Tami Hoag is the best-selling American author of a number of mystery/thriller series. Her recent novel The Bitter Season is the sixth featuring Minneapolis police detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska. It’s a book with great energy, moving through the two parallel stories – a member of the local university’s staff has been murdered, plus there’s a 25-year-old cold case murder of a detective to look into.
There’s a lot of banter between your characters – do you find writing humour tricky?
Really not. These characters are so real for me and so familiar, I literally hear their conversations in my head. It’s great fun for me to write their dialogue.
What is your approach to writing. Do you plan things out or or just write and see what happens?
In all other areas of my life I’m very methodical and plan everything out. So the fact that my creative side has very much a ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ style can be terrifying, but it’s also an adrenaline rush. I’ve had to learn to trust that process, and somehow, it always works out. I never get bored with the story because I never know what’s going to happen.
What feedback do you get from readers?
That they love the characters. They get emotionally invested in the lives of the characters, and they always want them to continue on to another book because they’re concerned about what happens next for them. That’s a tremendous compliment.
Most American crime thrillers are set on the coasts. What’s attractive to you about the Midwest setting?
I grew up in rural Minnesota, so the setting is natural for me. It’s a beautiful place and the extremes of the weather can become something of a character in the story, an added bonus. The Kovac and Liska series is set in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, two distinctly different place. St Paul is the seat of state government, Minneapolis is the more cosmopolitan business center with a thriving arts community. I enjoy being able to portray The Cities, as we call them, to the world.
And what do you think is special about the people there?
Midwesterners are extremely polite and very salt-of-the-earth type people. Life there seems quite simple and straightforward at first glance, but there are actually a lot of unwritten rules about what is polite behavior and what is rude. We always joke about The Minnesota Long Goodbye. There is a long hilarious monologue by a local humorist that details the etiquette of saying goodbye and leaving someone’s home. You can’t just say, “I have to go now. Goodbye.” and be out the door. That would be considered rude. You have to ease into it, say you should be going, then end up staying for another hour and having a snack before the next step of actually making it out to your car.
Which crime authors do you enjoy reading?
I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure, and when I do I try to read a variety of things, from non-fiction to women’s fiction, to fantasy, to suspense. My classic favorite crime writer is Raymond Chandler. I recently read a suspense novel by Lisa Unger that I enjoyed very much. I also like Mark Billingham. I try to read a lot of different authors. There are so many great writers out there. I want to sample as many as I can.
What’s next for you?
For my next book I’m going back to an old favorite setting, the bayou country of south Louisiana, and to characters fans have long been asking me to bring back: the characters from A Thin Dark Line. The story begins with a young mother running through the night, bloody and wounded, desperately seeking help. She claims someone broke into her home and murdered her seven-year-old son. But who breaks into a home to kill a child yet leaves an adult witness behind? Needless to say, all is not as it seems…
Photo by Jan Cobb.