Guest Post: Glen Erik Hamilton on “Friends with Words”

Hard Cold Winter, Glen Erik Hamilton’s follow-up to his highly regarded debut, Past Crimes, puts his former criminal and soldier into even a tougher spot than in the first book. In Hard Cold Winter, Hamilton’s protagonist gets involved with the murder of a prominent Seattle citizen’s son and the sister of one of his shady friends from the past. In this guest blog post he sent along, Hamilton discusses his bookshelf, and how he uses different works for different forms of inspiration. 

Friends with Words

© 2016 Glen Erik Hamilton

I have a bookshelf. Quite a few shelves, of course, but this one particular shelf is within reach of the little desk where I do most of my writing. Too easy a reach.

We’re not a procrastination, the books seem to say. Not like playing with the cat, or the horrible abyss of the internet. We’ll HELP you.

Shut up, you novels. Later. I’ve got an hour scheduled for reading later. That’s my reward for getting these pages done.

I turn back to the keyboard. Back to typing, with hands slightly shaky.

Some authors choose not to indulge in reading other fiction while they are hammering out the first draft of their latest work. A hardcore few go so far as to avoid reading at all, except between books. They fear that the phrases or plot twists or rhythms they read will somehow be replicated in their writing, and they might wind up with a pale imitation of their favorite author, or worse, a Frankensteinian mishmash of colliding styles. Better to abstain, and keep their pages pure.

That brand of austerity doesn’t work for me. I’m hardly ever between books, for one thing. Recently, I saw a quote from Lawrence Kasdan (Yes, on the internet; don’t judge me.) He said: “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

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Scott’s Top 10 Debuts of 2015

– List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Usually I only pick five novels in this category, but this was such a great year for new voices, the list needed to be expanded. I even had to cheat a little and allowed two to tie for the top.

978039917277997803991739671. Where All Light tends To Go by David Joy & Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Both these authors proved there is still a lot of life in rural noir. Writing with the skill and emotion of seasoned pros, they bring the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia to vivid, poignant, and painful life with their tales of fate, family, and violence.

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.

the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.

bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.

long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.

bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.

doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.

love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.

soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.

concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.

past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.

all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.

You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes, is an engaging and fresh addition to the crime fiction genre. The story focuses on Van Shaw, a former thief, who learned from his grandfather, Dono. When he gets letter from Dono, asking to come back to their Seattle home, he finds the old man beaten to a coma. As Shaw searches for the perpetrators, he has to confront his past, his morality, and the relationship he had with Dono. We caught up with Mr. Hamilton to talk about the book, his lead, and his town.

MysteryPeople: Most “family crime” novels are a father and son relationship. What made you go with a grandfather as the patriarch?

Glen Erik Hamilton: I wanted a bit of remove between Van Shaw and his grandfather Dono. Putting a generation between them allows Dono to be a little more old-school Irish and mysterious than he might be if he were Van’s father. Dono doesn’t often explain things to Van like a parent would. It also lets me play a little with expectations, undercutting the idea that grandparents are doting and past their prime. Dono is neither of those things. And finally, it lets the two men be connected by their shared love for the woman they both lost, as daughter and mother.

MP: Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel – how did you approach this?

GEH: The main character is a man returning to his hometown, confronting a complicated past and attitudes that he had abruptly abandoned. If I were to write that solely in the present day, the amount of backstory could become awkward. I also wanted to see the lessons Van was learning as a young thief, and have Dono as an active character in that.

Those choices led to writing chapters – almost short stories – showing Van at different ages, and placing them in between the main action. They’re like stepping stones in a river. They allow a much richer understanding of all the characters involved, at least for me. I also think that the occasional digression makes the main story that much more engaging.

MP: Your characters are great for crime fiction since they are fully realized, yet hard to get a complete grasp on. How do you go about constructing your major characters?

GEH: It’s not a hugely conscious process for me. I do consider what the scene and the plot need, and whether there’s a relationship between characters I haven’t tried before. But I give new characters a little room to move, and they often cut their own path. I’ve had complete jackasses redeem themselves (at least a little) and heroes turn out to be unreliable. Some characters have even merged, when I realize that there are more bodies in the scene than required. When characters become recurring (intentionally or because they put a gun to my head) it’s because their dynamic with Van makes him think or feel a little more deeply.

“Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel…”

MP: Seattle comes off more gritty than other stories I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. What did you want to get across to the reader about your city?

GEH: Yeah, it’s not the Seattle you saw with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or on “Frasier”. Would that we could all afford houseboats and apartments so posh that even their views are impossible. Seattle’s latest boom has been great in many ways, but it’s also driving a larger wedge between the haves and have-nots, who used to intermingle a lot more. Blue-collar neighborhoods of the city, which are still a huge part of shipping and other industries, are being steadily driven out by price pressures. Seattle is in danger of becoming San Francisco, too expensive for most locals to actually live in. That conflict is particularly interesting to me, since I think about how crime and criminals are also forced to change.

MP: This being your first novel, did you draw from any influences?

GEH: More than I can remember! But some of the more obvious early ones would be the Travis McGee series, with its hero scrounging a living off his wits and prowess in between the cracks of normal society. Robert B. Parker’s dialogue and sparse prose – characters implying a lot by what they don’t say. Discovering Martin Cruz Smith and Gorky Park was also a huge catalyst on my wanting to write; I love the way his heroes are usually beset on all sides. There’s a touch of Dame Agatha’s whodunits in there, too.

MP: Van should be a great series lead because he can go in any direction with a set of good friends who can pull him into some bad business. What do you see his main struggle being?

GEH: Van went straight from a criminal childhood into the rigors and structure of military life and Special Operations. He does have to find a new moral center, as you suggest, now that he’s been on both extremes. But he also has to learn how to be a functioning adult in civilian society, and that’s an alien landscape for him. He’s never had to look for a job before. He’s never planned for the future, because part of him never expected to live this long.

Of course, if Van is not very careful and very quick, that last problem will brutally solve itself…

You can find Past Crimes on our shelves and via