August 17, 2010

Made It Moment: Tim Hallinan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:19 am

The Queen Of Patpong

There are two authors whose books I don’t understand why I love. One is Lee Child (macho, emotionally-repressed hero, with no sense of family and a knowledge of all things mechanical), and #2 appears here on Suspense Your Disbelief today. Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series introduces the reader to a world that is a bit foreign for my usual tastes (I take my suspense set where I might actually experience it), and has a level of seediness and grit that, while utterly authentic, could make me want to avert my eyes. Yet Tim is too gifted an author to let me do that, and his series is too compelling. The fourth book launches today. Congratulations, Tim! Let’s raise a cyber glass of champagne and celebrate your success.

Or has he truly succeeded yet? Tim tells us below.

Tim Hallinan

Let’s see. The moment I knew I’d made it. Have I made it?

If I have, nobody’s told me about it. I haven’t made it in terms of huge sales and books weighing down the shelves in every airport and twelve-figure advances and getting tanned from fame’s spotlight. I haven’t made it in the sense that I’ve written a book I’m completely happy with. And I certainly I haven’t made it if “making it” means that I’m past the point where every single book threatens to collapse on me for months before I finally see the way out.

There’s no actual index on which I can say confidently that I’ve made it.

But there are times when I go, “Ooookaaaaayyyyyyyy.” And, for the purposes of this piece, those will have to count.

For example:

· I wrote twelve published novels (eight of them under my own name) before I had the courage to write two women in a room together with no men present. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of – women calling each other and reading the scene aloud while laughing hysterically, or what. But I finally wrote it. And in the upcoming Poke Rafferty book, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, I have a 40,000-word central section that’s almost all woman. And I like it, and so do my wife and my female editor. So that’s an okay.

· In the first Rafferty book, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, I wrote an edgy street kid who nicknamed himself, out of sheer wish-fulfillment, Superman. I gave him an equivocal ending in that book. I received, via my website, almost four hundred e-mails from people who either wanted to strip my skin off for not giving him a better fate, or asked how he was. I brought him back in a later book just to ease everyone’s mind. That felt amazing. People really cared about that kid. That’s definitely okay.

· Once in a very great while I open one of the books at random to see what’s in there and come across a line I really like – for example, “Through the sliding glass door, Bangkok glittered with the fraudulent optimism of all big cities.” And I think, huh. I wrote that. That counts.

· At about four-fifths of the way through the writing and publishing process, a box arrives on my front porch containing 15 or 20 ARCs – advance readers’ copies, bound galleys, with the actual type and the real, almost final cover. These actually mean more to me than getting the first editions. It’s the first time I’ve seen that particular 12 or 14 months’ worth of managed daydream packaged into an actual slab of physical stuff. The ARCs for THE QUEEN OF PATPONG came yesterday, and just to make things perfect, I opened it to a line I liked.

· Over twenty years or so, I’ve learned one, and exactly one, valuable lesson about writing, and that’s to do it. To do it every single day with whatever energy I have, whether it’s a lot or a little, whether the energy feels creative or toxic. To make story and listen to my characters even if those are the last things on earth I want to do. To understand that not wanting to write means that it’s absolutely essential that I do. To realize that writing is like a relationship, like a religion, like a child: it demands a non-negotiable commitment, a shrine of time, an investment of energy and emotion and intellect and all the other things we sometimes want to keep for ourselves. And I’ve learned that if I don’t do all those things, I fail, but if I do them, I eventually have a book.

So that’s probably the answer to the question: I feel like I’ve made it, at least on a personal level, every time I finish a book. And I guess I’ll settle for that.

Timothy Hallinan has written ten novels, all thrillers, and one book of nonfiction. For almost thirty years he operated one of America’s leading television consulting firms. He has written full-time since 2006. Hallinan divides his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, the setting for his Poke Rafferty novels. Visit Tim at and watch the book trailer for QUEEN OF PATPONG here:


  1. Tim, I’ve long respected you as a mentor of writers and a discerning reader. I’m excited to delve into A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART (the dark one—and next up on my TBR pile), and begin to count myself a fan of Timothy Hallinan, the author.

    Comment by Peg Brantley — August 17, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  2. I love your views on writing — and agree with them 100%!

    Comment by Judy — August 17, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  3. Oo, ARCS—coooooooool. And connecting with readers, SO cool.

    “The fraudulent optimism of all big cities” also is the perfect description (I know, I know, this is your POINT, but hear me out!) :) also goes for Chicago, so extremely well. I lived there almost all my life and I can just see it all lit up at night in your single line. Beautiful.


    Comment by Savvy — August 17, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  4. You’ve been getting raves in all the places I hang out, Tim. I say you’ve made it. Congratulations!

    Comment by L.J. Sellers — August 17, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

  5. Hi, and thanks, everyone. What nice hospitality.

    Thanks to people talking about the book, it had what my publisher describes as a “great first day” today, more than doubling the orders for BREATHING WATER and doing phenomenally well as an e-book, even though it’s $11.99. We shall see whether it lasts, but so far, so good.

    Of course, I’m in trouble on the next one, but I’ve been here before.

    Also, if any of you are e-readers and want to see how I wrote in the 90s, the first two titles in my old Simeon Grist PI series are up on Kindle at $2.99. I had to proof them, and I dreaded it, but they were nowhere near as bad as I was afraid they’d be, and some of the dialog holds up. Oh, they’re called THE FOUR LAST THINGS and EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL.

    And thanks again, all.

    Comment by Timothy Hallinan — August 17, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

  6. Tim, this article brought me back to myself. Your made it moments aren’t about commercial success, but about technique and process. YES! Making it means doing your job and doing it well, regardless of the whole crazy publishing biz and readers. Thank you. (P.S. You also busted me–I have indeed called friends and mocked ludicrous scenes between women written by a male author–yikes!)

    Comment by Sara — August 18, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  7. [...] bestseller Sophie Hannah appear in this column, Edgar winner Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar nominee Tim Hallinan, and Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery winner Gerrie Ferris Finger–and none of [...]

    Pingback by Suspense Your Disbelief » Made It Moment: C.J. West — September 30, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  8. [...] remember exactly where I was when I posted Tim Hallinan’s first Made it Moment. Sitting in the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble in Spokane, WA at the start of our return trip [...]

    Pingback by Suspense Your Disbelief » Made It Moment: Timothy Hallinan — July 17, 2012 @ 6:51 am

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