I remember hearing about The Hemingway Thief when it came out last year but didn’t actually step up and buy the book until I ran into Shaun Harris on Twitter. I could tell right away from our interaction that I’d be in good hands(even though I was warned that he was not kind to Hemingway) with the incredibly entertaining story that is The Hemingway Thief.
In the interview, we discover that Coop’s character has a small connection to Sherlock Holmes, just why Shaun Harris dislikes Hemingway so much, his false claim that he is lazy(note the several projects he has going), what’s next for Harris and much more about the writer and the book, The Hemingway Thief.
Here is the back of the book:
The Hemingway Thief
Novelist Henry “Coop” Cooper is contemplating a new book between sipping rum and lounging on a Baja beach with hotel owner Grady Doyle. When Grady tries to save a drunk from two thugs, Coop tags along for the sake of a good story. The drunk is Ebbie Milch, a small-time thief on the run in Mexico because he has stolen the never-before-seen first draft of Ernest Hemingway’s
Novelist Henry “Coop” Cooper is contemplating a new book between sipping rum and lounging on a Baja beach with hotel owner Grady Doyle. When Grady tries to save a drunk from two thugs, Coop tags along for the sake of a good story. The drunk is Ebbie Milch, a small-time thief on the run in Mexico because he has stolen the never-before-seen first draft of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast from a wealthy rare book dealer.
The stolen manuscript is more than just a rare piece of literary history. It reveals clues to an even bigger prize: the location of a suitcase the young, unpublished Hemingway lost in Paris in 1922. A year’s worth of his stories had vanished, never to be seen again. Until now.
But Coop and Grady aren’t the only ones with their eyes on this elusive literary prize, and what starts as a hunt for a legendary writer’s lost works becomes a deadly adventure. For Coop this story could become the book of a lifetime . . . if he lives long enough to write it.
And now the interview. Enjoy!
(Francis Sparks) How much did you know about Hemingway before you started writing this book and how much research did you have to do?
(Shaun Harris) I knew the legend, but not much more. I’d read the Old Man and the Sea and parts of A Moveable Feast. The lost suitcase was something that was referenced in a movie and I looked it up. I tried to keep my research to a minimum. I didn’t want to make any of the guys Hemingway experts so I was afraid that if I over-researched it I wouldn’t be able to keep it off the page. I read a couple of biographies and re-read Feast, but that was pretty much it. There was a guy who complained to me that some of the book couldn’t have happened and that Hemingway wouldn’t have done the stuff I said he’d done. I told him that’s why they file my book under fiction.
(Francis) You seem to really dislike Hemingway. Where does that animosity come from?
(Shaun) I don’t like bullies and I don’t like people who use their talent as an excuse to treat people like garbage. Hemingway was both. He was also the quintessential alpha male which is something that doesn’t impress me. I think part of being a man or being manly is to treat people with decency. I could go on and on why I don’t like that type of person, but I think we all know why machismo is bullshit.
(Francis) Is Hemingway one of your writing influences?
(Francis) Who are your writing influences?
(Shaun) My influences are Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, Christopher Moore, and Shane Black. I write fairly simply, like Hemingway, but that’s a product of rewrites. Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing are pretty much gospel to me. Number ten is “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” I should get a tattoo that says that.
(Francis) The humor in THE HEMINGWAY THIEF is great. One of my favorite recurring jokes is the “Why can’t you write more like John Grisham?” joke. It’s a line Coop has heard from his absent father way too often in his life. Are your parents supportive of your writing? Have they always been?
(Shaun) My parents are incredibly supportive. The John Grisham thing is based on something my Dad would do when I was writing my first novel. He was trying to be helpful, really, and he would say “You know what Michael Connelly does…”all the time. I love Michael Connelly, but that got old really fast. I knew my dad was trying to help, but it gave me the idea for a less than helpful version of the same thing. I made it John Grisham so it would match up with Coop’s teenage years a little better. I’m a John Grisham fan, by the way. I sent him a copy of The Hemingway Thief with an apology just on the off chance someone tells him I’m gunning for him. I’m not.
(Francis) Coop is a self-loathing(extremely successful) vampire romance writer who feels like he has sold his soul and would much rather be a different writer. He seems to really hate what he does. Where’d the idea for his backstory come from?
(Shaun) I had read a story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes after years of writing his stories. That, supposedly, was why he killed Holmes off and why The Hound of The Baskervilles was almost a send up of the genre. My father-in-law, who is a huge Sherlock fan, didn’t believe me and asked why someone would hate the thing that made them rich and famous. That got me to thinking and that was how I came up with the idea of Coop.
(Francis) Mexico is a major character in THE HEMINGWAY THIEF. The details you added about the drug trade and the way in which the USA attempted to destroy it in the 60’s/70’s and how that changed communities really made the setting pop. I always love when I can learn something new in a book like that. Why did you set the book in Mexico?
(Shaun) I wanted to set it in a place where there could be lots of gunplay and little interference from the law. The Sierra Madres seemed like the best fit. I was in Baja in 2007 for a friend’s bachelor party. We were in this little hostel in the middle of nowhere owned by an ex-pat American with a pot dealer as the maintenance man. I’m a huge fan of Westerns and the whole time I felt like the Man With No Name was going to come around the corner any minute. I read a couple of books about the Madres and it seemed like the Wild West was still going strong down there. It’s just a great location.
(Francis) There is a reference or two to the 80’s TV show The A-Team in THE HEMINGWAY THIEF. Can you match Coop, Digby, Milch, and Grady with the four members of The A-Team?
(Shaun) That is a great question. I suppose Digby would have to be Hannibal, right? After that, it’s a bit of a stretch to match them up. Maybe Digby is Hannibal, Faceman, and B.A. all rolled into one. Grady would come closest to Murdock. Coop doesn’t belong on the A-team. He needs to just be watching them from afar.
(Francis) I read in another interview that you have two manuscripts that you wrote before THE HEMINGWAY THIEF. Will those ever see the light of day or have they already been stolen at a train station?
(Shaun) One was written before The Hemingway Thief and the other was after. I’ve cannibalized my favorite parts of the first one for a book I’m writing now. The one that I wrote after The Hemingway Thief is a direct sequel that delves into Coop’s dad. This book is set almost entirely in Coop’s hometown of Chicago. You’ll get to meet some of his friends and see him in his own element. It fleshes out Coop’s mythology a little more and I think you get to see why he is the way he is. Unfortunately, Grady will not be in that one, but I may have him return sometime in the future. We’re shopping it around, but the TV and film rights were picked up for both books so I got that going for me.
(Francis) I also read that you have two small children. I have two as well and know how difficult it can be to carve out time to write. How do you find the time and/or space to write?
(Shaun) I don’t really. I am notoriously lazy with a mean case of ADD. If I’m lucky I can get some serious work done about once a week. My parents will take the kids for the day and I’ll work like a madman. I’m always thinking about it though, that’s the really tough part. I can edit while they take naps.
(Francis) What’s next? What are you working on? Will we see Coop again?
(Shaun) I’m finishing up a novel with a completely new character that has been a lot of fun. It’s much more of a straight up crime novel with a more conventional and capable protagonist. I’m also working on a comic book with IDW Publishing. The first issue is all written and the artist is getting down to business on it. I’m hoping the first issue will be out by the end of the year. It’s called Las Vegas Repo and it’s set in Las Vegas in the 1970’s.
Shaun Harris grew up the son of a homicide detective in Southern New England. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in both American Studies and Film and Television. As such he has a crippling obsession with Fighting Irish Football. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, two kids, and a dog. Jim Rockford is his spirit guide. The Hemingway Thief is his first novel.
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Thanks for the great interview Shaun!