Timothy Hallinan’s latest Junior Bender mystery, “Herbie’s Game,” is a mixture of humor and suspense that Hallinan calls, “A tour of the nine circles of Hell, but with better weather. And laughs.” For this interview, Hallinan talked about the conundrum facing humor writers: how to make an argument while keeping the story funny.
“I think comedy is almost always about something serious,” said Hallinan. “We like to think we shape our own lives, but at some point I believe most of us arrive at a moment when we look at how we live and ask, ‘How did I get here? Was this who I wanted to be?’ At that point we realize that at least part of our choice was made for us, either by circumstance or by the influence of another person.”
Hallinan uses the analogy of a home to describe how someone might feel when faced with that question. “So there we are, living in a sort of imaginary house that we built day by day, thinking we were the sole architects, and then realizing that we don’t really like it very much, and that it might be too late to tear it down and start over. And then what do we do?”
“In the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers,” said Hallinan, “I used the fourth book, ‘The Queen of Patpong,’ to take the reader back to an impoverished little town in the Thai northeast to see how a shy, awkward village girl with no real choices in life turned into the ‘queen’ of Patpong Road, one of Bangkok’s most lurid red-light districts.”
While Hallinan likes using the fourth book for the character’s backstory, the number two also seems to have special significance for him. He co-founded two companies in the television industry before turning to writing full-time. He writes two books a year, one each in two different series. And, he and his wife divide their time between two cities, Los Angeles and Bangkok.
For those unfamiliar with the Junior Bender series, Junior is a burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks. In “Herbie’s Game,” when one of the San Fernando Valley’s “executive crooks” finds his office burglarized, he knows instantly what’s been taken is the list of criminals through whom he’s commissioned a killing. The crook also suspects that whoever took the list of names intends to work his way through the chain for revenge. When Junior is brought in to solve the case, he’s sure he knows who is behind the heist.
Hallinan said, “Since the first book it’s been established that he had a mentor in his teens, a sort of uber-burglar named Herbie Mott, who served as a surrogate father. I wanted to go back and explore that relationship and ask what would become of Junior if he discovered that Herbie was a much less admirable character than Junior always believed him to be. Junior also asks himself how much of his life is actually of his own making, and how much of it is Herbie’s Game.”
When he was starting out, Hallinan says he received helpful advice from successful writers. Now that he’s writing full time and has received multiple award nominations, he wants to pass along that same type of help to others. “I’ve used most of my website as a platform for a section called ‘Finish Your Novel,’ which contains most of what I know about writing a book, or about making the commitment to integrate into your life any long-term creative undertaking. It’s been used by literally thousands of writers.”
Much like his protagonist, Hallinan may wonder if he was the sole architect of his career. On the other hand, perhaps there was another factor. He said, “When my wife was undecided about whether she should accept my proposal, my mother said to her, ‘Marry him, honey. He’s lucky.’ And I have been absurdly lucky (he says, knocking wood): to be able to live with the woman I love, in two cities I love, doing the thing I most love, writing. If my life were to end tomorrow, I would be owed nothing from anyone.”
Learn more about Timothy Hallinan and the free writing resources he provides on his website at www.timothyhallinan.com. For the writing resources, use the “Finish Your Novel” button.