ABOUT JONATHAN HAYES:
Today on Pro-Files we feature Jonathan Hayes, author of A Hard Death. A veteran forensic pathologist, Jonathan has been a New York City medical examiner, performing autopsies and testifying in murder trials, since 1990. A former contributing editor at Martha Stewart Living, Hayes has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, GQ, and Food & Wine. He is also the author of Precious Blood.
He will be signing A Hard Death at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ 5/17 at 7pm.
It seems you took the adage "write what you know" to heart: you're a forensic pathologist, as is your protagonist, Jenner. Do you take inspiration from your work, and if so, are you more inspired by the story of the victim, the perpetrator, or the crime itself?
I would never write about my real cases – they have cost too many people far too much – but the details of things I see haunt me. So I use them: I slip little things that caught my attention into my books, trivial elements that were irrelevant to the case, but had an emotional catch that stuck to me like a burr.
I’m a very sensual person; when I write, I obsess about the sights and sounds and smells of the scene I’m writing. I create visually intense situations, and then make them real with my forensic background. I like to write about things that I haven’t yet seen, and write them so that they’d happen exactly as they would in reality. Someone who’s stabbed or shot doesn’t just collapse. It doesn’t take ten seconds to strangle someone to death. Writing on a wall with someone’s blood is pretty hard to do. Etc. etc.
Your second Jenner novel A Hard Death has just been released. Can we look forward to seeing more from him, or will you be moving in a different direction?
I’m working now on the third Jenner book, Monster Park. But this next book will introduce a female character with whom I’m really in love right now, a crime scene detective whose life has fallen apart after the death of a child. The more I write about her, the more I want her to have her own series.
I’m not finished with Jenner, either - the poor bastard hasn’t earned his rest yet. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the number of emails I’ve had from readers who want more about Jun Saito, the Japanese software genius who lives in a loft across the hall from Jenner in New York; Jun and his girlfriend Kimi are characters I like a lot, too, so that really appeals. But I think they’ll appear mostly in tandem with Jenner.
There are so many television programs focusing on forensics in some way. Are you able to watch any of them without cringing?
I like the first CSI; I might like the others too, but I’ve worked as a medical examiner in both Miami and New York, and the lack of realism is too epic for me to overcome, so I can’t really watch them.
I like forensic shows quite a bit, actually. I forgive them their inaccuracies because I see them not as forensic science, but as forensic science fiction. In real life, things move a lot slower than on TV, and the lighting is less sexy. But I do think the shows get the spirit of forensics right, and I like them for that.
Forensic pathology is largely about direct observation: I may not know that someone has been strangled to death when I examine the body for the first time at the crime scene, but I’ll have a pretty good idea after I’ve done the autopsy. This means that my books move quickly, without much waiting around for lab results.
Working as a Senior M.E. in New York, I would assume you've seen a lot of strange things - what's the oddest that has come across your table?
We once recovered a big white plastic bucket that a stalker had left by the door of a woman about whom he was obsessed; it contained 25 Maraschino cherries, 25 copper pennies, and a donkey penis.
Many of our readers are writers. I like to ask all of our guests for tips and tricks on marketing. How do you feel about using social media to promote your work? You've also been on an extensive in-person tour for A Hard Death, how have your experiences been, and do you have any tips for those new to tours?
As you know, I’m pretty active in social media, but I’m not very good at using it for promotion. Like many writers, I know my work is good, but I feel sheepish asking people to look at it. This, of course, is the recipe for continued obscurity. But I can’t help myself - I use social media to be social.
This has had some great effects, though. I spent a couple of weeks last summer as guest on a ranch in Colorado, invited by Facebook friends who didn’t know me from Adam. And my tour has been fantastic, a huge welling up of people I’ve never met before coming to my readings, showing off their towns to me, talking me up to their friends/reading groups/writers groups.
Touring is a dying thing, I’m afraid. It’s just not financially feasible - it costs a lot for an author to schlepp from place to place, and the number of books sold (particularly for beginning or mid-list authors) is nowhere near enough to justify that cost. But I’ve loved touring. I love meeting readers, and meeting the store owners - you feel real relationships developing, and you feel so blessed to have met them.
Since it's the current hot-button issue in our industry, I'm afraid I'm going to ask for your take on eBooks and ePublishing. Do you have any thoughts on the apparent paradigm shift?
I feel that publishers should’ve anticipated this and planned for it more than they seem to have. The lessons of the music industry - both advantages and disadvantages, licit distribution and piracy - have been obvious to every observer for years, but traditional publishing seems to have been blinkered. The reaction often seems one of total panic, a lot of disordered reactive gestures without a clear, organized approach.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to know what’s best to do, but the legacy publishers seem to have been caught asleep at the switch.
That said, ePublishing is still a small portion of all publishing. But that’s changing, and I think genre publishing is going to be completely reinvented in the wake of its advent. I don’t have answers – I don’t think we yet know how things are going to go – but for the time being, I’m happy to be working with a traditional publisher, my work professionally edited, proofed, designed, typset, illustrated, marketed, publicized and distributed. Eventually, the digital distribution model will be so compelling that that may change, but I trust my publisher to get my work into the best possible shape before it reaches the reader.
Your musical taste is wide and varied, I see you've created a mix for the western leg of your tour which you've shared with fans online. Do you write to music? Is there any artist that you particularly enjoy that our readers may not be familiar with?
I’m absolutely a music junkie – my first professional writing gig was a monthly column on the electronic music of the rave and nightclub scene in the mid-1990’s. I listen to pretty much anything and everything. That said, my tastes are very much shaped by living in New York City, and having many friends in the music business; I’d bet your readers could introduce me to a lot of music that I’ve never heard.
I can’t write with music in the background – I get sunk into it, and pulled out of whatever I’m writing. It’d be like trying to write in an IMAX cinema while CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE was playing 15 feet from my face.
As far as people your readers might like, I’m not sure, but I posted videos for my top five songs for 2010 on my blog. I love each of these songs tremendously, even though I’ve really played them to death. You can find them HERE.
I love making mixes. I make one most every season – hit me up on Facebook if you’d like the 2010 “Perennial Summer Mix”, or “Pauses and Silences – Autumn 2010”. The first is poppy, but alternative. The second is drifty and quiet. Spring has been so hectic that I haven’t had time to bang anything together.
As far as the mix you mentioned – The High Road to A Hard Death – you can find it via a link HERE. This includes the track listing. It covers groups from the Cramps to Motorhead to rockabilly guitarist Charlie Gracie; it is loud, fast and profane, so not necessarily for everyone – a good friend told me that if she were listening to it while driving, she’d drive her car into a tree. So: consider yourselves warned!
In what many would find an interesting dichotomy to your profession, you're also a gourmet. Are you able to trace the origin of your love of food? What is the best meal you've ever eaten? Do you hate the term “foodie”?
I don’t know which came first, my love of food or my love of travel. I travel to dine – I think a country’s culture is best and most unambivalently represented by its food (and by its pornography, but that’s another discussion). Food reflects geography, history, economics and climate; it as at the heart of every nation’s identity. For these reasons, I’m not a food snob – I was happier eating freshly dug sand worms on a beach in the Philippines than I was eating pretentious avant-garde fare in a four star restaurant in Seattle. Don’t get me wrong: I love fine dining. But so much of what passes for “fine dining” in the US is just “expensive dining”.
I couldn’t choose a best meal. But my meal at Chicago’s Alinea was truly astonishing. The chef is an avante-garde genius whose food adheres to classical principles of taste. The ideas are really unusual – the meal starts with a series of alcoholic cocktails that have been turned into solids, and includes things like a plate of dark foods (flavours included almonds, coffee and licorice) turned white. I think there were around 32 courses – see my Facebook album from the meal HERE.
I hate the term “foodie”, but nowhere near as passionately as I hate the term “veggie”.
QUESTION FOR JONATHAN? HAVE YOU READ A HARD DEATH? Ask him here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page, and be entered to win a signed book
QUICKIES WITH JONATHAN:
Writing ambience: I write in bed, laptop on my chest, cat poking at my head. When I built my bedroom, I decided I wanted it to be a room where it always felt like it was raining, and it really does. It’s always quiet and pretty in there, and easy for me to focus. Except for the cat pokery.
Reading now: I’m reading Chris Farnsworth’s paranormal thriller The President’s Vampire. I’m enjoying it in part because it’s so different from my work. Chris and I are reading at the Poisoned Pen on Tuesday the 17th. After that, I’m returning to Mo Hayder’s The Devil of Nanking. Ian at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan tells me I’ll like it, and I trust his judgement.
Book or eReader? I love reading books, but I’m always on the move, and find I read more efficiently digitally, because the book is always with me. Purists say that nothing beats a paper book, and you won’t find any argument from me.
Cats or Dogs? Animal person! I keep weird hours, and travel a lot, so I have a cat rather than a dog.
Favorite protagonist (other than his own): Encyclopedia Brown, I guess. I read his adventures when I was a kid, and they planted the seed which grew into my career in forensics. Sherlock Holmes and James Bond get a nod of the hat along the way, too.
Favorite big or small screen detective: Hmm. Currently, I think it’s Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson on the BBC’s reinvented, contemporary take on Holmes, Sherlock. I also like John Luther, from the series, uh Luther.
Who Jonathan would like to see play his protagonist onscreen: Jenner is a good-looking guy, but he’s just passed 40. I like Timothy Olyphant – the Timothy Olyphant with a bit of grey in his hair. A younger Clooney would do, too, but he’s too recognizable now.
Ideal vacation spot: I have a tiny apartment in Paris which I never get to visit (seriously, I haven’t been in over a year). I love northern Thailand. I love Tokyo. I love quiet places.
Favorite independent bookstore: Hey, I didn’t sign up for Sophie’s Choice here! I don’t have a favourite – I’m just incredibly, incredibly grateful to all the kindness indie book folks have shown me.
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