When writing my first (published) novel – Dead Men’s Dust – I made a conscious decision to write something very different from other crime/thriller books on British bookshelves. There are traditions in crime fiction set in the UK where amateur sleuths or damaged Detective Inspectors tend to be the norm, and I was infinitely aware that I probably could not compete in either of these tough markets. I wasn’t in the habit of reading books featuring amateur sleuths or damaged DI’s, and you know what’s said about writing what you know. The thing was, by then I’d worked for more than twenty years in a law enforcement capacity, first in the private security industry then as a police constable, so you might argue that I was perfectly suited to writing British-style crime fiction. But I’ll counter that by explaining that I’d rarely read a book in the genre best suited to my life experience, preferring instead to read action-oriented thrillers, primarily set in the USA. In my wisdom, I decided to set my books in the States, as I felt it was a location I was familiar with through my reading (and watching) habits. You’ll probably think I’m nuts when I admit to having never visited the US before then, but in my mind I wasn’t being a charlatan, I was paying homage to books I loved.
Having shied away from writing what was expected from me, I quickly realised that for the kind of action-driven books I wanted to write, I needed a character with enough world experience, and skills, to get him through his adventures, so decided that my character, Joe Hunter, should be an ex-soldier, a former member of an outdated counter-terrorist group called Arrowsake, now adrift in the world with little direction and purpose, but with an overriding need to right wrongs, as he perceived them. In a sense he’d become a vigilante, and haunted by his past he could be quite uncompromising when dealing with the bad guys. To contain the type of stories I wanted to throw Hunter into, I realised I needed a larger stage than the United Kingdom, and thought, “Hey, the USA is just what I need”. I’m stating the obvious, but the US has most everything when it comes to terrain, from frozen north to semi-tropical south, mountains, swamps, deserts, plains, you name it, and also diverse and varied settings from massive cities to small towns and even backwater communities. I also felt that many of my readers would buy into a kind of fictionalized version, being mostly familiar with the US as I was through books and Hollywood movies. You see, at that time I never expected to be published in the US, so was gearing towards a British readership, and did in fact get a publishing deal with Hodder in the UK. But imagine my surprise when William Morrow and Company (Harper Collins) picked up the book, and subsequent books in the series, in the USA. Suddenly I had a readership in the actual know about their country. I was a tad nervous to say the least, and waited for the barrage of comments putting me in my place about how I’d got (or should that be gotten?) everything wrong. Thankfully it didn’t happen.
OK, so I did have an American editor who helped me steer the books more to an American readership, and I’m forever indebted to him for all his hard work, but saying that the changes were mostly very small, apart from adapting Hunter so that he wasn’t so much of a Brit anymore, probably more Mid-Atlantic than ever I first wrote him. After a six books run, I switched US publishers to Down and Out Books, who to date have published a further four books in the series, most recently The Devil’s Anvil and are soon to publish No Safe Place – Joe Hunter 11 – and these books have only been minimally adapted and retain much of my original British script. By now I feel readers are familiar with Hunter, and his Brit mind set. Oh, and by the way, I’ve now become a regular visitor to US shores and intend to return many more times.
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including The Devil’s Anvil – Joe Hunter 10 – published in June 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton and Blood Tracks, the first in a new series from Severn House publishers in November 2015. His first book, Dead Men’s Dust, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 Award, and was a Sunday Times bestseller, also being named as a ‘thriller of the year 2009’ by The Daily Telegraph. Dead Men’s Dust was also a top ten Kindle bestseller in 2013 and 2016. The Joe Hunter series is widely published by Hodder and Stoughton in UK territories, and by William Morrow and Company (Harper Collins) and Down and Out Books in the USA, and have been translated into German, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian. As well as the Joe Hunter series, Matt has been published in a number of anthologies and collections, and has published novels in the supernatural/horror genre, namely Preternatural, Dominion, Darkest Hour and The Shadows Call. He has recently published the next Joe Hunter novel, No Safe Place, in May 2016, and his next Tess Grey novel, Painted Skins, in August 2016.
Learn more about Matt at his website. He can also be found on Twitter as well as Facebook at Matt Hilton Author and Matt Hilton Books.
Maryann Miller says
Enjoyed getting to know about you and your books, Matt. It appears your decision to write books set in a country you had never visited turned out well for you. I’m not sure I could do that. For me, I have to see the place where I am going to set a story, and I love to seek out those places, much like scouting locations for films. Of course, with the Internet, one can see many places from the comfort of home.
Donna Volkenannt says
Thanks, Patricia, for hosting Matt on your blog,. You are always such a gracious host and generous supporter of writers.
And, thanks, Matt, for this inspiring post. As a writer I think it’s important to take chances, which I believe you have done by setting his novels in the USA.
Matt hilton says
Thank you kindly, Donna.
Matt hilton says
Hi L. Diane. Thanks for commenting. I’ve been to a number of places in the US since the first book was published out there and made some great friends along the way. I’ve been to NYC a few times, Albany, St Louis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Orlando, Tampa, and San Francisco. Each visit has been a great experience for me, but I absolutely fell in love with San Francisco and hope to return again. But to be honest, I really want to see out west, and am hoping to visit Arizona maybe next year – look out for the guy in the Winnebago driving on the wrong side of the road! I’m a guy who loves wilderness over cities, and would love to see the Old West (I know that’s a misnomer) and drive some of historic Route 66. Would also love to get to Maine and Louisiana at some point (seeing as I write another series of books featuring both locales).
Hi Matt, and thanks for being a guest here today. If you do make that journey along some sections of historic Route 66, be sure to visit a little former gold mining town called Oatman in NW Arizona. It’s a tiny bit touristy but a big attraction for those around the world who like to travel historic Route 66 on motorcycle as well as car. The old Oatman Hotel is rumored to be haunted, although I did not encounter the ghost when I was there. One of my daughters-in-law owns the ice cream parlor in the lobby of that hotel and she does report some mighty strange noises coming from the hotel’s 2nd floor at night…
Matt hilton says
That sounds awesome, Patricia. Did I mention I’m massively interested in the paranormal, so the old Oatman Hotel sounds like my ideal stop over – plus ice cream is an extra added bonus.
Matt hilton says
I just googled the Oatman Hotel – looks incredible!
Keep me posted about your travels so I can alert the folks I know there that a well-known U.K. thriller author is on his way to pay a visit!
L. Diane Wolfe says
Joe, you found your own path and in a far off country to boot. I hope you get to visit the US many more times. What area has been your favorite so far?
Matt hilton says
Hi Margot. Thanks for your comment. And you’re welcome.
Matt hilton says
Hi Alex. Thanks for commenting. I totally agree with you. But I was nervous. Thankfully when I did make my first trip out to the US I wasn’t sent packing with my tail between my legs.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Just because you’d never visited here didn’t mean you couldn’t write about it. (I’ve never been to space, but I write about it.) Obviously you nailed it to have continued the series so far.
Margot Kinberg says
I think that’s something most writers have to struggle with at some point. How do you balance the story you have to tell with what people are accustomed to reading, or with the expectations people may have? Thanks for sharing the way you addressed the issue.