His first novel, The Silver Bear, is focused on a gun for hire that goes by the name of Columbus. The story , narrated by Columbus, follows him on one of his not so routine missions. Crisscrossing between his past and his present, The Silver Bear lays the groundwork for a character that could see many more iterations.
The second book in the series is simply titled Columbus. Picking up after the events of the first book, this one follows Columbus overseas as he tries to complete a job, uncover the person who has put a price on his head and tries to leave the business behind.
I found both books to be engrossing and entertaining and as much as I hate to use the ole cliche, I couldn’t put them down. So once I finished them, I hit Derek up again to chat about the books and other projects he’s working on. He was kind enough to take time out of his day to answer my questions.
HUG: First off, let me ask you, how did the idea of Columbus originate?
DH: I came up with the idea of a contract killer who gets assigned the contract of killing his own father about four years before THE SILVER BEAR came out. I knew I wanted the story to move from East to West and from Spring to Winter and to traipse across America but that was pretty much all I had. I knew it would be too hard to pitch as a movie and that I wouldn’t be able to include everything I wanted to say… so I just started writing it as a novel.
HUG: What was your process and how long did it take you to write both The Silver Bear & Columbus?
DH: The first book took me about four years, since I was just writing off and on while working on screenplays with Michael Brandt. I would put it down for months at a time and then pick it back up. It’s a short novel, so that amount of time constitutes a pretty poor time management effort on my part. With COLUMBUS, I actually had a deadline, and tried to stick to it. It took me a year.
HUG: Did you have the complete skeleton of the stories outlined, or did you let the story unfold organically?
DH: I did not have outlines for either one. In my head, I had a beginning, a middle, and an end, but then I just let the story unfold. With COLUMBUS especially, I surprised myself with the twists that book took. I found I would get attached to a character and want more of him or her in the book, so I allowed that to happen. Then, of course, I had to kill them.
HUG: Both books were quite descriptive in terms of locations as well as the life of an assassin. What type of research did you do?
DH: Well, I’ve been to most of the locations I use as settings in the books. Whenever I walk around a city, I think… hmmm, I wonder what would happen if… As far as the life of an assassin goes, I just try to draw from the authenticity of human emotion and feeling… and then transpose universal feelings on to the life of a killer. I haven’t met a real contract killer, but I’ve talked to several FBI agents and police detectives about the subject, and I use that research and then just draw on my imagination.
HUG: Have you traveled to the places mentioned in the books or did you do more of a literary-type of location scouting?
DH: I’ve traveled to all of those places. If I fall in love with a city, like Positano, Italy, I try to paint the picture of what that city is like in the book. If I have a bad experience, like in the Naples train station, then I use it for the character. I’ve been to Paris a number of times and the beauty of it serves as a great counterpoint to a hired bag man. Juxtapositions are always nice in literature.
HUG: The Silver Bear mainly talks about how Columbus achieved his position in the assassin business. Columbus talks more of him trying to get out of the business. What does the future hold in store for him? Will there be any more books to follow?
DH: I’m working on the third book now. I’m about halfway finished. Circumstances beyond his control draw Columbus back into the world he tried to leave. The question I try to draw on is: did he really want to leave in the first place?
HUG: Both books seem like they could make the transition to screen very easily. Has there been any talk of that or would you prefer they stay in print form?
DH: I hope there will be an announcement shortly about the books being picked up by a studio. I think we could make an exciting movie that honors the books.
HUG: Both books are relatively short as far as page count, yet both are extremely detailed and full bodied stories. The style is a very efficient yet effective one, much like your main character. Do you adjust your writing style based on the type of story / character you are writing or is that your natural style?
DH: I think it is my natural style. I’ve never been one to write with flourish. I want to get you in, have you turning the pages, and not have you stop until you finish. I always think about the pace as I’m writing. Drive, drive, drive. I hate to say it, but I was probably influenced by the Hardy Boys books as I was growing up… I read them all. Every chapter ended with “…and the car went off the cliff!” How were you supposed to put it down there?
HUG: Last we talked, your short story Shake had just been picked up by Jerry Bruckheimer. Have there been any new developments that you can share with us?
DH: No, we’re working on the screenplay now. Fingers crossed!
HUG: Can you also share what your currently working on?
DH: Yes, we’ve been working very hard to get Michael into the director’s chair this year. We wrote an original script called THE DOUBLE that we’re hopefully going to shoot this summer with Richard Gere playing the lead. It’s a spy-thriller… we’re very excited about it, but I’m always reluctant to build something up until cameras are actually rolling. On top of that, we’re writing ALIEN LEGION for Bruckheimer, which is a fun summer action movie about a rag-tag group of Aliens who have to fight in the same platoon.
HUG: Since you’ve already been asked your favorite 80’s film, (answer was Tuff Turf 😉 ) let me ask you this. As far as iconic 80’s characters, which is your favorite and why?
DH: Do I have to pick one? I loved John McClane in DIE HARD and Martin Riggs in LETHAL WEAPON and Indian Jones in RAIDERS. I could go on all day. And there will always be a special place in my heart for Lt. Raymond Tango and Lt. Gabriel Cash in the seminal film TANGO & CASH.
I highly recommend picking up both books and giving them a go. As stated I can see these stories transitioning easily to film and am excited that there is a possibility. I asked Derek if he envisioned a certain actor to fill Columbus’ shoes, but he’s not talking. Derek has loads of upcoming stuff that we here at HUG will be keeping our eyes on.
Thanks again to Derek for taking the time to answer my questions.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…..