Books

Iowa City author returning to his roots

Craig Hart writes mysteries to help people escape

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Craig Hart has launched a new series featuring Shelby Alexander, a man past his prime who finds himself in the middle of a rural drug war in “Serenity.”

In this e-interview, Hart, who lives in Iowa City, talks about his protagonist, the planned quick release of the second and third entries in the series, and the appeal of writing and reading thrillers.

Q: As I understand it, you’ve written books in at least a couple of different styles. Tell me a little about your writing career to date.

A: I’ve been writing since I was about 15. My first published book, a mystery set in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., came out when I was in my early 20s. I’ve published a spy novel, a western for kids, a couple of YA fantasy books and literary fiction. I slowed down the writing for a time to run a literary magazine and a small press publishing house. I no longer publish work by others, but I do offer an e-book conversion service. Other than that, my time now is dedicated to writing.

Q: What led you to try your hand at a thriller and to announce it as a series from the get-go?

A: I consider the current thriller project to be a return to my roots as a writer. As mentioned, my first published book was a mystery. While much of my intermediate work was more literary in nature, as I studied elements such as literary theory, I never lost my interest in the pure escapism offered by broader genres. Not that literary work can’t offer such escape, but it typically investigates life and its inhabitants in a colder, more objective manner. It’s more interested in the why than the what. I love that about literary fiction, but sometimes the willing suspension of disbelief goes down easier after a long, hard day.

I’ve always wanted to put together a series. When I write a book, I generally end up falling in love with the characters and regret bringing their story to a close. With a series, a writer can continue to create and refine characters; a series is an unlimited canvas that continues as long as the series keeps going. I find that tremendously appealing and exciting.

Q: According to your website, you have a pretty aggressive publishing schedule for the Shelby Alexander thrillers, with a second entry due in January and a third in March. Why the fast pace? Do you anticipate more stories after the first three, and if so, will you try to maintain this pace you’ve set for yourself?

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A: It is an aggressive schedule, but not as aggressive as it may seem. The series, at least these first three books, have been in consideration for some time. So while it appears things are moving at breakneck speed, a lot of the groundwork has already been done. I wanted to get three books out as soon as possible, since that is the point at which I will feel comfortable actually calling it a series. Until then, it’s all theory and intention. In addition, there are subplots and character arcs that will continue from book to book, and so I felt it was important to get a firm foundation built and available to readers as quickly as I could. I’ve already had a couple of readers call for my head because they want to find out what happens next.

After the first three books are published, I anticipate relaxing the schedule quite a bit, at a rate of perhaps two books per year.

Q: The creation of the protagonist is one of the most important — arguably the most important — aspect of launching a series. Tell me about Shelby. What gave rise to his character and what do you like most about him?

A: Shelby is an aging ex-athlete — a boxer — who has seen his prime and is struggling with changes in his own life. While still in good shape, he can sense his limits like never before and is beginning to consider his own mortality. What I love about Shelby is that he is a surprisingly human character for the thriller genre. I had one reviewer say it was a relief to read a thriller that didn’t feature a buff ex-Navy SEAL with rippling abs. Shelby is certainly a capable man with a past, but he has distinct limits. The book investigates the humanity of the characters more than might be typical for the genre, which is something I love about this series.

Shelby’s aforementioned past also comes heavily into play, and continues a common theme in my writing, which is how a character’s history — in particular the negative aspects — affect a character’s later life and how they are eventually forced to confront their inner demons.

Q: You live in Iowa City, a town filled with writers. Do you see yourself as part of a larger writing community, and if so, how does that affect your writing?

A: I definitely see myself as part of the larger writing community. Because writing can be such a lonely vocation, I value the sense of community. For example, there is the Iowa Writers’ House, which is a great resource in Iowa City that I would encourage writers and readers to support. Having such an amazing community at my fingertips, if anything, pushes me to be a better writer, not out of a sense of competition, rather because I wish to be considered worthy of the company I seek to keep.

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