The Art of Reinvention
In the opening of Jason Pinter’s new novel Hide Away, his main character, Rachel Marin, is living a perfectly ordinary life—she’s waiting for her husband to come home from work, taking care of her two small children, and making dinner—when her entire world comes crashing down. The story then jumps to seven years later, when Rachel has reinvented herself. She’s now a single mom taking care of her kids and working a mundane office job, even as she conducts her real work—fighting criminals and delivering backdoor justice—in secret.
Pinter may not be a ruthless vigilante, but he can relate to that kind of reinvention. For many years, he was best known for writing the Henry Parker novels, a thriller series about a young journalist based in New York City. “Henry Parker was very much like I was,” Pinter says. “I think I started writing that series when I was 24, 25, and Henry was about the same age as I was. He was a young reporter and I was a young editorial assistant at the time, but we definitely had some similarities as people.”
After wrapping up the Parker books and writing the standalone thriller The Castle, Pinter shifted his focus to the other side of the publishing process. In 2013, he launched Polis Books, an independent publisher that focuses on crime fiction as well as fantasy, romance, and other genres. “I put my career on hold for a little while, writing-wise, to launch Polis,” he says. “I’d always sort of wanted to do both, but as I was getting Polis up and running, there’s only so many hours in a day.”
When Pinter shifted focus back to his own fiction, he decided to tackle something different from what he’d done before. “For this one, I wanted to write a character that I was more unfamiliar with, that I thought would be a little more interesting, where I could stretch myself a little bit more, write somebody, hopefully, with a sense of both authenticity and intrigue that was different from me,” he says.
That somebody is Rachel Marin, and in HIDE AWAY, a thriller set in the fictional town of Ashby, Illinois, a local politician falls from a bridge in an apparent suicide. When Rachel sees a video recording of the death, she’s certain that this is actually a murder. She soon finds herself running a parallel investigation that sets her on a collision course with two hard-charging police detectives … and some dangerous adversaries.
As Pinter began to craft HIDE AWAY, he found himself trying to create a character who could be extremely tough and yet had limitations. “It seems like a lot of times, protagonists in mystery thrillers are kind of loners, they can go out and fight evil or hunt down killers, they don’t have to answer to anybody,” he says. “But Rachel Marin, as a character, has two small children. She can’t be Batman, she can’t go out at all hours of the night and fight crime and come back beaten and bruised, because she has to make dinner, she has to make sure her kids do their homework, she has to make sure they’re safe.”
Although the character of Rachel was clear from the beginning, Pinter was less certain of where exactly her journey would take her. “I’m a pantser, but then I’m an outliner as I go,” he admits. “So when I start a book, I generally have three demarcation points, I would say. I have a beginning scene in mind, I have the ending scene in mind, and I generally know one spot around the middle of book where the plot might take a twist or a turn.”
As Pinter writes, however, he finds the story comes more and more into focus. “Every book, I have a notes file on my computer and it’s completely blank when I start,” he says. “But for HIDE AWAY, it’s now 20 single-spaced pages, and these are all just ideas that came to me as I was writing the book.”
Throughout the writing process, Pinter will often send himself emails or text messages so he doesn’t forget a crucial scene or idea. “Literally I’ll be driving or I’ll be walking along the street or I’ll be listening to music or reading, and all of a sudden it’ll just pop into place, like, ‘Oh that’s what needs to happen in the next chapter.’”
Like any veteran writer, Pinter knows he has plenty to do when he finishes the first draft of a new novel. However, as a publisher himself, he has a certain edge when it comes to revisions. “I’m very used to the editorial process. I think I’m pretty good at editing my own stuff,” he says.
Pinter’s experience in publishing also helped him know exactly what kind of home he wanted for HIDE AWAY, and he was thrilled to end up at the Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer. “I saw what they were doing with authors that I was friends with, that I read, that I looked up to, and they were getting nominated for the Edgar award and the Thriller award,” he says. “So to me, it was a publisher that had the muscle and know-how of a major publisher, with, obviously, access to incredible resources, but at the same time had a real editorial eye. So when the chance came to work with them, it wasn’t even a question.”
For those wondering whether Rachel Marin will be back, the answer is a resounding yes. Pinter is already putting the finishing touches on a follow-up novel. He’s an admirer of authors who’ve written long-running series, like Lee Child and Michael Connelly, though he’s not sure yet whether he’ll follow in their footsteps.
“To me, I’d love to do some more Rachel books after book two,” he says. “We’ll see what happens. HIDE AWAY is just out, hopefully readers will like it enough. But I want to do books that explore the character more, explore the secondary characters more.”
Between balancing his work at Polis and being a father to two small children, Pinter finds writing fiction harder to fit into his schedule than ever before. But he has no plans to stop working.
His advice for those who can’t find the time to write a novel is simple: “You write when you wake up, you write at night. If it means going to the bar one night less a week or not going to your bowling league or playing video games or being on social media, you find that time.”