David Hansard’s debut, One Minute Gone, is a skilled fusion of pace and character. It’s a book that keeps his character running and keeps us caring about him. We talked to David about his novel and the craft of writing.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The two things about One Minute Gone that stand out are your lead, Porter Hall, and the plot. Which came first?
DAVID HANSARD: I used to own rental property in Manhattan, including units in the real counterpart of the fictional Medora, the building in which Porter Hall lives. For a couple of years in the early 1990s I was living in London, and was fortunate to find an extremely capable and ethical real estate agent to take care of my property while I was away. Her name was Camden Silvia. On November 7, 1997, Camden and her boyfriend, Michael Sullivan, disappeared. Just prior to her disappearance, Camden had presented her landlord with a petition from the tenants in her building threatening a rent strike if he continued to fail to provide adequate heat. While there are many points of both divergence and commonality, the character of Jamie Trent, who goes missing in chapter one, is based on Camden. Her disappearance was the seed that eventually became the story. Porter was always there in a sense, but it was the tragic loss of Camden, one of those to whom the book is dedicated, that set him on his journey.
MP: Porter is both charming and believable. What’s the best way for an author to approach an everyman, without the background of a detective or secret agent?
DH: For me, as both reader and writer, the everyman detective, aka “amateur PI,” offers distinct benefits, as well as unique challenges. The most obvious challenge, which you mention in your question, is believability. As an ordinary person without special training or gifts– i.e. not a psychic, not a genius, not an insider– the amateur must make up for these deficiencies with commitment, intelligence, resourcefulness, and persistence. The absence of special gifts is also the thing that can make an “average Joe” detective even more appealing. It’s easier for readers to identify with someone more like themselves, their husband, brother, or neighbor. I am a huge Jack Reacher fan, but I can’t realistically see myself as, or totally identify with, a six-foot-five, two hundred-fifty-pound killing machine. Porter Hall is the guy you see at school at morning drop-off; who sits next to you during the Thanksgiving pageant. From a narrative standpoint, the weakness of the amateur PI can become a strength.
MP: This being your first book, did you draw on any influences?
DH: Within the genre, it’s probably hard to find an author of anything remotely noir who has not been influenced by the icons: Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Hughes, MacDonald and MacDonald, and for anyone who started writing in the 1990s or after, James Lee Burke. I was influenced by all of these. For those of us who write a New York setting, the Godzillatron is Lawrence Block; in particular and specifically, at least for me, the Matt Scudder novels. I know that SJ Rozan, Reed Farrell Coleman and Jim Fusilli were all heavily influenced by Block. In turn, I have been strongly influenced by them. Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die remains one of my favorite books, not just in crime fiction, but in American fiction.
MP: New York is practically a character in the novel. What did you want to express about the city?
DH: One Minute Gone is a distinctly New York story that would not have worked in another setting. For me, the city is far more than a character. Characters act and interact and have an arc. New York City is just there, in the way that Pikes Peak is there. It is endlessly fascinating, ever changing and never changing, home to living souls and dead souls, constructed of glass and concrete and myth. Porter draws from me and from my history in some ways, and not in others. But the one thing he and I will forever have in common, is our Western perspective. The survival skills learned in that less civilized world are of little practical value in New York City. In the so-called civilized world, a seemingly innocuous human being can be more lethal than a grizzly, a rattlesnake, or a blizzard. I lived in New York for twenty-four years. And though I could drive certain parts of it better than a cab driver, (I know, who can’t?) it was in some ways more a cipher to me the day I left than the day I got there. The role of New York in One Minute Gone is like the role of the ocean in Moby Dick.
MP: Can you tell us about what you have in store for Porter in the next book?
DH: In Blue-eyed Boy, the sequel to One Minute Gone, Porter is pulled out of Manhattan to Nashville and, eventually, Texas. He will confront difficulties of being a parent he never imagined existed, and he will be pulled into a family saga of generations past. Within his own heart, he will discover he has a capacity for evil he never imagined– a black spirit that could destroy not only him, but everyone he loves.
David Hansard will appear in conversation with bestselling author C. J. Box (Stone Cold) here at BookPeople on Monday, March 17 at 7PM. For more info, visit bookpeople.com.