A Q&A with James Patrick Hunt
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I think so. Probably from adolescence I thought about it. My parents were practical people who had a healthy respect and appreciation for the arts. My father was a mechanical engineer who played the violin and the accordion; my mother was a housewife who was active in community theater. When I was in college and, like a lot of college students, convinced I knew everything, my dad said to me, “You’re a good writer, but you’re not a great writer.” Then he advised me to find a way to make a living and write as a hobby and see what happened. In other words, he didn’t discourage me from doing it. He only told me what he believed was the harsh reality. And he was right to say I wasn’t a great writer, particularly at that age. My first three novels were pretty clunky and were never published. This was a good thing.
Is writing a novel hard?
Yes and no. Now, it’s not so hard a thing for me to do. But learning to do it was very hard. I wrote five novels before my sixth (Maitland) was published. And as I said before, those first three were pretty weak. I wrote the first one while I was in law school in my mid-twenties and it was god-awful.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Not too long. People tend to like the idea that writers sweat and toil and suffer at length for their art. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. I don’t particularly. Just because you don’t suffer, doesn’t mean you don’t care or don’t take the work seriously. I write fairly quickly. And I agree with Raymond Chandler that quality fiction can be written quickly as well as slowly. Stendhal claims to have written The Charterhouse of Parma in about seven weeks. William Goldman wrote Marathon Man in a couple of weeks. You can’t persuade me that these books would have been better if the authors had spent a year or so writing them. In fact, they may have been worse.
What are your influences?
Extremely broad question. I grew up in the seventies and was always drawn to the heroes of the cop shows and films. Banacek, Bullitt, Harper, Shaft, Jim Rockford, etc. When I got a little older, I realized that Peter Falk’s Columbo was a pretty tough customer too, in his way. What all these men had in common was integrity, intelligence, strength and decency. I liked Police Story and L.A. Law and Magnum P.I. Regarding books, I’ll have to admit that the average fan attending the Bouchercon has probably read more crime fiction than I have. I am a great admirer of Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard, Joseph Wambaugh, Frederick Forsythe, and Thomas Harris. Here is a very short list of some of my favorite books:
The Onion Field – Joseph Wambaugh
Scaramouche – Rafael Sabatini
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Valdez is Coming – Elmore Leonard
The Searchers – Alan LeMay
Shane – Jack Schaeffer
Flashman and the Redskins – George MacDonald Fraser
Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
What would you say to people who tell you they’d like to write?
Write. To paraphrase Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot. Don’t talk about it.” That said, my own view is that you really can’t teach someone to write fiction. It’s either in you or it’s not. If it is genuinely in you, you wouldn’t be able to not do it.