Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pro-File: Sam Hawken Tequila Sunset

Sam Hawken:

Tell us about your current novel/collection.

Tequila Sunset is a novel that tells three intertwined stories about El Paso/Ciudad Juárez on the border of Texas and Mexico.  The unifying element is Barrio Azteca, a Texas prison gang that has metastasized into an international criminal organization causing untold chaos in Mexico.  At the time of Tequila Sunset’s writing, Barrio Azteca was responsible for as much as 85% of all the murders committed in Ciudad Juárez, the longtime homicide capital of the world.  At the same time, El Paso is the safest city in the United States.

To illustrate this, I chose a trio of characters to put a human face on this slow-motion disaster.  One is a convict released on parole, but still tethered to the gang that protected him on the inside.  Another is a detective from El Paso who struggles to balance her work with the demands of single-parenthood of an autistic child.  The last is a Mexican federal agent who specializes in Los Aztecas, and the Herculean task he faces in the city of Juárez.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

At the moment I’m working on bringing a new series character to life. Camaro Espinoza is her name, and she’s a former Army combat medic who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to return home and find trouble around every turn.  Luckily she’s well-equipped to deal with the danger. She’s a tough, enjoyable woman to write about and it’s my hope that she’ll find a home very soon.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Being able to do what I want, within reason.  When I sit down to create, I can do whatever strikes my fancy on the day.  No one dictates the subject matter, the characters or anything of the sort.  I have an academic and a management background and in both those environments you’re under strict guidelines about what you can and cannot do, as well as how you do it.  I find the freedom to make my own decisions very liberating.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

The work itself.  I’m not one of those writers who really enjoys writing. Don’t get me wrong, I have a brutal work ethic that essentially compels me to write for four to six hours every day, but I don’t think to myself, “Wow, this is so much fun!” as I create.  I always finish every project with a sense of profound relief because then, for at least a brief moment, the pressure is off and I can relish the accomplishment.  Then the process repeats itself.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Don’t put writers in a box.  There’s this all-out war going on between traditional publishers and self-publishers, with each side denigrating the other while extolling the perfection of their chosen path.  As I mentioned before, writing represents total freedom, so why would anyone want to limit their options?  There are many ways to bring material to an audience and everyone should be doing everything, not getting into bloody knife fights about who’s got The Secret.  I think this is the issue of the next ten years, as all this shakes out, and the sooner the writing and publishing community gets on the same page, the better for everybody.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Interestingly enough, I don’t have a wish list of authors like that, at least in the crime/mystery field, because the authors I like are all available now.  For example: for a long time I was trying to get people to seek out old copies of Hell Hath No Fury, by Charles Williams, because it had gone out of print and no one seemed to have ever heard of him or the book, but now thanks to e-publishing, you can get it again.  What I’d very much like to see is writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, who are giants in the history of popular fiction, get real, well-put-together editions of their classic work that everyone can get hold of for a reasonable amount. Too much fun writing from the first half of the 20th century is lost, even as ebooks make it easier and easier to bring those works back.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I remember being stunned at the suddenness and rapidity of the process.  I was prepared for a long slog with The Dead Women of Juárez, but it went to the first publisher who saw it and in a matter of weeks.  I thought it would take at least as long to sell it as it took to write it (a year), and I was so surprised that it sort of washed away all my other emotions. Later I recall being overwhelmed by the idea that people in the publishing biz actually thought it was a good book, because I was never very fond of it, and had even grown to dislike it during the writing process.  These were my first lessons in something I now take for granted: people are never going to think of your work the way you expect they will, so don’t be quick to extol your own virtues or to denigrate your efforts, because you will invariably be at least a little wrong.


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