Hamilton, a Michigan native who has called New Yorks Catskills Mountain region home since his 1983 graduation from U of M, is well known to Michigan mystery fans. Since the early success of 1998s A Cold Day in Paradise, Hamilton has penned six other novels starring retired Detroit policeman Alex McKnight. But his most recent success finds Hamilton leaving McKnight and Paradise behind for his adopted home of New York.
Night Work marks a breakout for Hamilton; a first commercial departure from his tried and tested fictional series. This time, instead of the slushy confines of Michigans Upper Peninsula in winter, Hamiltons story takes place in the Hudson River valley region of New York, near his own home. Its a murder mystery in which the main character struggles both to exonerate himself and catch the killer.
Hamilton, who earned an Edgar Award for his first McKnight effort, says the new book required him to rethink the lessons he has learned writing about Michigan. I learned a lot about how to write, I hope, but I was really trying to forget about it, he says. I wanted to put it aside for awhile, to prove to myself I could do it, he says about breaking away from McKnight.
McKnight and the new novels protagonist, Joe Trumbull, are different characters, Hamilton believes, though they do share some similarities. Circumstances have isolated them, he believes. Alex lives in a cabin, and Joe dives into his work in response to the isolation. For Hamilton, however, the primary difference seems to come down to something more elusive. Joe just sounds different in my head. Alex is a solid rock of a guy. Joe is a little more out there, a little more high strung, he says.
Night Work, released recently by Hamiltons long time publisher Thomas Dunne Books, may mark a departure, but dont look for Hamilton to forego a return to Alex McKnight and the Paradise series. In fact, Hamilton hopes to be in the Upper Peninsula this winter, helping to bring McKnight to theaters. He has been collaborating with independent filmmaker Nick Childs on an adaptation of the second Alex McKnight mystery, Winter of the Wolf Moon. Childs film The Shovel, based on one of Hamiltons short stories, earned the Best Narrative Short award at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.
Childs had never visited the U.P. before, but after Hamilton helped him scout locations, the director decided he wants to film at least some of the film in the region. Filming could take place soon after the first snowfall.
This is not a Holly-wood studio taking it away from you, Hamilton says. He says that he and Childs have worked on the screenplay together, and that while this is the first time he has worked with a collaborator, the process has been completely egoless.
Collaborating or not, Hamilton has found a successful formula for writing. When working out a new book, Hamilton gives small portions to two long-time associates from his original writers group. They dont care if Ive published books or won awards, he says. If the work is not up to acceptable standards, his two friends will pre-destroy everything I do, he laughs, If it gets through them, it will work for anybody.
This formula has definitely worked for Hamilton. In addition to the early Edgar Award, he received a 2006 Michigan Author Award. It was like the whole state was calling me back to tell me I was doing something good, he remembers.
His recent barnstorming promotional tour included a few Michigan stops, where Hamilton says he always finds he is appreciated, though it was not always so. It took Michigan a while to catch on, he says of the early feedback on the McKnight characters. Michigan readers are now among his most loyal.
Hamilton says it will not be long before he begins his next book, though he admits he is not sure what the new novel will be.
It wont be another Joe, he says, and Alex is not ready to come back yet, either, he continues. In fact, Hamilton is considering a totally different approach at some point in the foreseeable future. I might be ready to write about a criminal, he says. He thinks he might try writing one book featuring a guy whos not necessarily someone youd want to be like.
Regardless of what the next book turns out to be, Hamilton is certain he will eventually return to his first Paradise and McKnight. I want to find out what (Alex) is going to do next, he admits.
Find out where to get Night Work, and find out more about Hamiltons other works at www.authorstevehamilton.com.