Smoking with James Hanley

Read the Story June 15, 2007

“The womb of the thick cloud.” That’s great writing. What other images found in the world have the power to recreate the “womb”?

To me the womb has two potentials for symbolism: birth or creation, or protection. A nest, a lab come immediately to mind for the former. Places of safety can be a church, a closet, a foxhole, a covering (blanket over the head) and arguably, a grave.

Why would anyone want to fly?

Beyond the purpose of travel, flying is a lifting out, and movement to a lofty isolation and separation. Challenge mixed with risk creates the urge to pilot.

What’s the key to writing great mystery?

In my view good characters make a great mystery. Because the story’s characters are most often in an extreme situations, their behavior tends to be “unusual” and you can get away with oddities in their actions that wouldn’t fit as well in other forms of fiction (e. g. Carl Hiaasen’s books). I enjoy “hardboiled” mysteries for that reason: they are fun to read and write.

My father spent 30 years as a Human Resources professional. He had some scary stories about people he fired or didn’t hire. What’s your best Human Resource stories?

While working at a Wall Street firm we were looking to hire a secretary for a very difficult senior sales officer. He, like others on the “street,” had a reputation for nastiness. When a young attractive woman who worked at a competitor for a well-known curmudgeon came in for an interview, we referred her to our problematic sales leader. I later learned that he asked how she managed to work so long for an individual who had legendary staff turnover. She answered that she always kept a gun in her purse and he knew it. That kept him in line. When she offered to show our sales manager her “piece,” he politely declined (this was long before 9/11 security). Needless to say, we didn’t hire her, but I suspect she would have worked out fine.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?

Titles can convey the genre e. g. ” The Murder of….”, or convey a quality of the work. Elmore Leonard comes up with great titles that create an anticipation of ambiance: Tishomingo Blues, Fat Ollie’s Book. Some great writers can stray into corny territory: a very good mystery was titled: PMS Outlaws. KD Lang, a Canadian, recorded an album of songs by famous countrymen (and women)—e.g., Neil Young and Joni Mitchell—and she titled it Hymns of the 49th Parallel, a great title that conveys the theme.

About the Author:

James Hanley has been a Human Resources professional for 30 years and began writing fiction several years ago. He's had works published in professional journals but fiction is his real pleasure. He's had stories published in literary and mystery magazines (e.g. South Dakota Review, Futures).

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.