
The bad guy gets contacted one day. Apparently someone knows who he is. They demand that he kill someone that they want gone, using his MO. If he does, they will not tell the police who he is.
As these spiraling storylines increasingly intersect, everything goes from bad to worse for everyone involved. No one can be trusted and nothing is as it seems. As with Night Laws, the story is very realistic and fast paced. My goal is to release Fear Laws in the first-quarter of 2007.
Then they’ll be more Laws novels to come. I already have more ideas than I could ever hope to actually write in one lifetime.
Jim Michael Hansen, Esq. is a Denver attorney. With over twenty years of high quality experience, he represents a wide variety of corporate and individual clients in civil matters, with an emphasis on civil litigation, employment law and OSHA. He often speaks on legal subjects and is known for his dynamic, thought-provoking presentations. Visit him at www.JimHansenLawFirm.com. Jim is married and has three children.