If there’s any justice in the future, R. Thomas Brown will be considered a respected voice in Texas crime fiction. His first book, Hill Country, one of our exclusive books from Snubnose Press, has been popular with our buyers. It concerns Gabe Hill, a central Texas resident, whose involvement with a fight and pretty girl get him deeper and deeper into a criminal plot connected to his estranged and absent brother. Full of humor, suspense, hard boiled action, and vivid characters, it’s a book that shows great promise of things to come. We caught up with Mr. Brown to ask him a few questions about the book.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Like some of the leads in your short work, Gabe Hill is an everyman who’s had contact with the rougher side of life. What about this type of character appeals to you?
R. THOMAS BROWN: I’m just a guy. Middle class (sometimes lower middle) childhood, intact family, no real shady activity outside of some immature vandalism, pretty normal life, office job, the kind of thing that seems perfectly plain. So, when I think about crime, it’s still at times a scary thing that threatens to strip away all the normalcy that defines my existence. I put that into my characters. I don’t have the attachment to people who have lived with crime their whole lives, people for whom it’s all just normal. My imagination runs to the damage the rougher side of life has on people who assume they’ll never see it.
MP: Central Texas is practically a character in the book, what distinguishes it from the rest of the Lone Star state?
RTB: The central Texas of the book is one formed from my memories of little towns between San Antonio and Austin. Not the ones along 35 that get all the traffic, but the ones where the highway was 281 before it was very big. Now, much of that is gone. There’s some of that in the book also. There are the people who come from Austin where being weird is a slogan or from SA where the river is just something they dye green on St. Patrick’s day. But there are still those other people. The ones who don’t see themselves as big city people, but who don’t feel rural, either. They just love the natural beauty of their little slice of the state, enjoy the mix of cultures, and wonder why someone would pick the flat plains, humid gulf or western desert when the best part of the state is so close.
MP: Your plot is tight, yet the story has a loose feel to it. How much of it was planned out?
RTB: The key points of the plot were worked out before I wrote the first draft. They remained pretty much as initially designed until the end. The original draft had all the action in about half the length, but Brian at Snubnose offered encouragement to explore some of the back stories and side action to flesh out the characters.
MP: It being your first book, did you draw from any influences?
RTB: The biggest influence was The Maltese Falcon (the film). All the players working to get the upper hand over what may or may not have value. You’ll also see some other little nods to the movie and its actors throughout.
MP: You also have some fun villains. How do you approach writing the bad guys?
RTB: The bad guys are larger than life. A part of that is just that I think exaggerated bad guys are fun. But there is a point to the exaggeration beyond fun. Back to the first question, the Everyman who fears the chaos of crime sees criminals as villains. So, to get the reader to see the world as Gabe sees it, the villains need to take on the proportions of his fear.
MP: What can we expect from you next?
RTB: There’s a follow-up story to Hill Country called Reckoning. It has a darker tone, but shares the same setting and touches on some of the characters from HC. I’m working on a third story in Comal Creek, this one a little more comic.
Copies of Hill Country are available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.