Sunday, August 26, 2007
Tim Cockey (writing as Richard Hawke)
Gerald So: To start, Tim, how did the pseudonym Richard Hawke and the character Fritz Malone come to be?
Tim Cockey: Well...that's a lot. I'll start with the pen name. Essentially there were a number of reasons. The primary one for me was a desire to do a 'fresh start' with the new series and the new locale, New York City. I'd done five Hearse/Hitch books set in Baltimore and pitched toward humor and I determined that I wanted the 'Richard Hawke' name to be the 'author' who writes a variety of mystery styles and locales. I hadn't actually intended to start right into a series again, but it was clear to me right off the bat that Fritz was a series character.
Brian Thornton: I wondered about the pseudonym thing as well, because there's a colonial and Revolutionary War historian who wrote mostly from the late 50s to the early 80s named "David Freeman Hawke." Wrote a terrific biography of Thomas Paine, among others.
Tim: It was great fun coming up with the name. I had friends and family suggest dozens of names combinations to me, which I added to a bunch that I came up with, then took a vote and came up with the top 3 contenders.
Gerald: What were they, if we may ask?
Tim: Once I decided that I liked the way the name Richard Hawke could look on a book cover--let's face it, that's the crucial bit--I told my mother the new name and she HATED it. "It sounds like a cheap dime store novel." Perfect! I remember the frontrunner. Nicholas Gray. but the problem with that one? Think of the names starting with "g" in the mystery section. Quick! Name three.
Brian: Grafton, Gaheris...
Gerald: This may not qualify as quick.
Brian: Leslie Gaheris. Wrote cat mysteries during the 1920s. My grandmother read them. And Gardner, both Erle Stanley and John.
Tim: Well, Brian, that one I could compete with. but Grafton, Grimes and Grisham? Poor old Nicholas Gray would have been dwarfed on the shelf. Gardner! I hadn't even thought of him. Clearly, the G section was verboten.
Gerald: I see your point, in terms of letters alone, Tim.
Tim: I contacted Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben and told them that I was 'leaving the neighborhood' - my books have always been tucked in between theirs - and that I wanted a goodbye gift from them...a nice blurb for my first R. Hawke book.
Gerald: Any significance to the Hawke name as Brian asked?
Brian: I would think you'd want to be sandwiched between sellers like that. They've got the new Connelly and the new Coben and they're newer ones haven't come out yet.. shoot! Hey, who is this Cockey guy?
Tim: None, although, by nice coincidence (or fate?), it was only after I'd settled on the name did I realize that the initials matched those of my new publisher...Random House.
Gerald: I see.
Tim: Trust me...being sandwiched there stinks. They have so many books out by comparison that mine vanish...and the stores tend to understock mine to make room for more of theirs. Besides which, Harlan's paperbacks have a tendecy to begin opening up on the shelf...and they literally start to fall off the shelf. It's all too much.
Brian: I guess I'm lucky I would really only have to worry about the Thompsons and Scott Turow.
Tim: And I guess Hawke dukes it out with Hiassen.
Brian: Hiassen. There's one fight sales-wise that I'd run from screaming.
Gerald: The market for new writers often intimidates me.
Tim: As for Fritz...since you asked a moment ago...Initially, I was writing the first scene of SOTD as an everyday guy at the Thanksgiving Parade with his niece and nephew...but every time I had the gunman open fire, I couldn't justify Mr. Everyman abandoning the kids to go chase the gunman. So I decided to try for someone who would have more of a tendency to chase bad guys...and the next thing I knew, I'd pitched it into a first person voice and I saw that i had a PI on my hands.
Gerald: That opening scene was memorable.
Tim: It was pure luck. I wrote a line like "Mother Goose took the bullet" about a month earlier and tossed it away. I had great fun with that opening scene...and wjen it was concluded, had NO idea what in the world the shooting was all about.
Gerald: Did you draw on any past PIs in particular when creating Fritz?
Tim: Sure. I'm a huge fan of both Spenser and Matthew Scudder. I consider Fritz to be a combo of those guys as well as bringing some of his own flavor to the mix. And okay, let's be as honest as possible. I'm greatly influenced by my work as Tim Cockey, my Hitchcock Sewell undertaker novels.
Gerald: What did you carry over from your previous books if anything?
Brian: Scudder, huh? Fritz has demons like his?
Tim: Well, not the same sort, or they'd be the same character. Fritz is not as tormented as Scudder, but I feel that he carries a similar feel toward the people he encounters. Has a steady hand with women and as well an ingrained desire to see justice done (clearly this is a common trait among scads of protagonists). The name, by the way. FRITZ = the name of a local homeless guy in my neighborhood. MALONE = Man Alone...as well as being the last name of a favorite author - and friend - of mine. Michael Malone.
Gerald: Brian just heard of your work recently. He's a Spenser fan.
Tim: I always enjoy dipping into a Spenser, but I have to admit that a certain sameness gets to me if i dip in too often. Or is this abject envy?
Gerald: Everyone has seen the sameness, I think. His newest Sunny Randall book is being panned even by his best fans.
Tim: No need to slide into author bashing. My mistake in leaning that way. We all do what we feel is our best work.
Gerald: I'm a Parker fan myself. I don't see us bashing authors per se, but I will say when I'm disappointed in a book.
Tim: And sure...disappointment in a book is part of the game. I agree.
Brian: So in your writing, personal demons define character?
Tim: Defines? Not completely. but certainly a demon or two contributes to the sound of a character and to his/her feelings and actions. Otherwise, where is the color? Even my comic character, Hitch, had his so-called demons, which in my view colored his attitude immensely, partly in his constant leap to humor.
Brian: OK, just clarifying what you said above about how if they had the same demons, they'd be the same character.
Tim: Well in this case, if Fritz were a recovered alcoholic like Scudder, he'd have the AA meetings and the torments over alcohol. Block has roped off that territory (beautifully).
Brian: Well, Judy Jance also has a recovering alcoholic detective in Beaumont, and her sales are pretty robust.
Tim: Of course. I don't mean that traits can't be duplicated. but in my case a first-person New York PI who has an alcohol problem? Besides which, this is not an arena where I have particular experience nor interest.
Gerald: It's increasingly tough to really give a new spin on old themes.
Tim: Exactly. Very tough. However, if you write from an authentic place, it'll be a new spin. Simple truth.
Gerald: I really got the sense of New York in Speak of the Devil. How long have you lived in New York, or is that part made up for the Hawke bio?
Tim: Not made up (if somewhat cloaked). I've lived here now since 1986. Yikes.
Gerald: I see. I'm from Long Island myself. I have never quite gotten the hang of the city, but that's part of the fun.
Tim: I grew up never imagining I'd live here...and now I can't imagine living anywhere else. Long island, eh? You'll have to check out Cold Day in Hell. There's a touch of LI in that one.
Gerald: Oh, interesting. I'm definitely interested to read more about Fritz and the Scott family.
Tim: And yes. having the city as a place to set the story was great fun. I wrote the scene set at The Cloisters. I'm interested in the Scott family stuff as well. Since I don't know myself what happened to the old man.
Gerald: Do you know if he's alive or dead at least?
Gerald: I read it as if he might be out there somewhere.
Tim: And of course even if I did know, I'd not be telling you. I make even more of a case in Cold Day in Hell that he might still be out there. At first, I doubted he was, but now I am quite open to it and puzzled myself.
Gerald: We have an absentee question from Dave White: How important is pacing in your work? What do you do to keep the pace up throughout a novel?
Tim: Good question. Pacing. Terrifically important. In SOTD I had a ticking bomb of sorts, a deadline from the 'madman.' This meant that the threat had to remain imminent in all of the scenes. Not easy to do, at least for me it wasn't. I had to remain very mindful of this need at all times. At rhe same time, I wanted a fair amount of action interspersed throughout. these were challenges i had to keep reminding myself of as i worked on the book. They had to be real priorities. My previous books leaned so much in humor, that this whole pacing thing was quite a tricky one for me. At the same time, as a new challenge it was extremely fun.
Gerald: Humor is a kind of pacing in itself, and I can see how it's tough when you can't rely on humor because of the genre you're working in.
Tim: My big challenge was to keep humor in the book - in Fritz - but to keep him from sounding too much like Hitchcock Sewell. I tried to steer away from first person for this reason, but clearly I failed.
Gerald: Last question: Do you have some idea how long you'll be writing Fritz before moving to standalones as Hawke?
Tim: No real idea. The market drives this a little bit. There's logic in my getting Fritz nicely established and getting enough Hawke readers on board before veering off. But then again, breaking the rules is often a great way of making a new rule. I think that's a worthy final statement. Go out there and break some rules. Readers will be glad that you did.
Brian: Good luck with the new series and new name, Tim.
Gerald: Thanks again for chatting, Tim. Good having you.
Tim: Thanks. Gerald. It was fun.