Sam Hawken Posts

TypewriterSince I talked about perspective earlier this week on the occasion of my birthday, I’ll share one bit of insight I’ve gotten over the years.  Writers, this one’s for you.

There are no hard and fast rules for storytelling.  Anyone who gives you an absolute is absolutely wrong.  No, that’s not the perspective I’m going to offer, but it’s good to remember regardless.  People have been telling people how to write well since the invention of the sentence, and pretty much all those people have been full of it.  Write the way the piece has to be written in order to tell the story the way it is best told.

I used to think I had to retain all this advice and cling to it like a rock climber.  One thing I heard over and over again: show, don’t tell.  Depending on who said it, this could be taken more literally than from others, but the implication has always been that explaining things is bad and everything should be played out in front of the camera of the reader’s imagination.

It’s possible to get so tangled up in this piece of sage wisdom that your writing will collapse in on itself.  I know mine did.  I was so obsessed with avoiding the “telling” trap that I began to show everything, regardless of whether it was critically important to the story.  And that is not how it’s done, folks.

What’s immediate and brings drama or tension or sadness or any other emotion effective in driving the narrative is what you should show.  If something doesn’t do that, feel free to tell.  Move on to the interesting stuff.

But don’t take my word for it.  What did I say before?  Write your story the way it should be written.  Listen to advice if you want, but always be true to your writing, because that belongs to you.


Make Them Sorry, by Sam HawkenToday is my birthday.  I am the grand, old age of forty-eight, and I must say there are days when I feel that down to the ache in my hips.  Don’t get old, is what I’m telling you.  Being young is better.

About the only thing that improves with age — aside from being able to buy your own beer, of course — is perspective.  It’s more important to be comfortable than daring.  Drinking a little beer once you’ve bought it is more pleasant than drinking a whole bunch.  Success is about more than a corner office (see: comfort).  Family is foremost.  Time is valuable.

Birthdays are a reminder of all that stuff.  They needn’t be a time to mourn, but an opportunity to celebrate everything you’ve managed to learn.  I may not be able to climb ten flights of stairs without having to slow down anymore, but I also know that I’ll get where I’m going eventually.

Oh, and birthdays have one other bonus: presents!  Who gets tired of presents?

For this birthday, I’ll spare you a link to my wish list, and instead ask for only one thing: buy a copy of Make Them Sorry (link).  For my money, Make Them Sorry is the best book I’ve ever written, and that includes all those borderland noir things.  Make Them Sorry has good guys and bad guys and bad guys who are good guys and… well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Thank you to anyone who decides to celebrate my birthday with a solid read.  And if you already bought that particular present, I thank you, too.  I couldn’t do this without your help.

Get your copy of Make Them Sorry, the latest Camaro Espinoza thriller, from your favorite bookseller. (link)


Nahuel HuapiOne of the things for which I was lauded when I wrote the Borderland Trilogy (link) was the authentic flavor of the cities in which the books take place: Ciudad Juárez for The Dead Women of Juárez (link) and Tequila Sunset (link), and Nuevo Laredo for Missing (link).  This is due largely to the fact that I’ve been to these places multiple times, and know the areas well.  Granted, my knowledge of these things is some twenty years out of date, as I don’t recommend anyone go there while the drug war rages, but the fundamental nature of cities and towns generally does not change in a single generation.

Since the Borderland Trilogy, I’ve had to rely on less extensive experience for locations and, in at least one case, I have no firsthand history with the place at all.  See if you can spot which one of the Camaro books (link) features that locale.

As I move ahead with new books in new places, I’ve taken to travel.  Early next year I’m headed off to Montana.  Later in 2019 I’m going to Argentina.  In both cases I’m going to take the opportunity to work in solitude for a week or more — I’m thinking about a whole month in Argentina, given the low cost involved — but the positive secondary effect is taking lots of time to walk/drive around and see people, places and things I can incorporate into my books.

If you can travel as a writer, absolutely do it.  Depending on your genre, you can go to the exact spots, or you can visit some close facsimile.  And even if you don’t do any direct research in your travels, simply pay attention to what makes a location unique.  You’ll find a use for this experience someday, I guarantee it.