Thursday, April 20, 2023

Kim Hays — Sons and Brothers


Guest post from Kim Hays

I’ve never met Kim Hays in person, but we’ve been corresponding via e-mail for a couple of years now. She’s the author of the Linder and Donatelli mysteries (Polizei Bern series). I am a huge fan of her first book, Pesticide, and I’ve been singing its praises to whoever will listen ever since I read the ARC two years ago. I’ve been encouraging people to read it and to consider it for all the best 2022 debut awards. Pesticide is entertaining and informative. The human relationships in the novel are so real and three-dimensional. It’s is a deeply satisfying read. I wish more folks would discover this fine author; she deserves it.

Wirklich gut!

Here’s the blurb I wrote for Pesticide (link):

“Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli make for one of the sharpest, most compelling police duos you’ll ever read. Their conflicted attraction bristles with true emotional depth and poignancy as they lead a rich ensemble cast through the surprisingly nefarious world of organic politics. A remarkable procedural set in Bern, Kim Hays’s Pesticide is Switzerland’s answer to Scandinavian noir. Fresh and oh so readable, you won’t want to put it down.”

(Nota bene, I came to understand that my mention of Scandinavian noir prompted some head scratching among readers. My fault. I didn’t mean to say that Pesticide is similar to Scandinavian noir. Rather, for me—an American looking across the ocean—it represents a wonderful Swiss peer to it.)

Now that that’s cleared up, let me introduce Kim. She earned a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Berkeley. She enjoys dual American and Swiss citizenship, which is no small feat. The Swiss don’t hand out citizenship like Lindt chocolates… You’ve got to earn it. Pesticide was shortlisted for the 2020 Debut Dagger award by the Crime Writers' Association. Her second book in the Linder and Donatelli series, Sons and Brothers (link), came out this week (Tuesday, April 18). Please join me in welcoming a smart, fresh voice in crime fiction, Kim Hays. 


I’m so pleased that Jim has given me a chance to answer this week’s question, which I’m going to twist to fit my personal timeline. I started writing fiction in 2012, but I only entered the writing community ten years later when my debut mystery Pesticide was published by Seventh Street Books. So, as I acknowledge mentors, I want to include two people who taught me important lessons about writing long before I became a professional writer.

The first lesson I learned was that being a diligent researcher wasn’t enough to make me a good writer. I found this out as a college freshman who’d been given good grades on high-school history papers that were a distilled regurgitation of what I’d read. My first important college paper did not get a good grade. When I found the courage to ask the teaching assistant, a Welsh graduate student named Paul Thomas, why he hadn’t liked my research paper, he sat me down and explained with patience and kindness that a good paper had to present and defend its own ideas, not just reproduce other people’s. “You have to ask an interesting question, propose an answer, and then defend it with arguments based on what you’ve read,” he told me. 

This was a completely new idea to me. I wrote five more papers for that year-long class, and after Paul graded them, he went over each one with me, showing me how to do a better job of developing and defending what he called my “thesis.” By the end of the second semester, when my last essay got an A, I had learned how to write a college paper. That Welsh graduate student went on to become a political science professor at Berkeley, and I went on to get a doctorate. Thank you, Paul, for a brilliant lesson on how to think and write clearly.

The second very useful thing I learned was how to write whatever had to be written and not take a long time to do it. This is a lesson that journalists learn quickly, but I acquired it working for Peggy Charren, who ran a national nonprofit organization called Action for Children’s Television (ACT). As ACT’s founder, Peggy was much in demand for speeches and articles, and I was her speechwriter and ghostwriter—in fact, I wrote whatever she needed whenever she needed it. Luckily, she was good at explaining what she wanted me to convey. When I got it wrong, she was quick to tell me so, and when I got it right, she was appreciative. It was a good job, if sometimes stressful, and I’ve been grateful to Peggy ever since for the experience she gave me.

My third lesson was determination. My mystery manuscripts went out over and over and were rejected again and again. My reward for perseverance came in November 2020 when I got an email from Dan Mayer of Seventh Street Books saying how much he liked Pesticide, the unsolicited manuscript I’d sent him. Dan gave me confidence in myself and my work and helped me prepare my manuscript for publication. He remains my first and foremost supporter in the writing community, and I think he has played that role for many of my fellow mystery authors. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who salutes Dan as an invaluable mentor.

I could list more fellow mystery writers who’ve given me much-needed and deeply appreciated support, and you know you are at the top of that list, Jim! But the fourth lesson on the way to being a published mystery writer that I’d like to emphasize was learning how to accept criticism on a manuscript and revise it. For that lesson, I have to thank Kathryn Jane Robinson Price, co-author of On Editing: How to edit your novel the professional way (2018). I imagine it often falls to agents to critique their clients’ manuscripts, but I don’t have an agent. So I looked for someone—not a friend but a professional—to tell me the hard truths I needed to hear about what I’d written, and I found Kathryn. When she tells me my tale needs more suspense, my red herrings are only a sad pale pink, an important character’s voice is indistinct, or a favorite bit of backstory is a boring information dump, I take a little time to mourn or rant to myself and then get to work trying to fix the problems.  Occasionally, I decide not to follow her advice, but most of the time, I can see that what she tells me is true. Even more astonishing is that she manages to criticize a manuscript while making it clear that she respects my writing and me. Lots of people can tear down, but someone who can be critical and supportive at the same time is a godsend.
Four important lessons, four important teachers. I have been very lucky—and I’m deeply grateful.
Kim Hays is a dual Swiss/US citizen who lives in Bern with her Swiss husband. Her first novel, Pesticide, was shortlisted for a Debut Dagger Award by the Crime Writers Association. For more information about Kim and Switzerland, see
Kim’s second book, Sons and Brothers, was just published on April 18 by Seventh Street Books. In this continuation of the Polizei Bern series, a cardiac surgeon in his seventies is attacked and drowned in Bern’s Aare River. The district attorney suspects the victim’s estranged son Markus, but police detectives Linder and Donatelli have other ideas about the crime. In her endorsement of the book, Julia Spencer-Fleming says, “Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli are compassionate, conflicted, and utterly compelling. Sons and Brothers is a must-read.”

1 comment:

James W. Ziskin said...

Welcome to 7 Criminal Minds, Kim! So excited to read SONS AND BROTHERS. I really loved PESTICIDE, as did a lot of discerning readers. Linder and Donatelli are great protagonists!