James Hayman has a theory about ad men.
“The cliche is that every ad man has a novel stashed in the desk drawer,” he said over a pint at the Great Lost Bear in Portland. “That’s not quite true, but it is a fact that a lot of successful crime writers have come out of the advertising business.”
Best known among them is James Patterson. On the strength of his three thrillers, Hayman adds his name to the list.
The Portland novelist is out with the third installment in the Mike McCabe-Maggie Savage series, “Darkness First.” The first two used Portland as a setting. This one is set down Machias way and involves the flow of OxyContin into Maine on fishing boats from Canada.
McCabe and Savage are Portland cops called to Machias to aid State Police in a murder investigation.
A New York City native, Hayman spent the first part of his professional life writing ad copy on Madison Avenue, and later became group creative director at Young & Rubicam, one of the largest ad agencies in the world and also one of the best.
At Young & Rubicom from the 1970s to mid-’90s, creativity was king. Hayman’s job was dreaming up ideas for clients like the U.S. Army and Lincoln/Mercury. He had million-dollar budgets that afforded the wherewithal to hire directors like Ridley Scott and shoot anywhere in the world.
He was Don Draper before there was a Don Draper.
Twenty years in the ad business primed him for a career as a novelist because it instilled precise writing and clear, direct thinking.
Long before Twitter, ad guys mastered the art of quick, effective communication. A 30-second commercial offers 60 words.
“You have to tell a story, and you have to tell a story really tight,” he said.
His literary agent, Meg Ruley, called the ad business a boot camp for crime writers. “In advertising, ideas and concepts are distilled into very economic phrases,” said Ruley, who also represents the Maine mystery writers Tess Gerritsen and Julia Spencer-Fleming. “When you look at the pace and what you need to do to make a pulse-pounding thriller, it’s important to cut to the chase. You must be able to come up with a line, a phrase and an image that, in the cacophony of the world, grabs people.”
PORTLAND CRIME FIGHTER
Hayman has done that reasonably well with his three books. His debut, “The Cutting,” published in 2009, did well in New England and overseas in Europe and the United Kingdom.
It introduced Mike McCabe as a gritty, gregarious football- and movie-loving Irish Portland cop.
It also established Hayman in the crime-writing world, and created expectations that the follow-up, “The Chill of Night,” failed to meet. By the time Hayman finished writing his third thriller, his original publisher, St. Martins Press, was done with him. “It was kind of mutual,” Hayman said. “The second book didn’t do so well.”
For “Darkness First,” Ruley hooked him up with Witness, the new imprint from HarperCollins Publishers devoted to thrillers, mysteries and suspense stories. “Darkness First” is the imprint’s debut title.
Witness published “Darkness First” as an e-book Oct. 1. The paperback will be published in February.
Ruley thought Hayman would be a good fit for Witness because publishers give new programs attention and promotion. Hayman was game to experiment. E-books are popular in specialty genres, he said, and he is happy for the attention that HarperCollins is giving his book.
He and his wife, the painter Jeanne O’Toole Hayman, have lived in Portland since 2001.
They bought land on Peaks Island in 1993, after visiting friends and falling in love with the city and with Peaks. They built a house and relocated to Maine when Hayman stepped away from ad work.
From the beginning, he knew he would set his novels in Portland. He appreciates the industrial edge of the city, the waterfront, the cobblestone streets, the bars and the restaurants. He likes the art scene and all the culture that comes with it. And he likes that everybody knows everybody, and that cops are on a first-name basis with the people they serve and protect.
Ruley likes Hayman’s writing because it conveys the feeling of the city.
“The Portland he created and depicted in his book is so vivid. I thought, ‘Well, this is a fresh setting.’”
A mutual friend on Peaks introduced Hayman to Ruley.
He was reading at a Peaks festival with other island authors in June 2007. There were more writers reading than people listening. Among those in the audience was a Peaks friend who offered to introduce Hayman to her agent she knew.
Ever polite, Hayman said yes, expecting nothing. A short time later, the woman told him her agent-friend encouraged Hayman to be in touch.
On the eve of a trip to England to visit his wife’s family, he mustered up a letter and 80 pages of manuscript. Overseas a few days later, he got an email from Ruley asking for the entire manuscript.
By the end of the week, he and Ruley had a deal.
TOUCHDOWN FOR THE GIANTS FAN
Hayman has carried McCabe around in his head for many years. “He was modeled after me if I was a cop,” he said. “We’re not similar in what we do, but we are similar in the way we view the world and how we think about relationships and the New York Giants football team.”
Which is to say, Hayman and McCabe are fans.
He remembers the thrill of seeing his first book in print. “Ever see Victor Cruz in the end zone doing his salsa dance? Kind of like that,” he said, citing the Giants receiver who is known to celebrate his touchdowns in style.
Hayman consulted with retired Portland police detective Tom Joyce when he began writing McCabe.
“I want the reader to get an accurate portrayal of how things operate, and Jim, to his credit, wanted to get it right,” said Joyce, who teaches criminal justice at Southern Maine Community College.
“He wanted to know police procedures, and was interested in how the Portland Police Department operated. What are their procedures? How are crimes investigated? He had questions pertaining to forensics. He did his homework.”
Cops appreciate Hayman’s attention to detail, Joyce said, because it helps the public understand the complexity of the job.
“As a former police officer and investigator, I want the reader to get an accurate portrayal of how police work is done. People see so much police work on TV that is highly exaggerated or extorts how real-life police work is done. If the public understands what we really deal with and how we conduct business, it bridges (the) gap between police and the public.”
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE BEAR …
Back at the Great Lost Bear, Hayman works on his next book, which is set back in Portland. In this one, he tells the story of two murders committed a century apart within the same family and featuring the same modus operandi. The first occurred in 1904.
He does most of his writing on the mainland, either at the Glickman Family Library at the University of Southern Maine or at the Great Lost Bear. He likes the atmosphere in the restaurant, and enjoys sitting at the bar listening to conversations and observing people.
If he were a cop, this is the kind of place he would frequent. People are friendly here, he said, and it’s easy to start a conversation.
The strength of his books are his characters. They feel like real people, not unlike the characters that Hayman created while working on Madison Avenue.
“They’re facing real problems and struggling with real issues, just like me and you,” he said. “They have a similar moral compass to my own. They react to crimes and criminals very much as I would. They genuinely care not just about catching the bad guy, but also about the people they’re helping and the people they love.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: