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The thrill of it all: Iowa native sets his new novel in rural Iowa

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Washington, Iowa, native Tom Hunt had an experience not unlike one of the primary characters in his new novel, “One Fatal Mistake.” There was, however, one significant difference.

“Luckily, I didn’t actually kill someone,” he said. “Years ago when I was in Iowa, I was out driving one night with a buddy of mine and we got on a kind of abandoned gravel road and there was someone on the side of road. I came pretty close to hitting them. Luckily we missed him, but we spent the rest of drive wondering about how different everything would have been had I actually hit him. That incident has always kind of stuck in my head.”

That’s the jumping off point for the new book, which Hunt was working on a year ago when I talked with him about his first book, “Killer Choice.” The draft he was working on then underwent quite a few changes.

“You hand in the draft and you think it’s in a really, really good spot and then your editor and the other people who read it always seem to be able to find problems with it,” he said with a laugh.

The additional drafts focused on developing his characters. The first book had a small cast, but “One Fatal Mistake” features a larger ensemble.

“In this one, the two different stories being told are on equal footing. So there’s Ross and Amber (a married couple on the run after a bank robbery) and then Joshua and his mom (a family upended after Joshua accidentally kills a man),” he said. “I really wanted to balance those two storylines and make sure all of the characters were well developed.

“One Fatal Mistake” is set in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area. His familiarity with the area served him well, and the Iowa setting is also key to the plot.

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“I think it’s really set in southeast Iowa rather than just Cedar Rapids. Isolation plays a big part in the book,” he explained. “One thing I did like about setting it in Iowa is that there are a lot of farmhouses and places out in the country that are just out on their own where there isn’t a lot of surveillance and it’s not like you can just scream out and someone would hear you and call the police and they’d come and save you. You’re basically out there on your own. I thought that was really perfect for the book. It increases the level of terror and that sort of thing. These characters are totally on their own. There’s no one they can turn to, and no knight in shining armor is going to show up.”

Not only are the characters on their own; they also are just regular people, ill-equipped to deal with the extreme situations in which they find themselves.

“I always like having just a normal, everyday character as the main character. Something happens and their forced to do things that they typically wouldn’t do just to protect a loved one ... I do like having those kinds of characters,” Hunt said. “I think it’s easier for an audience to relate to somebody like that rather than, say, someone like an international spy or a police officer or someone like that. I think it’s more relatable for an audience. It’s easier to imagine yourself in those same shoes ... A regular character in a situation that spirals out of control is, hopefully, an effective way to rope the reader in.”

Hunt is in the early stages of crafting a third book. It, too, he said, will be a stand-alone thriller featuring a protagonist who might be your neighbor. His goal as a writer is straightforward: crafting fast-paced stories that readers enjoy.

“I hope readers are entertained, you know? I’ve always enjoyed writing things that people are entertained by.”

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