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Seeley James Interviews Roger Hobbs

Roger Hobbs’ debut novel Ghostman has been nominated for every major award in the publishing business. I found it one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read, and The New York Times agreed.

I hounded Mr. Hobbs for an interview because what amazed me most is: he’s young. Name a famous author and his/her age at their first award. He’s younger. James Patterson published his first book at 49, Lee Child at 43, Mr. Hobbs beat them by half. (And yes, he is on their level.) I expect we’ll hear a lot more from him in the coming years. Here are his thoughts and methods on writing:

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Q: Toward the end of Ghostman the narrator says, “Some kids collect model planes. I read Latin. It isn’t that hard to understand. I loved reading so much, plus I wanted to be Aeneas.” Is that autobiographical?

No. Sort of. Like Ghostman, I grew up with obsessive hobbies, though not Latin. Instead of going to middle school, I played chess. I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be so my obsession turned to storytelling. I wrote my first book when I was 13, my first national publication at 19. I was blessed with knowing what I wanted to do at a very young age.

Q: It’s been a year of collecting awards for you, the Ian Fleming Dagger, The Seeley James Award, The Strand Critics, to name a few. How do you keep sane when your career starts so well?

When I find a way, I’ll tell you. Sanity has never been my strong point. I find it’s a common problem in our profession. You have to be a little crazy to decide, I’m going to lie to people and get paid to do it. The awards are great. I’ve been nominated for all of them but since this is my first book, I don’t have the perspective an older writer would have. I don’t know any different. I go to the award party and have a good time whether I win or not.

What I expected to be doing at this stage in my life was flipping burgers and deep frying things, so I see all this as a gift.

Q: You majored in English, but also studied Film Noir and ancient languages. How have those two subjects affected your writing?

Film Noir was definitely helpful. I loved the crackerjack dialogue common to mid-century Noir. I love how quickly and effortlessly a film can draw you into a particular world. Many of them weren’t realistic in anyway. They were believable if they happened in a version of reality that we wanted to believe, that was so cool and different from our own, that it was uncanny. I wanted to write a book that was set in a world that was not our own but interesting enough that it holds the reader’s attention.

Q: You published several short stories in publications such as Thuglit prior to publication. The voice and pace will sound familiar to Ghostman readers. Were you honing your craft intentionally for the book or did your book evolve from the short stories?

My first Thuglit story was called “What’s Inside”, which I wrote between my sophomore and junior years in college. That was in the middle of the great recession and I couldn’t find a job anywhere, so I decided to get as many bylines as I could. It was a heist story featuring an armoured car. My agent, Nat Sobel, liked it so much that he asked to read my books. He hated them. The next summer, I wrote Ghostman because I realized I could do a good, hardboiled criminal voice.


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