Q&A With David Hansard about How the Dark Gets In

Dark History And Rodent Relations: A Discussion With David Hansard About How The Dark Gets In

How The Dark Gets In is the second novel featuring Porter Hall. This time the New Yorker with a western background goes back to his roots and the dark secrets of the past when a friend goes missing in Austin. David Hansard will be joining the three authors who make up Miles Arceneaux on November 18th at 6PM to sign and discuss their work, but we put David in a dimly lit room to interrogate him early.

MysteryPeople Scott: I thought this book had one of the best starts. How did you come to using a mouse to reintroduce Porter?

David Hansard: As the story opens Porter believes he’s going to die alone in the windowless, basement room of a New York police station and end up buried in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field. When a mouse touches his fingers, he feels a kinship and some small comfort knowing there’s another creature in the same predicament. The initial scene, which is set in September, is a flash-forward from the bulk of the story that takes place in June in Texas. I start with it because it’s the point at which the stakes are highest for Porter. His peril creates tension and raises questions that—I hope—hover over the entire story.

Since the setup involves “kidnap by cop” and illegal incarceration, I spent a lot of effort trying to make those seem feasible. After all, how realistic is it that actual law enforcement officers would take someone off the street and illegally lock them up in a police station? A couple of months after I wrote the scene stranger-than-fiction reality conveniently intervened. It turned out our local El Paso County, Colorado sheriff had been doing that exact thing to his political enemies and others he wanted to shake down.

MPS: What made you want to dive into Porter Hall’s past with the second book?

DH: With any reasonably complex character there is a personal history that has made them who they are. We all know Chandler’s dictum that “the knight” should have no past and no future, at least not ones the reader knows, and should not exist outside his mission. That works for Phillip Marlow. It wouldn’t work for Porter Hall, who, unlike Marlow, is reluctant amateur PI. The events of his own life draw him into his adventures and misadventures. One of Porter’s defining attributes is infection with the “white knight” syndrome, his compulsion to rescue “damsels in distress.” The irony, which is not lost on him, is that the surest way for a damsel to end up in distress is by spending time with him. It’s the inciting event in One Minute Gone and repeats more than once in How the Dark Gets In. Being a “rescuer” is his nature, but it’s a trait that has also been exacerbated by the loss of his older sister when he was ten.

MPS: Family plays an important part in various ways through the story. What did you want to explore with it?

DH: Porter feels responsible for the death of his sister at the hands of a drunk driver more than thirty years ago because he created the situation that caused it. Only by returning to that period of his life can her death, and the way it has shaped and still controls him, be understood. That event underlies the dysfunction that destroyed his family and was responsible for, in his mind, the premature deaths of both of his parents. It has left him with guilt and loneliness he will never escape.

MPS: The story takes place across the the U.S. from New York to Austin and Porter’s Wyoming family home. Did that present more of a challenge or something less confining?

DH: How the Dark Gets In is a personal odyssey for Porter, spatially and temporally, from his present life in New York City to his life as a younger man in Texas and finally to his Wyoming childhood. Not only are these times and places not distinct to him, they are a continuum, an echo chamber in which events long past and those of the present overlap, concur, and talk over each other. The places, disparate as they are, mirror and mingle among themselves. What’s the Faulkner quote? “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” And where did I see it? Oh, right. On the back cover of the book.

MPS: Porter Hall is such a distinctive, yet fitting name for your character. How did you come up with it?

DH: After my mother read the first chapter of One Minute Gone, she said, “I can’t believe your main character is named Porter Hall. Did you realize my mother’s maiden name was Porter and your other grandmother’s maiden name was Hall?” Really, Mom? That truly is an amazing coincidence.

MPS: What has made him the ideal character for you to run with?

DH: I am in awe of writers like Martin Cruz Smith who have the imagination and intelligence to visit a place for a few days—Moscow, in Cruz’s case—and then create a rich, compelling, and viable narrative peopled with engaging and believable characters. Unfortunately, I’m neither smart enough nor creative enough to do that so I lean on a character who shares major portions of my own backstory and has similar tastes and interests. Porter and I even wear the same size boots. That’s s very convenient when we travel together because we can trade off footwear. And, by a really weird coincidence, his name happens to be the same as two of the surnames in my family tree.

Guest Post: David Hansard on “The Lonely Star”

Our final author to contribute an essay for MysteryPeople’s celebration of Texas Mystery Writers Month is David Hansard, writer of One Minute Gone, one of our best selling thrillers in MysteryPeople. David questions who he is as a Texan and reflects on the power of writing to provide him with the best answers.

“About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan.”

“The Lonely Star” by David Hansard

Texas is romance, myth, legend, and stereotype. A bunch of them, and they’re all different and to a significant degree, contradictory and incompatible. Just like Texans. About the only thing common to the various Texan prototypes is that they have almost nothing in common, and really don’t like each other much. Although they do all like being Texan. I’m not talking only about rural vs. urban or farmers vs. ranchers vs. oilmen, let alone any political denigrations. Among animal people, sheep raisers and cow raisers don’t like each other, and among urbanites, Dallasites and Houstonians like each other as much Longhorns and Aggies. Ft. Worth is next door to Dallas, and those tribes really don’t like each other. Wealthy Ft. Worth native and philanthropist, Amon Carter, was known for taking a bag lunch when he had to go to The Bid D for a business meeting so he didn’t have to spend a nickel in that town.

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If you like Harlan Coben…

Harlan Coben’s popularity is no surprise. His standalone thrillers have “what if” plots that Hitchcock would have killed for and his series featuring Myron Bolitar has some of the best buddy banter in mysteries today between the hero and his wealthy and lethal sidekick Win. If you’re shopping for a Coben fan, who has devoured all his books, here are some suggestions for a perfect gift.


 

One Minute Gone1. One Minute Gone by Davis Hansard

Single father Porter hall gets three calls in succession – two about his soon-to be ex wife and one about a lunch date with his girlfriend. When the girlfriend misses the lunch date and goes missing all together, Porter’s search links the three calls to some serious movers and shakers using him as a sacrificial pawn. Moving in both pace and emotion with an everyman hero you can’t help but root for.

the bookseller2. The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

if you like the buddy antics of Bolitar and Win, then you’ll dig the relationship  of square-jawed hero Hugo Marston, Chief Of Security for our embassy in Paris, and his hard drinking, skirt chasing, CIA pal Tom Green who has no verbal filter whatsoever. The two are out of their jurisdiction as they try to find a kidnapped bookseller, thrust into a plot involving drug cartels and France’s past sins. Some of the best banter around.

ben rehder gone the next3.Gone The Next by Ben Rehder

A meeting of the two best parts of Coben. Legal videographer Roy Ballard catches a glimpse of who he thinks might be a recently missing girl. The fact that he lost his own daughter to an abduction doesn’t make him a believable witness to the Austin PD. Obsessed with finding the girl and possibly easing his own guilt, he uses his own skill set and finds help from his partner, sexy smart-ass Mia. Their relationship keeps the story humorous, while the plotting keeps it harrowing.


Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Guest Post by David Hansard

 

The First Novel of a Lonely Writer
Guest Post by David Hansard

When you see someone’s “first” novel on a shelf, what most readers (unless they’re also writers) don’t realize is that the book they’re looking at is almost never the writer’s actual first novel. Most wrote one, two, sometimes more, complete novels that ended up in the trash or on a shelf. When you start a book, of course, that’s not what you’re thinking. You will think your story is special and unique and that you may never come up with another idea that’s so terrific. It almost never works that way, but it helps to think it will. If you don’t believe in your book, you’ll never finish it.

A friend of mine, now a regular New York Times bestseller, wrote three novels that ended up in the bottom of a file cabinet. He eventually wrote one he thought was a Western, and a standalone. The publisher decided it was a mystery, and a series. He’s now about to publish the fifteenth in the series.

Another wrote two that were a (self-described) “mess.” Her third became her first published novel. She’s written three more in the series, and her next will be a standalone.

It is essential that you have the basic ability to write, but natural talent doesn’t teach you how to weave your words together into an 80,000 word–give or take–novel. You get that in a couple of ways. The first is by trying to do it, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and trying again. The other is by reading. Writing makes you a different sort of reader. You will constantly be looking at why a story affects you in a certain way, why you can’t quit turning pages, or why you have to force yourself to turn pages. There are a lot of books on writing, but the ones that benefitted me the most were Ann Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, Annie Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE, and—at the top of my list—Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT. (One of my all-time favorite mysteries is Block’s EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE).

One of the sticky wickets of novel writing is the title. My first, ONE MINUTE GONE, was originally called THE UNIVERSE OF THINGS. A fairly well known crime fiction agent (not mine) told me, “You’ve got to change it. It doesn’t sound like a mystery.” He was right, and I did, a time or two. Finally, working with my own agent, we came up with ONE MINUTE GONE, which relates to what happens in the story. My second in the series, which will be out this summer, is called BLUE-EYED BOY. I’m not planning on changing that one, but until it’s on sale, you never know.

As published, ONE MINUTE GONE is around 75,000 words, 332 pages. The first draft was 125,000 words. One agent who liked it, said, “Cut it in half.” After I did, she didn’t like it as much. It wasn’t that I cut the wrong things, but some of the things I cut made the story lose flavor, and some of the characters weren’t as fully developed and complex as in the longer version. The solution was not to put back what I had taken out, but to make sure that elements critical to character hadn’t been lost. I had to find succinct ways of including those. You can spend a page explaining that a character is fastidious and obsessive. Or you can do it in a few words of dialogue and a bit of action.

Example: Without taking his eyes from mine, he picked a piece of lint from my jacket. “There,” he said, “all better.”

I would like to be able to tell you that having learned your lessons from a first novel, your second will be easier. It won’t. Each story is unique, and each time you will set the bar higher.

One of the best things I did was get know other writers, through organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (not just for women, though it started out that way), through writing groups, and by going to conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. The panels can be interesting, but the real action is in the bar. After all, we’re talking about writers, here.

Writing is not merely a lonely experience, it’s solitary confinement. If you’re part of a community of writers, it’s solitary confinement with a lot of other people who are also in solitary confinement. One thing you will quickly learn is that unlike those in other professions, writers, even close friends, are not usually inclined to share much about a work-in-progress. There’s something about discussing your WIP, at least in any detail, that let’s the air out of the balloon, so to speak. There’s an adage: If you talk it, you won’t write it. While writers may not share the details of what they’re working on, most are still willing to share their daily agony and perpetual frustration, generally over a drink. Or two, or ten. For me, and for most I know, friends who are writers are an essential part of the creative process. Writing is too lonely a thing to do alone.


David Hansard will be here TOMORROW, 6/5 at 7PM speaking and signing copies of One Minute Gone. He will be joined by bestselling author, Matthew Quirk, who will also be signing his latest, The Directive. Books are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with David Hansard

hansard

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.

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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.

MysteryPeople Review: ONE MINUTE GONE: A PORTER HALL NOVEL

One Minute Gone

One Minute Gone begins when our lead Porter Hall, a successful businessman living with his twin son and daughter in New York, receives three phone calls. One is about finalizing his divorce; the second is about his soon-to-be-ex being committed; the last is his friend Jamie, making a lunch date. When Jamie doesn’t turn up to lunch, all three calls quickly become tied to the mysterious plot of an unknown enemy to put Porter in prison.

The conspiracy working against him is complex and works on many different levels. As Porter begins to untangle the mystery to find out who his real enemy is, he discovers links to old alliances, big business, family politics, and the mob. Though complex in nature, Hansard’s clean writing style allows the reader to navigate the many twists and turns easily.

He also draws us in with the use of an engaging everyman hero. Porter Hall’s rugged individualism from his Wyoming upbringing is paired with a New York slickness and wit. We can immediately identify with him as a man and a father who wants to be left alone with those he loves, which in turn only strengthens the empathy we feel at the horrible intrusion he has suffered. He has an innate decency and believable set of skills that help him move through ever-tightening circumstances.

Hansard also uses the city of New York itself as a character, though at times his portrayal feels like a western landscape, mixing the two the elements in interesting ways. Like a seasoned cowboy, Porter navigates the city and uses it to his advantage. It’s difficult to picture this story taking place anywhere else.

One Minute Gone is a brilliant debut. It is accessible and engaging with a hero worth investing in. I look forward to Porter Hall getting into more trouble.

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Copies of One Minute Gone are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com