Interview With The Author: Harry Dolan
John Dwaine McKenna
With many other things to do, expert wordsmith Harry Dolan graciously took time away in order to grant us an interview today, so let’s start right in with a quick “Thank you,” and our first question . . .
What do you write about?
The short answer is that I write about crime. My first four novels were mysteries, each with a murder, or a series of murders, at its heart. My latest book, The Good Killer, is something of a departure: it’s a thriller about a couple, Sean Tennant and Molly Winter, who are on the run from some very dangerous people from their past—people who want to kill them. In a larger sense, the book is about love and loyalty. It’s about reckless decisions and their consequences. It’s about regretting your past, and searching for redemption.
Who’s your favorite author?
It’s hard to pick one favorite, but I’m a big admirer of Robert Crais, especially his novels featuring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. It’s rare for a detective series to maintain its quality as it goes along; they tend to become hit-or-miss over time. But there are no duds in the Cole/Pike series. The books are cleverly plotted and skillfully written, full of action and suspense. And the unshakable friendship between Cole and Pike is a theme that runs through every one of them.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
In order to get started I need to know where I’m going, so I always begin with some sort of outline. The level of detail varies from book to book, but I like to know what the major plot twists will be and how the story will end. If you’re writing a mystery, you need to know who actually committed the crime, but also who the other suspects are and how they’ll fall under suspicion. I like to work these details out in advance, but I always keep in mind that an outline isn’t binding. Sometimes the story takes on a life of its own and veers off in a direction you didn’t expect. Sometimes minor characters grow and take on larger roles for themselves. These are gifts, and a writer should be open to receiving them.
What makes a character compelling?
I think a compelling character is one who has believable motivations. You need to know what drives your characters: what they want and who they care about. This goes for both the heroes and the villains. Your antagonist can’t be a cardboard cut-out or a mere roadblock in the hero’s path. The best antagonists can justify their actions, if only to themselves; they believe they’re doing the right thing. The chief villain in The Good Killer, Jimmy Harper, is seeking revenge on Sean and Molly for a grave wrong they did to him in the past; he believes he’s perfectly justified in pursuing them.
Do you use humor in your work?
I never try to force humor in, but I find it grows out of the interplay of the characters and their relationships with one another. I tend to write a lot of dialogue, and I’m always on the lookout for a sharp, witty line. In The Good Killer, the main protagonist, Sean, is a former soldier, and he’s haunted by the memory of a friend he served with in Iraq. This friend, Cole, died years before the story opens, but he appears in flashbacks—and also in the present day, as a voice in Sean’s head. Sean and Cole have whole conversations with each other that take place only in Sean’s mind, with Cole offering a wry commentary on Sean’s actions. It’s a playful relationship infused with humor—sometimes dark, bitter humor—and I greatly enjoyed writing it.
Do you use long, detailed and in-depth descriptions of your characters and their environs?
With respect to character descriptions, I believe less is more. Certainly with protagonists I tend to keep physical descriptions to a minimum, leaving it to the reader to fill in the details. Minor characters are likely to get more description, in order to distinguish them from one another and add color to a scene. As for descriptions of places, I try to give enough to make sense of where the action is taking place, but I operate under the assumption that lengthy descriptions will be skimmed over by the reader.
Are you more comfortable writing in the first, or third person POV?
I’ve used both, and I feel comfortable with either. In my second and third novels (Very Bad Men and The Last Dead Girl), I combine the two, with most of the chapters narrated in the first person by my protagonist, but some others in the third person describing the thoughts and actions of the villain. The Good Killer is written entirely in the third person, with chapters from the viewpoints of a range of characters: my two protagonists, Sean and Molly, as well as a detective who’s trying to track them down, and various antagonists who want them dead. I found it very useful to write this way, cutting from the POV of one character to the POV of another in order to build suspense and drive the narrative forward.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Thx again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.