This week 7 Criminal Minds is honored to host author Stephen Jay Schwartz as Grand Master. Formerly Director of Development for noted director Wolfgang Peterson (Stephen worked on Air Force Once, Outbreak, Red Corner, Bicentennial Man, and Mighty Joe Young), Stephen currently writes the LA Times bestselling Hayden Glass mystery series. The first in the series, BOULEVARD, follows Hayden through the sordid streets of Los Angeles as he battles crime and his sex addiction. The writing is dark and poetic, and I don't think I'll ever view the streets of Los Angeles in quite the same way since reading his books. BOULEVARD will be released in paperback this week (hooray!) and BEAT will be out at the end of September.
But instead of writing darkly lyrical works, he'll be answering our questions this week. First up: CJ Lyons!
From CJ: Do you consider your main character in Boulevard to be an anti-hero? If so, what challenges did that pose in writing him and finding a way for the audience to engage with him?
Stephen: First of all, I want to thank everyone at 7 Criminal Minds for invitingme in to blog this week. I know a lot of you personally and I think youguys are just the cat's meow. It's going to be a fun week.
Now, on to CJ's question! I didn’t think of Hayden in terms of hero or anti-hero, but instead focused on depicting a deeply flawed, recognizably human protagonist. I’ve always been impressed with how much counterpoint exists in the real people I know, and, before Hayden, I noticed my heroes didn’t even exhibit the same complexity as the elementary school kids in my neighborhood. Real people are brimming with contradictory behavior. As writers we want to make sense of the characters we create. We search for a cause and effect. But, when I pull back the layers of character on the people I know, I discover vast universes of persona I’d be hard-pressed to invent. It just so happens that I like “dark,” and so my protagonist’s journey takes him to the dark side of things. And, because he is sometimes cruel, he might be labeled an anti-hero.
I had one journalist ask me why there was so much violence towards women in BEAT, my second book, and I had to think about that for a moment. I answered that violence to women exists in this world, and Hayden, my character, spends the entire novel fighting against the men who are perpetrating this violence. In fact, Hayden never hurts women. He uses women to hurt himself. He is a sex addict and, like any other addict, he is down on himself and wallowing in shame. He is hurting. But he’s in recovery—he’s trying. He goes to the Twelve Step meetings and he has a sponsor. He is good and bad, right and wrong. And yet, because he is a police officer, he is held to a higher standard. He really shouldn’t be picking up prostitutes off the street. He’s fighting his inclination to do this. Sometimes he wins the battle, sometimes he loses.
I think the character is engaging because he’s broken, like many of us are. Like many of our readers. Hayden doesn’t pretend to be heroic—he doesn’t strive for it. And yet, he is heroic. This becomes much more evident in BEAT. In many ways, BOULEVARD ends in the middle of his journey. It’s the second act crisis. BEAT challenges Hayden to step up his game. To find a way to make up for the mistakes he made in BOULEVARD. I think Hayden is engaging because he knows he’s a piece of shit and he’s asking for help. I think the reader wants to help him.