James W. Hall answers Frequently Asked Questions about his work, his life, and what inspires and influences his writing.

What are the publication dates of the books?

1987 Under Cover of Daylight (Thorn novel)

1990 Tropical Freeze (Thorn novel)

1991 Paper Products (short stories)

1992 Bones of Coral (stand alone novel)

1993 Hard Aground (stand alone novel)

1994 Mean High Tide (Thorn novel)

1995 Gone Wild (a small amount of Thorn)

1996 Buzz Cut (Thorn novel)

1997 Red Sky at Night (Thorn novel)

1998 Body Language (stand alone novel)

2000 Rough Draft  (stand alone novel)

2001 Hot Damn! (essays)

2002 Blackwater Sound (Thorn novel)

2003 Off the Chart (Thorn novel)

2004 Forests of the Night (stand alone novel)

2007 Magic City (Thorn novel)

2008 Hell’s Bay (Thorn novel)

2010 Silencer (Thorn novel)

2011 Dead Last (Thorn novel)

2012 Hit Lit (non-fiction book about bestsellers)

2013 Going Dark (Thorn novel)

2014 The Big Finish (Thorn novel)

2017 When They Come For You (Harper McDaniel novel)

2018 When You Can’t Stop (Harper McDaniel novel)

Which novels feature Thorn as the hero?

See #1 Fourteen of the novels feature Thorn

Should the books be read in any order?

I’ve tried to write the Thorn novels in such a way that reading them in order isn’t necessary. But Under Cover of Daylight is a useful book to read so you can understand how Thorn got to be the ornery way he is. The other novels can also be read in any order. I know some readers simply can’t do that and must read them in chronological order of publication. I understand that need, but I’ve tried hard to make each book stand independently.

Now that you’ve started a new series without Thorn, will you ever return to Thorn novels?

It depends on two things. How much I miss him.  And how much the rest of the world misses him.

What was your background before becoming a writer?

I spent many years in school, earning a B.A. in literature, an M.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. Between stints as a student I’ve been a bartender, a landscaper, a marina worker, a summer camp dining hall manager, a lifeguard and a restaurant manager and a handyman. I once had the distinction of digging post holes and building a fence for Robert Redford at his Sundance ranch.

Any movie projects underway?

Several of the books have been optioned over the years and a TV series was planned around a character much like Thorn. But at the moment, there’s nothing on the horizon I can mention.

Are your characters based on real people?

The bad guys come from my twisted imagination. I sometimes check out the mug shots of recently arrested individuals in Miami or the Keys and fantasize about who these people are and where they live and who their friends are and so on. The good people in my novels are usually combinations of people I’ve met while doing research. Police officers, attorneys, and so on. During the research phase of each book, I’m looking for the kinds of people who might populate the novel as well as for information about a particular subject.

Play any sports?

I played college tennis. And I played high school basketball in Kentucky. I still play tennis as often as my body allows.

Is Thorn based on someone you know?

Thorn is a combination of several people I’ve met over the years. A neighbor of mine in Key Largo many years ago heavily influenced his creation. My neighbor was a fishing guide and had done some risky and heroic stuff as a soldier in Viet Nam and was the kind of guy who had a very clear code of ethics that he didn’t mind acting on even if it meant putting himself in danger. Of course, there’s also a little Travis McGee in him. And he’s a loner like I am, someone who spends a great deal of time in a room crafting small objects (fishing flies) that only a few people in the world truly appreciate. In the fifteen years prior to creating Thorn, I’d been writing poems, which are small sometimes beautiful objects that only a few people appreciate, so I could identify with that part of him.

How can I get an autographed, personalized copy of one of the novels?

Here’s the process: email your request for the book to Mitchell Kaplan at: Kaplan296@aol.com Mitchell is the owner of the great Miami bookstore, Books and Books and is the director of the Miami Book Fair. He’ll arrange for you to purchase the book and get it signed and personalized in any way you choose and then mail the book to you.

If you have older books you want signed and personalized, you’ll either have visit when I come to a bookstore in your area, or make arrangements with one of the bookstores where I’ll be signing on my next book tour.

Which of your books is your favorite?

When Picasso was asked which of his paintings was his favorite, he replied “Which of my fingers is my favorite?”

I feel a little that way. All of them have some special importance to me. Some were easy to write, some hard. Some were written during times of great difficulty (like the aftermath of hurricane Andrew) so they stand out differently than others. But none is a favorite above the others.

Who do you read? Who are your favorite authors?

I read within the mystery genre and outside it as well. I like John Sanford’s Prey series a great deal. I like everything Elmore Leonard wrote and I read Sue Grafton’s novels with great pleasure. Other favorites: I also reread the old Travis McGee novels now and then and I still reread Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels. James Lee Burke is a wonderful favorite as is Scott Turow. I’ve loved the recent Megan Abbott novels, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet , Those Who Wish you Dead, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and anything by Dennis Lehane and Daniel Silva and Daniel Woodrell. Lately I’ve been on a Tana French kick. She’s a terrific writer, lyrical, hardcore, good police procedure and an excellent and subtle ability to describe characters, inside and out. I also read a good deal of non-fiction, Guns of August is a recent favorite, as is All Quiet on the Western Front.

Do you use an outline?

Nope. I’ve tried, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I write for the same reason I read, to be surprised and to feel an excitement about the unfolding narrative and all the twists and turns and surprises. I want to discover real life people, see into their depths and come to care about them. I find that outlines make me focus too much on the plot movement and not enough on the process of discovery.

What are your daily work habits?

I’m up very early. Five o’clock usually. And there are days that I write 8 hours. I compose on the computer and rewrite constantly. I usually start each writing day with an hour or two of rewriting the previous days’ work.

I break for the evening when I read or watch movies. But sometimes when the novel is near completion, I even work in the evenings, so those eight hour days become even longer. I usually take a year to get the book done. Six days a week, sometimes seven. With a month at the beginning to do research and a month at the end of a book to take a break, gather my breath, kiss my lovely wife and pet my dogs, before diving into the next one.

What do you do when not writing?

I read. I hike. I play tennis. I fish. My wife and I go on trips. We take the dogs for walks, work in the yard, watch old movies or new ones. Go out to eat with friends. The same things most folks do.

Do you know any good fishing guides?

Geoff Colmes in Islamorada will lead you to bonefish, tarpon or redfish or whatever else you’d like to catch. He’s a great guy and a knowledgeable and interesting companion. And he’ll lead you to the fish! Locate him at: http://www.floridakeysflyfish.com/

Where should I stay in the Florida Keys?

First you need to buy Joy Williams wonderful guide to the Keys. The Florida Keys, (Random House). It’s indispensable and full of funny info and even some great writing. Also of great value is my buddy Les Standiford’s marvelous Last Train to Paradise which gives you another extraordinary view of that string of islands.

Upper Keys:
Cheeca Lodge (expensive but gorgeous)
Largo Lodge (old and funky, but also gorgeous)
Popp’s Motel (old and funky, but very cool sunset views)

Key West: You’re on your own. See the Joy Williams book.

Do you do your own research?

I do. This is a crucial phase for me. I treat it as a journalistic, investigative month or so. I try to go to the locations that I’m going to write about and meet people in the area of concern. For Blackwater Sound, for instance, a novel that features marlin fishing, I went to Cabo San Lucas and the Bahamas to participate in professional marlin tournaments. For Gone Wild, I spent time in Borneo and Singapore to meet some of the people who deal in orangutans and those who fight the smugglers and exploiters of these endangered primates. I also wanted to see orangutans in a jungle setting, which I was lucky enough to do. These month long research periods are also supplemented by reading and internet research and by talking to folks on the phone or in person. It’s amazing how helpful people will be in describing insider information about their specialty area.

What’s your office like?

Pretty simple. An Apple computer and a keyboard and a good fast printer. An Internet connection and a window that looks outside so I can let my mind wander while looking at a natural landscape.

What does your wife do?

She’s my first and best editor. She was a school teacher in the public schools for over twenty years, teaching AP and Honors English. She also makes beautiful quilts and appliqué creations and teaches applique. Her website is: http://stellabellaapplique.blogspot.com/

How about pets?

We’ve had labs and Great Danes and we now enjoy the company of our two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Maggie and Stella.