An Exclusive Interview about Napalm Hearts…
Seamus, thank you so much for hopping onto the blog today. Your marketing for Napalm Hearts has been relentless and impressive! It’s great to be able to give readers the opportunity to get to know the brains behind the book…
Can you tell us a little about your debut novel, Napalm Hearts? It’s quite a catchy title you have there.
NAPALM HEARTS is a detective story about a successful but somewhat jaded American PI living in London, England who specializes in lucrative infidelity cases. Interested in doing some “real” investigative work, he takes on a new client, a wealthy and powerful man whose much younger and hard-partying wife has disappeared—and may or may not want to be found. It’s a bullet-paced thriller, with a few of the typical twists and turns, but it also explores themes of loneliness, power and class.
How long did it take you to write?
Too long. I wrote the first 1,000 words or so at my kitchen table one groggy Saturday morning after hosting a party at my old house in St. John’s Newfoundland, and finished the first draft some seven years later at another kitchen table all across Canada, in British Columbia. I only have myself to blame—I wasted too much time and let life get in the way more than once. In the last couple of years I got much more serious about finishing it and, after I completed my master’s degree last spring, I had just enough gas in the tank to blow through the last 8,000 words or so.
Which authors have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I wrote a private eye novel, so I happily acknowledge Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but honestly it’s any writer who can deliver the kind of story I like: With sympathetic and/or interesting characters who face situations of real danger and consequence as they pursue a goal that the reader cares about.
I don’t like a lot of messing about in my prose—I prefer to keep it lean and moving along. If I write a scene that doesn’t add anything to the plot or reveal something new about the characters, I kill it. Folks like Chandler and Hammett get a lot of credit for their longstanding influence, but people forget they also wrote damn good tales while still defining a genre. So I think I’d rather be known as a good storyteller than anything else.
Honestly, the world probably doesn’t need another detective novel, so if you’re going to write one it better be either a solid addition to the genre or say something new about it. I’ll settle for either or.
When I was a kid there was a bakery in my hometown called Maggie’s. They did lovely cakes—I remember my mother would dispatch my father on special occasions to get one, in either chocolate or vanilla. Both were great. Their icing made the difference.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Bit of both, I suppose. My original outline for NAPALM HEARTS was much different than the final version I wrote. Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to trust both your characters to guide you, as well as your own instincts when you’re in the moment. So for the second in the series I’m definitely taking a less structured approach.
I read something wonderful George Saunders said recently, about not overthinking everything before you sit down to write. He said to do so was to cheat your subconscious from what it will give you when you get going. I love that.
Favourite characters in your book?
I have a terrific amount of sympathy for my protagonist, Thaddeus. He’s not a perfect man—he struggles with his sobriety, he’s not a great dad to his daughter, he’s made questionable relationship choices since getting divorced—but he also has enough self-awareness, I think, that he’s aware of his shortcomings and he’s willing to try to be better, both in his job and (what passes for) his personal life.
His colleague and foil, Charlie, has been well-received by people who were kind enough to read earlier drafts. She’s smart and independent, and despite being a bit younger than Thad she’s not intimidated by him or his bluster. The writer Dietrich Kalteis was kind enough to read my manuscript, and he describes her as the story’s voice of reason. She’s loosely based on a couple of similarly strong-willed women I’ve worked with in the past. She might also be the book’s moral centre.
Who from the literary world would you put top of your list if you were throwing a cocktail party?
I suppose the smart thing to do would be to invite a bevy of big-time agents looking for new crime authors in an attempt to woo them, but honestly, I really enjoy just hanging out with other writers. I’d invite people whose work I appreciate, be it in books, TV, film or comics: Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, David Milch, David Mamet, Nic Pizzolatto, Warren Ellis, Mike Schur, Tibor Fischer, Ed Brubaker, Michel Faber.
Cripes, that’s a lot, and that’s just off the top of my head. Maybe no open bar for this, then.
Nicest thing anyone has said about your writing?
“Oh man! I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!”
And the not so nicest?
“Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it is not a good fit for us right now.”
What can we expect to see from you next?
Well, I’m working on the follow up to NAPALM HEARTS. It was never intended to be a series, but when I got to the end I found it surprisingly open-ended. There’s a lot of room for these characters to grow, and I’m intrigued to see where they’ll end up.
I’m also writing a TV pilot script about public servants and the politicians they work for. It’s more of a dramedy than straight-up satire, and it has a bit of heart—more Parks & Rec than, say, Veep.
Find the girl. Find the truth.
Thaddeus Grayle is a successful but bored American private investigator who has grown weary of snooping after the cheating spouses of his adopted city of London, England. Recently divorced and even more recently sober, he fills what little free time he has with movies, baseball and his own torrid affairs. He wants a change, and it finally arrives thanks to a wealthy businessman desperate to find his hard-partying wife—a young woman who might be in the biggest trouble of her life.
NAPALM HEARTS may be ordered here.
Get in touch with Seamus Heffernan through any of these:
About the Author
Prior to his writing career, Seamus Heffernan worked in education, journalism, marketing and politics. He currently works for a Member of Parliament. Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, he has called several places home, including a lengthy stint in London, England. He presently resides in British Columbia, where he splits his time between Abbotsford, Mission and Vancouver.
His short fiction has previously appeared in The Raspberry and Louden Singletree. NAPALM HEARTS is his first book.