Our first Author of the Month for 2020 is Chris Hauty. His debut novel Deep State is an addictive, action-packed, espionage thriller that has not only been selected as a Debut of the Month but has also been a Liz Robinson's Pick of the Month and a Star Book! It's safe to say we loved this book and we were so excited about the opportunity to put some questions to him.
What is your first book memory, is it a happy one, does it have any reflection on, or link to what you write today?
I think my earliest book passion was with Greek and Roman mythologies, which is odd because I haven’t had much interest in the fantasy as an adult. But those ancient stories appeal, I think, as a phantasmagoric blending of real and surreal. Perhaps the notion of hero and heroic journey is a link between those grade school readings and my current work?
What were your childhood must-reads?
The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper, as a starter, Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White, to get me through the terrible tweens, and The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, as an invaluable key to open the door to young adulthood.
Have you always written?
Yes, in high school I wrote short stories. In college, I wrote poetry. After college, when I lived in New York for 8 years, I wrote for the theatre. My first effort at writing a screenplay landed me a job writing a movie for Paramount. I’ve spent the last thirty years or so writing screenplays. I wrote Deep State in the spring of 2018. Since then, I’ve written two more novels. Apparently, I love to write!
How long did it take to develop Hayley Chill in Deep State from thought to fully-fledged character?
I loved the movie Winter's Bone and its central character, Lee Dolly, played by a very young Jennifer Lawrence. Lee is a 17-year-old young woman with a sick mom and two younger siblings whose errant dad has skipped bail. Problem is, dad put the family’s West Virginia homestead up as collateral. If Lee can’t find her pop, the family is out on the street. She’s gritty, determined, resourceful and tough as nails. At one point in the story, Lee Dolly considers enlisting in the US army; the family is desperate for the forty thousand dollars signing bonus. I wondered what would become of this fascinating, compelling character if she did join the army. What happens next? That’s where Deep State came from. Just asking myself a simple question like that. In that way, Hayley’s character arrived in my imagination as a fully realized but younger version of herself.
How much research did you do for Deep State?
Not too terribly much. The White House and the goings-on in the West Wing are such a huge part of popular culture in the US. I read a couple of books by West Wing insiders, one of which was by a former intern. That was very helpful. Otherwise, I was researching on-the-fly as I wrote, collecting small, seemingly insignificant detail with which I could “salt” the narrative with just enough detail to create an illusion of verisimilitude. A follow-up book involves cyber warfare and that required much more research. I read a stack of books for that project.
Where do you write and do you have any writing habits?
I have an office at home, where you’ll find me between 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. every weekday. My years as a screenwriter instilled a habit of careful outlining before starting an actual first draft. Writing that first draft is my absolute favourite part of the process. If I have a general idea of what happens next, I can relax and explore the unknown interiors of scenes and sequences, making small discoveries along the way.
What are the differences between screenwriting and writing novels? Do you find one more challenging than the other?
I’ve found writing novels to be a wonderfully liberating experience after more than three decades of screenwriting. In every respect, I prefer the independence and freedom inherent in writing fiction.
Can you remember how you felt when you heard you were going to be published?
Yes, I remember very well a feeling of extreme satisfaction. All of my movie credits were essentially jobs, the product of other people’s visions that I had no choice but accommodate. Receiving news that my first manuscript would be published was the ultimate balm for all of those years of taking a back seat to someone else’s ideas. Sweet, sweet vindication indeed.
What is your favourite piece of advice or feedback received so far with regards to your writing?
An old girlfriend from my days in New York once told me I’d never amount to much. She was an exotic dancer without much patience for the largely monastic pursuit of being a man of letters. Excellent motivation!
What do your bookshelves at home look like (do you have a picture?)?
I don’t have a collector gene. The books I read come into the house and then go out again. (I travel light and fantasize about reducing my earthly belongings to what could fill a bug-out bag.) Currently on my bed stand is Night Prayers, by Santiago Gamboa, The Force, by Don Winslow, and Evil and the Mask, by Fuminori Nakamura.
What is your desert island book, why is it your must-have read?
A decent translation of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, clocking in at 13 volumes (more than 9 million characters) of Marcel Proust, because it sounds like I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Currently, I’m working on finishing an edit of a follow-up to Deep State. The next book picks up about a year after the first novel leaves off. Story threads from the first book are followed and new ones are created. I’ve also been commissioned to develop a television series adaptation of the book.