James Hall on Writing Buzz Cut


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I wanted to give Thorn a larger problem to solve, something that took him farther away from home than he’d been and forced him to act on a larger stage. For a long time I’d been staring at the immense cruise ships anchored along Government Cut whenever I drove out to Miami Beach. I started thinking about putting Thorn aboard one of the ships and giving him some very difficult mission. I’m not always kindly toward Thorn, and in this case, I think part of the reason I fastened on cruise ships is that I had a perverse desire to see Thorn, a man with little affection for tourists, stuck onboard a ship filled with tourists. Of course, when I decided on this subject it meant that I would also have to take a cruise.   Like Thorn, I don’t look fondly at a regimented vacation in which you are cooped up with a couple of thousand total strangers and public address announcements are breaking into your tranquility on a regular basis. But I went on the Ecstasy over spring break that year, sailing to Nassau.

The first night out I won nine hundred dollars on the slot machines, which changed my negative attitude about cruises very quickly. As some readers have noted, the plot of Buzz Cut resembles the movie Speed 2 to a curious degree. There are actually a couple of dozen small and large similarities between the script and my novel. My novel was written and circulating in Hollywood half a year before the script was written, by the way. In any case, I was pleased to see that Speed 2 failed at the box office. I think the reason might be that the scriptwriter didn’t steal enough of my novel.

Butler Jack, the bad guy in the novel, is one of my favorite creations. He has dismantled a stun gun and rebuilt it so it attaches to his fingers so he can zap anyone he likes without them seeing it coming. He also has a mania for etymologies. The histories of words. His riffs on where certain words come from were my favorite parts of the book to write.