Thursday, January 12, 2023

Jim Winter, Author of The Dogs of Beaumont Heights

 Jim Winter is the crime fiction name of TS Hottle. Born in Cleveland, he was raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, The Rockford Files, and early Spenser novels. He moved to Cincinnati in 1991 to be with the love of his life. He finally met her in 2017 and married her a year later.


As TS Hottle, he writes science fiction, but as Jim, he's written crime fiction for over twenty years. By day, he is a software developer. He lives with his wife Candy in suburban Cincinnati.


One Bite at a Time: Hi, Jim. It’s always good to talk with you. I think we go all the way back to the old Crimespace web site. Your new book is The Dogs of Beaumont Heights, which is an intriguing title that could go several ways. Which way does it go?


Jim Winter: It's a play on words. The dogs refer to the gang members trying to use vacant houses to store their stashes. It also refers to the literal dogs the leader Linc uses to guard those stashes. He has an associate running a fighting ring for pit bulls and hits on the idea of using the females to guard the houses in a neighborhood called Beaumont Heights.


OBAAT: This is the second book in the series set in Monticello, Ohio and featuring Detective Jessica Branson. Is this a sequel, a separate entity that uses the same characters and location, or a mix of the two? For example, are the bad guys here the same, related to, or completely different from those in Holland Bay?


JW: Special Investigations is the same. I actually didn't add anyone new to the mix. But Branson is more established in her role. Linc was a minor member of Baggy's crew in Holland Bay. Now he's stepped into the roles filled by Baggy and Armand. And Rufus King still looms over that operation, all with an eye of leaving the Game, as it's called in Monticello.


Roberts was a minor character in Holland Bay, a potential threat to Branson. But now he's doubly frustrated trying to get rid of Branson and chasing after the chief's position.


If anything is new, it's Isaac, the former Amish man who runs the junkyard. He enjoys dressing the part of his former life, but he's also every bit as ruthless and shrewd as those he does business with.


OBAAT: What led you to choose Ohio as the setting?


JW: When I first had the idea for Holland Bay, I had written stories set in Cleveland, where I grew up. But the city has become unrecognizable to me over the years, and Cincinnati, where I live now, is too close for me to write about. I need distance. On the other hand, placing a city in between Cleveland and Toledo and giving it a history and cast of characters from history let me come up with a living, breathing setting. And you can see reality from Monticello. Cedar Point and Put in Bay are visible from the lakefront, and the tallest building downtown offers a view, on clear days, of Canada and of the Key Tower in Cleveland. Once you have the source for names of streets and neighborhoods and the geography, a fictional city just comes alive.


OBAAT: Tell us a little about Jessica Branson, including who would play her in a movie?


JW: Branson, after several rewrites, became the series' central character. I was drawn to her because she got knocked down for doing her job and sent to a dead-end squad in hopes she'd quit. But she likes being a cop and decided to force a paycheck out of the city until they fired her. Only the dead-end squad suddenly becomes the mayor's pet project, and the man who investigated her gives her the second chance he thought she originally deserved. So Jess has to adapt. She's got a house she can't afford to keep and can't afford to sell, and, as I had happen when I owned a rental, gets saddled with the tenants from hell. That puts her in Roberts's crosshairs. But, as we found out in Holland Bay, she's done taking crap off of people more powerful than her. She tells Roberts the only way he can get rid of her is to fire her, and of course, she's going to make sure that decision hurts badly.


When Holland Bay started making rounds, I always thought Jessica Chastain or Jeri Ryan could play her, and Ryan could probably still pull off the character. Now, maybe if it were a streaming series or a movie, Jess Bush from Strange New Worlds could be a logical next step for her. Justine Lupe from Succession and Mr. Mercedes might be a good choice. Only she would have to play the role a lot harder than she did Holly Gibney (whom she really brought to life), but I think she has the chops.


OBAAT: What writers, books, films, or television shows influenced you when you developed the idea for this series?


JW: Originally, I pitched Holland Bay as The Wire meets 87th Precinct. I still think that's true, though the idea of a rotating central character has gone by the wayside. From the police side of things, Branson is front and center when I'm not focusing on the political machinations within the city. So she's more McNulty than Carella, though she has better control of her appetites than McNulty ever did.


I also drew a bit from Stephen King, whose fictional Maine is more real than some people's real-life settings. Castle Rock and Derry and TR 90 are more real than some writers' LA or New York, or even the Cleveland written by this hack in the early 2000s… Oh, wait. That was me.


OBAAT: How long have you been writing and what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned? Could be about craft, the business, or anything related.


JW: I started doing this "for real" about twenty years ago, with a couple of breaks during that time, and a sidetrack into science fiction. Over time, I learned you're not likely to get rich, I'm a bit of a control freak (hence my approach to science fiction), and you have to love what you're doing.


OBAAT: What are you working on now?


JW: I am working on the follow up to The Dogs of Beaumont Heights with the working title Harbourtown. That name will likely go away as the story progresses. And I'm prepping one of several sci-fi books I dictated during what I call my Stupid Writer's Trick™ when the pandemic raged.



1 comment:

Escapee said...

Cleveland, unrecognizable?
Yup. Old immigrant ethnicities aging into the graveyard, slapdash fast and loose gentrification money and general slow motion urban collapse.
Your origins are still part of your narrative.